Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Month of Wednesdays: February 2019


Archie #702 (Archie Comics) It's disappointing to see that artist Marguerite Sauvage seems to be on the way out already, as her presence on the title alongside writer Nick Spencer was a large part of the reason that I decided to keep reading Archie in singles rather than switching to trade when it last relaunched/resumed the previous numbering conventions. This is only the third issue in, and she seems to have only drawn the cover and the first four pages.

Luckily, Sandy Jarrell draws the remaining 16 pages, and Jarrell is also a pretty great artist, especially skilled at the drawing of pretty girls (click here, if you don't believe; he also does great Golden Age DC heroes). He also seems to be following Sauvage's lead and making every guy in Riverdale a total hunk. It was surprising enough to see Jughead looking hunky, but in this issue, Dilton Doiley briefly enters the narrative, and even he's dreamy now!

Matt Herms, who colors the Jarrell-drawn pages, matches the colors on Sauvage's pages so well that the art blends pretty perfectly. Before writing this, I actually had to go back and count the pages to see when Jarrell took over, because the transition was somewhat subtle when I originally read the comic. (Although the credit page says who drew which page, I see now; I skipped that page the first, um, two times I read the book, I guess.)

As for Spencer's story, Jughead continues his investigation into what's up with the Mantles, the police continue their investigation into Jughead and the Mantles and Betty and Veronica continue their investigation into who on Earth Archie might actually be dating. They never suspect Sabrina, but do inadvertently discover a very unexpected infidelity (Hopefully that's not the end of that plot point, though, as it seems to be a rather big deal, even if it's not apparently tied to the main story line).

Black Lightning: Brick City Blues (DC Comics) I don't keep up with superhero TV shows--I have a hard enough time keeping up with superhero comics and superhero movies--but I do appreciate their existence, as they seem to exert a great deal of influence on what comics the superhero publishers decide to collect into trade paperback. This is a perfect example. I'm not sure what the chances would have been of DC collecting the short-lived, 13-issue 1995-1996 Black Lightning series if the Black Lightning TV show weren't a thing, but I'm sure that the show's existence was a pretty big factor.

The series launched with the character's co-creator Tony Isabella writing and Eddy Newell drawing, but their run lasted just eight of the 13 issues; with issue #9, David DeVries took over as writer (co-writing that issue with Lane Shiro, then going solo for the remaining four issues) and the art started to get messier and messier, as more and more artists got involved. Newell was still drawing parts of many of those issues, but by this point, the unified look and feel of the book that Newell's early issues established was lost.

Despite some affection for the character, I sat this series out. The only issues of the series I had previously read were the first and fifth, which I had snagged from back-issue bins, attracted by Newell's striking covers (his cover for the first issue was recolored and then re-purposed for the collection cover above; the fifth one is below). Re-reading it in 2019, I rather regret not reading it previously.
Isabella's foreword, "Black Lightning Strikes Twice," reveals that the setting of the book was Cleveland, Ohio, which, for about 30-ish of my 40-ish years was the nearest big city. Had I known that the book was set in Cleveland, I definitely would have checked it out back in the day (Isabella and Newell, by the way, are also both from Ohio). The official setting was a place called Brick City, which I always assumed was just one of those fake cities of the DC Universe, like Gotham, Metropolis, Vanity and so on. But I guess that was the nickname for a neighborhood in Cleveland; throughout his run, Isabella differentiated "The Brick City" from "The Big City," meaning the economically impoverished inner city where Black Lightning and all the drug gangs he fought lived, and the downtown area, where the mayor and the powerful folks lived in.

I guess there were clues throughout. There's mention of a lake, and Brick City being a midwestern town free from costumed heroes and supervillains, and late in the book there's mention of a fancy club for rich and powerful men; it's called The Buckeye Club. I understand the appeal of "fake" cities in superhero narratives, both as a reader and as a writer, but I think I'd recommend to any and all future writers that they just go ahead and use real cities. It certainly helps sell certain comics, or at least generate general interest stories in local media and/or on social media. I still get excited when I see a Columbus location show up in a comic book, like Civil War II or in that JSA book where Geoff Johns had super-Nazis attack a park in Franklin County. Didn't the Internet tell me somewhere that the "Art" sign at the Columbus College of Art and Design was destroyed in a super-comic recently...? Maybe a Bendis-written Superman book...?

