What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – February 2019

And there is nothing as sad as a sacrifice made to the wrong god. So much of our lives is made up of them. (Roberto Calasso, from The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony)

Gunhawks #1 (Marvel).

Marvel continues with its 80th anniversary celebration, as we get a one-shot Western and a text piece at the back explaining a bit about Marvel Westerns. This one is written by David and Maria Lapham and drawn by Luca Pizzari, and it’s a pretty good story, although it just feels wrong that it’s set in 1914. It’s dealing with the end of the West (as a concept) and what happens when those who “tamed” the West (meaning, killed a lot of people who weren’t Anglos) try to put that past behind them and live a “normal” life (unsurprisingly, they can’t), but it still feels weird. Sheriff Dean of Clearwater finds some Mexicans near his town and thinks they’re Pancho Villa’s men, but they’re there for him, and they’re not exactly men. So he kills them and heads home, but he has to tell his fiancée about what he did when he fought for Huerta against Villa in the Mexican Civil War (Dean acts like this is in a more distant past, but it couldn’t have been more than a year before, as Huerta wasn’t president before 1913). Of course, this isn’t going to end well for anyone, considering stories like this and considering that Lapham is writing it. Pizzari does a nice job with the art – the guns of 1914 seem to cause a lot more bloodshed than they probably would, but that’s just an artistic flourish – although someone should have researched Arizona a bit better, as 300 miles from the border (which is where they are, and I assume Dean means “north” of said border) is close to Flagstaff, and it ain’t no desert up there. This looks much more like southern Arizona, so either Pizzari should have drawn it differently or Lapham should have made it not so far north. Yes, this is what I do. Doesn’t it annoy you? But it’s a nice little tale, and I appreciate Marvel trying these weird things even if it’s only because they’re kind-of celebrating that they don’t do this kind of shit anymore.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s some nice shootin’, Tex

Dare-Devil Aces, Commandos & Other Sagas of War (Vanguard).

It’s a book with Wallace Wood art, so of course it’s awesome. These war stories cover the years 1950-1976 and feature the more realistic war stories Wood worked on, as well as some of the stranger stuff like a Cannon story with Wood inking Ditko. I’m not sure there’s too much to say – they’re absolutely gorgeous stories, and they’re good and exciting, and most of them are Second World War tales although there’s a longer Korean War story that, while it shows the North Koreans in their typically racist way, also shows the South Koreans as heroic. There are some fascinating essays in the book, too, but one of them is about the EC war stories of Wood, none of which are reprinted in the book (presumably because Dark Horse, maybe, has the rights?). Why write all about these gorgeous comics when you know you’re not going to be able to show any of them?!?!? Still, if you’re a fan of Wood (I know I wrote “if” as if there could be someone who isn’t a fan), this is another book you should get. There’s just not that much to say about it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Wait, those sound effects …

Deep Roots (Vault Comics).

Well, this is a weird and depressing comic. It’s quite good, but still weird and depressing. I got it because Dan Watters seems like a good writer, and he gives us a tale of a world similar to ours but slightly in a different dimension, one in which plants rule all. Of course, the fact that humans are destroying our planet has seeped into theirs, and now the plants are fighting back. An eco-terrorist and a biologist end up in this world, while the head of a secret government project (who employed the biologist and locked up the terrorist) stays in ours, and they all try to figure out what’s going on. The question is, of course, “Can they stop the plant takeover of our world,” but it also changes into “Should they stop the plant takeover of our world?” That’s a harder question, especially when they realize that there is an alternative. Not a particularly attractive alternative, but one nevertheless.

Watters presents this scenario and then follows it through to a logical conclusion, something I’m always in favor of. It’s not a “nice” comic in that nasty things happen, and it’s also depressing because of the subject matter and the fact that it makes the reader feel like there’s little hope, but it’s also not completely devoid of hope itself, although Watters points out that our perceptions may have to change. It’s a more thoughtful book than you might think, given that there plant knight on the cover, and the art, by Val Rodrigues, is superb, allowing Watters’s more considered points to come through even as the book becomes more and more horrific. Rodrigues can work well with the silly aspects of the book – the vegetable people at the beginning – while revealing the terrors behind that silliness. Triona Farrell uses thick brushstrokes on many panels to create a hallucinogenic color palette, adding to the disturbing aspect of the comic. The pencil and color art can be creepy as hell, which is what they’re going for, but it also helps illuminate Watters’s grander points, which is also important.

This is not a “fun” comic, exactly, but it’s very compelling. Watters continues to impress, and I’m looking forward to more from him.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, I’m never eating salad again!

Voyage to the Deep (IDW/It’s Alive).

Drew Ford of It’s Alive has been doing a marvelous job of getting Sam Glanzman’s work back into print over the past few years, and Voyage to the Deep, which reprints the four issues of the title that came out from Dell in 1962-1963, is the latest cool thing he’s published. It’s much more than the issues, too – Stephen Bissette writes a long introduction about the history of submarines (!), submarine fiction (!!), and submarine comics (!!!) before getting to Glanzman and his contribution to the sub-genre, and it’s quite fascinating. The issues are quite good, too, although they are somewhat weird. First of all, the “Proteus,” the sub in the book, can change size. It’s explained in the comic and it’s oh so close to sounding like it could make sense, but it’s still nonsense, but it’s fun nonsense. The crew of the Proteus fight against an unseen and unnamed “enemy” which throws some serious curves at them. In issue #1, “the enemy” almost floods the entire world. In issue #2, “the enemy” almost begins a new Ice Age. In issue #3, “the enemy” almost destroys the world with anti-matter. In issue #4, “the enemy” almost destroys the world by raising volcanoes from the ocean floor. That’s one powerful enemy! In each case, the writer (I’ll get to that) tries to explain it scientifically, and it’s gloriously wacky. The fourth issue is the only one credited with a writer, Paul S. Newman, but Bissette and others are pretty sure the first three – and at least the first one if not #2 and #3 – were written by a dude named Lionel Ziprin, whom Bissette calls a poet/kabbalist. And boy howdy, is the first issue weird – the admiral of the Proteus imagines the destruction of the world, but even before that, the submarine is about to head deep into the ocean and the admiral talks about all the weird life they’ll find down there: “Feathered fish … fish of almost living-metal bodies … fish covered with strange fur … fish whose bodies are wholly electrical … fish whose bodies are wholly flame! There are the mutations you will find there … I can swear it! You will find fish that are nothing but giant mouths created for no other purpose than to destroy their prey!” So yeah, the writing is a little weird.

Glanzman’s art is excellent, as he takes the apocalyptic stories and manages to focus on the crew of the submarine so that the stories remain grounded even though there’s a lot of destruction going on. Glanzman wasn’t a fanciful stylist, so his work is realistic and manages to bring home the terror of the destruction enveloping the world (whether it’s real or in the admiral’s imagination). He does, however, use some interesting page layouts, especially in the almost hallucinogenic first issue, and that helps heighten the tension well. He draws the Proteus changing size in such a way that it’s almost believable, and he gives us some very cool sea-life, from the giant lamprey that almost brings down the Proteus to the giant manta ray that … well, almost brings down the Proteus (the animals of the ocean weren’t too happy with the Proteus, it seems). I don’t know what Glanzman was doing in between these issues, but the gaps of several months between publication dates probably helped him, as the art never looks rushed and Glanzman appears to have taken his time to make it all work well.

This is a nice hardcover, and it’s just another little piece of comics history that is nice to have back available. Each issue is fairly long (the first one is 32 pages, for instance), and you get a nice essay from Bissette. Don’t you wish you knew more about submarine comics? Of course you do!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Lampreys are the true evil facing our world!

A Lion Among Men (HarperCollins).

