Category Archives: Comics

Gods and demigods in comics, plus a book on religion

RAGNAROK: Last God Standing by Walt Simonson is set in the aftermath of Ragnarok, which contrary to legend destroyed the gods of Asgard and their allies but did not wipe out the forces of evil. When an elven assassin attempts to eliminate one dead god once and for all, she only wakes him up; picking up his hammer, Thor sets out to see what’s happened to Asgard and take revenge on those responsible. Not as fun as Simonson’s classic run on Marvel’s Thor, but a good, novel take on the Norse myths.

I’d heard a lot of good things about ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG (by Fred van Lente and Clayton Henry) and the first TPB, The Michelangelo Code, lives up to the press clippings. Obadiah Archer is a devoutly dedicated assassin trained by his parents’ right-wing Christian cult to serve God by destroying an ancient, immortal hero for his crimes and recovering the mysterious McGuffin he hid. Armstrong is the boozing, party animal who knows Armstrong’s parents are up to no good and that it’s better if nobody recovers the artifact. Can two unlikely good guys find common ground? Yes, that kind of straight man/wild man team up is familiar, but it’s really fun here, as are the constant jokes about Armstrong’s immortal experiences. I look forward to getting V2.

HEIRS TO FORGOTTEN KINGDOMS: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East by British diplomat Gerard Russell looks at the lifestyle, traditions and religious beliefs of Copts, Zoroastrians, Alewites, Mandaeans, Yazdis, Druze, Samaritans and other fringe faiths that after years of survival are struggling not only with Islamic extremism (a lot of the issues the minorities are dealing with reminded me of Invisible Countries’ discussion of how ethnostates are made) but the loss of countless members of the faith to immigration (writing in 2014, Russell’s tentative optimism about the progress some of them were making in the U.S. looks depressingly dated now). On top of which some of them eschew written texts or keep the Great Truth hidden from all but initiates, making it even harder to preserve the faith. The book mixes historical detail with Russell’s personal encounters with believers and doesn’t always get the balance right (at times it’s pure travelog) but overall interesting.

#SFWApro. Cover by Mico Suayan, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Two tough guys and a dreamer: books

THE XYY MAN by Kenneth Royce gets its name from a now-discredited theory that having two Y chromosomes makes men more reckless, rebellious and dangerous — as is the case with Bill “Spider” Scott, a professional cat burglar newly out of prison, struggling to stay straight and finding it difficult. Salvation comes when a high placed British official hires Spider to steal a McGuffin from the Chinese embassy in London — but after completing the job, it looks like his new employer’s going to double-cross him. Spider goes on the run but the Chinese, the CIA and the KGB all want what he now has …

The XYY aspect is just a gimmick; Spider doesn’t come across any wilder or more incorrigible than most career-criminal protagonists (he could easily be Al Mundy, the thief-turned-spy from TV’s It Takes a Thief). That said, he’s a good protagonist, plausibly tough but no superhuman. The story itself was entertaining, so I may pick up more in the series eventually.

GASLIT INSURRECTION: The Clockworks of War Book I by Jason Gilbert (who’s a friend of mine, but my review is honest) has a setting I love: it’s alt.1921 in a world where the Civil War lasted twenty years (General Sherman took a bullet in the head before he could start burning the South), ending when a slave uprising destabilized the Confederacy. However the moneyed interests that had taken over the Union covertly now covertly took over the South, crushing the revolt and keeping the CSA free as a puppet state.

Protagonist Kane is a hardboiled PI/magus investigating a series of killings in which strippers are drained of blood. Worse, the “oligarchy” that runs the country doesn’t want him sticking his nose in. And their interest might threaten Tabby, the amiably crazy but attractive woman whom Kane assures everyone he has no romantic interest in …

Urban fantasy, even in an alt.history setting, isn’t my cup of tea. But with that reservation, this was fun. The language was anachronistic in spots (“relationship” isn’t a word anyone was using for love affairs back then) but not so bad I couldn’t live with it.

