Tuesday, April 28, 2020

A funny story about Mark Russell and Second Coming (and/or about my own failing memory)

I was reading the trade paperback collection of Mark Russell, Richard Pace and Leonard Kirk's Second Coming for a Comics Journal review last week, and, just a few pages in, I got a nagging feeling of deja vu, as if I had already read passages of it before, or at least read different versions of some of the same jokes before, like the idea of a Superman-like character tearing apart robot bank robbers, only to discover later that they were actually just regular people who had disguised themselves as robots.

The premise of Second Coming involves Jesus Christ returning to Earth and moving in with a Superman stand-in character named Sunstar, initiating an Odd Couple-like clash of personalities and worldviews. Jesus does so at the insistence of his dad, God, who wants to try and toughen up Jesus, since the last time Jesus came to Earth, things didn't seem so great for him. That too seemed to ring a bell, at which point I remembered The Superman Stories, a 48-page, self-published, prose pamphlet in which a purposefully, amusingly non-canonical version of Superman navigates the day-to-day stresses of being a volunteer freelance policeman with god-like powers.

In one of the later chapters of The Superman Stories, Superman goes to Heaven and talks with God and Jesus.

I remembered interviewing the writer of The Superman Stories shortly after I read it, but couldn't remember his name. It couldn't have been Mark Russell himself, could it, back before he became a famous comic book writer...? So I checked my blog, and discovered that the guy who wrote The Superman Stories was a man named...Mark Russell!

So despite having read several of Russell's DC Comics over the course of the last few years—Prez, The Flintstones, some Harley Quinn—and despite having had his Second Coming on my radar since it was first announced as the most promising of a new batch of Vertigo titles, only to be canceled, I somehow never realized that this Mark Russell guy who has been writing weird parody comics for DC was the same guy who wrote that awesome Superman Stories zine I read forever ago.

You can read my interview with Russell from 2006 here, if you like.

It was only after I re-read my own interview with Russell that I realized just how much DNA Second Coming shared with The Superman Stories, and it goes away to explaining the particular version of Superman/Sunstar that appeared in the comic; Sunstar isn't so much a straight analogue of DC Comics' Superman as he is an analogue of Russell's Superman Stories Superman.

I addition to the bit with the robots, which Russell mentions in the interview, and the interactions between Superman, God and Jesus, Second Coming also features a villain named Dr. Simius, who is a character in The Superman Stories too.

Re-reading it some 14 years later and after having just finished reading Second Coming, I found this to be the most interesting part of my interview with Russell though:
You mentioned that you’re working on a sequel? Can you tell me anything about that?

Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane undergoes some changes. Lex Luthor starts working out in order to compensate for his lack of hair. The supernatural storyline continues. God, who sees Superman sort of as the popular, good-looking, varsity-quarterback son he never had, asks Superman to take Jesus under his wing in hopes that Superman’s manliness and derring-do will rub off on him a little.
I think it's safe to say that Russell has been living with many of the ideas in Second Coming for a while now, then. In addition to the above, there's a dedication to a Lucas McCain immediately following the conclusion of the story in Second Coming, which notes that McCain played the character Night Justice in a play that Russell wrote entitled Group Therapy. The scenes of Sunstar, Night Justice, Lady Razor and other characters were based on Russell's play.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

I hope that we might all, like Sluggo, find a way to survive: 34 mostly random comics from Sterling Silver Comics, reviewed

Do you need some comic books to read? Like, 30 comic books? And are you not too particular which comic books, just so long as there are  exactly 30 of them, and that they are all of relatively recent vintage, and they don't cost you any more than the absurdly low price of, say, $20? Well, if you answered yes to all of these very specific questions, then have I got a deal for you!

Did you know that in addition to continuing to maintain Progressive Ruin, the Internet's number one source of Sluggo jokes, Swamp Thing awareness, pog history and stories about selling the "Death of Superman", Mike Sterling also runs his own comic book store? It's true!

And, like many people who sell comic books for a living, I think it's safe to say that this past month or so has not been the greatest month or so in Sterling's  professional life, what with comics publishers temporarily ceasing publication of new material. And the direct market's distributor temporarily not distributing comic books. And many shops forced to close their doors or reduce their service to mail-order or curbside only. And  many customers suddenly losing their jobs and/or rethinking how much money they want to blow on the things one can blow money on in a comic book store. And, you know, a deadly pandemic ravaging the nation and the world.

I've long marveled at people like Sterling and those in the business of selling comic books, because the entire business model of the modern direct market comics shop seems a difficult and precarious one to me in the best of times and, well, these times? They aren't the best! (Seriously, there's rarely a month that goes by where I don't struggle to make sense of what, say, Marvel is up to with their publishing plans via the comics they solicit for pre-order and think to myself, "Thank God I'm not in the business of trying to guess how many of each of these things people will want to buy!").

If, like me, you love comic shops and want them to stick around for a few more years, I hope you'll reach out to your local comic shop and see what you can do to help them, whether it's finally picking up your pull-list, or establishing a pull-list, or buying gift cards to help them get a little cash flow going, or buying comics from them though the mail, if that's a thing that they allow you to do. I've heard the very scary figure bandied about that as many as 25% of all comics shops could potentially close as a result of the pandemic's economic fall out, and comic shops are often important local businesses that add vibrancy to the communities they serve (And, as the late, great Tom Spurgeon used to say of comics shops, "That's where all the comics are").

And after you see what you can do to help out your local (and/or favorite non-local) comics shop,  if you want to read 30 random, recent comic books for just $20, then Mike Sterling's shop Sterling Silver Comics in Camarillo, California is selling such bundles, and I can attest to their value.

I saw Sterling mention the bundles, which are helping him clean out his backroom in addition to restoring some cash flow in these weird times in comics retail, on Twitter, and I immediately ordered one for myself. I then emailed Sterling my long-neglected wish-list of back issues that I had been seeking out for nigh forever now, and he responded within the hour, having secured four of them for me. I didn't time how long it took between my placing the order and my reading the first comic he had sent, and time has mostly lost all meaning for me at this point, but it sure seemed like a big fat package of 34 comics arrived on my door step a day or two later.

As for what those comics were, exactly, and what I thought of each and every one of them, well, I decided I would tell you all about them. Over the course of a very long blog post. As is my way. So here are reviews of the four specific issues I ordered from Sterling Silver Comics, followed by reviews of the 30 random comics that came in my bundle...

Batman 80-Page Giant #3 (DC Comic) I've been waiting to read this one for a long time. I was a big fan of DC's 1998-2000 80-Page Giant specials, the first two years of which were anthologies full of short stories featuring particular characters or teams, and the last year of which were single, gigantic, novel-length stories.

I didn't read as many of them as I would have liked, given my financial situation at the time (This one, for example, came out in July of 2000; at that point, I was working part-time as a grocery clerk in Columbus, Ohio and freelance writing for the city's then-altweekly paper. It would be a few more months before I got hired full-time at the paper, and could then blow as much money as I wanted at The Laughing Ogre every week). Of the ones I read, the one I remember most fondly was the D. Curtis Johnson-written JLA 80-Page Giant #3, featuring the introduction of Moon Maiden and new villain Centurion (Had 40-something Caleb ever managed to fulfill 20-something Caleb's dream of someday writing JLA, Moon Maiden would definitely have been on my 20-Leaguer roster).

Anyway, this one has long been of interest to me because it featured Calendar Man, a then semi-obscure Batman villain who had, at that point, only appeared in three stories that I had seen since I had started reading comics, all of them drawn by Tim Sale: 1993's Shadow of The Bat #7-9 ("The Misfits") and the "Year One"-set Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory.

This issue's story "All The Deadly Days" was then-prominent Batman writer Chuck Dixon's  attempt to give the somewhat silly character a grim and gritty makeover. It obviously didn't take, as I don't think the particular version of Calendar Man we see in this issue ever really shows up again anywhere, although there have since been more recent, more poor attempts to make him more of a darker or scarier character. Dude still works best when he's dressed like a calendar and doing calendar-related crimes, though.

Anyway, Calendar Man! Chuck Dixon writing Batman and Robin Tim Drake! There's gotta be something to enjoy here, right...?