Speaking of Bendis, now I really, really, reeeaaaalllllly want DC to launch a new Black Lightning comic, with Bendis, one of Cleveland's most famous comic book writers (even though he has since moved to the Pacific Northwest) writing it. I'd settle for Bryan K. Vaughan, but Bendis seems like an easier "get," since he's already writing for DC Comics, and can apparently handle anywhere between three and a dozen books a month.

Anyway, I'm way off topic, aren't I...?

Newell's work on this series is quite incredible, and really makes the book. He has a very distinct, realistic, line-filled style that gives a real weight, texture and grit to what he draws. It's perfect for the brick walls, concrete streets and rough fabrics of the world created in these pages. As Isabella notes in his foreword, Newell excels at drawing different characters as different people, rather than resorting to stock "types" of characters--I honestly don't think any two characters look a like in his pages--and the result is a superhero comic that feels more real and lived-in than most, even once you take into account the fact that the lead character generates a field of electricity around him.

And Newell's version of that character is probably the best version; at least the best since Tevor Von Eeden and company were drawing him during his original comic, but that character's costume was...well, it sure didn't age well, did it...?

Newell's Black Lightning doesn't wear a mask attached to an afro wig and disco-looking superhero duds, nor does he wear body paint-tight spandex and goggles spirit-gummed to his face. Rather, he costume is basically a big, leather jacket with a lightning motif, pants, boots and a belt. Aside from the jacket design, it looks like something you could buy off the rack, and wouldn't need a super-butler with an unlimited budget to put together for you.

I was a little surprised by the presence of the red in the costume, honestly, as blue has been has been the traditional Black Lightning color for all but this period in the character's history--usually mixed with white, yellow and black in varying degrees and places--but it works really well. It certainly signaled a break with the "old" Black Lightning and, now, differentiates him from the later Black Lightnings. I particularly appreciated the fact that a black lightning bolt is so prominently featured in the costume. That is one of the weird bugaboos about Black Lightning that has bothered me endlessly (the other is the color of the electricity he generates; as I've said before, I really think that at this point it should either be colored black, retroactively justifying his name now that we're so far away from the 1970s, or at least purplish, like the color generated by a black light).

He doesn't wear a mask, but he doesn't need too. As Newell draws him, his eyes are always illuminated by electricity, giving him a sort of built-in energy mask. He also usually has a visible halo of electricity crackling around him, which one imagines would further disguise him if one were to look at him "in comic"; it's also just a really cool visual effect, and one that explains things like how he can take bullets or stop a speeding car that runs into him. I like that this Black Lightning doesn't just shoot lightning bolts out of his fingers, but is constantly generating electricity.

Isabella's storytelling is pretty strong here, and I was hooked on this a lot faster than I was on the recent Cold Dead Hands miniseries, which I only read the first issue of, but plan to try again in trade after having read this trade. He has Jefferson Pierce come to the Brick City and start working as a teacher in an inner city school plagued with gang problems (you know, like in the movies), while fighting street-level crime with threats, fists and electricity.

Isabella immediately establishes a wide supporting cast, including a sympathetic police detective, a practically omniscient informant, a corrupt mayor (oh, I guess that's a reason not to use real cities in your comics...!), a new love interest, Jefferson's ex-wife, a good kid mixed up in gang trouble who crosses paths with both Black Lightning and Jefferson Pierce and a charismatic gang leader with a terrible haircut, that is still noteworthy for its thematic terribleness.

