Saturday, July 1, 2017

COMICS READING FOR JUNE: “Make mine Marvellous”

* NOW WITH STAR RATINGS (ala Wrestling Observer Newsletter PPV reports) *

*****     All-Star Superman, We3
****      Zenith, New X-Men (the early issues), Batman Inc., Batman & Robin, Dare, Arkham Asylum, The Filth
***        Seven Soldiers, Seaguy
**         Final Crisis, Flex Mentallo
*           Marvel Boy
DUD (or lower) Nameless, later New X-Men

HAVING watched Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 on the big screen recently, then perusing a bunch of Marvel titles like Avengers Arena last month in a separate project, THIS MONTH I decided to make it a Marvel-exclusive month (well, with a couple of exceptions). Apart from reading a shitload of Secret Avengers, this is all very random, but at least I knocked off some comics that have been sitting in my unread pile for nearly THIRTY YEARS.

1. The Fantastic Four Pop-Up Book (Candlewick Press, 2008) ****
I love 3-D pop-up books and this chunky book – featuring original 1960s text and artwork by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby – is really cool. I have the other two books in the series (X-Men and Spider-Man), but I think this volume is my favourite.
2. The Defenders #55 (Marvel, 1978) ***
Writer: David Anthony Kraft/Artists: Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson

3.-5. The Defenders #112-114 (Marvel, 1982) **½
Writers: JM DeMatteis and Don Perlin/Artists: Don Perlin, Mike Gustovich and Sam de la Rosa (interiors); Brent Anderson (#112 cover); Don Perlin and Steve Mitchell (#113 cover); Don Perlin and Al Milgrom (#114 cover)
6.-10. Quasar #13-16, 27 (Marvel, 1990-91) ***¼
Writer: Mark Gruenwald/Artists: Mike Manley and Dan Panosian (#13-15 interior); Mike Manley, Dan Panosian and Keith Williams (#16 interior); Greg Capullo and Keith Williams (#27 interior); Jim Lee (#13 cover); Todd McFarlane (#14 cover); Mike Mignola (#15 cover); Steve Lightle (#16 cover); Dave Hoover (#27 cover)
Several years back, I reread Mark Gruenwald’s classic Squadron Supreme maxiseries from 1985 and the not-quite-as-good sequel Squadron Supreme: Death Of A Universe (1989). I decided to buy any title featuring the super-team from Marvel’s version of Earth 2. So I picked up this Defenders arc that depicted the events that led to the original maxiseries (where the Squadron take control of the planet and force Utopia on an unhappy populace). These three issues feature the usual overwrought Marvel writing style and some truly abysmal art by Perlin and Gustovich. Still, it’s the Squadron and even though they come across as evil Overmind’s patsies (in fact, the Squadron have always been a bunch of losers, come to think of it), it was cool to read what was essentially the prequel to the far superior maxiseries.
The four-issue arc in Quasar depicts the Squadron survivors after the events of Death Of A Universe when they return to Earth, only to find they’re on OUR Earth. They encounter Quasar, take residence at Project Pegasus and get mind-controlled (again). This cosmic arc features a murder mystery (who is killing multiple Watchers?), the return of Overmind, The Stranger and a slew of guest stars who are being experimented on by The Stranger including Jack Of Hearts, Ego Prime and more.
The Squadron have a cameo in #27 but thankfully they’re not mind-controlled in this ish.

11.-14. The X-Men vs The Avengers #1-4 (Marvel, 1987) ***
Writer: Roger Stern/Artists: Mark Silvestri (#1-3), Keith Pollard (#4) and Josef Rubinstein (#1-4)
These were, I think, the oldest unread comics in my collection. Yep, 30 years. So, was it worth it? Well, the end. This is one of the first miniseries Marvel did and it’s really an excuse for their two big teams to fight each other. Sadly, both incarnations of the teams are pretty lame. This is The Avengers during their Dr Druid, Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau version), Black Knight, She-Hulk, Captain America and a not-so-powerful Thor phase. The X-Men are Wolverine, Dazzler (!), a depowered Storm, Havok and Rogue. Oh... and this was period when Magneto was a good guy, even though he was a mass murderer.
Anyway, his past comes to haunt him when The Avengers come to arrest him (and the Soviet Super Soldiers arrive to assassinate him for sinking a Russian submarine and destroying a Russian city). Inexplicably, The X-Men defend him. After three convoluted issues, Magneto eventually goes on trial in an international court and is INEXPLICABLY found not guilty of mass murder. Why? Because it’s decided that Magneto was a country (representing mutantkind) and was at war with humanity. So that justifies killing a bunch of civilians. Um...okay. That aside, the ending is very downbeat as Magneto realises that his court victory has only stirred up further anti-mutant hostility and could lead to war between the two species. Considreing how formulaic and, at times, stupid writing, Stern finishes the miniseries with some quiet poignancy.

