2016 Comic Reviews and Commentary

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata.


La Quinta Camera
Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil
Wonder Woman: The True Amazon
Ether #1
The Gods Lie
Star Trek: Boldly Go #1 & Star Trek: Waypoint #1
Ultraman Vol. 4
Beautiful Darkness
Superwoman #1
Deathstroke: Rebirth #1
Snotgirl #1
Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker
New Super-Man #1
Superman: American Alien
Hellboy in Hell
DC Universe: Rebirth #1
Ultraman Vol. 3
Wonder Woman: Earth One
Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1 & C-3P0  #1
Black Panther #1
Zodiac Starforce
The Sculptor
If You Steal
The Star Wars
Lulu Anew
Ultraman Vol. 2
Just So Happens
Star Wars: Shattered Empire


More NonSense: Die 2016!
This is our most desperate hour
As if 2016 couldn't get any worse...
More NonSense: And Love Is Love Is Love Is Love
MoreNonSense: The Best of 2016
50th Trek: Redshirts
More NonSense: The Trump Effect
Today I realized I was living in a cartoon
More NonSense: Ms. Marvel will Save You Now
Comic-Con Album Pt 42
Comic-Con Album Pt 41
50th Trek: The Physics of Star Trek
50th Trek: Trekkies (1997)
Comic-Con Album Pt 40
50th Trek: Just a Geek
Comic-Con Album Pt 39
Comic-Con Album Pt 38
R.I.P. Kenny Baker (August 24, 1934 - August 13, 2016)
Comic-Con Album Pt 37
R.I.P. Jack Davis (December 2, 1924 - July 27, 2016)
Video: The Art of Richard Thompson
Comic-Con Album Pt 36
Comic-Con Album Pt 35
Comic-Con Album Pt 34
Comic-Con Album Pt 33
Comic-Con Album Pt 32
More NonSense: Hail Hydra!
Comic-Con Album Pt 31
Comic-Con Album Pt 30
Comic-Con Album Pt 29
R.I.P. Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016)
DC Universe: Rebirth #1
More NonSense: Dawn of the Civil War
More Nonsense Jon Snow Lives!
More NonSense: Purple Rain

More NonSense: Die 2016!

The best comics of 2016.

The Beat Staff list their best comics of 2016, Also the best films, and games.

Vox lists their best comics of 2016.

ComicsAlliance lists their best comics of 2016.

ComicsAlliance remembers the people in comics who died in 2016.

Sean T. Collins on the Fascism of The Walking Dead.

Remember that infamous American Sailor Moon adaptation? Rich Johnston does.

Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean present an excerpt (Pt 1, 2) of We Told You So: Comics as Art. That Gary Groth, what a scamp.

Sean T. Collins lists The 50 Greatest Star Wars Moments. Did you know that Star Wars continuity is a complete mess like any other longstanding franchise? And its politics are pretty extreme, to say the least.

Rogue One introduced the Guardians of the Whills, recalling one of the more obscure pieces of Lucas lore. But even more interesting is that these characters were played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. Apparently, Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus are the new Finn/Poe? Makes sense to me.

But the most unfortunate news of all was the death of Carrie Fisher (October 21, 1956 – December 27, 2016), followed a day later by her mother Debbie Reynolds (April 1, 1932 – December 28, 2016), which I covered here.

Mark Peters dredges up the old debate of Jack Kirby's possible influence on the Star Wars franchise.


Elle Collins on the repercussions faced by creators working on corporate properties when they express dissenting opinions.

R.I.P. George Michael (25 June 1963 – 25 December 2016). This year has been kicking our ass.

Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner blame Poe's Law for making 2016 such a terrible year.



Pink, By Kyoko Okazaki Translation: Vertical Inc.
By Kyoko Okazaki
Translation: Vertical Inc.

For my generation, the 1980s were a more innocent time. Remembered for the end of the Cold War and the rise of unbridled consumerism, the decade was marked by Japan’s emergence from its postwar funk to become the world’s 2nd greatest economic powerhouse, after the United States. So impressive was Japan’s rapid ascension that there was even talk of a changing of the status quo in the near future. It sounds silly in retrospect, but Japan looked almost unstoppable. Most Western fans will remember Akira, the manga and its anime adaptation, as a creation of this heady period. Its cyberpunk vision of a dystopian future would prove to be very influential to a generation of growing fanboys. But youthful rebellion can take on many forms, and mangaka Kyoko Okazaki portrayed a modern society where women had unprecedented freedom from the constraints of traditional expectations. Initially published in 1989, Pink is not as shocking today. But contemporary readers must have found its female protagonists’ relative economic security and flaunting of sexual mores to be undeniably cool.