The first half of the Isabella/Newell run is devoted to introducing all of these characters and their various conflicts, as Black Lightning inserts himself in a gang war and witnesses the price of drug and gun violence way too closely for comfort; this arc climaxes with the fifth issue, "Requiem," in which Jefferson Pierce recovers from his wounds in a hospital...and Newell switches back and forth from black and white art to colored art. Newell's work looks amazing in black and white (After reading this and spending some time on his Facebook page, I started wishing DC would have him do a black-and-white Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. Because of course whenever I think of black-and-white art, I think of the TMNT).

After that, there are three issues or so devoted to a gang summit in the Brick City, lead by a reformed gang-leader that Metropolis vigilante Gangbuster wants to kill, leading to the usual justice vs. vengeance conflict between vigilantes (this story features a couple of shape-shifters in it near the climax, making it a more superhero-y than the previous arc, which did have a metahuman enforcer hired by one of the gangs, but, like Black Lightning, his powers were relatively low-level in the world of DC superheroes).

After Isabella leaves, DeVries keeps the cast, most of the sub-plots and new characters, and the street-level focus. In addition to fighting gang violence, Black Lightning faces a serial killer who preys on prostitutes named "Sick Nick" while he himself is pursued by the police for crimes he didn't commit. In the final issue, which ties up most of the remaining loose ends, Batman shows up to basically cheerlead for Jefferson. A holiday special by Isabella and Newell, told all in black and white, finishes up the collection.

All in all, it was a pretty satisfying read, and one I fairly flew through. The character is currently appearing in the new latest version of Batman and The Outsiders, and I do hope the creators take in this trade paperback collection for a fine template for how to depict Black Lightning. And if he gets his own book again any time soon, I hope Newell's drawing it, and Jeff wears this costume, or something similar.

Dinosaucers: Vol. 1: Reptilon (Lion Forge) This trade paperback collects the five-issue series that launched in August of last year--the first issue of which I discussed at some length in this post, if you're interested--rebooting the characters and concept of the 1987 cartoon series for a new, "PG-13" take. At least, that was what creator, original cartoon series producer and writer of this series Michael Uslan says he was going for in his prose introduction, which ran in the first issue and is re-run here.

I had read the first two of these in singles before losing track of the series--that's easy to do with Lion Forge comics, I've found. Like, I'm not even sure if this was meant to be a miniseries or an ongoing; if the former, it's certainly open-ended and intended to produce a sequel. Read in one sitting, there's a rushed, not-quite-there feel to the book. While Uslan writes all five issues, the art gets pretty inconsistent about halfway through. Andrew Pepoy, who is credited as "illustrator," is the primary artist, but by the third issue pencillers Javier Saltares, Gordon Purcell and "Moy R" show up, as do three inkers, in addition to  Moy R, who is also credited as an inker. There's even a different letterer for the third issue than for the other four issues.

Normally, such credits would suggest an unforseen time crunch, and a need to beat the deadline in order to get a particular issue published by a particular point, but ideally such crunches shouldn't occur almost immediately into the run of a new comic. Dinosaucers fans waited over 20 years for a Dinosaucers comic; surely they could have waited a few more months until Lion Forge and the creators had all their duckbills in a row in order to get each issue out on time and in a consistent style.

This early in a run, consistent art and design is pretty much imperative, especially here, where the cast is quite large and visually unusual; not only are all of the characters radically redesigned from their appearance in the cartoon, but they are now more human-like than dinosaurian, and their designs are more up-to-date with paleontologist's views of what dinosaurs probably looked like. So more proto-feathers, then. Beyond the inconsistency of the look of the later chapters with the first ones, the action at the climax lacks clarity. The Tyrannos are somewhat easily defeated after being goaded into a conflict, and the manner in which they are defeated revolves around an element of their suits, which isn't clear in the way their suits are drawn or in the action supposedly showing the manipulation of them.

The basic Dinosaucers concept is intact, and the mixture of aliens and dinosaurs is just as engaging as it ever was. The emphasis on climate change as an apocalyptic threat that has doomed the Dinosaucers' home planet of Reptilon and now threatens Earth with the same fate is noble, and pretty effectively communicated while tied to dinosaur-humans as symbols of extinction.

