What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – May and June 2020

He was incapable of jealousy, which is to say he was also incapable of love. (Milorad Pavic, from Landscape Painted With Tea)

Comics only came out for two weeks in May (no, I don’t count DC’s weird thing they did, because the titles were limited and nothing came out that I would have bought anyway), so I decided to combine the month with June. Deal with it, peeps!

Appalachian Apocalypse! by Billy Tucci (writer), Ethan Nicolle (artist), Ben Glibert (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), and Shahriar Fouladi (editor). $14.95, 120 pgs, Cave Pictures Publishing.

This is a fairly mediocre zombie book, which I bought for a few reasons: I liked the idea of hillbilly zombies, and Ethan Nicolle was drawing it. Nicolle, you might recall, had some fame a few years back as the artist of the Axe Cop comics, which were ostensibly written by his 5-year-old brother (I believe they’re stepbrothers, but can’t find anything about that). Nicolle has a nice, cartoony style, and while he’s never been a big star, he’s a good artist, so I figured this book would look pretty neat. Plus, how can you not love hillbilly zombies? Unfortunately, Billy Tucci isn’t a great writer, so while the book is entertaining, it has too many flaws for it to be really good. There’s actually not quite enough hillbilly zombie action in it – once we get to the hillbillies fighting zombies, the book actually becomes better, but Tucci takes a long time to get there. He engages in far too many clichés before that. We get the woman who’s engaged to the scientist who seems like a good guy but is really unhinged, and before she can marry him she needs to get a divorce from her earthy, “real” husband, who of course was in the army and is now in the National Guard and is all downhome and wears a baseball cap and is good-looking and charming and loves to hang out at the hillbilly bar and be all cool. It’s a dumb story, sure, but part of the problem is that we never find out why Anne wants to divorce him in the first place (he’s a bit “knight-in-shining-armor,” but that doesn’t seem like the best reason), so of course she ends up with him again, especially as her scientist guy turns out to be, as I noted, a bit unhinged. Tucci, who is apparently a good Christian, leans into that quite a bit, which is fine (I question how a non-believer like Anne – at least she seems to be – has long Bible passages memorized simply because she “went to Sunday school,” but whatever), but at one point a dude prays the zombie infection away, but the person who was infected doesn’t deserve it, really, and doesn’t change the way he acts. Later, another character dies between issues, which is weird – in the final panel of one issue, they’re bleeding from the leg, but not seriously, and on the first page of the next issue, everyone is at their funeral. I mean, sheesh! Plus, the hillbillies seem to know one of the zombies personally, so how did that happen? All in all, it’s a goofy zombie story that wants to be more serious than it is, but Nicolle excels at things that aren’t too serious and Tucci doesn’t seem to recognize that. It all adds up to a mediocre zombie story. The hillbillies are quite fun, though!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

But he had AT&T, so the call kept getting dropped! (Note, I’ve never had AT&T, so I don’t know if this joke is valid.)

Farmhand #11-15 by Rob Guillory (writer/artist), Taylor Wells (colorist), Jeremy Treece (colorist), Rico Renzi (colorist), and Kody Chamberlain (letterer). $19.95, 124 pgs, Image Comics.

Guillory’s epic reaches what he tells us in the back is its halfway point (early on, he thought it would be about 25-30 issues, so I guess this means it’s going 30?), and it’s a good place to pause, as he says he’s going to do. In this arc, we got a ton of revelations about Jedidiah Jenkins, his family, the town, Monica Thorne, Jedidiah’s wife, and Ezekiel himself, so it feels like a good place to stop and reset. You’ll notice the page count up there – each issue except #15 is 24 pages, with that final issue coming in at 28, so when Guillory says he’s exhausted, we can probably believe him. Plus, long-time colorist Taylor Wells didn’t do issues #13-15, and I don’t know if it was because of a falling-out between he and Guillory or if he got something to do that paid better, but it sounds as if Guillory had to scramble a bit to replace him. Plus, AMC has optioned it, and while it might never get out of the barn, Guillory is still writing a pilot episode. The dude is busy, in other words, and I don’t know how long it will be before Farmhand returns, but you can’t begrudge the dude a break!

We learn quite a lot about the big bad and what’s going on, but there’s still plenty of questions. Guillory, who has turned out to be a pretty danged good writer, paces things really well so that each issue feels like a little story even though it’s clearly part of the big epic, and each issue ends with something that makes you want to read more. The final issue of the arc is gut-wrenching, because we finally find out what happened to Ezekiel’s mom, and it’s fairly horrific. Through it all, though, Guillory remembers that these are people, not just archetypes, so while the book isn’t exactly funny, occasionally there’s some black humor because the characters crack jokes while all the horror is happening around them. Plus, the inherent goofiness of the premise – a seed that can grow into any body part – lightens the mood just enough, even as the bodies drop and the full implication of the plot is hinted at. Guillory never really slows down the plot, so those moments of characterization are nice.

The odd problem with the art is in the coloring – Wells has always worked, um, well with Guillory, and Treece, who colors issue #13, doesn’t have the same light touch. He over-renders a bit, giving too much nuance to Guillory’s cartooning, which doesn’t need it because it’s not “realistic.” Treece does some nice work – the “Mormons” standing against a pale blue sky is a beautiful panel – but he’s generally too heavy-handed. Renzi is more experienced, so the colors on issues #14-15 are back to keeping Guillory’s line work crisp, as it should be, so I hope Guillory has the coloring situation ironed out. It’s just a bit weird to see the colors in issue #13.

So Farmhand careens on, at least in the plot, while the scheduling of it comes to a halt. It’s a cool comic, and I hope Guillory takes his time to get the rest of it the way he wants!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Hey, that’s my family motto!

Family Tree volume 1 by Jeff Lemire (writer), Phil Hester (artist), Eric Gapstur (artist), Ryan Cody (artist), Steve Wands (letterer), and Will Dennis (editor). $9.99, 86 pgs, Image.

So this book is about a girl who turns into a tree. Yep. Apparently she’s not the only one, as her father turned into a tree, and there seem to be others, and then there are those that don’t like people turning into trees and want to kill them. So, um, that sucks. This is a weird book, because I don’t really have a lot to say about it – there’s a woman whose husband abandoned them years before (unbeknownst to her, it was because he thought him turning into a tree might put a crimp in their marriage, and I mean, if he thought that, then perhaps the marriage wasn’t working anyway? #TreesArePeopleToo) and whose daughter is now turning into a tree. People come to kill the girl, her father-in-law, whom she hasn’t seen in years, shows up to shoot them, and they all go on the run. We know very little about what the hell is going on, but apparently the dad is still alive in some weird “tree world,” and part of him is attached to his dad’s arm as a hand, which can communicate with the dad, and people are trying to kill them. This isn’t Jeff Lemire flexing his writing muscles all that much, but it is Phil Hester drawing the shit out of it, which makes it worth a look. I mean, it’s entertaining and thrilling, too, but it’s basically a chase comic, so far. I imagine we’ll get more as it goes on!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Horrors! Such language!

A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent by Robert W. Merry. 576 pgs, Simon & Schuster, 2009.

I’ve always been interested in Polk, even before I knew I was very vaguely related to him (it’s a big family), and I’ve always been interested in the years around the Civil War – 1800-1850, say, and 1870-1900 – so I saw this biography of Polk and thought it would be a good read, and it was. Polk is largely forgotten among the general public, although he ranks fairly high among historians who rank presidents, as he added more territory to the United States than any president (against the wishes of a large percentage of the population, it should be noted) and he achieved his two major domestic policies, which was lowering tariff rates and the creation of the Independent Treasury. He promised to serve only one term, and did so, and he died three months after leaving office at the age of 53. The presidency really took a toll on him, as he barely left Washington, D.C., during his term and worked constantly (much like the current occupant, who works so danged hard and you people won’t leave him alone!).

Merry does a good job delving into Polk’s character, which both helped and hindered him quite a bit during his presidency. He was oddly loyal to some people who didn’t deserve it, most notably James Buchanan, who not only is generally regarded as one of the worst presidents but comes off in this book as one of the worst Secretaries of State, constantly defying Polk, changing his opinion on a whim, and getting away with it all. But Polk was also very visionary, seeing the acquisition of Oregon and California as crucial to the destiny of the United States, going against the Whigs, who gradually evolved into the Republicans, and even members of his own Democratic Party. Merry gets into the weeds very well, going over the cabinet meetings that Polk had as the Oregon controversy unfolded and then as the Mexican War ramped up. Polk, it’s clear, didn’t start the war, but he really goaded Mexico into it, but then, like so many wars countries fight, he found himself entangled in a fight that went on forever. Some of this was Mexico’s fault – the country refused to admit that they were beaten, despite winning almost no battles in the war and retreating constantly – but Polk didn’t trust his two main generals, Zachary Taylor (who succeeded him as president) and Winfield Scott, who at the time was one of the best generals in the world (a situation that would be drastically different by the time of the Civil War, when for whatever reason he had lost his ability), nor his chosen representative to negotiate a treaty, Nicholas Trist, who actually completed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the war after he had been fired by Polk (and he knew it, too – it wasn’t a question of the letter not reaching him in time; he just ignored it), so he kind of kept the war going longer than it needed to. Plus, Congress was griping about swallowing New Mexico and California, while some were arguing for annexing all of Mexico, so there was contention there. Finally, David Wilmot kept bringing up a proviso that slavery would not be introduced into the new territories, which threw another spanner in the works. Merry goes over all of this with a fine-toothed comb.

The reason Polk isn’t better regarded, of course, is slavery. He owned slaves his entire life, and this sin stains his entire life. Merry doesn’t get into his slave-owning almost at all – this is a political biography, so Polk’s law career and his plantation ownership is largely ignored. Merry doesn’t ignore slavery entirely, but Polk didn’t want to bring it into the political arena and was very angry about the Wilmot Proviso (Wilmot himself was a white supremacist; he believed that slavery was bad because it took work away from white people, who deserved it more, plus he was a Democrat at the time, so he was in Polk’s own party), which skewed the debate about acquiring territory and led, not so indirectly, to the Civil War. Mexico had outlawed slavery in their territories and it seemed pretty clear that the new land was unsuitable for the kind of slavery practiced by the South, so the Wilmot Proviso was almost nothing more than a grenade thrown into legislation just to blow shit up. Merry goes into this new aspect of the slavery debate quite well, actually, but it is a weakness of the book that he never really gets into the fact that Polk himself owned slaves. (Pre-Civil War politics are always rife with land mines; whenever you think someone might make a good point, they invariably end up at a racist place. John C. Calhoun, one of the great politicians of the first 50 years of the 19th century – and, of course, a slave-owner – gave a speech about the United States not being an imperial power and leaving Mexico alone, and you think, “Hey, that’s cool of him!” until you get to the point in his speech where he says that America shouldn’t take over Mexico because the white blood of Americans shouldn’t be tainted by Mexican and “Indian” blood. Sigh. Not cool, John C. Calhoun!)