And Pink doesn’t need violent bosozoku gangs or freedom fighters taking down the government to make a similarly brash statement. All it takes is one bored office lady (Japan’s favorite dead end job for single women expected by society to get married) moonlighting as a call girl. Twenty something Yumi doesn’t really need the dough to survive. Her apparently wealthy (but unseen) father pays the rent for her apartment. But this hardly meets the lifestyle she’s accustomed to. So she earns considerably more capital by fulfilling the carnal desires of her clientele of mostly older men.

Needless to say, there’s a fair amount of sexual activity illustrated in the manga. It’s all pretty tame given what can be now seen on HBO. There’s abundant and artfully drawn nudity, though male genitalia are only implied. But it’s definitely calculated to tow the fine line between the provocative and pornographic. In fact, Yumi’s escapades often take a more surreal turn. One client robs her blind but leaves her a magical seed. Another verbally abuses her, but succeeds in making her come “for real.” She later catches him being interviewed on a television talk show where he speaks for the humane treatment of wild animals. Yumi then recalls that he carried a “fat wallet made from crocodile leather,” prompting a giggling fit. At least she got paid handsomely to satisfy both their animal cravings. In the manga’s afterward, Okazaki quotes Jean-Luc Godard’s maxim “all work is prostitution” then claims “Love isn’t that tepid and lukewarm thing people like to talk about… It’s a tough, severe, scary, and cruel monster. So is capitalism.”

This impudent and unsentimental attitude towards sex, romance, and life exhibited by Okazaki isn’t exactly the subversive aesthetic of alternative American comics. The pose assumed is mostly one of lighthearted mockery. She’s celebrating the system as much as she’s critiquing it. In Japan, her work was considered an important step away from the conventions of shojo manga, earning the label “Gyaru,” translated into English as “Gal.” Gals were a tougher, more modern breed who weren’t afraid to pursue love and happiness. Suddenly, there was a market for a more grown-up female audience. And Okazaki’s art certainly reflects a more adult sensibility. It lacks the surface polish and cute character designs often found in shonen and shojo manga. But the looseness of line and dearth of obsessive detail reveals a assuredness in her page compositions and expressiveness in her characters. There’s a manic energy in Okazaki’s art that feels both appealing and unsettling.

Yumi’s casually irreverent approach to materialism is contrasted with  the haughty behavior of her stepmother’s, a representative of how women are traditionally supposed to accumulate wealth and social status - using their beauty and erotic charms to marry into it. This golddigger naturally hates Yumi for her modern ways and envies her youth while she tries in vain to preserve her own with visits to the plastic surgeon and carrying on affairs with younger men. If this fails to remind anyone of Snow White, Okazaki pretty much hits the reader over the head repeatedly with this symbolism. Her machinations are what drive the plot forward.

The story’s would-be Prince Charming is college student and aspiring novelist Haru. But he’s actually more a pawn caught between these two formidable women. Haru sleeps around in the hopes of sparking the inspiration to begin his novel. But while Yumi teases Haru for his uncertainty, her even more ferocious kid sister Keiko admonishes him to drop his literary pretentions, get off his ass, and start writing a story that even a kid can understand. Lo and behold, Haru later proves to be just as opportunistic as his female counterparts.

But the most bizarre character in Pink is Yumi’s pet crocodile, whom she’s cared for and miraculously managed to keep alive in her cramped apartment. Obtaining the resources to feed Croc, as Yumi calls him, is her excuse for her call girl career. Despite being drawn as an almost cuddly, impassive, and bespectacled toy, Croc is a clumsy metaphor for the cruel monster of love and capitalism Okazaki subscribes to. But he’s also a sign of the fragile freedom and relative comfort Yumi has obtained on her very own terms. Therein lies the rub. What happens when the monster you worked so hard to satiate turns on you? Or even worse, simply abandons you? That’s a question would become prescient to Okazaki when her career was cut short by an auto accident, and to the Japanese economy within a few years.


