Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

What I bought, read, watched, or otherwise consumed – May 2023

Two things I like in the real world but dislike for the comics blog – fifth Wednesdays and visits from the parents. Fifth Wednesdays tend to show up right at the end of the month, naturally, and it always seems like I get a bunch of stuff, so I can’t read it all before the end of the month and these posts end up well into the next month. Meanwhile, when my parents show up, I feel like I have to hang out with them, so I don’t hole up as long in my office on my computer (I still do, just for not as long). When the parents are in town and the day after they leave we get a fifth Wednesday … well, you get a post for the month of May a week into June! Plus … shit, this thing is long. I apologize for the delay and for all the words below!


Batman: The Brave and the Bold by various creators. $7.99, 64 pgs, DC.

Unfortunately, a lot of comics are making me want to rant this month, and this is one of them, but I’ve already done a lot of ranting about comics below (I decided to start listing these in alphabetical order, but that doesn’t mean I read them and write about them that way!), so I’ll keep it short with regard to this issue. First, the non-rantable stories! Ed Brisson and Jeff Spokes do a generic StormWatch story with several “regular” DC characters and several Wildstorm ones, and it’s dumb simply because DC screwed the pooch so hard on Wildstorm, but it’s a perfectly cromulent story with nice art. Javier Rodríguez beautifully draws a Christopher Cantwell Superman story that is about … Superman being boring? I don’t know, it’s an introduction to a longer story (so is the StormWatch story, for better or for worse), and it’s fine, but it’s notable mostly because the art is gorgeous. Dan Mora writes and draws a Future Alternate Dimension Batman story, and it’s obviously nice-looking, but is it going to lead anywhere? It’s a complete story, but it does leave some things open, so who knows what DC is planning. Anyway, those three stories are fine, but they’re not why I want to rant. I want to rant because DC let Tom King write another goddamned Batman story. Jeebus.

If it’s Tom King writing a Batman story, you know it’s probably crap, so I’m not going to rant too much about it. It’s stupid, but that’s axiomatic at this point in King’s career. It’s the “first Joker story,” essentially, with a modern twist. YOU KNOW THE TWIST IS GOING TO SUCK! We get Gordon protecting Mr. Claridge and his diamond, because at midnight the Joker is going to steal it and kill Claridge. Of course, he’s already stolen it and “killed” Claridge, but the cops don’t know that yet. That part of the story, while unoriginal (and, of course, King mentions the reservoir from The Dark Knight Returns, because of course he does), is fine. Maybe because it’s unoriginal, who knows? Meanwhile, the crappy part of the story features a girl who has wandered away from her home in the rain, and she meets … the Joker! Of course. This girl, mind you, is probably not yet 10, but she’s old enough to know better than to wander around in a rainy and dark park and talk to weirdos with white skin and green hair (yes, I know no one knows who the Joker is yet, but that’s not the point). Then she goes back to his house with him and plays hide-and-seek! Really, girl? Then the Joker takes her home and, yes, stabs her father for no reason. It’s so stupid I can’t even muster up that much anger about it. But it is. Stupid, that is. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is taking tough to some tough guy at his stately manor. Who the fuck knows what that’s about?

Anyway, that’s my mini-rant. Trust me, more and more in-depth ones are coming. I just can’t get enthusiastic about shooting fish in a barrel. Gerads is very good on art, though, so that’s something.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Maybe some people really need a really big gun!!!!

Blink by Christopher Sebela (writer), Hayden Sherman (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), Frank Cvetkovic (letterer), and Bess Pellares (collection editor). $21.99, 116 pgs, Oni Press.

Hayden Sherman is having a moment, aren’t they? I’ve read, what, three series drawn by them this year (one of which is reviewed below!), and a few last year, and they’re just on fire these days. What’s impressive about the two entries in this month’s post are how different, story-wise, they are. The one below is a heist story, and Sherman keeps it relatively mundane – they use some interesting panel designs and inset panels to make points, but even those are designed to reflect, in some cases, the characters themselves, so as unusual as they might be, they make sense in the context of the book. Sherman also has to keep both the forest and the house (the book is set in the house, which is in a large forest) realistic, because heist stories tend to be relatively realistic. With Blink, however, Sherman has to be a bit more avant-garde, as the book takes place in a New York brownstone that turns out to be slightly untethered from our world, so things get weird fast once Wren, our main character, goes inside. The book is a bit more brutal than the heist book, so Sherman has to get across the violence a bit more, which they do very well. The panels in this book get wonky, as Sherman leads us through a maze that is created by the panels, but the storytelling is never difficult to parse, even when we have to turn the book on its side to read it landscape-style. Either Sherman or Cvetkovic (whoever placed the word balloons) do a fine job leading us across the page through the captions and/or dialogue, and Sherman designs some interesting things to put in the gutters, which adds to the creepy sensation of being inside the house. Sherman’s “big bad” is far creepier than we might expect, and the monsters that inhabit the house are horrific, too, but more in the style of monsters we can deal with. Sherman uses blacks extremely well – the book is very shadowy but not dark, as Filardi’s colors are very cool but not overly murky, and Sherman’s use of shadows means we can feel things about to jump out at Wren, even if it’s a comic so the images are, naturally, static. When Wren finally reaches the “big bad,” Sherman turns the book into a technological nightmare, almost a steampunk dystopia, and the panel designs reflect the theme of Sebela’s story (which I won’t get into too much here). Sherman is a very good artist, and the cool thing is that they seem to be getting better all the time, which is always very nice to see.

Sebela, who’s a pretty good writer himself, gives us a story of obsession that annoys me only because I don’t understand such obsession. If you’re obsessed with something, maybe this will ring truer for you. Wren, a young woman with a horrifying trauma in her past, lives a seemingly regular life because, as she notes early on (before everything goes to shit), she works at it. Her trauma has to do with her childhood, which she doesn’t remember very well, and the instant she gets a clue about that childhood, she ditches her husband and returns to New York to find out what’s going on. She meets up with an “urban explorer” (who might as well have “cannon fodder” stamped on his forehead), and together they enter a brownstone that is apparently where Wren spent her early childhood. They enter the building, and things go to shit very quickly. There are two factions living in the house, and apparently they’ve been fighting for years, and one of them wants Wren to break the stalemate they’re in because she’s – you guessed it – special. It’s actually a fairly clever and pertinent theme that Sebela comes up with – again, I’m not going to give it away, but it’s certainly relevant, and Wren heads deeper and deeper into the house (the only way out is through, don’tchaknow) until she is forced to reckon with her past (of course) and the thing at the center of the maze. What’s even more interesting is that Sebela, who can be bleak in his writing, isn’t all that interested in a happy ending, but it’s also not a “gotcha” ending – it’s just something that feels logical thanks to how Wren has been portrayed. As I noted above, Wren does some very stupid things early on thanks to her obsession, and she whines a bit about being in the grip of throughout, and I don’t get that. I guess I’ve never been obsessed with something, so I don’t get the inciting event, as it takes Wren away from love and sends her toward hate. Not smart, young lady! But Sebela makes her a compelling and even sympathetic character, and if you can accept her obsession, you can accept the choices she makes and why no good will come of them. He even links her obsession to the general theme in a not obvious way, which is nice. I’ve always liked Sebela as a writer, but this seems like the best thing he’s ever written. Maybe I’m wrong.

Anyway, this is a terrific comic – it’s (unfortunately) timely and relevant, and Sherman’s art is dazzling. That’s a good combination!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, that’s not creepy at all

Blood, Love, Ghosts, and a Deadly Spell by Damian Connelly (writer/artist) and Martin Casanova (editor). $9.99, 56 pgs, Alien Books/Fairsquare Comics.

This is a weird horror anthology about which I don’t have much to say. I didn’t pre-order it; my retailer had it and thought I might like it, and so I bought it, and I did like it … but there’s still not much to say about it. Connelly tells weird stories in a convoluted, disjointed way – there’s a vampire story (maybe?), there’s a ghost story (sort of?), and there’s a pretty funny – in the most excruciating way possible – apocalypse story. Connelly wanders around the main points of the stories, epigraphing them with quotes from My Chemical Romance, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Bauhaus … just that information should tell you what kind of stories they are. They’re not bad stories, you understand, just a bit … meandering. Except for the apocalypse one. That’s funny. Well, and horrible, but still funny.

Connelly does a lot of cut-and-paste for the art, keeping everything quite dark and using a lot of Photoshop and his “How To Draw Like David Mack” handbook* to create a weird, visually arresting book that works well with the creepy vibe of the book. I don’t know how well it would work if it wasn’t so dark and the stories weren’t reliant on quiet moments and people sitting around looking forlorn. The shadows work well – I doubt the giant penis would have as big an impact (so to speak) if it weren’t heavily shadowed! It’s decent enough art for the book, but it’s also not great.

This is a weird book, but it’s not bad. That’s all I can say about it!

* Not, weirdly enough, my last David Mack reference in this post!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Probably not the reaction you were expecting …

The Blue Flame by Christopher Cantwell (writer), Adam Gorham (artist), Kurt Michael Russell (colorist), and Hassan Otsmane-Elhadu (letterer). $19.99, 224 pgs, Vault Comics.

Cantwell has written some interesting comics, but there’s always something just a bit off about them – maybe he was just finding himself, because while The Blue Flame isn’t perfect, it is probably the best thing I’ve read by him, so that’s nice. I don’t want to give too much away about the book, because it’s a fascinating journey into the mind of a person who wears a costume and fights crime and why they might do that and what it does to them, but suffice it to say: Sam Brausam is a vigilante-superhero (he does have some slightly futuristic tech, but no powers) who experiences a horrible tragedy early on in this book and spends the rest of the time trying to deal with it. But he’s also trapped on an alien planet defending the existence of humanity. No pressure, there! At the beginning of the book, he lands on the planet and is captured by the inhabitants, who tell him he has to argue for humanity’s inclusion into an intergalactic collective that will destroy the earth and everyone on it if humanity is found wanting. In flashbacks, we learn about Sam’s life and how shitty it is/was, as he’s dealing with a lot. In the aftermath of the tragedy he experiences, everyone knows who he is and a lot of people are very anti-vigilante. His sister and her fiancé take him in when he needs a place to live, but they’re dealing with their own stuff, which of course is fodder for the trial Sam is later experiencing. Plus, a reporter is trying to get his story. It’s a lot. But the book is ten long-ish issues, so Cantwell can take his time, and eventually he ties everything together quite well.

There’s not a lot of “superheroing” in the book, as you can probably guess. Cantwell isn’t interested in the action of superheroing, just the reasons for it and the consequences of it. Sam is broken in many ways, but Cantwell also shows us how others in his life are also broken, how they were broken, and how the entire system they live in is broken, which does not bode well for Sam’s defense of earth. Meanwhile, at his trial, he’s up against a prosecutor who lost his defense and is the last representative of his species, which makes him both sympathetic to Sam but fiercely desirous to win his case, because why should humanity survive when his species did not? There’s a lot going on at the trial, too, as Sam sees the aliens as god-like and wonders if there is a higher power that can stop them, a higher power for which he sees no evidence on earth. This is often a very depressing comic, but there’s hope, too, because Sam sees himself as a hero, and heroes don’t give up, even when their entire world is shit. Is it enough? Well, I think you can guess that Cantwell probably isn’t going to destroy the world, even in a finite comic series, but it’s quite fascinating how he brings the two threads together and how Sam figures it all out. It’s a wordy comic (Cantwell wrote/writes for television, so his comics are often wordy even though he tends to work with good artists), but it’s still compelling.

Gorham is a good, solid artist who does good, solid work here. He only gets to cut loose a few times, mostly in the space stuff, and he does a very nice job with Sam’s first impression of the alien world and with one of Sam’s attempts to figure out his problem, which involves flying into deep space. For the worldly stuff, Gorham is good with facial expressions, as the characters have been through a lot, and they aren’t terribly good at hiding their emotions. It’s a nice-looking comic, but I just don’t have the time to get into it too much (sorry, it’s 4 June as I’m typing this and I still have to read some things from last week!).

The Blue Flame is a very good comic. It’s nice and dense, it deals with a lot of topics that comics don’t often deal with, and it has a clever conceit and mystery at its center. That ain’t bad!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:


Dark Spaces: Wildfire by Scott Snyder (writer), Hayden Sherman (artist), Ronda Pattison (colorist), AndWorld Design (letterer), Maggie Howell (editor), and Mark Doyle (editor). $14.99, 121 pgs, IDW.

I don’t know about the title of this book – is “Dark Spaces” a new thing with IDW, in which Snyder and/or other writers can do different things under one umbrella-like structure? Beats me. It’s a dumb title, in other words, unless it’s some kind of quasi-series with thematically-linked stories. Even if it is, it’s not the strongest title.

I also thought of this because of the current raging debate over AI authorship. Obviously, having seen The Terminator, I’m fully on board ripping any AI out by the roots and erasing the knowledge of how to create it from the minds of humanity (yes, I know the internet has an AI component and then I wouldn’t be able to blog, but I think I’d survive … but would you, without access to my excellent opinions?!?!?). Everyone’s tearing their hair out about computers writing scripts and how the striking workers better have something in their contracts about this (if you haven’t seen Justine Bateman’s thoughts on the matter, they’re worth a look). I agree – this is an important issue. But here’s the thing: a lot of people wouldn’t care about computer-written scripts, because as we’ve seen, appealing to the lowest common denominator works, and people want entertainment that challenges them as little as possible. Computers can do that, because – sadly – a lot of writers already write like computers anyway! Turn on any episode of a cop show or a medical show or a lawyer show and tell me that a computer couldn’t have done the exact same thing. It’s depressing, but true. When writers write like robots, why not just hire robots? The people will lap it up anyway.