I have never been a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or Gaiman’s writing in general (I find him pretentious a lot of the time) but reading SANDMAN: Preludes and Nocturnes by Gaiman and multiple illustrators reminds me just how much this series impressed me when it started. In the 1920s an occult group tries to capture Death but instead gets her brother, Dream. Years later he breaks free and begins hunting for his lost talismans of power, taking him to Hell, London and into battle with the supervillain Dr. Destiny. Overall it’s impressive work, though one issue in which Destiny hitches a ride and gets into a pseudo-deep conversation, fell flat for me (partly that’s because it’s something that’s been done to death a lot since).

SUBURBAN GLAMOUR by Jamie McKelvie fell really, really flat. The story of a teenage suburban girl discovering she’s actually an adopted faerie princess just hits too many extremely stock tropes, both for urban fantasy and for fictional teenage life; it does go in a different direction than I expected, but not enough to be worth reading.

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I went back in the house and came out again: the Vertigo House of Mystery

Talking about DC’s House of Mystery is complicated because there have been so many versions. It started as a horror anthology —

Then became a superhero book.

Then got its most famous incarnation, an anthology book hosted by the House’s caretaker, Cain (later established as an avatar of the Cain).

The version I’m dealing with today is the Vertigo series from 2008-11 (written by Lilah Sturges and multiple others) which combined Cain, an anthology element and a main story arc. In the first issue, a woman named Fig Keele — architect, former kid detective — stumbles into the House of Mystery.

Some people come in, drink at the bar (the House now has a bar-room) and leave. Fig is one of those who can’t leave, try as she might. She’s stuck there along with sorcerers, a pirate, handsome bartender Harry and a Byronic poet (no Cain), working in the bar and hunting for an escape. As the price of a drink is a story, each issue includes one, keeping the anthology aspect going alongside the main plot. Meanwhile, various mysterious groups and people are trying to figure out where in the multiverse the House is currently located.

To further complicate things, Fig has a much stranger past than she lets on, possibly tied to the House. Her father shows up with an agenda of his own. Cain eventually finds the House and isn’t pleased with the renovations.

This period is the one I think of when I think of the series and it’s the part of the run I liked best (though the stories told at the bar often left me unimpressed). Later on? Not so much. There’s a long stretch where the House winds up located in a Goblin market, with the cast embroiled in goblin politics and local wars. The setting didn’t interest me as much. Neither did the annoying Lotus Blossom, a new character who plays a large role in the final arc. I found her just insufferable.

And rereading, I found the background mythology, involving entities known as the Conception and Fig’s own secret gifts, less than inspiring (this may reflect that this time I knew it didn’t really pay off). I honest-to-god have no idea how it all fits together or makes sense or if it does. Which wouldn’t have mattered if they’d kept up the quirkiness of the early issues, but I don’t think they did.

Fig too became more annoying on rereading. She’s got cause for being pissed off, but at times she’d get so mopey and whiny I didn’t have sympathy for her.

All of which makes the series sound much worse than it I think it is, the unfortunate consequence of listing fault after fault. Certainly I enjoyed it on first run, despite the flaws — I don’t know that “it wasn’t as much fun to reread” is really a fatal flaw.

But it’s all out in TPB if you want to find out for yourself.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by J. Winslow Mortimer, Jim Mooney, Nick Cardy and Sam Weber, all rights remain with current holders. Bonus cover by Cardy below, because he’s awesome (rights remain with current holder).


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From the Stone Age to mystic Russia to the future: books and graphic novels

PALEOFANTASY: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live by Marlene Zuk looks at the widespread assumption that we haven’t evolved since the Stone Age, which I’ve of course encountered in reading about how modern gender differences are imposed on us by our caveman ancestors. Zuk’s book reminds me the theory takes in a great deal more.

By paleo-logic, we’ll be happiest and healthiest if we live like our ancestors: eat Stone Age food, exercise the same way (would they have been runners or merely walkers and weight lifters?), create environments compatible with the way we’re hardwired and, of course, submit to our genetically ordained gender roles. As Zuk shows in detail, however, there’s no reason for seizing on the Paleolithic era as our genetic turning point: some of our genes go back way, way earlier, and yes, as evolutionary psychologist David Butler has written, we haven’t stopped evolving. Our ability to digest dairy as adults (not a universal human trait, of course) may be as little as 7,000 years old. Nor, Zuk adds, does it look like modern science is really protecting us from evolution (she points out this is a very First World middle and upper-class view of survival). Very good.