La Quinta Camera

La Quinta Camera, By Natsume Ono Translation: Joe Yamazaki Touch-up Art/Lettering: Gia Cam Luc Design: Fawn Lau.
By Natsume Ono
Translation: Joe Yamazaki
Touch-up Art/Lettering: Gia Cam Luc
Design: Fawn Lau

La Quinta Camera was a webcomic series that established Natsume Ono as a mangaka in Japan, but was translated by Viz after her later work Ristorante Paradiso. Nonetheless, one can see a number of commonalities between the two works. Ono displays an early fascination with the Western cultural milieu, particularly Italy. And just as in Ristorante Paradiso, the manga has a thing for adult males of a certain age. Even in her first story, Ono handles the lives of her characters with a deft and light touch, devoid of any cheap melodrama.

The manga does contain a few surprises. Considering Ono’s more mature minimalist style, La Quinta Camera’s art is practically primitive by comparison. Ono’s figures are blockier and more squat, almost reminiscent of early Cubism. Her lines are more uniform, as if she only used technical pens which produced a certain line thickness. This results in characters who are more archetypal in appearance. They’re recognizable primarily through larger features like their hairstyles, or preferred items of clothing.

Ono also uses a much simpler setup to make her story work. In the first chapter, a young woman from Denmark arrives at an unnamed Italian city and immediately suffers a series of mishaps. We learn that she’s here to learn the language. But after losing her personal belongings, getting lost, interacting with a few of the locals, and finally managing to find the language school, she’s directed to an apartment building for her room and board. To her surprise, she discovers that her hosts happen to be the very locals she met earlier on the street. If this were a more conventional story, the rest of the manga would be about the fish-out-of-water misadventures of the woman and her 4 eccentric roommates.

But this isn’t the case at all. In the next chapter, the woman has already moved out of the apartment and an artist has moved into the room. We learn that the owner has arranged with the school to rent the apartment’s 5th room to the school’s foreign students, who usually stay for a short period. Each chapter introduces a different student, and their outside perspective allows us to learn a little more about the 4 permanent residents in the apartment.

While they might not be the center of attention, the students are nonetheless an important component. There’s an opportunity to further ground the setting in local color through comparisons with the customs of the students. Many of those interactions take place over a warm meal. A shy Japanese youngster comments about the differences between how Italians and Japanese celebrate the Christmas season over preparations for a big feast. On another occasion, the hosts are mortified over how one American’s love for french fries has permeated the apartment with an unwanted greasy stench.

Overall, this approach makes for an easily accessible work. The story builds through the accumulation of intimate conversations, mundane observations, and tiny revelations. We come to realize what mini tragedies brought these individuals together, and appreciate the generous spirit that compels them to open their home to a varied and ever-changing flock of strangers. The meandering narrative is like taking a casual stroll through a friendly and welcoming neighborhood where the locals wouldn’t hesitate to talk about their lives over coffee and panino.


More NonSense: And Love Is Love Is Love Is Love

Lin-Manuel Miranda gave a great 2016 Tony acceptance speech.

School Library Journal lists the Top 10 Graphic Novels for 2016.

Christopher Butcher lists some things he likes about Christmas.

Glen Weldon on that old chestnut, superheroes and Fascism.

Glen Weldon makes the case for dropping the label "graphic novel." While his arguments have merit, I suspect the term will stick around for a bit simply because the publishing industry seems attached to it.

R.I.P. Richard Kyle, the inventor of the term "graphic novel."

Magdalene Visaggio on the New Sincerity of the latest generation of comics creators.

Alli Joseph on the animated feature Moana, and Disney's long history of cultural appropriation.

This story about a young Supergirl fan has been making the rounds on the internet.

Kevin Wong on Peppermint Patty as feminist symbol.


Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, By Jeff Smith. Colors: Steve Hamaker. Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel created by C. C. Beck, Bill Parker, Otto Binder, Marc Swayze.
By Jeff Smith
Colors: Steve Hamaker

Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel created by C. C. Beck, Bill Parker, Otto Binder, Marc Swayze.

