Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – November 2019

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

“It is very interesting,” Eliades was telling me, “how Americans learn geography and world history as their interests are damaged in one country after another. This is interesting.” (Don DeLillo, from The Names)

The Black Rose (Doubleday, Doran & Co, Inc.).

So this needs some explaining. I was at work, and I started talking to a co-worker about books, and we discovered we both like historical fiction. She told me that the only book she’s read more than once is this one (I can’t even comprehend people who don’t read books more than once, but whatevs), and she thought I’d like it. So she gave it to me, and I was fairly shocked to learn that Thomas Costain wrote this in 1945. 1945! It’s not that I don’t read books that old, but now I’m fascinated how it came into this woman’s life to the degree that it’s her favorite book. Perhaps she saw the movie (starring Orson Welles as a Mongol general!) when she was a kid? I don’t know, but now I have to ask her. Anyway, I took it and read it, out of my usual alphabetical order because I didn’t want to keep it too long, and here we go.

It’s a pretty good adventure, far less racist than I thought it was going to be (it’s mildly racist, but I guess we just have to live with that because of when it was written), but it’s also kind of weird. The protagonist is an illegitimate English lad named Walter, whom we meet at Oxford but who leaves not too deep into the book after a meeting with Roger Bacon changes his life (the book takes place in the 1270s). Walter is the bastard son of a lord who never really recognized him but whom Walter romanticizes a bit (he knows who he is), and when his father dies, his life takes a turn, as the legitimate son is a douchebag and his mother is even worse. Walter identifies as a Saxon (even though his father was Norman), and the bitterness the Saxons feel toward the Normans still hasn’t abated, 200 years after the Conquest. Walter’s grandfather fought with Simon de Montfort in the 1260s, too, when that lord was trying to bring about a more democratic government, so he’s in disgrace. The new king, Edward I, is supposed to be fair, so Walter hopes his grandfather will be granted the lands he lost back, but he’s not holding his breath. And Walter is obsessed with a young woman he’s known since youth, who of course is kind of a bitch to him because he’s a bastard. Walter’s a nice guy, though, and he befriends a commoner, Tristram. Tristram, however, is involved with a rebellious movement against the new, douchebag lord, and things become a bit heated in England for the two men. So, with Roger Bacon’s ideas floating around in his head about how advanced and rich the Chinese are, Walter decides to go to the East to seek his fortune. And they’re off!

They end up in the army of Bayan, the Mongol general who conquered southern China for Kublai Khan, and Walter falls in love with a woman, Maryam, whom Costain takes pains to point out is half-English at every opportunity – Walter can’t fall in love with some filthy Greek lady! Costain seems to set up a love triangle between Walter, Tristram, and Maryam, but Tristram is such a swell guy that he just steps aside when Walter finally figures out that Maryam is hot (in a more enlightened age, Tristram would be gay, because Costain has some very vague hints about his affection for Walter, but it never goes anywhere). Walter ends up making his fortune in the East, after some trials and tribulations, but when he’s trying to escape from Hangzhou before the Mongols arrive (he became friends with Bayan, who sent him to the city to convince them to surrender, but they decided he was a good luck charm, and so he needed to escape because the regular Mongol soldiers wouldn’t know about his friendship with Bayan), he and Tristram get separated from Maryam. They return to England, thinking she’s dead, while she spends the latter part of the book trying to get to London (with her newborn son) even though the only English she knows is “London.” Back in England, Walter and Tristram once again get involved in the problems of the Normans versus the Saxons and the nobles versus the commoners, with dire results for some. It all sort of works out in the end – I mean, you can see that Walter and Maryam are going to be reunited at some point, but some other stuff that happens is a bit weird.

First of all, the structure of the book is weird. Walter’s adventures in China are almost a sidebar, when they feel like they should be more important. They last for a good section of the book, but it feels like they’re just a way for Walter to make some money so he can stake claims back in England. Second, the fates of some of the characters are handled weirdly, as if Costain just lost interest in them. I get that he’s going for some amount of realism, and in the real world, we don’t get narrative-type resolutions to things, but ultimately, this is fiction, so Costain isn’t really bound by the real world. It’s also fascinating to read things from a time before more scholarship is done on certain figures, in this case Edward I. Edward became king in 1272, and Walter meets him probably in the late 1270s/early 1280s (the only date we get in the book is 1273, early on, and several years pass before Walter meets the king). Edward came to the throne and claimed he wanted to reconcile the problems of the nobility/commoner divide, and he’s definitely regarded as a great English king … but he certainly wasn’t as swell a guy as he comes off in this book. First of all, Walter and his grandfather fought against Edward’s father, Henry III, so they know that when Simon de Montfort was defeated and killed in the 1260s, it was Edward leading the armies against him, not Henry (Henry was a terrible king). Second, Edward lusted for conquest, and he never hid it, so I doubt he would be so forgiving to Walter’s family for their rebellion. Third, he just doesn’t seem as jovial as Costain makes him in this book. He has what amounts to an extended cameo, so it’s not a big deal, but I wonder how much more we know about Bayan, say, that Costain “got wrong” simply because he didn’t have access to what we might have today.

Overall, this is solid historical fiction, with a story you don’t always see in the genre and some good writing and adventures. It’s not great, but it is pretty good. If you like historical fiction, it might be something you’ll like!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (DC).

As always, I have to point out that I’ve never been a big fan of the Legion. I’ve tried many times to get into it, and it just never works. I don’t know why – even the best creators (Mark Waid, Keith Giffen) don’t get me to keep reading. But hey, here’s a new Legion book, so let’s check this out!

Now, despite not lasting long on this title (for issue #3, it appears he’s already sharing art duties), Ryan Sook’s art is stupendous. His design work is superb, his page layouts are sleek and “futuristic,” his pacing is excellent, and despite using a nice fine, clean line, he’s always been great at shading. Obviously, with the Legion you have a lot of characters, but Sook does a great job giving them little flashes of personality so they’re not just people in costumes. It’s always too bad when Sook is doing art for a comic, because you know it will be brilliant and you know it will be short-lived. Sigh.

Meanwhile, Bendis is writing a team book. That has never been his strength, and while this issue is entertaining, it’s also kind of a mess. It revolves around the theft of Aquaman’s trident, which occurs early in the book, but it’s mostly about Jon Kent and his introduction to the 30th century. It’s unclear why the Legion needs Superboy – there’s a hint on the final page, but I assume Bendis will get to it – but his appearance allows Bendis to zip around showing us what 1000 years in the future looks like. It’s still odd, because some Legionnaires don’t seem to be affiliated with the Legion, I guess, and Superboy keeps asking questions and not allowing anyone to answer (I get that that’s a Bendis thing, but Jeebus, Jon, sit still for a damned minute and someone might explain shit to you!), so we get a lot of snippets about what’s going on but not much else. I get that that’s what you want to do in a first issue, to tease people into coming back, but the problem here is that it isn’t all that compelling. It’s fine, I guess, but if you’re not already invested in the Legion, it doesn’t give you a reason to do so. Like I mentioned, I’ve never been that interested in the Legion, and this doesn’t give me a good reason to come back. Bendis’s dialogue, his strong suit, is fine, and the book zips along nicely, but that’s about it.

If you’re a Legion fan, you probably already got this, but if you didn’t, you’re the target audience, so check it out. Other than that, it’s just a very standard superhero comic that happens to look spectacular.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Have you tried a nice moisturizer?

New Mutants #1 (Marvel).

So I haven’t read the Hickman reboot yet (what is that, the second X-Men reboot in less than 18 months or so?), but I figured I’d try the first issues of some of the new books coming out of it – the more minor books, because I figure the main ones are too connected to what Hickman did. As you should all know, the X-Men are my favorite team in comics, and I really, really want to like them again … but it’s been a while since they’ve been any good. So we’ll see about the main stuff, but let’s check out the flood of ancillary books Marvel is deluging us with! Yes, I skipped Marauders because it looked dumb, but I have others to check out!

So, New Mutants. GAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! On the first pages, Rahne Sinclair comes back to life because Krakoa has Lazarus Pools now? I dunno. She doesn’t seemed fazed at all that Professor Xavier is wearing a hideous metal contraption (Cerebro or Cerebra or whatever, because in today’s PC world even weird metal contraptions have to be female!!!!! #MakeMarvelMaleAgain #ThingsWereBetterWhenIWasTwelve #WhatsWithAllTheChicksAmIRight?) when she wakes up, but all we really need to know is that Hickman and Ed Brisson really want the classic team together. Well, they add Mondo because he’s so cool. And Chamber, because he’s so cool, too. Wait, why is Rahne not dead anymore?