KOSCHEI THE DEATHLESS by Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck is one of the best Hellboy-verse stories I’ve read in a while. The backstory of Koshchei, who battled Hellboy in Darkness Calls,  has a genuine folklore feel to it: the magic is frequently nonlinear and illogical (to protect his magic from Baba Yaga, Koshchei spits it up into a rag, then feeds the rag to a horse. Which then explodes) but it feels right — creepy, eerie and not at all like science. A grim story (when Koshchei talks of going down a dark path, Hellboy points out he’d already been on one) but well worth reading (and added, of course, to my Chronology).

As I mentioned earlier this week, James H. Schmitz’s THE WITCHES OF KARRES by James H. Schmitz is a delightful romp. Protagonist Pausert frees three underage girls from slavery only to discover Maleen, Goth and the Leewit are all powerful psis. Accompanied by Goth (he drops the other girls back on Karres) he attempts to start a new life as a trader, but everyone from an alien computer to scheming governments to a space pirate wants to pry the secrets of Karres’ space-warp drive from his mind. Given everything at the end is in place for more adventures, I’m surprised Schmitz never did a sequel, though other hands have tackled the job.

SUPERGIRL: Girl of No Tomorrow by Steve Orlando an various artists continues Orlando’s uninspired run on the Maid of Might’s series. Here the future villain the Emerald Empress tries to destroy Supergirl by recreating the Silver Age villain team the Fatal Five (it’s such a random collection of villains Orlando might have drawn them out of a hat); complicating the battle is that Supergirl’s powers have been boosted to the point she’s as much a threat to Capital City as the bad guys. The only bright spot was the Annual, in which Supergirl meets her cousin, plus the Superman of China plus a New 52 version of Wonder Woman’s former mentor I Ching (but the name doesn’t work any better now). It was fun, but can’t redeem the whole thing (like turning Cat Grant into a her0-hating J. Jonah Jameson knockoff)

The first volume of REDLANDS by Jordie Bellaire and Vanesa Del Rey fell flat for me. Set in a Florida town run by witches, it’s more a grim dark crime thriller as even the witches’ influences doesn’t make the locals any less misogynist. Sexist enough that I got tired of reading about it. I also find it annoying that the creators tie this in to Salem (as Heather Greene says, Salem is a standard marker for validating witch stories) — there were no witches at Salem, just 19 innocent women and one man hung for witchcraft they didn’t commit.

#SFWApro. Covers by Mike Mignola (t) and Kurt Miller, all rights to them and the poster image remain with current holders.

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Thank heaven for little girls? I don’t know ..

Honest to god, it has been a long time since I thought of thirteen year olds as romantic figures. Not since maybe, I was fifteen? Which made rereading James H. Schmitz’s The Witches of Karres a little odd.

Not that there’s any statutory rape or inappropriate thoughts about the relationship between the book’s adult hero, Captain Pausert, and his psionic “witch” sidekick, Goth, who’s thirteen at most. Or even any romance on Pausert’s side. But early on, Goth informs him that they’re going to get married when she’s of age (sixteen for the people of Karres) and it’s quite obvious yes, that will happen eventually. And before that, when Goth’s fourteen-year-old sister Maleen says she’ll marry Pausert (she’s not sincere), Pausert gives this serious thought (Maleen’s a lot prettier than Goth).

As a general rule, I’m not much bothered by age differences in real life and not necessarily in fiction. Once you get into adult/teen stuff, it gets a little … well, not so much squicky as just unconvincing. Pausert’s at least in his early twenties’ marrying a sixteen-year-old does not seem like the best option. It wouldn’t have struck me as odd when I first read it because I’d have been around thirteen, and so a thirteen-year-old romantic interest wouldn’t have seemed strange (that it would be weird for an older male protagonist didn’t concern me). Now, though, that age gap leaps out at me when I see it. And that a lot of creators apparently do think it’s sexy or romantic.