The third of the four “Oz” books that Gregory Maguire wrote is better than the second, which meandered a bit too much. With this one, Maguire stays on point a bit better, as he uses the life story of the Cowardly Lion to illuminate more of the aspects of Ozian life that are leading to civil war between Oz and Munchkinland, which breaks out right at the end of the book (and which leads into the final volume). Brrr, the Lion (his name is explained both in this volume and in the first one, where he has a cameo appearance), is trying to discover the book of spells that the Wicked Witch, Elphaba, had in her possession when she died, and he’s interviewing an old “maunt” (nun) who has shown up in the lives of several key Ozian figures over the course of the first two books. So we get some of her back story as well, but the book is mostly Brrr reminiscing about his life as he interviews the maunt, and we discover not only the source of his cowardice but some other interesting tidbits about the way Oz works in these books. Maguire does a good job treading a fine line between making Brrr sympathetic but still pathetic, as he never overcomes his cowardice, exactly, but he does gain some strength by the end of the book, enough to make a small difference in the lives of a few people around him. We also discover the fate of the girl whose father fell in love with Elphaba and whom Elphaba’s son was searching for in the second book, and it’s obvious she’ll be important moving forward. Maguire does a good job showing how bound by fate so many of these characters are while also giving us the impression that they’re all making their own way, which is harder than it sounds. Coincidence does come into fiction a lot, but a good writer can make it feel like the characters are just happening to stumble across each other rather than the writer actively making it happen, which of course we know they’re doing (being the writer, after all). So this is an interesting book that feels more consequential than the second book, even as it’s clear it’s building on events from that book. Maguire has set things up well for the last volume, about which I’m sure I’ll write about soon, whether it’s further down in this post or next month (it’s a fairly hefty book, so who knows).

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Savage Sword of Conan #1 (Marvel).

Marvel, as is their wont, is flooding the market with Conan product, because that has always worked and has never blown up in their faces ever. They did this in the 1970s when they first got the Conan license, but that was different because there was a Conan comic book and a Conan magazine, and the market has moved on from that, so they’re simply doing two (and beyond!) comics instead of varying the way they publish Conan. We’ll see if that works out (and of course, don’t forget that Conan is joining the Avengers, about which I’ll have more to say when it shows up in Previews).

Duggan is a pretty good writer, so this is a perfectly fine story, but Conan seems like one of those characters that can’t be too hard to write – you just put him into a situation where he has to fight a lot of people and look down upon the effeminate city folk, throw in a hot woman or two, and Bob’s your uncle. As long as he says “By Crom!” every once in a while and kills at least three people per issue, you should be fine. And Duggan puts him on a slavers’ ship after the ship he was on is wrecked, and he plots to get off of it. Of course he does, and he finds himself saddled with a comic relief sidekick and a treasure map imprinted on his brain after he opens a magic box, so he has a quest to get on and people to kill! Yay, Conan!

Of course, as with almost any Conan story, the art carries it, and Garney’s art is pretty great. Garney’s always been a solid artist, but he takes it up a notch here, it seems. The first splash page, of Conan sitting on a corroding raft taking a bite from a shark he killed while behind him the ship he was on sinks and in the distance the slave ship approaches, is a brilliant image, setting the scene perfectly. Garney drops more holding lines than he usually does, which allows him to cast the characters into darkness more easily, and that helps show the trials that Conan endures in the hold of the slave ship. Richard Isanove, who occasionally can overwhelm with colors, does a terrific job here too, using a muted and limited palette expertly, with gorgeous subtle tones to create lighting and shadow contrasts and give nice nuance to Garney’s lines. Isanove knows what he’s doing, and it’s nice to see him work with someone who has strong lines and not try to butt up against those lines, instead working within them nicely. It’s a gorgeous comic to look at, so that’s nice.

Ultimately, it’s a Conan comic. You know what you’re getting with a Conan comic, and I like what I get with a Conan comic, so I like this comic. But you must decide if that’s what you want!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Conan is always meeting evil snake monsters – where are the evil panda monsters in the Hyborian Age?

Birthright volume 7: Blood Brothers (Image).

Seven volumes in, it’s hard to write much about a comic, especially one I haven’t really written about before (I think I wrote about volume 1, but that was some time ago). This is still a good fantasy series, with Joshua Williamson doing a nice job balancing the fantastical elements with the real-world lives of the principal characters, and Andrei Bressan’s art is still spectacular. Williamson is writing the two brothers, Mike and Brennan, really well, as Mike is finally himself again but Brennan begins experiencing jealousy over the fact that the family is always so focused on him, which leaves him open to evil influences. It’s a realistic situation taken to extremes by the fantasy setting, but Williamson sells it well. This series just keeps trucking along, under the radar, but it’s very good, and I’m always interested in where it’s going.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s going to leave a mark

Immortal Hulk volume 2: The Green Door (Marvel).

When I was but a lad, I lived in an idyllic suburban home in Warminster, Pennsylvania, in middle Bucks County, which is on the very fringes of the suburbs of Philadelphia – go about 10-15 miles further north and you’d be in the “country,” as country as the Delaware River valley gets (which isn’t much, but it’s not the suburbs of Philly). I lived behind my best friends, twins who are a few months younger than I am. Our yards were originally not divided by any barrier, but eventually either my father or their father or both our fathers got annoyed with us beating a well-trod path between the houses and put up a green chain-link fence, the kind that is ubiquitous in back yards across this proud land (except here in Arizona, where we love our cinder block walls, damn it!). We, of course, just climbed over the fence, so as a deterrent, it wasn’t much (we were adolescent boys, so of course we just climbed over it!). But occasionally we would just hang out at the fence and chat. Occasionally my sister (who’s 16 months older than I am) and their sister (who’s maybe a year older than my sister) would join us and chat, although we were in the phase of not liking our sisters, so it didn’t happen that often. One fine summer evening, my sister came out to the fence after she had gotten dressed for bed. She put pants on but wore her nightgown, just tucked in so it looked like a shirt. My friends and I were talking, and she was talking to their sister. At one point their sister complimented her on her shirt, and she said it was a nightgown. The other girl didn’t believe her, so my sister pulled the nightgown out of her pants to show her, but she pulled a bit too hard and … well, she flashed my friends. I didn’t see it, because she quickly pulled the shirt down, but I’m perfectly happy about that, I’ll tell you what. Anyway, that became part of our childhood lore, and we began to talk about my sister being “Behind the Green Fence.” None of us had seen Behind the Green Door (I don’t know if they ever did, but I still haven’t), but being puerile young boys in the 1980s, we knew about it, and so we teased my sister mercilessly about it for quite some time (not all the time, but occasionally – we just did it occasionally for several years). Some things just follow you around!!!!

I bring all this up because volume 2 of The Immortal Hulk is titled “The Green Door,” and I can’t look at it without thinking of a porn movie from 1972. Whoever named this had to know what they were doing, right? Whether it was Al Ewing (who has a wicked sense of humor) or some nameless staffer at Marvel, they had to know, right? Or am I just being silly? It’s really bothering me, people!

Anyway, The Immortal Hulk is really good. Ewing is a fine writer, and he’s turned this into a nice horror comic, with Banner’s father somehow haunting the Hulk, which causes all sorts of problems. In this very slim volume (not only are Marvel issues getting thinner, so are Marvel trades!), we get a very cool fight with the Avengers, which the Avengers win by cheating (not really, but they have to use a fancy new weapon that might cause more damage than the Hulk does), and then we get a weird government agency experimenting on him by cutting him up in small body parts. Ewing does a nice job of showing how he gets out of that one, and then, through some machinations, the Hulk and everyone around him (Crusher Creel and members of Alpha Flight) end up in Hell. So, that sucks. I don’t love the fact that Ewing has made the Hulk even more indestructible than he used to be, but such is life. The story is still compelling. Joe Bennett is doing amazing work on the art, and even the fill-in artists, Lee Garbett and Martin Simmonds, do excellent work. This is a keen comic, and it’s always fun to read a book from Marvel that does things a bit differently. Now they just have to work on that sub-title …

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Man, don’t taunt the Hulk that way, scientist dude!

Jungle Girls (IDW).

Craig Yoe’s books are always interesting, and Jungle Girls is no exception. This is a good cross-section of comics from the 1930s-1950s, when the “jungle girl” craze was at its height, and yes, we get a Sheena story, because she was the most popular jungle girl, but we also get all sorts of knock-offs, some of whom lived in the Hawaiian islands, some of whom lived thousands of years ago. It’s a hodge-podge! Of course, the one thing they all have in common is that the women are white, gorgeous, and scantily clad. They’re not quite as regressive as you might think, though – in very few stories does the heroine need to be rescued by a man, and often the man needs to be rescued by the heroine. The jungle girl is invariably portrayed as a “white savior,” which is perhaps to be expected, but the African natives who populate the stories aren’t quite as backward as you might expect, given the time period. They’re not the greatest depictions, true, but they don’t rise to the level of uncomfortable, which is true for a lot of other kinds of comics of the times. As you might expect, the stories drawn by Matt Baker show the natives in the best light, visually, as it was far too common in this era for artists to resort to stereotypes when drawing black people, but Baker, as a black man, doesn’t do that (to be fair, there’s very little of this in the book, possibly because unlike so many other comics of the time, black people weren’t just background props but essential parts of the stories). So yes, there’s some racism and sexism, but honestly not as much as I expected. Of course, the stories are fun, but the real draw is seeing all the old artists in action. There’s Baker, as I noted, and Alex Schomburg, Bob Powell, Jack Kamen, Don Zolnerowich, Frank Frazetta (see below), Fran Hopper, and Everett Raymond Kinstler, among others. Many of the stories were written by Ruth Roche, who along with Hopper was a strong female presence in these comics, which was a bit odd for the time. So this is a neat historical package with some good essays at the beginning, and it’s nice to have more Golden Age comics in circulation for everyone to check out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

‘Not even my torpedo-like boobs could stop those lions!’