It’s still a good book about the politics of the era – everyone thinks everyone was so much nicer back then, which is always funny (remember, Preston Brooks almost killed Charles Sumner with a cane on the Senate floor in 1856), but maybe it’s because everyone spoke with a lot more dignity, even when they were ripping into each other, and Merry quotes the politicians liberally, and it’s quite humorous. It’s long, but it reads well, and it gives a good if slightly incomplete (because of the lack of slave stuff) portrait of the eleventh president. Merry also delves into other interesting if forgotten presidents a bit, such as Martin van Buren (of Seinfeld fame!) and John Tyler, the two presidents who preceded Polk. It’s a fascinating book about how the United States became the continent-straddling behemoth it still is.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Birds of Prey by Brian Azzarello (writer), Emanuela Lupacchino (penciller), Ray McCarthy (inker), Trish Mulvihill (colorist), John Kalisz (colorist), Steve Wands (letterer), Mark Doyle (editor), and Molly Mahan (editor). $9.99, 95 pgs, DC.

I’ve long decided that Brian Azzarello isn’t the greatest writer, but he’s not bad, and when he’s teamed up with a great artist, I’ll give him a chance. I’ve been a fan of Lupacchino’s since she drew X-Factor, but she doesn’t do a lot that I want to read, which bums me out. But I figured a “Black Label” book would allow Azzarello to do his thing, and it would look superb, and it’s fairly cheap (basically, almost five issues’ worth of comics for ten bucks), so what the hell, right?

Well, it’s a beautiful comic. Lupacchino is great, and her smooth line work is perfect for superhero comics. She draws fights very well, with good choreography, and while her characters are all wildly attractive, they’re not ridiculously proportioned – they just look like people who stay in shape. She has a good sense of humor, too, which is good in a book with Harley Quinn in it. The characters interact with each other very well, and she does a good job giving us a sense of Gotham as a real city, which isn’t always done. She draws creepy bad guys, and she does nice work with the Joker, who is either shown partly or with his face completely in shadow. She gets to have some fun with the violence, as it’s a “Black Label” comic (despite the fact that DC has become a lot more violent in the past twenty years, this is still a bit more violent than that), and Mulvihill and Kalisz actually get to make blood red! (One way DC and Marvel are “less” violent is to color blood black.) So art-wise, this is definitely a cool book.

Azzarello’s story is fine – an old colleague of Dinah’s gets killed by drug dealers who are heading for Gotham, the Huntress and Montoya are coming at it from another angle, and Harley just stumbles across it after she’s released from Belle Reve. Steve Trevor is there, and the Joker is around because he doesn’t want to let Harley live her life, so there’s that. It’s kind of annoying, actually – the “real” bad guys don’t seem as important as Harley’s relationship with the Joker, but because he can’t (?) appear in the book and he never gets any dialogue, that story doesn’t come off as important, even though Azzarello ends the book with it. The structure of the book is very odd, in other words – Azzarello seems to want to write about drug problems, but he can’t resist sticking the Joker in there, undermining the kind of bleak message in the book with, well, clowns.

The “Black Label” thing still bugs me, because I think DC got so scared by Azzarello’s “Bat-Penis” that they’ve, um, neutered the line. There’s some cursing – ooooh, they can say “shit” and fuck”! – but the three ladies literally hang out in a sauna with towels wrapped around themselves and there’s not even an ass to be seen. As always, I don’t want more nudity in my superhero books, but it’s hilarious how so far with the “Black Label,” they’ll show sexy situations just to be coy, but don’t show more skin. It’s like having Harley say “shit” is way too bold for them, so we daren’t do anything else! There’s no reason, in other words, why this is “Black Label.” A few tweaks and it’s just a normal DC book. Azzarello isn’t afraid to write stuff that really is “17+,” and DC should let him do it if they’re going to use this imprint correctly.

Anyway, it’s not bad. It’s good value, it’s entertaining, and it looks great. That’s not bad!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Oh, Harley, you’re such a scamp!

Catwoman 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular by lots and lots of people. $9.99, 96 pgs (I included the chapter breaks, even, which are just old images or new pin-ups), DC.

I like this Catwoman book a lot more than the recent Robin one – it just seems like they got better talent for it, maybe, or maybe Catwoman is just a more interesting character than Robin? Whatever it is, this is a neat comic, with creators telling some cool stories and artists doing great work. The highlight, for me, is “The Catwoman of Earth,” the “1960s” story, because it’s Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case, and why DC hasn’t thrown more money at those two to do a “real” superhero book (not Batman ’66, which they were both brilliant on) is beyond me. That one is really fun, as sexist aliens come to Earth, only to be thwarted by Catwoman, who lays down some women’s lib for the female alien with them. Most of the stories are good, though. Emanuela Lupacchino draws the first one, so of course it looks great, while Paul Dini’s story is pretty clever. Ann Nocenti and Robson Rocha have a nice story about Catwoman dealing with a crooked security guard, and while Tom King and Mikel Janín’s story of, I guess, an Earth-2 Catwoman is probably the weakest of the book, it’s not bad and it looks nice. Liam Sharp’s story is somewhat dumb, but it’s drawn by Liam Sharp, so it looks great (and it’s short, so it’s not egregious). Mindy Newell shows up for a story that really leans into Selina being a prostitute, but it’s charming and Lee Garbett’s art is always good to see. Chuck Dixon and Kelley Jones have a story of Catwoman fighting Clayface (the Basil Karlo one), and while this should have been the one drawn by Jim Balent (who contributes only a pin-up), I’m not going to complain about a Kelley Jones story! Will Pfeifer, one of the more underrated writers of the past 25 years or so, has a clever story in which Selina attends a comics convention at which everyone knows who she is, and Pia Guerra draws it, which is very cool. Ram V has a decent story that ties into the main title, as DC does these days, and then, in what surprised me (I didn’t read the solicit, so I assume it was listed there), the final story is by Ed Brubaker and Cameron Stewart, the most celebrated Catwoman team … ever? So that was keen. (I wrote this before the revelations about Stewart. I may address those, if I’m feeling like walking into a mine field.)

It’s just a neat comic. Not world-changing, of course, but a lot of good talent telling fun stories. As you might recall, I dig it when DC and Marvel do these anthologies, and this one is better than most. So that’s cool. Even if Jim Balent didn’t want to do a story.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I agree, Selina – it is disgusting that Parker and Case don’t get more work from DC!

DC Goes to War by a whole bunch o’ folk. $39.99, 352 pgs, DC.

DC has always done great war comics, so they give us a nice 60-year overview of their stuff, from the first appearance of Blackhawk in 1941 (written but not drawn by Will Eisner) to Garth Ennis’s “Enemy Ace” story from 2001. I’ve read quite a few of these in the past – the Ennis comic, the first appearance of the Haunted Tank, the first appearance of Hans von Hammer, the “Enemy Ace,” “The Rock and the Wall,” “Head-Count!”, and “The Pool …”, but it’s always nice to re-read them and see the excellent art of Russ Heath and Joe Kubert (I read the first “Haunted Tank” story when I was a kid, and even then I thought naming a tank after a treasonous general was a dumb idea, and it’s gotten dumber with age, but Heath’s art is terrific). There’s a nice Simon/Kirby Boy Commandos story, there’s a beautifully drawn John Severin story, Mort Drucker’s art on the Mlle. Marie story is superb, Alex Toth draws a short but powerful Civil War tale, the David Michelinie/Gerry Talaoc Unknown Soldier story is very good, we get a Losers story that incorporates both the Haunted Tank and Sgt. Rock, and a very good Chuck Dixon/Eduardo Barreto Rock story. Hardcore comics fans have probably read most of these (like I have, and I’m not even that hardcore when it comes to older comics), but it’s cool that have them all collected in one nice hardcover. Robert Kanigher writes quite a few of them, so you know they’re slightly weird, and they’re just an excellent cross-section of DC’s long war comics history. Now, if only that Marvel book of their 1950s war comics would come out, we’d have quite a nifty pair!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Even young children dislike the Viet Cong!

Everything volume 1 by Christopher Cantwell (writer), I.N.J. Culbard (artist), Steve Wands (letterer), and Karen Berger (editor). $19.99, 112 pgs, Dark Horse.

I’m still not sure if Christopher Cantwell is a good writer; I never watched Halt and Catch Fire, and She Could Fly, the other comic by him that I’ve read, was pretty good but not great. Cantwell seems to enjoy poking holes in the suburban dream, as She Could Fly is obliquely about that and Everything really leans into it, so I wonder what the suburbs ever did to him that he’s so upset about them. His main idea – that a giant mall opens in a small Michigan town and starts to metastasize, isn’t new, as he readily admits, but it still works (it’s not quite as relevant these days, with a backlash against malls, so he sets this in – sigh – 1980, when they were still a thing), so why not run with it? Everything is the mall’s name, and yes, it’s supposed to be creepy, another thing Cantwell leans into. This first five issues (it seems like the series will only run 10) is the typical “setting-up” arc, in which we’re introduced to characters and strange things are happening, but we don’t really know what’s going on. The main character, Lori, who ends up working at Everything, kind of sums up Cantwell’s theme near the end when she talks about figuring out how to be happy with your sadness, as she’s trapped in this suburban nightmare like the rest of the characters and they yearn to break out, and perhaps the mall offers that to them. Filling an emptiness in yourself by buying things is, as I noted, not new, but Cantwell introduces some supernatural elements that might make this something more unusual than that. Right now, it’s an entertaining but somewhat generic horror story about the ennui of regular existence. So sad.

Culbard is always an interesting artist, though, and that makes the book more unusual. Culbard has a sleek, thin line, with a style that trends toward a roundness to his characters, which make even the “normal” ones look slightly off, making a comic less this look weirder and spookier than it would with someone else drawing it. He draws the suburbs in a way that makes them look pleasant, but with a bizarre underbelly that we can’t quite shake. Cantwell references Blue Velvet in his introduction, and in many ways, Culbard is better at evoking the weirdness underneath the surface of the suburbs than Lynch was, because Lynch, of course, was dealing with actual humans, and he also made the film far too dark at times. Culbard makes the people look just “off” enough, and the coloring in the book is generally bright and cheery, which makes the weirdness seep through a bit more. It’s one of those things that comics can do better than any medium, and Culbard is a good choice as artist for this book.

I’ll probably get the second trade, because this is incomplete, naturally. It’s intriguing enough for me to get the second trade, but on its own, it’s a bit familiar.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s not going on the town’s brochure …

Headless by Alexander Banchitta (writer), Robert Ahmad (artist), and Fred C. Stresing (letterer). $14.99, 83 pgs, Scout Comics.