15. The Incredible Hulk #183 (Marvel, 1974) ***
Writer: Len Wein/Artist: Herb Trimpe
Classic Trimpe.
16. The Incredible Hulk #397 (Marvel, 1992) ***
Writer: Peter David/Artist: Dale Keown and Mark Farmer
17.-20. Hulk vs The Thing (Marvel, 1999) ****
- originally published in Fantastic Four #25-26 (Marvel, 1964), Fantastic Four #112 (Marvel, 1971), Marvel Feature # 11 (Marvel, 1973)
Fantastic Four #25-26: Writer: Stan Lee/Artists: Jack Kirby and George Roussos
Fantastic Four #112: Writer: Stan Lee/Artists: John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Marvel Feature # 11: Writer: Len Wein/Artists: Jim Starlin and Joe Sinnott
21. Thing and She-Hulk: The Long Night (Marvel, 2002) *
Writer: Todd DeZago/Artists: Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary, Ivan Reis and Randy Emberlin (interior); Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary (cover)
Messy, dumb comic that sees Thing and She-Hulk save an underground train from Dragon Man and vampires. Poorly written and with too many TYPOS!!!
22.-25. The West Coast Avengers #26-29 (Marvel, 1987-88) ***½
Writer: Steve Englehart/Artists: Al Milgrom and Mike Machlan (#26-27, 29); Al Milgrom and Dave Hunt (#28)
I loved the “Who Remembers Scorpio?” storyline that ran in The Defenders #46-50 in 1977. And I dug the Zodiac cartel (12 villains who dressed like the signs of the zodiac) in Avengers #120-121 in the mid-70s. This sequel (of sorts) is marred by some cack-handed art by Milgrom (whose ubiquitous but unwelcome hackwork was a depressing part of Marvel during this era). But the storyline is pretty cool with the original Zodiac being slaughtered by a new Zodiac comprised of LMDs and led by a Jake “Scorpio” Fury LMD. The only survivor is the original Taurus who goes to the West Coast Avengers for help. It’s a pretty cool storyline.
26. Avengers West Coast #69 (Marvel, 1991) **½
Writers: Roy and Dann Thomas/Artists: Paul Ryan and Danny Bulanadi
27. I Am An Avenger #1 (Marvel, 2010) ***
Writers/Artists: various
28.-29. Hercules: Fall Of An Avenger #1-2 (Marvel, 2010) ***¾
Hercules: Writers: Greg Pak and Fred Van lente/Artist: Ariel Olivetti
ATLAS: Writer: Paul Tobin/Artists: Reilly Brown, Jason Paz and Terry Pallot
Remember when Hercules died? Nah, me neither. Which is sad because I actually read the issue in which he kicked the bucket. Anyway, he was dead here, but he’s all better now. I only bought these books to read the ATLAS back-up tale anyway.
30. Marvel Team-Up #54 (Marvel, 1977) ***
Writer: Bill Mantlo/Artists: John Byrne and Mike Esposito (interior); Gil Kane (cover)

31.-34. Heroes of Power: The Women of Marvel All-New Marvel Treasury Edition (Marvel, 2016) ****
- originally published in Gwenpool #1 (Marvel, 2016), Edge of Spider-Verse #2 (Marvel, 2014), Ms Marvel #1 (Marvel, 2014), Captain Marvel #1 (Marvel, 2012) and material from FCBD: Civil War II (Marvel, 2016)
Writers/Artists: various (interior); Joyce Chin (cover)
35.-39. Spidey: All-New Marvel Treasury Edition (Marvel, 2016) ****½
- originally published in Spidey #1-3 (Marvel, 2015), Spider-Man #1-2 (Marvel, 2016)
Spidey: Writer: Robert P. Thompson/Artist: Nick Bradshaw
Spider-Man: Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artist: Sara Pichelli
I’m crazy about the revival of the Marvel Treasury Edition. And they’re not overpriced either. Lovely stuff seeing the oversized artwork and reading some tales that I normally might not have bought.
40.-43. Thunderbolts #15-17, 25 (Marvel, 1998) ***½
Writer: Kurt Busiek/Artists: Mark Bagley and Scott Hanna (#15-17); Mark Bagley, Bob Wiacek and Al Vey (#25)
I bought these because they feature the Great Lakes Avengers, my second-favourite Avengers after the 1950s Avengers.
44. Captain America And Citizen V Annual (Marvel, 1998) ***¼
Writers: Kurt Busiek and Karl and Barbara Kesel/Artists: Mark Bagley, Greg Adams and Scott Hanna
45.-47. Citizen V And The V Battalion #1-3 (Marvel, 2001) ***¼
Writer: Fabian Nicieza/Artists: Michael Ryan and Sean Parsons
48.-51. Citizen V And The V Battalion: The Everlasting #1-4 (Marvel, 2002) ***¼
Writer: Fabian Nicieza/Artists: Lewis LaRosa, Jim Royal and friends (#1-3 interiors); Klebs Junior and Udon Studios (#4 interior); Mike Deodato (covers)
Baron Zemo, Baron Von Strucker, World War Two, blahblahblah...
52.-63. Thunderbolts: Ultimate Collection (Marvel, 2011) *****
- originally published in Thunderbolts #110-121 (Marvel, 2007-08) and material from Civil War: The Initiative (Marvel, 2007)
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artist: Mike Deodato (interiors); Marko Djurdjevic (covers).
Civil War: The Initiative artists: Marc Silvestri and friends
Ellis does what he does best. He gets in, writes mature, gripping and intelligent comics for a couple of arcs (if we’re lucky), then gets the hell out to make his successor look crap by comparison. This version of the Thunderbolts is truly horrific, capturing superheroes using extreme force at the be
hest of their boss, Norman “Green Goblin” Osborne, in the aftermath of Civil War. Bullseye has never been so terrifying. Fantastic, fantastic comic.
64. The Incredible Hulk #269 (Marvel, 1982) ***½
Writer: Bill Mantlo/Artist: Sal Buscema (interior); Al Milgrom (cover)
The first nine issues of The Rampaging Hulk were some of my favourite Marvel mags in the 70s. The B&W magazine depicted untold tales of the Hulk from the early days of his career, depicting the green giant’s earliest meetings with The Avengers, The X-Men and more. Sadly, Marvel decreed after the run ended that the issues were non-canon, then tried to ignore them. But Bill Mantlo felt a compulsion to explain away this continuity discrepancy through a story arc (starting in Hulk #269) where Krylorian techno-artist Bereet (who was a major character in The Rampaging Hulk) had created a movie about the Hulk’s life. The events that took place in The Rampaging Hulk were actually scenes from the film. It’s kinda clever, actually. If Bereet’s name sounds familiar to modern readers it’s because her character has a cameo at the start of the first Guardians Of The Galaxy movie as Peter Quill’s fling.