Mister Miracle (DC).

Mister Miracle is so close to being a work of staggering genius that the fact that it doesn’t quite make it is heartbreaking, but no reason to miss it. Tom King, whose Batman is so very, very terrible (at least the first part of it, and it was so bad I couldn’t continue with it!), has written several terrific comics that aren’t Batman, and he and Mitch Gerads, with whom he did The Sheriff of Babylon (and who doesn’t really seem like the kind of artist who should be working on a Kirby-esque comic, but it kind of works here), turn their attention to Scott Free and give us a domestic drama wrapped up with a horrible war between New Genesis and Apokolips. Everyone who works on the Fourth World characters has to lean into the conflict between Darkseid and Scott Free and Orion, and so does King, but in a weird and fascinating way. Scott ends up leading the war against Darkseid, but he’s also very troubled in both his personal life and his professional life, which adds a layer of creeping despair to everything that happens in the book. In most superhero comics, there are moments of triumph to offset the tragedy. King gives Scott some triumphs in his personal life (he and Barda have the best marriage in comics, unless someone didn’t tell me that Ralph and Sue Dibny are back among the living), but even there, there’s never that feeling of victory that we can count on in superhero comics, so every page is imbued with a feeling of coming sadness. It works really well, and makes the book feel more important, even though things happen that DC really wouldn’t allow to happen.

The book is very funny, too, which makes that feeling even more upsetting. Scott is often deadpan about the horrors of war, which is a coping mechanism but one that at least adds some gallows humor, and Funky Flashman as the couple’s nanny (Barda gives birth in the book) is very funny. The way King writes Scott and Barda is terrific, too, because they operate on an unspoken level that most long-term couples can do, which leads to disjointed conversations that are amusing mainly because they feel so real. Gerads uses a Giffen-esque nine-panel gird in the book, and that means he can cut back and forth between someone talking and someone’s reactions to them, and he does this very well. Scott’s body language and facial expressions are superb in the book, but all the characters get moments where Gerads is able to convey their reaction to the absurdity happening around them. The peace talks between New Genesis and Apokolips are a masterpiece of writing and art, as both King and Gerads nail their respective duties to show the weirdness of what’s happening. Gerads isn’t as good at the action scenes, but there aren’t all that many in the book, so it’s not a big deal.

The reason it’s not a masterpiece is because King, I felt, didn’t stick the landing. There’s an inciting event in the book that I don’t want to spoil, but the entire book is colored by it (not only in what the reader is anticipating, but because King addresses it). He keeps leaving clues that the other shoe is about to drop, but he never drops it. Now, he tries to mess around with what Scott is going through and what’s happening, but ultimately, he hand-waves it away, and it’s very frustrating. It’s frustrating for me because I want to get more into it, but I don’t want to spoil things, because it’s better if you make up your own minds. But King sets up a situation that demands addressing, and then he deals with it in the weakest way possible, one that doesn’t really make sense either in a narrative way or within the context of the DC Universe. So it’s annoying.

Still, the accolades from the literati are well deserved. If King could just write a decent Batman comic, he’d really be a top-of-the-line writer, wouldn’t he?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I mean, we all kind of suspected it, didn’t we?

Black Lightning: Brick City Blues (DC).

DC and Marvel are reprinting a lot these days, which is nice, as we get commercial failures like this that might actually be pretty decent, just unable to find an audience. This is Tony Isabella returning to the character for a 1994-1995 run that is so very Nineties that it’s awesome. Isabella, oddly enough, wrote only the first eight of the 13 issues, but I’m not sure why. If it wasn’t doing well in the market, that would be the most likely reason to fire him, but the subsequent writers (Davie de Vries, with a little bit of help from Lane Shiro) keep up the tone almost exactly, so there’s nothing really to differentiate the book from when Isabella was writing it. Isabella was a bit more interested in race relations, but not by much. Meanwhile, Eddy Newell didn’t last too long on the book, but his replacements (most commonly Octavio Cariello) also tried to keep the tone of the artwork, so it’s not too different there, either (there’s a tiny bit more “superheroing” – Isabella wanted to downplay that aspect of the book a bit, but considering that Isabella used “metahumans” other than Black Lightning as well, it’s not like he eliminated it completely). So it’s weird that Isabella didn’t continue on the title, unless it was something else. Anyway, this is a good solid superhero book – it’s not surprising it didn’t last long, but it’s also not surprising that DC in the 1990s, one of the more creatively fertile times in the company’s history, was willing to throw this at the wall to see if it stuck. Isabella gives us five really good issues to start the series, confronting gang violence and the indifference of the elite until the violence hits home, leading to an excellent issue #5, in which Jefferson Pierce is lying in a hospital bed thinking about his life and the people close to him who have been killed. The scenes in the hospital are black and white, while the flashback scenes, showing gaudy superheroing, are in color, a predictable but amazingly effective technique. Isabella and de Vries never forget that the real problems in this country aren’t necessarily between white and black but between rich and poor, and Isabella hammers this home by making the mayor of “Cleveland” (it’s never identified, but Isabella hints at it in the text and flatly states it in his introduction) a rich black man. In fact, one of the things that’s refreshing about the book is that almost all of the characters – good and bad, rich and poor – are black, and Isabella and de Vries do a pretty good job showing the divisions within the black community concerning gang violence and the mistrust of authority figures, including Black Lightning. So there’s a lot to like about the comic, even if it never quite reaches the ambitious heights that Isabella set out to reach. The art is too inconsistent, for one, and it feels too rushed, which is probably a function of the poor sales. Neither Isabella nor de Vries ever feels quite comfortable in the title, which is, again, probably because they felt like they had to get things done before the cancellation axe came down. But it’s still a pretty cool comic, and well worth a look.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That would certainly get me to deliver a message!

Caballistics, Inc.: The Complete Collection (Rebellion/2000AD).

Gordon Rennie and Dom Reardon’s story is pretty neat – a government agency from World War II commissioned to fight Nazi occult stuff is still, oddly enough, on the books, but instead of getting rid of it, the government sells it to a reclusive gazillionaire. Said rich dude is a retired rock star, among other things, and he keeps some of the government agents and brings in a few new ones to fight weird occult crap all over Britain. Of course he has a secret agenda, because these kinds of dudes always do, but Rennie keeps it under wraps for a long time, and it’s not exactly what we’re expecting. It’s hard for Rennie to write a team comic in the space allotted to him in the pages of 2000AD, but he manages to build some interesting relationships among the group, even as there are some weird narrative jumps due to the nature of the format. But we get all sorts of creepy-crawlies, an interesting team of people to deal with them, a guest star in Harry Absalom from Rennie’s other long-term 2000AD story (you don’t need to know who Harry Absalom is, though, as he explains enough of it), and enough tragedy to make it resonate more than just a monster-killing romp. Reardon’s art is reminiscent of Sean Phillips, which isn’t a bad thing, and he and Rennie know how to get the most out of the pages that they can, so this is a packed book. There’s a lot of weird shit, some scary shit, and some sad shit. Nothing wrong with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That guy does look charming, doesn’t he?

Captain America: Winter in America (Marvel).

I’m not entirely sure why I ordered this; if I had wanted to try out Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Marvel writing, I had plenty of Black Panther comics to read prior to this. Maybe it was because I didn’t hear a lot of good things about his Black Panther comics, and I’ve always liked Leinil Francis Yu (who not only doesn’t get anywhere near equal billing on the cover of this trade, he doesn’t even get a first name), so I thought I’d give this a try. That must be it. But it’s still weird, because it’s not like I love Captain America as a character. Anyway.