What does this have to do with Snyder, who’s an actual human being who wrote this comic? Well, as you know, I do like Snyder, and my biggest problem with him over the years is that he doesn’t end things well. He’s gotten better at that, however, which is nice. As a human, though, he can use his brain to think creatively instead of using an algorithm to create a people-pleasing story … but in this book, he plugs himself into an algorithm and spits this out. There’s nothing wrong with the story, understand – it’s perfectly entertaining in that way that will cause no consternation or reflection or even thought by the people who read it, and will please them during the time it takes to read it and will be instantly forgotten once it’s over. That’s … fine, I guess, but it’s very much the norm in entertainment, and it makes you wonder what people want from their entertainment. Even some of the dumbest entertainment can be more than something instantly forgettable – there’s a reason the insanely stupid Fast and Furious movies have endured, as they’re a lot of things, but “forgettable” is not one of them – but far too much of entertainment – especially television – feels like “time fillers.” Networks have 24 hours to fill, and by God, they’re going to fill them! But what’s the excuse for this? Snyder and IDW didn’t need to publish this. I mean, I guess it’s nice that Sherman and Pattison got paid, but Snyder probably has some lucrative irons in the fire, so he probably didn’t need this. He pitched it, I assume, and as Snyder is a pretty good idea person, I imagine “heist during a wildfire” gave everyone in the room boners as they considered the cross-media potential (yes, even the ladies got boners!!!!). And it is a good idea – the main protagonist is the head of a firefighting unit made up of convicts (she’s not), and they realize that in the forest where the latest fire they’re fighting is, a rich dude lives with all his ill-gotten gains. The house it probably going to burn anyway, so who’d notice if some of his booty went missing? So, a good set-up. But dang, if Snyder doesn’t hit Every. Single. Damned. Clichéd. Note. as he zips through the plot. Is there a tragedy in someone’s past that spurs them forward? Is there hemming and hawing about the ethics of stealing, even from a robber baron? Is the heist far more dangerous than first thought? Is there a traitor in their midst? Is there a momentous decision to be made at the crucial moment, when it comes down to being selfish or being selfless? I mean, what the fuck do you think – yes to all of those!!!!! Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and Snyder is a good enough writer to make it entertaining, but man, when I can see every twist coming and I’m d-u-m, you got yourself a dumb story. But this is what ‘Murica wants (and probably a lot of the rest of the world, too, but I don’t live there, do I?) – easily digestible pablum that they can take in without a problem and tickle the tiniest of brain cells without causing too much stress because they’re too busy concentrating on … I don’t know, denying that gay people exist? That kind of denial takes a lot of brain power, people! Comics tend not to appeal to those people, though, so I guess the people who read this comic are too busy … I don’t know, trying to ruin the country through “woke-ism”? I don’t know what people do with their brains!

Look, I’m not saying I’m better than those people. I mean, I am, and so are you, I’m just not saying it. (Except, whoops, I just did.) Ok, I’m definitely not saying it – the previous sentence was just a joke. Look, I like mindless entertainment too, and I enjoyed this comic … to a degree. Most of my enjoyment stems from Sherman’s art, which is something I very much do think would be negatively impacted by AI, as artists can be more idiosyncratic even in mainstream crowd-pleasers like this book. Sherman’s layouts are excellent, their use of hatching, heavy inks, negative space, and judicious lack of holding lines is tremendous, and their ability to make the book claustrophobic even though it takes place in a forest and a fairly large house is inspired. Artists on comics can make even mediocre stories work, and Sherman does a LOT of heavy lifting on this one. But getting back to my point about not being better than those people – I like mindless entertainment! I can plop down and watch three or four episodes of Castle in a row, even though I’ve seen them dozens of times, because I like the actors and I enjoy the dumb puzzles. But where I am better than those people is that I know it’s dumb, and I know that great art – even great entertainment, which is slightly different than great art – can be something more and maybe should be a bit more often. Snyder can approach that, and maybe he just wanted to write a big ol’ dumb heist book, which – more power to him, I guess. But when it came time to give one of the characters a motivating tragedy, didn’t some part of his brain say, “Come on, man, really?” Beats me. I’d like to think it did, but if so, why did he ignore that voice?

Sigh. Rants wear me out. I might have a few more in me in this column, so look out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Eat however you want, you bitch!

DC Pride 2023 by various creators. $9.99, 81 pgs, DC.
Power Girl Special by various creators. $6.99, 50 pgs, DC.

I lumped these two in together because they’re both anthologies (well, the second one has two stories, so it’s only marginally an anthology, but whatever) and because they suffer from the same thing I want to rant about, so I’ll rant about them together! As you ought to know by now, I’m all for more diversity in comics, so that’s not what I want to rant about. If DC wants to make all their superheroes gay, feel free! (As always, I would like the creator pool to be more diverse, not necessarily the fictional character pool, but it seems like that’s getting better, too, so groovy.) The only time diversity throws me a bit is when I’m not sure if this is the same character as it used to be – how can Oliver Queen have a dark-skinned kid when the original “Connor” was the son of a ridiculously white Oliver and an Asian woman? Beats me, but whatever – DC likes to retcon things, so I assume they worked in a darker-skinned ancestor somewhere!

No, that’s not what I want to rant about. I want to rant about the quality of these stories, because that is definitely lacking (I mean, I’m going to rant a little bit about not recognizing a character, but that’s part of the quality of the story, so there). It is, perhaps, not surprising that the best story in both of these books is the first one in the DC Pride book, because it’s written by Grant “Don’t put my sexuality in a box!” Morrison, who is, you know, a good writer. But it’s the reason it’s the best story that I’m talking about – Morrison goes into the (sigh) multiverse to a story about a Green Lantern analog trying to find a Flash analog, who’s supposed to be dead. “Green Lantern” doesn’t believe it, and he searches throughout the multiverse to find him, and of course he does, and they have a nice kissin’ moment. The point is that Morrison tells a rather neat adventure story (in 12 pages, aided by Hayden Sherman’s terrific art and excellent page designs) in which the two main characters just happen to be gay. When they get back together, they kiss because they love each other, and it works because we know what they’ve been through. Morrison doesn’t need to write a story affirming how great everyone is, because they’re good enough to write a story that shows us how great the characters are. Yes, we’re back to “show, don’t tell,” kids, the first motherfucking lesson you learn in any creative writing class you’ve ever taken, a cliché so well-worn Moses probably brought it down from the damned mountain, yet so many comics writers still don’t fucking get it. It’s not that any of these stories are terrible, and as I’ve been mentioning in this post and very much recently, I don’t know if writers are dumbing things down because they’re not very good or because the readers are just that fucking stupid (probably a little from Column A and a little from Column B), but Sweet Fancy Moses, these stories are dreary. Celebratory, sure, and that’s great, but just dull as dishwater. There’s a Crush/Harley/Ivy story in which everyone talks about how great it is to be in love (and Ivy mentions that she and Harley are nothing alike, which is never a recipe for good romance except in fiction, where the writers can force it). There’s a Tim Drake/Connor Hawke story that’s about how great it is to be out and proud (again, absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it’s still dull). There’s a Jules Jourdain story (I don’t know who the hell Jules Jourdain is, but that’s ok) about how great it is to accept yourself as you are (again, great … still dull). There’s a Midnighter/Apollo story about love conquering all (ibid.). There’s a not-bad story about the new character, Xanthe Zhou, in which she meets Batwoman (it’s not a great story, you understand, but at least it’s an actual story). There’s a story about … Steel (is that John Henry’s daughter?) coming up with a test for Nubia, queen of the Amazons, and Nubia dismissing it until she realizes that she and Natasha have to work together and everyone is so very happy about it. There’s a Catman/Ghost-Maker story in which they fight some goons, which gets them all worked up and horny and would be nice if literally anyone on the planet cared about Ghost-Maker, much less Catman. There’s another not-bad story in which Jon Kent is fighting something John Constantine spelled up, but there’s more going on!

Then there’s the Power Girl Special, and here’s where I will rant a bit about being out of touch. I have no idea who this Power Girl is. Her name is Paige, she’s Kryptonian, and she’s fighting Johnny Sorrow, the old JSA villain, and she knows the Krazy Kent Klan (hmmm … might need to workshop that nickname a bit) but isn’t all that close to them. Leah Williams, the writer, does a lot to make her make up with the Supers, but because I have no idea who this character is or what her problem with the Kents is (I mean, Williams goes over it, but in a very Basil Exposition way, so it’s … yep, dull), their reconciliation doesn’t land. Plus, she’s connected to Old Man Superman, and nobody gives a tiny shit about Old Man Superman, so that moment doesn’t land. It’s just … ok, so this is a multiverse thing, and that automatically makes it dumb, but this is part of the problem with DC. The old Power Girl got jerked around a lot, sure, and I’m not going to say she was the greatest character, but she had some history. DC wants to create these emotional moments out of thin air, and that’s hard to do with comics (or anything, really). Sure, Grant Morrison manages it in the Pride book, but they’re GRANT MORRISON, you know? Williams can’t do that, and even if there’s groundwork in other comics, that’s the other problem: DC (and Marvel) publishes FAR too many books, and who the hell knows where to go to pick up the threads of this story even if one wanted to? DC and Marvel like to pretend that people are still living in the Sixties, when you could buy every book they published because there were only 10 titles and they all cost a dime. For two bucks you could follow everything!!!!! Nobody can do that today – first of all, what would it cost, and second of all, who has the damned time? That’s not to say they shouldn’t do multi-arc or even multi-title stories, it’s just that they’re far less judicious about it these days, turning everything into a 100-issue epic where all the plot points are then picked up in other 100-issue epics, and it’s exhausting. Nobody can keep up, and getting a plot summary from Wikipedia doesn’t fucking count. I got this comics because Marguerite Sauvage drew the PG story and Sauvage is excellent (and her art is beautiful) and because there’s a Fire and Ice back-up story (I’ll get to that). Couldn’t I just get a nice Power Girl adventure without the emotional backstory that I don’t know? Apparently, that’s too much to ask. As for the Fire and Ice story … sigh. Guy Gardner shows up, because of course he fucking does, and Bea acts like a child around him because of course she fucking does, and even though Tora calls them out, they’re still acting like children, and who the fuck needs that? And it’s a lead-in to another story, because of course it fucking is, as I guess there’s going to be a comic about the two of them in Smallville? Because everything has to be linked to Superman or Batman? I love Beatriz, but I’m not sure if I’m going to get that book, especially if it’s by Joanne Starer and Natacha Bustos, the writer and artist of this story. The art is fine, but the story is kind of dumb, and the art isn’t good enough to overcome that.

So what’s the point of all this ranting? I’m sick of stories that have no beginning and no end, naturally, but more than that, I’m sick of crappy stories. I love superheroes, and I get so mad that so much of the writing on superhero comics is garbage, especially when I know some of the writers know what they’re doing. The PG issue is one example – the first story, where you need an encyclopedia to understand, and the second story, where any growth the characters have ever exhibited is chucked out the window. The Pride one is garbage, too, because it’s so damned earnest. I am pretty close friends with two gay people (no, I’m not going to say something homophobic and defend it by saying I have gay friends!), and we talk every so often. You know what we don’t talk about all the damned time? BEING GAY. Did you know that gay people are interested in many different topics? It’s true! You certainly wouldn’t know it by reading DC’s Pride book, because it seems all those characters want to talk about is being gay. That’s not to say it hasn’t come up in conversations with my friends, and if it does, we talk about it. But sheesh, the characters in the DC Pride book talk in slogans, like they’re propaganda puppets, and it’s just boring. Again, I get it to a degree – people are idiots, and occasionally need to be beaten over the head with a message. But still. Give me good stories starring all kinds of diverse characters. Just don’t give me motherfucking After School Specials. Blech.

Man, I do go on, don’t I? Hey, most of the art in the DC Pride book is quite good!

Rating: Angry Old Man

One totally Airwolf panel:

Kinda wanted Johnny Sorrow to win, because he’s kinda awesome

Deadly Neighborhood Spider-Man by Taboo (writer), B. Earl (writer), Juan Ferreyra (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Daniel Kirchhoffer (collection editor). $17.99, 110 pgs, Marvel.

This is sort of a mini-rant about this comic, which is notable for one reason, really, and if you know anything about me, you know what it is. The story is one of those superhero stories that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but it zips by so quickly you don’t really notice it until you start thinking about it. I mean, Peter is in Pasadena working on something to do with Comic! Book! Science! and there’s a nightmare world bleeding into our reality, and Peter makes a bet with … well, I’ll get to who in a second … that isn’t a good deal for him no matter what happens, but it doesn’t seem to come up again, and the solution to their problem again is all about Comic! Book! Science! and Native American folktales and math and there’s yet another Spider-type character created and … phew, it’s a mess. It’s certainly interesting and even kind of fun, but it’s very, very messy.

But that’s not why I’m ranting! (Or, you know, mini-ranting.) First of all, the title of this book stinks. Just stinks. Peter isn’t in his “neighborhood,” he’s in Pasadena, and he’s not even really in that neighborhood all that much. And he’s not really deadly, either. I mean, a lot of this book takes place in a “dream world,” and he occasionally looks menacing, and for a few pages, he gives into his anger and lashes out, but he controls it very quickly, so he’s never really deadly even then. I get the play on the friendly Spidey persona, of course, but man, you should save the title for when Spidey is really deadly and out of control. In this story, he’s a bit out of his depth because he’s dealing with some supernatural things, but he’s never deadly and he’s never hanging around one neighborhood for long.

Of more annoyance, but still not a deal-breaker, is the presence of the so-called villain of the piece, which is the demon bear from New Mutants #18-20. Now, everyone who isn’t a crazy person like Fraser likes New Mutants #18-20 and the exquisite Bill Sienkiewicz art, but the bear is very much linked to Dani Moonstar (it’s implied that it’s simply her parents, somehow combined into a bear, but I guess that’s been retconned), and while I know it has shown up a few times in the 40 years since it first appeared, that doesn’t mean it’s just a regular ol’ super-villain. To their credit, writers Taboo and B. Earl don’t really point out that it’s the same demon bear – Spider-Man obviously doesn’t know about it, so he doesn’t mention anything about any connection to Dani – but, I mean, come on. There’s no reason to put the demon bear in this story, either – it’s just a representation of the dream world intruding into our reality, and given that folklore about Coyote is a big part of this book, the “big bad” might as well have been a demon coyote. It’s frustrating because it’s just another in a long line of comic book writers and artists saying, “Hey, remember this from your childhood? Wasn’t it cool?” without doing anything new or interesting with said thing. Yes, it is cool, but if I wanted to read a great demon bear story, I’d just read New Mutants #18-20. This bear has no connection to that beyond readers saying, “Hey, I remember that cool thing from my childhood!” I’m a bit tired of that. I mean, again, it doesn’t ruin the story, it just seems utterly needless to make this a demon bear, even if the writers could give themselves an out by saying it’s not THE demon bear.