65.-91. Secret Avengers #12.1.-37 (Marvel, 2011-13) SEE BELOW
I finally got around to finishing this rather excellent offshoot of the regular Avengers series, which had a strong spy/black ops feel to it despite the range of different writes working on it. It’s a credit to th ewriters that despite having to stay connected with the regular Marvel Universe (and all those damn crossovers), it retained a high standard throughout.
Breaking the series down:
#12.1.-15. Writer: Nick Spencer/Artists: Scott Eaton and Jaime Mendoza (#12.1, 15 interior); Scott Eaton, Jaime Mendoza ande Rick Ketcham (#13-14 interior); Mike Deodato (#12.1 cover); Adi Granov (#13-15 cover) ***½
Spencer’s final few issues suffered due to working on the sub-par Fear Itself event. Probably the strongest issues are the point-of-entry #12.1 with the Secret Avengers trying to save an undercover informant after he and hundreds of other informants are exposed by US Agent. I also liked the Black Widow solo tale in #15 that tackles the hairy subject of all those superhero resurrections in the Marvel U.
#16.-21. Writer: Warren Ellis/Artists: Jamie McKelvie (#16 interior); Kev Walker (#17 interior); David Aja and Raul Allen (#18 interior); Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Thies (#19 interior); Alex Maleev (#20 interior); Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger (#21 interior); John Cassaday (covers) *****
And then Ellis comes along and takes the series up several notches. Hard-hitting, high-tech action, fascinating concepts, razor-sharp dialogue... My personal favourite is #20 when the Black Widow survives a mission that sees her fellow Avengers killed by being thrown back in time. She spends months (years?) setting up everything to save the Avengers when she reaches that moment in time again. Intricate, ingenious. This entire arc is perfection.
#21.1.-37. Writer: Rick Remender/Artists: Patrick Zircher (#21.1 interior and cover); Gabriel Hardman (#22-25 interiors); Arthur Adams (#22-25, 29-37 covers); Renato Guedes (#26-28 interiors); Alan Davis and Mark Farmer (#26-28 covers); Matteo Scalera (#29-32, 34-37 interiors); Andy Kuhn (#33 interior) ***¾
And the series winds up with several arcs in a more traditional “Avengers vs several Big Bads leading to the Ultimate Big Bad storyline”. Remender was on the road to being a great writer during this run and there are a lot of great ideas on display, including the rise of an army of mechanical life forms called “The Descendants”, the death of Antman and his being replaced by an evil LMD, the first use of Venom as a “good guy” now that he’s operated by Flash Thompson, the introduction of the undead Avengers, “The Celestial”, on Earth-666, the new Masters Of Evil (containing hundreds of super-villains...this was explored further in Avengers Undercover), The Abyss and more.
There’s a lull during a less-than-stellar AvsX crossover seeing the brief resurrection and death of the original Captain Marvel in #26-28, but it’s back to greatness from #29 onwards.
92.-102. Secret Avengers #1-11 (Marvel, 2013-14)
Writers: Nick Spencer (#1-9); Ed Brisson (#10-11)/Artists: Luke Ross (#1-5, 8, 10-11 interiors); Butch Guice and friends (#6-7 interior); Butch Guice (#9 interior); Tomm Coker (#1-4, 7 covers): Nic Klein (#5-6, 8, 10-11 covers); Alex Maleev (#9 cover) ***¾
A fascinating concept that barely lasted 16 issues: a team of Secret Avengers work for S.H.I.E.L.D., but their work is so top secret that they have their memories wiped after every mission for national security reasons. A.I.M. as an independent nation, the Avengers undertaking political assassinations, Taskmaster as a good guy (sorta) and Mockingbird trapped in a middle-aged henchman’s body. Very cool.
#10-11 is an Infinity tie-in and deals with two very regular people affected by the Terrigan Mists and becoming Inhumans, one good and one not-so-good.
103.-107. Secret Avengers Vol. 3: How To Maim A Mockingbird (Marvel, 2014) ***½
- originally published in Secret Avengers #12-16 (Marvel, 2014)
Writer: Nick Spencer and Ales Kot/Artists: Butch Guice (#12-14 interiors); Luke Ross (#15-16 interiors); Butch Guice (#12-16 cover)
M.O.D.O.K. steals the show in this final arc.