Unfortunately, this is a pretty mediocre comic. It relies heavily on stuff that didn’t happen in this series, as Cap is still trying to recover from the wreck of his reputation that occurred when he was an agent of Hydra (which I have no idea about beyond the fact that he was one, but wasn’t really? I don’t know) – Coates gives us a bit of information about it, but it sounds so convoluted that I doubt if it would make sense even if I read the actual comics where it played out. But that’s a problem, because this book is supposed to have emotional resonance because of the lack of trust Americans now have in Cap, but it’s just not there. The plot is just a dull superhero plot – Selene, the old X-villain, is involved, as is the widow of Aleksander Lukin, the dude who “killed” Cap back in Brubaker’s day. She resurrects her husband, but surprise! surprise! – he’s possessed (still?) by … the Red Skull! Like the Joker and Dr. Doom, the Skull should take an extended, multi-decade break from comics. Oh, and frickin’ Rasputin shows up. Yawn. There are evil elements inside the U.S. government (I know – quelle surprise!), and they’re being evil, and everything is a thinly-veiled allegory for Trumpism. It’s almost shockingly boring, which is the one thing you really shouldn’t be in superhero comics.

The actual writing, as opposed to the plot, isn’t that great, either. We get the mopey Captain America that we always seem to get these days, reminiscing about when America was truly great (meaning: back in the 1940s), and Coates seems to write this without irony. I mean, even Steve Rogers has to know that the U.S. has always had its problems, and while “greatness” might mean that they’re able to unite to fight an enemy, it feels like Cap is talking about when we were the Shining City on the Hill, something we’ve always aspired to and have never reached. So the narration is bland, and then we get the idea that Hydra is Trump, which is just lazy. There’s a subplot about the liberal elites ignoring “middle America” and how Hydra, as bad as they were, put people back to work and provided good services. Of course, after Hydra, other, insidious businesses moved in and kept providing that to Joe and Jane Sixpack, but in the end, the businesses are exposed and the people are out of work, and they blame Cap (despite the fact that the mine wasn’t mining anything, just moving dirt around). Of course the businesses were evil, and of course, instead of Joe Sixpack noticing and doing something about it, it’s a liberal elitist who stops them. It’s extremely condescending, and while it’s not surprising that the hero figures things out, just by introducing that little subplot, Coates makes it so that it will not end well, because it has to be Cap who stops it. So once again, there’s nothing in the book that is in the least bit interesting. Coates leans on other, better stories (Brubaker’s run and “Born Again,” of all things), and the result is nothing special at all.

Yu is all right, I suppose. His backgrounds on a lot of the pages are surprisingly simplistic, and occasionally his storytelling is a bit wonky, but he can still draw very well. But as nice as the figure drawing looks, the art, overall, matches the tone of the book. That is, kind of boring. There’s nothing really that stands out, but there’s nothing awful about it either. Oh well.

(I will point out that on a splash page that shows how the entire country is beset by bad guys, we get a glimpse of the Space Needle in Seattle. I mentioned this years ago when Hickman destroyed the Space Needle in Secret Warriors because I knew that in the future, someone would show it without mentioning that it had been destroyed. Lo and behold, there it is. I mean, I suppose you could say that Damage Control put it back together, but would Seattle really rebuild the Space Needle exactly as it is if it came down? New York didn’t put the World Trade Center back the way it was. That’s why I don’t like comics destroying actual landmarks, because of course it’s not going to last. Yes, I’m being a big nerd. Deal with it, nerds!)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Poor Taskmaster – he’s about to get a beatin’!

Infinity 8 volume 3: The Gospel According to Emma (Lion Forge).

This series continues to be fascinating, as for this volume, Lewis Trondheim is joined by Fabien Vehlmann, who’s a good writer in his own right, and they give us a story about a very religious space marshal who uses the mission to further the goals of her own faith. In this series, in case you’ve forgotten, a spaceship gets blocked on its journey by a huge asteroid field/graveyard, and the captain needs to send out marshals to investigate. The captain can turn back time eight hours and do it eight times, so if anything goes wrong, they can reset the timeline. Emma, however, anticipates this and sets it up so the captain can’t turn back time, because she is looking for the body and last testament of her religion’s great prophet. She wants to find this to end the wars between the various sects that interpret his words in their own way, and she believes finding his final works will end the conflicts. Unfortunately for her, one of the species she takes with her to finance the trip – they all want something in the graveyard and will pay for the privilege of going out there – can “hack” other’s minds and use them as puppets, and he becomes more and more powerful as the mission goes on. So Emma needs to decide if she can fix the captain’s predicament so he can reset the timeline or if she wants to spread the gospel that, naturally, she finds. It’s a pickle!

As with the first two volumes, this is a nicely-plotted, exciting sci-fi adventure, and Trondheim and Vehlmann do a nice job bringing in some heavier topics, as well. Would a new gospel stop sects from hating each other? What if you found out that things you believed were wrong – would you change your beliefs or would you cling to them? What if you could “solve” what you think are problems but doing so would unleash something potentially worse? Trondheim and Vehlmann make these concerns much more concrete than usual, but the questions are still relevant. That they manage to do this in a sci-fi comic is impressive (although science fiction is often the best place to address questions such as these, because you can invent things that are clearly paralleling real stuff but probably won’t offend anyone). The art by Olivier Balez isn’t as good as in the first two volumes (each volume is drawn by someone different) – it’s a bit too Impressionistic for my tastes – but it’s not bad, and it gets the job done. I’ll deal with it!

This continues to be a cool series. Five more missions to go!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Dang, woman, that’s cold

Elseworlds: Justice League volume 3 (DC).

Man, I miss Elseworlds. They were so much fun, and DC seemed like a funner company because of them (I know it was an illusion, but still). Just look at the gem of this collection, which is on the cover: Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk get in an argument and Mxyzptlk accidentally kills Batman, which leads to Bat-Mite killing Superman, which leads to the two of them rampaging across the multiverse killing everyone. It’s ridiculous, sure, and Evan Dorkin’s script isn’t quite as funny as he might think it is (sorry, Mr. Dorkin!), but it’s still a fun story, and Dorkin digs up so many forgotten heroes just so they can die, usually horribly. The artists’ list is long and illustrious, from Mike Allred to Frank Cho to Stuart Immonen to Phil Jimenez to Jaime Hernandez to Alex Ross to Dug Mahnke, and Frank Miller drops by to parody The Dark Knight Returns for a few pages like a mensch. It’s very slight, but it’s just hella fun. Meanwhile, we get Chuck Dixon – who can write a good action yarn like nobody’s business – and Eduardo Barreto – who can draw a pulpy story like nobody’s business – doing a story about a world run by magic and the unusual “Justice League” that comes together when the world is threatened, a Pat McGreal story about Barry Allen that’s drawn beautifully by Norm Breyfogle, a kind of weak story by Fabian Nicieza (who’s never been a great writer, just a decent one) about a DC Universe with no men, the saving grace of which is that Kevin Maguire drew it, and a 1001 Nights story by Terry LaBan and Rebecca Guay. I’d only read the Nicieza/Maguire story, so most of this was new, and it was just enjoyable to read. The great thing about Elseworlds is that they could get top talent on them, usually, because it wasn’t a long-term commitment. Maguire had kind of stopped doing monthly books, but a special that would only be about four “regular” issues in terms of pages? Sure! So these are fun stories, and they remind us of a time when both companies – DC and Marvel – were creatively doing very well. Good times!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Miller might be a bit odd, but he always knew how to laugh at himself

Punisher War Journal: The Complete Collection by Matt Fraction volume 1 (Marvel).

I’ve liked a lot of what Matt Fraction has written over the years, and while his work for Marvel isn’t that great, some of it was pretty good, so despite my dislike of the Punisher in general and my utter loathing of whatever Ariel Olivetti has become (I saw some Olivetti art on one of those “1/2” issues from Wizard at the comic store a few weeks ago, from about 1998 or so, and it made me weep how good it was and how awful his art has become), I thought I’d give this a try. Hey, how bad could it be, right?