This is a weird comic. It’s not very good, but it’s entertaining in a schlocky way, like a low-budget movie made in the 1980s (it is, naturally, set in 1987, because of course it is) with bad special effects that still has a special place in your heart. It’s all over the map, with bad guys who were once good guys fighting an evil dude, but there are other evil dudes about, and there are bizarre betrayals and plot twists, and a death that seems wildly unfair. The story takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, and Banchitta transplants the Headless Horseman legend there from New York and ties it into the Salem Witch Trials, because why the hell not? He also invents the “Knights Templar” as a group connected with the Salem trials, but the Templars were a very specific group in history, and if they’re not connected to the Temple of Solomon, why are they called the Templars? Does that group exist in this world, and the dudes who become the Templars in this book just ripping them off? It’s very strange. There’s a teenager who becomes the Headless Horseman (don’t worry about why; it’s explained), and there’s a wise-cracking demon who’s helping him out, and his older brother, a rookie cop, is trying to save him, and there’s an asshole punk who bullies the kid who might be more than he seems, and there’s a female police officer who’s also helping the brother because she’s connected to the Templars but is working against them … it’s a lot. It wants to be serious, but it’s hard to take seriously, but Banchitta tells the story with a lot of verve, and while there’s a bit too much exposition on a few pages toward the end, the book moves along at a pretty good clip, and it’s certainly never boring. Ahmad has a nice style – it’s the tiniest bit like Darwyn Cooke, which is never a bad thing, although he’s obviously not as good as Cooke. He adds a good amount of humor to the proceedings, especially with his design of the demon, who wears tight leather pants and shades and sports a mohawk (he looks very much like Stripe from Gremlins, which has to be deliberate). Ahmad keeps up nicely with the craziness, and his blue-and-pink color scheme makes everything more lurid and heightened, which adds to the weirdness of the book.

Headless doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it’s a fun comic. There’s nothing wrong with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Yeah, it’s that kind of comic

The Amazing Mary Jane volume 1: Down in Flames, Up in Smoke by Leah Williams (writer), Carlos Gómez (artist), Lucas Werneck (artist), Carlos Lopez (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer), Kathleen Wisneski (editor), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

As you might know, this is the kind of comic that I should love – it stars generally “normal” people doing a “normal” thing, but set in a superhero universe. I love stories like this and wish both DC and Marvel did more of them. But I’ll take what I can get, and Mary Jane Watson starring in a movie is something I can dig. And you know what? This is a pretty excellent comic.

Mary Jane is in a movie being directed by a hot Hollywood director about Mysterio. Very early on, she learns that the director is actually … Mysterio! (The real director is fine, just out of the way for a while.) Quentin Beck wants to redeem his image, so he figures if he makes a Mysterio movie sympathetic to the main character, people might see him differently. Of course, this isn’t really a “normal” thing as I mentioned above, but it is a regular person starring in it, and Williams does do a lot with movie-making in general, including Mary Jane and Beck trying to find funding when their original backers pull out, which leads to a very brief encounter with someone kind of dressed like a superhero and I don’t know who it is and it’s bugging me. Anyway, Mary Jane likes that Beck is giving some villains a new lease on life, and she likes the role, so she helps him. Of course, the Vulture and the “Savage Six” try to disrupt the proceedings because the Vulture doesn’t like that he’s the big villain of the movie, but that’s just life in a superhero universe, right? Even that is kind of a “normal” thing – yes, they attack the set and wreak some havoc, but the Vulture being upset about his portrayal in a movie is something relatable, because we’ve seen actual real-life people get grumpy about how they’re portrayed in movies (including the original grump, Princess Irina Alexandrovna, who sued MGM in 1932 because she had been defamed in a movie, leading to the “all persons are fiction” disclaimer you see after every movie and television show). There’s no world-ending stakes, no real crime being committed (I guess vandalism), just a villain trying to make a movie and other villains trying to stop him. It’s a funny comic, it shows how good Mary Jane is in the world of entertainment (she’s been in it for a while, and she’s learned quite a bit, including how to use her looks to her advantage), and Williams uses Peter Parker minimally but well. The final issue contains a long scene that stretches credulity just a bit, but it’s still keen. Gómez is a good, sturdy superhero artist, so he does nice work with the costumed stuff, but he’s also good at characters’ faces, so the non-costumed stuff is believable, too. I don’t know why he needed issue #3 of a five-issue arc off, but Werneck, who replaced him, does solid work. It’s just a really good comic.

I know Marvel extended it, so there will be more, but I don’t know how long it can last. I guess we’ll see, because I’ll be getting the next trade!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Two totally Airwolf panels:

Does anyone know who that guy is?

The Red Mother volume 1 by Jeremy Haun (writer), Danny Luckert (artist), Ed Dukeshire (letterer), and Eric Harburn (editor). $14.99, 80 pgs, Boom! Studios.

Jeremy Haun’s horror story is off to a good beginning, as he gives us Daisy, a woman who is attacked in the first few pages, and things get worse from there. She’s spending time with her boyfriend, and something horrible happens – something drags her boyfriend away and slashes out her right eye. Nobody can find her boyfriend, and she begins having visions of a terrifying creature that seems to be stalking her. Plus, there’s a creepy therapist she’s seeing (of course the therapist is creepy – it’s fiction, where therapists are usually creepy), the cops don’t seem to care about finding her boyfriend (he’s black and she’s white, so I wonder if Haun is commenting on that or if he just wants to show how thoroughly the boyfriend has disappeared), and there’s a famous installation artist who wants to work with her because she’s famous for her puzzle-solving abilities. I do wonder if her puzzle-solving skills will have any relevance to th larger plot. That would be helpful, wouldn’t it?

So it’s very intriguing, even if it’s all pretty much set-up. I haven’t read a ton of Haun’s work, but he does seem to have a good mind for creepy stuff like this, although he doesn’t always stick the landing. It’s a bit disappointing he doesn’t draw this, but Luckert, it turns out, is very good. He has a strong, clean line, which makes the intrusion of the fuzzy creature (it’s not cute, but it does seem out of step with our reality) work a lot better, and he does nice work with the cops, the doctor who puts Daisy’s glass eye in, and the therapist, by making them all look a bit creepier than they might be. It’s not a lot, but it’s nice and subtle. Luckert does good work with the red panels that freak Daisy out, especially when they seem to enter our world a bit. It’s a very nice-looking comic.

I don’t know how long Haun plans for this – it doesn’t seem like it can be wrapped up easily in 8 or 12 issues, but maybe it can. Anyway, it’s off to a good start!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

She looks friendly and not at all sinister!

Strayed by Carlos Giffoni (writer), Juan Doe (artist), Matt Krotzer (letterer), and Chas! Pangburn (editor). $19.99, 120 pgs, Dark Horse.

Strayed is an odd but not bad book that tries something very strange in its final issue and doesn’t quite succeed, but it’s a worthy attempt. Giffoni’s story is, unfortunately, a bit clichéd despite a strange twist – a cat that can send its astral self through space. Using this weird conceit, Giffoni tells a standard story of an evil government trying to expand at the expense of other civilizations, as the human leader in the book is using the cat – Lou – to find planets that might have an energy source that humans can use because they’ve destroyed all the ones they’ve already known. Lou doesn’t realize that he’s leading the humans to these planets so they can kill everyone, and when he finds an energy source that seems limitless, shit really hits the fan. So we have the evil human leader, the not-as-bad but still not-good human in charge of the expeditions, the naïve cat handler who should know what’s going on but either deliberately ignores it or lies to herself about it, and the totally evolved wonderful alien who tells Lou that the humans will kill it to get the energy source, which totally happens. Of course Lou gets all sad. Of course Kiara – his handler – has an epiphany about her role in things, and of course that leads her to make a stand. And of course that leads to violence, which is where things get a bit weird. The final issue is a freaky mind trip, narrated – it seems – by the dead alien, as Lou and Kiara seemingly figure out a way to defeat the evil human leader, but because the narration is just, to quote President Evil, a “bunch of hippy-dippy baloney,” it’s hard to tell exactly what happens. I don’t really want to give it away, but it’s kind of interesting that Giffoni chooses to go this way. It doesn’t quite save the book from its banal story, but it’s still neat that he tried to tell a banal story in an interesting way. It does help that Doe draws the book, because Doe is very good. He takes the standard story and imbues it with a weirdness, giving us strange aliens, Dutch angles, double-page spreads, and lurid coloring that makes the book pop off the page, and he’s even better once he gets to the final issue. It’s just a series of splash pages, with a bunch of different drawings forming a gestalt on each page, telling the story without words because Giffoni is busy writing about love and unity and going home and that kind of stuff. It’s a fascinating experiment, and while it doesn’t quite work, it’s still kind of neat. Strayed isn’t a great comic, but it’s worth a look for Doe’s art throughout and for the way Giffoni and Doe try to end it, which shows why comics are so neat. It’s like Kubrick’s ending to 2001, and that’s never a bad thing to attempt.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Man, that’s a bummer

Adventureman #1 by Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler/colorist), Rachel Dodson (inker), Clayton Cowles (letterer), Lauren Sankovitch (editor), and Turner Lobey (editor). $3.99, 56 pgs, Image.

I was going to get this in trade, because I figured a Fraction/Dodson book would be pretty good, but the first issue was too enticing to pass up, as it’s giant-sized and it still only costs 4 bucks, so I figured I’d give it a chance. I’m glad I did, because this is a terrific comic. This is the best first issue I’ve read in a long time – I’ve been trying to think of the last time I read one this good, but it’s hard. I’ve liked the first issues of both Farmhand and Outer Darkness (R.I.P. to the second one, sadly), and the first issue of Immortal Hulk was quite good, as was Morrison’s Green Lantern, but I haven’t really been blown away by such a good issue #1 since, I think, East of West, and that was seven years ago. Maybe another will come to me, but what I’m trying to say is that this sucker is pretty awesome. I know it’s basically 2½ issues, but it really zips along, with Fraction throwing a ton of stuff into it and Dodson drawing the hell out of it. The first 28 (!) pages are about Adventureman (think a less racist Doc Savage) and his wildly diverse group of adventurers (and I could get into how they’re still stereotypes, but I guess I won’t) fighting, basically, Nazi pirates (sort of?) in the 1930s (or at least in some much more Art Deco time than ours) as the “Apocalypsydra” – a doomsday clock, essentially – ticks closer to midnight (why not noon, adventure people?). It turns out that this is in a book that our main character, Claire, is reading to her son as a bedtime story, and it ends very ambiguously, and then Claire goes about her life. So the rest of the book is introducing us to her family, which consists of a dad and her six adopted sisters, who are also so very diverse and also somewhat stereotypical. Claire is slightly deaf (it’s kind of unclear how deaf she is) and she runs her dead mother’s bookstore, into which one day strolls a lady dressed like it’s 1890 and who, it turns out, is being chased by creepy man-shaped things that are actually masses of insects. They take her away (she goes sort-of willingly), but she gives Claire a book about Adventureman and later, as she sleeps, a weird insect-mass man creeps around outside Claire’s bedroom. Strange things are afoot!