It's really just the execution that is wanting.

I'd read a second volume, though, and the set-up for such a potential secondvolume is intriguing, offering something that I don't think was ever really shown on the show. Or, if it was, I don't remember it, but then, as I mentioned in my review of the first issue, Dinosaucers wasn't a show I watched regularly, which was part of the reason I found it so appealing.

Go-Bots #4 (IDW Publishing) With last issue's last-page reveal of its setting--you read it, right? Because I'm going to reveal it here, which might spoil it--the four human astronauts aboard Go-Bot space shuttle Spay-C begin to explore the post-apocalyptic Earth alongside their new allies, Turbo and Scooter. We see "modern" humanity, which is in the same state it is in during the original Planet of the Apes movie (to which Go-Bots owes some of the structure of last issue, at least in terms of its reveal), and various players from the first issues interact with one another and a "new" form of Go-Bots, the Rock Lords.

There's some powerful imagery in here, as when Cy-Kill picks up a handful of naked in humans in his huge metal hands and tries to force them to transform and combine into a bigger, gestalt form--it's a giant, evil toy playing with humanity in the same way a human child might have played with a Go-bot, and it's scary stuff. If anything, this series has made Cy-Kill seem some hundred thousand times scarier than Megatron has ever been.

There's some strange mysticism that echoes that in Tom Scioli's own Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe, as Leader-1 has visions, including a revelation of a combining, gestalt Go-Bot, a mythical "laser lance" weapon capable of killing the Renegads' monstrous, wheeled dragon Zod and a climactic battle in which the "dragon" is slain by our hero, who loses his life in the process.

Leader-1 isn't the only one to die--or "die"--here. Spay-C doesn't survive the issue, either, and Turbo refers to him as, well, him rather than her. I could have sworn Spay-C was a female Go-Bot, but man, it's been a long time since I've watched and forgotten Challenge of The Go-Bots, and I don't want to re-subject myself to it again any time soon (I'm currently struggling with The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, in order to better appreciate the latest original Scooby-Doo movie, The Curse of the 13th Ghost, and it is rough going). Also, Spay-C's size seems quite flexible, as does that of several of the other Go-Bots (Like, scooters and motorcycles are significantly smaller than race cars, jet planes and helicopters, but, in their robot forms, everyone is generally the same size here; last issue, Spay-C fit all four astronauts in his/her body, but here she/he is only about ten times as big as one of them).

As with the first three issues of the series, Go-Bots #4 is pretty insane...and insanely good.

Justice League #17 (DC) Scott Snyder returns to full writing and scripting duties after an arc co-written with James Tynion IV, and the series' occasional artist Jim Cheung draws an entire issue, after an arc in which he drew just a couple of pages per issue (Walden Wong and Mark Morales assist Cheung on inks). This is a quieter, done-in-one issue with a very limited cast. It is essentially just Martian Manhunter and Lex Luthor (and special guest-star Jarro), with other Leaguers and Legionnaires only appearing on the penultimate page.

Exploring plot points raised in the previous arc, this issue finds Luthor visiting J'onn on Mars, where the latter tries to explain the time when their childhoods overlapped, something that both of them had wiped from their memories in different ways, and which J'onn just learned of. They also deal with some hostile local martian fauna, which whoever writes the dumb cover blurbs was super-excited about. That gives them something action-y to do between conversation and flashbacks, but it certainly isn't the focus of the issue that it is made out to be.

As per usual, Snyder crafts a pretty great story, weaving invented Martian cultural elements into the story in such a way to provide it a structure and make the emotional beats feel more effective.

I remain a little confused about how J'onn's powers are meant to work now. Luthor seems to block his ability to telepathically enter his mind via technology in this issue, but that also renders J'onn powerless, although it's not explained why or how. My guess is that Snyder is implying that J'onn's powers are all tied into his psychic abilities, and that therefore by blocking that, J'onn can no longer control his many other abilities, like super-strength, flight, his density, Martian vision, et cetera. I'm just no-prizing here, and it seems to be a break from what's come before.

