2022 Comic Reading Challenge

Justice League of America: 10 issues from 2010
Writer: James Robinson
And… right on cue, we’re back to “basically kinda sucks” Robinson. Bye, “surprisingly solid” Robinson, see you in another nine runs or so.

Mostly just out-of-character antics, dwelling on Cry for Justice as if it was a good idea, and very awkward dialogue (shoutout to Robinson’s trademark insistence on having everyone say “at this moment in time” when “right now” would do). But also, Plastic Man was apparently alive in the ‘40s now? That’s new.

Also, this is just a Titans run with some serial numbers filed off.

Snark aside, I do really like the idea of picking Jesse Quick and Jade as the Flash and Green Lantern for this lineup. I wish it were in a context that could make more actual use of them, but they’re both underrated and underutilized, and have similar enough backstories to make an obvious pair. Jesse even got to have two entire conversations that weren’t about Rick.

Shoutout to this over-the-top but not strictly uninteresting “Bogeyman” guy for being a Donna Troy plot that’s not about her origin. He never appears again, though, so it’s just kind of an out-of-place filler scene. Most likely because of Flashpoint. Wasn’t Flashpoint grand?

Shoutout to the scene of the Crime Syndicate in the last issue of this year where Owlman and Superwoman have sex on top of literal bags of money down to the cartoonish dollar sign marked on them, in the middle of a bank that Ultraman is robbing, which is on fire… and then Owlman subsequently remarks that they’re “keeping a low profile.”
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And since there was a crossover, I also read:

Justice Society of America: 12 issues from 2010
Writers: Bill Willingham (6 issues, co-writer on 1 issue), Lillah Sturges (co-writer on 1 issue), James Robinson (3 issues), Marc Guggenheim (1 issue)
First of all, Kid Karnevil is not as clever or interesting of a villain as Willingham thinks he is. “But no, see: He kills people! And he… he talks about how much he likes killing people!” It’s like Zsasz.

This split of the team into a regular group and an EDGY, MILITARIZED group is just… so… early ‘90s. I half-expect everybody to start sprouting mullets. This is literally how Extreme Justice happened, and at least the early parts of that title were… basically what you’d expect of a book that unironically calls itself “Extreme Justice.”

Mister America carries a bullwhip, which is an inefficient and dangerous weapon. Mister Terrific decides to “help” by making it cause explosions when it hits things. Also, I recognize that this is a silly criticism in some ways, but I do feel obligated to snark the tone-deafness of multiple scenes about a black guy making a white guy’s whip more powerful. Like, the whip in the first place is a gimmick dating to the original version of the character from the ‘40s, and Michael is the team’s gadget guy, so the idea would be entirely logical from an in-universe perspective (if we pretend the exploding whip isn’t stupid on its face for practical reasons), and I doubt they mean anything by it. But… still.

Anyway, hey, gratuitous anachronistic Nazis. Willingham should consider writing a bad Captain America run. And, like, really it’s just yet another generic dystopian future, but with more swastikas. But basically a disturbingly large number of comic writers seem to really, really wish World War II had never ended.

And perverse nostalgia for World War II is weird enough, but it’s common enough in comics that you have just sort of live with it. But in this case, the structure of the story is like four issues of this… misery porn of old superheroes dying one-by-one in a concentration camp (with lots of over-the-top detail on the Future!Nazis’ little-kids-changing-the-rules-of-the-game-tier “planning” and inexplicably extensive resources (their only ace in the hole is shutting off superpowers, where did they get all these robots)), and one of things actually getting properly resolved. Who the ■■■■ wants to read that?
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Regarding the aforementioned JLA/JSA crossover, it’s basically just an extremely long slugfest. It’s very fuzzy what the actual threat is, since it’s kind of an “everything goes crazy” grab bag. The Starheart, which is apparently intelligent now, doesn’t seem to have any real goals other than causing fight scenes. It completely drowns out what should be an emotional reunion between Jennie and her family.

Superman: 4 issues from 1940
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Obviously pretty much the same as the Superman stories in Action.