108.-111. Union Jack #1-4 (Marvel, 2006-07) ****
Writer: Christos Gage/Artists: Mike Perkins and Andrew Hennessy
112.-117. Runaways: Pride and Joy (Marvel, 2009) ****¾
- originally published in Runaways #1-6 (Marvel, 2003)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan/Artist: Adrian Alphona
Almost perfect.
118.-122. Deadpool The Duck (Marvel, 2017) ****
- originally published in Deadpool The Duck #1-5 (Marvel, 2017)
Writer: Stuart Moore/Artists: Jacopo Camagni (interiors); David Nakayama (covers)
123.-128. Jessica Jones Vol. 1 (Marvel, 2017) *****
- originally published in Jessica Jones #1-6 (Marvel, 2017)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artists: Michael Gaydos (interiors); David Mack (covers)
129.-134. Rocket Raccoon And Groot Vol. 1: Tricks Of The Trade (Marvel, 2016) ****
- originally published in Rocket Raccoon And Groot #1-6 (Marvel, 2016)

135.-142. Guardians Of The Galaxy: Guardians Of Infinity and Guardians Of The Galaxy: Tales Of The Cosmos (Marvel, 2016) ****
- originally published in Guardians of Infinity #1-8 (Marvel, 2016)
Writers/Artists: various

143.-149. Great Lakes Avengers: Same Old Same Old (Marvel, 2017) ****
- originally published in Great Lakes Avengers #1-7 (Marvel, 2016-17)
Writer: Zac Gorman/Artists: Will Robson (#1-3,5-6 interiors); Jacob Chabot (#4 interior); Will Robson and Scott Hanna (#7 interior); Will Robson (covers)


150. Bankshot #1 (Dark Horse, 2017) ** 1/2
Writer: Alex de Campi/Artist: ChrisCross
Review HERE.

151. WWE Kids #121 (DC Thompson, 2017) **** (for mag and tip-ons) DUD (for strip)
Writer/Artist: unknown (probably too embarrassed to put their names to it)
I love this mag to bits for the cool tip-ons (posters, stickers, toys, etc), but Superfan is the most obnoxious comic strip ever created. That kid deserves the most painful death known to man. And his parents need a backhander each for their shitty parenting.

152. Stratu’s Diary Comics May 2017 (self-published, 2017) *
Writer/Artist: Stratu

153. 21 Years of Microcosm Publishing (Microcosm, 201?) ***¼
Writers: Joe Biel and Elly Blue/Artist: Peter Glanting

I received this free with my copy of Xerography Debt #41. It’s the history of this Portland, Oregon-based book company and a mini-history of publishing in America since 1900. Kinda cool A1 folded, full-colour comic. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

REVIEW: Bankshot #1 (Dark Horse, 2017)

THE problem with some miniseries is that they're better read in one hit as a trade rather than as a monthly floppy.
This is the problem with Bankshot. We've barely scratched the surface of the story by the end of the first issue, so not much makes sense at all. If it wasn't for the over-excited blurb on the inside front cover I wouldn't know what the hell is going on or who the main character is.
Is this the fault of writer Alex de Campi (of Archie vs Predator fame...or is that infamy)? It feels as if he wrote this as a complete graphic novel, then chopped it into five parts and it just doesn't work.
Marcus King is a terrorist or maybe a good guy - it's hard to tell. We know the FBI think he's a very bad person. He used to be a US soldier, according to a lengthy flashback. In fact, the issue ends mid-flashback with King being shot in the back while fleeing from an uber-villain called The Dutchman. Other than that, NADA.
ChrisCross's artwork is okay, but he's done better. At times, it's hard to tell what is exactly happening, particularly in the flashback when King and his unit are attacking an enemy convoy in the desert. 
I'll give issue two a shot because I'm curious enough to see where this is all leading, but this is one comic that may be better left alone till the collected edition comes out.
A final note: the colourist on this comic is called Snakebite Cortez, which is arguably the greatest name ever.

Bankshot #1 is published by Dark Horse and retails for US$3.99. It goes on sale June 28.
Writer: Alex de Campi/Artist: ChrisCross

RATING: 5 out of 10

Sunday, June 4, 2017

COMICS READING FOR MAY: “The complete story.”

* NOW WITH STAR RATINGS (ala Wrestling Observer Newsletter PPV reports) *

*****     All-Star Superman, We3
****      Zenith, New X-Men (the early issues), Batman Inc., Batman & Robin, Dare, Arkham Asylum
***        Seven Soldiers
**         Final Crisis, Flex Mentallo
*           Marvel Boy
DUD (or lower) Nameless, later New X-Men and any of his hippy-dippy, pseudo-mystical crap

SO, MAY was a month where I decided to read a complete run of a particular series or miniseries. It meant I finally knocked over some titles I’d collected but never bothered to read at the time, some of which had been sitting around for up to EIGHT YEARS. Let’s see what I thought of these various titles and whether they had an impact on me when they were read in one hit.

1.-12. Jersey Gods #1-12 (Image, 2009-10) ***¼
Writer: Glen Brunswick/Artists: Dan McDaid (interiors); Michael Allred, Paul Pope, Erik Larsen and Darwyn Cooke (covers)
Jack Kirby’s New Gods meets Jersey Shore meets The Sopranos? This series tried to be a lot of things, but clearly it failed as it was unceremoniously axed after only 12 issues. To be honest, Brunswick isn’t the greatest writer, McDaid’s art was mediocre and the rushed conclusion just smacked of...sucky rushed’ness. Had its moments, but this series didn’t deserve to carry on.