It’s a good hook, and while Fraction doesn’t do anything too weird, like he can get, he sets up the world of both Adventureman and Claire very well, and then begins to bring one into the other. Obviously Adventureman and his people are going to have some kind of impact on Claire, and while the comic isn’t revolutionary in any way, plot-wise, it’s still very exciting, and Fraction does a decent job throwing a LOT of characters at us, all of whom are distinctive (if, as I noted, somewhat stereotypical). Part of the reason the book works so well is because this might be the best art job I’ve ever seen from the Dodsons. Terry Dodson’s pencils are always a treat, and in this book, he goes all out, with all sorts of neat details, from the futuristic phone the police commissioner uses to call Adventureman to the amazing car that drives the mysterious lady away and everything in between. The heroes are heroic, the villains are evil (but the lady villains are still sexy – it’s Terry Dodson, after all), and the insect-men are creepy. He jams the bedroom of Claire’s son Tommy with all sorts of cool-ass toys, from a giant dinosaur to a scuba diver, and he dresses everyone in amazing clothing or costumes. I don’t know where his pencils end and Rachel Dodson’s inks begin, but her line is as strong as ever and the spot blacks in this book are superbly placed. I wonder if the art looks so good because Dodson is coloring the book, and I don’t think he’s ever done that before. He uses a somewhat muted palette in general, so when he gives us some splashes of color, everything pops beautifully. Even the sound effects, which are an important part of the book because of Claire’s hearing issues, are done really well. Some things are a bit hard to believe – Claire’s bookstore is gigantic, as is her house, despite the fact that she lives in Manhattan and makes a point of saying the store doesn’t get a lot of customers. I mean, really! But I can forgive it because a world where someone can own a giant bookstore and still make coin is the kind of world I want to live in.

Anyway, I was in on the trade, as I noted above, but I might get this in single issues. It’s really, really keen.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Nothing bums me out more than an insect-mass man that won’t stay down!

The Cimmerian: Red Nails #1 by Régis Hautière (writer), Olivier Vatine (artist), Didier Cassegrain (artist), Dezi Sienty (letterer), Rich Young (editor), and Patrice Louinet (editor). $3.99, 27 pgs, Ablaze Comics.

Ablaze is publishing European Conan comics, much to the chagrin of Marvel, but fuck them, right? I skipped the first offering, because I figured I’d check it out in trade, but I also figured I’d just check out one of the offerings, and “Red Nails” is a fun story, so why not? It’s pretty good – writer Hautière stretches it out a bit, as this is only part 1 (and I don’t know if it’s two or three issues, and I ain’t checking), but that’s okay, because there’s never a bad time for MOAR CONAN. So we get a lot more with the dinosaur at the beginning, as Conan and Valeria escape it, but it takes a bit longer than in the old Marvel version. The first fight between the weird inhabitants of the weird city and our heroes takes a bit longer, too, but again, nothing wrong with that. The art is more cartoony than in the other comic versions I’ve read, but that’s not a bad thing, and the dinosaur, especially, is frickin’ cool-looking. I’d have to go and check, but the inhabitants of Xuchotl look a bit more like Olmecs/Aztecs/Mayans than they do in other ones (again, I might be misremembering, but I don’t feel like dragging out my old Conan books) (and whenever I see anything remotely “Olmec/Aztec/Mayan,” I always think of good ol’ Xtapolapocetl). The coloring is terrific, too – the jungle where the story begins is lush and several shades of green, which hides the dinosaur nicely, and when Conan and Valeria reach the desert, the stark yellows are in great contrast to the earlier greens. It’s really a nice-looking book.

I doubt if I’ll get the rest of the story, as I’ll probably wait for a collection. Unless the story ends next issue (which it probably does). Maybe I’ll snag it. Anyway, it’s Conan. Yes, it’s Conan you’ve read before, but it’s still Conan!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

He’s going to have a splitting headache!

The Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular by bunches o’ folk. $9.99, 88 pgs, DC.

This is, unfortunately, not as good as the Catwoman one from a few weeks earlier (and above!), but it’s fine. The Scott Snyder/Jock story that begins it looks great, but it’s another of these “The Joker is God” stories that portrays him as all-knowing and ever-present, and we know it’s coming, so the “shock” is silly. Then we get the “secret origin” of Punchline, which is another terrible “Hey, everyone is evil but I’m not a hypocrite about it, so I’m good” story that is just so damned boring, but Mikel Janín is a decent artist, so it also looks nice. There’s another nice-looking but weird story, drawn by Dan Mora, about the Joker getting bummed that Batman is dead, and then we get an absolutely beautiful José Luis García-López story that Denny O’Neil comes oh so close to making great … until the final page, where he decides that psychopathic Joker is just too much fun to keep down! Peter Tomasi writes a kind-of dumb story about the Joker being a “dark reflection” of Batman (yawn), but it looks great because Simone Bianchi draws it (I’m sensing a theme here). Riley Rossmo draws the next story, and Paul Dini actually writes an interesting story about Harley Quinn’s relationship with the Joker. The highlight, writing-wise, is probably Tom Taylor’s story about the boy who thinks the Joker is coming to his house for his birthday party even though our “hero” is there to do something horrible to the boy’s father. It’s a clever story, the Joker isn’t just insane, and Eduardo Risso draws the hell out of it. Eduardo Medeiros and Rafael Albuquerque co-write (and Albuquerque draws) a story about the Joker holding up a bank and the man who tries to be a hero, and it’s pretty good (and, naturally, looks wonderful). Tony Daniel, whose art, I must admit, has gotten better over the years, also writes the next story, and Daniel, unfortunately, hasn’t gotten better as a writer, so we can skip that. The final story is a mess by Brian Azzarello, as it’s presumably all taking place in Joker’s head, as it’s a riff on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (the cleverest thing about the story is that Azzarello links two Jack Nicholson movies, and it’s very meta, but not as clever as it should be), but Lee Bermejo’s art is truly spectacular. He doesn’t do the painted thing he usually does, but just draws it, and it has a tinge of the 1950s/1960s Batman to it, but with very disturbing undertones. I don’t love Bermejo’s “regular” art, but it’s not bad, but if he can do this, why does he do it the other way? I would love him drawing a regular book in this style. Alas.

So that’s what’s inside. What’s on the outside, however, is a whole different story. The covers to this book are terrible. I got the Arthur Adams “1940s” variant, because it’s frickin’ Arthur Adams, but even I can admit it’s not his best work, but it’s fine. The others are not good. David Finch draws the “1950s” variant, because the first guy you think of when you think “light-hearted art” is David Finch. It’s just an evil-looking J-Man sitting on a pile of money – it’s not the worst drawing, but DC couldn’t have gotten someone who can draw a goofy Joker? Then, the “1960s” variant is an extremely creepy Joker … with a laughing fish hovering over his shoulder. “The Laughing Fish,” mind you, is a story from 1977. It’s not even close to a “1960s” story. Sheesh. Again, the cover isn’t terrible, but it certainly doesn’t jive with the non-lethal Joker of the 1960s, plus it references a story from the late 1970s! Jim Lee draws the “1970s” variant, and it’s just the Joker and a bunch of bad guys standing like they’re in a movie poster for a team about to commit a heist or save the world from Thanos. It’s wildly generic, and I don’t even know if Lee drew it for this book or just on a lark a decade ago and DC repurposed it, that’s how generic it is. Bill Sienkiewicz does the “1980s” variant, and it’s also very generic. It’s Sienkiewicz, so of course it’s a nice painting, but the Joker has dark smudge across his eyes, which doesn’t look like any Joker from the 1980s that I recall. There are two iconic Jokers from the 1980s – white-suit-wearing Joker from The Dark Knight Returns, and Iranian ambassador Joker from “Death in the Family.” Sienkiewicz couldn’t have done either one of those? DC couldn’t have told him to do one of those? The “1990s” variant by Gabriele Dell’Otto is fine, but it appears to be referencing The Killing Joke, which came out in … 1988. The Lee Bermejo “2000s” variant seems to be referencing Heath Ledger, which I can deal with, but it really doesn’t look like Ledger all that much, and it seems like Bermejo would be able to do better if that’s who he’s trying to do. Finally, Jock’s “2010s” variant is a nice drawing, but it’s the Joker with his face stapled to his bones and reminds us that a great character has turned into torture porn. I don’t need to be reminded of that! The Catwoman and Robin variant covers tried, it seemed, to match the decade with the drawing, but it seems like by the time they got to the Joker, DC just threw up their hands and said “What the fuck ever.” It’s bizarre. Okay, rant over.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Look how cheery he is!

Abraham Stone by Joe Kubert (everything, I guess?). $19.99, 145 pgs, Dark Horse.

Dark Horse puts together three graphic novels Kubert did in the early 1990s (one for Malibu, of all places) about a dude named Abraham Stone, living his life in the antebellum world of 1912-1913. By the 1990s, Kubert had become, if not a great writer, than a very good one, and he’s a born storyteller anyway, so these books are a lot of fun. Abraham is an uncomplicated dude in a complicated world, which gets him in trouble because he’s a straight talker and shooter, while others around him scheme and dissemble. The first story sees him in New York, trying to find the people who killed his entire family just to get his land to build a railroad through it. So he heads from Pennsylvania to the big city, gets a job with a gangster in the protection racket, and finds out the railroad magnate is even scummier than he originally thought (the railroad dude is named “Pullman,” but George Pullman, after whom the cars are named, died in 1897, so perhaps Kubert just used the name because he wanted us to think railroads). After dealing with that, Kubert sends him west in the second story, as he rescues a woman from a mugging and becomes her boy-toy (she’s married, but her politician husband doesn’t care if she cougars it up). She takes him to Hollywood, where he meets a Tom Mix analog (I assume) and gets to be in a movie, as he is, after all, dreamy. There’s plenty of intrigue on the set, of course, and Abraham again discovers that people can be far more disappointing to a morally upstanding young man like himself than he thought. Kubert has some fun with this story, inserting anachronisms like Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy (none of whom were in Hollywood in 1913, while the team-up of the latter two didn’t occur until the late 1920s) and showing Abraham not quite getting the difference between movie-making and reality (he knows what movies are, of course, but he doesn’t understand filming techniques). He ditches Hollywood and ends up in Mexico, hooking up with Pancho Villa (somewhat unwillingly) and being forced to help Villa out until they all end up in Columbus, New Mexico, where Abraham finally gets away and helps defend the town from Villa’s invasion. Good stuff!

Kubert writes perfectly well, giving all the characters good personalities very quickly, and he plots quite well, too, making sure stuff is happening and showing an interesting portrait of pre-war America. There’s a fascinating blend of old West and the New World here, as people, even in New York, often dress like they’re living 50 years in the past, but there’s plenty of modern technology that the characters have to grapple with. Of course, the main draw is Kubert’s art, which is spectacular. This was when he was still in his “classic” mode, I guess we can call it, before he moved into his final style, where he used more tones and fewer lines to suggest more than show, and Abraham Stone is really a triumph of that style. The details are phenomenal, and Kubert packs the page with visual information, never skimping on backgrounds or hatching to show shadows. We’re fully immersed in Abraham’s world, whether that’s the ghettos of New York, the mansions of the rich, the artificial world of Hollywood, or the hard-scrabble terrain of Mexico and New Mexico. Kubert could draw all kinds of people, from dazzlingly beautiful women to venal tycoons, and while a few of his Mexicans veer toward stereotypes, he takes his time to make Villa closely resemble his historical counterpart without adding anything derogatory. Villa is not a good guy, but he’s certainly dashing. Kubert really is at the top of his game here (he was in his late 60s at the time, and the Big Two weren’t giving him much work, and ageism is comics is a whole thing we could talk about), and the book is beautiful to look at.

You should want to get Kubert comics anyway, but Abraham Stone is a really fun book in addition to featuring great art. It’s a nice package!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That;s a fine way to introduce yourself!

Analog volume 2 by Gerry Duggan (writer), David O’Sullivan (artist), Mike Spicer (colorist), and Joe Sabino (letterer). $16.99, 104 pgs, Image.