And unfortunately, up until maybe the last issue from this year, which has some more variety, that means Superman is pretty much still invincible. Which, like, I don’t want to be that guy complaining that Superman is overpowered, but, like, the reason that’s silly is because you can still do good conflict with a really powerful protagonist. But a lot of these stories don’t really make the effort. He just wins.

Shoutout to Clark bemoaning that there’s no news in September 1940. Can’t imagine what might’ve been going on at that time for a newspaper to report on.
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Flash Comics #1 from 1940
Writer: Gardner Fox
One digitized story from one digitized issue, but it’s here.

Shoutout to Jay getting his powers from “hard water.” Like, not heavy water; it’s that stuff that builds up on your sink if you don’t have a water softener.

And, being a speedster, the first thing he does with his powers is run in a circle. I wish as many real problems could be solved by running in a circle fast as there are in Flash stories.

His first priority, then, is to impress Joan, who is apparently a big football fan and won’t give him the time of day unless he uses his powers to cheat.
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Batman: 3 issues from 1940
Writer: Bill Finger
I’m impressed by how many core elements of the franchise have shown up in fairly recognizable form this quickly, honestly. Like… I don’t really mean to keep criticizing Superman, but it’s just the best example here: most plots there are about one-off characters who never come up again, and the supporting cast hasn’t really expanded beyond Lois and George/Perry (he just got renamed in the last issue from this year). But Batman seems to be introducing things that’ll actually stick in more stories than not. It does get a little silly when, like, the Joker manages to show up three times in two issues. But by that same token, he’s engaging and pretty recognizable compared to modern Joker, while Luthor still has hair and no first name.

Also, Robin is a tank in these early stories. Like, at a certain point the joke became that he gets kidnapped all the time or whatever, and there’s some of that, but in straight-up brawls, I feel like he’s winding up with a better track record than Batman. You can’t say the kid doesn’t pull his weight. There’s a hilariously bizarre scene in an otherwise normal story where Batman suddenly breaks the fourth wall and says he’s going to prove that criminals are cowards without their guns. So, he sets some guys he just captured loose to fistfight Robin, who just beats the ■■■■ out of them until they beg for mercy. Robin’s not there to help Batman; Batman’s there to hold Robin back.

Adventures with Understaffed ‘40s Police Departments: Not only does the police commissioner personally investigate murders, he actively invites Bruce Wayne along to murder investigations. Not Batman, Bruce. I mean, he’s been doing this since the first story, I’m just shouting that out because it happens again here. Twice, I think.

I’ve also just realized that I may have stumbled across the earliest comic book shipping war. Gardner Fox wrote a couple early issues, and he was the one who introduced Julie Madison. Bill Finger seems to go out of his way to ignore or sideline Julie other than token references like having Bruce sometimes remember “Oh, right, I’m already engaged, whoops” while in the middle of flirting with the presently-unnamed “Cat.”

(And lest I get too complimentary, shoutout to the story about “the ugliest man in the world” and his “ugly horde” out for revenge against all things beautiful.)
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Forgot to post my totals at the start of the month. Currently at 1,337. I’ve been falling behind with my reading so I might not make 2022 for the year, but that’s okay.

The new Red Sonja books have been good lately. One samurai, one Arthurian Legend, one fairy Tales. I guess giving her different themes works well. Hyrkania and Hyboria have been pretty fairly well trodden on these past 50 years or so.

Heartbroken that Marvel gave up the Conan license. He is still in Savage Avengers for the moment, but I don’t foresee it lasting long. Conan Properties might be putting out something next year. We’ll see. At least I have the new omnibuses of old stuff.

Caught up with all the Birds of Prey, and am finishing up all the Suicide Squad. I’ve been saving up a little of the new Wonder Woman for a treat, so that will be next soon.

Monkey Prince is coming along nicely, and it’s on DCUI now so everyone can enjoy it. It’s silly, but at issue six it gets a little more serious.

Catching up on Marvel titles as well, and am currently reading Strange Academy. I am too old to be reading teen coming-of-age stories, but they are so much fun I am going to read them anyway.