And there is, although I think the comic probably works best as a done-in-one sort of thing, a distinct story unto itself, with no bearing on the future (of which there wasn't any, anyway; I mean, did Calendar Man reappear in a canonical DCU comics between this and 2011 reboot anyway...?*)

The story is divided into seven chapters, one for every day of the week, with seven different primary artists: Joe Staton, Manuel Gutierrz, Mike Deodato, Graham Nolan, Louis Small Jr., Dale Eaglesham and Bill Sienkiewicz (Yes, Sienkiewicz! Look, I was as surprised as you!)

The first chapter, the Staton-drawn one, opens sometime in The Silver Age, as Calendar Man and his gang (May, June and Augustus) stick up the wealthy citizens attending a new museum exhibit dedicated to time, complete with a full-scale model of Stonehenge an a giant cuckoo clock for Batman, Robin Dick Grayson and the bad guys to climb and fight on.
The next chapter is basically Julian Day's history since, opening with him in court, where he freaks out upon learning he won't even be eligible for parole until March 2000, months after millennial New Year's.

We get a neat two-page spread of what Calendar Man was up to during "Knightfall" (which he didn't actually appear in), "Cataclysm" and "No Man's Land" (I don't recall him in either of the latter two, but I didn't read every page of those) and how he eventually ended up back in the asylum, subjected to a rather cruel therapy wherein he wasn't allowed to see the outside sky, and was therefore unable to know for sure what day it was, or if it was even day or night. ("The Misfits" isn't mentioned at all; for the purposes of this story, any of Calendar Man's other appearances must have been before that big cuckoo knocked him out.)
And so by the third day, he's out on parole and ready to take his revenge on the world. He sends a clue telegraphing his intentions, a difficult one that Batman delegates to Tim. Essentially, Calendar Man is using lost days from various ancient calendars as the timing for his crimes, and these are all rather spectacular ones, as he seems to be trying to create the sort of chaos people feared would happen on when 1999 rolled into 2000, and the computers would all go bonkers. ("For everyone who thought January First was a let down... ...Here's your Y2K, Gotham.")

These crimes extend far beyond his regular robbery to include outright terrorism and mass murder, with Day even downing a passenger airplane full of people onto a highway overpass and kidnapping a dozen models from a calendar shoot to ritualistically murder (Batman manages to stop the latter). The art in the section is unclear, but the script seems to suggest that Day sends one of the women's hands to the police as a clue at one point, too.

This new, more deadly Calendar Man gets a new costume too, but it's pretty underwhelming:
It variously looks somewhere between a red and brown, depending on the colorist; I imagine its meant to be maroon then. The symbol on his chest is Thoth, who apparently symbolizes the last day of the year on an ancient Egyptian calendar "determined by the flow of the Nile." I suppose that also explains the beard on his mask. But he basically looks like an Anarky knock-off here.

It's basically your standard (or, at least, your once standard) mediocre Batman story by Dixon, one focusing on plot and action and surface-level characterization over anything too deep or meaningful, but given a lot more room to breathe than it likely would have even if it had run in several issues of a regular Batman comic. The ending is pretty effective too, in a way that wouldn't have been possible had Dixon not had so much space to set it up.

I can't say it was worth the 20-year wait, but it was pretty good, and a good deal better than many of the more recent Batman comics I've read.

Detective Comics #714-715 (DC) Speaking of Chuck Dixon! This two-part, 1997 story arc came near the end of a pretty healthy run by the writer and pencil artist Graham Nolan, stretching between the post-"KnightsEnd" "Prodigal" event story and the "Cataclysm"/"Aftershock"/"No Man's Land" stories (with a few multi-book crossovers mixed in). I read far too few of the non-event stories from this period of Detective, which was, at the time when each book had its own focus, the Batman and Robin book. I spent my then-limited Bat-dollars on the Doug Moench/Kelley Jones/John Beatty Batman run instead because, you know, Kelley Jones. I wouldn't mind revisiting the many, many issues of this Detective Comics run I missed, though; as I said above, Dixon's Batman comics generally aren't the best ones, but he's really good at the action movie-like plots, and Nolan is a top-notch artist...especially as seen in this pair of issues, as he's inked by Eduardo Barreto.

At some point in the recent-ish past, I heard that these issues guest-starred Martian Manhunter, which made me particularly curious about them...and kind of sorry I missed them the first time around (J'onn does appear on the cover of #715, so I'm not sure how I missed that one, at least).

John Jones, Private Eye shows up in Gotham City, searching for a particularly strange perp named Dalbert, who was wanted for selling state secrets. Detectives Renee Montoya and Harvey Bullock were just in the process of turning this man over to the FBI on top of a parking garage when some bright lights appeared, and Dalbert disappeared into thin air.

Jones appears and disappears rather mysteriously himself, and he has a habit of saying portentous things to Bullock, like, for example, when Bullock asks if the buyers were foreigners, Jones says, "They're not locals."

And then there's this neat bit:
Batman and Robin also get involved in the manhunt, which grows even stranger as more clues arrive. Not only did Dalbert disappear, he also seems to have knowledge of the future available to him before anyone should be able to know it, and, at one point, the large amounts of $100 bills he's passing out grabs attention as being something weirder than counterfeitthey're actually from two years in the future.

Unfortunately for Jones, Dalbert's chosen flop house comes with a Batman rogue in hiding: Garfield Lynns, The Firefly. He's maybe the only one of Batman's villains whose modus operandi actually makes him a danger to Jones.

The second issue neatly unravels the mystery of Dalbert, who he is, where he's from and where he's going, how he knows what he knows and why he wants to pull off a gem heist before leaving Gotham. It's a great, inventive little story, and it's particularly interesting because it's not really a Batman story. I mean, yes, Batman, Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Montoya and Bullock are all in it, as is a Batman villain, but it's really the sort of mystery that is more in Jones' sphere than any of theirs, and even though Batman and Robin figure out aspects of the mystery, not even the World's Greatest Detective is able to capture Dalbert...which is fine, as it makes for a particularly satisfying ending.

It's a really well-crafted story, and a really beautifully drawn one. Jones never appears as Martian Manhunter, other than on the cover of #715, but he casts a Martian-shaped shadow at one point and his eyes glow red.

I really loved John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake's 1998-2001 Martian Manhunter series, particularly the way that it regularly shifted genres from story arc to story arc, and the way that it positioned J'onn as one of the centers of the DC Universe around which everything else seemed to orbit, but this particular story reminded me of a Martian Manhunter series I would have liked to read, a Gotham Central-esque story in which John Jones works for a police department, and he and his partner are the detectives who get assigned all of the most oddball cases involving UFOs, the paranormal and, well, this sort of thing.

J'onn is such a powerful character that he is sometimes at his most interesting in a situation like this, where he has to strive to conceal his powers and identity...while balancing that against the fact that if he doesn't get right back up after being shot point-blank with a flamethrower, the bad guys are going to get away.

Anyway, this was a really fun little story about Martian Manhunter's secret identityor one of them, anyway, as the series Ostrander would launch a year or so after this issue was published would posit that J'onn kept many.

The Flash 80-Page Giant #2 (DC) This is one of the anthology-style 80-Page Giants of the 1998-1999 variety; The Flash didn't get an "all-new epic-length story" like the Batman one above in a third, 2000-published giant. If you're wondering why I was seeking this particular one out, it was simply because it contained a Norm Breyfogle-drawn story I had never read, and, since Breyfogle had passed away a few years ago, I've been gradually trying to track down all of his comics that I didn't read before. Which basically means all of the ones that don't star Batman and/or Robin or Anarky.

Breyfogle's talent for drawing dynamic figures makes him a really good fit for a super-speed character like The Flash, as he's proven in the Pat McGreal-written 1999 Elseworlds series Flashpoint and 2000's Silver Age: The Flash. He tends to draw the speeding characters as if they are sentient speed-lines, recognizably human parts of them like their faces or arms gradually emerging from the Speed Force as they change direction or resume regular, perceivable speed.
This Giant contains seven short stories from various points in The Flash Wally West's life, from back when he was Kid Flash and wore a costume exactly like Barry Allen's, only smaller, through his possible death at some point in the far-flung future.