Of course, this never-previously-revealed meeting between the two characters when they were children also upends what we might think of as J'onn's history, as post-Crisis/pre-Flashpoint, the Chase and Martian Manhunter series showed us a J'onn who was active on earth in different identities before baby Kal-El arrived on Earth in his baby rocket, fighting crime as The Bronze Wraith with the Justice Experience, teaming up with Hal Jordan's Green Lantern Corps predecessor Abin Sur, and watching over Clark Kent as his Kryptonian powers began to emerge (in fact, that last bit was just referenced in a typically allusion-buttressed Steve Orlando contribution to DC's Nuclear Winter Special, although that was meant to be a story within a story, and is therefore probably ranked below Justice League in terms of authority). In other words, J'onn should be much, much, much older than Lex Luthor. Or, at least, he was prior to Flashpoint; now anything goes.

I liked the manner in which J'onn carried Jarro in this story. But then, I'm rather enamored of all things Jarro.

Justice League #18 (DC) And back to Tynion for yet another "Legion of Doom" issue, this one drawn by Pasqual Ferry. This chapter, labeled within as "Part 4" of the "Legion" arc, examines the latest iteration of the Brainiac-Lex Luthor team-up, with the alien almost immediately betraying Luthor as soon as the two are sharing head-space, beneath the watchful but oblivious eyes of Gorilla Grodd, Sinestro and The Cheetah. Luthor attempts to convince Brainiac just how much he needs him, and the two of them essentially Ghost of Christmas Past through the entire history of "the doorknob", which includes hundreds of thousands of years of Vandal Savage' care of and study of it, often through intermediaries, the final one of which is Luthor's own father.

The sequence leads to cameo appearances by lots of DC characters, like Arion, George Perez's design of Ares, Morgan La Faye (and Jason Blood, I think?), Ra's al Ghul, The Ultra-Humanite and The Turtle.

There's also a panel in which Lionel Luthor appears to be dissecting a rather large White martian, and there's a gorilla just kinda hanging out in the room with him, apparently acting as a high-tech lab assistant of some kind. I don't know who this gorilla is supposed to be, but it's definitely not Grodd--we've already seen him and Ferry draws this gorilla quite differently. Any guesses as to who this gorilla is supposed to be? Or is it just some random gorilla we've never met, which, if so, would be kind of lame and kind of awesome at the same time. I do love the fact that this DC comic has not one, not two, but three super-gorillas in it by the twelfth page.

The other bit I like is that Ferry dresses The Cheetah, who is usually completely naked, adopts some kind of futuristic white lab coat, since she's doing some science stuff to support the Brainiac/Luthor mind-meld. After all, if she weren't wearing a lab coat, how would we even know she was doing science...?
Anyway, someone get back to me on Lionel Luthor's lab assistant gorilla, huh...?

Man-Eaters Vol. 1 (Image Comics) I knew issue #4 of this series was coming, because even though I was trade-waiting it, my friend Meredith was reading it serially, so I had already flipped-through and got annoyed by that issue long before I had read a single page of the series. Even still, it caught me off guard while reading the collection and pissed me off all over again.

Man-Eaters is the new collaboration by prose author Chelsea Cain and artist Kate Niemczyk, the creative team responsible for Marvel's short-lived Mockingbird which, for a few months anyway, was either Marvel's best comic or one of their best comics. It's hard not to read this and not at least suspect it of being a reaction to Internet trolls' months-long freak out regarding Mockingbird, which, as far as I remember, mostly centered around the protagonist wearing a t shirt with a feminist slogan* on one cover, but it's quite possible I missed any of the outrage regarding previous issues--assholes on Twitter tend to get pissed off about weird things, like women writing comics, women drawing comics and female characters starring in comics.