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Titans: 10 issues from 2010
Writers: J.T. Krul (3 issues), Mike Johnson (1 issue), Eric Wallace (6 issues)
Wait, Donna somehow has a secret identity all of a sudden? Seriously? She just used her actual name for years. She still uses her actual name. I guess Diana was maybe still sort of half-heartedly trying to do the secret identity thing at this point; maybe it’s related to that.

Meanwhile, Wally turns down Titans membership because he’s apparently very busy not being in the Flash title and not being in the Justice League title. I can imagine how not doing all of that would take up too much of his time to also not be in the Titans title.

Anyway, something that I think is telling about this late-2000s era is that it seems like every team was having multiple arcs about not being able to find enough members. That seems pretty indicative of a lack of top-level coordination, plus a lot of solo books doing dumb things.

Moving into the “Villains for Hire” era, first of all, is there… a joke I’m missing here? Like, the title seems to obviously be some kind of play on Heroes for Hire, but there’s no other connection? I mean, they’re for hire, yeah, but there’ve got to be any number of ways to phrase it and it’s not like mercenary villains are that rare of an idea in comics.

Anyway, that aside, there’s not much I can say about killing Ryan Choi that hasn’t already been said, but it’s an incredibly bad idea. Like, he’s not necessarily treated like complete fodder; he gets the bulk of the focus over the course of the issue, so it doesn’t read like a “lol, nobody cared about this guy anyway right” death. But I can’t fathom what purpose it serves. I guess making Deathstroke’s Titans look tough? Or did editorial just decide they were doubling down on Ray Palmer and Ryan had to go for that reason? Whhat’s the point here?

After this, I like that, to make these characters the protagonists, Wallace resorts to pitting them against a guy who literally makes drugs out of dead babies.

I also obviously hate this whole character direction for Roy. I don’t know exactly how the responsibility for this is divided amongst Wallace, Krul (in the Rise of Arsenal mini, which I’m skipping but familiar with previously), Robinson, and editorial, but it doesn’t help my opinion of any of them.
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Well, that was depressing. I wish I had something more fun to read.

More Fun Comics: 2 issues from 1941
Anthology
So, they’ve got all the features from #73 (including the first appearances of Green Arrow and Aquaman), but only Green Arrow from #74.

  • Doctor Fate by Gardner Fox: Wow, this is bizarre, actually. The villain, Mister Who (yes, really) has a serum made from crawfish that gives him a healing factor. Except, it also makes him indestructible, he displays the abilities to turn twenty feet tall and invisible at various points, and he has a pet giant spider for no given reason. And that’s before we get to the undefined-but-apparently-extensive abilities of the good Doctor himself, who nevertheless seems content to resolve most encounters with punching.

  • Green Arrow by Mort Weisinger: I like that the “Arrowplane” is… a car. I don’t mean, like, a plane that looks like a car, or that it looks like it could fly but they only drive it on the ground here. I mean… it’s literally a car.

  • Radio Squad, writer unknown: Points for creativity, but I don’t think using a violin bow to shoot arrows (no, this did not occur in a Green Arrow story) makes a lot of sense.

  • Johnny Quick by Mort Weisinger: In the story about the “Black Knight,” shoutout to the guy whose literal actual given name is “Black Knight,” and then the actual villain deciding the best way to frame him is to build a robot that looks like a black knight.

  • Clip Carson (only George Papp, the artist, credited; writer might be Bill Finger since he created the character): This is fairly generic compared to most of the others.

  • The Spectre by Jerry Siegel: I don’t know; the comic says that this teleportation beam thing is creating the purple haze, but I think it’s all in my brain.

  • Aquaman by Mort Weisinger: Wait, Golden Age Aquaman’s real name is also just Aquaman? Weisinger isn’t big on names, is he?

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I wonder if this came down to DiDio. Obviously the stuff in the Flash book was mainly Geoff Johns (I know he had plans for Wally that were eventually scrapped due to the New 52, unfortunately) but he’s an obvious fit for both the League and the Titans, especially since the Titans didn’t have a speedster.