Analog isn’t very good, unfortunately, because Duggan can be a good writer, and I get the sense that the book wasn’t selling, so he rushes through the second volume just to get to some sort of resolution. That’s too bad, because the idea of privacy being an antiquated concept is certainly something that is relevant to today’s world, but Duggan never really has time to do much with it. This is basically a spy comic set before cell phones, with the twist being that it takes place in 2024, when the internet offers no privacy so the only place you can get privacy is to go off-line. Duggan gives us a Bondian super-villain, which is nice, but never does too much with him and takes him out in a fairly dull way. It’s really hard to judge this – it tells a complete story, but it’s clearly rushed, so can I really judge it on its merits? I think so, as any writer launching a new book needs to be able to tie it off successfully after 5 or 6 issues in case the sales aren’t there. Even John Layman, who managed 12 issues on Outer Darkness before that was unceremoniously canceled (um, by the way, Outer Darkness is canceled, y’all), gives it an ending that, while not completely satisfying, feels like it could easily be the end (Outer Darkness was pretty cool, y’all). It wasn’t rushed, in other words, and it still felt like a place to end. Here, it feels like news of cancellation caught Duggan off-guard, so he sped through what should be a bigger plot. Sigh. Anyway, David O’Sullivan’s John McCrea-esque art is nice, and it’s some fun, but it just feels empty. Too bad.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Ever heard of manners?

The Dust of Empires: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland by Karl R. Meyer. 237 pgs, Century Foundation, 2003.

The publishing concern of this book is a think tank, and according to the foreword, this book is part of a program examining American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. On the heels of 11 September 2001, Meyer points out that America was getting involved in a region they knew very little about, and despite the passage of the years and the immediacy of this book for 2003 and what the U.S. was going to do, it’s still interesting to read, especially given that we’re still involved in Afghanistan, Iran is still not really our ally (we certainly could have a better relationship with it, if the Big Stupid Orange-Faced Baboon weren’t such a baby), and the Central Asian countries have become more prominent even in the past decade. Meyer simply gives us short histories of Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and then the group of countries in the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, et al.) and Central Asia (the “stans” – Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Krygyzstan), as well as some of the more recent events in those countries and a little about their culture. It’s a short, quick book, more of a primer than anything, although Meyer is a good enough writer that he gets to the meat of the matter quickly and easily. He looks at how other countries – especially Russia and England – shaped these countries, and how the U.S. stuck its nose in and often bit off more than it could chew (the Iranian coup of 1953 remains one of the dumbest blunders in American foreign policy history). He offers advice for dealing with these countries, advice that the U.S. has largely ignored, especially with regard to Afghanistan. It’s always hard reading current event books from the past that propose ways of doing things, because they’re almost always ignored for, well, bombing the shit out of people and propping up dictators. It’s the ‘Murican Way! I’ve never been too keen on Indian and Afghan history, but I’m fascinated by Central Asia, so this was interesting for me, plus I learned about Tolstoy’s last novel, Hadji Murat, which is about a tribesman who fights the Russians in the Caucasus and sounds really keen. So that was cool.

Overall, it’s a good, speedy book that gives you a good idea why the U.S. should just stay the hell out of that region of the world. Or, failing that, actually learn a bit about it before mucking around there. Wouldn’t that be radical?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Archie vs. Predator II by Alex de Campi (writer), Robert Hack (artist), Kelly Fitzpatrick (colorist), Jack Morelli (letterer), Alex Segura (editor), and Stephen Oswald (editor). $19.99, 104 pgs, Archie Comics/Dark Horse.

Alex de Campi continues to be an interesting and weird writer, as she follows up her first Archie vs. Predator mini-series, in which a teenage Predator killed a bunch of Archie characters, all drawn in the traditional “Archie” style (which made it even weirder than it would have been) with this very metatextual sequel, in which the survivors of the first series meet … themselves? So I guess technically the Archie Universe got a reboot, which took all the goofiness out of the Archie-verse and made it about, I guess, normal teens? Was this done in conjunction with Riverdale, the television show, or did it pre-date that? I’m not up on my Archie Multiverse. Anyway, Betty, Veronica, and Teen Predarchie think they can just reboot everything, because that’s the way it was always done in the Old Archie-verse, but they can’t, and they’re stuck in the new, not-weird-at-all Riverdale, but of course a bunch of Predators show up and start killing everyone. It’s a fascinating comment on the very idea of reboots and multiverses and how comics never change until they do, and de Campi finally hooks two characters up that should have hooked up a long time ago, and she even gives us a very comic-book reason why none of this matters. It’s even, if possible, more goofy than the last series, which played it straight with cartoony art, so this is played goofy with very serious art by Robert Hack, which is probably the point (maybe it was coincidental). It’s very odd, but so was the first series. These aren’t great comics, but they’re fun to read, and de Campi plays with the conventions of the form as well as anyone, so if you like reading comics that are kind of about comics themselves, this is a nifty book to grab.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Man, I would LOVE to have my flip phone back!

Jupiter Jet volume 1 by Jason Inman (writer), Ashley Victoria Robinson (writer), Ben Matsuya (artist), Jorge Corona (artist), Mara Jayne Carpenter (colorist), Sara Alfaqeeh (flatter), Tori Ridley (flatter), and Taylor Esposito (letterer). $14.99, 111 pgs, Action Lab.

Jupiter Jet is a decent book, but nothing special. It’s like The Rocketeer for kids, in that the person with the jetpack is a teenaged girl whose younger brother is the mechanical whiz (although he screws up A LOT). It’s set in a Depression-era city, and the kids are on their own because something bad happened to their parents, but their uncle lets them live by themselves? That’s kind of bizarre. Jacky, the girl, flies around trying to get money (which she often steals) because there’s a gangster, and their dad owed him money. Meanwhile, there’s a creepy villain who might as well have “secret Nazi” stamped on his forehead … which, yes, would defeat the purpose and it turns out he’s not a Nazi anyway (but he’s clearly modeled on a crazy Nazi scientist sterotype). It’s a fun adventure, and then Inman and Robinson throw a curve at us, which is actually not bad (I’d tell you what it reminded me of, but then you’d know the big twist!). Matsuya’s art keeps the tone light, as do Carpenter’s bright colors, and all in all, it’s a charming comic, but not anything to write home about. Pretty standard adventure fare. If that’s your thing!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That dude is totally looking up her dress! Not cool, dude!

Ruby Falls by Ann Nocenti (writer), Flavia Biondi (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), Sal Cipriano (letterer), and Karen Berger (editor). $19.99, 89 pgs, Dark Horse.

Ann Nocenti has never been subtle, but boy howdy, she is really un-subtle in this book, which doesn’t make it bad, just, you know, un-subtle. From the very first pages, when Lana, our hero, leaps too soon from a trapeze (her girlfriend is the trapezist) and falls into the net. Lana leaps without heeding advice from someone more knowledgeable about the subject, doesn’t trust the person more knowledgeable about the subject, and ends up in a precarious situation. I mean, really, Ann Nocenti! Then there’s the allusive nature of half of what people say in the book, the fact that Lane and Blair (the trapezist) have to jump into a dark hole at one point (a literal leap of faith), there’s that fact that Lana’s mom owns a bar in town where the “Men Only” sign from decades before is still hanging there until Lana’s grandmother finally takes it down (in a story about the secrets men keep about what happens to women) … it’s a bit much. Add to that the fact that Lana herself is a pain in the butt, which of course makes her a good protagonist in a story about covered-up secrets, because she’s always poking at them, but she’s not a terribly nice person, so Nocenti’s attempts to make her one feel flat (she’s in what seems to be a happy relationship with Blair, but she still kisses some dude at some point, and I’m so tired of people in fiction being horrible in their romantic lives, as if they’re all Pavlovian dogs and if someone looks at them with any bit of admiration they jump their bones). However … this is still a pretty interesting book. Nocenti pretends it’s about a murder in the town of Ruby Falls that occurred some decades before, and people who are still living know about it and are trying to cover it up, and yes, it’s about that, but it’s also about power and memory and secrets and how those things work and how they can poison good people and divide communities and cause regular people to act strangely. Lana wants to know what happened, and her grandmother knows, but her grandmother’s mind is not quite what it used to be (she has good days and not-so-good days). We get the story, but things keep changing as different people tell it and as others remember new details. It’s an interesting conceit, and Lana begins to learn that it’s not really about the murder, but the way certain people – usually but not exclusively men – shape narratives to suit them, whether the facts are true or not. It’s also about love and what people do for it and how to keep it, but it’s strange because Lana doesn’t seem like she learns much about that even though things works out for her. They work out because Nocenti wants them to work out, so it’s a bit unsatisfying. But it’s a lot more interesting than it seems, because Nocenti is willing to dig into the pulpy aspects of the book and see what makes them work and why. Bioni and Loughridge do their part, as the line work is delicate and precise, contradicting the murky morality of the story, while Loughridge generally keeps things bright, again working slyly in contrast to Nocenti’s purpose, so she can sneak up on you. So it’s a bit uneven, but still a fairly interesting story. Plus, it’s always good to see Nocenti doing comics!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Don’t fuck with Grandma!

Star Wars Adventures: Return to Vader’s Castle by Cavan Scott (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist/colorist), Megan Levens (artist), Kelley Jones (artist), Nick Brokenshire (artist/colorist), Nicoletta Baldari (artist/colorist), Charles Paul Wilson III (artist), Charlie Kirchoff (colorist), Michelle Madsen (colorist), David Garcia Cruz (colorist), Andworld Design (letterer), and Denton J. Tipton (editor). $14.99, 100 pgs, IDW.

The second round of IDW’s “horror” anthology set in the Star Wars universe is as fun as the first – none of these stories will tax your brain in any way, but it’s a chance to see Francavilla draw a few pages of cool Star Wars stuff (there’s very little that Francavilla can’t do, and this isn’t one of those things) with other artists giving us some neat quasi-horror tales. This time, one of Vader’s lackeys is torturing a rebel soldier, which he does by … telling him stories? Don’t worry about the set-up, because we have Darth Maul as a giant spider, we have Kelley Jones drawing a Frankensteinian monster (of course), we have dozens of cute l’il baby Sarlaccs rampaging through a city, we have a cousin of Jabba the Hutt visiting Jabba with a nasty ulterior motive, we have giant zombie ants attacking Vader’s castle and turning Vader into one of their minions – you know, good wholesome fun in the Star Wars Universe! It’s all beautifully drawn – Levens gives us a terrific Spider-Maul; Jones’s monster is, well, Jonesian; Brokenshire has kind of a Brandon Graham thing going on, which is never bad; Baldari’s cartoonish and lushly painted art makes the Hutt story seem more charming than it is, giving the horror of it a nice kick; and Wilson draws nice ugly people, which is a plus in a story where bad dudes fight badder dudes. It’s just a fun comic. MOAR FRANCAVILLA PLZ!!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Don’t mess with the Sith!

Triage (volume 1?) by Phillip Sevy (writer/artist), Frank Cvetkovic (letterer), and Megan Walker (editor). $19.99, 110 pgs, Dark Horse.