For example, George Lucas thought Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark could have been 11 or 12 when Indie, in his twenties, deflowered her. A plotline in Steve Englehart’s run on Green Lantern involved the teenage alien Arisia using the power ring to mature herself physically so she’s old enough to be Hal Jordan’s girlfriend. A run of Dr. Fate in the 1980s has a ten-year-old boy magically matured and becoming involved with his stepmom (even given they turn out to be reincarnates who’ve been together in countless lifetimes). The Storm miniseries has her losing her virginity to T’Challa when she’s twelve (even given he’s only a few years older that’s way too young to portray as a romantic moment). In some of Fritz Leiber’s later stories of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser his heroes’ interest in nubile young girls has a very dirty old man vibe to it. Schmitz comes off pretty good by contrast; like I said, Pausert isn’t into Goth and writes her interest off as a teenage crush. But it still struck me as odd (even given we’re little more than a century from when the age of consent was 10).

I’m less bothered by older teen/adult romance (not so much the legal issues of age of consent as whether it feels like the kid’s old enough to be in a relationship), depending how its handled. For example if it’s a prime-time soap where everyone’s banging everyone. Or where immortals are involved; once you hit a hundred, let alone 1,000 years, why would you care about a few years either way? And I’ve read stories where yes, they made me believe the relationship was true love.

My age definitely influences my perception of this, but I’m not sure whether it makes me see more truthfully, or less.

#SFWApro. Cover by Kurt Miller, all rights remain with current holder.

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What a change: Spider-Man … No More!

So last year, after rereading the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man run, I started the Stan Lee/John Romita era that came afterwards. While I prefer Ditko, it wasn’t until Romita took over the art that Spider-Man became Marvel’s biggest hit. Reading Spider-Man: Spider-Man No More confirms that I prefer Ditko but it’s interesting to see how things changed.

One big change was that John Romita sexed things up. The Lee/Ditko relationship between Betty Brant and Peter Parker (the big romance of the early years) was so chaste I frankly wondered if they were just good friends. Romita had been drawing romance comics for years; he knew how to make his leads look sexy, he had a stronger sense of cool-looking fashion that Ditko (whose style sense, even in the 1970s, seemed stuck in the 1950s) and there was just more sizzle to the relationships, with more of a romance comics vibe to the stories. Peter himself gets to be a little cooler: he moves out of Aunt May’s house and in with his friend Harry Osborn, gets a motorcycle and finds himself torn between the flamboyant Mary Jane and the sexy, but less wild Gwen. Gwen was much more Stan Lee’s style of love interest, sweet and (once they got together) devoted to Peter; it was later writers who deepened MJ’s character and made her Peter’s definitive love interest.

That’s not to say the stories were lacking in action. The Romita/Lee era continued to add new villains, including the Rhino (seen on ASM #43 here), the Kingpin, a new Vulture and Jonah’s son John, who became a hulking brute temporarily. The hulking part is significant: Lee/Romita went much heavier for big, burly villains. Even the Kingpin’s presented as a mass of muscle, as dangerous a physical threat as he is by virtue of running the underworld

Stan Lee’s flair for melodrama didn’t fail him during this period. Frederick Foswell, a supporting character for years, returns to crime but redeems himself by dying to save Jameson. In #50, Peter finally resolves to walk away from his life as Spider-Man, live normally, find happiness. He’s Spider-Man … No More! But in the end he realizes he can’t do it; Uncle Ben died because of his neglect, he won’t let that happen again.

Lee’s dialogue get a lot snappier among the supporting cast, as if to keep up with Romita’s hipper visual rendition. That sometimes felt a little forced, but I didn’t find it so as a kid (of course I didn’t find Teen Titans’ swinging dialog silly either). And the melodrama often felt melodramatic and overdone, which it didn’t when Lee was with Ditko. That may reflect that by the end of this TPB, it’s 1967, Marvel’s line was expanding and Lee had a lot more to write.