I…
the ■■■■?

I assume his secret origin is that he didn’t finish his doctorate?

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It wouldn’t surprise me. It seemed like Johns wasn’t avoiding Wally, he just only had so much space before the reboot. And in JLA, Robinson seems to have a possibly deliberate premise of a largely new lineup (a lot of big names were unavailable for external reasons, but not that many). Titans is an odd one, though the title was in the process of winding down the normal roster in general.

I just don’t know what the chicken-or-egg breakdown between “Titans scuttled the roster and did something weird because other people were stealing all the characters” and “other people scooped up a bunch of Titans characters because otherwise they would’ve all been dumped into limbo when this weird shift happened” is.

But in either case, it’s a weird excuse for Wally to give for not joining the team. With Cyborg, Donna, and Starfire, that’s a solid base to add some lesser-known or new faces and get a functioning lineup together. But if there were outside interests on those other three, I can imagine scrambling for any excuse for the group not to stay together.

Yup.

Now-on-drugs-again Roy briefly wonders “what it tastes like.”

I so dearly wish I were making this up.

And being mad at Doctor Fate for stealing his idea for a base that’s bigger on the inside.

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Slow week for me. I read 54 comics. Year to date I have read 3679.

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Pretty good week. DO A POWERBOMB should be on everyone’s list, if you dug MURDER FALCON, go read this one. SURVIVAL STREET starts to lean into Mark Russell territory, and got better with issue 2. And APAMA THE UNDISCOVERED ANIMAL, my favorite of the last couple years, just showed up at the l.c.s. While fighting the “bad-guy” at a mattress store ran by LLOYD KAUFMAN, Apama thinks to himself ‘this bites wang’. Drawn with a bronze age zeal, written full of people that really exist, I LOVE THIS BOOK! HERO TOMORROW.COM. They don’t need to pay me, I’ll plug and sing praise for free.

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This week I read 85 comics. Year to date I am at 3764.

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Sweet!!! I have the hardcovers of this series, waiting for the hardcover of Bloom. I did a search on Amazon and that hardcover is $75?!? I bought it at cover price directly from Sikora at my LCS and got it signed.

Edit, I have the softcovers of Apama and the hardcover of Tap Dance Killer.

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Secret Six: 10 issues from 2010
Writers: John Ostrander (2 issues), Gail Simone (8 issues)
I still don’t think this is Simone’s best work (far from her worst, though, let’s be clear), but I really like the Ostrander issues here.

You know, as I read this, I suddenly realized another problem with Titans: DC already had an unsympathetic mercenary antihero supervillain squad. The two books’ premises are redundant, and they launched Titans by killing Ryan… yeesh.

I don’t know, this one, though, is if anything doubling down on the protagonists being basically unsympathetic, and I’m not sure what the appeal is there.
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Detective Comics: 12 issues from 1941
Anthology
Oh, man, they switched back to just digitizing the Batman stories starting with #50. I was kind of liking all the other dumb features, at least as a historical artifact.

  • Batman by Bill Finger: I like the story where Batman goes into a cave and is all “What a solemn, awesome place!” Must’ve been thinking “I gotta get me one of these.” One thing, though, that I admire about these stories is the use of shadows. I mean, often it’s just “dramatic Batman shadow on a wall” or whatever, but these are actually thinking about lighting in terms of general aesthetics in a way I’m not used to from books this old, or even ones from several decades later. And… it’s hard to overstate how much Bill Finger was carrying this feature even in terms of things you’d think would be the artist’s job, so I’m hesitant to assume this is attributable to Kane, but presumably consistent stylistic elements like this are him? Anyway, #54 has minor characters named “Sale” and “Conroy.” Just thought I’d throw that out there. The presence of Linda Page is kind of baffling after Finger went to so much trouble to write Julie Madison out; there’s not really any discernable difference between them other than, uh, hair color I guess.