13.-25. The Filth (Image, 2017) ***¾
- originally published in The Filth #1-13 (Image, 2002-03)
Writer: Grant Morrison/Artists: Chris Weston and Gary Erskine (interiors); Carlos Segura (covers)
My problem with The Filth when I first read it in 2002-03 was that I consumed it as individual floppies, so there was a month’s gap between issues. It just didn’t make any sense to me. Re-reading it 15 years later in one hit and this mind-bending series still makes little sense, but I can admire Morrison’s madness and desire to cram as many ideas as possible into one maxi-series. Ned Slade is part of an elite secret super-cop defense system protecting the world from the disgusting CRAP that threatens to overwhelm it at times. Giant killer sperm, micro-colonies of I-Life creatures, unkillable super-assassins, self-made superheroes, insane cruise ship-dwelling pirates, dope-smoking Soviet ape cosmonauts, youth-stealing serial killers and more. But is Ned Slade real? Or is it his “cover identity” of Greg Feely – aging masturbator, cat lover and possible paedophile – the real person and Ned the fake identity? My head kinda exploded around issue #10, so I can’t answer that for certain. This is a very ambitious series and I’m glad I reread it. Do I understand it? No, I do not.
26.-37. The Defenders #1-12 (Marvel, 2012-13) ***
Writer: Matt Fraction/Artists: Terry and Rachel Dodson (interiors #1-3, 7); Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano and Brian Thies (interior #4); Mitch Breitweiser (interior #5); Victor Ibañez, Tom Palmer and Terry Pallot (interior #6); Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton (interiors #8-10); Mirco Pierfederici (interiors #11-12) Terry and Rachel Dodson (covers #1-9, 11-12); Joe Quinones (cover #10)
Not one of Fraction’s better efforts – you can really see him being “oh-so-clever” and disappearing up his own arsehole with this “tribute” to 70s Marvel titles like The Defenders, Omega The Unknown and Jack Kirby’s Black Panther. Ultimately, he unleashes that hoary old deus ex machina of “Dr Strange goes back in time and undoes all the damage”. The Black Panther doesn’t die, the world isn’t destroyed, The Defenders were never re-formed. All in all, this circle jerk of a maxi-series was a waste of time.

38. Seeker 3000 Premiere #1 (Marvel, 1998) **¼
- originally published in Marvel Premiere #41 (Marvel, 1978)
Writer: Doug Moench/Artists: Tom Sutton (interior); Dave Cockrum and Joe Sinnott (original cover); Andrew Currie and Art Nichols (current cover)
39.-42. Seeker 3000 #1-4 (Marvel, 1998) **½
Writer: Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton/Artists: Andrew Currie and Art Nichols (#1-2); Andrew Currie and Andy Lanning (#3-4)
Pedestrian, wannabe Star Trek/Battlestar Galactica one-shot from 1978 was inexplicably reprinted, then reimagined two decades later. Abnett and Edginton desperatedly wanted this miniseries to become an ongoing series, but it’s just so fucking MEH. Earth’s last survivors are on a gigantic spaceship hurtling through the void looking for a new planet to repopulate. They meet friendly aliens, unfriendly aliens, an evil spaceship computer and the hint of a future plotline involving a murder mystery that will never got resolved ’cos nobody bought Seeker 3000...except me.

43. Marvel Premiere #50 (Marvel, 1979) *
Writers: Alice Cooper, Jim Salicrup, Roger Stern and Ed Hannigan/Artists: Tom Sutton and Terry Austin
Shock-rocker Alice Cooper is inexplicably dumped in an insane asylum and reduced to making bad puns. The story is loosely based on lyrics from his album From The Inside. It’s pretty lame.
44.-46. The Last Temptation #1-3 (Marvel Music, 1994-95) **
Writers: Alice Cooper and Neil Gaiman/Artists: Michael Zulli (interiors); Dave McKean (covers)
Fifteen years later, Alice had another go to promote a new album via a comic. At least The Last Tempation drops the comedy and aims for a horror theme. Alice is The Devil (or some supernatural equivalent) trying to tempt Steven at Halloween to sell his soul and join his travelling theatre troupe. It’s a bit naff, but Zulli’s art is lovely, as is McKean’s collage-style covers. It’s hard for me to say this, but The Last Temptation miniseries is a rare misfire by Gaiman.

47.-52. Last Gang In Town (Vertigo, 2016) DUD
- originally published in Last Gang In Town #1-6 (Vertigo, 2016)
Writer: Simon Oliver/Artists: Rufus Dayglo and friends (interiors); Rob Davis (covers)
I didn’t even know I’d bought this trade till I rediscovered it a few weeks ago. Why did I buy it? Maybe I liked the concept of a 70s punk band turned Robin Hood-style thieves and targeting The Queen’s Crown Jewels. Yeah, I liked the concept. Shame the execution is so fucking bad. This is just a terribly pretentious, annoyingly left-wing, oh-so-righteous comic where a cartoonish, complicated plot and Tank Girl-style art (that’s NOT a compliment) leads to a whole lot of nothing. The Queen is evil. Punk is good (but the Sex Pistols and Malcolm McLaren were bad). Everything about 70s England was bad. Anarchy and crime is good. Bollocks! Utter garbage.
53.-54. Journey: Wardrums (Fantagraphics, 1987-90) ****
Writer/Artist: William Messner-Loebs
Three years between drinks is too long for a comic series, even one as enthralling as tale of the French-British war in Canada in 1812. It was meant to go for six issues, but only lasted two. Shame.
55.-59. Heralds (Marvel, 2010) **
- originally published in Heralds #1-5 (Marvel, 2010)
Writer: Kathryn Immonen/Artists: Tonci Zonjic, James Harren and Emma Rios (interiors); Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic (covers)
Captain Marvel, Hellcat, Emma Frost, Valkyrie and She-Hulk are thoroughly manhandled by Immonen who can’t write for shit. The art is okay, but there are far too many inconsistencies and shallow characterisations of the various female heroes who are thrown together for the lamest of reasons (“it’s Emma Frost’s birthday”). Lame.
60.-63. Hulk and Thing: Hard Knocks #1-4 (Marvel Knights, 2004-05) **
Writer: Bruce Jones/Artist: Jae Lee
Nice art, but the story is nonexistent.
64.-67. Heroes Reborn: The Return #1-4 (Marvel, 1997) **¼
Writer: Peter David/Artists: Salvador Larroca, Art Thibert and friends
Considering this was how they brought back the real Marvel heroes back to the main Marvel U, this is pretty lame.
68.-71. Onslaught Unleashed #1-4 (Marvel, 2011) **½
Writer: Sean McKeever/Artists: Filipe Andrade (interiors), Humberto Ramos and Morry Hollowell (#1 cover), Morry Hollowell (#2-4 covers)
An anti-climactic conclusion to one of my fave shortlived series, Young Allies.
72.-87. FF #1-16 (Marvel, 2013-14) ***
Writers: Matt Fraction and Lee Allred/Artist: Michael Allred
Great art and a typically quirky Fraction story. I’m not surprised it only lasted 16 issues, although apparently this was a deliberate decision. The storyline seems to be a bit fractured, though, and certain plot strands don’t make any sense in the future old John Storm who returns to Earth to warn the new FF about the demise of the old Fantastic Four...who aren’t dead anyway.
88.-91. Mutant, Texas: Tales Of Sheriff Ida Red #1-4 (Oni Press, 2012) ***¼
Writer: Paul Dini/Artist: J. Bone
I first read this title in 2012 and it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. It had the same effect this time round.