So they’re hanging out on Krakoa feeling really damned pleased with themselves (seriously, there are two pages on which Dani and Roberto just stroll around basically saying “Everyone older than we are sucks and we’re so awesome” even though they’re in their 20s and what the hell happened to the even younger mutant generation that can feel superior to everyone who came before them?) and talking about their living situation, which they call a “sextant” and I can’t even deal with what that means, and everyone is having a great time. Then Roberto, who remains a HUGE DOUCHEBAG (I mean, come on, that’s always been kind of part of his charm), can’t leave well enough alone and says that Sam should be sharing in their celebration. Hey, you know when you’re having a good time with some friends and you say, “Hey, you know who’d love this? Our buddy Winston, right?” and everyone agrees that, yes, Winston would really love it, but he lives in San Moritz with his beautiful wife and three perfect children and he gets to go skiing every day in the winter and hike all summer and he’s probably good and everyone says, yeah, and then you all move on and keep enjoying yourself? Well, instead of that, Roberto decides that Sam doesn’t know what the fuck he’s missing while he’s hanging out with his stupid family in space so let’s go get him, even though we don’t, you know, have a fucking spaceship. So we cut immediately to the New Mutants on board the Starjammer (how did they contact it?) and we see why Cyclops is such a dick because his dad is being a huge dick to the kids, although to be honest they’re idiots. Oh, and Doug and Mondo discover something eerie about Krakoa. You think maybe you should investigate that instead of going off to Interstellar San Moritz and ganking Sam away from his family? So Corsair goes to a space station where he steals something, and the kids go onto the station supposedly to rescue the downtrodden there (because Corsair told them they were there) but there’s really no downtrodden, just a bunch of angry Shi’ar, so Corsair abandons the kids when they get captured. I mean, again, the kids are young adults and they shouldn’t be acting like 8-year-old boys, but that’s a dick move, Cyclops’s dad. And Roberto somehow chugs an entire bottle of bourbon and doesn’t pass out. But maybe he’ll die of alcohol poisoning, so all is not lost!

This is just a mess. Everyone acts dumb, the reason the kids are on the ship are dumb, Dani – who’s always kind of been the adult in the room – doesn’t say “Shut the fuck up, Roberto!” when he suggests going into space for no reason and Karma – who, remember, was tortured by Amahl Farouk and probably ought to have trust issues – believes everything Corsair tells them about the persecuted people on the space station. Jeebus. The hint that Krakoa is creepy is the best part about this book, but of course we get next to nothing about that. I’m sure Sam will go with them because this is a comic book, but it would be awesome if he said, “Well, the slopes are looking pretty good today and later my wife said she’d wear her Deathbird costume – hey, we keep it fresh! – and the kids are performing with the Imperial Kree Symphony Orchestra tomorrow night, so … I’m gonna have to pass. Later, losers!!!!” It could happen!

Rod Reis’s art is nice, though. There is that.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, he’s half right

Wild Strawberries at the World’s End (Source Point Press).

This is an interesting comic – the narrator, Te-Su, is a Korean man who returns to his old home in 1999 for the funeral of a former girlfriend who committed suicide. Yeah, depressing so far. Te-Su reminisces about his childhood with Ji-Ah, talks to Sang-Ho, another old friend who’s become a police officer, and tries to piece together why Ji-Ah killed herself. I don’t really want to get too much into it, because it’s an neat story with a cool quasi-twist (writer Bruce Kim doesn’t base the entire story on the twist, as it flows organically, but he still approaches the climax from an unusual direction, so it becomes a bit of a twist), but this is a neat story about loss and nostalgia and friendship and love and what sours that. Te-Su goes through grief, sure, but it’s a grief about his own life, not necessarily about Ji-Ah, although there’s a “road not taken” motif there. Kim takes what could have been a standard genre tale and, because of the way he approaches it, it becomes a sad reflection on life and how people often waste it. We get glimpses of Te-Su’s life, and how it’s almost surprising he hasn’t committed suicide yet, given his circumstances. There’s a mystery, as Te-Su and Ji-Ah used to go to a shantytown near where they lived, a cluster of huts that’s still there but all the people have disappeared, which vexes Te-Su. The mystery of the village ties into the tragic history of Korea, which Kim references a bit to add a historical depth to what is happening. The ultimate mystery is solved, to be sure, and Kim does a nice job implying that the actual history of Korea might have something to do with it. There’s nice art by Katia Vecchio, who creates a semi-rural world that can appear both inviting and creepy, depending on the mood of the characters, and she uses some images repeatedly as clues to the story, which is nice. As I noted, I don’t want to say too much, but it’s a neat book. It’s only 6 bucks, it’s a fairly thick book, and it tells a story you think is familiar but might not be, and even if it is, it’s told in a neat way. Put down that Catwoman comic with the acetate cover and pick this one up!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Yeah, that’s a puzzler

X-Force #1 (Marvel).

Hey, it’s another X-book! Maybe this will be better than New Mutants!

(Reads book.)

Ehhhhhhh …

I mean, I guess it’s better … slightly. Benjamin Percy goes to that old chestnut – humans hate mutants – and brings back the Reavers (I guess – they look like them) to attack Krakoa and kill a bunch of mutants, and the book ends with – I guess SPOILERS!!!!! – Professor Xavier getting shot in the head, even though Krakoa now has Lazarus Pools and things will work out fine (but I guess he’s needed to bring people back, so no one can bring him back?). Sigh. Why do writers keep doing this, when literally no one except small children who aren’t reading the comics anyway and that one guy – yeah, you, there in the back – believe this will stick? Anyway, it starts out fine, with an anti-mutant Klan group (they’re all wearing masks) having a meeting talking about blood purity. The main dude is wearing a sweet three-piece suit that’s white except for one sleeve, which has a peacock feather design stitched onto it about halfway up his arm, and now I want that suit more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life. For some reason Domino has infiltrated this group but taken no precautions against the “test” they have – you have to give a bit of blood – so they beat her up. Smart plan, Domino! Then, in a clever plan, the Reavers cut strips of her skin off her body and sew (glue?) them to their bodies, which fools Krakoa’s defense system into thinking that she’s returning to the island instead of killers. Well done, Reavers! It’s a good thing no one thought it was strange that Domino decided to jump from a plane onto the island rather than use the fancy teleportation device, but whatever. Meanwhile, Kitty Pryde brings Colossus to Krakoa, and Peter has a giant wound in his metal leg, because anti-mutant humans were doing horrible things. And Black Tom Cassidy is in charge of the island’s defenses? That seems wise. Xavier says stupid things like “all mutants can be trusted” because he’s stupid, and then the Reavers arrive and start killing everyone. I mean, one of the Reavers even says “Did you really think we weren’t going to fight back?” Now, this plot point has been used over and over again, but yes, the X-Men should have known better. Man, I hate it when the stupidity of the characters drives the plot. It’s annoying.

So I guess “X-Force” the team (which doesn’t actually seem to exist in this issue) is going to be a strike force of some kind, to take out evil humans before they can take out the X-Men? I mean, it’s not an original idea, but I guess. The issue moves a nice clip, introduces what it needs to introduce, and is somewhat entertaining. I just can’t shake the feeling that the X-Men are very dumb in this issue and that for all the “newness” of Hickman’s ideas, this is still about humans hating mutants and trying to kill them, which, again, isn’t the worst plot, but it doesn’t really seem like Percy is trying anything at all different with it. I will say that I’ve never seen Joshua Cassara’s art before, but boy howdy, it’s good. It’s a bit like Jerome Opeña’s, and since Opeña is a great artist, this book looks terrific. Cassara makes Krakoa look weird, unlike Rod Reis in New Mutants, and I dig the weirdness more than the shiny happy place where Dani and Roberto live. It’s a nice-looking book, at least.

So: it’s better than New Mutants, but not by too much. Progress!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Check out that boss suit

Yondu #1 (Marvel).

I probably wouldn’t have bought this if I had remembered it was a 5-issue mini-series, because I probably would have just waited for the trade, but here we are. I really like John McCrea, and it seems he’s been wandering in the wilderness for two decades, never sticking with a book or having books get cancelled out from under him, so let’s hope a mini-series about a minor Marvel character pays him some good coin. Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler are pretty good writers (I review one of their trades below!), so this should be fun. This is a set-up issue, but it’s entertaining, so that’s nice. Yondu, scavenging, finds one of the galaxy’s most precious objects, but everyone who was guarding it has been slaughtered. So it’s easy for him to get his hands on it, but obviously it will bring danger to him. Meanwhile, one of his descendants is tasked with traveling back into the past (our present, I suppose) to help Yondu save his race, but Yondu isn’t really down for that. And, of course, there’s a big bad coming for him and his new acquisition. We zip through the story, getting what we need to know, and McCrea has that rough, angular style that works for a book like this, where everything is slightly seedy and ramshackle. Yondu’s majestic descendant stands out nicely (McCrea can be classy when he wants to be!) among the grit and junk of Yondu’s universe, and McCrea is also very good at design, so we get a nifty assortment of weird aliens, all done with that slightly jaundiced sense of humor that McCrea usually brings to his work.