So I’m not sure if I’ll get the next collection any time soon. But I did enjoy reading this one.
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SF, England and graphic novels: this week’s reading

THE GINGER STAR was Leigh Brackett’s 1970s reboot of her Eric John Stark, showing him as an interstellar rather than an interplanetary adventurer. After Stark’s closest friend disappears on the dying backwater world of Skaith, Stark goes there to hunt for him despite opposition from the cults and gen-engineered races dominating the planet. This makes it something of a Greatest Hits mashup, taking Stark and adding in a dying world like Brackett’s Mars, the genetic engineering of Sword of Rhiannon and the prophecy element of Nemesis From Terra. Lower key than some of the earlier Stark novels, but still good.

Andre Norton’s SPELL OF THE WITCH WORLD was the first book from then-rookie publisher DAW, consisting of three short stories set in the Dales before, during and after the war referenced in Year of the Unicorn. Dragonscale Silver feels like Norton’s reworking earlier witch-world books (psi-linked siblings, a woman of Estcarp blood being raised in the Dales) but it works, and gives us a female warrior mage for the protagonist (she and her lover Jervon show up in a couple more stories, IIRC). Dream Smith has a scarfaced metalworker creating a dream kingdom where he and his deformed lover can live away from the world’s eyes, but it’s way too disability-cliche for me. Amber Out of Quayth is the best story, a Gothic romance like Year of the Unicorn: a woman marries into a sinister family of amber dealers and discovers almost too late they have Dark Secrets. The Dales would remain the setting for the next two or three books.

A SOCIAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND by Asa Briggs suffers the usual problems that any survey of 2,000-plus years is going to have to skim a lot of material. With that limitation, a good overview of the social influences facing Britain such as class, race, money, trade, sex and technology constantly shifting England’s social landscape.Very dry, but informative.

THE FOX: Freak Magnet by Dean Haspiel, Mark Waid and J. M. DeMatteis has had lot of good reviews (from the MLJ Companion, for instance) but I was less than impressed. The protagonist is the son of a Golden Age hero who donned the suit to draw out villains and become a Peter Parker-style photographer of super-action. Unfortunately, even though his career is settled and he’s happily married, the bad guys just keep coming … This premise reminded me of DC’s Blue Devil (ordinary guy plunged into weirdness) but it was nowhere near as entertaining. And the climax, in which the Fox is trapped in WW II and has to ally with the U.S. Shield, Japan’s Hachiman and German’s Master Race, is really weak: the idea that era was driven by a blood lust alien to our own time doesn’t hold up.

FATALE: West of Hell is the third volume in a series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips so I’m not surprised I didn’t understand everything going on. I was surprised how little I cared: the stories of femme fatales in multiple eras obviously all tie together, but I have no interest in reading V 1 and 2 and exploring how it all makes sense.

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Superheroes, slaves and undertakers: books and graphic novels

BATMAN: The Golden Age Omnibus Volume 5 is another fun collection with many striking stories: elaborate schemes by the Joker, Catwoman and Penguin, crime dramas and human interest. It also gives us some of the trends that would make the 1950s Bat-stuff anathema to fans later (though not to me): formulaic crime schemes, more SF (this has Batman’s first trip off-world to fight crime on another planet), and lots of one shot gimmick villains (the Human Key and the Match, though both stories are good). As I have V.5 already, you can tell I’m not discouraged.

I remember looking at the Invincible comic when it came out and not being impressed; reading the first hardback collection of INVINCIBLE: Ultimate Collection Volume 1 by Robert Kirkman (yes, the Walking Dead guy), Ryan Ottley and John Rauch I don’t find myself any more impressed. It does have a good twist near the end of the first 13 issues but otherwise it’s an unremarkable story about how the son of Omni-Man (the Superman analog) becomes a teen superhero himself when his powers manifest. The teen hero stuff isn’t as interesting as Spider-Girl and it lacks the meta-elements of Astro City so I really don’t get the appeal.