No matter how successful, A rite of passage for American comics creators is that they prove their mettle by working on a property owned by DC or Marvel. Case in point, Jeff Smith had already established himself as the creator of the long-running and beloved comic book series Bone when DC tapped him in 2007 to work on a reimagining of Captain Marvel. The publisher had an undisputably lousy record when it came to their handling of the character. Their current comic was The Trials of Shazam!, the latest attempt to update a superhero known for being the embodiment of 40s whimsy with another grim ‘n’ gritty makeover. In the comic, an older Freddie Freeman, the former Captain Marvel Jr., overcomes a series of brutal ordeals to claim the powers of Captain Marvel after Billy Batson vacated the role in order to succeed the wizard Shazam. No one cared, and that version of Captain Marvel was quickly forgotten after the crossover event Final Crisis. Almost as unpopular was the evil Mary Marvel/Mary Batson who had inherited the powers of Black Adam. But many fans would have agreed that if anyone could make use of Captain Marvel’s classic elements while still appealing to modern sensibilities, it would have been Smith. With the 4 issue series Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, he proves to be up to the task.

The chief issues with DC’s treatment of Cap are that once he’s integrated into their shared universe, he loses his traditional primacy and becomes an auxiliary Superman. And as a perpetual C-lister, he’s particularly susceptible to the effects of DC’s habit of periodic soft reboots. Captain Marvel doesn’t have the illusion of growth engendered by a decades long history of continuous publication which benefit DC’s most well-known properties. So every cancellation followed by an attempt to reset and update him only underlines just how out-of-step he’s become with the rest of the company lineup. For a publisher that no longer believes in the inherent value of goofy adventures, DC appears to be constantly embarrassed that one of their most iconic, not to mention powerful, characters is also just a dumb kid from the 40s. No wonder turning the Marvel family members angsty or evil seemed like a good idea at the time.

Smith avoids these pitfalls by setting the story in its own milieu, far from the rest of DC’s madding crowd. It’s not a clear-cut solution. Smith starts out with another comic book retelling of Cap’s well-trod origins. But it’s quickly expedited, and he moves on with the main plot, an extra-dimensional invasion orchestrated by Mister Mind with the assistance of Doctor Sivana. When set next to the DC timeline, a comic featuring the classic supervillain team-up known as the Monster Society of Evil feels like a return to Cap’s roots.

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, By Jeff Smith. Colors: Steve Hamaker. Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel created by C. C. Beck, Bill Parker, Otto Binder, Marc Swayze.

But make no mistake, this is a Jeff Smith comic. His cartooning is very different from the DC House style, but Smith’s sinewy figures have a physicality quite unlike that of Cap’s original artist C. C. Beck. In contrast to Beck’s naive simplicity, Smith’s characters stoop, sweat, and strain with every effort. And his thick brushstrokes and moody blacks render a fictionalized New York less a gleaming urban jungle of glass and steel than an impressionistic dreamscape of dark alleyways and crumbling concrete structures. It’s the kind of place where a magic train would emerge from the inky depths to take a young Billy to see Shazam at the mysterious Rock of Eternity. And supernatural creatures like the Alligator Men and the tiger Talky Tawny exude a vague threat without looking entirely out of place.

Smith’s character designs feel particularly well-considered, due to the fact that he had to introduce several of them in a one-and-done story. His muscular Captain Marvel has a different persona than tiny, dirt-encrusted urchin Billy. This choice is a return to the original interpretation of the character. But Mary’s transformation is an unintended consequence of her brother’s, so her powers function in a different manner. And Mind and Sivana make their entrance due to a few of Billy’s unwise choices. Mind, the Alligator Men, and Tawny in particular showcase Smith’s facility for creature creation.

Smith injects some mild satire which pokes fun at the state of the War on Terror, grounding the comic in a specific time period. He may physically resemble a certain ornery Vice President, but Smith’s Sivana as business magnate turned Attorney General willing to sell out his country for a tidy profit has weirdly become more pertinent within the last month. Then again, he did promise that this wasn’t the last we’d hear of him.

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, By Jeff Smith. Colors: Steve Hamaker. Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel created by C. C. Beck, Bill Parker, Otto Binder, Marc Swayze.