Breyfogle draws the first story, written by Brian Augustyn, in which his art is inked by Norm Rapmund. It's set at a point of Flash history that I never actually witnessed first-hand, and thus seems a little confusing to me, even though I've read other, later stories which referenced this, the point where Keystone City returned to the real world after being frozen in the Golden Age by the mad super-science of several old villains. Here, Wally West is visiting Central City's new "twin" city, and he teams up with Keytstone's hero, original Flash Jay Garrick in order to help foil a particularly perplexing string of robberies, in which a gang dressed like various mid-twentieth century cultural icons seems to be stealing things of no immediate value from the city.

That's followed immediately by Tom Peyer, Kieron Dwyer and Hilary Barta's "The World's Oldest Teens," which is such a perfect riff on Bob Haney and Nick Cardy's Teen Titans comics that I might have been fooled that it was a reprint of one of them, were the colors not so modern (And, of course, for the neat, three-panel epilogue in which it's revealed that it was a story that Wally was telling to Impulse).

Next, Christopher Priest, Mike Collins and Tom Palmer tell a story set not too long after Wally succeeded the late Barry Allen as The Flash, back when he was kind of an unlikable jerk; this one features both the Hal Jordan-lead Justice League Europe and the Titans of the time.

That brings us pretty much up to then-modern time, as there's a story by William Messner-Loebs, Jackson Guice and Larry Mahlstedt in which Wally teams up with a trying-to-go-straight Captain Cold and Golden Glider, and then a Mark J. Kiewlak, Paul Ryan and Joe Rubenstein story during very long night after Wally proposed to Iris, and seeks distraction or advice from the likes of Impulse, Jay Garrick and his then fellow Leaguer Green Lantern Kyle Rayner.

The final two stories jump into the future, as Joe Casey, Ron Lim and Jose Marzan Jr. present a story of Kingdom Come's Kid Flash Iris West (guest-starring Kingdom Come's version of Wally), and then Peyer returns, now teamed with Steve Lightle for a story set in the Flash Museum "1,000 years from now," when Legionnaire Xs and the museum's two robot caretakers view an ancient recording that appears to show Wally's future and final battle against the Mega-Rogue, "an embittered scientist from Gorilla City who had looted the graves of the others and taken [the other Rogues'] weapons for himself."

Lightle's art is amazing, and I particularly liked his vision of a potential future Flash, who appears to be living lightning, but not realistic lightning so much as stylized, cartoon lightning.
Actually, all of the art in the book is pretty damn good, as are each of the stories. More remarkable still, despite being seven distinct stories, they all add up to something of a loose biography of Wally West, including his potential future and legacy.

And, those four requested comics read, I broke into the 30 random, recent comics bundle...

Action Comics #981 (2017)
DC Comics
By Dan Jurgens, Jack Herbert and Hi-Fi

I have to admit I was a little bummed to open this comic up and find that the interiors had nothing at all to do with Gary Frank and Brad Anderson's cover, featuring Superman playing urban Saint George with a giant serpentine monster. (Look closely at that image, too. See Superman's arm there? He literally just tore that monster's tongue out before stabbing it through the heart with a stop sign. Hardcore, Superman!)

Instead, it has Superman fighting against General Zod, who has just teamed up with two other Superman foes writer Dan Jurgens has a lot of experience with: The Eradicator and The Cyborg Superman.

Superman was apparently trapped in the Suicide Squad's Black Vault when this issue opened, and Zod had just escaped from the Amanda Waller-controlled Belle Reeve. This is part three of a story arc, and I had pretty much no idea at all what was going on leading up to it, mostly because I had lost track of all of these characters following the post-Flashpoint New 52boot. I know I read a story with Eradicator in it, in Action's sister book Superman, but the Super-books have been so screwy at this point, I'm not entirely sure which Superman this even is...The New 52 one, or the pre-Flashpoint one that made it into the current DCU via Convergence...actually, Jon's there, so it must be the latter, but from the point the two of them were fused into one character, rather than...Arrgh! Damn you, reboots...!

Anyway, other than not knowing the relationships between any of these characters or how to orient myself in the grand-scheme of DC Comics, this was mostly just Superman fighting three guys with his powers and fashion sense, and that, at least, was easy to follow. The name Jack Herbert didn't ring any bells, but the art, which he apparently penciled and inked himself, was really rather accomplished.

All-New Wolverine #29 (2018)
Marvel Entertainment
By Tom Taylor, Juann Cabal and Nolan Woodard

This issue is part five of a particularly odd arc from very late in Tom Taylor's All-New Wolverine run (this was apparently one of the last arcs, as the series ended with issue #35). The Orphans of X, people who have lost loved ones to All-New Wolverine (and former X-23) Laura Kinney when she was an assassin, want their revenge on her and, apparently, anyone the least bit Wolverine-y.

So they took a magical Wolverine-hurting sword and made it into bullets.

They've already temporarily "killed" Previous Wolverine villains Lady Deathstrike and Sabretooth, as well as the Wolverine from an alternate future (the one from Old Man Logan). Now they're set to finish off Wolverine's son Daken, his clone Laura and his clone's clone Gabby, AKA Honey Badger. Oh, the Orphans are working with The Hand, too.

Luckily for Team Wolverine, the Japanese swordmaster who made the special Wolverine-hurting sword also made a shield, and a cool-looking suit of armor for Laura to wear when she's facing the Orphans and The Hand. There's some fighting, and Daken cuts himself open, shoves a cellphone into the wound, and then lets it heal over. One might think, Why not just shove the cellphone up an existing orifice? But I think if I had blades on my hand and the ability to heal from any wound, I would rather shove a cellphone into an incision in my torso I made myself and then let it heal over than try shoving a cellphone up my butt. But that's just me. And Daken, apparently.

This was the first time I had read a regular issues of a regular Marvel comic with this many ads in God knows how long, and it's really weird.

All-Star Batman #8 (2017)
By Scott Snyder, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Francesco Francavilla, Mark Morales and more

Hey, this is one I had already bought and read! I re-read it anyway, though. It's part three of the second arc of the quixotic All-Star Batman (not to be confused with the awesome-but-abandoned All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder, of course), a short-lived title that Snyder worked on for about three story arcs with different artists after he and Greg Capullo's Batman run ended, but before their Dark Nights: Metal debuted.

Here, Snyder and pencil artist Giuseppe Camuncoli pit Batman against the Mad Hatter, the third in a line of supervillains that Batman's globe-trotting adventure takes him to as he tries to work out the hows and whys of an apocalyptic super-weapon being used and a secretive government agency pursuing him.

In an interesting choice, Snyder foregoes traditional comic book style dialogue, with all of the exchanges between Batman and the Hatter being written out prose style in the narration boxes. Mad Hatter's dialogue gets its own weird font, which gradually takes over the boxes, as he gradually gets inside Batman's head. This is, I believe, the only Snyder-written Hatter appearance (the major Mad Hatter story of the New 52 era being that one I hated by Gregg Hurwitz and Ethan Van Sciver).

Snyder seems to use the character's Animated Series origin, here merged with his own take on the early days of Batman and Bruce Wayne, and has the Hatter and his technology and a special gas here so mess with Batmanand the readerthat he makes a compelling argument that maybe the Hatter knows Batman's secret identity and hell, maybe he even created Batman. There's a particularly neat sequence in here that has new relevance now that Batman: Last Knight on Earth has come out, as it seems to prefigure Bruce Wayne being mind-controlled into thinking he never was Batman, and his various foes were actually just doctors trying to help him all this time.

Although it is but a chapter in a bigger story, it actually works pretty well as a standalone story, and I could easily see this slotting into some future Batman: ArkhamMad Hatter or The Greatest Mad Hatter Stories Ever Told type of greatest hits collection.

Like previous issues in the series, there's also an eight-page back-up drawn by the great Francesco Francavilla, and starring Duke Thomas...from before he went and picked his dumb-ass code name of "The Signal."