Ye gods. This is one of the worst comics I’ve ever read, and I’ve read issues of Hellina, remember. It’s completely awful. There’s almost nothing to recommend it, but I will say that Mike Deodato’s art in issue #4 is quite good and Leandro Fernández’s art in issue #11 is … fine. That’s about all the nice things I can say about these 12 issues. I mean, Olivetti’s art is terrible, and it gets worse as the book goes along, and it appears he wanted to draw every issue so he took more shortcuts, with Photoshopped explosions looking completely out of place and digital backgrounds that don’t even match his actual pencil work (or however he gets the stuff on paper; there are several Olivetti sketches in the back of the book, and it’s clear the dude could still draw back in 2007 or so, but what’s more depressing is that he chose to do the kind of art we see instead of that) and random storytelling mistakes that should make you cry. There’s also a candidate for worst panel in comic book history, which I show below, but I do admit that it might not be Olivetti’s fault that it’s so bad. It’s an awful-looking book, and it just makes me angry that Olivetti decided to go this route. His late Nineties art is very good, and I have no idea why he would want to do this to readers.

Fraction’s story is even worse, though, and that’s a bigger crime (as I knew I probably wouldn’t like the art, but I hoped the story would overcome it). The first three issues deal with Civil War, and they begin with Frank killing Stilt-Man (I’ll get back to that). Then Captain America recruits him on the “good guys'” side, but Frank can’t stop the killing, so Cap gets mad at him. I mean, of fucking course Castle was going to kill people, but Cap still acts surprised. It’s only three issues, so it speeds quickly through the plot, and we don’t get any sense of Cap trying to make a hard choice or Castle thinking it might be a chance at redemption before failing – Cap gives him a job, Luke Cage tells him it’s a stupid idea, and a few pages later, Castle kills someone and Cap gets all pissy with him. So it’s a dumb story told poorly. Issue #4 is Stilt-Man’s wake, and Frank kills a bunch of low-rent supervillains who show up in the bar where the wake is held. This was supposed to be a good issue, and while Fraction is writing about the supervillains and how they try to make sense of their useless lives, it is. Great, even. And then Castle kills them all. This is why Castle doesn’t work in the Marvel Universe. There’s no way all those villains are still dead (I know a few who aren’t, but I imagine all of the others probably aren’t, either), and that, along with Stilt-Man’s murder, is why having him kill supervillains is idiotic, because it makes him look terrible at his job. He has, to coin a phrase, one job, and in a world where resurrections are common, he can’t do that job. Marvel should just have him in a world where he can kill gangsters and other “realistic” bad guys, because in the “real” Marvel Universe, he’s lousy at what he does. And he only kills killers, right? Some of the villains were probably just petty bank robbers. When you’re a fucking hammer, Frank, everything looks like a nail.

Then there’s a terrible story about a hostage situation in Times Square, and then a really terrible story (interminable, too – it lasts five loooooooong issues) about Hate-Monger and a bunch of white supremacists in the Arizona desert, a story in which Frank Castle kills an innocent civilian. He does it to keep his cover as a racist asshole alive, but still – he kills a young reporter who was covering the story and whom the white supremacists kidnapped because she was a threat to their operation. And Castle kills her. Way to go, Frank! Then there’s a World War Hulk story in which Castle fights an alien. Mercifully, that’s the last story in the collection.

I could go even further into why this is a terrible comic, and maybe I will – those kinds of posts are fun every once in a while. The short(er) version is that Fraction doesn’t construct the stories well, as we zip from scene to scene with no sense of cohesion among them, and he seems to want to make Castle a hero while still keeping his bad-assery, which doesn’t really work. And Castle killing a civilian should mean everything he does is moot, because now he’s not out for justice, he’s just a murderer (I mean, he murdered Stilt-Man when Stilt-Man was technically reformed, but at least the dude used to be a villain). Fraction makes him almost worship Captain America for no reason, and Cap’s death casts a pall over the second part of the book, but why the hell would Castle care about Cap? And if he did, it has to be more than just “He’s the embodiment of the American dream.” That’s way too abstract, and Castle is not about the abstract. There’s just nothing at all good in these stories, with a character who’s completely wrong for these kinds of stories, and with art that actually might make your eyeballs bleed. Please don’t buy this collection if you’ve been thinking about it! Even Punisher fans would hate this!!!!!

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally non-Airwolf panel:

Ugh. Join me below to discuss this further!

Look at this panel. The tag says it’s in Newark, New Jersey. The motel is in the middle of the desert. There is nothing remotely like this landscape in New Jersey or anywhere east of the Mississippi. Plus, that’s the “Turnpike Motel.” The turnpike does run through Newark, but anyone who knows anything about a turnpike knows that it’s a limited access road, so I doubt if there are any motels along the road. That, however, looks nothing like a turnpike, so maybe this is a by an entrance or exit, hence the name. It’s still idiotic. I blame Olivetti for this, sure, because even in 2008 or so he could have searched to see what Newark looks like, and even if he couldn’t do that, a map will tell him that it’s across the river from New York, and does anyone think there’s a desert that close to New York? Olivetti’s Argentinian, which is why I’m assuming he might not know the geography of the United States that well. But, I mean, if an American artist drew Buenos Aires as a town full of mud huts, people would be rightfully angry and accuse him or her of Yankee arrogance. So what gives here? It’s not all Olivetti’s fault, either. Presumably this comic was edited by someone (I’m joking – of course it was, as many are listed in the front, but I don’t know who did this particular issue), and if this is what an editor does for Marvel, I’m submitting my resumé – I mean, I can sit on my ass and do nothing all day, too! (True story: One of the most fun things that has ever happened with regard to my needling of comics pros – which I really try not to do, but occasionally it’s necessary – is when I claimed the editor of Fear Itself didn’t do the job because the word “prophecy” was spelled wrong, and a Marvel editor – DeFalco, maybe? – came on the blog to scold me because I didn’t know what an editor really did, but I pointed out that if they can’t do a simple spelling check, why are they entrusted with bigger duties, and then, later on in the series, “prophecy” was spelled wrong again in the exact same way. Good times.) The editor didn’t now that Newark isn’t in the middle of a desert? Really? Jeebus. That’s just why this is a candidate for worst panel in comic book history. This is just the worst.

West Coast Avengers volume 1: Best Coast (Marvel).

After that debacle, let’s get back to, you know, good comics. West Coast Avengers has started off strong, with a slightly annoying trade that has nothing to do with the content of the actual title (I’ll get to it). Yes, I used to write at the same blog as Kelly Thompson and admire her a great deal (I don’t want to say we’re friends, as we’ve never actually met, but we’re friendly), but I don’t think that gets in the way of me honestly believing that she’s one of the top dialogue writers in comics today (and as so much of comics is dialogue these days, that’s pretty crucial). Kate Bishop decides to recruit a team to defend the West Coast (but really, it seems, Santa Monica) from threats, and somehow Quentin Quire gets involved, and he’s somehow filming a reality television series, so we get a bunch of pages on which the team is being interviewed one-on-one, which is a good device to catch us up on some things. At the end of the first issue, the character find of 2018 shows up: B.R.O.D.O.K., the Bio-Robotic Organism Designed Overwhelmingly for Kissing, a flowing-haired blond who eschews shirts and loves leather pants. The team twigs immediately that he’s really M.O.D.O.K., which actually bummed me out to no end, because B.R.O.D.O.K. is, let’s face it, pretty awesome. B.R.O.D.O.K. is enlarging people, like Tigra, and hypnotizing them somehow (and turning some of them into monsters) so they attack Los Angeles, and the team has to stop them. That’s it, that’s the plot. What makes this such a fun book, though, is the way Thompson writes the characters and gives them crackling dialogue – it’s not as whip-fast and too-clever like a lot of sitcom writing, but it comes close, as she walks the fine line between “realistic” and “entertaining.” The characters are interesting and distinctive, and Thompson does a good job with the team dynamic. She does two things that annoy me – she has two characters who are arguing suddenly start making out, and she has two characters see each other for the first time and fall instantly in love. Neither of those things ever happen in real life, but at least in the first instance she plays it for laughs. She also just gets the idea of odd personalities coming together, none of whom have too much experience (Clint’s on the team, but other than that, they’re all pretty new at the superhero thing), and it’s fun to watch them sort it out. Stefano Caselli is a good artist, handling the facial expressions and body language that are crucial to a book like this, but also doing quite nice work on the action scenes, as well. So this is a terrific start.