There’s a part of me that still thinks of the Civil War as two groups of white people fighting while black Americans stand passively by. THE FIRE OF FREEDOM: Abraham Galloway & The Slaves’ Civil War by David S. Cecelski is a good corrective showing how black Americans often worked independently of the Union and did not, in fact, have the identical agenda: Galloway (a runaway slave turned Union spy, orator and later North Carolina elected official) and his allies are focused on emancipation and then full equality (particularly the right for black men to vote) and on being paid fairly for their service to the Union armies (General Butler, who did treat the liberated slaves fairly, was an exception) among other issues. A very good look at the Civil War from a different perspective.

A DEATHLY UNDERTAKING: The Undertaker Chronicles Book I by Crymsyn Hart, introduces us to the world of “undertakers” — no, not the regular ones but the experts who see to it that vampire and werewolf corpses stay dead. Protagonist Darria is an apprentice until her boss is murdered by a necromancer, forcing her to step up to the top spot and cram on her profession fast. This probably shouldn’t have worked for me as it’s almost all set-up and world-building, but the characters and the series mythology kept me interested and entertained. Although Darria’s lecherous sidekick’s constant come-ons get old fast, I look forward to getting the next volume eventually.

#SFWApro. Cover by Dick Sprang, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Learn by Rereading: Titans Hunt

So after reading Teen Titans: The Silver Age a while back —

—I continued on, into the Bronze Age, then into what’s generally considered the definitive version of the team, the Marv Wolfman/George Perez launch in the 1980s. Having given away some of the last of that series (it didn’t end on a high note) I wound up finishing with the Titans Hunt arc, which Wolfman considers his last first-rate work on the book (all my references to creators’ opinions are from the interviews collected here). And it got me thinking, as reading stuff often does.

The story-line was a massive attempt to tell an epic that would shake up the Titans’ status quo. The Wildebeest, a supervillain they’ve battled before, captures almost the entire team. A handful of their allies — Changeling’s father, the Terminator, Raven’s mother, the Russian hero Red Star — join forces with Nightwing and Troia. New heroes, such as Phantasm, appear out of nowhere.

Ultimately it turns out the Wildebeests are not what they seem. Originally they were a team of criminals using the same battle-suit, figuring their motives and tactics would be so different, the Titans could never predict the Wildebeest’s next move. Then the Titan Jericho took them over: he’d been corrupted by hundreds of dark souls during a previous battle and sought to give them the Titans’ bodies to possess until he could grow new bodies for them. The Wildebeests provided the force to capture the team and to grow the new bodies.

My first thought was that it’s a good example of how we writers have certain tropes or tricks we’re drawn too. Either they appeal to our psyche or we just think they work for some reason. While I doubt I noticed it on first reading, when I went months between issues, the Titans Hunt reuses a shtick Wolfman has deployed before, having a villain who’s not just one step but a hundred steps ahead of the heroes.

In the classic Judas Contract story, it turns out the Titans’ member Terra has been working from within to destroy them. She’s given Deathstroke all their secrets, which he uses to anticipate their every move and trap the entire team. Here, the Wildebeests’ plot hinges on Jericho knowing the team from the inside out, figuring exactly the traps to destroy them. But that was nothing compared to Brother Blood, the evil cult leader who tied with Deathstroke and Trigon as the Titans’ arch-foe during the 1980s (and showed up much more). With Brother Blood, whatever the team does is always a mistake. He’s anticipated their every move and laid plans to exploit it. Even when they win, it’s actually a minor sacrifice by Blood to advance his ultimate goal.

The Wildebeests were much like that. Always anticipating, always a step ahead, even before Jericho took them over. While it’s an effective tactic for creating a smart, formidable villain, I think Wolfman overplays it: the Wildebeests, like Blood, are so successful the heroes look not outwitted but kind of incompetent.

The second thing I learned is that the creative process in a medium such as comics (or TV. Or movies) is rarely clean-cut. As a writer I usually imagine the comics writer and to some extent the artist shaping the story, even though I know perfectly well there are other hands to stir the pot.