But, who cares, right, because the reason you buy this book is because Juan Ferreyra is doing the art, and holy Jeebus is it amazing. Ferreyra has been toiling for Marvel for some years now, always drawing stuff that simply flies under the radar because it’s not “the regular book,” but I imagine it pays the same and because he does mini-series, he can really go all out without having to worry about a fill-in artist if he gets behind. Beats me, but it’s weird that he’s done so many oddball stories for Marvel, because he would kill it on Avengers or X-Men or Spider-Man. I can’t even describe his astonishing art on this book, because you keep turning pages and finding something else amazing. On page 5 he draws something like a well, down which Peter – as a spider – is descending, while pieces of his face stick out between the brick work of the well walls, and at the bottom of the well (but the center of the image, because we’re looking down the well from the top) is a ghostly, spidery figure that would have been gouache years ago but is probably just digital now. It’s a haunting, terrifying image, AND IT’S ON PAGE 5!!!!! His demon bear is a gigantic, slavering force of nature, with long teeth protruding horrifyingly from a diseased mouth, claws that look like sticks, and fierce red streaks for eyes. It’s not even the most terrifying thing in the book, which is the spider-creature in native garb that looks like it’s partly held together by webs. That thing is weird and wild, I tells ya. I have yet to mention the giant crow that shoots Peter with a very fancy-looking pistol and later flies him through the dreamscape (he’s not a bad guy) or the new Spider-hero Taboo and B. Earl create but which Ferreyra gets to draw. Peter’s battle against some faux-Avengers is stunning and shows how good Ferreyra would be on a big team book, while his coloring, as usual, is spectacular. I can’t go into it more, because we’d be here all day. It’s just staggering art, and yes, I know I’ve been a huge fan of Ferreyra’s since literally his first American comic book back in 2004 so I might not be unbiased, but I just can’t believe Ferreyra isn’t spoken of in hushed tones by the cognescenti of comics. Maybe he is, and I’m not reading the right people. If he isn’t, he should be.

I liked Deadly Neighborhood Spider-Man, despite the kind of vague plot and the minor annoyances of the name and the bear. It’s a fun story, elevated a great deal by the artwork. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I will buy anything Ferreyra draws. If Marvel gives him a Gambit book, I will buy that, too, and you know what that will do to my brain!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Kind of hard to miss

Elephantmen 2261 Omnibus volume 1 by Richard Starkings (writer/letterer), Axel Medellin (artist/colorist), and Margaux Saltel (artist/colorist). $24.99, 211 pgs, Dark Horse.

Starkings isn’t the greatest writer in the world – he’s not going to dazzle you with his prose, in other words, but he’s an excellent storyteller, and his masterpiece, Elephantmen, moved from Image after 80-some issues and went to Comixology, which is why I haven’t read it in a few years, as I was waiting for the inevitable printed collection. Now that’s out from Dark Horse, and I can dive back into Hip Flask’s world and enjoy these comics again. Elephantmen was always one of the best books out there when it was being published by Image, and Starkings hasn’t really missed a step now that he’s at a different home. He continues his story of Hip Flask, the “elephantman” – the human-animal hybrid species of this series – who works as a private investigator in the 23rd century and has many adventures. It’s a pulpy noir story, in other words, just set two hundred years in the future, which allows Starkings to use all the tropes we all love about this kind of fiction but put fun spins on them. He’s been doing it for quite some time, and he’s good at it, and so we get two good stories in this collection, one which is sort of a locked room murder mystery, and the other which is more of a sci-fi adventure. In the first story, an old friend of Hip’s, another elephantman, is dead, and it gives Starkings a chance to revisit the war for which the hybrids were bred and the horrors they perpetuated and were subject to during the war and how that might tie into the victim’s death. Starkings has done a very good job with the war and what it did to the transgenics and to the humans involved in it, and this is another example of it. It’s a deeper story than we might think at the beginning, but that’s what Starkings has done throughout this run – he gives us a standard noir plot, but then expands outward from it to encompass ideas of morality, humanism, free will, fate, and compassion. In the second story, he just starts with an old-fashioned heist, but because the things being heisted also tie into the war, he can approach it from a different angle. In the first story, the victim felt guilty about the things he did and sought to understand the human victims of the war. In the second story, the thieves are soldiers who never adjusted to civilian life, so they became career criminals, and they’re still being used by humans who want to exploit them … although it’s not as simple as that, either, which is nice. Starkings always has a lot on his mind with regard to his characters and what they’ve gone through and are going through, and that adds some nice heft to the relatively simple plots of the shorter stories, especially because he always ties them into his much larger plot, which is slow to take shape but is always kind of lurking in the background. Starkings is in this for the long haul, in other words, but he’s good enough to make the arcs stand out as good, pulpy stories on their own.

Medellin has been drawing the series for a long time (this collection, as the bios in the back point out, contains his 1000th page for the series), and he continues to do a wonderful job. His smooth, thin lines create a beautiful future world, clean and a bit cold, which Medellin can then contrast with the Los Angeles rain that often falls in the series and some of the more brutal scenes from the war or some of the violence in the present. It’s impressive to see him switch from the thin lines of his “regular” work to the thicker, messier stuff he uses in the rougher scenes, and they help with the way Starkings is telling the story quite nicely. Medellin’s femme fatales – gorgeous, well-endowed, far smarter than the males – are always fun to see, and he’s excellent making Hip a world-weary investigator without making him pathetic. Hip has seen too much, but he’s not a gloomy character, and Medellin does a very good job showing that in his face, from his wrinkles to his steely eyes. Honestly, the one problem I had with the art is that in the second story, when the thieves are trying to steal giant battle-suits, they’re fighting in the desert so the sense of scale is a bit wonky, so seeing a tiny Hip or Jack Farrell is too jarring. But that’s a minor problem – the art is beautiful, and it’s keen that Medellin has been able to stick with the book for so long.

I’ve been a fan of Elephantmen since the beginning, and I like Starkings quite a bit as a person and I’m Facebook friends with Medellin and I have three sketches that Moritat and then Medellin did for me at SDCC, so you can take all that with a grain of salt. Still, this is an excellent series, and I keep looking forward to more!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

He’d have to move to Florida to live in fear all the time!

The Final Girls by Cara Ellison (writer), Sally Cantirino (artist), Gab Contreras (colorist), Chefel Peterson (flatter), Joamette Gil (letterer), and Katie West (editor). $22.99, 120 pgs, Dark Horse.

Are you ready for another rant? ‘Cause I have one for you!

So, The Final Girls. It’s a superhero story that doesn’t really need to be a superhero story, as it deals with depressingly real-life stuff that, as the writer even admits in the afterword (which is where most of my rant is centered), cannot really be solved the way it is in the comic. In this comic, a superhero is raped by another superhero, and two of her friends go after him and beat the shit out of him. A different hero finds out that he’s acting different around his wife, and she thinks it’s because he cheated on her (which, of course, he did, but not in the way the investigating hero thinks). He decides to admit to cheating and throw his victim under the bus, saying she came onto him and blah blah blah. Of course this works, and the victim’s reputation takes a hit. The wife (another hero, of course), is angry at the victim, but, of course, it all comes out in the end, and the heroes come up with a solution that isn’t perfect, but isn’t terrible. All is well in the world!

It’s a decent enough story, and while I don’t think it needs to star superheroes, I get why Ellison did it. You see, this isn’t really about superheroes, it’s about heroes in general. The editor, West, is the woman who began the whole thing with Warren Ellis three years ago, and she writes about that in an afterword. There’s a clear Ellis analog in the book, and the theme of the book is basically, “Don’t trust your heroes.” Now, I don’t have heroes, so I’ve never been let down by them, and I think it’s very dangerous to hold anyone up as a paragon when you don’t really know them, but people do it all the damned time. Ellison does a good job showing how easily men can turn things to their advantage and how a solution to some issues comes from men even though they shouldn’t necessarily be the ones coming up with the solution but people listen to them, so that’s the way it is. She wants to show how easily people in general are manipulated, even women, and how people turning on each other is sad but occasionally inevitable. She gets into the idea of finding all the facts before opening your damned mouth, which is always a good lesson. While the ending is a bit facile and fantastical, the points Ellison makes along the way are pretty good. By hiding behind superheroes, she can dispense with some of the metaphors and make them more literal, which, sadly, is how a lot of fiction works these days because people are too stupid to understand subtext (sorry I keep coming back to this point, but it just amazes me). I don’t love it, but as I’ve noted before, sometimes you need to hit people over the head with your points.

If you skip the afterwords, the book is fine – a bit heavy-handed, but fine. The afterwords are where my blood gets angried up, but not because I get mad at the people writing them. I take a bit of offense at Ellison’s first few thoughts, as she begins with:

When women write literature, people can’t wait to push it into a trashcan labeled ‘confessional’ and ignore it. ‘Oh, it’s just a misery memoir, a whiny dissection of feelings’ — something that is levelled at women writers all the time. ‘They just want to complain’ is muttered, out of the side of the mouth, by a male literature professor who should know better with Jane Austen on his shelf. … In the meantime, rich, cocaine-loving LA socialites like Bret Easton Ellis get to write Less Than Zero and people are tripping over themselves to universalize all his metaphors and call him a genius for it. ‘People are afraid to merge!’ they gasp. ‘… People are afraid to merge! With other people on the LA freeway!’ Yes, yes. Less Than Zero is a universal work of art that has us reflect on the nature of rich assholes, not at all related to the life of a rich, cocaine-loving LA socialite. … I don’t begrudge Ellis his medals. I just don’t see why women’s work isn’t considered something everyone can use as a tool to examine their world.

There’s a lot to unpack here, because wow, that’s something. I mean, I can easily go with #NotAllMen to refute her assessment of what men think of women’s literature, but she has more experience with that than I do … although, like the rest of this, it feels like she has a particular axe to grind. I mean, I’ve written before about how, weirdly, I don’t like women writers (of prose) as much as I like men, but I certainly don’t dismiss women writers, and I’m not sure what she thinks “confessional” literature is. As I also noted, some of my favorite books were written by women (contradictions are fun!), and I don’t think of those books as “confessional,” necessarily. Ellison is vague here, which weakens her argument a bit, because I can easily point to examples from my own life in which professors assigned women writers for us to read without saying anything about the nature of the work other than “Here, read this.” Then she moves on to Ellis, which sounds like even more of a particular axe to grind, doesn’t it? Less Than Zero came out in 1985. I mean, that’s some time ago. According to the internet (it’s never wrong!), Ellison herself was born in 1985. Why is she using that as an example? I mean, Less Than Zero is certainly influential, but do they teach it in literature classes at universities? Is it held up as great literature? (I honestly don’t know; I’ve never read it.) I mean, it sounds like a whiny, spoiled rich kid whining about his life, but maybe that makes it great? Beats me. Anyway, this reads like Ellison was assigned Less Than Zero in school and she hated it and her male teacher told her she was a stupid girl and rejected her short story for publication in the school’s literary journal (see? I can generalize and stereotype too!), doesn’t it? It’s just weirdly specific, and without context, it comes off as weirdly vindictive. Whenever I read literally anything about Ellis, he seems like an asshole, so I get why Ellison might think the adoration of Less Than Zero is a bit much, but it’s still odd. Her afterword is about how superhero comics provide answers to everything even when they can’t answer everything, and it’s pretty interesting, but man, that introductory part … it’s weird.

Then West has her afterword, and it made me angry. Not at her at all, but at Warren Ellis and the comics culture. West writes about the culture, not Ellis specifically (she doesn’t name him in the afterword), but I decided to revisit the controversy, and I kind of wish I hadn’t. It led me to this excellent column by Harris O’Malley, who writes about the Warren Ellis Forum, where a lot of the creepy behavior started. It’s a depressing look at a place that, while it was happening, was lauded for its creativity and openness and tolerance of women, especially, but in hindsight does look a bit weird. I wasn’t on-line all that much in 1998-2002, the years O’Malley is writing about; I checked some sites out, certainly, but I wasn’t a member of any forum or chat group. I have no idea how I would have dealt with some of the ickier aspects of the WEF – probably just dropped out instead of calling it out, mainly because I don’t like confrontation, even in virtual reality, and it would be easier to simply go away if something bothered me. But what O’Malley talks about seems to me really icky even in the moment, because Ellis created a place that, despite its supposed openness, seems like a “we’re cool and you’re not” place, a vibe I often get from Ellis’s writing (and I’m a fan of Ellis, as you might recall). I mean, as a dude at the comic book store noted when I mentioned this, it’s just nerds acting cooler than other nerds, so maybe pump the brakes a bit with it, Ellis and Ellis-disciples. I’m certainly not saying I was smarter than everyone else with regard to Ellis, but I do recall the negative reaction I received from several people when I wrote my essay about Transmetropolitan in the Chad Nevett-edited collection Shot in the Face (hey, it’s available at that link, and we get a tiny piece of it if you use it!), in which I argued that the women in Transmetropolitan weren’t quite as super-duper as people think, because Ellis doesn’t quite write women as well as people think (I still like Transmetropolitan, to be sure, but it has its issues). Ellis always came off a bit as “I’m smarter than you are and I’m cooler than you are, but if you tell me how great I am, I’ll allow you to hang out with me,” and whether that’s true or not, that’s the vibe I got (I met Ellis very briefly once, so I have no idea if he’s like that in real life). I very much like his writing, and even his non-fiction writing about comics, but there was always a whiff of elitism to it all, and I’m not a big fan of elitism. I mean, I can be elitist, but nobody else can, dang it!!!!