92. Duckman #1 (Dark Horse, 1990) ***
Writer/Artist: Everett Peck
93.-97. Duckman #1-5 (Topps Comics, 1994-95) ***¼
Writer: Stefan Petrucha/Artists: Craig Yoe Studio, Clizia and George Erling, Everett Peck (#1 interior); Gary Fields (#2,4 interior); Craig Yoe (#3,5 interior); Don Alan Zakrzewski covers)
The TV series was funnier.

98.-105. The American #1-8 (Dark Horse, 1987-89) **¼
Writer: Mark Verheiden/Artists: Chris Warner and Art Nichols (and friends) (interiors #1-4); Grant Miehm and Chris Warner (interiors #5); Grant Miehm  (interiors #6-7); Grant Miehm and Bruce Patterson (interior #8); Chris Warner (covers #1-6); Grant Miehm (cover #7); Grant Miehm and Chris Warner (cover #8)
This is an interesting beast with a beloved media-friendly superhero, The American, being exposed as one of the military’s deepest, darkest projects. In the process, Verheiden throws in conspiracy theories, a still-alive-and-pulling-strings Dwight D. Eisenhower, a washed-up middle-aged sidekick and a drunken investigative journalist Dennis Hough. It’s all written in that over-wordy 1980s style, at times wavering between “serious” Alan Moore-style scripts and wisecrackin’ Moonlighting-style comedy-action.  The series reaches its natural conclusion in #4 and that would have seemed to be the obvious place to end a reasonably interesting miniseries. But Verheiden soldiered on. The next four issues kinda meander about with the remaining guy known as The American feeling lost without his purpose in life while Hough continues to fall further into a pit of alcoholism and domestic violence. #7 and #8 really felt like the series was heading somewhere new and different...then it stopped.
106. The American Special (Dark Horse, 1990) **¼
Writer: Mark Verheiden/Artists: Dougie Braithwaite and Robert Campanella
The series proper was wrapped up with this special, which was originally supposed to be #9. It ends on a downer: The American is shot by the disgruntled grandfather of a criminal that The American killed while stopping a robbery. His only friends, Hough and his ex-girlfriend Candice, go visit him as he lies near death on a hospital bed. And...THE END. But not quite.
107.-110. The American: Lost In America #1-4 (Dark Horse, 1992) ***
Writer: Mark Verheiden/Artists: Chris Marrinan and Brian Garvey; Dave Dorman (cover #1); Joe Phillips (cover #2); Mike Mignola (cover #3); Jim Lee (cover #4)
This self-contained colour miniseries sees The American leave hospital and, emotionally distraught, get caught up in a Scientology-style cult. Hough and Candice go searching for him and wind up in a redneck town where the locals don’t take kindly to the cultists who’ve settled in next door (shades of the Orange People in Oregon). This rapidly gets turned on its head when the cultists are revealed to be nature-loving, peaceful types (despite their strong-hand tactics in converting people) who wear MONKEY MASKS. And the redneck locals are the evil scumbags. After a huge fire fight where a large number of people are killed – and Candice seriously wounded – but it ends on an upbeat note with Hough sober and seemingly back on the rails, while The American and Candice have become an item. I guess that was as good a place as any to put The American to rest.