After all, the very first panels feature the teenage protagonist playing with a couple of tampons, imagining one as a villain named Mr. Misogyny, and the other as a superhero named Tampon Woman. The premise is that a mutant form of Toxoplasmosis has, for mysterious reasons, started transforming menstruating adolescent women into killer were-cat monsters. To combat the threat, the government started putting hormones in the water supply that stops menstruation...and thus stops adolescent girls from turning into killer cats. To keep young men free of all those lady hormones, they have their own special water supply (I'm not quite sure how they allow for human reproduction in this scenario, but there's only been three story issues so far, and it hasn't come up yet).

But because that system isn't perfect, there are still Strategic Cat Apprehension Teams, which of course acronyms into--sigh--"S.C.A.T." The back cover announces the series as "part Cat People, part The Handmaid's Tale, and all feminist agenda." That is certainly a promising ambition, but I suppose it's worth noting that some of the parody is as broad as the acronym gag, applying a clown hammer where a razor blade might have been better.

It is sharp though. Cain grabs parallel threads by the handful--girls' fears of their own changing bodies as they enter womanhood, men's insecurities about women's bodies in general and menses and puberty in particular, feminimity as power rather than weakness, the separate and rarely equal way girls and boys are treated in school, the cultural association between women and cats from time immemorial right up until now-President Donald Trump's Access Hollywood tape--and weaves them into a compelling tapestry. The first three issues of Man-Eaters is smart, potent world-building, and the beginning of what could be a great story.

But we'll have to wait a trade before it really gets going, I guess. The first three issues are sprinkled with faux PSAs and ads that further the world-building, like those for Estro Pure bottled water "for boys," or Estro Clean, "The anti-estrogen spray specially designed to protect what matters most: BOYS!" Using what appears to be stock photos and public domain advertising imagery as raw material, these can be pretty funny as well as adding some texture. But if they work in small doses, the fourth issue proves they don't work so hot in gigantic doses.

After three issues of world-building and the introduction of our protagonist, a 12-year-old girl on the verge of becoming a woman and/or killer cat monster whose divorced parents are a homicide detective and a member of the local S.C.A.T., the fourth issue is just fake ads and fluffy fake articles. Sold as a comic book, it's really just a 27-page impression of Cat Fight, a magazine from the world of Man-Eaters. Some of the contents are amusing, but none of them are comics, and the gag magazine concept isn't strong enough to, like, exist on its own.

Like I said, I knew this was coming, and I was still taken aback by how soon it arrived in the trade--that is, just as Cain's story seemed to really be getting started--and how long it was. This a $12.99 trade paperback containing just 58 pages of comics. That's...not a great value. Which is unfortunate, because what little story there is in this volume certainly appears to be valuable.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic #4 (Dark Horse Comics) This issue is very much more of the same, which isn't a phrase one generally uses when giving a compliment, I know, but it's probably the most accurate assessment. With the somewhat weird rules of the TV show-that-riffs-on-movies-here-presented-as-a-comic book-that-riffs-on-other-comics clearly established, and the three lead characters all embedded in their comics-within-the-comic, this issue mostly just keeps on keeping on. There's a new Black Cat story featuring Jonah (and plenty of unfortunate Asian stereotypes), another Crow-as-horror host in a story from the pages of Horrific and a quick peek in on Tom Servo, Teen Reporter, which has gone off the rails in a weird way that seems to be significant to the overall storyline, as the other robots--Gypsy, Growler and M. Waverly--are seen just kinda hanging out with the mother character from that narrative. Kinga tries to spice things up with a Totino's Pizza Rolls tornado.