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #4 (2017)
By Gerry Conway, Ryan Stegman, Sonia Oback and Jesus Aburtov

This series is apparently set in a possible future, where Spider-Man is married to Mary Jane, who also has spider-powers and a spider-costume and goes by the name Spinerette, and they have a daughter named (ugh), Annie May, who also also has spider-powers and a spider-costume and gets a codename in this very issue ("Spiderling," since her dad insists Spider-Girl is already taken.)

Most of this issue is set underground, as Mole Man and his moleoids pursue the Spider-Parkers,  with Peter and M.J. spending most of their dialogue arguing over whether or not anime, er, Annie May should be fighting crime or not. I'm not overly crazy about the ladies' costumes, but I do like the way Stegman draws Annie's shoulder and elbow pads, giving her arms the suggestion of bug-like segmentation.

There's a 10-year-old boy named Normie Osborn who seems to be the descendant of Norman Osborn, complete with the terrible Osborn hair, and he seems like an interesting addition to the story, particularly as Annie tells her parents she things he's cute, and he confides in his assistant that the spider-girl fascinates him.

Mole Man and friends travel about using some dinosaurs like horses, but otherwise, this issue is pretty light on monsters for a Mole Man one.

Astonishing X-Men #3 (2017)
By Charles Soule, Ed McGuinness, Mark Morales and Jason Keith

As far as I can tell from comics.org, this particular iteration of Astonishing X-Men only lasted 17 issues. Which is fewer issues than it had variant covers for the first issue (that would be 21). I...think I might see a problem with comics, right here.

This third issue of the 17-issue series only had seven different covers. It's written by Charles Soule, who is sadly unable to distinguish himself with this perfectly generic X-Men plot, and it is drawn by pencil artist Ed McGuinness and inker Mark Morales. So it looks good, at least, even if I prefer it when McGuinness' artwork is colored more brightly than Jason Keith does here.

Logan, the version from Old Man Logan rather than the "real" one, who was temporarily dead at the time, is one of five X-Men sent to the astral plan where they do battle with illusions and suchlike as part of a game between the temporarily dead Charles Xavier and The Shadow King, who I'm honestly surprised they still draw like that. Meanwhile, Psylocke does psychic stuff to those five X-Men's minds to keep them in the astral plane, and it's up to Angel and Bishop to defend her and them from the London police, who would like to know why one of their skyscrapers is glowing pink.

Early on, the second-person narration address OLM as he climbs up a sheer ice wall with his claws, and notes, "The X-Men are no strangers to new versions of themselves appearing from other dimensions, other times," and I think I see another problem with this comic, although I suppose that is a problem for X-Men comics in general, rather than this particular issue.

Baltimore: Empty Graves #3 (2016)
Dark Horse Comics
By Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Peter Bergting and Michelle Madsen

This is the middle chapter of a five-part series, so it's no surprise that I have little idea what's going on. As much as I admire Mike Mignola's art, I'm afraid I don't really pay attention to his now quite sprawling body of work. I was under the impression that Baltimore was a prose novel, and so I'm not sure if this is a comics adaptation of a novel, or a spin-off of some kind. The credits page doesn't say it's the former, but it does contain a curious notation that this is "Number 33 in a series," despite the presence of a "3 of 5" on the cover. Is Baltimore a series of miniseries then, as Hellboy once was, and has there really been 33 comics featuring the character already...?

As for the movie almost half over when I walked in, Baltimore (the bald guy) and his team are in Constantinople in 1920, on the trail of The Red King, an evil "god before gods" that I suppose is some sort of cosmic horror of the Lovecraft variety, based on a panel in which artist Peter Bergting draws a bunch of red creatures that look like Guy Davis designs. Specifically, Team Baltimore is seeking a Red Witch. They fight a Swamp Thing-like monster (although the design is more Floronic Man or Groot) and the witch herself at one point, in addition to other, human foes, before getting to a pretty great cliffhanger ending.

From this 20-ish page sample, this seems to be very much in keeping with the historical, action/adventure genre that the Indiana Jones movies found their inspiration from.

Batwoman #5 (2017)
By Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV and Stephanie Hans

An early issue from the relatively-short lived second volume of Batwoman, this collaboration between Scott Snyder's two protegees tells a story from sometime in Kate Kane's past...so far back, in fact, that she was not yet Batwoman. Set entirely on a mysterious island Kate washed up on, it's narrated by the island's powerful mistress, whose people apparently fished Kate out of the sea and fixed her fractured skull, and who now has a burgeoning sexual or romantic interest in the title character, and it appears to be pretty mutual.

Hans' art work is pretty solid, but a bit too painterly for my liking, and not particularly well served by a script that is so heavy in narration that it probably would work far better as prose than comics. The writers do a fine job of getting inside the narrator's head, and characterizing her and Kate through her point-of-view, but the balance between word and image seems way too skewed to the former to be particularly effective as a comic.

I believe this is the only issue of this series I readalthough I might have read the first one; I feel like I've read an issue of Bennet writing the character somewhere or other beforebut based on this, I'm not exactly desirous of seeking out more (Although this series is the one with the great Michael Cho variant covers).

Captain Marvel #26 (2002)
By Peter David, Leonard Kirk, Robin Riggs and Chris Sotomayor

This issue is just old enough to feel like an artifact from a bygone time, and not just because the price on the cover is just $2.50 and it features the (or is a?) previous Captain Marvel; rather, it also has ads in it that aren't house ads (one of which says that "Tobacco is Whacko if you're a teen," as if it begins to make a lot more sense once you turn 20), and look, there on the cover, it says "Named Best Hero of 2000 by Wizard," this being a time when that must have been perceived as a badge of honor, and that there was still a Wizard magazine...! Oh, those were the days...

There are some house ads in it, though, like this one, which is actually pretty funny now, considering where "Akira Yoshida", one of the event's participating writers, ended up:
If I was going to read an issue from this particular run of Captain Marvel comics, I'm actually glad it was this particular issue, as this is from Marvel's "'Nuff Said" month. If you weren't reading Marvel then, that was a kind of fun gimmick month where all of the issues they published were "silent" ones, with no dialogue or narration, inspired by 1984's G.I. Joe #21, the Snake Eyes-starring "Silent Interlude" story. I only read a handful of those issues when they were originally published—Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen's Defenders and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's New X-Men being the only two that come to mind at the moment—but I would certainly be interested in seeing how different creators handled the challenge in their respective books.

I...had no real idea what was going on prior to this issue; I just had some vague idea that Rick Jones somehow combined with another character as Captain Marvel at this point in Marvel's Captain Marvel's tortured history. The action is split between a young man who is trying to sell a gold-looking metal bracelet to a pawn shop, and a bedraggled-looking homeless man, who appears to either have been Captain Marvel...or something (The script printed at the end of the comic, which was another neat feature of these, identifies him as Rick Jones, although I wasn't sure of that while reading). The young man stole said bracelet from the homeless man who turned out to be Rick Jones.

Eventually the young man's conscience gets the better of him, and he gives the bracelet back to the hobo/Rick, who clinks it against a matching bracelet he's wearing using one hand—his left arm being missing for some reason—at which point he turns into Captain Marvel and, flying to visit a lady on a balcony, he reverts to his Rick form, at which point his arm has grown back...and his hair was magically cut, his beard shaved and his clothes changed.

Not sure what's up with David and removing his protagonists' left arms, but that's at least twice now; once more and it's a pattern.

There's also a pregnant lady, and it's Christmas time, and Hobo Rick delivers her baby, while what looks like the Star of Bethlehem hangs in the sky, but given that Captain Marvel's chest symbol also looks like the Star of Bethlehem, I'm not sure how strong that connection is meant to be...the reprint of script cuts off at page 14, so I can't consult there. It does say "Continued on marvel.com," but given that 18 years have passed, I have a feeling the 'Nuff Said month scripts are no longer there...

Catwoman #35 (2014)
By Genevieve Ventine, Garry Brown and Lee Loughridge

I've actually already bought and read this issue of the first New 52 Catwoman series. It's fom the period just after the conclusion of Batman Eternal, when the title character traded in her catsuit for a pantsuit, and tried to wrangle organized crime in Gotham City into a force of good. I didn't realize that until I started reading, however, on account of the fact that the issue I have featured the "regular" cover, in which Selina Kyle is holding a little Lying Cat, rather than this "Monsters of the Month Variant Cover" by Joshua Middleton; not sure where the monster is, though...I guess it would have to be the little devil on Catwoman's shoulder...?