110.-127. Avengers Arena #1-18 (Marvel, 2013-14) *****
Writer: Dennis Hopeless/Artists: Kevin Walker and friends
Battle Royale meets Marvel’s sidekicks as 16 super-powered youngsters (including members of Runaways, Avengers Academy and the newly created Braddock Academy) are trapped in Arcade’s Murder World and ordered to off each other over the next 30 days. This series seriously fooled me – when I started buying it, I assumed that it was some kinda AI situation and all the budding heroes were locked away somewhere in a basement. How else would you explain Arcade’s near God-like powers? But as the series went on, I realised it was all REAL and the heroes who’d been killed were...y’know, DEAD. So some of my fave characters like Avengers Academy’s Mettle and Reptil and interesting new characters such as Apex, Cullen Bloodstone and Kid Briton actually bit the bullet during this extraordinary 18-issue run. The way Apex progressed from slightly amoral superhero to out-and-out psycho villain was intriguing. And my fave character was another Hopeless creation, Death Locket, who is abused and manipulated by Apex until the final issue. The series ends with the survivors swearing not to reveal the secret of what went on during their ordeal (a bit like the private schoolboys-turned-savages in Lord Of The Flies), but we see Arcade uploading all the video footage of their murderous activities for the past month to the internet. This is brutal, amazing stuff and I’m stunned Hopeless was allowed to romp so unfettered through the Marvel U. Which leads directly into...
128.-137. Avengers Undercover #1-10 (Marvel, 2014) ****½
Writer: Dennis Hopeless/Artists: Kev Walker (interiors #1-7), Tigh Walker (interiors #8, 10), Timothy Green II (interior #9); Francesco Mattina (covers)
Another underrated series sees seven of the Murder World survivors (minus X-23 and Darkhawk) trying to cope with their new-found infamy after the world has watched them via Arcade’s online videos. The group decide to track down Arcade (with distrastrous consequences), which ultimately leads them into making a decision to join Baron Zemo’s Masters Of Evil. Six of them are doing it so they can bring the organisation down from the inside, but Death Locket enjoys what she’s doing and, in a shocking final issue, decides to stay with Zemo’s evil clan. There are a couple of significant plotholes that bring Avengers Undercover down a notch but, all in all, it’s a fantastic lil’ series.

138.-140. Our Story Thus Far #1-3 (Jabberwocky Graphix, 1983-88) **
Writer/Artists: many
Brad Foster’s idea was a noble one: “the ultimate artist jam!” – and he certainly brought together an eclectic group of zine, indie and mainstream talent, including Rick Geary, Trina Robbins, cat yronwode, Valentino, Eastman and Laird, Kerry Gammill, Matt Wagner, Chester Brown, Phil Foglio, Michael T. Gilbert, William Messner-Loebs and Joe Staton. The problem is that a comix jam where everyone is given just one page to write and draw is going to become chaotic and confusing, no matter how strict the guidelines. This three-part exercise (there were supposed to be more volumes, but Brad clearly ran out of energy) just doesn’t make enough sense to make it worth reading. Frankly, it’s an unentertaining mess.

141. Strange Days #1 (Eclipse, 1984) **
142.-144. The Johnny Nemo Magazine #1-3 (Eclipse, 1985-86) **½
145.-146. Paradax #1-2 (Vortex Comics, 1987) **½
147.-148. The Best of Milligan & McCarthy (Dark Horse, 2013) **½
- including Rogan Gosh (Vertigo, 1994) and more (1978-94)
Writers: Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy/Artists: Brendan McCarthy (with Brett Ewins and others)
I’m not sure why I bought this book, especially as I have most of the comics this stuff was originally printed in, but I have to say that if this is the “best” of Milligan and McCarthy, I NEVER want to read the “worst”. Milligan is a fine superhero comic writer nowadays, but back in the 70s and 80s, most of what he wrote was pretentious art school tosh. This collection of his collaborations with overrated McCarthy are cringeworthy and naff. I gave up on some of the strips because the dialogue is so dense and dull and SHIT. McCarthy can draw (a bit), but it looks like he’s vomited his palette of paints on every page. It gives me a migraine just looking at it. I repeat, Milligan is waaaay better now – you’d just never know it reading this drivel. I’d give it a “DUD”, but I’ll give a star each to Paradax (an amusing post-modern superhero that pre-dates Zenith) and the loopy concept behind Skin (about a thalidomide skinhead). That said, I already have Skin as a stand-alone graphic novel, so I’ll review it separately.
149. Skin (Tundra, 1992) ****
Writer: Peter Milligan /Artist: Brendan McCarthy
Thalidomide and skinheads. Oh yeah, pretty bloody offensive. And, unlike most of M’n’M’s collaboratioins, this is a really entertaining, really violent graphic novel.

ME AND the kids planned to hit two places on FCBD: Phantom Zone in Parramatta and The Comic Shop in Liverpool. But the chillum turned so feral after our Phantom Zone sojourn that I decided to give Liverpool a miss.
Not that it mattered as we scored 20 comics between me, Helen, Jones and Dash. So that was 13 comics for me and seven for the kids. As a bonus, the following day, Helen took the children to the Parramatta Library where there were EVEN MORE free comics on offer, courtesy of Phantom Zone. So they nabbed another half dozen. All in all, a really cool score. So...what did I read?
150. Betty and Veronica #1 (Archie, 2017) ****½
Writer/Artist: Adam Hughes
Just about gorgeous on every level. Beautiful art by Hughes and his dialogue reminds me of the sparkling to-and-froing last heard in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV series (only with less bloodsuckers). Just about perfect. I’m tempted to pick up the first trade when it comes out.
151. I Hate Image (Image, 2017) ****¼
Writer/Artist: Skottie Young
Every Image comic gets roasted by the creator of I Hate Fairyland. Funny stuff.
152. Kid Savage (Image, 2017) ***
Writer: Joe Kelly/Artist: Ilya
Primitive alien meets space travelling human family is a familiar sci-fi trope and I don’t feel like any new ground is being explored here.
153. All-New Guardians Of The Galaxy/The Defenders (Marvel, 2017) ****
GOTG: Writer: Gerry Duggan/Artist: Aaron Kuder
Defenders: Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artist: David Marquez
The Defenders – based on the TV series – looks promising.
154. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The High School Years/Plants vs. Zombies (Dark Horse, 2017) ***½ (Buffy), * (PvZ)
Buffy: Writer: Kel McDonald/Artist: Yishan Li
PvZ: Writer: Paul Tobin/Artist: Rachel Downing
155. Wonder Woman (DC, 2017) ***¼
Writer: Greg Rucka/Artist: Nicola Scott
156. Secret Empire (Marvel, 2017) ***½
Writer: Nick Spencer/Artists: Andrea Sorrentino (interior), Mark Brooks (cover)
157. Lady Mechanika (Benitez Productions) ***
Writer/Artist: Joe Benitez
158. World’s Greatest Cartoonists (Fantagraphics, 2017) ****
Writers/Artists: various
159. The Incal (Humanoids, 2017) ****¼
Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky/Artist: Moebius
Pretty cool sampling of this classic Euro-series. I wound up buying the full run in a Comixology sale. I look forward to reading it.
160. 2000AD (Rebellion, 2017) ****
Writers/Artists: various