Phillip Sevy’s science fiction epic is fine – I don’t know if he’s going to continue it, because while he tells a complete story, more or less, he could always continue it if he wanted. I think this is his first writing gig, and you can tell, because he really leans into storytelling clichés, which doesn’t make this bad, just a bit generic. We get three alternate universes, with Evelyn Pierce, a nurse, and two of her doppelgängers, one from a post-apocalyptic world where their Evie leads a ragtag army against weird things that fly out of the sky and kidnap people, and the other is a superhero. They all end up at some kind of nexus of reality, where they meet each other and an older version of themselves and they learn that some armored being is trying to kill them. Why? Who knows, and who cares? They end up in the post-apocalyptic world, where the three of them and Nurse Evie’s girlfriend decide to set up a trap for the armored hunter, and that’s that. They also find out what’s going on with the kidnapping of the people, which is not a bad reveal. The whole thing isn’t bad, it’s just that we’ve seen so many other things like it. Plus, much like above with Ruby Falls, we have a person in a serious relationship who decides to make out with someone else – in this case, it’s Evie’s girlfriend, and she makes out with one of the alternate dimension Evies, but it’s still ridiculous, as people in serious relationships do not just suddenly start making out with someone else when they hit a tiny rough patch. It’s annoying.

Sevy’s art is pretty good – the three Evies are, of course, similar-looking, but Sevy does a good job making them look different because they grew up in different worlds. He does a nice job with the weird sci-fi stuff, but his coloring is a bit over-rendered, which is annoying because in some flashbacks, he colors things differently and it looks quite good. Sevy is a good artist, so the book looks nice. That’s always fun. So while the book isn’t great, it looks good and Sevy gives us an entertaining if not terribly original story. So there you go!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, maybe you should run the other way

Dial H for Hero volume 2: New Heroes of Metropolis by Sam Humphries (writer), Joe Quinones (artist/colorist), Colleen Doran (artist), Michael Avon Oeming (artist), Erica Henderson (artist), Stacey Lee (artist), Paulina Ganucheau (artist), Jordan Gibson (colorist), Dave Sharpe (letterer), Alex Antone (editor), and Brittany Holzherr (editor). $16.99, 132 pgs, DC.

DC has such a treasure trove of weirdo ideas that they can dust off and use every once in a while, and Dial H for Hero is one of those. So Bendis dredged it up and Sam Humphries and Joe Quinones gave us 12 marvelous issues, and now the concept will be buried for a while until someone else comes along in 10-15 years (well, China Miéville’s version did ramp up in 2012, so maybe it will only be 7-8 years before the next iteration). If you have a good writer and artist, this can be a very fun series, and Humphries and Quinones are very good creators, so this was a very good series. In this arc, Miguel and Summer have to deal with the fall-out of Mister Thunderbolt giving almost everyone in Metropolis superpowers for a while, and the first issue (#7) has the guest artists listed above giving us vignettes about some of the heroes. It’s pretty keen. Then issue #8 has the “secret origin” of Thunderbolt and the Operator, and Humphries does something clever – one page is the Operator’s origin, going forward, and then the next page is Thunderbolt’s origin, moving backward in time, until on the final page they actually meet for the first time. It’s a cool way to do it, and Humphries pulls it off well. Then, the rest of the book is how Thunderbolt has gotten all four dial-y things (because, in the vein of so many other modern comics, there can’t be just one, singular thing, it has to be part of something greater, which is why we get Iron Fists and Ghost Riders stretching back centuries and now four dial-y things) and he’s going to give everyone in the universe permanent super-powers (oh, and everyone in the past and future and other dimensions, too, because why not?). Humphries does an excellent job making this meta without being too obnoxious about it, while Quinones, as he did in the first arc, changes his style to fit different heroes that the H-Dial spits up (he also does it just for fun, like doing a “Chris Ware” when Miguel is wandering around Metropolis). You can tell Quinones is having a blast (as is Humphries), and it makes the book shine like very little else from the Big Two right now. The resolution isn’t super-original, but because Humphries gets to it in such an organic way, it feels earned, so we avoid clichés, which is nice.

This is just a terrific series, and it’s cool that DC still has these weird things they can throw out there every so often. DC does a lot of dumb things, but this series ain’t one of them!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Yeah, Harli-Quinnitor would be really annoying

You Are Obsolete by Mathew Klickstein (writer), Evgeniy Bronyakov (artist), Lauren Affe (colorist), Pippa Bowland (colorist), Francesca Citarelli (colorist), Juacho Velez (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), and Christina Harrington (editor). $16.99, 103 pgs, AfterShock.

I have an inordinate fondness for the name “Pippa.” Just so you know.

This isn’t a bad horror comic, but it’s too derivative to be really great, and too … disjointed, I guess? to be really good, so it settles for being a decent read. A young journalist who has had her career ruined by scandal (it’s never stated what the scandal is, but it involves drinking, and she’s only 26, so how much of a career could she have had, and can’t she take the long view and resurrect it?) is invited to a small island of the coast of Estonia (why Estonia? why not, motherfuckers!) to see a social experiment in action. Lyla finds out that the children on the island have developed an app on their phones that kills people when they reach 40, and they’ve used that to terrify the locals into … something? They want Lyla to write about their technological marvels, but of course she gets pissy about their whole “kill the oldsters” policy, and some chaos ensues. So it’s a mash-up of Logan’s Run (which Lyla explicitly references in this book, although I’d like you to find a 26-year-old in 2019/2020 who knows that movie), The Wicker Man, Children of the Damned, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and it doesn’t quite work despite ripping off good sources. Lyla is too broad a character – she, naturally, jumps into bed with the first “normal” person she meets on the island, and for someone who seems to regret losing her career due to something involving alcohol, she seems to enjoy drinking it. She veers from bad-ass to cowering simp within the course of a few pages for no discernible reason. We never really find out what the kids are up to, besides killing oldsters, but no one seems able to stop them. And despite what Klickstein would have you believe, not everyone is on their phones all the time, so controlling people through that is a dicey situation at best. So it becomes a story with too many holes to really love, although it’s fine to read along, and Bronyakov does a nice job with the art, so it’s not unpleasant to look at. The stakes just don’t seem high enough, and Lyla isn’t a compelling enough character that we root for her – it’s more like we think it would be a bad idea if evil Estonian children were in charge of everything, but they can kill Lyla if they want, because she’s not all that interesting. It’s a bit disappointing, but it’s certainly not terrible. What an endorsement!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Logic seems sound

Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular by oodles of people. $9.99, 88 pgs, DC.

I’ve never understood this idea that Green Lantern or Flash is 80 years old, because they’re not. The characters from 1940 are different from the ones that debuted in the late 1950s, and DC’s retcon to make Alan Scott a quasi-part of the Green Lantern Corps, which I learned about from this special, is one of those teeth-achingly stupid ideas that someone at DC (I’m going to assume Geoff Johns) thought was muy brillianto. Remember, Geoff Johns couldn’t handle his boyhood hero getting mad that the city he grew up in was destroyed, so he had to create a giant yellow fear insect – of course he wouldn’t want Alan Scott to have a mystical lamp. Being part of a space cop program makes so much more sense! (Of course, maybe it wasn’t Johns. Parallax is still stupid.) Speaking of Alan Scott, he was part of a “precursor” to the Green Lantern Corps. So in the 20-50 years between Scott and Hal Jordan (depending on DC’s sliding timescale), the Guardians perfected their rings and spread out over the galaxy and by the time Jordan came along, they were universally regarded as THE space cops? Yeah, I don’t think so. Alan Scott’s mystical origin didn’t need fixing. Fight me!

Oh, this comic. Yeah, it’s fine. Gary Frank draws the Alan Scott story, which is about saboteurs and how Alan was there when a boy died and now the boy’s mother is sad. It’s nice to look at, but nothing special. Johns and Ivan Reis actually give us a pretty hilarious story that is also obvious, but it’s still fun. There’s a dumb Sinestro story by Cullen Bunn, but Doug Mahnke draws it, so it’s neat. Denny O’Neil, who had a story in the Joker Special and for whom death is no barrier to writing stories, gives us a story in which Green Arrow is the punchy hothead and Jordan is the calm one? It’s dumb, especially because O’Neil has Jordan espouse Thoreau, who’s always been a bit of a poser, but it’s drawn by Mike Grell, so that’s all right. Ron Marz gives us a fun Kyle Rayner story, and DC dug Darryl Banks out of whatever crawl space they bricked him up in to draw it, so it looks keen. Peter Tomasi and Fernando Pasarin do a fun Guy Gardner/Kilowog story, and Charlotte McDuffie (Dwayne’s wife) and ChrisCross have a not-bad John Stewart story. There’s a trite story about Jordan, Stewart, and Rayner getting together when they’re old to drink, but Rafa Sandoval is a good artist, so it looks nice. Mariko Tamaki writes a weird Jessica Cruz story that relies on us believing that she’s crazy, so it doesn’t really work, but Mirka Andolfo’s art is good. Finally, Sina Grace gives us a wildly clichéd story of Simon Baz and how white people hate everyone, but Ramon Villalobos is still channeling Frank Quitely, so it looks good (I know Grace can’t really get into any kind of nuance with the story, and it’s the same kind of thing we’ve seen for years when there was one black/Indian/Arab in a story and they were evil, but just because he flips the script doesn’t make it any less stereotypical). So it’s a mixed bag. I’ve gotten four of these 80th anniversary books, and it’s better than the Robin one but not as good as the Joker and Catwoman ones. Such is life.

You will notice, perhaps, the absence of the greatest Green Lantern ever. Yes, the lack of G’Nort will cost this comic half a star! Do not mess with me, DC!!!!! (There’s also a surprising lack of Neal Adams – despite the cover he drew – and Dave Gibbons. Those dudes aren’t dead, after all, although O’Neil proves that doesn’t even stop some people. I suppose Adams just wanted to do the cover, but did Gibbons tell them to pound sand? In case you’re wondering, there is a Staton pin-up.)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Clock King is awesome, y’all

Outer Darkness/Chew #1-3 by John Layman (writer/letterer), Afu Chan (artist), Rob Guillory (writer), Pat Brosseau (letterer), and Jon Moison (editor). $11.97, 60 pgs, Image.