I don't actually know how this status quo turned out for Selina, though, as I gave up on the title not too long after this, being far less interested in crime comics than super-comics. This issue does feature Black Mask, Batman and a new, second Catwoman, though, all of them appearing briefly; its's pretty weird to read the scene between Batman and Selina Kyle now and think that somewhere Tom King was reading the same comic and thinking, "Those two are totally going to fall in love and almost get married in a few years...!"

Nice art by Brown, although the book is also colored like a pop crime comic, rendering it kind of dull to my eyes. I do really like the Halloween variant cover, though.

ElfQuest: The Final Quest # 17 (2016)
Dark Horse
By Wendy Pini and Richard Pini

Somehow, I have managed to read comics all this time without every having read a single page of Wendy and Richard Pini's ElfQuest comics, despite the fact that they have been a regular presence ever since the first time I set foot in a comic book shop.

Well, now I've read not one, but twenty pages of ElfQuest! It's clear how long the Pinis have been at this from how big, rich and developed the world and the cast of this comic is. The narrative within the pages made some degree of sense, obviously, but having missed so many of hundreds of pages of what came before, I couldn't tell you what was going on. The texture, depth and breadth of the story was impressive though, and the artwork and coloring gorgeous.

I do hope to read all of ElfQuest some day. I think, though, on that day I will start at the beginning.

The Flash #29 (2017)
By Joshua Williamson, Pop Mhan, Christian Duce and Hi-Fi

Hey, did you know The Flash temporarily had his powers altered a couple of years ago, when he became infected with The Negative Speed Force, which I am going to guess is where one of The Reverse-Flashes gets his powers, as the black lightning this Flash emits looks familiar...? However that happened, the result is that, while Flash is...Flashing, the yellow parts of his costume turn black, he has a black lightning aura of electricity (sort of like what Black Lightning should generate and throw), his skin gets gray, and he can either shoot black energy bolts or just plain blow-up, I guess...?

Basically, his powers are a lot more dangerous and a lot less useful, and he can't speed-heal, speed-read or run very fast. This is mostly explained during a fight with the 80's era, Paul Kupperberg and Erik Larsen-created Shrapnel, who has an interesting look and power set (and seems like he would be no fun at all to draw).

Meanwhile, there's a bunch of police intrigue stuff going on at Barry's job, on the Central City Police Department. The issue ends with a cliffhanger, in which Barry passes out from his exhaustion and injuries from fighting Shrapnel, right when he's attempting to drag some police personnel from a burning room.

I have to assume that Barry Allen died in that fire, and that's why there haven't been any Flash comics at all since then.

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings, Volume 1 #3 (2017)
Landry Q. Walker, Mel Rubi and Omi Remalante Jr.

I'm not going to lie, this one gave me pause. I saw Martin's name and became very afraid that it was a comic book adaptation of one of his extremely intimidatingly thick books that I've never read, the source of that TV show on HBO that everyone loves but that I have never watched (despite my lifelong interest in dragons and partially naked ladies, which I understand to be the subject matter). It didn't take me many pages of reading to start hearing the names that co-workers would bandy about when discussing the latest episodes, and I realized that yes, yes this is a 20-page comic adapting one of the Game of Thrones books.

As with many of the other comics in this post, I was walking into a story in-progress, but this one seemed a bit more puzzling and lacking in any of the pleasures that even the other less-inviting books in the bundle did. I recognize Walker's name as a professional comics writer who is spoken of highly when he's spoken of, but the comic script didn't really seem to be particularly comics-focused. There's not too terribly much imagery in this comic, which consists of a series of four back-to-back-to-back-to-back conversations, with a few shorter ones between the major ones, like a five-page private meeting between Tyrion and his sister that consists of nothing save panels of the two of them talking at a table, shown either in close-up, from the neck up, or in medium-shot, from the waist-up. It's dull looking.

Rubi's artwork communicates the action of the story clearly, but that action is mostly just talking. A little walking here and there. Tynion rides a horse in three panels but we never really see the horse; he and his men's horses are shown from a great distance in two of those panels, and in the other panel they are just off-panel, save for a bit of mane and a pair of ears near the borders.

The style is neither that of any sort of fantasy comic I've ever encountered, or even anything that I have seen on the cover of a fantasy novel, nor is it extremely realistic, nor does it seem to be trying to equate the characters with the likenesses of their actors. It looks like your average super-comics art. just a bit sketchier, and devoid of anything happening to make it visually interesting (And two people talking can be made interesting through inventive artwork. I imagined that page of Tynion riding a horse for three panels if Kelley Jones might have drawn it, for example, and the rotting heads on pikes on the castle wall might have been lovingly drawn in enough detail that their severed-headed-ness would have been apparent, and something uniquely dramatic might have been done with the framing, so that Tynion is seen as if the page's "camera" were pointed through a hole in a skull, for example. Also, Jones draws horses like bizarre monsters.)

As is, I'm not really sure who this is for. If it's a faithful adaptation of the book, well, you can read the book. If it's for a reader interested in a more visual take on Martin's story, there's that TV show. This just reads like a particularly dull issue of a Brian Michael Bendis-written issue of Avengers...if you removed all the superheroes, all the parts that weren't talking, and 87% of the quips and attempts at humor.

Green Arrow #49 (2016)
By Benjamin Percy, Simon Kudranski and Gabe Eltaeb

I am not a fan of artist Szymon Kudranski's art work, and while I don't want to get too deep into the whys of it here, having previously spent several paragraphs on the subject the first time I encountered it, let me just say here that the style is not to my own personal tastes. Heavy on photo referenceor else drawn to look like photographs are manipulated in a computer program to look photorealisticit makes me kind of nauseous to look at, and the backgrounds are incredibly distracting, as are many of the character designs and expressions, as I find my eyes trying to figure out if I can identify the source, or if the same sources are always used for the same characters. It may just be me; Greg Land, Michael Gaydos, Michael Deodato...those guys all continue to not only find work, but sometimes find rather plum assignments on popular comics.

Anyway, this is better than the first couple of Kudranski comics I read, and if the characters looked ill-suited to the spaces they moved in, or their actions weren't always clear from panel-to-panel (a particular problem during one of the book's big action sequences), well, at least mechanically the pages seemed finished, and each panel worked fine on its own.

As for the story, at some point in the recent past, Green Arrow's hometown (Seattle, I'm guessing? It's in Washington state, anyway) was attacked by one or more werewolf-lite guys referred to as "Wargs," which is what those giant wolves the orcs in Tolkein's books ride like horses were called. At some point, Oliver Queen was infected, which makes him grow claws, pointy ears, sharp teeth and the hair on his head and face to grow out instantaneously, transforming him into Sabretooth from the X-Men comics.

Some neo-Nazi types called the New Christian Church and Outreach Center profited off killing some Wargs, and so conspire to keep the conflict going. Were it not for the werewolf business, this would seem to be the kind of relevant plot that one might imagine a 2016 Green Arrow comics to devote itself to.

Green Lantern #13 (2012)
By Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin and others

This is another one that I had previously read, an issue from relatively late in Geoff Johns' years-long run on the Green Lantern character/concept, and one relatively early in the story of Johns' brand-new Earth-born GL, Simon Baz.

Reading it eight years later (Jesus God, it's been eight years already...?!), it's interesting to note how, at that point, Johns was adhering quite strictly to the then-newish New 52 continuity, including references to Guy Gardner's retconned origin story, Kyle Rayner having only quite recently become a GL himself (two years ago, according to this comic), and the visuals include everyone's New 52 redesigns, from skinny Amanda Waller down to dumb-costume Superman, who appears with the rest of the Justice League on the last page of the issue.

Hell, even the ads look strange now, advertising books I forgot existed, like Talon, Team Seven and Sword of Sorcery.

There's an awful lot going on in this issue, including quite a bit of character-building devoted to Baz and his family and what will end up being a relatively minor supporting character (FBI agent Franklin Fed) and an appearance by President Barack Obama, having a two-page meeting with Waller.