I’ll probably still get the trade, but at least I’ll know it’s off to a decent start. It’s not a great comic, but it’s pretty good.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

When a guy who looks like that says something like that, it’s not good

Bronze Age Boogie (Ahoy Comics).

This comic is ridiculous and occasionally dumb, but it’s really entertaining, and it kind of knows it’s dumb, so that goes a long way toward mitigating the flaws. Stuart Moore wants to tell a story with all the stuff he loved as a kid in the 1970s. Now, I’m usually wary of such blatant nostalgia-mongering, and if this weren’t a fairly decent story drawn beautifully by Alberto Ponticelli, I’d be wary of this. But I got it because I’ve liked Moore’s writing in the past and Ponticelli is a terrific artist, and it’s very fun. Yes, it has intelligent apes and barbarians and a kung fu master and a sexy black chick with an impressive Afro and a Martian invasion and Lovecraftian elements, but Moore doesn’t take it all too seriously, and he balances the action with some decent emotional beats, and Ponticelli does really nice work both with the actual drawing and some really nice page designs, so the kind-of obnoxious nostalgia turns into something fun rather than something that simply says, “Hey, remember all this stuff?” That’s annoying nostalgia, and considering I don’t remember all that stuff, there has to be something more for me.

As I said, Moore doesn’t take it all that seriously, so when we begin in 1974 BCE (well, there’s a one-page prologue that takes place in 1975, but then we go back in time) with a barbarian king and his teenage daughter, who speaks in 1970s American slang (she’s friends with a time-traveling talking chimpanzee from the 1970s, which explains some of her idioms, but even so, she still is way out of place for her time period), it’s not too jarring. Martians attack their camp and the girl (Brita) is magically transported to 1975, where the Martians are also attacking. She teams up with Lynda Darkk and Jackson Li, the aforementioned sexy black chick with the impressive Afro and the kung fu master, respectively, and they fight the Martians. The story beats are fairly predictable, but Moore never really lets up off the accelerator, and the art is beautifully intricate and full of verve, so everything gets carried along nicely to the end. The talking chimps don’t quite have as big a role as I thought they would, but Moore does a nice job bringing the other disparate elements together, so there’s that.

This is just a fun comic. I know, they still make those! It’s goofy, but it’s exciting and nice to look at. It’s certainly worth a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

You expect them to walk around on their tentacles like chumps?

Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice #1-5 (Dark Horse/DC).

Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer got off to a strong start, with a group of superheroes not unlike the Justice League living on a farm and not knowing how they got there. They eventually figured it out, but the second arc of the series was weaker, because it basically repeated the first arc, and now we get a crossover with the actual Justice League, which kind of repeats the story again. Mr. Mxyzptlk decides to mess with everyone, so he sends some members of the Justice League to the farm where Lemire’s superheroes used to live, and he puts those heroes in the Justice League world, and things get messy. The remaining Leaguers, naturally, believe the “Black Hammer” heroes had something to do with their colleagues’ disappearance, because why would they talk to them when they can fight, but they get it sorted eventually. Meanwhile, things play out pretty much the same on the “farm” as in the first arc, with one of the members dying when he tries to escape and the rest living for a decade (but not really) in a calcified environment. It all works out in the end, of course.

It’s fine, but nothing special. Lemire couldn’t really do too much with this group, because they’re just Justice League knock-offs whom he put in an interesting situation, and once that was solved, there’s nothing much to do with them. So we get two more iterations of it, and that’s enough. Lemire is a good writer, but he has to know this group has a shelf life. So even if he brings this group back, I doubt I’ll get it, because there’s not much else you can do. Michael Walsh isn’t quite as weird as Dean Ormston, so the art is not quite as interesting, but he’s still good, so it’s nice to look at. Whatever issues Lemire had with trying to stretch this series out, he got Ormston back into comics, and it seems like he’s able to keep working, so that’s cool. But back to this series – it’s probably not worth the trade, but if you find it cheap somewhere, it’s a decent enough read. It’s a ringing endorsement!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

So meta!

Fallen Angels #1 (Marvel).

The first word in this comic is, you guessed it, “Kwannon.” My theory, of course (because I think the world revolves around me), is that Bryan Hill, who wrote this, somehow stumbled upon one of my rants about how Kwannon is quite possibly the worst character in comics history and decided to troll me, but I have my doubts about this. Still, FUCKING KWANNON?!?!?!? Fabien Nicieza will answer for this in HELLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!

This is fine, I guess – it’s better than New Mutants, for instance, and about on par with X-Force, but it’s still not very good. Kwannon is bored on Krakoa because she likes punching things, and she finds X-23, who also likes punching things, and Weird Young Cable, and they go find things to punch. The most interesting thing about this comic, actually, is that this Krakoa Revamp isn’t going to last long, as Marvel is already undermining it – Magneto tells Kwannon that Krakoa is on lockdown and no one can leave, which doesn’t sound like a real Mutant Paradise to me. Also, Mr. Sinister seems to be doing something … nasty? evil? creepy? wait, wait – SINISTER!!!!! That can’t be good. I get that Hickman wanted to have a brave new world thing going on, but it’s weird how quickly they’ve made it somewhat not good, and I wonder if this is going to be a long game or in six months Krakoa will be a flaming husk and everyone will have gone their separate ways. We’ll see. Anyway, there’s some violence, there are creepy kids addicted to drugs, and an evil villain. I’ve never been a huge fan of Szymon Kudranski’s art, but it’s not bad here. It’s just kind of there. The fact that Hill has to spend so much time on who Kwannon is just doesn’t bode well. One day I’ll write a long post about how she’s the worst character in comics history, but for now, you’ll just have to trust me. If you want to avoid this book because Kwannon is the star, nobody would hold it against you!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Yeah, well, dudes with cheesy Van Dykes bore me, so what do you say about that?

Far Sector #1 (DC/Young Animal).

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been buying some more single issues recently, because some companies have decided to charge more for trades (which is stupid), but also because I want things to succeed. DC’s Young Animal imprint has been putting out really good comics with very bad sales to back them up, so even though this is a Green Lantern book and therefore should fall into the group of comics that ought to sell well and I won’t buy them until they come out in trade, it’s also a Young Animal book starring a new Green Lantern on a distant planet, so it will probably be a hard sell. So I’m on board for the 12 issues of its run, at least as long as it’s a good comic.

It starts well, as writer N.K. Jemisin (in her first comics work, I think?) takes a traditional whodunnit and does some interesting things with it. Jo Mullein is the GL of one planet, and it’s not even a planet, it’s a remnant of a planet, so we get the whole “isolated crime scene” thing even though it’s a quasi-world – nobody from the outside is coming, in other words. Meanwhile, it’s not really a whodunnit, because they pretty much know who did it, it’s a “whydunnit?” because no one knows the reason for the crime – the world on which Mullein patrols is famously free of crime. Third, there are three species living on the world (all of them humanoid, though, because of course they are) and while they have a peaceful world, it’s clear the species don’t really get along that well. So there’s a lot brewing in the world, and Mullein has to hold everything together and solve the crime. And she has secrets, too, because what kind of good genre story would this be if she didn’t? Jamal Campbell makes the world extremely alien, despite the humanoid nature of the species, as some of the architecture seems to defy physics and the interiors of spaces are bizarre, as if someone in the 1970s had too much money and access to a time machine. Campbell has never struck me as all that good at action (I haven’t seen a ton of his art, but what I have doesn’t have a lot of action in it), but he doesn’t have to do a lot of that here, so we’ll see down the line. For a world-establishing issue, his art is very nice.

This is a set-up issue, so it’s hard to really say it’s great – it’s certainly intriguing, and Jemisin has already made Mullein an interesting character, but we’ll see. I will be going along with it, though, because it’s good enough to get me interested!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

He seems trustworthy!

Banjax volume 1 (Action Lab Comics).