Amazing Spider-Man By Nick Spencer Vol. 1: Back To Basics (Marvel Entertainment) I wonder if writers like Nick Spencer ever feel shitty about the way Marvel sells the books they work on? That title above doesn't appear on the cover or spine, but is the "official" title from the fine print, the way in which one can differentiate this Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 from all the other Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1s, since numbers don't mean anything any more. Still, that title diminishes the work of his co-creator Ryan Ottley (not to mention Cliff Rathburn, Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Laura Martin and others), and implies that Spencer made this book all by himself (I know it's been many months since the whole writing vs. drawing thing was a topic of conversation on comics twitter, but I'm firmly on Team Drawing Is A Million Times Fucking Harder. Granted, the only comics I've ever made were mini-comics I self-published, but I can write a terrible comic book in a weekend--hell, probably in a single sitting, if I tried to--but it can take months for me to draw a terrible comic book).

I guess the titling does reflect the reality that Marvel publishes certain books too fast for almost any modern comics artist to keep up with, and thus while Spencer does write every bit of the comics contained within these pages, Ottley doesn't pencil and/or ink them all; Humberto Ramos and Victor Olazaba pencil and ink a portion of the first issue of the new ASM book, which this trade collects the first five issues of (plus the Spider-Man story from Free Comic Book Day Special 2018 as a sort of prologue).

It's still unfortunate.

Anyway, this comic book is pretty great. I'm not exactly a Spider-Man fan, nor a reader--I tried keeping up for a while, but the "One More Day" nonsense reboot left a bad taste in my mouth, and then Marvel jacked-up the prices, and then I fell so far behind so fast that I felt too lost to even attempt to catch back up. For example, the inside front and back covers of this volume suggest 14 trade paperback collections to read before this one, including two each of Vols. 1-5. This book, with a new creative team and a new start and a promising sub-title, seemed like a good place to check back in.

And it mostly is.

The chaos of recent-ish Spider-Man continuity isn't ignored. In fact, some of it is foregrounded by Spencer, as certain events propel those in this volume--like, for example, the fact that Peter Parker is stripped of a job and a degree when a paper he wrote was discovered to be plagiarized (At the time, Otto Octavius' mind was occupying his body, but hell, try explaining that without revealing your secret identity!). Even still, in the best superhero comic tradition, Spencer manages to build on past comics without being completely dependent on them, or insisting that readers know them inside and out.

So Peter Parker is at another low-point, as his existence as the lead in a popular superhero serial narrative mandates he keeps returning to, with no job, no girlfriend, nowhere to live, and with everyone in his life suspicious of him--this includes not only the entire superhero community, who all appear to fight off an alien invasion at one point, and even good old Aunt May.

Spencer has Spidey slowly putting his life back together, but in ways that introduce a new status quo with new story possibilities, although much of that which is "new" is simply setting up new encounters with old characters and old conflicts (Mysterio, Kingpin and The Lizard play substantial roles in these comics; The Rhino and Kraven put in cameos, as do quite a few minor Spider-Man villains). By the end of the first volume, Peter's living with two roommates, Randy Robertson (son of the Bugle's Cliff Robertson) and Fred Myers, the secret identity of The Boomerang (who was the star of Spencer and Steve Lieber's awesome and under-appreciated The Superior Foes of Spider-Man; the Beetle also appears briefly, and Spencer favorites Taskmaster and Black Ant also put in appearances).

He's considering taking classes with Doctor Curt Connors, which would allow him to get his lost degree back fair and square. And--good news!--he and MJ get back together, so hopefully we can semi-pretend "One More Day"/"Brand New Day" never really happened.

Spencer is pretty much a perfect writer for a Spider-Man ongoing, as he is quite adept at balancing humorous superhero writing with serious superhero writing, and that's basically Spider-Man's whole schtick. This isn't an out-and-out comedy comic, and it's not a serious one played completely straight either, but it almost immediately finds a perfect balance, so that the mode is mostly serious, but filled with characters capable of generating their own comedy, not just in Spidey's fight patter, but in Boomerang's shitty behavior, MJ's sarcastic remarks, the Taksmaster/Black Ant team's interplay with one another and the world around him.