Johns did so much work establishing Baz, only to leave the title rather abruptlyhis last issue would be just seven issues laterthat I've long wondered if his departure was somewhat more sudden than expected when he was planning this story arc.

The art is great, and if one didn't look at the credits box, one might not even realize Mahnke's pencils were inked by five different artists and colored by two different colorists.

Harley Quinn #31 (2018)
By Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti, John Timms and Hi-Fi

This is part four of "Vote Harley," and it appears that our heroine was running for Mayor of New York City against the corrupt and pretty evil incumbent and another dude; the former forced her to drop out of the race by kidnapping a member of her at this point extensive supporting cast. Most of this issue is devoted to her and her many allies trying to find the hostage and rescue him. Based on the cliffhanger ending, it doesn't look like this story is likely to have a particularly happy ending. In fact, it was a rather shocking moment, given the generally light-hearted tone of cowriters Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti's take on the character.

This issue features their weird-ass Deadpool analogue character, Red Tool, and man, his dialogue balloons annoy the heck out of me.

Hyperion #1 (2016)
By Chuck Wendig, Nik Virella and Romulo Fajardo Jr.

A teenager with a special gift is attempting to run away from an evil carnival staffed by similarly-gifted people who call themselves "The Family", and she hitches a ride with a handsome-looking trucker that she's pretty sure is actually a superhero, Marvel's Superman analog Hyperion. Who better to help her escape a bunch of super-powered bad guys...?

Wendig is able to draw quite a bit of tension out of this set-up by telling the story through the girl's narration and thus her point-of-view, and having this trucker fellow named Marc trying very, very hard not to get involved and, once she prevails upon him to give her a ride, trying even harder to keep his powers and identity a secret...at least, until, he's forced to reveal them to save her life. Repeatedly.

It's the first issue of what appears to be a miniseries, but it actually works quite well as a done-in-one, too. The evil carnies thing seems somewhat uninspired in a Marvel comic, given the fact that the Marvel Universe has a whole Circus of Crime, but to Wendig and artist Nik Virella's credit, these carnies of crime are grungier, dirtier and scarier than the more famous supervillain team, and the way they all pull out in their customized vehicles to give chase to Hyperion's rig is slightly suggestive of the Mad Max movies, while also making them feel more like Ghost Rider villains than the sort of group that might tangle with a Superman, analog or otherwise.

I wouldn't mind borrowing the trade collection for this, if I can remember to do so when Ohio's libraries reopen.

I Am Groot #3 (2017)
By Christopher Hastings, Flaviano and Marcio Menyz

Well this is a weird comic. The one-time space conqueror-turned-Guardian of The Galaxy has traded in his usual band of weirdos for a new band of even weirder weirdos: A one-eyed pug head with a prosthetic robot body; a woman who is simultaneously a baby, a young woman and an old woman all at once, complete with three heads and six arms; and a big blue guys who is...well, he's just blue, so he's pretty normal, compared to the other two. But then, I guess Groot is always going to need a gang to run with, so long as his only dialogue is going to be "I Am Groot." This Groot, by the way, is the size and design of Baby Groot.

Mostly just free-form weirdness with a sense of whimsy, at least judging by this one random issue, this had a hint of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz about it to me, or at least like something that aspires to be Oz-like.

James Bond: Kill Chain #6 (2017)
By Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida and Chris Blythe

This issue was quite good. This felt very much like the climax of a film, which is pretty appropriate, as Ian Fleming's Bond character found his fullest and most popular expression in that particular medium. Now, I'm not much of a Bond guy—I've only read one novel, and seen maybe a handful of the 2,000 or so movies—but when I say this felt like the climax of a film, I don't necessarily mean a Bond film, at least not of the more extravagant, occasionally ridiculous ones. This opens with what would be a sort of elaborate stunt, in which Bond leaps from a speeding truck to grab onto the retracting landing gear of a plane as it takes off, just seconds before the truck strikes a barrier and explodes, and then there's a tense fight scene involving the bad guys on the plane, but it's not the sort of action one might see in a trailer for a 21st century name-brand action movie of some sense of event about it, you know...?

In that respect, writer Andy Diggle's take, at least from what I can see here, is a bit more realistic, gritty and violent than what I tend to think of when I think of Bond, but again, my point of reference is limited; when I think "Bond" I think the Pierce Brosnan movies more than Daniel Craig or the older guys.

Although speaking of the older guys, I think artist Luca Casalanguida did a pretty stellar job on the character design—ditto for cover artist Greg Smallwood—as on the cover and in the pages, this Bond looks like Bond without looking like a particular Bond. I thought I saw the occasional flash of a younger Sean Connery here and there in the art, albeit attached to a bigger, buffer body and a grimmer countenance.

I'd definitely read more.

Jughead #6 (2016)
By Chip Zdarsky, Erica Henderson and Andre Szymanowicz

This is another one I had already read, but was more than happy to re-read. This is the climax of the first story arc of the excellent but sadly short-lived 2015-2017 Jughead series, which was, for a while there, one of the better comics on the racks, featuring an eight-issue run written by Chip Zdarsky and drawn by Erica Henderson and Derek Charm, followed immediately by six-issue written by Ryan North, and then a few more co-written by Mark Waid and Ian Flynn, all drawn by Charm.

This issue, Henderson's last and the end of Zdarsky's first, six-issue story arc, features the climax of Jughead's battle of wits with Riverdale High's new principal, Stanger, who is transforming the school into a training program for spies, whether the students realize it or not (let alone like it or not). Jughead realizes it, doesn't like it and is trying to stop it. Throughout, dream sequences have referred to various other, more out-there iterations of Jughead and friends, which, in this issue, involves Captain Hero and the Super-Teens battling Iron Mantle.

This is also the issue which establishes that Dilton Doiley's greatest ability is dance, and there are several amazing sequences, including the one revealing Dilton's dancing ("Dilton is an amazing dancer," an editor's note informs us, "This is now canon x infinity"), and one in which Stanger rewards one of Jughead's efforts to stop his brain-washing program with a six-panel slow-clap.

I loved this comic. Hell, I still love it, present tense.

Justice League #33 (2014)
By Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Keith Champagne and Andrew Dalhouse

I was pretty excited to read this one, from writer Geoff Johns' four-year, 50-issue run on The New 52 Justice League title. I removed the book from my pull-list after the first, no-good story arc, and then decided to switch to trade, but even that proved sporadic, as the first trade collection I read, the one collecting Johns and Jim Lee's second and final story arc as a team, was pretty awful. So I basically dropped in and out of the book (I read the "Throne of Atlantis" tie-ins, some of the "Forever Evil" tie-ins, and that final story arc with The New Gods, and missed pretty much the rest of it, I think).

This issue is from later in the run, when Johns' strangely small and steady Justice League line-upthe five-year-old League, at that point, had the same seven members from the point in which they formed to defeat Darkseid five years previous until about 30 issues into the runfinally starts to open up a bit. This issue's roll call, for example, includes Shazam on the line-up, in for the MIA Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and, on the last page of this issue, a rather unexpected character officially joins the Justice League.

This issue is mostly a three-way conflict between the League, The Doom Patrol (here, Robotman, Negative Man, Elast-Girl, and Element Woman, all lead by a wheelchair-free Niles Caulder; this is, by my count, at least the second time Johns would reinvent the Doom Patrol, following an interesting attempt during his pre-New 52boot Teen Titans run) and Lex Luthor, working as a sort of freelance superhero. What they are fighting over is Earth-3 Power Ring's power ring, which has attached itself to Jessica Cruz.

Lots of well-drawn superheroes fight, Lex and Niles have a fun mad super-scientist pissing match, and it's ultimately up to Batman to talk the agoraphobic Jessica to surrender the ring, which is here powered by fears. I read and re-read Batman's little speech to her, because Jessica and I suffer from the exact same diagnosis, and hers is a character I've thus been interested in, although I've always been a bit disappointed by how...easy it is for her to conquer her fears in the comic. Like, going from being unable to not leave your apartment to being able to fly around outer space...? That's a big change! (Of course, the sources of our problems are different; hers is trauma caused by witnessing a murder, whereas mine just seems to be bad chemicals and wiring I was born with).