As dumb as the name of this book is (the protagonist’s name is Banjax, for seemingly no reason), this is still a pretty good book about what happens to superheroes when they age, how they can easily succumb to violent urges, what we as a society are willing to put up with in the name of reducing crime, and whether mental illness is endemic in superheroes. The main character, Laird Mason, is a 40-something-year-old ex-superhero who returns when a new drug hits the streets, and instead of simply beating criminals up, he begins killing them. His protégé, Abel Raines, who transitioned, Adrian Veidt-style, into a business empire based on his exploits, tries to bring him down, but Abel has his own demons. They circle around each other, and writer Ryleno Grant does some interesting stuff with the characters – nothing we haven’t seen before, to be sure, but it’s still a good way to show superheroes. Mason had a rough childhood, and his mother leaving his abusive father had a major impact on him. Raines had a different childhood, but because he’s black, he necessarily had to become tougher, and that leads to his chosen hobby and beyond, making him question the lifestyle far more than Mason does. Both men are tormented by their past and their present, and Mason realizes he’s perpetuating a cycle of violence but he can’t change himself enough to break it. The attitude of the public is something more nuanced than we usually see in superhero books, too, which is nice. This was probably written mostly (if not completely) during the Trump years, and while he’s not mentioned, the idea of a fickle public and a public thirsting for blood is, while not unique to the Trump era, certainly a big feature of it. Mason is both hero and villain to the public, depending on whom he’s beating up on any given day, and that adds an element of weird uncertainty to the book, because Grant doesn’t choose sides and doesn’t show either man in a completely heroic or villainous light. So there’s a lot going on, and it’s supposedly a continuing story, and we’ll see what happens moving forward. I don’t love Fabio Alves’s art, because he does that posed-model thing that is then digitally altered (at least that’s what it looks like), and there’s some of that rendering of photographs which are then placed in backgrounds that has to be done really well to look decent, but it’s not the worst art in the world, either, and Alves does use blacks well to hide some of the more egregious examples. It gets the job done, and that’s the baseline of art, so I can live with it. I am still interested to see where Grant goes with this, if he does indeed return to it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Yes, being in the Rockettes does seem exhilirating!

Dark Red volume 1: The Forgotten Man (AfterShock).

You might recall that I’m not the biggest fan of vampire stories that are just straight vampire stories. There has to be something else, either a good twist or just a different way of looking at the genre. I enjoy lots of vampire stories, but they’re all usually something else as well, because the vampire part just doesn’t hold my interest too much. So it is with Dark Red, Tim Seeley’s new vampire book, in which the vampire stuff – territories, ancient feuds, the mentor-protégé thing – just isn’t that interesting. It’s fine, and it allows Corin Howell to draw a lot of good, bloody violence (sidenote: I could have sworn a book has referred to Corin Howell as a male, but she’s a woman. I may have been thinking of someone else, perhaps?). What’s more interesting is Chip, the main character, who’s a vampire living in a small town in North Dakota. Seeley uses him to write a not-very-biting satire (dang, I typed that before I realized it, so I apologize for the pun) about the fly-over states, as Chip begins the book as somewhat of a #MAGA type (the politics aren’t that overt, but still) and slowly changes just a little as the book goes on. He’s more complicated than a simple stereotype, even in the beginning, as he was turned during World War II, so although he looks young, his world view is shaped by that war and that generation. He basically wants to be left alone, and that’s where the distrust of government comes in. Seeley turns this on its head a little, as some of the other vampires in the book are rich and influential, so perhaps Chip does have a reason to distrust the government! Seeley does a nice job with the other, human characters of the town – there’s Evie, a Native woman with a rare blood disease that makes her produce too much, making her perfect for Chip to feed on without causing her any grief; and there’s Cam and Stu, two good ol’ boys who are good friends and who help Chip later in the book, revealing hidden depths to their personalities. Seeley builds these characters nicely, so that they’re not just clichés and they’re not just Red Shirts, but characters who we can believe have lives beyond the page. Of course, it’s a vampire story, so there’s a lot of violence, and Howell draws it beautifully, as it’s clear that Chip can be extremely dangerous but he doesn’t want to be. She gets to draw a wide variety of interesting-looking characters, too, which is fun. We don’t get a lot of the town in which Chip lives, but in a few places, she’s able to get across the kind of stagnation that exists in a lot of rural places, locked in time and unable or unwilling to move forward. It’s not a big part of the book, but there are some interesting touches that get into that.

There’s more to come, and I’ll have to check it out. This is a cleverer-than-average vampire story, and that’s pretty keen.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Who doesn’t?

Voracious volume 3: Appetite for Destruction (Action Lab Comics).

Voracious is a good series, and Markisan Naso and Jason Muhr got to finish it on their own terms, apparently, which is nice for them. The fifteen issues make a nice story, as they wrap things up well here. Some people die, but they’re the characters you’d probably expect to die, so it might not be too big a deal. Our hero, Nate, has to fix the problems he caused when he went to an alternate dimension and started killing dinosaurs, and he has allies from the present in that timeline, when dinosaurs evolved into, basically, humans with lizard characteristics, and they have a good plan to sort it all out. We know it will probably all work out, but that doesn’t really matter, because the book has been more concerned with Nate and what an asshole he is, without being an obvious asshole, and Naso does a nice job with that, especially in this volume. Nate finally has to deal with his selfish behavior throughout the book, which cost him his girlfriend and then his best friend, and it takes a lot for him to finally understand this. Naso doesn’t really let him off the hook, either, which is nice (the book ends where we thought it would at the beginning, but the way it gets there is done well). Yes, this is a book about highly evolved dinosaurs trying to save their species, and the high concept remains fun, but Nate’s story – along with Starlee’s, who doesn’t get quite as much screen time but whose journey is just as important – is the central to the series, and we get a good exploration of what it means to leave or stay in a place not because you want to, but because you’re too scared to change. Nate and Starlee are adults, but they both need to grow up a little, and Naso does a nice job with that. Muhr’s art has been solid throughout, with his clean line making everything crisp and giving the very violent scenes a good, visceral impact, while Andrei Tabacaru’s colors are the slightest bit over-rendered, on the whole they’re nice and vivid. I don’t get one small plot point which gives one character a happy ending, but other than that, this is a pretty keen series that’s deeper than you might expect. That ain’t bad, yo!

(I still don’t get why the sheriff – and, it seems, most of the customers – object so angrily to eating dinosaur meat. I mean, I guess there might be some weird Cretaceous disease in the meat, but otherwise, I would LOVE to try dinosaur meat. They seem morally outraged, not that Nate lied (they’re angry about that), but that he fed them meat they didn’t know was dinosaur meat. It still seems weird to me.)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Man, that’s going to leave a mark

Wonder Twins volume 1: Activate! (DC).

Mark Russell has written one of the best comics of the decade, so I’m definitely going to be checking out his work, at least a little bit, to see if he can recapture that Flintstones magic. He doesn’t quite do it with Wonder Twins, but it’s still a very good comic, full of goofiness, sure, but with that bite of satire that can work very well in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s not quite as cutting as in The Flintstones, but it’s still there, and it elevates the book nicely. Zan and Jayna are superhero interns, which is a great idea, as they can interact with the major superheroes but Russell doesn’t have to worry about putting them in situations where their powers would be ridiculous (and although he does some nice work with them, they’re still a bit ridiculous). He also puts them in high school, which is goofy enough on its own, especially when observed by two outsiders not only from outside the school, but from another planet all together. That’s not to say that there isn’t action in the book, it’s just that it’s low-level enough that it makes sense that the kids would get involved, until it spirals into a world-altering villainous plot that allows Russell to poke fun at the very concept of superhero intervention. Like a lot of good writers, Russell can take a joke of a character – the Scrambler, whom Russell and artist Stephen Byrne created for this series, seems like a chill dude who just wants to hang out, but he also has a picture of a fried egg on his chest, so he doesn’t even get the kind of egg correct – and turn him into someone both sympathetic and chilling. The Scrambler has an evil plot, but it’s also not the worst idea in the world, and the Wonder Twins aren’t even sure they should stop him from doing it. In DC and Marvel comics, the status quo has to be maintained, so the Scrambler’s plan is doomed to failure, but Russell is good enough to make the plot not completely evil and also make us wonder if Zan and Jayna should shut it down. I also always like a comic that treats its villains (and its heroes, but that’s more common) as regular folk, just trying to make their lives better. It makes the comic easier to relate to. Russell, perhaps not surprisingly, takes some very easy swipes at Trump, but if we ignore those (as usual, Trump deserves it, but it just feels too easy these days), we get some interesting characters who might commit crimes but aren’t necessarily all that terrible.

Plus, the book is funny, and Byrne’s is nice – just slightly cartoonish, but still within the style of good superhero comics. So that’s good. It also has what might be the funniest page in DC history, which is the Airwolf page below! I’m curious to see where Russell goes in the final six issues!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

Is this the greatest page starring Batman in comics history?