The team-up between the Outer Darkness crew, hundreds of years in the future, and the Chew characters makes no sense, but it’s comics!, so Layman makes it make sense, and it’s a nice little crossover. I don’t want to give away how it works, but it does. But I have a little bit of a rant, which I alluded to above – Outer Darkness has been canceled. Now, I know it’s an Image book and “canceled” is a murky term with an Image book, but maybe it’s different for Skybound books. I haven’t spoken to Layman for a while – there’s some weird virus going around that makes it hard to meet up with people unless you’re, you know, an ignorant mouth-breather – but he mentioned on Facebook that Outer Darkness wasn’t coming back, and that he was looking for work. Real work, as in a j-o-b. Due to the virus and other factors, he thought getting a real job would help. Now, Layman has a couple of comics coming out, and I hope that Chu sells, mainly because it sounds like a fun series (the other is a mini-series), and while I don’t think he’s in serious financial straits, it’s worth remembering how precarious the life of an artist really is. I know we all know this, instinctively, but it’s worth remembering. During the pandemic, I kept seeing memes about how great artists are because they’re the only thing keeping us sane, and it’s (partly) true. Here at a comics/pop culture blog, we know that despite the fact that people consume art, the people making it are often not compensated as well as they should be, but it’s worth remembering that. DC and Marvel have created a culture where the fictional characters matter, not the people who created them, and that has seeped into the brains of consumers in general, to a degree. When Ditko died, I made a point on Facebook about all the actors who had made a crap-ton of money off of his two biggest creations, and I would bet even someone like Tilda Freakin’ Swinton made more money than Ditko did from Doctor Strange (no knock on Tilda Swinton, who’s a fun actor, but she wasn’t the star of the movie or even the villain, is my point – maybe I should use Rachel McAdams as the example?). This has started to change in the past few decades, but it’s still, unsurprisingly, the mind-set of a lot of people who buy comics, as they read everything Batman or Spider-Man “just to keep up,” no matter how shitty the stories are (looking at you, Tom King). So when a creator is in some dire straits (and Layman is not, I want to reiterate, he just makes a convenient jumping-off point), no one cares because someone else will just write or draw their favorite character. The comics world is littered with people who have to go into a different business because comics doesn’t pay enough. This stretches back to Bernard Krigstein, at least, and while we can look at the 1950s and think we’re better now, the reality is that we’re really not. Sure, creators might have more outlets for their work, but the margins are still incredibly thin. Most creators can only work on their own stuff if they sell something to television or movies. If not, they have to go to the Big Two, which doesn’t make them rich, obviously, but at least gives them more money.

I’m not writing anything we don’t already know. I learned years ago to follow creators, and it’s made a huge difference in the way I buy comics. It’s odd that we don’t do that with other forms of art, for the most part – yes, I know people who will see every superhero movie or Star Wars movie just because they’re superhero movies or Star Wars movies, but directors and actors do actually make a difference when people decide to see a movie, and I imagine that if anyone still reads books (I know the nerds here do, but I’m talking about it the real world), you read an author because you like him or her, not because of the genre of book they’re writing (I could be wrong, and yes, it’s true that many authors pick a lane and stay in it, so it’s easier to follow them). In comics, however, it’s still (overwhelmingly?) about the characters, so Layman can write Detective Comics and the people who might have liked that run don’t buy his other books because “they don’t star Batman.” That’s fine – buy what you want – but don’t complain if the quality of the Batman comics isn’t what you want. DC might not be able to find creators to work on Batman because the ones who are good can’t make any money and they’re all Don-Drapering it somewhere and the only people willing to work on comics are bad at creating them. I know that’s an extreme Doomsday scenario that probably won’t happen, but it’s still frustrating to see good creators not being able to work in comics anymore, or as much as they’d like.

Comics creators can’t do too much about this – a union would make it easier on them, but it’s absolutely unclear how it would work in such a diverse field. Health insurance, of course, is a big issue with anyone who is, essentially, self-employed, and we’ve all heard stories of comics creators having to go begging because they don’t have insurance (even young dudes – Jamie McKelvie had back problems a few years ago, and it messed up the scheduling of The Wicked + The Divine, and I’m not sure how he took care of it, but he’s British, and they have better health insurance than we do in the States because they’re not a bunch of fucking savages … sorry, where was I?). It’s not just that DC and Marvel should have been better to the people who created the characters that made them so much money, although that’s a big part of it. It’s that they did such a good job making the characters, not the creators, the stars. This is a silly mindset, but it’s hard to break out of silly mindsets when you’ve been conditioned to think that way for a long time (see racism, sexism, and such). I don’t know what the solution is – obviously, consumers changing their minds would work, as would Marvel and DC not making it all about the characters, but neither of those things seems likely. Unfortunately.

Art is a crucial part of our lives, whether we’re conscious of it or not. If you simply plop down in front of the television to watch Floor is Lava, you’re consuming art – stupid art, to be sure, but who doesn’t love stupid art? But even if you don’t think about it, art means an artist, and too often, people want the art without thinking about the artist (this is what leads to pirating, of course). Because we as a culture don’t put enough emphasis on art, it’s easy for us to think that art springs from the forehead of Zeus, without anyone actually creating it. Again, I know I’m just preaching to the choir, but just the idea that a successful comic writer like Layman might have to curtail his writing because he can’t make any money is annoying. He’ll be fine, I’m sure, but just the idea that so many comics creators aren’t doing what they do best because of the way the system is set up bums me out, man. So buy Chu, or at least give it a try. It won’t kill you!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

ART!

Dragonfly & Dragonflyman volume 1 by Tom Peyer (writer), Peter Krause (artist), Russ Braun (artist), Juan Castro (finisher), Leonard Kirk (finisher), Andy Troy (colorist), Paul Little (colorist), Kelly Fitzpatrick (colorist), Rob Steen (letterer), and Deron Bennett (editor). $16.99, 120 pgs, Ahoy Comics.

The Wrong Earth was an interesting examination of superhero tropes, so it’s not surprising that Tom Peyer and Ahoy would go back to the well, despite that not always working out so well. However, instead of a sequel, we get a “prequel,” I guess, although this too doesn’t have much to do with The Wrong Earth except it stars the same characters. This time, there’s no cross-universe shenanigans – Peyer and Krause (Braun draws a short story as a lead-in) simply tell two different stories, one starring the shiny Dragonflyman and the other starring the grim-‘n’-gritty Dragonfly. However, the two stories parallel each other in that Peyer focuses on Stinger, the heroes’ sidekick. In Dragonflyman’s world, Stinger is a valuable asset to the hero, and when Dragonflyman needs help after a villain messes with his head, Stinger is there. In Dragonfly’s universe, Stinger is dismissed too often, so he becomes bitter and suspicious, which drives a wedge between the two heroes. Dragonflyman replaces Stinger at one point, but because he explains it, Stinger understands and is ready to help. Dragonfly, on the other hand, never explains anything to his Stinger, not even a kind gesture, so his sidekick has no choice but to snoop, where he learns things that make him even angrier. It’s a clever way to show how to relate to people and how to, and what the consequences could be. Both Peyer and Krause get the nuances of, say, a “Batman ’66” world and a “Dark Knight Returns” world without sliding into parody, and they’re both worlds that could be real, despite the differences in outlooks. It’s an interesting trick, and it’s neat getting two stories for the price of one. Krause is a solid artist, and he changes his style enough to differentiate the two worlds without making them completely unlike. Even the coloring does this, as Dragonfly’s world is darker, but not overly so, while Dragonflyman’s world isn’t quite as brightly colored as you might expect. Creators who don’t have as good a feel for these sorts of things might go overboard, but Krause and the colorists smartly do not.

Ahoy has put out some good comics. You should check them out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Everyone likes a good lamington!

Yondu: My Two Yondus by Zac Thompson (writer), Lonnie Nadler (writer), John McCrea (artist), Mike Spicer (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Darren Shan (editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

Thompson and Nadler have written some good comics, both together and separately, so it’s not surprising that one of the Big Two got them on a book, and it’s also not surprising that the results are so generic. The book is fun reading, certainly, but it’s predictable to a fault, and while Thompson and Nadler bring up a few interesting points, especially about superheroes (in a few lines, Thompson and Nadler make more cogent points than this Time writer did in an entire fairly misguided article about superheroes!), but for the most part, this is a heist/chase story, with a Cosmic MacGuffin the prize, Yondu and a distant descendant of his arguing a lot, and all sorts of creatures chasing them and trying to kill them. The people we expect to die, die, and the way everything gets resolved is the way we expect, as well. There are some funny bits, there’s a secret origin for Yondu that makes very little sense, there’s wonderful art by McCrea, which is the main reason to get this. McCrea is a great artist, especially for a book set in the junk piles of the galaxy, because his imagination can run wild. So it’s a decent but not-very-original story with great art. I guess that’s just the way it is.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Sounds good to me!

**********

So the last time I did one of these posts, it was mid-April and we already knew how bad the coronavirus could be. Over two months later, thanks to the calm, astute leadership from government, we’ve contained the virus and we’re all getting back to a semblance of normality.

Yeah, I know. I always go for the cheap laughs. We’re still shut up in our homes, and we’ve added protests over the horrible police brutality that’s been going on forever but might have reached a boiling point and now they’re tearing down statues (I think Greg Hatcher should lead a group to Seattle’s Lenin statue to tear that down, because if we’re getting rid of Confederate statues – and about time, I say – then what the hell is that thing doing there?) and we had the murder hornets and now we have vampire fish (which are just lampreys, disappointingly) and everyone seems a lot more comfortable being racist than they used to be and you just know the Orange-Faced Baboon is going to cheat like crazy to win but hey, at least Olivia de Havilland is still alive! So yeah, to paraphrase Angela Chase, it’s been a time. How is everyone?

The tragic and hilarious thing about this stupid virus is how not seriously so many people are taking it. You’ve all heard the stories about the people going to gatherings and then getting sick, or the students throwing COVID parties (I’d like to say of course it’s Alabama, but stupidity crosses all state lines!), or the guy in Maryland who pushed for reopening things, of course contracted it, said he wouldn’t help with contact tracing, and blamed Satan for giving him the disease, or any other number of stories that make you feel smug because these people are stupid, but remember – a lot of these people vote. Here in the Great Hell on Earth that is Arizona, it’s the Wild West, as we knew it would be, as our cowardly governor can’t remove his lips from the Asshole-in-Chief’s butt long enough to tell people to not be idiots. He finally left it up to counties, and suddenly everyone was wearing a mask because the county leadership doesn’t give a shit about the Donfuck McTrumpyass, they just worry about why all their citizens are dying. Even the guy who voted for Trump at my comic book store is wearing a mask! We’re still doing fine, but my daughter is going even nuttier than she was in April, when at least she still had homework to do. She’s been fighting with racist, sexist teenagers on Instagram, which is really not healthy for her. Next week, my parents and sister are supposed to come to visit. They’re staying at a resort because we don’t have room for five extra people, and the resort is still open, but today the governor of Pennsylvania (where my parents live; my sister lives in Virginia) issued an order saying people coming to PA from Arizona have to be quarantined for two weeks. They’re flying back into Newark, but New Jersey is under the same restrictions, so I’m curious what my parents are going to do and whether New Jersey and Pennsylvania have any way to enforce it. We shall see.