The title of O’Malley’s essay struck me: “On Finding Out Your Heroes Are Monsters”. This is what bugs me about culture in general: Why have heroes? Why is there a need for heroes? As I noted above, I have no heroes, and I’m better for it. I don’t know why I never had that urge – my father is a cynical bastard at the best of times, so maybe he instilled in me a general mistrust of heroes, but I don’t know. I’m not bitter or cynical like he is, and I very much try to see the best in everyone, but I also know that far too many people have asshole sides, mainly because too many people worship them. Why would you put Warren Ellis on a pedestal? Because he’s a good writer? So what? Because he promoted women in comics? I mean, that’s called “being a decent human being,” not something incredibly laudable (and I get that in the comics world, as in far too many other worlds, “being a decent human being” is laudable, but still). Because he acted cooler than other, geekier comics nerds? I mean, he’s still a comics nerd – have you seen Warren Ellis? He’s a nerd, not a cool dude. My point is not that the women he preyed upon (and, as West and many others noted, it does not appear any of his harassment crossed over into illegal activities or real-world activities) are wrong or were foolish to join the forum and to believe they had a champion of their work, it’s that nobody should be put on a pedestal, because inevitably they’ll need to be knocked off. The forum members, according to O’Malley, thought that iconoclastic jokes were the height of edginess, but iconoclasm can easily slide into racism, sexism, and other offensive things and be laughed off as ironic and objectors dismissed as “not getting it.” He even points out that if people complained about the “humor,” they were dismissed with an image of Steve McQueen slapping Ally McGraw in The Getaway. That doesn’t seem problematic at all! Ellis might not have been involved in a lot of this (O’Malley points out he often wasn’t), but that vibe was very present in his writing, and I’m not surprised it was prevalent in the forum. Ellis writes women as “Just like men, but you can fuck them,” and it’s not a shock to find out that the forum members wanted the female members to be just like that, at least that’s how O’Malley makes it sound. That’s not a heroic stance, and it’s a shame that no one calling it out was taken seriously.

Look, being part of the “cool club” can be intoxicating, I get it. I’ve never really been in any cool club, but I still get the urge, and turning a nerd club into the cool club is a way for uncool people to transform, but one reason why I was never a big joiner was because of the notion that you had to conform to groupthink, even if that groupthink seemed positive. Again, I’m not trying to hold myself up as a paragon – I doubt I would have had the stones to call out any shitty behavior I saw on the WEF, because that’s just not me. But I definitely wouldn’t have joined in the first place, because I, well, didn’t (while I wasn’t on-line too much during those years, I did read some web sites and knew about forums, I just didn’t see the need to join). I don’t know why people have a need for heroes – for the same reason people have a need for God, I suppose – but I do wish that in that need, they would recognize that people are people, and they often do shitty things. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read their work or even discount any good they do, just that they have the capacity for douchebaggery as much as they have the capacity for good. We should all reach for the good, but we should recognize that some people either don’t reach at all or fail to reach it, for whatever reason. Maybe putting people on a pedestal is something we need to examine as a society, not just in comics culture. But that’s just my opinion.

Anyway, The Final Girls is pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. Aren’t you glad you decided to start reading this post? I don’t think I’m done ranting, either, so hold on!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, that’s not very nice

Flawed by Chuck Brown (writer), Prenzy (artist), Becca Carey (letterer), and Melissa Gifford (editor). $14.99, 134 pgs, Image.

This is a weird comic that feels like it should be better, but Brown couldn’t settle on a theme and ended up throwing far too much at the wall. It claims, on the back, to be “Frasier meets The Punisher,” as we get a psychiatrist who goes out at night to “solve her patient’s problems.” I would read something like that, but that’s not exactly what we get. Gem, the doctor, does go out to find the serial killer who traumatized her patient, but it turns out that he’s not really the problem – he heals very quickly, and the plutocrats who rule the city use his blood to stay young, and that’s the problem. Except … that’s not really the problem, as it turns out one of their own is trying to take over, and he needs the serial killer on his side, but soon it becomes apparent even that’s not enough for him. Plus, there’s sort of a connection to Egypt, where Gem is from, there are aliens, there’s a monster … it’s a lot, and it doesn’t quite hang together as well as Brown would like it to. The basic premise is a fine but not quite right – most people who visit psychiatrists don’t really need their doctor going out in the night and meting out justice to those who’ve wronged them – but it still makes for an intriguing premise, given that Gem herself is deeply … um, something – a word that means not perfect, like there’s something wrong with her, an issue, a, a, a … dang, it’ll come to me. Anyway, the idea of a psychiatrist working through her own trauma by trying to rid others of theirs and it bleeding into vigilantism is a weird but workable idea, but Brown gets away from it very quickly, and this becomes a fairly standard horror adventure, with corrupt cops and weird assassins and people becoming more and more monstrous until the exterior matches the interior (that bit of metaphorical transformation is decently done, honestly). It’s frustrating, because on their own, there’s nothing wrong with the elements of the story – I like the henchman that Gem brings home and “domesticates,” and the weird assassin is fun – but it feels bolted together and it doesn’t hold very well. Because of this, despite being a nice long story, it still feels like it ends a bit too abruptly (there’s a stinger for a sequel, but it doesn’t mean the story isn’t complete). It just feels like Brown wandered too far from his core idea, and the story suffers for it. I’m all for writers being ambitious, but sometimes you’re Icarus, you know?

I don’t have too much to say about Prenzy’s art – it’s fine. The biggest problem I have with it is that the serial killer in issue #1 looks nothing like the person from later in the series, after he’s had a chance to heal from his injuries. It’s bizarre, but not too big a deal. Dude heals, so maybe he looks better after he heals, right? It’s just a bit odd. Other than that, Prenzy’s slightly cartoonish style works well with the kind of frenetic pace Brown has with the story, and all the character are interesting-looking in different and unique ways. It’s decent art, and that’s fine.

Flawed is a pretty good comic, but it has its … imperfections (I just know I’ll think of the word later tonight, when I’m trying to watch Heather Rae El Moussa flip a house). I know I shouldn’t review a comic based on what I wanted to see, but Brown’s the one who sets up a decent premise and then ignores it. The thing we get is a weird, wild, violent ride, and there’s nothing too, too wrong with it, but it feels like this could have been more grounded and a lot more interesting (there’s an essay in the back about superheroes and mental health, and it’s a bit of a peek into what could have been), but … alas.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Hey, ya got something in your eye there
Flip that house, girl!

The Good Asian by Pornsak Pichetshote (writer), Alexandre Tefenkgi (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer), Grant Din (historical consultant), and Will Dennis (editor). $39.99, 244 pgs, Image.

The Good Asian got a lot of good press when it was coming out, as far as I could tell (I don’t pay all that much attention to comics press), and right there in the front of this gorgeous hardcover volume are the proclamations of its Eisner and Harvey Awards, and let me tell you: the press was not wrong. This is an excellent comic, which is nice. Apparently “diversity” is a theme of this month’s column (I never know going into these if they’ll have a theme, but here we are), and this is what I’m talking about when I’m talking about diversity – despite Pichetshote being very strident about the indignities heaped upon the Chinese by Americans prior to World War II, it’s within the context of a clever story, so it doesn’t feel forced, and the diverse characters are just that – they’re not cookie-cutter paragons of a minority, where the writers are scared to make a black man or a gay man or an Asian woman or a Hispanic transgender person a villain because they don’t want to show that minority in a bad light, Pichetshote populates the story with so many minority characters and gives them all different personalities so that some are better than others, some do horrible things but might not be too bad, some do good things to hide their ugliness – hey, they’re just people! At the center is Edison Hark, who was raised by a rich white dude after his mother, the rich white dude’s maid, was killed, and who stayed in Hawaii when the family returned to San Francisco and became a cop, as he was allowed to do that in Honolulu but he wouldn’t have been allowed to do that in San Francisco. But he’s in San Francisco now, because the rich white dude’s son – whom Hark grew up with – wants him to investigate the disappearance of another Chinese maid, but this time the rich white dude fell in love with the maid, so he’s in a coma due to the stress of her disappearance. Like any good noir story, this takes him into the darkest underbellies of society, in this case 1936 San Francisco, and deep into his past – what really happened to his mother? – and dredges up a whole bunch of stuff most of the people in the book would rather stay buried, plus Pichetshote can examine the horrific racism that Chinese people went through during this time. He has two characters – Edison is one of them – who embody this kind of weird place the Chinese occupied in society, as Edison was raised in an environment unlike what most of his ethnic peers were raised in, but he’s self-aware enough to know that he’s unique, unlike one of the important characters he meets, who seems to be the “right kind” of Chinese but is oblivious to how the whites see him. Hark is a fascinating character, because he’s full of self-loathing, but as the book goes on, we realize it’s more than that, and his journey is really well done. Meanwhile, his girl Friday, Lucy Fan, is a different kind of fascinating character, as she knows things that Hark overlooks simply because of the different way she was raised, plus she’s a woman, so naturally she’s going to have a different perspective than he does. There’s a crazed murderer haunting the streets of Chinatown, too, which of course ties into Hark’s case, but in an unusual way that allows Pichetshote once again to examine the racism of 1936 without diverting from the narrative too much. There’s a lot going on here, and there are some missteps – I’m not going to get into them because it would give away too much, but Pichetshote indulges in some of the clichés of this kind of story, and a subplot introduced late is supposed to clear some things up but it just muddies the water – but overall, this is an excellent noir story that has a lot on its mind and is able to make a lot of its points without subverting the story to it. That’s very keen.

Man, I didn’t write anything about Tefenkgi’s art, which is very well done. That’s all I have to say – this is going way, waaaaaay too long! (I mean, yes, I know we’re only into the letter “G,” but this is one of the last comics of the month, so I’ve written most of this very long post already!) Sheesh, I dig comics, people!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Seems legit

Gotham Academy: Maps of Mystery by Karl Kerschl (writer/artist/letterer), Becky Cloonan (writer), Brenden Fletcher (writer), John Rauch (colorist), MSassyK (colorist), Steve Wands (letterer), Ben Abernathy (editor), Andrew Marino (editor), and Andy Khouri (editor). $5.99, 42 pgs, DC.

With the publication of the entire run of Gotham Academy in a nice, giant-sized trade (see below!) and this nice comic, one wonders if DC is looking to revive the series, which would be nice (although I’d much rather they revive Gotham by Midnight, but you can’t always get what you want!). This is a fun comic with three different stories, only one of which was written by Cloonan and Fletcher, the writers of the original series, but it’s called “Sophomore Year” and seems to specifically lead into a potential new series. It’s pretty good. The first story, which is simply a regular issue of a comic book (it’s 24 pages long), deals with Maps trying to find a missing classmate and “helping” Batman to do it, which of course makes Batman grumpy until Maps shows that she’s a pretty good Robin (because everyone is Robin these days, it seems). It’s a charming, slightly creepy story that fits in well with the GA aesthetic. The third story is in glorious black and white and is basically a Batman story – Maps follows Batman to a haunted house, but she doesn’t do a whole lot. Batman, WHO HAS FOUGHT THE GENTLEMAN GHOST, has the nerve to tell her there’s no such thing as ghosts, and he manages to solve a century-old murder, so that’s nice. It’s also a cool story. So we have three cool stories with characters who’ve been on the shelf for a while, and DC seems to be pushing them a bit. We’ll see if it leads to a new series!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Looks like a clue to me!

Haunthology by Jeremy Haun (writer/artist). $16.99, 100 pgs, Image.

This is a very keen but awfully odd anthology by Haun, begun during the COVID lockdowns due to, well, a lack of work. The thing that makes these stories – and some I hesitate to even call “stories” – weird and odd is that, as the introduction notes, Haun ditches the so-called “third act” of horror stories – you know, where most of them fall apart due to weak explanations. Haun gives us moments in horror stories when everything is ripe with possibility, and this is an interesting experiment in how far down you can actually pare stories before they are no longer stories. In a surprising number of cases, the answer is “Quite a lot.” For some, unfortunately, the answer is “too much,” and those are some of the weaker entries, but Haun takes the moments we all love in horror – the anticipation and the very beginning of the resolution – and shows us those, and the book is weirder because of it. Some of the “stories” just don’t work – the three-page one about a woman arming herself to the teeth is just that, a woman arming herself to the teeth, and there’s no real indication why she’s doing it; the two stories that deal with coins seem to betray Haun’s principle of just showing the scariest moments, but they’re not complete enough to satisfy a craving for resolution, either; the story of the woman during lockdown who likes to order stuff on-line is humorous but doesn’t quite land in the horror arena, despite the twisted ending. That doesn’t make those stories bad, just unsatisfying … or more unsatisfying, because most of these are unsatisfying in one way or another (as that is, after all, the way they’re designed). Some of the very cool ones are “One Summer Night,” which is two pages of utter creeping terror; “The Monday After Monday,” in which Haun himself (or his avatar; someone who looks like Haun is in a few stories) hangs out with his son in the morning, but it’s a day unlike the days we usually have, and it’s a nice twist on this kind of story (and no, I’m not telling you what kind of story); “The Importance of Making Lists” is a one-page, semi-humorous story about, well, making a list; “The Class of 1894” is about a bad thing happening at a boarding school; “The Old-Fashioned” shows us a person making the drink, and we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it does nicely; “Still In Here” is, frankly, terrifying (I really don’t want to give anything away about it, but dang); “By the Sea. From the Sea.” is about a man and his daughter sharing a day together by the ocean; “Shoggoth in an Alley Behind a Bar in a Small Town” is, well, exactly that (and it’s actually kind of funny, although the humor is very dark); “Fever Dream” has faux-Haun having a bad dream. As I noted, they can be frustrating because of the lack of resolution, but Haun manages to get to the core of horror in many of them, and the point is that we can use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. The stories that don’t work as well as the ones were our imaginations aren’t enough. But those are few. Meanwhile, Haun’s art is superb – a wonderful mix of precise, realistic line work and imaginative horror, with a nice blend of sharp blacks and hazier grays. It’s wonderful, and it makes the stories work much better, which is always nice to see.

This is a cool book. I like comics that push the envelope, so I hope it does well for Haun, so he can keep doing weird stuff!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That can’t be good for anyone!

Hitomi by HS Tak (writer), Isabella Mazzanti (artist), Nicoletta Bea (layouter), Valentina Napolitano (colorist), Rob Jones (letterer), and Chris Ryall (editor). $15.99, 126 pgs, Image.

Hitomi is a young woman (it’s unclear how old she is; she looks young but people often treat like she’s older, but maybe that’s because she’s on her own in 16th-century Japan) looking for the samurai who killed her family, but when she finds him, she finds out he’s not that bad (she tries to insinuate herself into his good graces before killing him, but that means she has to get to know him). It’s a bit strange, because the book never actually addresses what he did – at some point, Hitomi just stops being angry about it, it seems. There is a possibility for more volumes (which, given the way the story ends, would be pretty keen), so maybe Tak will get around to Hitomi having it out with Yasuke? Who knows!