  • Spy by Jerry Siegel: Golly, I’m glad they stopped A Foreign Power™ from getting those bomb sight schematics. Who knows what havoc A Foreign Poweran planes could have caused against An Invaded Country’s forces with those; it might’ve changed the whole course of An Overseas War. I wonder why nobody’s brought A Foreign Power back in modern comics; it seems to have been one of the most widely-used fictional countries back in the Golden Age. Did anybody even establish what happened to The Dictator of a Foreign Power? At this time, I would like to express my gratitude to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for clueing everybody in that it was okay to say what they were actually talking about.

  • Larry Steele (writer unknown): Weird. Larry seems to have been very suddenly bumped from being a private detective to a police detective between issues. While it’s hard to tell because they’re not credited half the time, in a lot of these features I encounter places where I have to assume new writers would often not actually read their predecessors’ work.

  • Crimson Avenger by Jack Lehti: I can’t get over how ridiculous his new spandex get-up looks. Also, this panel:


    I laughed.

  • Speed Saunders (writer unknown): This is switching from being one of the more action-focused features to a pretty heavy emphasis on clever whodunnits. I’m starting to like it.

  • Steve Malone (writer unknown): Shoutout to the story where a burglar shoots a guy, decides he doesn’t want to take a murder rap, asks the guy he just shot for the phone number of a doctor, and waits for the doctor show up. He’s the politest burglar ever. And of course the guy, who’s a detective, gives him Steve’s number, because that’s the first guy you’d try to secretly get help from in this situation: the district ■■■■■■■ attorney. The burglar then, under extremely light questioning, immediately confesses who hired him for the job, specifically to steal a valuable statue that this random detective inexplicably owns. Steve tells a bunch of cops to wait for him while he gets into a personal gunfight with this apparent mastermind. He gets the guy after the two of them destroy some of the valuable stolen art in their fight. Then, at the end, he pronounces that “A mania for collecting art is as bad as a mania for killing!”

  • Cliff Crosby by Chad Grothkopf: Hey, Cliff seems to have settled on the “newspaper publisher” job, and it’s even given a backstory this year; he apparently inherited it from his father. Shoutout to his… unnamed… girlfriend that he apparently has now? being relatably confused and exasperated all the time. And then in the next issue, it turns out his father was murdered! A plot! I didn’t know this feature had it in it. There’s also a character, Kay Nevers, who looks similar to the girlfriend from the previous issue, but doesn’t seem to have the same role. Speaking of her, apparently she was a reporter for the Nonspecific Journal (later the New York Journal; good, I was worried this was an A Foreign Poweran newspaper) when Cliff’s father ran it, but Cliff just… straight-up fired her because he’s sexist. The story is theoretically about her proving she knows what she’s doing and getting her job back, but I’m not convinced Grothkopf thought Cliff was unreasonable to do this.

  • Slam Bradley by Jerry Siegel: Nothing much to say about the couple stories available from this year.

… You know, I keep mocking this, but I wound up doing some actual research on the extent of at least German intelligence operations in the United States before and during World War II. The short version: Sabotage was nearly nonexistent after some early failed attempts, and espionage was admittedly widely attempted but rarely effective. Maybe that’s because all this “watch out” messaging was effective. But it also probably has a lot to do with the fact that the Abwehr seems to have been some combination of (a) hideously incompetent; (b) more interested in politicking against the SS than doing their own job; and (c) occasionally but notably actively collaborating with the Resistance (more among leadership than rank-and-file).

Given that this extreme paranoia about spies fed into things like the internment of Japanese-Americans later in the War, and that they so aggressively separate it from any direct reference to the Axis itself, it’s kind of sad and scary to see how pervasive it was. If it felt like it were just coming from a place of anti-Axis sentiment and this being the best way to use them as bad guys when we weren’t actually at war, I could get behind it. But the fixation is on a fear of spies above all else; it doesn’t seem to really matter to many of these writers where the spies are from or what their ideology is.
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“Hey, how are ya?! I don’t know if you ever met him, he was a couple grades behind us in school, but this is my cousin Jon, he’s a master scientist. Yeah, totally. Cool dude”

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