Deadpool #1 (Marvel).

In keeping with my latest tradition of getting the first issues of various DC and Marvel titles just to check them out, we have yet another iteration of Deadpool, with Kelly Thompson getting the writing assignment with Chris Bachalo on art, which should last three or four issues or so (he’s already up to six – yes, 6 – inkers, which usually doesn’t bode well). I have been really liking Kelly’s stuff since she got into comics, and I’ve always been a big fan of Bachalo, so here we go, right? Well, to a degree. Bachalo is dialed in, and while a lot of people don’t love his more recent stuff (meaning, from the last 20 years), it generally works when he’s not being too, too esoteric (which he certainly can be) and trying too hard to impress everyone with his ridiculous details. This errs a bit on the side of clarity, so while there are a few places where things are a bit weird (the first two pages, for instance), in general, it’s a nice-looking comic, and I always appreciate Bachalo’s attempts to give us different “views” of the action, and his sense of humor remains strong (the kind of sad pages with Gwenpool are undercut nicely by the fact that Bachalo draws a tiny little arm on Deadpool, because he’s in the middle of regrowing it). Meanwhile, Thompson’s strong suit – her dialogue – is on full display here, as Wade gets to banter with Else Bloodstone (Kelly writing an Elsa Bloodstone book would rock) and the sad pages with Gwenpool really are quite sad (okay, they’re not super-depressing, because it’s still Gwenpool and Deadpool, but Thompson manages to wring a good amount of pathos from them), but overall, the book is strange. Plots have never been Thompson’s strength, and this one is just kind of there. Monsters take over Staten Island and nobody notices (that’s the joke) and Wade becomes their king because he kills the king. We arrive kind of in the middle of the invasion, which is more just monsters coming ashore and deciding they like it there, and it all feels somewhat listless, even with the appearance of the surprise villain at the end (which is both not surprising and a bit annoying, but I can’t say more because I don’t want to spoil it). It’s just kind of blah, and while Bachalo designs some fun monsters and Deadpool and his chief adviser have some good interactions, it all feels somewhat inert. I’m not sure if I’ll get the trade, because maybe it will pick up, but this first issue doesn’t really do it for me, despite some good parts. Oh well. I’ll buy Kelly’s Elsa Bloodstone comic!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Hey, kids, co — uh, never mind

Outer Darkness #7-12 (Image).

John Layman and Afu Chan’s sci-fi/horror tale continues to roll merrily along, as Layman knows what he’s doing with regard to plotting, and Chan does a nice job bringing his visions to life. In this arc (which ends the first third of the book), we get more intrigue among the crew, more horrific deaths, and some new characters, including a nun from World War II (because why not?). We also discover both the real mission the Charon is on and also what Captain Rigg is really up to (which isn’t too hard to figure out once you know the particulars). Layman upends the status quo a little bit at the end of the arc, which is a good thing, because he had gone about as far as he could with the mutiny plot, especially because Rigg knew about it, and so he twists things a little so that the mutiny plot is still relevant, just moved on to another phase. There’s still plenty of creepy horror, and it’s interesting to see how the characters use the horror to achieve their own ends – usually in horror stuff, the horror is the outside threat, but because magic and witchcraft and such are such a big part of this universe, the characters know how to bend it to their will … even if it doesn’t always go as planned. Anyway, this continues to be a very good series, with a lot of nifty little parts that add up to a fascinating whole. Pick up the trades if you’ve missed the single issues!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

As final straws go, this seems reasonable

Cult Classic: Return to Whisper (Vault Comics).

So the idea behind these “Cult Classic” books is that the comics – of which there’s only this one, so far – will all take place in the town of Whisper, and creators can tell stories there, presumably using already-existing characters or, more likely, making their own. It’s not a bad idea, and we’ll see if it takes off (Vault is already doing another one, I think, so there’s that). Meanwhile, this one – written by Eliot Rahal, who’s been cranking out some solid comics recently – sets the tone for the “series.” A group of kids hear about rumors of a cursed pirate treasure in their town, so they set out to find it. We know they find it, but we don’t know what happened to it, and Rahal begins the story 15 years later, when they said they’d return and retrieve it, because by then the interest in it would have waned. Rahal begins the story with the death of one of them, bringing them back for a funeral as well as their task, and he jumps back and forth between the present and 15 years earlier, showing us how the kids found the treasure and how the “curse” affected them. It’s a nice contrast between the hopeful youths who think they can take on the world and the bitter thirtysomethings who return bearing the scars of life. It’s nicely done, because we know things don’t end all that well for them, and we keep looking at the kids and thinking “What the hell happened?” Meanwhile, they’re mourning their loss (and it’s not the only one) and wondering whether they should be really looking for the treasure, and Rahal adds just enough of a weird supernatural element to give it some kick. Felipe Cunha does a decent job with the art – the one thing he really has to get right is making the kids recognizable as adults, and he does a nice job with that. It’s a nifty little creepy story, showing the lengths some people will go to so they can get rich and how bonds we think are unbreakable are tested when other temptations come into life. Bad things happen, apparently!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Yeah, those are generally stored in the ‘not safe’ bin

The Immortal Hulk volume 5: Breaker of Worlds (Marvel).

This volume of this excellent series begins like many Hulk stories in the past – with a shadowy government organization (SGO) trying to kill our hero, as the latest bad guy plans to use the new, horrific Abomination in a new, horrific way, and he thinks, “Yeah, this’ll work.” It all goes well for the bad guy until the Hulk figuratively cracks his knuckles and gets to work, and then things go pear-shaped for our poor bad guy very quickly. Al Ewing continues to present the inevitable – the Hulk wins because he’s, you know, the strongest one … you know the drill! – but he does it in such inventive ways that it’s extremely compelling. And then we get to issue #25, and things get seriously weird.

Issue #25 reminds me of Alan Moore’s famous “Loving the Alien” in which Swamp Thing is raped by a sentient spaceship. Good stuff! No, Hulk doesn’t get raped, but the issue reminds me of that weird thing because of its weirdness – it has to be one of the weirdest comics Marvel has published in a couple of decades, right? – and because the Hulk is just some bizarre presence, not really the focus of the story but still the thing around which the story revolves. I don’t want to give too much away, but one of the characters is named “Par%l.” You know, like some baby in Brooklyn right now. I assume the bulk of the issue is drawn by Germán García and colored by Chris O’Halloran (Joe Bennett and Paul Mounts, the usual artists, get credit, but it’s pretty clear to see where their work is), and it’s dazzling – weird and loopy and alien, with a soft palette and speckled bright dots scattered across many pages, evoking even more oddness than Ewing’s words. It serves to create a backdoor “out” for Ewing – it’s annoying that it has to be done, but when a writer goes so far with the character as Ewing appears to be doing, there has to be a reset button somewhere (troll through Dan Jurgens’s Thor and you’ll find one, too), and at least Ewing gives us one in a terrifically weird story.

Anyway, Immortal Hulk is great. Pick it up and enjoy!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Doc Samson speaks the sad truth!

Sabrina the Teenage Witch volume 1 (Archie Comics).

It’s Kelly Thompson and monsters again (not unlike Deadpool!), but this time, it works a bit better, perhaps because this is an entire arc so she has more time to work with it and doesn’t have to worry about critic schmucks judging one measly issue, but it also seems like it just fits Sabrina better, as she is, in fact, a witch. Thompson’s strengths – her dialogue and character work – are on full display here, as Sabrina navigates high school and Kelly puts her into wildly clichéd situations that work because she’s so good at writing the characters. Sabrina befriends a friendless nerd; Sabrina earns the ire of the school’s Mean Girl; Sabrina crushes on a boy who turns out to be Mean Girl’s brother; Sabrina is admired by two fairly different dudes; Sabrina pulls a Kelly Taylor move when the boys fight over her (my wife and I STILL say “I choose me” every once in a while when the situation warrants it) – just your basic high school stuff, true, but it has that verve that really good writers can add to bland stuff. The big plot is fine, as high school kids are being turned into monsters and Sabrina’s aunts think they know why, so they forbid Sabrina from doing anything about it and they head off to fix it. I wonder if they fail and Sabrina needs to break some rules to save them? I wonder if some characters who seem evil might not be all that evil? I wonder if the main villain is the absolute most obvious candidate? I mean, this isn’t that complex a plot, but like I have mentioned, plots are a dime a dozen, and this is an enjoyable read because it feels like real people are doing these things. Plus, Veronica Fish’s art is delightful – she has a slightly cartoonish style that fits the YA feel of the book, her facial expressions and body language are top-notch (which is good when Thompson is writing, because that’s where she shines), and she gives a good sense of the mundane world of Greendale contrasting with the weirdness of Sabrina’s aunt’s house. The coloring is superb, as well, vivid and bright in most places, with a solid use of yellow-blue complements without overdoing it.