As for the plotting, in addition to a Mysterio attack on New York--and his subsequent trial--that is used to illustrate what everyone thinks about Spider-Man and/or Peter Parker at the moment and move forward what appears to be a spooky-themed ongoing plot featuring a character I've never seen or heard of before--much of this volume concerns the character Silvermane, who considers himself Spider-Man's greatest foe (I am mostly familiar with him from Spider-Man cartoons; I never liked him, nor did I understand why so much screen time was being devoted to him given how big, wide, deep and awesome Spider-Man's rogues gallery is), a/the Tri-Sentinel, which appeared in the very first Spider-Man comic I ever read (and one of the first comics I ever read, period, years before I got hooked on them) and the reappearance of the device that kinda sorta created Spider-Man...or at least invested him with his spider powers.

Basically, Spider-Man and Peter Parker are separated from one another into two distinct individuals, and hilarity--as well as action and adventure--ensues.

Ottley would not have been my first choice for the primary artist for the primary Spider-Man title, but he does a fairly amazing job here. His designs for all of the characters look just right, while also looking like his in several respects, particularly his Peter Parker. He's equally adept at the humor and the action, and drawing people in civilian clothes doing regular people stuff and super-people in costumes doing superheroic stuff. Also, giant robots and the monster guy with the giant centipede.

Anyway, these aren't, like, the greatest comics in the world or anything, but they are extremely solid super-comics from some talented folks who are experts in the genre. I would have happily bought this and/or future volumes, but it arrived in my local public library before I could decided if I wanted to buy it or not, which is the main reason this is in the "Borrowed" section rather than the "Bought" one.


Mighty Crusaders, Book One (Archie Comics) Here. So this is not as good as The Fox, but I liked it far better than the Black Hood comics I read, and far, far more than the 2015 Shield, which I could barely make it through the first issue of. I think I preferred Ian Flynn's previous Crusaders book, The New Crusaders, which had a better premise, even though this is technically a continuation of that one. The last pages are certainly intriguing, though, and they make me curious as to where this might all go in the future.

More than anything though, it made me wish that DC's old Impact comics starring these characters were available in trade format. Or that there were cheap reprints of their Golden Age adventures. Actually, what I really wish existed were black and white, phone book-sized reprints, in the style of Marvel's defunct Essential line or DC's equally defunct Showcase Presents line featuring all of the Crusaders/Red Circle comics in chronological order, from the 1960s, '80s, the '90s Impact stuff DC did and even the brief DC revival I completely ignored, due to how awful it looked.

Anyway! This was pretty okay, and the first non-Fox Dark Circle comic I was at all interested in seeing more of.

Peanuts Dell Archive (Boom Studios) Here. This 350+-page brick collects the first chunk of Peanuts comics produced for comic books, rather than the funnies pages, from 1957 to 1963. There's some rare Charles Schulz stuff in here, mostly covers, but the majority of the contents are from people who are not Schulz, and I'm always fascinated by how people who are not the creators of a particular strip or character or group of characters closely associated with that creator handle the material. And is there any comic more closely associated with its creator than Peanuts?

If you're someone who reads comics blogs from comics bloggers who have been writing comics blogs for a very long time--and something tells me that you might be--then you may have previously heard about these comics the same place I did: Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin. If that is the case, please be aware that this volume contains the blanket-pooping robot, but not the hungry hobo. The latter would presumably appear in a later volume, if they publish one, which I imagine would feature even weirder comics than those in here, as these tend to drift progressively farther from Schulz's comic strip the longer they go on.

Twists of Fate (Fantagraphics) Here. Sometimes I even write about real, non-genre comics for grown-ups, too!

Young Justice #1 (DC Comics) Here. I know what you're thinking. Wait, didn't you write like a billion tedious words on this book already, Caleb? Yes, I did, although I'm not sure I'd use the word "tedious." That rambling review (or, perhaps, "review" would be more accurate) was for EDILW, however, and this is an official, professional review. You see the difference? No? Well, maybe if you re-read what I wrote on Young Justice in the previous installment of this column and then read what I wrote for Good Comics For Kids you will.

*Fun fact: Every single Marvel superhero is a feminist. Even the ones who are total dicks, like Namor.

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