Phantom Zone also had several FCBD titles from last year available as well. I grabbed the following:
161. We Can Never Go Home/Young Terrorists (Black Mask, 2016) ****½
WCNGH: Writer: Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon/Artist: Josh Hood
Young Terrorists: Writer: Matt Pizzolo/Artist: Amancay Nahuelpan
I liked the first volume of WCNGH, so this taster of volume two was pretty cool. But the surprise find was the intro to Young Terrorists. Seems like a cool premise – like a darker, noirish reimagining of Hit Girl’s origin. I’m thrilled to learn that the complete series is finally being released as a trade paperback next month.
162. Bob’s Burgers (Dynamite, 2016) ***½
Writers/Artists: various
163. Valiant: 4001 A.D. FCBD Special (Valiant, 2016) ***
Writers/Artists: various
I’m just not into Valiant.

In addition to the titles specifically made for FCBD, Phantom Zone gave away free copies of the following titles:
164. Invincible #133 (Image, 2017) ***¼
Writer: Robert Kirkman/Artist: Ryan Ottley
165. Vampirella #0 (Dynamite, 2017) ***
Writer: Paul Cornell/Artist: Jimmy Broxton
166. Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 (Dark Horse, 2016) ***¾
Writer: Christos Gage/Artists: Rebekah Isaacs (interior), Steve Morris (cover)
167. Cinema Purgatorio #7 (Avatar, 2016) ***½
Writers/Artists: various  

168. SINK #2 (Comix Tribe, 2017) ****¼
Writer: John Lees/Artist: Alex Cormack
The second issue manages to be terrifying, disturbing and poignant all a the same time. Your pal John Lees and Alex Cormack have kicked another goal in this horrific, uniquely urban Scottish tale.
169.-170. Stratu’s Diary Comix March-April (self-published, 2017) ***¼
Writer/Artist: Stratu
I love Stu and this is a fascinating exercise of self-discipline, but the cupboard is bare when it comes to intellectual or entertaining reading material. Friending and blocking people on Instagram, internet shopping, TV shows or films he’s watched, vaping...there’s just not a lot of depth in what’s purportedly a “diary”. And I understand that dilemma – when I briefly did my own diary comic last year, I gave up because I was unwilling to share my most intimate thoughts to strangers. So what I was left with was the mediocre, mundane (and occasionally interesting) minutae of day-to-day living. The few times Stu explores more personal territory – like hanging out with his aunt or talking about how a certain person has let him down or helped him or whatever, then the zine gets more interesting. But those moments are a few and far between. That said, I did appreciate Stu’s mention of Seoul Station (the anime prequel to the excellent South Korean zombie flick Train To Busun. It encouraged me to buy it). I appreciate Stu’s work ethic and artwork (the personalised cover on the March issue was lovely). I note that he’s changed the format for April, turning it into an A6 digest (maybe for monetary reasons?). Either way, this zine is fine if you’re a friend of Stu’s and want to know how he keeps himself busy every day, but I wish it was so much more.
171. Powers #8 (Icon, 2017) ***½
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artist: Michael Avon Oeming
172. WWE Kids #120 (DC Thomson, 2017) ** (for the cartoons) **** (for the magazine)
Writer/Artist: unknown
SuperFan is back this issue – and he’s still the most obnoxious kid in the world. Totally punchable.
173. The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen From The Future (Scholastic, 2010) ***¾
Writer/Artist: “George Beard and Harold Hutchins” (actually Dav Pilkey)
Dash asked me to read this graphic novel because he thinks Captain Underpants (and everything else created by Dav Pilkey) rocks! He’s not half-wrong. This is quite funny, in a very puerile, toilet humour way.
174. Pug (Image, 2010) ***¼
Writer Derek McCulloch/Artist: Greg Espinosa.
A boxing-themed crime noir one-shot. A quick, easy read but nothing earth-shattering.
175. Secret Warriors Summer Preview  (Valiant, 2017) **¾
Writer: Eric Heisserer/Artist: Raúl Allén
I’m sure this will be a fine series, but I have absolutely NO DESIRE to read a Valiant comic.

176. Oswald: Monster Wrestler (Monster Comics, 2014) ****½
Writers: Andrew Isaac and Brendan Halyday/Artist: Andrew Isaac
177. Viddy Well, Brother (Franken Comics, 2012) ***½
Writer/Artist: Frank Candiloro