The only reason I don’t like it more is because it only collects four issues of the series. Marvel is doing this far too often, and it’s pissing me off. I don’t know how long the second arc of the book is, but they “fill this out” by reprinting Young Avengers Presents #6, in which Kate meets Clint, and The Unbelievable Gwenpool #1, in which we meet Gwenpool. Now, neither of these are bad comics (although the Gwenpool one ends horribly, shifting tone so quickly it might give you whiplash), but they’re kind of pointless. The Gwenpool one, especially, is annoying, because in West Coast Avengers, her schtick of being from “our universe” and knowing she’s in a comic has largely been dropped (I don’t know if that’s Marvel’s doing or Thompson’s, but there it is). So she feels kind of like a different character, and who cares how that other character first appeared? I just get annoyed with stuff like this – there’s another example below. If Marvel wants to do a four-issue trade, go right ahead. They could have charged about 12 bucks for a four-issue trade and it would have cost “the same” as this one – this one is $17.99 for issues that would probably cost $24 (I’m assuming the two ones tacked on were 4 bucks), so a four-issue trade could be 12 dollars for 16 dollars of a four-issue arc. There’s nothing wrong with that!

Anyway, this is a good series. I’m sure it will get cancelled before it hits issue #20, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I love the dude on the end, because why would everyone know who M.O.D.O.K. is?

Bombshells United volume 3: Taps (DC).

It’s too bad that Marguerite Bennett’s underrated series ends with a bit of a thump, as it’s been a very entertaining series for its entire run. This volume isn’t terrible, it’s just that it feels like Bennett knew the end was nigh, so she tried to wrap it all up and does so in a disappointing fashion. She introduces Apokolips, which is not a great idea, because the point of this story is to show how human beings can hate and how the heroes try to overcome that, occasionally by fighting but also in other ways, and when Darkseid shows up (he’s not actually in the book, but his presence is felt), there’s not much more to do but start punching. Conveniently, it unites humanity against a common enemy, kind of letting the Nazis off the hook, and it just doesn’t feel right. And after a long build-up, the battle against Apokolips ends so abruptly I didn’t realize it had until one of the characters said it had, which is weird. Still, there’s some good stuff here, and Bennett does hold off on the Apokolips stuff long enough to write part of a good story, and Marguerite Sauvage (who’s always been the series’ best artist, or at least one of the top two or three) returns to finish things off, so that’s nice. It’s stunning that this series lasted as long as it did, and it’s always been quite entertaining despite the wild anachronism of it all, but it’s just a little too bad that it ended with a clunk. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I’m not afraid to pander, people!

Cold Spots (Image).

Cullen Bunn is a bit obsessed with weird horror, so it’s not surprising that this is a weird horror story, drawn really well by Mark Torres. Torres has an odd angular style that makes every person look a little creepy, and he uses effects and coloring really well to create ghosts and other strange things in the book. Bunn’s story isn’t great, mainly because he speeds through it, but it’s pretty good. Dan Kerr is asked by his ex-father-in-law to find his wife and daughter, who have disappeared. Dan left his pregnant wife a decade ago, so he doesn’t even know his daughter, but he agrees to find them. He does that easily enough – they’re on an island just off the shore of a decrepit town, living with the spooky Quarrel family in their olde-tymey mansion, which is in the middle of a spooky forest. Of course. Dan discovers that his daughter has a strange ability, and the Quarrels are trying to tap into that to do … something. Dan decides that he’s not going to let them.

It’s a good premise, but Bunn zips through it too much (this is five issues long, and could easily be eight). Dan seems like a douchebag, so when he shows up and starts berating his ex-wife for bringing his daughter to the island, it comes off as just an asshole who abandoned his responsibilities but still thinks he has a say in how to raise his kid. We have no idea why he left, either, so it’s not even like that could make him sympathetic. Even when his ex-wife tells him that his daughter is “special” and that the Quarrels are helping her, he doesn’t care and tries to take her away with no understanding of the situation (that he’s ultimately right doesn’t matter, because in that he just gets lucky). At least he realizes that her grandfather doesn’t have her best interests in mind, either, but still. Bunn also doesn’t do a great job explaining what exactly his daughter is doing for the Quarrels. I mean, we can figure some of it out, but there are too many unanswered questions at the end of the book for it to really work. Perhaps Bunn is working on a sequel that will explain more of what’s going on. That would be nice, but it doesn’t really help us now, does it?

Bunn is an interesting writer, because he usually has good ideas and occasionally does good things with them, but he can also miss in odd ways, ways that aren’t just “he’s a lousy writer.” That’s why it bugs me when something he writes doesn’t really work, because you can usually see the good thing inside it. If we get more of this story, it might mitigate the problems with this volume a bit, but we shall see. Oh yes, we shall.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

You better hope not!

Euthanauts: Ground Control (IDW).

As I always ponder with the new Black Crown line, I wonder if they’re doing okay and I really hope they are – they’ve kind of picked up the slack from Vertigo (a few places have done this, true) now that Vertigo has gone all-in with reverting to Sandman-related material, and Shelly Bond (who edits the books) knows what she’s doing, so I root for these comics. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve been pretty good so far. Case in point: Euthanauts, in which two scientists want to explore what happens after you die. The husband kills himself willingly, but something goes wrong and he disappears. Almost thirty years later, the wife is dying, and she finds a young woman named Thalia Rosewood (a great fiction name if not one that would ever exist in the real world) who she believes can act as her “tether” so she won’t get lost in the after-death space like her husband. She also dies, and it turns out that Thalia can act as her tether, meaning Thalia can pass between the living world and death world, meaning they can explore what happens after you die. Wonky comic book science activate!

Tini Howard’s story is a bit flimsy, mainly because she spends a lot of time setting things up and not a lot of time dealing with the threat from beyond death. I don’t mind a comic without an antagonist, but Howard wants one, so she should have spent a bit more time making it more menacing. This is an interesting concept and I certainly wouldn’t mind more of these characters and their explorations, but the pacing in this mini-series is a bit off, so it never quite coheres into a solid story. Thalia and Mercy Wolfe (the scientist, with another great fiction name that would never exist in real life) and the other characters are interesting enough to spend time with, and the fact that the son of one of Wolfe’s old colleagues isn’t that keen on her studies and is also into Thalia is a predictable set-up but still one with a lot of possibilities, but it does feel like we’re waiting for more to happen and it never does. Meanwhile, Nick Robles does amazing work on the art, giving the afterlife an almost steampunk appearance (it’s not too overt, but he does some weird stuff with how the two explorers clothe themselves) and making the real world a good contrast between the sterile laboratory settings where Dr. Wolfe worked and the hippie commune where Thalia’s love interest hangs out. Eva de la Cruz’s colors help with that, as well. Robles also gives us nice characters, real-looking people with actual clothing, which is always appreciated. He uses some interesting page designs when Thalia and Dr. Wolfe meet in the afterlife, too, which is neat.

This isn’t quite as good as I’d like it to be, but it’s not bad. If Howard and Robles decide to continue, I have a feeling they’ll be much more confident now that they’ve gotten the general foundation out of the way. Or at least I hope they would!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s one way to ponder the world!

Hey Kids! Comics! (Image).

Whenever Howard Chaykin comes up with me these days, I have to note that I think he’s lost a little bit since his 1980s heyday (on the back of the book, a fan tells a comic book artist that her old stuff was better, and I imagine Chaykin did that just for assholes like me). It’s clear he can still do comics, but he relies a bit too much on digital backgrounds these days, which makes his art look a bit less organic. I mentioned that when he was drawing (but not writing) Satellite Sam, his art looked great because it was in black and white, and I think, sadly, that a lot of the poor art that Chaykin has been doing over the past 15-20 years is due to him working with colorist Jesus Aburtov, who didn’t seem like the best fit for Chaykin. It wasn’t all Aburtov’s fault – as I noted, Chaykin didn’t seem to have the hang of digital artwork – but I think it was a problem. Recently, though, Chaykin seems to have figured out how better to incorporate digital backgrounds into his work so it’s a bit more seamless, and in this comic, at least, he’s colored by Wil Quintana, and the difference is striking. Quintana still over-renders just a bit on some of Chaykin’s faces, but overall, he uses a flatter color palette than Aburtov used, which de-emphasizes whatever is digital in Chaykin’s art (I know some of it is, but I don’t know how much) and makes it blend in more with his strong pencils (by “digital” I mean Chaykin using Photoshop or some other program to skip drawing things; his pencil work could be all digital, but he’s actually drawing it). So this is a very good-looking comic, and while it’s often crowded and takes place over several decades, it’s not too hard to distinguish the many characters – Chaykin gives them each distinctive looks so that even as they age, we can figure out who’s who. It’s the best colored Chaykin art I’ve seen in years.