This is a decent enough story – it just moves along, with Hitomi learning about life, sometimes very bitterly, and Yasuke trying to … not exactly explain his past and not exactly trying to atone for it, but I guess just trying to be a more decent person in the present because he wasn’t always one in the past. They have adventures, and there’s a bunch of violence, and Yasuke has to rescue Hitomi when she gets in over her head a bit, but we also see that she has become very capable herself through her association with Yasuke. At one point, we learn a bit about Yasuke’s childhood and why a black man is wandering around 16th-century Japan (and it’s certainly not implausible, which is nice), but for the most part, it’s just a straight-forward adventure story that hints around at deeper themes but doesn’t delve too deeply into them. And that’s fine. The artwork is very reminiscent of Marguerite Sauvage’s work, which is a good thing, as Mazzanti’s flowing, lush line work evokes the artwork of ancient Japan well, making the book feel more authentic (even though, yes, 16th-century Japan was almost certainly not as nice as the comic makes it look). The final issue, in which Hitomi is drugged and begins to hallucinate, is both brilliantly drawn and beautifully colored, as we get more psychedelic hues, and it’s a nice contrast to the brutal reality that Hitomi and Yasuke must navigate in the last part of the story.

I don’t have too much to say about this comic. It’s entertaining, nice to look at, and it has sequel possibilities that are somewhat tantalizing. We’ll see if we get any!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Take that, Hitomi!

Lost Falls volume 1 by Curt Pires (writer), Antonio Fuso (artist), Pierluigi Minotti (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), Micah Myers (letterer), and Chris Shehan (editor). $22.99, 119 pgs, Dark Horse.

I think I’m done with Curt Pires, despite wanting to like his work. He always has intriguing ideas that he just can’t make work, and he seems to abandon stories easily, so if we get a “volume 1,” like we do here, and the story doesn’t actually end with a resolution, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a “volume 2” or more. Earlier this year, I finished reading It’s Only Teenage Wasteland and got annoyed because it’s the first arc of a series to which I’m unsure if Pires will return, and now we have Lost Falls, which is a lot like every other Pires work – very intriguing premise, some very interesting plot points, but a whole lot of weirdness-for-weirdness’-sake around it, a lack of resolution, and a fear that it will never be completed, so even if you want to read more, the feeling is that you won’t be able to and Pires will soon have something completely different for you to chew on!

I mean, what’s this about? A dude wakes up in a small town and doesn’t know how he got there, there’s a weird cult raising things from the waterfall, there’s a secret society living in a utopian village, there’s an entity possessing people and making them do bad things … does it really matter? If it does continue, it won’t be for years, and who knows if Pires can get his head out of his own ass to make sure it all works? It’s just not worth it. Let’s move on!

Rating: Blah

One totally Airwolf panel:

Trust me, you’d rather see this than anything in this comic

Mindset by Zack Kaplan (writer), John Pearson (artist), Jimmy Savage (art assists), and Hassan Otsame-Elhaou (letterer). $19.99, 158 pgs, Vault Comics.

Mindset is a very good comic, but once you really start to think about it, it’s just a good thriller and not the cutting social commentary Kaplan seems to want it to be. And that’s ok! It’s good to be a good thriller, and it doesn’t need to be more, but it’s clear Kaplan kind of wants it to be more, and it’s really not. Kaplan does give us the ultimate “nerd revenge” story – tech dudes who aren’t the most socially skilled accidentally invent an app that controls minds, and they use it to get rich – and he does a good job going through the story, but he does want to make points about tech controlling our lives and trying to stop it, but his points are somewhat obvious and not made terribly skillfully. Still ok to be just be a thriller!

The bones of the story are familiar: the nerd – Ben Sharp – who isn’t going to graduate from Stanford gets into the lab right before graduation to have a go at a last-ditch effort to save his schooling and, along with three friends (well, two friends and a GA who allows them access to the lab), discovers code in their app that allows a person to control minds. It’s silly, but Kaplan makes it sound plausible (and maybe it is – I’m not a tech guy or a neuroscientist). They were trying to sell the app as a “tech-clearing” system, something that “frees” you from the influence of advertisers, and now they can use their app for good! Yeah, good luck with that. Of course, they’re soon living large, even though they’re still pledged to “making the world a better place” … just through mind control! They promise not to use the app on each other – I wonder how that works out – or force people to do horrible things – I wonder how that works out – but of course things start to spin out of control. It’s a well-constructed, exciting book, and it works well as a thrilling cat-and-mouse game. Kaplan, of course, wants to point out how we’re allowing tech to control our minds anyway, even without active mind control, and that’s fine, and he does get into the sickness in a society where everyone is trying to sell something, which is not bad, but it does come across slightly as holier-than-thou, which, considering I paid money for this book based on it being advertised and Kaplan got paid for it (not as much as tech billionaire, of course, but still), it comes off as the slightest bit annoying. It doesn’t ruin the book, but Kaplan could have eased up on the declaiming a bit and readers still would have gotten the point (or, again, maybe they wouldn’t have).

Pearson’s art is really good – he uses that cut-up technique with a lot of mixed media that someone like David Mack made famous and someone like Martin Simmonds does these days, and it’s very cool. It’s a very busy comic, but I have to think it’s supposed to mimic the information overload we experience in today’s world, because some other things Pearson does simulates some things that feel like these people are living in a virtual reality instead of the “real” world, which also feels deliberate. He uses a lot of interesting page designs to help with Kaplan’s occasionally dense script, and he uses some interesting effects to make the book look more off-kilter – occasionally the figures look vaguely pixilated, for instance. It’s a very keen-looking comic, which is always helpful.

Mindset is a gripping story about tech gone mad, and while a good deal of it feels familiar, Kaplan also does a good job telling the story. Minor complaints aside, it’s a very good book!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The ultimate challenge, you nerd!

My Bad volume 2: Thirty Minutes or Dead by Mark Russell (writer) Bryce Ingman (writer), Peter Krause (artist), Kelly Fitzpatrick (colorist), Rob Steen (letterer), and Cory Sedlmeier (collection editor). $17.99, 121 pgs, Ahoy Comics.

Russell and Ingman continues their very funny superhero satire, and if you like Russell’s warped brand of humor, you’ll like this. It’s clear that Russell loves superheroes, he just thinks they’re a bit silly sometimes, so this is a fairly gentle satire (it’s still very funny, but it’s not particularly savage) and the characters, while many are doofuses, are still basically trying to do the right thing. Russell pokes fun at society as much as he pokes fun at superheroes, so the weird characters don’t seem particularly out of place in a world where news anchors remain robotically cheery in the face of alien invasions and mobs chase pizza deliverers through the streets (an assassin is killing people, and he gets them to open their doors by pretending to deliver pizza; in Russell’s world, instead of not having pizza delivered, mobs chase the deliverers!). Most of the characters from the first volume are back, and Russell and Ingman add a few more, just for fun. It’s just a funny and fun series, and they and Krause sneak in a sight gag that is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a comic in a very long time (and no, I’m not going to spoil it in my Airwolf panel selection). Krause is a terrific artist for this sort of thing, because his no-nonsense style fits the weirdness of the goings-on like Leslie Nielsen in Airplane – it’s so solid that it heightens the goofiness. This is just a good comic, and we need more of these in the world, don’t we?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, I hope you’re happy, Commies!

Red Tag by Rafael Scavone (story/scripter), Rafael Albuquerque (story), Roger Cruz (artist), Cris Peter (colorist), Bernardo Brice (letterer), and Felix Horne (editor). $22.99, 110 pgs, Dark Horse.

This isn’t really a rant, but I do find the presence of Roger Cruz as the artist of this book worthy of note. If people know Cruz, they probably know him from his work on the X-books in the 1990s, when Marvel was scooping up artists who could draw in the “Image” style that was so popular back then, and the art was not very good. A lot of artists tried to draw like Jim Lee or Todd McFarlane or Marc Silvestri, and many of them simply weren’t ready for it. Cruz was in his early 20s when he started working for Marvel (he’s a few months older than I am), and it was clear he had skills, but just not the storytelling chops for the weird, dense scripts that were coming out of the X-offices at that time, as the writers tried to write like Claremont but they also didn’t have Claremont’s skills. The reason this is interesting is because so many people – not just comics fans – get a first impression and that calcifies in their mind, and a lot of comics fans, in this case, remember Cruz as a crappy Image knock-off. Obviously, however, artists evolve (positively and negatively, of course – just look at Frank Miller or John Romita Jr.), and Cruz evolved, and he’s a pretty decent artist. He’s not the greatest in the world, of course, but he’s toned down the “Image-ness” of his art, he’s blended his cartoony vibe with some more realism, his layouts are good, and he does a very good job with the environs of São Paulo – this looks like a very “lived-in” comic, which helps the tone of the book nicely. The characters are designed well, too, and he uses hatching pretty nicely to make his characters look a bit rougher, as nobody’s life in this comic has been without trauma. Cris Peter has always been a good colorist, and she uses shading very well and dark colors very well without making them too murky. Peter does a good job making Cruz’s art look even better.

I like the story because while there are a lot of familiar elements, Scavone and Albuquerque don’t go exactly where you think they will. The story is set in 2018 during an election in São Paulo, as an underdog liberal candidate is making waves and trying to keep the state and country democratic while the more conservative elements want to tighten their grip on power by making things less democratic (good thing nothing like that ever happens in the States, right?). Early on, we don’t know much about that, as three friends spray paint a cop’s face, causing him to drop his phone, which they then steal. The cop is corrupt, of course, and a poor dude who hangs out outside a school where one of the thieves teaches filmed him shaking down some people, so the cop stole his phone. The thieves sell the cop’s phone for parts and use the money to buy the poor dude a new phone. However, one of the thieves clones the phone first, discovering a big plot to kill the politician, so of course the shadowy conservative types behind the plot want it back. They send a dude who’s been around for 40 years doing horrible things in the name of totalitarianism after the young people, and things get dicey for our heroes. Luckily, they have the power of spray painting on their side!

What makes the book work is that the three people – Lis, Lu, and Leco – aren’t superheroes, and they’re not even good at fighting and such (one isn’t, for instance, taking martial arts which suddenly comes in handy). They use their brains and their tagging knowledge to communicate with each other and others so that the cops can’t quite catch up to them. When the evil old dude does grab one of them, torture works to a degree, because they’re not really skilled in resisting it (it doesn’t work completely, because they’re still heroes, but they’re also still human). Plus, because they’re not superheroes, the climax of the book doesn’t play out exactly how we think it’s going to – again, they have to use their brains, and they’re not able to thwart the bad guys all by themselves. It’s just a good, solid, fairly realistic story about how ordinary people can stand up to corruption without having any supernatural abilities. I appreciate that, because most of us don’t have supernatural abilities, I think.

This is a nice, solid comic, which isn’t a bad thing at all – if more comics were made competently, the world would be a better place! I just thought it interesting about Cruz (and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen his art since those mid-Nineties days, so I knew he had gotten better) and how first impressions shouldn’t always be last impressions. I’m so pithy, aren’t I?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

‘Roger Cruz is actually pretty good!’

The Rocketeer One-Shot by various creators. $4.99, 24 pgs, IDW.

It’s another anthology (like the DC ones above, in case you’ve forgotten!), and this is pretty good, mainly because it seems pretty easy to write a short Rocketeer story. He’s a doofus, Betty’s a hottie who’s smarter than he is, there are probably Nazis. All good! In this case, the draw is that Adam Hughes draws an actual story, eight pages and all, and it’s nice to see his art (the story is fine, too). Jae Lee draws a four-page story which is beautiful, as usual, if a bit slight (I mean, it’s four pages long). The middle story, which is by Kelvin Mao and Craig Cermak, is the story that feels like it’s leading to a new mini-series, as Cliff stops the bad guy but doesn’t get the head bad guy, and they know who each other are, so it’s possible they will meet again! This brings up something that bugs me about romance in comics, and fiction in general. As I noted above with Harley and Ivy, despite the fact that Ivy is a villain and Harley is insane, Ivy actually mentions how mismatched they are, and that kind of relationship never works out well except when writers force them together. Cliff and Betty, for instance, are a terrible couple, and it’s only because Stevens matched them up and subsequent writers don’t want to mess with that (which, I mean, fair enough – you’re playing in a very specific sandbox and everyone respects the dead owner) that it doesn’t change, but it just means that we’re always confronted with what a terrible couple they are. I mean, Cliff probably wouldn’t be a good match for anyone, because he’s far too childish, but he’s not with anyone else, he’s with Betty, and writers have gone out of their way to show that Betty is always trying to improve herself, either through learning or through culture (and writers never explore Betty’s deep insecurities about herself which probably stem from her looks being the only thing people care about with her, but at least she’s trying!), and Cliff not only isn’t interested in doing that, he’s not even that interested in supporting Betty in her endeavors. In this story, she wants him to attend a lecture with her, and he’s not only late (Rocketeer stuff, it’s implied, which she can forgive, I guess), but he falls asleep during it because he can’t even be bothered to try to care about what she cares about. Is this a good relationship? It is not. Cliff does this kind of stuff all the time, and because he’s … such a manly man, I guess?, Betty forgives him. It certainly helps that she often thinks about ditching him for dudes who turn out to be far, far worse, but Jeebus, Betty, have some self-respect. If Cliff isn’t at least making an attempt to be interested in what you like (again, he doesn’t have to like it himself, just support her!), then you should ditch him. But because Stevens and now everyone who writes The Rocketeer were invested in this “romance,” we get this forced love affair. Le sigh.

But hey, it’s still a pretty good book! That’s something!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Testify, Betty!
Also relevant!