As with Thompson’s arc on Nancy Drew, this ends with a jumping-on point for another story, but while there’s no indication that Nancy Drew will be back, at least this teases something for next year. I’m perfectly happy with Thompson writing one arc, but I do hope for more. We shall see!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That is one grumpy giant octopus

Goth: Young Lovers at War (Source Point Press).

This is a strange book that doesn’t quite cohere, mainly because it’s too short. Writer Paul Allor has written some good stuff in the past, and this is fine, it just feels rushed. Basically, it’s a love story among the actual Goths, the Germanic tribe that alternately menaced and traded with the Romans over several centuries before they finally just moved in and took over. This takes place a few centuries before that, though, in 237 CE, when the Goths are hanging around in northern Italy doing Goth things, I suppose. At one point they fight the Romans, but it’s almost an afterthought, and it’s there just to show us how tough Dolphus, one half of the titular “young lovers,” is. I mean, the Romans weren’t at the height of their powers in 237 CE (the emperor was the short-lived Maximinus Thrax, who ruled from 235 to 238), but they were still campaigning and defeating Germanic tribes, so the ease with which Dolphus kills them is a bit hard to believe, but whatever. Dolphus is in love with Gerda, but she’s marrying the leader of another tribe so that they can unite and defeat the Romans. So that sucks. Allor does a decent job creating these characters and throwing them into a tense situation, but he still needs a bit more room to make both their predicaments more stirring, as Gerda narrates most of the book but the art focuses on Dolphus, so he becomes a more sympathetic character even though she’s sacrificing just as much, if not more, than he is. The ending is a bit of a surprise, but it doesn’t land with as much impact as it might, because we just don’t know the characters enough. It’s an interesting story of duty and honor and how those are expressed and whether people should ignore those to follow their hearts, but it still feels a bit incomplete. Such is life. Seth Adams’s art is fine – it’s a bit too much like Andrea Sorrentino’s for me to love it, but it’s still pretty good, and I’m not terribly sure that Goths in the third century would be smoking (it seems like such an odd thing that I have to believe the creators did a bit of research about it, but it still seems weird), but whatever. It’s a nifty love story that could have been really terrific, but is instead just solid.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Those Goths and their pithy metaphors!

Hellblazer #1 (DC).

John Constantine returns to Vertigo where he belongs (sorry, “Black Label,” but DC isn’t fooling anyone with that), and also to London, where I guess he hasn’t been for a while? I don’t know if Simon Spurrier or DC in general is going to bring back his aging in real time, but if they are, he looks pretty good for a 66-year-old dude. Spurrier is a good writer, but he has to do a lot of table-setting in this issue, so it’s not too dazzling, as we get weird angels doing horrible things to “sinners,” a gang that uses magic that wants John to sort the angels out, and some mysterious old man who has connections in the government, where he helps politicians do nasty sex things because of course they do. It’s almost literally nothing we haven’t seen before in a Hellblazer comic, but Spurrier (presumably) has to undo some damage from John Constantine being on a Fucking Justice League team, so there’s nothing all that wrong with playing the classics before you get to the new stuff. He does a nice job with the character’s voice, and that goes a long way. Aaron Campbell has a rough line, so he’s a good artist for the book, and it looks quite nice. It’s hard to review because it’s so obviously a “new beginning” issue, so it is definitely a “wait-and-see” thing with regard to the story. But it’s not horrible, so I’ll probably get the trade.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, that seems dismissive

Achilles Inc. (Source Point Press).

This is an interesting take on the notion of superheroes and what they would really do if they existed, as Andy Schmidt posits a world where, a decade earlier, a small group of people gained superpowers (spontaneously, if we can believe it, although there are a few hints that it might not have been) and immediately took over the world. Now, they did it as benignly as possible, as they simply took jobs that regular folk did because they could do it better, and that led to economic and political power, and now the people without powers (“duds”) are generally out of work and not terribly happy. A guy named Ransom Yeong decided to start a business searching for weaknesses in the supers so he could neutralize them – hence the name of the book, which is the name of his business – and he gets caught up in a big scheme to take them all down instead of dealing with the penny-ante crap he’s been doing for years. Schmidt does an interesting thing with the “boost” – the event that gave everyone powers, as he shows that it wasn’t beneficial to everyone. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s good that Schmidt adds this detail, because there always has to be a down side to “paradise” so that those trying to bring it down aren’t just pissed off that they aren’t sharing in it. There’s a danger that this will read like a grumpy old white person angry that all these dark-skinned youngsters are listening to the hippity-hop, but Schmidt avoids that deftly, and he makes Yeong and his allies more sympathetic in the process. The ending is a bit ambiguous – again, I don’t want to give too much away, but it seems like the solution is both temporary and limited, but it’s a clever piece of writing as Yeong and his friends figure out what’s going on. Schmidt, as I noted, can’t resist the entire “paradise built on the bones of the dead” trope that’s so common, but at least he doesn’t make too big a deal about it, allowing us to reach that conclusion pretty much on our own. So it’s an interesting comic that has some nice twists, and while Daniel Mainé’s and Francesca Zambon’s art is that digital, a-bit-too-rendered work that I don’t love, it also doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling, so that’s fine. It’s a pretty good comic.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Come on, that’s a bit harsh – what if I have a good shot and you’re, I don’t know, stuck on the toilet or something?

Come Into Me (Black Mask Studios).

Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson have proven that they like weird horror in general and body horror in particular, so it’s not surprising that they came up with the Cronenbergian Come Into Me, which isn’t quite as horrific as it could be but is still pretty weird and creepy. Sebastian Quinn is a billionaire with a radical new technology that allows minds to, basically, merge so that each person feels everything the other is and knows everything the other does. At the beginning of the book, he’s trying to get funding to use it as medical technology, but a woman named Becky wants to simply experience it, and with her encouragement, Quinn quickly realizes that people might want this for the same reason Becky does – just to get out of their body and into another one for a while. Naturally, because this is a story, Becky has an ulterior motive – she has cancer, and she thinks she can live on inside Sebastian, and when her body dies during a transfer, she does just that. Sebastian has to figure out a way to hold onto his identity as Becky becomes stronger.

It’s a bit odd to root for the narcissistic white billionaire (and isn’t Sebastian Quinn just a perfect name for that kind of character?) against the far weaker woman, but it’s not really about “rooting” for Sebastian – he kind of gets what he deserves – as much as Nadler and Thompson are asking just how far we would go to experience true intimacy and whether some defenses are supposed to stay there for a reason. Becky and Sebastian engage in a tug-of-war over the body they’re both inhabiting and eventually the mind they want to be, and the writers make interesting if fairly obvious points about modern society’s need to be connected all the time. Sebastian talks to on-line hookers simply to talk, not to do anything else, which makes him an even more pathetic figure than if he were engaging in virtual sex with them. He has a sister and a nephew, but only when Becky takes over his mind can he talk to them in any meaningful way. Becky wants more control, and that’s where the horror comes in, as she begins to mess with Sebastian more, but the book is remarkably constrained when it comes to that, as Nadler and Thompson build slowly toward a horrific climax. In this they’re helped by Piotr Kowalski, whose detailed work and good use of hatching means he does both people under stress and some of the more horror elements that the writers want quite well, so even when the book becomes slightly more unbelievable than the premise allows, Kowalski’s art brings home the sheer bizarreness of it all. I was actually surprised this book wasn’t more about sex – that cover, for instance, seems to imply it – but I appreciate that, because while sex is a part of our minds, it’s not the only or even the largest part, so Nadler and Thompson are going for something different, and it works for the most part. They’ve become very interesting writers, both together and separately, and this is another fascinating addition to their libraries.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Come on – the giant lady made out of sand is real, right?

Section Zero volume 1: There Is No Section Zero (Image).