Titans Hunt was an excellent example. The initiator wasn’t Wolfman but the book’s new editor, Jonathan Peterson. Sales had become sluggish but Peterson believed that with some radical changes and a drastic plotline that included deaths, he could shake up the book and the sales figures. His goal was to beat X-Men at their own game and to make the book more kickass and violent, with a lot less of the warm emotional scenes Wolfman was good at (Wolfman says he was on board with this) I don’t think it’s coincidence that Peterson wanted to kill off Troia’s husband and Jericho, two warm, empathic, non-kickass men.

Further complicating things were various crossovers that slowed down the arc and later editorial interference. A plotline with Cyborg becoming brain-dead was supposed to last a few months; instead it ran for years.

Okay, none of my thoughts were deep, but hopefully you found ’em interesting.

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Mostly monsters with a couple of heroes: TPBs read.

BPRD The Devil You Know: Ragnarok by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie, Christopher Mitten and Laurence Campbell brings down the curtain on the Hellboyverse (though obviously there’s lots of retcons still to come). Rasputin returns to unleash the power of the Oghdru Hem. The world dies beneath an onslaught of monsters. The Osiris Club make their move. The BPRD wonder if they can beat the apocalypse one more time, and Hellboy, Abe and Liz all meet their destinies.

Action-packed but even though it fulfills something that’s been in the works for years, it doesn’t entirely satisfy. Part of my reservations are that while Hellboy’s actions here do save the world to come, the wrap-up is so rushed it doesn’t pay off like it should. I’ve already added it to the Hellboy Chronology.

JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA: Panic in the Microverse by Steve Orlando, Ivan Reis and Felipe Watanabe feels like the creators watched Ant-Man and the Wasp and decided to give DC it’s own quantum universe. However the JLA’s adventures to rescue Ray Palmer (who last time I saw him in the New 52 wasn’t the Atom) from a subatomic universe aren’t that different from countless previous exploits, just with more technobabble and psychedelic art. Reasonably enjoyable and it’s nice to see Ryan Choi become the Atom again, but nothing special.

MANEATERS by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk is, I think, meant to be a riff on rape culture and sexism (that may not have been the creators’ intentions): a virus causes girls to become werecats once they get their period, so going out with a girl can be a death sentence. The solution, rather than put the responsibility on boys to stay safe, is to go all out to protect them: birth-control hormones are in our drinking water so women and girls don’t menstruate, and boys get “safe spaces” where they can have fun without being threatened by cat women.

Trouble is, I don’t quite buy the premise — there’s no real evidence given boys are more at risk than anyone else (lots of girls who go were murder their entire families). And the execution is light and fluffy and humorous — not that I want it grimdark, but it felt too insubstantial (particularly when the fourth issue in this collection is just a collection of magazine tips on How To Survive Cats).

BATWOMAN: The Many Arms of Death by Marguerite Bennett, James Tynion IV and multiple artists is another readable-but-not-great one. After West Point dismissed Kate Kane for being lesbian (isn’t it awesome that’s going to have to be retconned in a few years?), she became an aimless drunk until she wound up on a Greek island and fell in love with its mistress, Sofiyah. It didn’t end well. Now someone’s making plans against the island, Kate’s on a hitlist and Batwoman (backed up by Alfred’s daughter) has a lot to do to keep things (and islands) from blowing up. I think part of my problem with this one is that it reminds me too much of Oliver Queen’s island years transforming him (even though events are totally different).

ESSENTIAL MAN-THING (by multiple writers and artists but most notably Steve Gerber and Mike Ploog) collects the first 30 or so stories of Marvel’s Swamp Thing counterpart, a scientist whose experimental super-soldier serum turns him into a mindless, empathic muck monster. As such (as my friend Ross once put it), Man-Thing is the world’s greatest guest-star, even in his own series: he doesn’t want anything or seek anything so it all depends on the people who stumble into his path. A dead clown who has to defend his life’s worth. A sorceress in training. A poor white living in the swamp, trying to save himself and his dog from malevolent sendings. The deranged Fool-Killer. Hard-luck loser Richard Rory. Not that it always works (with the wrong guest stars, the story just sucks) but overall, the collection is excellent, even though he’ll never replace Swamp Thing in my esteem.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Laurence Campbell, Mike Sekowsky and Mike Ploog, all rights remain with current holders.


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