Chaykin does a fun “history of comics” story, and in an afterword, he claims that only characters Bob Rose and Sid Mitchell are easy to identify as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Yeah, okay, sir. I mean, Ron Fogel, who created a character called “Midknight” and never wrote or drew the character after creating him, couldn’t be Bob Kane, right? Irwin Glaser and Ira Gelbert couldn’t possibly be Siegel and Shuster, could they? Alfred Kessler is most certainly Will Eisner. There are others, too, and it’s not as hard as Chaykin is pretending to identify them. His three main characters – a woman, a black man, and a white dude – are probably based on amalgamations (the black dude, Ted Whitman, could be seen as Matt Baker, except he lives far longer than Baker did, and the woman could be Marie Severin, I suppose, but it doesn’t really matter), but they have to be new characters, because they drive the plot. Chaykin gets into all the crap that creators went through and still go through, from not getting paid for their work to publishers taking advantage of them to courts ruling against them to movies being made of their creations and reaping financial windfalls while they get nothing. It’s a very funny story, with everyone acting horribly and people getting run over by cars and oodles of politically incorrect language, but it’s also depressing because we know that a lot of it is true, at least the spirit of it, and that Kane really did get credit for things he didn’t do and Lee ripped off artists and the corporations won. Chaykin is getting older (he’s 68), so a lot of this comes off as a grumpy old man, because it seems like he really does believe a good amount of what he puts in the old artists’ mouths about newer artists ripping off older ones, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s not expressing his true beliefs. If not, then it’s dripping with irony, as one character in the book is known for not having much talent and trying to draw like others. The entire book is like this – it’s savage in its takedown of the comics industry. The reason I’m not completely giving him the benefit of the doubt is because Chaykin is well-known for having a love-hate relationship with comics, and it makes him interesting as a human and makes him interesting as a creator. So it’s fun to read this with that extra layer of awareness, because Chaykin himself doesn’t really know how to deal with the comics industry, just like his characters.

So this is a terrific book, and it’s nice to see that Chaykin can still bring it. It appears that he’s doing a sequel to Time2, which I hope means the original will be back in print. That would be fun to read! In the meantime, check this book out. It’s pretty ginchy.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Chaykin can still bring the caustic wit!

Infinity Wars: Sleepwalker (Marvel).

I have a soft spot for Sleepwalker, as goofy as he is, so when I saw that Chad Bowers and Chris Sims were writing a mini-series about the big lug and it was drawn by Todd Nauck, who’s pretty good, I figured I’d give it a chance even though it was tied into the whole “Infinity Wars” thing, about which I know almost nothing. I guess it had something to do with alternate realities? Because that’s what we get here – Sleepwalker goes into the Infinity Stones and has to work his way through them to find Rick Sheridan, his human host, and half of the earth’s population, which has been sucked into the gems and had their memories erased. Basically, it’s an excuse for the writers to come up with a bunch of alternate worlds and people, like the amalgam of Bruce Banner and Scott Lang who turns into a tiny green monster, one that gets smaller the angrier he gets. There’s a bit of meta-commentary on the alternate worlds thing which is fun, but basically this is a big action comic with small twists on familiar characters. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and it’s fairly funny and largely entertaining. Nauck’s art is good, too, and he gets to draw some crazy action scenes with weird characters, including Man-Thing Thang Thoom, so that’s all right too. I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get more of Rick Sheridan – in the original series the tension between Rick and Sleepwalker, even after Rick knew what was going on, was a big part of its readability – but because it’s a rescue mission, we just don’t get too much of it. That’s too bad, because in the beginning, Rick is making a documentary about some of Marvel’s lesser-known heroes, and as you might recall, I’m always fascinated by characters from the Big Two that just don’t get as much attention as others. So that’s an interesting little tidbit that gets swept aside for the more traditional super-heroing.

This trade also has a reprint, of Sleepwalker #1, and that’s probably just so Marvel can charge $15.99 for it. Like in the West Coast Avengers trade, the reprint doesn’t really add too much – Bowers and Sims actually do a decent job explaining Sleepwalker in the text of the series – but at least there’s only one of them. This story is also four issues (like the WCA trade), but it appears that Marvel just doesn’t want to do the four-issue trade for 12-13 dollars, which would still be cheaper than the single issues but would look even flimsier than their five- or six-issue trades, which are, to be honest, looking pretty skinny already. Psychology is weird, man.

So this is pretty good. Maybe Bowers and Sims can do another Sleepwalker story? That would be keen.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Look at cute l’il faux-Hulk!

The Unexpected (DC).

This is a poorly-named series, because very little of what happens is “unexpected.” This is a very standard superhero story, the kind of thing that people who look down on comics use to prop up their argument, because it’s full of thinly-drawn characters, ridiculous plotting and silly plot twists, a reliance on things that happen in other comics, and it features lots of fights seemingly to no end. It’s a “Metal” tie-in, so I’m not surprised that some of it is a bit impenetrable, but occasionally it really, really is opaque, and that’s on Steve Orlando, who doesn’t try particularly hard to make this mean anything to anyone who didn’t read Dark Nights: Metal. Orlando also wastes some characters who might be interesting – yes, they could come back from the dead, but not in this series – as two of the four characters on the cover don’t make it out of the first issue. I know he was going for some shock value here – look, we have a cool new team but I’m going to kill half of them! – but that doesn’t mean it works. Plus, one of the survivors, Janet Fals (a.k.a. Firebrand), is the one who needs to fight every 24 hours because … well, it’s idiotic comic book science, but let’s just say she’ll die if she doesn’t. This is Firebrand’s first appearance (well, the Janet Fals version – DC has had others with that name), and while dumb, the reason she needs to fight at least could be something to explore, because it could lead to stuff about corporate intrigue and selling your soul (metaphorically, although given that it’s a comic, maybe also literally) and how you control yourself when you need to fight every day, but Orlando writes it like he’s recapping something we already should know (which we don’t, because, as I pointed out, this is her first appearance) and then moves on to his punch-’em-up Nth metal superhero story. All four characters could be intriguing, but Orlando kills two of them and then spends his time with more-established heroes reacting to Janet and the other survivor, and it’s just a lot of blather from a Thanagarian super-villain and a Grant Morrison knock-off. Orlando even creates a new villain who seems much more interesting than the main ones, and he does very little with him, too! It’s like either Orlando didn’t have any confidence in his own creations or DC was skittish about having them in a book, but they launched a bunch of new titles with new characters, none of which have done particularly well but which have sold a little, so why not this one? And if it wasn’t DC, why wouldn’t Orlando have more confidence in his writing? It’s weird.

This is just a very standard superhero book with perfectly fine art (Ryan Sook provides some, Cary Nord provides some, Yvel Guichet provides some, but it’s mostly Ronan Cliquet), but that’s just it – there’s nothing here that makes it stand out. It is, frankly, what you expect. OH, THE IRONY!!!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

A majority of these characters will soon be dead!

Here are the books I bought but didn’t read:

I rarely read beyond the first volume of mange until it’s all done, so I’m waiting on Captain Harlock. Chronin is the first of only two volumes, so I figure I’ll read it when the second volume shows up. I’m way behind on Corto Maltese, so I’ll get to them eventually. I wanted to read the Iron Fist book, but this is already a week late, so I’ll read it more slowly. It looks terrific, though – lots of gorgeous black-and-white art. I haven’t read the second volume of Ménage à 3 yet, so I couldn’t just read volume 3, could I? And I started reading the EC Piracy book, and I got thought two issues, I think, but it’s also just really long and I wanted to get to other stuff. I mean, it’s EC comics with stuff by Reed Crandall, Wallace Wood, Jack Davis – of course it’s awesome!

Let’s take a look at the money I spent in February:

6.2.19: $108.37
13.2.19: $189.96
20.2.19: $209.94
27.2.19: $179.49

Total for the month: $687.76
YTD: $1445.78

Well, dang, that’s already a shit-ton of money. Comics ain’t cheap, folks!

Anyway, it’s almost a week later than I wanted to post this, so I’ll not do anything extra. I’m trying to buy fewer comics, I swear! Maybe in March I’ll be able to read and review them all before the end of the month! Have a nice day, everyone! And as always, if you want to buy any of these books or just anything from Amazon, if you use the link below I’ll get a small piece of that. Anything is appreciated!