Travis was pimping hard for Section Zero when it was on Kickstarter, but I didn’t get it then because there’s a lot of cool stuff on Kickstarter and I really try to simply circle the rabbit hole, getting things from people I know or that I know I’ll really love. That was a few years ago, and now the trade is out from Image, where the book found a home. It’s an old book (almost 20 years old), but Tom Grummett has a classic style, so the book doesn’t “look” old, and while Grummett has never been my favorite artist, he’s the kind of artist that you know will do a solid job on anything he draws, and that’s what we get here. Kesel described the book as “Jack Kirby does the X-Files,” which isn’t a bad way to describe it. There’s yet another SGO, but they’re the good guys, investigating weird shit around the world. Kesel cleverly makes it a long-standing concern, so Section Zero has a history that they can comment on and which their enemies can talk about, and it also means he can jump decades while telling the story (which he does). Section Zero is mostly concerned with a rescue mission for most of the book, as one of their own is trapped in another dimension, and one of the weaknesses of the book is that it’s unclear what the bad guys are doing, and even if they are bad guys (there are definite bad guys in the book, but they’re in the background for most of it; I mean the main antagonists of the story). Along the way, however, the team has a lot of adventures, and Kesel manages to get in some tragedy as well, as characters have to deal with loss and learn what sacrifice means, and it’s not bad. Neither of these creators is going to set the world on fire, but they’re old comics pros who know how to tell a good story, and that’s what you get with Section Zero. Let’s hope there’s more!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Get it, ’cause he kinds of looks aquatic, and a mackeral … you know what, never mind!

Snap Flash Hustle volume 1 (Black Mask Studios).

Pat Shand and Emily Pearson give us, frankly, a brilliant idea – the story itself is perfectly fine, but the idea is terrific. They give us a group of models who are also drug traffickers. It’s so simple and believable I wonder if they heard about this is real life, because why wouldn’t it be something that models would try? They meet a lot of people, they travel a lot, and in this book, they work with the photographers, who have the same advantages, to bring drugs into the country. So we get Haley, a model who’s struggling and being taken advantage of by photographers who don’t pay her upfront (which seems like an all-too-common thing in the modeling world as it is in, say, the publishing world) when she decides to use a hashtag she spotted on another model’s Instagram, said hashtag being the secret code that means she’s in on it all. So she gets an appointment but doesn’t know what to do with the drugs, which brings her to the attention of the models who run the scheme, and Haley tells them she wants in, because she’s tired of not making any money. Of course, the usual things go into play – she has to keep secrets from the two people she loves (they’re a “thrupple”), she’s always worried about Johnny Law, she is tasked with finding out who might be snitching on the cabal to the cops. Shand does a nice job showing us that the models are in control, not necessarily the photographers, which is why it’s so appealing to Haley, and he also does well to flesh out the personalities of all the models, not just Haley. Even Coral, who’s nearer to the top of the cabal and more cartoonishly evil, isn’t just a stereotype. Pearson’s art is fine – there’s some stiffness in her figure work, which is unfortunate in a few scenes, but as it’s not an action-oriented comic, it doesn’t matter too much. She does a good job with the models – they’re thin, but not ridiculously so, and she makes sure their clothes are always quite chic. The book delves into the “spicy model” subculture a bit, so there’s a good amount of nudity, but Pearson treats it like it should be – as a job choice. As so much of the book takes place indoors, we don’t get a great sense of New York, but Pearson does give us a good idea about how yuppies live in the city. It’s an interesting comic that takes something we read a lot about – drug dealing – and puts a nifty spin on it. There’s nothing wrong with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s the best kind!

Tap Dance Killer volume 1 (Hero Tomorrow Comics).

Nikki St. Clair, the “Tap Dance Killer,” was introduced (in comics) in Apama the Undiscovered Animal, a pretty terrific series from Ted Sikora that, I assume, is on hiatus, perhaps to do this series. Nikki was such a popular character that they decided to do a series with her as the star, which is fine, but I still Apama a bit more. Anyway, in true COMICS! fashion, Nikki is an actor playing a character who gets magicked into thinking she’s actually the Tap Dance Killer, and she naturally goes on a spree that puts her in prison. This series begins with her breaking out of prison and rejoining her gang, two other dudes who were also magicked. They recruit some other people (including a boxer who dresses like a clown and goes by the name “Punchline”), and a gang war begins! Nikki, you see, killed the son of the mob queen, and the mob queen wants revenge. So the entire book is about the two gangs fighting. It works because Nikki hasn’t completely lost her identity, so she still wants to help her family out, for instance, and she rescues a baby from an about-to-explode building, plus Sikora does nice work with the other characters, who get interesting personalities and motivations. There’s a lot of violence, but it’s not gory, and Sikora does try to show how bad violence can be on the people who commit such violence (obviously, it’s bad for the victims, but it’s hard to show that when they’re dead). Anyone who reads these comics gets the vibe of an Marvel 1970s comic, which is what Sikora is going for, and the density of this book is appreciated. Donny Hadiwidjaja draws it, and he’s not quite as good as Benito Gallego, who drew Apama, but he’s still pretty good. He was, unfortunately, falling a bit behind, so an inker was brought in on issue #3 (of 5) to help him out, and the art becomes a bit smoother and slicker, which doesn’t work as well as Hadiwidjaja’s rough art on issues #1-2, but it’s still pretty good. It’s always interesting to see what effect an inker will have on a penciler’s work.

I hope that Sikora can keep doing one or both of these series. I have a feeling he can’t do two at the same time because of finances, but the two comics are both quite good, so I hope we see at least one of them!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That doesn’t look too fun for the dude

Here are the books I bought but didn’t read (and some I read but didn’t review). You might notice that many of them were here last month, because I’m saving them all until the arc is done!

All of the single issues are part of longer arcs, so I’ll get to them eventually. As far as the trades go, it’s mostly in the interests of time (he says, while typing a review post about November’s comics on the ninth of December). Atom Bomb and Other Stories is a collection of old Wallace Wood stories, so I know it will be awesome and will read it eventually. I did read Babyteeth volume 3 and Rivers of London volume 7, but decided not to review them. They’re perfectly fine, but they just keep the story moving along. Booster Gold is twelve issues, and they’re 1980s issues, so it was going to take too long to read it. It’s similar to both Doc Frankenstein and The Matrix Comics – they’re gorgeous books, nice hardcovers, but they’re also long, so I’ll get to them later. So there you have it!

Let’s check out the money I spent this month:

6 November: $240.27
13 November: $154.34
20 November: $134.41
27 November: $279.30

Money spent in November: $808.32
YTD: $7484.87


It’s so late in the month that I don’t think I should delay any longer, but a few things came across my notice that I thought I’d share. First, I spotted this article about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and how the television shows on Disney+ will include crucial stuff to understand the movies going forward. As I read it, I couldn’t help think “Welcome to comics, MCU fans!” Marvel lured them in, and now they’re hooked! I mean, it never blew up when they did crossovers and “it all matters” in comics, so why should it in the movies, right?

If you’re wondering what Rod Stewart has been up to for the past few decades (and to be honest, who hasn’t?), he’s been working on his model railroad. It’s extremely cool, but nothing says “Fuck You Money” like having such a detailed and huge model and also the time to work on it. Look at Rod, living his best life.

Finally, I hope Rod enjoys his model, because we’re all about to die. Yep, radioactive cannibal ants have escaped from the Soviet-era nuclear bunker where they lived. I wish I were making any of that up. Okay, they’re not huge, Them!-like ants … yet … but come on, sheeple, it’s only a matter of time! Head for the underground bunkers where the Illuminati will ride out the apocalypse! Maybe they need food tasters or, you know, human footstools. You never know!

In the world of Burgas, I keep forgetting to show off the 25th anniversary presents my wife and I got for each other. We both got things to hang, which I thought was a funny coincidence. This is what she got me:

Yep, it’s a map of the Game of Thrones world. I love maps, and I even love maps of not-real places, and this sucker is really nice – it even has “folds” in it and it’s been treated to make it look old. It’s already hanging in our “map corner” (don’t you have a map corner?), and it looks great alongside the others. This is what I got her:

So those are photographs we’ve taken over the years, drawn by various artists. In the center is a watercolor by Juan Ferreyra, which shows the day of our wedding (we didn’t spend a lot on our wedding except for the photographs, which were at Multnomah Falls in Oregon and are amazing). In the bottom left, a friend of mind who used to work at my local comics shop painted my wife in southwest Washington on an autumn hike in the mid-1990s. In the upper left, we get my wife and daughter at the Eiffel Tower from 2018, drawn by Meredith McClaren. The top right shows me and the wife in the Sierra Nevada in the late 1990s – we were vacationing with my parents and sister in Lake Tahoe and my mom insisted we drive to Calaveras County to see the frog jumping at the county fair (my mom is weird like that). This picture is drawn by Rob Guillory. In the bottom right is a watercolor of my wife at Cannon Beach, Oregon, also in the mid-1990s, done by Axel Medellin. I thought it would be a nice anniversary present, and she dug it. It’s now hanging on our living room wall:

That’s also where we just put up bookshelves, because that wall had been bare. Now it looks considerably nicer. Like most people reading this, I suspect, we have far more books than we can display, but we’re always looking for ways to have them out!