So we’re still doing our thing. The mortgage business is still booming, so my wife is making big-time ducats right now, which is nice to sock away for a rainy day. We’re getting our back yard landscaped this week, so that should be fun, and we’re looking for new furniture for our living room. The economy is booming! (I have a friend on Facebook who’s been really trying my patience. I knew him in high school, and you know it’s dangerous to be friends with people on Facebook whom you haven’t seen in years, but he’s really making it hard. He keeps calling people “holy wokesters” and such, and a while ago he was angry that people were tearing down Columbus statues. One person said Columbus was a horrible person, and he countered that a lot of people in the 15th century were horrible. I didn’t go that route – I just noted that Columbus never actually set foot in the United States, so what the hell do we care about him? He mentioned that the Founding Fathers liked him … because he wasn’t English. I said that just proves that the Founding Fathers could be as stupid as anyone. Just recently he mentioned that the Black Lives Matter protests were stupid because Amazon’s stock is doing so well. He bought more stock in Amazon around the time of the main protests because he thought that everyone would be so scared of going outside where those horrible dark-skinned people were that they’d buy from Amazon, and lo and behold, he was right. I had to close my eyes and count to ten so I didn’t comment on that post, because I wanted to ask him if he really was that stupid. Sigh. Anyway, this is a long parenthetical!) We’re worried about what’s going to happen when school starts – a lot of school districts have already pushed the start date back two weeks to 17 August, but they still don’t seem to have a great plan. My daughter did fairly well in the on-line semester in the spring, but it doesn’t seem very viable going forward, because I don’t know how much she’s really learning without having good teaching instruction. We shall see. Meanwhile, my other daughter’s physical therapist might have been exposed to the virus, but she was wearing a mask in the house where the carrier was and she wasn’t close to the person. She’s getting tested, but she already had to miss one session. My older daughter is tough as nails, so I’m not too worried about her, but it does matter when she misses therapy, so not only do I hope that her PT doesn’t have it because that would suck for her, but I’m selfish because I want my daughter to get therapy. I’m so glad our government takes this as seriously as they do!

So the world is going to shit. Racists have been emboldened for some completely unknown reason, I know a lot of people who think that Biden is a terrible candidate and want to vote third party, which will just hand the damned White House to the Racist, Sexist Bully who occupies it now, and people are revealing how stupid and selfish they really are. Who wants to move to Liechtenstein with me? Dang.

Hey, let’s check out how much I’m spending on comics!

20 May: $38.79 (first week back, not a lot out …)
27 May: $52.03 (second week back, more coming out …)
3 June: $287.92 (there it is!)
10 June: $176.95
17 June: $97.13
24 June: $239.32 (second $200+ week in the month, not bad)

On 19 May, I went in to see what was going on with my shop, and I ended up getting 7 Golden Age books, spending $143.22 in the process. I blame José Villarrubia, who’s been doing a marvelous series on Facebook on color restoration and how it goes so horribly wrong, and all his scans of Golden Age books make me want to get some. My retailer has a bunch, so I found some that weren’t too expensive – they were all $20 or $25, which is fine with me. I’ll probably write about them some day. So I don’t count that in my “new comic” total, but there it is.

May/June: $892.14
YTD: $2800.62

Have a good holiday weekend, everyone! And remember – if you buy anything using the link below, we get a tiny amount of money for the blog. Help raise my idiot acquaintance’s stock prices a little!

22 Comments

  1. Der

    About the Polk book and the war with Mexico:

    As a Mexican that doesn’t really paid attention on history class, I find it funny that you mention: “Some of this was Mexico’s fault – the country refused to admit that they were beaten, despite winning almost no battles in the war and retreating constantly”

    Not funny because it’s false, no, funny because you say “Mexico’s fault” but being in Mexico, no one says(not even the historians I’ve seen on tv or read) “Man, we screwed the pooch there didn’t we?” No, we just lay the blame on López de Santa Anna, who eventually was president and in general never did a good job at anything. Usually the people that knows about this says “Santa Anna this, Santa Anna that” regarding the loss of territory.

    Anyway, thanks for your posts guys, I don’t comment often but I read every post here, keep up the good work guys

    1. Greg Burgas

      Der: That’s funny, because Santa Anna is such a good punching bag, isn’t he? Merry, naturally, writes quite a bit about Santa Anna and how the Yankees got him out of Cuba and back to Mexico because they thought he would help end the war, but then he got all cocky and wanted to fight more. Sure, some of it was Santa Anna’s fault, but he wasn’t in power at the beginning of the war, and he wasn’t completely to blame once he did get back! 🙂

      Thanks for reading, as always!

  2. conrad1970

    Hi Greg
    I was relieved that Adventureman
    was so good.
    Fraction is a frustrating writer for me as I’m never sure what we are going to get. Apart from Hawkeye and Immortal Iron Fist the rest of his Marvel Work has been a huge disappointment, I have however really enjoyed the Superman”s Pal: Jimmy Olsen maxi series he’s been working on for DC Comics.

    1. Greg Burgas

      conrad: His Marvel work has been up and down. But he writes (wrote?) Casanova, which is one of the best comics of the 21st century, so I’m willing to give him a shot whenever he has something new, especially if it’s not from the Big Two. I’m also looking forward to reading Jimmy Olsen, though – it sounds like it’s in his wheelhouse.

  3. Assorted notes:
    “maybe Catwoman is just a more interesting character than Robin? ”
    Tim Hanley’s Catwoman book is a good history of the Feline Fury. He points out she’s succeeded despite never having had a definitive look the way the Joker or Penguin have, and bounced all over the map as a character too (burglar, antihero, gang boss, lover, hooker).
    Will Pfeiffer is indeed underrated. I loved his HERO way more than Mieville’s.
    Re “Headless,” the book “Bell, Book and Camera” points out that referencing Salem or the witch trials is a stock thing in anything dealing with witches as if to ground it in history (much the same way multiple fictional conspiracies will toss off that they took out JFK, thereby proving their badassery).
    Adventureman sounds like fun, but Doc Savage isn’t particularly racist by the standards of the day (though I can think of several counter-examples) — in the first story he actually refuses to take treasure from a Mayan tribe if they don’t want to share, which is radical for the time.
    Journalist Ali Ansari in “Confronting Iran” says for Iranians, the 1953 coup was the equivalent of Pearl Harbor for us, and America never grasped that. The book is a good look at missteps on both sides, the U.S. (for example) deciding Khomeini could no more be reasoned with than the Terminator while Iran assumed that of course they could reason with the United States (sure, Iran took the embassy hostage, but the U.S. is too pragmatic to let that stand in the way of an alliance with a major regional power, right?).
    Archie vs. Predator sounds interesting as the Archie multiverse fascinates me.
    It was Gerard Jones who first introduced the idea of Alan Scott as “just” another GL. In one of his stories it turns out Alan’s ring and power battery belonged to one of Hal’s predecessors in this space sector; he got arrogant so the Guardians changed his ring’s weakness from yellow to wood and he was killed. It’s a dumb story. And no, Alan’s origin is fine as is (plus the Starheart concept from one of Denny O’Neil’s stories does link him to the Guardians, but more reasonably).
    “When Ditko died, I made a point on Facebook about all the actors who had made a crap-ton of money off of his two biggest creations” While I don’t dispute he got a raw deal, I think Steven Grant had a fair point that Ditko and Alan Moore refusing to take any money for the movie adaptations was in a way a mistake: they were being paid what they were rightfully entitled to as creators, not some kind of hush-money bribe to endorse the film.
    Republicans will undoubtedly cheat if they can, including giving Putin the missile codes if he’ll hack the voting system. Trump himself, not so much. He’s too stupid and lazy and from most of what I’ve read, he still thinks he’ll win because Fox News shows him a world where everyone agrees with him about race and gender so he just has to be himself.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Fraser: You’re right about Doc Savage not being particularly racist – perhaps “paternalistically” racist is a bit better, as he’s a white dude with a diverse cast who’s naturally the top dog. Perhaps the character isn’t racist, but it certainly feels like whoever’s writing him doesn’t think much of the “others” around him. Maybe I’m wrong.

      That’s an interesting point about the 1953 coup. If only Americans could grasp that other countries in the world look at events differently than we do and might think of something as horrific that we know nothing about! What a shocking concept!

      Look at me, dumping on Geoff Johns for no reason! Oh well – he can handle it!

      That’s another good point about the movie money. I know Moore is grumpy about the movies themselves being made, which is his justification, but he also doesn’t own, say, the Watchmen characters, so he can’t say anything. It probably would have been better if they had taken the money and made a big show about donating it to someone who needed it or an organization that helps creators (I’d say the CBLDF, but given what we know about that, maybe not …)

      Well, I don’t think Trump will be doing the actual cheating – he’ll just order someone to do it and go play golf! 🙂

      1. “Perhaps the character isn’t racist, but it certainly feels like whoever’s writing him doesn’t think much of the “others” around him. Maybe I’m wrong.”
        There’s some truth to that. If Doc has to disguise himself as a black character it’s invariably a “shuffling darkie” as they used to say. And the otherwise excellent “Thousand Headed Man” is way heavy on the use of “slant eyes.”
        The series does much better with women. A surprising number of competent women show up in the novels some of them more than capable of holding their own with Doc and his team.
        The US really does have trouble seeing itself as other countries do. Like the shock some people expressed during the Iraq war that the Iraqis didn’t see us bombing and killing them as a heroic act of liberation.

  4. Re Dragonfly/Dragonflyman, Marvel did something similar when “Bob” — the Bob Newhart show where he plays a retired comics artist returning to the field — did something similar by putting out a book showing his Silver Age character Mad Dog and his collaborator’s Grim and Gritty take. Didn’t work for me though, as the Silver Age version was parodied much more than the modern take.
    I haven’t been in a comics store since this started, though I have begun mail ordering from our local stores.

    1. Greg Burgas

      The parodic aspects of Dragonfly/Dragonflyman are fairly gentle and evenly distributed. Peyer just tells good stories in the tones of both camps, which is pretty keen.

      I’ve seen a lot of people mail ordering and shops offering it, and I hope it helps keep them going. My retailer does a lot on eBay, so he did all right. It would be nice if things in the comics world got back to normal, though. We shall see.

  5. jccalhoun

    So what is the current explanation for Alan Scott’s Green Lantern ring? I know that at one point they said his powers came from the “starheart” which the Guardians created out of all the magic in the universe or something https://dc.fandom.com/wiki/Starheart but then at another point I remember them saying that Scott’s ring was actually from a Green Lantern that the Guardians had removed the weakness to yellow but then he got corrupted so the Guardians made it weak to wood to teach him a lesson. https://greenlantern.fandom.com/wiki/Yalan_Gur
    Both of which are stupid but neither are because of Johns. (Johns would probably make it because of Scott’s issues with his parents who were wood workers or something…)

  6. Eric van Schaik

    Why move to Lichtenstein? What’s wrong with Holland? 🙂
    Of course there are stupid people too who don’t believe about the virus.

    I haven’t bought a lot of comics. Only Dragonfly & Dragonflyman.
    I’m trade waiting Adventureman.

    I have on the other hand bought a lot of cool music (in my opinion).
    Gazpacho (from Norway, with a link to Marillion) and Mystery (from Australia).

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: I’d move to Holland in a heartbeat, believe me. I just like naming slightly stranger countries when I say I’m going to move someplace. Holland is too normal, man!

      Man, you buy so much music. I buy something like 5-6 CDs a year, maybe. I actually have a list right now of music I want to buy, so I’ll have to get around to that. And now I have to go listen to Gazpacho!

    2. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

      I’m definitely gonna have to pick up the Catwoman book!

      Didn’t realize they had such a murderer’s row – Dini, Parker, Ram V, and BRUBAKER!

      Just gonna have to dissociate Cameron Stewart’s participation, and lock it up under 1000 tons of mind ice.

      Dear God, he’s a piece of shit…and I’m honestly quite angry that the dozens of 20-somethings Warren Ellis was a scumbag to have decided to pile into the “limelight” with Stewart’s victims.

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