Batman's whole speech is a short one:

I don't know. Maybe it's easier to let go of your fear while hugging Batman.

Anyway, there are several reasons why Johns gave this scene to Batman, including the fact that like Jessica he watched loved ones gunned down before his eyes while he survived, his traditional role as a character who embraced feelings of fear and projected the outward to scare evil-doers in the name of justice, the fact that he is being compared and contrasted against fellow mortal billionaire genius Lex Luthor throughout this battle and the fact that holding off the metahuman Doom Patrol is easier for the super-powered Leaguers than him.

Still, I spent some time wondering how this scene might have went had one of the other Leaguers been the ones who tried to talk Jessica down. Superman would be the obvious choice, and might even have worked a bit better, given his traditional rivalry with Luthor, but I could also see Wonder Woman or Captain MarShazam doing it, and putting that Wisdom of Solomon to good use for once. I can't imagine Aquaman, particularly Johns' version of Aquaman, giving an empathetic speech to Jessica at all, which makes me think that might have been an interesting choice of character to use in that role.

Following the climax, the Trinity have a meeting, in which an epilogue is squeezed into some off-panel narration boxes, and then three more pages are devoted to their discussion of whether or not they should invite Lex Luthor to officially join the Justice League. They, obviously, do, leading to a brief period where Johns' League would include Shazam, Lex Luthor and even Captain Cold.

SHIELD #12 (2016)
By Mark Waid, Joe Bennett, Alejandro Sicat and others

A time-traveler named The Scarlet Centurion has assassinated Odin, setting off a war between Asgard, Midgard and the other eight worldswhy, you could even refer to it as a "War of The Realms"that kills off all of Earth's superheroes, including The Odinson and then-Thor Jane Foster, as they decided to fight for Earth. That's page three. The realms' only hope is Phil Coulson, who Heimdall owes a favor to, and his four Agents of SHIELD, Daisy/Quake/Skye and three characters based on ones from the TV show Agents of SHIELD. Heimdall rainbow bridges them through time and space to Asgard, where they must fight through the Warriors Three, infiltrate Odin's throne room, and save the All-Father from assassination. Then they tell him off.

It's a remarkably full and well-written done-in-one, which isn't too terribly surprising, given Waid's experience and skill at super-comics scripting.

It was damn weird to get to the end of this issue and and see the cast all drinking beers at Kirby's Bar with a big "The End" in the lower corner, then flipping the page to see an ad reading "Check out the ongoing adventures of the SHIELD team in: Agents of SHIELD."

See, this is the last issue of the series, which was immediately being relaunched with a slightly different title, two additions to the cast and a new creative team. That comic lasted...10 issues, or two fewer than this one, but I guess Marvel wouldn't have bothered relaunching it if the they didn't anticipate getting at least a few more units of an Agents of SHIELD #1 than they would for a SHIELD #13, but I don't know...were I reading SHIELD monthly, I would have seen that clear cut-off point as a signal to drop it, whereas if it kept going and showing up in my pull-list, it might have taken me an issue or two to cancel if I didn't care for the new creative team.

This is a good example of why I think selling comics for a living must suck. What does one do when one encounters a situation like this...? Order the exact same amount of the new book as one was ordering of the new book? Add extra copies, since it's a new #1? Or fewer, because the new writer doesn't sell as well as Waid does?

Silver Surfer #12 (2015)
By Dan Slott, Michael Allred and Laura Allred

God, Marvel is difficult. It took me awhile to find this particular cover because apparently Marvel has published two Silver Surfer #12s by Dan Slott, Michael Allred and Laura Allred. They worked on a Silver Surfer ongoing series that lasted 15 issues between 2014 and 2016, and then the book was cancelled and relaunched with a new #1 in 2016 and ran for 14 issues.

I am a huge fan of Mike Allred's work, and I think he is probably the ideal artist for Marvel Comicsat least, now that the first generation of Marvel Comics artists have all passed awaybut I hadn't yet read any of his Silver Surfer run with writer Dan Slott, because comics are too damn expensive. I haven't yet sought out any trade collections either, although now that I know there are probably multiple Vols. 1, 2 and 3 of their Silver Surfer, I guess I'll have to be very careful whenever I get around to seeking it out...?

Anyway, this is obviously expertly drawn, and Slot and Allred have a neat, old-school sci-fi comic twist to it, in which our heroes are subjected to a rather insidious danger, one so insidious they almost don't notice it, and, in fact, not everyone would even consider it a danger once they did notice it.


Man, Norrin looks good with a beard. And his head is so smooth! Does he groom with the power cosmic...? Because I'd really like to get some tips on beard care and head-shaving from him...

The Six Million Dollar Man: Fall of Man #1 (2016)
By Van Jensen, Ron Salas and Mike Atiyeh

I have never in my life seen a single episode of The Six Million Dollar Man (Mike Sterling has opened up so many new horizons for me!), as I wasn't even born until sometime during the fourth season. (My Lee Majors show was 1981-1986 The Fall Guy, although my memories of it now mostly consist of the theme song and the fact that Heather Thomas and Markie Post were hot). Even still, the show produced enough of a cultural impact that I'm familiar with the "We can rebuild him..." bit (which appears on the cover), the fact that Andre The Giant played Bigfoot and fought Majors' character and I can hear the sound of the SMD's bionic jumping (faithfully reproduced here as "NE NE NE NE NE NE NE NE"), so I suppose it's not that surprising that there's a comic book spin-off of this 1970s TV show being produced in the 21st century.
I mention that simply as a way of assessing the quality of this issue. That is, despite my inexperience with the show this comic is spinning out of, I had no trouble following it, so writer Van Jensen certainly did a good job of writing this first issue in such a way that a reader could come in cold, joining rebuilt Colonel Steve Austin, agent of the Office of Scientific Information, in his adventures, already in progress.

The book opens in media res, with Austin plummeting out of a just-exploded airplane, a robot voice in his head talking to him, its liberal swear words appearing on the pages as 1's and 0's. After he's repaired and given some upgrades, he meets another cyborg, and begins to wonder how many men died on the way to his being rebuilt, so he goes somewhat rogue. And then fights some ninjas. And then there's a guy with eyebeams.

I liked Ron Salas' art, and he did an impressive job of making Austin look a bit like Lee Majors without the likeness being overly slavish, or standing out as a celebrity likeness amid all the other characters. That must be a hard trick to pull off, given how often one sees it done poorly in comics.

Spider-Woman #9 (2016)
By Dennis Hopeless, Javier Rodriguez and Alvaro Lopez

The first of the three Civil War II tie-in issues from the all-around pretty brilliant Hopeless/Rodriguez run on the character, this issue finds Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and her unlikely crew of reporter Ben Urich and reformed Spider-Man villain The Porcupine and her infant son in Canada, investigating an outbreak of Wendigos, while trying very, very hard to ignore Jessica's best friend Carol Danvers, who wants nothing more to drag them into the current Civil War II storyline.

I could relate.

So the issue is divided pretty neatly in half between the investigation and, after Carol arrives and uses her superpowers to to beat down the Wendigos as quickly as possible, Carol making her pitch to hire Team Spider-Woman to investigate the validity of the Inhuman Ulysses' visions. I reviewed this issue, and this arc, here, if you would like a more formal review.
If I recall correctly, it is a particularly difficult series to follow, because Marvel makes reading their comics in trade so damn difficult (I think it went Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3, maybe?), but it's well-worth figuring. This particular issue is a great example of how amazing Rodriguez's page layouts are. Like, if this were the only issue of the series one read, it's still well worth one's time, for the masterclass in visual storytelling Rodgriguez's pages offer.

Star Trek/Planet of The Apes: The Primate Directive #4 (2015)
By Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Rachael Stott and Charlie Kirchoff

I was actually pretty excited to read this one, because, as unbelievable as it may seem, I have never actually experienced any Star Trek anything before, as I feel like I might have mentioned before on the blog. I've seen no episodes of any of the TV shows, I've seen none of the movies and I certainly haven't read any of the novels or comics. So this right here? This is my actual, honest-to-God introduction to Star Trek...!