She-Hulk volume 2: Jen of Hearts by Rainbow Rowell (writer), Luca Maresca (artist), Takeshi Miyazawa (artist), Rico Renzi (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

I didn’t love the first volume of Rowell’s She-Hulk, because if I wanted to read a Jack of Hearts comic, I’d read that, and if Rowell wanted to write one, she should have pitched it! It felt like Jen was a secondary character in her own book, and it was annoying. But it wasn’t a bad comic, just a frustrating one, so I thought I’d give volume 2 a try and see what’s what. Unfortunately, there’s still far too much Jack of Hearts, as it seems that Rowell wanted to write a “Jack of Hearts re-origin” story, as he’d been depowered along the way, and in this volume – spoilers! – he gets his powers back. It’s just weird, man. It’s frustrating because the parts with Jen doing Jen thing are pretty good – except for a few things. First, the good: she hangs out with Patsy Walker, yay! She defends a Doom-bot in court and wins, yay! Even the villains, two scientists who want to become Hulks, are pretty good (except for one thing I’ll get to). The non-Jack of Hearts parts are good, and there should be more of them. Except: there’s a brief scene where Kurt Wagner retains her services on behalf of … you fucking guessed it, FUCKING KRAKOA. Even in a random book like She-Hulk I can’t escape it!!!!! Luckily, it’s a brief scene, but still. Then, there’s an entire issue devoted to the villains’ origin story. Sigh. Look, they’re mad scientists, they want to be Hulks because they think they deserve it, their experiments go horribly wrong and they think Jen can “cure” them. We don’t need an entire issue to discover that, and they’re still horrible people after Rowell tries to humanize them, so what’s the point? Then, in issue #9, Jen goes John Byrne meta like she used to an speaks directly to the audience, and it’s really fucking weird. She’s … angry? … that we’re reading her comic? It’s very strange, and then we just move on back into the story. Is she mad because it’s been cancelled? I mean, don’t get mad at the people who are actually reading the book, if that’s true. I don’t know what the heck is going on (for what it’s worth, the volume ends with a “to be continued,” so I have no idea if it’s been cancelled), and it’s very off-putting. I’m … sorry? that I read Rainbow Rowell’s She-Hulk?

Anyway, this is the last thing I’m writing about this month, and it’s the 7th of June, and I feel bad enough about this being so late, so let’s move on!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I’d be down for that!

That’s amazing. I’m not even mad.

Stillwater volume 3: Border Crossing by Chip Zdarsky (writer), Ramón K. Perez (artist), Jason Loo (writer/artist), Andrew Wheeler (writer), Ethan Young (writer/artist), Soo Lee (artist), Mike Spicer (colorist), Dee Cunniffe (colorist), Rus Wooton (letterer), and Amanda LaFranco (editor). $19.99, 162 pgs, Image.

I wrote a bit about my thoughts about Zdarsky when I wrote about Batman #900 – mainly, that the instant he gets accolades or thinks he’s going to get accolades, his work suffers, but if he flies in under the radar, he can actually do some good things. I don’t know if that’s true – I don’t track comics media enough, so I don’t know what people are writing about his work – but something has to account for his wild swings in goodness, right? Stillwater is a weird case study, in that it has slowly gotten worse over the course of its run, until this final volume just doesn’t wrap up the story all that well, although it’s not terrible. This feels like Zdarsky had a good idea – there’s a town where no one ever dies! – and couldn’t quite make it work, so this last volume simply turns into a violent free-for-all, with lots of people getting shot and stabbed, but most of them not dying because they can’t. Zdarsky never quite gets to either the horror of the town where no one dies or the sadness that caused it (we do find out why it happened), and it makes the entire thing feel a bit too … I dunno, action movie-ish? I mean, Perez is a terrific artist, so the action is very good and he handles the large cast well and we get a good sense of the isolation of Stillwater and how that could play into the insanity some of the townspeople and we even get some of the sadness that Zdarsky’s script wants to contain but struggles with, because artists can do that better than writers sometimes, but overall, this is a disappointing series. I will rant more about “idea people” below, but a good idea isn’t enough. Zdarsky never really explained why so many people not only sign up for this (which is certainly understandable, the fear of death and aging being what it is), but are willing to turn into monsters to not only keep the secret, but expand the town’s influence. At some point, the citizens of Stillwater became monsters, and Zdarsky never really delves into that. Oh well. It’s a fairly well done action-adventure, but nothing more, despite Zdarsky’s pretensions to philosophical truths. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does feel like a missed opportunity.

I usually don’t take colorists to task for their choices, because colorists these days do a pretty good job, but Spicer makes a really weird choice throughout this book, and I have to comment on it and ask if it bugs anyone else. Here is how he colors ALL the blood in this comic:

ALL OF IT. Day or night, new blood or dried blood, it doesn’t matter. This is weird, right? It looks like someone is trying out a new flavor of Gatorade or something. Validate my opinion, please? It just looks bizarre, especially in a serious story. Maybe if this were a goofier story it would work, but man, it’s extremely distracting in a series as violent as this one. I mean, that dude is in pieces up there, and all I could think of was “What’s all the liquified bubble gum around his body?”

Anyway, this series started pretty well but ended a bit weakly. Too bad.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I’d say that’s gonna leave a mark, but it’s Stillwater, so …

20th Century Men by Deniz Camp (writer), Stipan Morian (artist), and Aditya Bidikar (letterer). $24.99, 244 pgs, Image.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll do it again, because it’s relevant: I buy a lot of comics, probably more than a lot of you reading this (if you’ve made it this far; thanks for reading!), and while I have hopes for them all, I know I can occasionally be a bit cynical about them, especially when I know I could write a better comic (I mean, it has to be pretty bad if I can do better!). Part of the reason I buy so many is that I just love the art form so very, very much, and part of it is that if I get more selective, I just might miss something great, which brings me to 20th Century Men, which is by a writer and artist I’m unfamiliar with (so I might have skipped it if I were being more selective) but which is absolutely fucking brilliant. I don’t know what it is about Russia/the Soviet Union/the Cold War, but in comics, it seems to bring out the best in writers, and Camp gives us an alternate history of the world in which the U.S. went to war with the U.S.S.R. in Afghanistan in 1987/1988. If you squint, you can see a Marvel comic written by Warren Ellis at his most cynical – there’s a super-soldier, there’s sort of a Hulk and an Iron Man – and Camp does wonderful things with those hoary old tropes. The book takes a bit to get going, as Camp throws a lot at us in the first issue, and the character of Azra, an Afghan native with a secret agenda, remains a bit too opaque (which is too bad, as she is a bit of a fulcrum on which a lot of the plot rests), but otherwise, this is an amazing piece of work (and perhaps I missed some things about Azra – the book is very dense). I don’t even want to get into the plot too much, because there’s so much going on I feel I won’t do it justice. Let’s just say the main character is that dude on the cover, a Russian equipped with battle armor who’s fighting in Afghanistan and trying to keep his soul intact. The American president also decides to intervene in Afghanistan, and all hell breaks loose. Camp touches on our own history, the Russian history of imperialism, the fractured democracy of the States (one ending of the book – there are a few, as Camp has to check in with a few characters – is amazingly cynical, as the president is an evil bastard, but at least he’s an idealistic evil bastard, and he comes up against other evil bastards who don’t even have that saving grace), the nature of paradise, the problems with Communism, the fog of war, the definition of the truth … it’s a lot. But Camp manages to do it all quite well, and while there’s a lot of horror in this book and not everyone comes out intact, there’s also some hope, and he balances those two poles well. The way he tells the story is superb, as well. Obviously, there’s a lot of back-and-forth in time, because that’s one thing comics does well, but in one issue, all the narration is provided by “written” sources of the war, from a reporter caught on the front lines to an actual “history” of the war. It’s brilliantly done, and it shows how people can view the same thing and take different conclusions from it very well. Meanwhile, Morian is excellent bringing this weird vision to life. Again, I don’t want to get too deep into it – he uses all sorts of interesting tricks to bring the plot to life, from thick, rough lines that make the war look more horrific, to a thin line and brightly colored confrontation between the president and the press, to some impressionistic double-page spreads of aching beauty or terrifying darkness. His design work is wonderful, as we get people who look beat up by the war standing by terrible monstrous creations of technology and science, with the humans straining to retain their humanity in the face of such fearsome weaponry. It’s an astonishing work of art, and it makes the story work all the better.

This is an incredible comic, and I can’t recommend it enough (despite that small reservation about Azra). It’s brutal and horrifying and hopeful and bleak and true. It can be depressing because it’s so much like our world, but it also offers a way forward that would be nice if people were only willing. We shall see. In the meantime, go get it. It’s really freakin’ good. This is why I buy a lot of comics, people!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s never a good thing to hear someone say

Where Monsters Lie #1-4 by Kyle Starks (writer), Piotr Kowalski (artist), Vladimir Popov (colorist), Joshua Eed (letterer), and Daniel Chabon (editor). $15.96, 80 pgs, Dark Horse.

Speaking of AI and “idea people,” I have another mini-rant about writing in comics, and it concerns Kyle Starks and those of his ilk. I’ve read some very good things from Starks, but I’m also convinced that he might have been engineered in a lab to be the perfect comic book writer. He has good ideas, but he can’t always turn those ideas into good stories because his writing is mediocre. However, he’s smart enough to hook up with good artists and he’s smart enough to let those artists do their thing, so his comics are generally enjoyable, if a bit generic and predictable. He doesn’t challenge his readers in any way, but he does produce pleasant entertainment. Does this sound like an AI writer?!?!?!? Is this the future?!?!?!?

Take Where Monsters Lie. Great idea: CHECK – a community for serial killers where they can live in anonymity and go out into the real world to kill, but which gets upset when one of them decides to kill on the premises, which brings the police to their door. Good artist: CHECK – Kowalski is, in fact, a good artist. Let the artist do their thing: CHECK – Starks tells Kowalski to draw a lot of ultra-violence, and Kowalski does it with aplomb. Entertaining: CHECK – this is a fun story. Unchallenging: CHECK – it’s also somewhat paint-by-numbers, with very mild twists that aren’t that surprising and an irony-filled ending that leaves you vaguely unsatisfied. So there – all the boxes are checked! Kyle Starks is obviously a perfect comic book writer!

I really don’t mean to sound cynical, especially after I wrote above that I’m not really cynical. I mean, Where Monsters Lie is perfectly fine entertainment, and people like to be entertained. His killers are stereotypes, but they’re meant to be stereotypes, and part of the fun of the book is when they’re not going around killing people, because they whine about the stereotypes associated with serial killers and say they want to break out of them, but they can’t. The idea of a community of serial killers, all with nice homes and gardens, goes a long way, and Starks doesn’t have to do too much heavy lifting to make it fun to read. His police are stupid, but police are always stupid in stories like this, and they can’t be faulted for Starks himself not being able to break out of the stereotypes of this kind of story. I never like killers who are almost supernatural, but that’s what you get, and at least in this book, they can be killed, it’s just very, very hard to do. I don’t know if Dark Horse only allowed Starks four issues to do this, so he had to get to the killing quickly, but the final three issues are almost all violence, and whatever interesting nuance the story had gets drowned in blood. Yes, it’s funny that the ventriloquist (who’s a woman) is underestimated by the cops and she’s able to kill a bunch of them, but it does get a bit boring after a while. Like a lot of comics in this month’s post, it’s frustrating because it feels like the writer went right to the lowest common denominator and camped out there, so the book is not bad but feels like it could be much better. Maybe I really am bitter and cynical. Dang.

Anyway, the art is nice. That’s something!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s what you get when you criticize Grandma’s hard candy!


The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts by Graham Robb. 387 pgs, 2013, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

The subtitle of this book is, as you can see, above the title, which might be because nerds might think this is a Tolkien book, but it ain’t! Robb means that the Celts thought of this world as the “middle,” between Heaven and Hell, so that’s where the title comes from. Take off, nerds!

This is a fascinating book, one that took me a bit to get into, as Robb meanders around a bit early on and goes a bit weird before settling down and getting into his thesis. He wanders through myth and acts kind of like those myths are real – I get that myths are often based on actual people and the stories about them become exaggerated into myth, but, I mean, Herakles wasn’t a real dude, come on! Robb writes a lot about Herakles walking across Europe from the extreme southwest point of Spain all the way to the Alps, which did not happen in the way Robb writes, and it’s just a weird way to get into the book. When he does, however, it becomes a really intriguing book. Robb looks at how pre-Roman Celts had figured out how to map their world and how the Romans probably used a lot of what they had done to construct their own roads, although he shows how they also tried to erase the Celtic presence, as well. It’s the reason, Robb argues, that we believe the Celts were “primitive,” because the Romans did such a good job erasing them (this is not a unique phenomenon in world history). What Robb looks at are solstice lines – he figures out that the Celts were able to track the sun at the summer and winter solstices and base their maps on that, and they also were able to determine latitude and longitude lines well, too. So many important Celtic places lie on these lines that Robb is convinced it’s not a coincidence (and he’s probably right). He writes a lot about the Druids, the educated class, and how they were able to figure this stuff out. He shows how this process extended across the English Channel to Britain and even to Ireland, where they needed to adjust the mapping because the solstice lines were a bit different, as the land is farther north, but it still works. He also points out that some ancient Greeks had traveled quite far from Greece and some people have believed it was fantasy, but he makes the case that it didn’t have to be. The Celts were far more advanced than most people realize, and while the Romans basically destroyed them, that doesn’t mean they weren’t advanced, just that the Romans had better armies. He uses this system to show why the Celts picked some of the battle sites for their fights against the Romans, sites that militarily might not make sense but make sense based on the lines on the map. It’s interesting.

Robb travels across Europe looking at the landscape and how it has changed over the millennia but how it would make sense that the Celts used these locales. It’s very impressive how so many sites line up and how you’re able to see the connectedness of Europe in pre-Roman days. The Celts couldn’t resist the Romans because they were far too divided and each tribe had its own identity and it was difficult to unite, but the Celtic culture, which encompassed all the tribes, was important to all of them. He looks at how the Romans used the Celtic culture to insinuate themselves into Gaul and even Britain and then wreck it all, and while he doesn’t exactly call it a tragedy, it’s clear he’s a bit bummed about it. It feels like Robb is onto something, and in the decade since this book came out, I wonder if others have picked up on it. It would be pretty keen.

Anyway, while the book is a bit hard to get into, Robb does make it worthwhile and his evidence is very compelling. His writing style does get more lively as he gets more into the history of the Celts rather than the myths, which is a bit weird because you’d think it would be the opposite. I don’t know – maybe I just like the history more! It’s pretty keen to read books by people who are trying to uncover more about societies that have vanished or didn’t leave much of a written record. Just because they didn’t write things down doesn’t mean they’re ignorant!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East by Eugene Rogan. 485 pgs, 2015, Basic Books.