18 Comments

  1. Louis Bright-Raven

    RE: BLACK LIGHTNING – BRICK CITY BLUES —

    Greg: “Isabella, oddly enough, wrote only the first eight of the 13 issues, but I’m not sure why.”

    He was fired by the editor. I don’t know all the specifics, but as Tony explains in his Blogspot page from four days ago (3/4/19):

    Tony: “My new introduction (to the BRICK CITY BLUES book) covers the year I spent researching the real-life Brick City neighborhood of Cleveland before I began writing the new series. It covers my discovery of Eddy Newell at a Cleveland comics convention. It skirts over my being fired from the title by a rodent-like editor and, at that time, the latest in a series of DC or employees thereof, failing to keep their agreements with me. Ask me about that sometime.

    Unfortunately, I can’t recommend any other current DC comic books featuring Black Lightning for the simple reason DC doesn’t seem to understand my creation. Jefferson Pierce’s priorities are family, students and community. He would not abandon those priorities to go to work for Batman. Nor would he, as shown in a particularly weak story in DC’s Cursed Comics Cavalcade #1, abandon those priorities to sign on for Katana’s war against demons or whatnot. They don’t get Black Lightning. Which is a shame since there is a writer who does get the character. His name is Tony Isabella.

    I have pitched several Black Lightning projects to DC, including an ongoing series continuing from Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands. As near as I can tell, DC is simply not interested in working with me in the future. Which makes very little logical sense considering my creation is the title star of a hit TV series seen by millions more people than will read DC’s comic books. Including comics written by me. But, at least, if I’m writing Black Lightning, viewers of the series will get a super-hero with the same core values as the hero in the popular TV series.

    Warning. Don’t try to figure out how DC Comics makes its decisions. It’ll just make your head hurt.”

    I would not be surprised if it turned out DeVries worked from plots that Tony had already turned in and Tony simply wasn’t credited for them. That would explain why the tone of the 1994-95 book remained largely intact.

    Greg: “Meanwhile, Eddy Newell didn’t last too long on the book, but his replacements (most commonly Octavio Cariello) also tried to keep the tone of the artwork, so it’s not too different there, either.”

    Again, go ask Tony (or Eddy). They both have Facebook accounts, Greg, as do you. Easy peasy, man.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Wait, how do you already have that Iron Fist book? I thought it was only getting released next week.

    Otherwise, you’ve reminded me that I’ve got a bunch of stuff by Chaykin on my shelf of shame (from the ’80s!) – but I’m still itching to read his most recent offerings, liked Hey Kids and Divided States…

  3. Glad to know Mr. Miracle is almost awesome. I’ve heard it praised, but my opinion of Tom King’s Batman is at least as low as yours.
    Captain America was really a Nazi/Hydra but that’s because of Cosmic Cube tampering with reality, which I assume surprised nobody.
    C”onan seems like one of those characters that can’t be too hard to write – you just put him into a situation where he has to fight a lot of people and look down upon the effeminate city folk, throw in a hot woman or two, and Bob’s your uncle.”
    If that were true, I wouldn’t have read so many sucky non-Howard Conan stories in paperback. Not that all Howard’s were gems, but Lin Carter and L. Sprague deCamp’s additions to the canon had me convinced Conan was really boring.
    One writer suggested some years later the thing people don’t get is that Conan’s tough, not just physically but mentally. In “Phoenix on the Sword” he knows he’s going to die (or so it appears) but he simply snarls “Who dies first?” and fights until salvation appears. In “A Witch Shall Be Born” he survives crucifixion by biting a vulture’s neck and drinking the blood; it’s not physically impossible, but it’s something even desperate people might not have the fortitude to do.

    1. Greg Burgas

      frasersherman: King has been quite good on everything but Batman, so I guess if he gets paid for that but can do other things, that’s the way it is!

      I was being a bit facetious about Conan, but that is the formula, you must admit. But you’re also right that some writers can’t even get the formula right! I do like how Roy Thomas, in those early Marvel Conans (which I’m currently reading when I can), had our hero occasionally be afraid and unsure of things. It made it clear that he was pretty young and hadn’t quite figured out how to be a total bad-ass yet.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Carlos: I haven’t read any yet. It’s hard enough to keep up with stuff that’s in Previews, and I don’t think they’ve been offered there yet, so I just forget about them. I saw some of the books when they were announced, and the creative teams sounded very good, so I should look into them. Because I need to spend MORE money! 🙂

      1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

        They’re brutally expensive in Ireland – €30 for the full series in the LCS, since it’s a $12 international fee.

        They consciously avoid the direct market, so it might never pop up in Previews.

  4. Eric van Schaik

    Christ Greg!!!
    It would take me 3 to 4 years to get comics for that amount of money.
    Amazing that you still buy quit a lot of Marvel stuff. When I buy some it’s epic coollections.

    Because of the new love of my life I spend every other weekend at her place so reading is for the moment not the highest priority. We have met each others kids and her oldest daughter likes comics a bit and I gave her the season one Hulk and FF books to read. Otherwise I would give them to the school of my daughter so they have English comics to read.

    When I buy stuff it’s European lately. I’m in nostalgia mode and a lot of old stuff gets the integral treatment, with extra’s about the time the stuff came out. Also printed on better paper. Some of it gets reviewed at Augie’s site.

    Let’s see if the next Previews has something interesting.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: As I’ve often said, we don’t do much with our money because our daughter makes travel difficult and we’re not eating out and seeing movies all the time, and we’re lucky enough to have two fairly decent income streams, so while it’s a good chunk of money, it’s not on top of much else, so it works. But yeah, when you see it all together it’s a bit daunting.

      I still buy quite a bit from Marvel and DC, just not single issues and I stay away (in general) from the big books because those seem to be the most creatively dull (not surprising, as they can’t really change too much). It’s not like Marvel and DC CAN’T do good comics, they just don’t seem that interested in making them all the time. It’s frustrating.

      Yeah, I dig the reprints of old stuff, and some European stuff is making its way here, so that’s nice. It’s also spendy! 🙂

      Glad to hear your relationship is going well!

  5. Peter

    I just checked out “Hey Kids! Comics!” this afternoon and it did have notably good art from Chaykin – I wonder how much of it is from the coloring and how much is from the fact that the book features about as much architecture as human faces. Is there other good recent Chaykin work I’ve been missing out on?

    (As far as the story went, I found it interesting but not tremendous – I guess I’ve already read a good amount about the lives of Golden Age titans and how they tended to view the quality of their work without rose-colored lenses. It was interesting that Chaykin is the guy doing a comic about the first generation of comics artists, as he’s a member of the first generation of fans-turned-artists who came into the industry venerating comics as something more than cheap, disposable juvenalia…)

    1. Greg Burgas

      Peter: His art on Satellite Sam was quite good, but Fraction’s story meandered a bit, and I lost interest, so I don’t know if it all came together in the end. Other than that, it’s hard finding good Chaykin art from this century!

      That’s not a bad point about who Chaykin is, although he specifically DOESN’T venerate comics as something more than cheap and disposable – part of the reason he and the comics literati butt heads, it seems, is because he thinks they’re just for short-term entertainment and can’t understand why others think we should hold them up for worship. At least in many cases, he does. But he does have a ton of respect for those who came before him, and he knew they were under no illusions about what they were producing, so this seems to be in his wheelhouse.

  6. John King

    I suspect “Green Door” was intended as a reference to the 1956 song
    I imagin Al Ewing would be familiar with the 1981 version by Welsh rocker Shakin’ Stevens

    (I don’t know how familiar he may be with porn)

  7. G Thomas Mueller

    I remember that Punished series and it was pretty horrible. I also completely agree with you on Olivetti. His art kept me from getting two different Space Ghost series…why we haven’t seen Steve Rude draw one since that 80’s Comico book is beyond me. But back to Olivetti…I believe he drew that Death of Inhumans book in what I would consider a non-horrendous style if I recall correctly. Have you seen that?

    1. Greg Burgas

      Rude definitely should have done DC’s recent Space Ghost stories!

      I hadn’t seen that Death of Inhumans comic, because I knew Olivetti was drawing it. You’re right, though, it’s not as horrendous as usual. I wonder what Olivetti was doing differently. Does this signal a new style that I might not hate?!?!?!?

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