Well, sort of. The show has so permeated the pop culture that I grew up in that I knew all of the characters, their personalities, their roles, their weapons, technology and jargon just from having absorbed it through various Star Trek parodies, homages and allusions. In fact, I felt like I had a better handle on the Star Trek side of this crossover than I did on the Planet of The Apes side, despite the fact that I had seen the original Planet of The Apes film a couple of times (as well as the Tim Burton remake and the recent trilogy of prequels, but none of the many sequels to the original film).

Anyway, this is a rather interesting crossover series, as it feels somewhat insane in the abstract but, the more one thinks about it, to actually kind of make perfect sense. Honestly, it seems like a pretty inspired one for IDW, which apparently holds the Star Trek license, and Boom Studios, which holds the Planet of The Apes one, to pursue.

Props to writers Scott Tipton and David Tipton, too, because even though this was the fourth chapter of a five-part crossover between two old-school sci-fi properties from a generation previous to my own, I found it remarkably easy to follow. I'm not sure if it was either of them who came up with the subtitle, but whoever did, they deserve an enthusiastic high-five; it sounds like what one might have called a crossover between these two franchises if one was making such a crossover up as a joke, and yet there it is, right on the cover. Bravo!

Artist Rachael Stott does a pretty good job on all the likenesses too, and smoothing over whatever gulf might have existed between the two poles of the crossover so much that the characters all seem to belong on the pages together; hell, most of the apes even appear to be people wearing ape masks too, rather than actual hyper-evolved apes.

The Totally Awesome Hulk #2 (2016)
By Greg Pak, Frank Cho and Sonia Oback

I read this issue when it was collected in Totally Awesome Hulk Vol. 1: Cho Time, the first collection of the series in which Amadeus Cho becomes the new Hulk, temporarily curing Bruce Banner and, in the process, taking his powers for his own, and seemingly mastering them in a way that Bruce never could.

At this early point in the story, the hows of all that are still being divulged via flashback, as Cho, his little sister Maddy, She-Hulk and Spider-Man Miles Morales confront alien monster collector Lady Hellbender, who in on Earth catching monsters for her home planets giant monster reserve. With not just one but two big, well-muscled ladies and plenty of monsters, this is an ideal Marvel comic for Cho to illustrate.

The cliffhanger ending involves the emergence of the biggest and baddest (and best!) Marvel monster, Fin Fang Foom himself, and I'll be damned if I forgot that the issue ended with a tag saying that this particular story was "To Be Foomtinued!"

Thunderbolts #7 (2017)
By Jim Zub, Sean Izaaske and Matt Yackey

Huh. This issue is is both Thunderbolts #7 and Thunderbolts #1...? How's that supposed to work, Marvel...?

Okay, the fine print inside the book says it's #7, so apparently the big, huge, "#1" up there is just to indicate that this is actually meant to indicate that this is the first issue of a new story arc and thus a good jumping-on point, I guess.

It's...not really, though. I mean, Bucky "Winter Soldier" Barnes is apparently the new leader of The Thunderbolts, and the three paragraphs on the "Previously, in Thunderbolts..." page refer to events from Original Sin (I think; that's when Nick Fury made him "the Man on the Wall," right...?) and Standoff, but never actually mention who the heck these particular Thunderbolts actually are. I recognized Atlas because he has the big "A" on his chest, and Songbird shows up mid-issue, but I guess she's not strictly "on" this team with Atlas, Kobik, Bucky, The Guy I Thought Was Forger But Was Actually "Fixer", The Other Guy (A Beetle? A Mach Somethingorother?) and A Lady (Moondragon?).

Apparently, SHIELD has captured Bucky, because they want their cosmic cube-that-turned-into-a-little-girl back, so the rest of the team are going to break him out, with help from Songbird. Maria Hill and Captain America Steve Rogers (who has just been re-youthened and cosmically retconned into a Hydra maybe but not really I think, although it doesn't come up in here).

From what I can tell on comics.org, this seems to have been canceled just a few issues later, but knowing Marvel, perhaps it was cancelled and relaunched with the same title and same creative team...?

Anyway, if I were to pursue any future Thunderbolts comics, I think I'd want it to be the one from the '90s, or maybe the one with The Punisher and Elektra and a Hulk on the team...

The Twilight Zone: The Shadow #1 (2016)
By Favid Avaone, Dave Acota and Omi Remalante

This one is a bit of a puzzler, although I do really dig that Francesco Francavilla cover. As far as crossovers go, this gets points for being an unlikely one, although I am no more sure of how it could work now that I've finished reading it then I was when I first laid eyes on the cover and thought, "Huh."

The former was a highly successful and influential 1959-1964 television program, an anthology science-fiction and fantasy series with no real recurring characters or story lines. The latter was a pulp fiction hero who has appeared variously in just about every new medium to follow pulp serials, from comic books and radio to videogames and film. According to Wikipedia, there was even a 1954 television show, but I guess that doesn't quite line-up with the timing of the original Twilight Zone show for that to be the genesis of the crossover.

Knowing as little as I do of each (I've never seen an episode of The Twilight Zone, and my Shadow experience is little more than the 1994 film and the first of the Shadow/Batman crossovers from DC and Dynamite), I don't even know enough about the character's status quo to know which aspects of this particular story are meant to be startling derivations from it, and if particular plot points are taken from particular episodes of the TV show, like, for example, the opening scene in which The Shadow fires into a crowd at "Camp Siegried" in New York state, a large Nazi gathering.

This...is probably not the best place to start in terms of Dynamite's Shadow comics, huh...?

The Unbelievable Gwenpool #4 (2016)
By Christopher Hastings and Gurihiru

Is Gwenpool the only comic book character based on a variant cover...? Just curious. Part of me thinks that yeah, of course she is, while another part of me thinks that with so many variant covers out there these days—I mean, there were 11 variants for the first issue of this 2016 series alone!—statistically speaking, there must be other characters who began life as a variant cover.

This was another issue I was extremely happy to find in my bundle, as I've been curious about the title since it launched (but not so curious to ever seek it out in trade, I guess?), given that it was drawn by the art team of Gurihiru, which regularly produces some of the very best art one can find in superhero comics. I also kinda like Gwenpool's color scheme and her whole schtick of being a person from the real world stuck in the Marvel Universe, and thus being something of an invader from beyond the fourth wall. The most I've ever seen of her, however, was in the first trade paperback collection of the latest iteration of West Coast Avengers.

Here she is serving as one of MODOK's four henchmen, alongside Batroc The Leaper and two characters I am unfamiliar with, perhaps because they are new to this book. So that means writer Hastings and Gurihiru have two of Marvel's more colorful "funny" villains to work with (Can you believe that MODOK still hasn't appeared in a Marvel film, and Batroc has only just barely appeared in one...?). Batroc trains her for a page or so, after which point she is interrogated by an angry MODOK, the fight scene between them taking up the better part of the issue.

The art is great, and the jokes all seem to land as intended. I'd definitely read more.

Weapon X #8 (2017)
By Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Marc Borstel, Ibraim Roberston and more

I never really got Marvel's "Weapon H"/Hulkverine character, who appears to simply be a gray Hulk with Wolverine claws and a bunch of metal poles sticking out of his shoulders. Beyond, of cousrse, what I imagine is the obvious appeal of giving various other Marvel characters Wolverine claws and an appellation ending with "-verine." Like, I'd be all about an Atlantean mutant like Namor getting Wolverine claws and going by the name "The Sub-Wolveriner."

Prior to reading this issue, part two of a story arc by writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, the longest I had spent with Weapon H was a part of a War of The Realms tie-in. This issue devotes some space to the character's background—he was an apparently mercenary working for one of those "security contractor" type groups we've paid to fight in our post-9/11 wars—and those contractors are pursuing him in his non-Hulkverine form.

Most of the issue is a fight scene though, with Weapon H fighting off the title team, which, in this incarnation, includes "Old Man" Logan (the Wolverine from the Mark Millar-written miniseries who is basically just our Wolverine but with gray hair), Sabretooth, Domino, Lady Deathstrike and Warpath. The latter of whom appears to fly at some point; is that something he's always been able to do? I don't recall him flying.

*According to Wikipedia, he's just name-dropped or has very minor appearances a couple of times between this story and Flashpoint/The New 52boot.