Yes, I’ve read yet another book about the demise of the Ottoman Empire – I just dig the time period, man! Rogan does a fun thing – he actually reads Turkish sources, especially letters and diaries of the soldiers, to get a better picture of what it was like to fight for the Ottomans in World War I. Hey, how about that – using primary sources many others have ignored! Obviously, a good deal of this looks at the war from the perspective of the British, who were the ones primarily fighting the Turks, but he spends most of the time looking at how the Ottomans fought the war, and how close they were at several points to stabilizing the Middle East and, if not exactly winning, gaining a chance to keep the empire together. They fought much better than the British expected, not only at Gallipoli but in Mesopotamia as well, where the British ignored the Arab desire for more autonomy, if not independence, until after the Ottomans had embarrassed them and kept them from taking Baghdad. Rogan gets into the Armenian genocide and doesn’t call it anything but that, but he does provide the context for it, which might make it more horrific, actually, because the Turks’ reasons for it were so stupid and misguided (I mean, genocides tend to be completely irrational, but when you really dig into them, they become even more idiotic). He also points out that the sultan’s government was still intact at the end of the war, and had they come to terms with what Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) was trying to do to keep the country together, they probably could have saved more of the empire. But they treated him like an enemy, and therefore he dismembered the empire. As Rogan points out, it wasn’t the war that killed the Ottoman Empire, it was the peace.

Rogan has a nice writing style – he has a lot to get to and a lot of sources to plumb, and he does a good job keeping everything clear and he does well showing how so much was linked – a decision in the Caucasus could have repercussions in Cairo. Occasionally, he holds the reader’s hand a bit too much – he names people we’ve already met and gives us information about them that we already know as if it’s brand-new, when he could have easily written something just reminding us – but that doesn’t happen too often and, hey, maybe readers need to be reminded. He does a good job showing how conflicted the citizens of the empire were – many Armenians and Arabs knew that the Ottomans could be bad, but the European imperial powers could be worse, and they danced with the devil no matter who they turned to, and many thought it would be better to stay with their ancient frenemy because they felt that at least the Turks understood them. Thanks to Rogan’s perspective, we don’t just get T.E. Lawrence telling us that all the Arabs hated the Turks, and it makes the empire seem less malevolent (despite doing malevolent things like, I don’t know, killing a huge amount of Armenians non-combatants) simply because they had run a multi-ethnic empire for centuries and knew how to do it better than the British and the French. He doesn’t hammer this point too much, but it’s hinted at, and it makes the book a bit more interesting as a thought experiment. The death of the empire wasn’t a foregone conclusion, even after Germany bullied Turkey into the war (those mean Germans!), and Rogan does a good job implying the “what-ifs” of the situation.

Obviously, I like books about this empire and this time period, so this is like crack to me. But this is a good book about what the Ottomans were tying to do in the war, not just a book about what happened to the Turkish empire when the Allies got their hands on it. So that’s pretty keen.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Chronicles of Old New York: Exploring Manhattan’s Landmark Neighborhoods by James Roman. 259 pgs, 2010, Museyon, Inc.

I dig books like this, that are part history and part travelogue, and I like the idea of New York (I like the reality of it, but not as much as the idea), so the last time I was there, I saw this in a gift shop somewhere and picked it up. It’s pretty keen – Roman goes over the history of the city (well, Manhattan) from the American Revolution to today, but he also writes about the development of the city as an entity, focusing on the architecture and culture as the people moved up the island. There are a lot of maps showing where the landmarks were (and in most cases, are no longer), and he gives a good sense of the way the island was before men started leveling everything so they could build on it, a thing that actually kind of bums me out (it would have been keener if they had been able to build around some of the hills and swamps and whatnot on the island). There are also a lot of photographs and paintings showing the way life looked in different eras, which is also neat. Roman gives us the way neighborhoods developed, from SoHo and Greenwich Village to the Lower East Side and Harlem, and he delves into why some of those places were popular, then abandoned, and then (sometimes) rediscovered. It’s not a deep book, but it is broad, and the walking tours in the back are pretty nifty, and I hope I get to go on some of them someday (I don’t go to New York all that often, living here in the desert). It’s just a keen little book.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆


The Last Kingdom (Netflix). Alexander Dreymon, who plays Uhtred Ragnarsson or Uhtred of Babbenburg or, hilariously, Uhtred son of Uhtred (which is said a LOT in this series) was 32 when The Last Kingdom premiered in 2015 and just turned 40 in February, a few months before the series wrapped up with a 2-hour movie after five regular seasons. I say this because The Last Kingdom, which tells the story of how England was united under one king, takes place from the years 866 to 937 … and Dreymon, after a brief prologue where he’s played by a kid because the character is only ten years old or so in 866, plays Uhtred the entire time, and he’s in the show before Alfred becomes king in 871, meaning he miraculously never ages over about 67 years. Very impressive! Kings age and die, children grow up, but Uhtred (and, to be fair, his two boon companions – Mark Rowley and Arnas Fedaravičius, both of whom do good work and keep Uhtred from becoming too dour – who aren’t with him at the beginning but join him early on) never fucking ages. It’s HI-larious, and my wife and I had fun talking about it. I mean, the books on which the series is based, written by Bernard Cornwell, also feature Uhtred throughout, so it’s not like the makers of the show didn’t have a template, it’s just very funny that Uhtred fights in the battle of Brunanburh in 937 when the dude has to be pushing 80 (apprently he’s officially 81 when the show ends). They made them tough in the ninth century!

The show is quite good, though – you just have to suspend your disbelief the slightest bit. Dreymon speaks with an accent, which might hinder him in some projects but makes him sound more “historical” here, like he’s a Saxon who was raised as a Dane and has torn loyalties between the two. The cast is generally solid – Emily Cox is terrific as Brida, the first girl Uhtred loves and who becomes a hero to the Danes for her refusal to bow to the Saxons, which is almost as much as her trying to get revenge on Uhtred as it is patriotism; David Dawson brings nice gravitas to King Alfred, who wants to be pious but is also a very good politician, two things which do not mix very well; Ian Hart (Professor Quirrell!) plays a monk (who gets married, because you could do that back then) who baptized Uhtred (twice) and is his long-time friend and ally even though Uhtred never embraces Christianity; Eliza Butterworth does a nice job as Aelswith, Alfred’s queen, who is even more pious than he and doesn’t trust a pagan like Uhtred, although eventually she sees he’s an honorable dude; Uhtred’s second wife is played by Peri Baumeister, and she isn’t on the show that long but she keeps her husband balanced and adds a nice touch of lightness to a fairly dark series (she dies in childbirth, so that’s what you get for being light in this world!); Ruby Hartley does a nice job as Stiorra, Uhtred’s daughter, who also champions the Danes while she’s ruling in York; Millie Brady is Aethelflaed, Alfred’s daughter, who has to navigate a horrible marriage and eventually becomes ruler of Mercia (which the character did in real life); Eva Birthistle is Hild, a nun who learns how to fight and is, of course, the perfect woman for Uhtred … except she’s married to the church! It’s a huge cast and everyone does a solid job, and it’s keen to see the historical events (which the show tweaks a bit, but not too much) play out during a time when it was unclear whether England was going to be Germanic or … slightly more northern Germanic! I mean, if you know anything about English history, you know that not even a century after this show ends, a Danish king (Cnut) incorporated the entire kingdom into a Scandinavian empire, so it’s not like “England” was a reality even after the celebrated battle that ends the show, but it’s still very interesting to see how these kings and lords tried to unite the kingdoms (at the beginning of the show, Wessex is the “last kingdom” because the Danes have overrun Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia, but by the end of the show, the “last kingdom” is something else entirely) and the pagans and Christians without killing too many people (not because they weren’t willing to kill a lot of people, but it is hard winning battles). Uhtred, of course, represents England – he’s the son of the lord of Bebbanburg (today’s Bamburgh) in the far north, but after his father is killed, he’s taken in by a kindly Danish warrior and raised as his son. When he grows up, he wants to reclaim Bamburgh from his evil uncle, but he keeps getting drawn into the machinations of Alfred and then Edward and finally Aethelstan, the three kings who attempted to forge an England from the disparate Saxon and Danish kingdoms in Britain. Uhtred, of course, is the greatest warrior of his generation, and he’s smarter than most, so he fights bravely and wisely and superbly at battles from Edington (878), which saved Wessex for Alfred, to the aforementioned Brunanburh (937), which saved England for Aethelstan. Uhtred symbolizes everything the Wessex kings are trying to forge, so it’s not surprising that Cornwell and the television writers kept him around through this entire tumultuous time. The series looks great, too – everyone is dirty a lot, and while their teeth are far too nice, they do at least look like they live in a time that didn’t always practice great hygiene, and the sets have that shabby, post-Roman medieval feel that might not be completely true to life but feels like it is. The show got bloodier as it went along, as the creators decided that they really needed to lean into the brutality of pre-drone warfare, when swords could do a lot of horrific damage. It feels authentic, which is nifty.

The final movie is an example of getting too much of a good thing, as “series” 5 wrapped everything up pretty well, but I guess people were clamoring for more Uhtred, so we get the final movie, which is subtitled “Seven Kings Must Die.” It’s fine, but far too rushed – it covers 13 years in just under two hours – and several cast members do not return, which is too bad (plus, a lot of the characters we had grown to like over five seasons are dead, of course). Still, it’s not the worst way to end it. It doesn’t change the fact that the first five seasons are really good, and the movie isn’t terrible by any means, just not quite up to the quality of the regular seasons. If you watch this and want to end after five seasons, that’s not a bad place to end it. I like this because this time period is right in my wheelhouse, but it’s still a good show about a time period a lot of people don’t know much about. Give it a whirl!


Here’s the money I spent in May – I’m doing much better with spending, as you can see, but it’s still a bit high!

3 May: $137.93
10 May: $129.25
17 May: $156.93
24 May: $110.16
31 May: $157.00

Money spent in May: $691.27 (May 2022: $825.15; May 2021: $880.63)
YTD: $2549.92 (At this point in 2022: $4678.53; 2021: $3171.53)

Here’s the publishers and type of comic for the month:

Ahoy Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Conundrum Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Dark Horse: 7 (2 “classic” reprints, 1 single issue, 4 trade paperbacks)
DC: 7 (1 “classic” reprint, 6 single issues)
Epicenter Comics: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Fairsquare Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Fantagraphics: 1 (1 single issue)
First Second Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
High School Heroes Productions: 1 (1 graphic novel)
IDW: 3 (1 “classic” reprint, 1 single issue, 1 trade paperback)
Image: 8 (2 single issues, 6 trade paperbacks)
Living the Line: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Mad Cave Studio: 1 (1 single issue)
Magnetic Press: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Marvel: 4 (2 single issues, 2 trade paperbacks)
Oni Press: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Titan: 1 (1 graphic novel)
TwoMorrows Publishing: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Vault Comics: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)

This month, I got:

7 “classic” reprints (19)
5 graphic novels (19)
0 manga volumes (5)
14 single issues (51)
18 trade paperbacks (62)

Here we are, by publisher so far this year:

Abrams ComicArts: 1 (1 graphic novel)
AfterShock: 2 (2 single issues)
Ahoy Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
AWA: 3 (3 trade paperbacks)
Battle Quest Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Beacon Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Black Caravan: 2 (2 single issues)
Boom!: 5 (5 trade paperbacks)
Conundrum Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Dark Horse: 27 (5 “classic” reprints, 6 graphic novels, 11 single issues, 5 trade paperback)
DC: 17 (2 “classic” reprints, 12 single issues, 3 trade paperbacks)
Epicenter Comics: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Fairsquare Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Fantagraphics: 3 (1 “classic” reprint, 1 graphic novel, 1 single issue)
First Second Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Floating World Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
HarperCollins: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Helvetiq: 1 (1 graphic novel)
High School Heroes Productions: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Image: 33 (14 single issues, 19 trade paperbacks)
Lev Gleason: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Living the Line: 3 (3 graphic novels)
Mad Cave: 4 (1 graphic novel, 2 single issues, 1 trade paperback)
Marvel: 21 (1 “classic” reprint, 6 single issues, 14 trade paperbacks)
Oni: 3 (2 graphic novels, 1 trade paperback)
Penguin Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
PS Artbooks: 4 (4 “classic” reprints)
Rebellion/2000AD: 4 (3 “classic” reprints, 1 trade paperback)
Roaring Brook Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Silver Sprocket: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Titan Comics: 3 (1 graphic novel, 2 trade paperbacks)
Vault: 4 (4 trade paperbacks)
Viz Media: 5 (5 manga volumes)

As for “classic” reprints …

Epicenter has the second volume of Alvar Mayor by Carlos Trillo and Enrique Breccia, and it looks terrific. Dark Horse has the first five issues of Creepy magazine from the mid-1960s, and the creative line-up is superb, and they also have the first of their Richard Corben reprints, Murky World, which is one of his later stories so I’m not sure why they started with that. TwoMorrows has the “graphite” edition of Destroyer Duck, with just Kirby’s pencils, and it’s very keen. DC put out a big volume of Gotham Academy, and while I bought it for a while, I never finished it, so I decided to pick it up. Magnetic has the ninth volume of The Collected Toppi, and if they keep publishing them, I’ll probably keep buying them (I skipped one because it was basically a sketch book). Finally, IDW did a Spirit Artisan Edition, and it is sweet. Good stuff all around!


I saw an excerpt from Senator Josh Hawley’s new book on being a macho man, and I was going to post it in its entirety, but then I thought better of it, because I don’t want you to have to wade through the drivel. Suffice to say … Hawley has some issues. He should seek professional help, not write a book.

Moving on … TONGUES!!!! Are they sexy or a little creepy … or both?!?!?!?

Not all tongues alike





Piper Ally Plays the Duel of Fates on May 4th




I didn’t get political above, but I thought this was fun: the U.S. government in action:

I love when major league players make so many mistakes it turns into comedy gold, like on this play:

Here’s a reporter talking about the Stanley Cup stiff-arming a dude out of the picture. Look at the professionalism!


The beard keeps on bearding. Here’s the latest gif showing its progress. I forgot to take a photo on the first Sunday in May, so there are only three images. The one with me in the car is the oldest one in the sequence!