Anyway, have a great day, and I hope your holiday season is going well. I may or may not be able to do a review post for December, because of the time of year and my parents are coming to town next week and they suck up a lot of my time. We shall see! And, of course, if you have things to buy, you can use the link below and I’ll get a little percentage, which is always nice. You don’t even need to buy the thing it links to! How handy is that?


  1. Eric van Schaik

    Happy anniversary! 25 years together. It was my last year of being married. Still happy with my new girlfriend.
    Here’s for the next 25 years mr. Burger

    This friday I’ll take my daughter to her 2e concert. New Model Army will be playing in Amsterdam.

  2. Happy anniversary.
    I fell in love with the Legion because there was nothing like them in the Silver Age. People died and stayed dead, fell in love, got kicked out for killing … But I have little interest in the reboot or threeboot or Johns fourboot. I don’t care for Bendis enough to be hopeful.
    Black Hammer’s weakest part is when Bendis is just playing with his alt.versions of established heroes because they’re not that distinctive and it’s been done (the exception is Golden Gail. She’s great). The weird stuff in the village and the current Black hammer’s escape worked great. I’m ready to buy the big finish, but I’m not bothering with the spinoffs.
    I’ve yet to read anything by Hickman that I liked. I doubt his mutant work will be different.
    Glad to see Section Zero out. Ditto Wonder Twins.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Fraser: Thanks, sir!

      I agree that Gail is pretty great, but I also agree that Lemire (not Bendis!) is weakest when he doesn’t have a good plot, which is odd because he’s usually quite good at characterization. I’ve gotten a few of the spin-offs, but they’re just okay, nothing too great.

      I do like a lot of Hickman’s work, but not all of it. I’m curious how I like the big event that kicked this off, because I’m getting the trade this week.

          1. I’m annoyed that the Black Hammer/Justice League HC was solicited at 20 bucks but should have been 30 bucks. Somehow they didn’t notice that typo from last month’s Previews until last week, which I’m guessing is after the FOC. I would have been more annoyed if I had ordered it!

  3. ” I get that he’s going for some amount of realism, and in the real world, we don’t get narrative-type resolutions to things, but ultimately, this is fiction, so Costain isn’t really bound by the real world.”
    When I read Lynda Van Devanter’s Home Before Morning biography about her time as a Vietnam War nurse (the basis for China Beach), there was a subplot about her best friend, who was stationed at the far end of ‘nam for her. The friend got to go home first and apparently vanished. Despite multiple efforts Van Devanter could never find out what happened to her.
    If someone tried that in fiction and claimed “realism!” I’d be pissed as hell.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: Sorry about that – I briefly looked it up, because I remember when it first came out but didn’t know if it ever finished. It seemed like the people writing about it were implying it had been done, but I guess I just misread it. And that’s keen that they’re doing more. It’s fun.

  4. Louis Bright-Raven


    “It starts well, as writer N.K. Jemisin (in her first comics work, I think?) takes a traditional whodunnit and does some interesting things with it. Jo Mullein is the GL of one planet, and it’s not even a planet, it’s a remnant of a planet, so we get the whole “isolated crime scene” thing even though it’s a quasi-world – nobody from the outside is coming, in other words.”

    Yes, it’s N.K. Jemisin’s first comics work.

    The City Enduring is a type of Dyson Sphere, Greg – not a specific planet nor remnant there of, though clearly there are remnants of celestial bodies depicted around the construct in the comic. A DS is a mega-structure that encompasses a star and collects the ambient energies of said star to sustain the civilization. Most fictional depictions of DSes describe a solid shell of matter enclosing a star, which is what is depicted in the comic (though that is technically the least plausible method, it’s the easiest to depict visually).

    I may be wrong, but I believe part of the reason the sector has no name or numerical affiliation as is typical for Green Lanterns, is possibly because there are no full planetary bodies in the sector for the GL to be associated with. (This may be due to the races of the Trilogy destroying at least two home worlds of their own in the past, as was explained in the comic).

    “Jamal Campbell makes the world extremely alien, despite the humanoid nature of the species, as some of the architecture seems to defy physics and the interiors of spaces are bizarre, as if someone in the 1970s had too much money and access to a time machine.”

    That’s more or less in line with how a Dyson Sphere would work, as the theoretical physics involved could prove to defy what gravity – to – ground based architecture would require.

    “Third, there are three species living on the world (all of them humanoid, though, because of course they are)”

    That MIGHT not exactly be true, Greg. Think about it – does a race of artificial intelligence constructs (the @Ats) NEED to be humanoid? And think about the “Meat Salads” racist / speciesist remark – so maybe they are only constructed to appear humanoid for the purposes of appeasing the aesthetic commonality to the other races?

    I’m not saying that’s what is going on – I have no idea what Jemisin has in store. But it opens the door to some interesting possibilities.

    You seem to like the book, which is cool. I’ve been waiting for it for over two years (and waiting for Jemisin to arrive in comics for about ten years now), so I’m getting a kick out of it, myself, so far. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on my podcast a couple weeks back, and compared it to the 90s GL book MOSAIC and I see some Philip K. Dick and Larry Niven influence on the work.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Louis: Interesting information. I’ve heard of Dyson spheres but never knew what they were! It would be nice if you’re right about the nature of the aliens – we shall see. And good point about Mosaic. I hadn’t made the connection, but it’s a good comparison.

  5. David107

    Re Banjax, and “As dumb as the name of this book is (the protagonist’s name is Banjax, for seemingly no reason)…” Banjaxed is an Irish slang word meaning ruined or destroyed, so that could be where the name comes from.

  6. jccalhoun

    I’m a long time Legion fan and the Bendis issue was super meh. I don’t really know who it was for. It was such a rush that I can’t imagine new fans being interested (and I guess rushing around was meant to reflect Superboy’s shock at being in the future but it didn’t work).

    While the art itself is great, I hate most of the character designs. They are too busy.

    I just can’t see this version of the Legion being around in 10 years.

    I liked Far Sector. I don’t know that we need yet another human Green Lantern though but I’m always up for weird aliens.

  7. John King

    I was first introduced to the Legion by Keith Giffen …in the second Ambush Bug story
    after that I gradually started trying and reading the proper Legion during the second Paul Levitz era with superb art of Steve Lightle later followed by Greg Laroque. To me that is THE Legion era and the only period that comes close were earlier Levitz issues.

    After that we had darkness and gloom shifting away from the bright upbeat future which defined the Legion, a major continuity reboot (in issue 4 of an on-going series!), the introduction of “clone” legionaires (in an attempt to duplicate the success of the Spiderman clone saga).
    then the first total reboot retelling the Legion saga from the beginning (removing most of the boy/girl/lad/lass/kid names) but not coming close to matching the better earlier stories (at loeast not until Abnett and Lanning took over). But then we had the sudden “threeboot” which was a step up.
    The big problem remained that they couldn’t match the best earlier stories and weren’t in continuity with them.
    There was an attempt to get closer to the originals, even bringing back Paul Levitz but it seems “you can’t go home again”
    since then we had the odd mini revival (e.g. variants of Legion characters in Superboy)
    and now this…
    To me, issue 1 was a mess
    Too many crowd scenes (because Kitchen-sink boy is someone’s favourite) and not enough defining who these characters are (or plot)
    Hopefully, Bendis can rectify this by spotlighting characters in smaller teams over the next dozen issues

  8. The clone saga came after the Legion clones.
    I actually liked the 5Y Later era — not my favorite, but it worked for me. But yes, the heavy continuity reboot imposed by higher-ups really hurt it. And the reboot … like a lot of attempts to construct a mythos sensibly from the ground up, it never had the spark of the originals.

  9. John King

    okay, I admit I wasn’t reading Spiderman when they did the clone saga so, combined with the passage of time, I don’t remember when it happened.

    Legion issue 2 is now out and the problem remains as a combination of
    1) Superboy is the main character
    2) Bendis’ favourite is Rose (not a member of the Legion)
    and 3) the Legion already has a considerable membership and only appears in crowd scenes
    There is some backstory for Ultra-boy but, other than that, the Legionaires are not given enough room to breath. They are not being defined as characters. The original and rebootesd Legion started with a small team and gradually introduced characters. The “threeboot” (if I remember rightly) had 15 issues before being joined by a modern day character. Many of the early stories featured just a few Legionaires rather than the whole team and there were back-up stories for other characters. Bendis needs to do something similar or this version will remain mediocre.

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