Wonder Woman: The True Amazon

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, By Jill Thompson Letters: Jason Arthur  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.
By Jill Thompson
Letters: Jason Arthur

Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

Wonder Woman’s origin story went through considerable modifications with the New 52 era. Changes that were so controversial among her fans that the story has again been altered to coincide with this year’s Rebirth event. To make things even more complicated, DC has released a few comics that don’t operate within the publisher’s main continuity. There’s the ongoing Wonder Woman ‘77, an adaptation that continues the campy 70s television series. Digital first comic The Legend of Wonder Woman. And the version found in DC Comics Bombshells. There’s also a pair of standalone graphic novels retelling her origin: Wonder Woman: Earth One by Grant Morrison. And most recently, Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, by Jill Thompson. If someone had to choose, Thompson’s comic might be the most accessible to newer and younger readers.

While technically still a comic, The True Amazon feels like it could have been easily converted into an illustrated children’s book. Thompson brings to the table her signature watercolors, which makes The True Amazon visually unlike any of DC’s other current offerings. It looks and feels more like traditional literary fare. Thompson’s narrative panels are plentiful and rather text-heavy for a modern comic. The third person narration contained within tells the story often in parallel with the art, a rather old-fashioned comics device by today’s standard. Thompson even uses the occasional thought balloon to capture the young Princess Diana’s inner monologue. Nevertheless, what emerges is a vividly colorful portrayal of Amazon society. One that feels ancient and rustic, but still alive.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, By Jill Thompson Letters: Jason Arthur  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

That classical aesthetic is central to Thompson’s peculiar interpretation. She’s chosen not to retell WW’s origin as a superhero story, but as a tragic fairy tale. The comic begins familiarly enough with the Amazon nation of the Bronze Age finding itself in conflict with the rest of a chauvinistic ancient Greece. The King of Mycenae entreats the hero Herakles to steal the Golden Girdle of the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. But the Amazons escape with the help of Hera, Queen of the gods, and god of the sea Poseidon. They settle on the magical island of Themyscira, where Hippolyta fashions a statue of a baby girl. The statue is brought to life by the gods and grows into Princess Diana. So far, so mostly in keeping with the narrative promoted by creator William Moulton Marston.

Thompson however chooses to dispense with all the fantasy elements that would contradict the Bronze Age milieu. There are no giant kangas, no Purple Ray, Invisible Jet, the Bullets and Bracelets test, or bondage of any sort. In short, none of the cool ideas concocted by Marston and company. Actually, once the Amazons settle on Themyscira, the march of history simply doesn’t affect them. There’s no World War II, Nazi’s, or even a Steve Trevor in sight. And forget about Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls. There’s one throwaway line which admits that the Amazons can still observe the outside world through a magic scrying pool. But no one actually talks about it. As a result, the immortal Amazons live inside a proverbial time warp. An eternal, unchanging present. As far as the reader is concerned, the story may as well still be taking place in the Bronze Age.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, By Jill Thompson Letters: Jason Arthur  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

The one disruptive force found in this idyllic setting is Diana. Blessed by the gods with abilities that surpass her fellow Amazons and the only daughter to the Queen, Diana is doted upon by almost everyone. Both Thompson and Morrison both portray her as growing up spoiled by her sheltered existence. But whereas Morrison’s Diana retains an incipient curiosity of the outside world which is suddenly jumpstarted by her unexpected encounter with Steve, Thompson’s Diana remains perfectly happy to continue living within her bubble. She develops into the very image of the selfish, vain, entitled, princess. And in place of her love for Steve, Diana develops a grudging friendship with the one Amazon on the island who isn’t impressed at all with her. But apropos of the comic’s fairy tale approach, the relationship is doomed from the start to end in a most unhappy manner.

This bratty version of Diana is someone who many younger readers will likely be able to find very relatable. She’s confident, headstrong, tough, brave, loyal, not to mention an extremely powerful kid who gets her way, most of the time. The built-in morale that growing up involves learning to be more considerate to the needs of others is a message that will meet the approval of most parents. And Thompson’s luminous watercolors are an obvious draw. Those seeking a more typical superhero story should look at the other comics mentioned at the top of this post. And The True Amazon won’t quite satisfy every WW fan, since the disappearance of Marston’s weirder elements means that his feminine utopian agenda gets lost by the end of the book. But a tale of a young Diana forming a close relationship with another woman is a not insignificant way to update her origin.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon, By Jill Thompson Letters: Jason Arthur  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.