I know it’s the 8th, but I weighed myself on the 1st, and I was 255.5 pounds, which means I lost 3 pounds in May. That’s nice. I am trying to eat less, and I guess it’s working. So far this year, here’s my monthly weight gain/loss:

January: -2.1
February: +.1
March: -1
April: +.7
May: -3

So overall, I’ve lost 5.3 pounds this year so far. Not great, but it’s progress!

I went to my first con in quite some time (since 2017, I think) this past Saturday, when my daughter and I went to the Phoenix Fan Fusion (can’t call it a comics convention, because that’s too nerdy, man!). I didn’t take as many pictures as I wanted to, but I did get a sketch from Alan Davis, who was there with the Hero Initiative. I think you can guess what I had him draw!


For a moment my mind went to Psylocke, which would also have been awesome, but then I thought, “OF COURSE LOOKER!” He seemed a bit amused (or bemused?) about drawing Looker, and my daughter said she was worried when he asked for a reference, but I pointed out to her that he probably hasn’t drawn Looker in almost 40 years, so I didn’t mind finding a reference (that he drew, of course) on-line. I usually don’t do things like this, because even something like this was more spendy than I would like, but I figured, it’s for a good cause; Alan Davis is in his late 60s and I don’t know how often he goes to cons and I don’t go to cons that often, so what are the chances I’m going to see him again; IT’S FUCKING LOOKER!!!!!! You know you’re jealous!

Speaking of my daughter, in personal news, she graduated from high school on 26 May. Huzzah! We were very much not sure if she would make it, and we hadn’t really prepared for it, but her school administrator and her teachers figured out a way (I’m sure some finessing was involved, but I’m not questioning it!) to get her on her way. She can do very good work when she wants to, and I think they understood that it wasn’t comprehension that was holding her back, it was all her mental issues that often lead to physical issues. She got a path to graduation about a month before the actual date, and to her credit, she worked pretty hard that final month, because she realized that she could leave school behind forever and get rid of all the stress associated with it. We’re very proud of her – she’s dealt with a lot of shit over the past six years, and only some of it was her own making. I would hate to be a teen today, because it seems really, really terrible, but she got through, and we told her she has no pressure on her whatsoever – if she wants to sit on her ass for a year, we’re good with that. I mean, I would hope she’d work on her mental health, but I think just being out of school will help a little with that. Anyway, here she is in her cap and gown with my wife:

So that’s nice.

Man, this is a long post. As usual, I apologize for going on and on, but sometimes I have things on my mind! As always, I hope you enjoyed this, and if you’re in the mood to pick up a comic or, really, anything, use the link below and we will get a tiny percentage back to put into the blog! Everyone wins! Have a nice day!


  1. Eric van Schaik

    Man that’s a lengthy post.

    As usual only Savage Dragon and Miracle Man.
    Of all the comics only The Blue Flame, The Good Asian and 20th Century Men look interesting to me, but what do I know? 😉
    I’m still re-reading my Superman stuff. After a while they started to come back to earlier stories which begin to annoy me. Just some more and then the Death and Return stuff which was my jumping off point. I had a whole lot more but donated them to my kids school.

    We watched The Mandelorian (nice) and Andor (ok). As with Obi-Wan, you know that some people have to stay alive for the movie tie-ins. That’s make them a bit less than new stuff.

    6/16 Depeche Mode
    Now a duo, with a drummer and keyboard player during concerts, they were in excellent form. Even the new songs sounded great. They had a simple but heartwarming tribute to the late Andrew Fletcher.
    Shirt: HELL NO. They asked € 50 for a shirt and € 90 for a sweater. Are they out of there fucking minds? I want to support bands but this is way too much. End of mini rant.

    6/27 Mono and Gggolddd
    Gggolddd is a Dutch band and they blew me away. Most of the time support acts are way less than the main act but there mix of guitar and synth hit the right spots for me. I bought there latest CD right after they finished. It’s the fourth time in all those years that this happened.
    Mono is a Japanese Post-Rock band. Don’t expect a great stage show. It’s 2 guys on guitar mainly sitting, a female bass-player who moves a little and a drummer, who well just sits. 🙂
    I bought the latest CD because getting them from the US sucks. Not the country but post and taxes. 😉
    Shirt: no because they only had size XL and that’s too big for me with just 152 pounds 😉

    Random thoughts while reading your post:
    No, people don’t need big guns. They don’t need guns PERIOD. Even in Holland we hear too much of shootings in the US.

    Way to start a fire. Those guys look like the’re of a metal/rock band.

    DC Pride: it’s Pride season in Holland. Just last week there was a canal pride in my home town Utrecht. The only 1 that’s get covered in the US will be the Amsterdam Canal Pride I suppose.

    Great way to fool Nazis, but what about the fish? Comics are weird…

    Gene Simmons has a lot of love babies 😉

    Because of bagpipe lady I’m wearing my Fight For The Empire Star Wars shirt. Thanks Greg!

    Ted Cruz and most of the other politicians on the Right are crazy. Not just in the US but in Holland too.
    It’s too bad that it will (I fear) be between Biden and Trump. I don’t think that either of them is a good choice, but then again what do I know? I’m Dutch 🙂

    How much did you pay for the beautiful sketch? I’m jealous!!!

    Next tuesday I’ll have another job interview. It’s kind of the work I did so maybe I’ll get lucky this time. Being almost 60 doesn’t help when finding a new job. If I get it I’ll still have to look for more work because it’s just 16 hours and I worked 38 a week.

    Last month I had more kilometers riding on my bike than driving in my car. Yeah for me.

    1. Greg Burgas

      The fish is to slap any Nazi that gets too close! I mean, duh! 🙂

      I wish Biden would cede the floor to someone younger, but he’s still light years better than Trump!

      The sketch was … two hundred dollars. Yes, it’s a lot, but like I noted, I paid it to the Hero Initiative, so at least some of it goes to charity, and this is, I think, the first sketch/commission I’ve ever paid for, so I don’t feel bad about it. It’s Alan Davis drawing Looker!!!!

      Good luck on your interview!

      1. As the Lawyers Guns and Money blog said, age would be a valid issue in some circumstances but “old guy or a would be dictator” is not one of those circumstances.
        And Trump will end his second term older than Reagan when he left office.

  2. Peter

    “Kid, I’m the Joker. I don’t just randomly kill people. I kill people when it’s funny. What could concievingly be funny about killing you?” – I didn’t love the whole story, but that line from Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” succinctly summed up the problem I have with most Joker stories from the last, oh, 30ish years.

    I’ll have to dig into this long column later, but congrats to your daughter!

    1. Greg Burgas

      The Joker was so much more interesting when he didn’t kill everyone. I would have actually like this story if he hadn’t killed anyone, because he obviously did kill Claridge, but not killing anyone else would have shown us that he’s not just a psychopath. Alas.

      Thanks for the nice words!

  3. tomfitz1

    BURGAS: Holy CRAP!!! When you rant, you really RANT!!

    Does it feel good after you’ve vented your spleen and other organs? 🙂

    The only book I’ve read in your list is THE GOOD ASIAN, and I agree with you that it’s a good book. Wasn’t there a prequel to this one?

    Didn’t see THE LAST KINGDOM, but finally saw SQUID GAME. Holy s#!t !!! It’s practically a modern day version of GAME OF THRONES, but with a much higher body count and some really gut-wrenching scenes.

    Tongues? Well that’s novel. Reminds me of Sherilyn Fenn of TWIN PEAKS, who ate a cherry, and then twisted the stem into a knot with her tongue.

    Wondering if the blonde is related to Gene Simmons of KISS (more likely Shannon Tweed, but you know what I mean).

    1. Greg Burgas

      I don’t think there’s a prequel to The Good Asian. Maybe something with a similar name, but Pichetshote hasn’t written too much stuff, and his name makes him hard to miss, so I think I would have remembered a prequel. On the other hand, I’m old, so who knows?

      I still haven’t seen Squid Game, but it sounds … fun?

      I don’t think she’s related – I think she’s Czech or some other Eastern European nationality.

  4. “Now, everyone who isn’t a crazy person like Fraser” I feel so … seen.

    I tried reading Discovery of Middle-Earth. After about two chapters the author seemed to be pulling stuff out of his butt using the “what this legend really refers to is …” with no evidence to back him up. I stopped reading.

    Congrats to your daughter and best wishes for the next phase.

    1. Greg Burgas

      If you want to remain unseen, don’t have crazy opinions! 🙂

      I get you with the book, and I noted that a little bit – it took me a while to get into it. I hate abandoning books, though (I’ll do it, but I hate to), so I did stick with it, and the pulling-out-of-his-butt stuff did mostly stop and he did use a lot of actual evidence, but I agree, the early parts are a bit rough.

      Thanks for the kind words – we’re all just letting all the stress go right now, so we’ll see what’s coming up next!

  5. Der

    Man this is a long post, so I will skim it and will try to comment on something because if I don’t then I will not comment until monday or later

    – That “show don’t tell” sucks harder in comics. I’ve seen it in books too(where everyone tells you that someone is pretty cool or badass but you never see the character doing cool or badass things) I was just watching an anime that is decent but man, that inner monologue(I think it was in the manga too) is painful. We can see that you are tired dude because you ran several miles, you don’t have to think “damn, I’m so tired because I just ran several miles”

    -I’m going to assume that writers in marvel want to “push” their own characters as cool/great/edgy by telling you because they know that they don’t have 50 issues to develop a character in an organic way. I mean, if they don’t have the time to tell me all the cool things you want to tell me, maybe just do one cool thing?

    -I have a friend that came out like what, a year ago or something? Do you know what we talk about all the time? Hellboy. Pokemon. His family, mine family. You know, things that people talk about. His coming out is important to him and to me, but is not the only thing he wants to talk about, but what do I know, my sample is very small so maybe minorities want to talk about their minorities all the time? I mean, I could talk all day about tamales, but I that is because they are delicious not because mexicans are forced to talk about tamales. I do have other things to talk about too and all this talk maybe is really insensitive so I should stop now

    -Man, you do know how to rant, good show sir! Keep up with the eating gooder and congrats to your kid, I hope she gets less stressed now that the school is over

    1. Greg Burgas

      It’s so surprising to me that writers don’t know or ignore the “show, don’t tell” rule. It’s not that hard!

      That’s not a bad theory about Marvel writers. The comics industry is a harsh mistress!

      Tamales are delicious! 🙂

      Thanks – she’s a little less stressed now, but she’s still a teen girl, so who knows when she’ll be stress-free!

  6. in print fiction, I think “show but don’t tell” is overrated — I see so many successful books doing so much telling, I’m not sure most readers care very much. In comics, where you have visuals as well as words, it’s different of course.

    1. Greg Burgas

      My problem, as it is with a lot of “rules,” is that you have to know them and be good enough to know you’re breaking them and doing it well. So many writers, it seems, don’t know the rules and certainly aren’t good enough to break them. “Show, don’t tell” is, of course, not a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s a good guide, and even then, mediocre writers ignore it!

  7. I bought some of these! But they didn’t arrive in the mail yet.

    I had considered Blink and Wildfire, but passed on both. Maybe I need to go back for Blink. And I also passed on 20th Century Men, but I’ve heard nothing but rapturous praise, so I need to grab that when possible. And if I knew Katie West edited Final Girls, I may have picked it up.

    Recently I’ve been reading (almost) all of Mark Russell’s comics in chronological order. Some I’ve read before, some I haven’t, but I’ve bought nearly everything he’s written and had it sitting around. It’s been the most fun I’ve had with comics in a long time. Prez is brilliant, Snagglepuss is a masterpiece, I can’t believe DC published Lex Luthor/Porky Pig, Second Coming is terrific, Wonder Twins was great. Even throwaway comics like his Sinestro one-shot are filled with great ideas. He must be a Vonnegut fan, because there is a strong humanist streak in there, emanating from Kilgore Trout sci-fi plots. All of which is to say that My Bad vol. 1 is maybe my least-favorite thing with his name on it so far, but I pre-ordered vol. 2 and am still looking forward to it! And apparently Ahoy pays its creators decently and on time! So I’m happy to support them.

    TV-wise I’ve watched a lot of nerdy stuff recently. I made it through five of the original Star Trek movies before they disappeared from Max, and as is my wont I thought everyone’s least favorites, the first and fifth, were the best. I need to track down the director’s cut of #6 before I can watch it, though. I also jumped into watching Strange New Worlds, as Paramount Plus put up the first season for free (I think it’s also on YouTube as of this writing). It’s solid, but it’s no The Orville (yet)!

    Also, Superman & Lois continues to be must-watch appointment nerd TV. Happy to hear it’s coming back for another season.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Did you skip The Flintstones, or did you just not mention it? That’s his masterpiece, sir! Did you get these in trades, because if a second volume of Wonder Twins came out, I’d like to get it, because I did not!

      You must have missed my post on the Star Trek movies, because I too think the first is probably the best one. But I’m not a big Trek fan, so maybe I’m just crazy!

      1. Ooo, yeah, I’ll definitely hunt up your Star Trek post. I’m something of a Trek newbie, and my opinions seem to be the opposite of whatever the die-hard Trek fans think. (I liked Into Darkness. I was the one!)

        I did read The Flintstones, and it’s good, but sandwiched between Prez and Snagglepuss I think it suffers a bit in comparison. It does heavily tie into the recurring themes throughout Russell’s work– how capitalism and society have failed us, how religion has been corrupted, etc. The plight of the animal appliances was maybe my favorite thread, but I was hoping it would lead to them revolting or going on strike, etc. I will surely revisit it one day. I know you’re a Pugh fan!

        The stuff DC published with these Hanna Barbera properties is wild. I still need to track down more of those– some of the DC crossovers, Future Quest Presents v2, and Garth Ennis’ Dastardly & Muttley especially.

        There were two trades for Wonder Twins– 12 issues total. Volume 2 is marked way down on Instocktrades.com right now!

        1. Greg Burgas

          Here’s my Trek post – I still don’t love #5, but it’s better than Search for Spock!

          I liked The Flintstones a lot more than Snagglepuss. That was fine, but I think it didn’t hit as well as The Flintstones. But, you know, that’s why we have our own brains!

          Don’t forget Wacky Raceland in that Hanna-Barbera thing. What a … wacky comic that was!

          I wonder (ha! I crack myself up) why I missed that second Wonder Twins trade. I’ll have to pick it up.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.