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Random Access Memory: November 2016

Author’s Note: Random Access Memory is me looking back at the specific comics that shaped my life. Each month I go back in time – in five year intervals – to examine key comics that came out those months. (The idea is that after five years of monthly columns, I will have covered an entire lifetime – in this case, fifty years – of reading comics.) I also list all the comics I read that particular month. This will afford readers the opportunity to chastise me for not reading specific comics, and/or laugh at the horrible, horrible choices I made in the past.

November 1976

Amazing Spider-Man 165

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At seven years old, I was incapable of imagining a more appealing image than a human/stegosaurus hybrid punching Spider-Man into the animated skeletons of an Allosaurus and a Triceratops. Whenever anyone asks why I love comics so much I show them this cover.

Rest in Peace, Ross Andru.

Captain America 206

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After his brief, insanely-creative stint at DC, Jack Kirby returned to Marvel to create The Eternals, Machine Man, and Devil Dinosaur, as well as produce memorable runs on Black Panther and Captain America.

At seven years old, this issue felt like someone had put cocaine in my Fun Dip. Never one to skimp on a good villain, Kirby introduces us to The Swine as he casually forces a starving old man to eat himself to death.

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The next time we see him, The Swine is addressing a slave who complains of being worked too hard:

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I was so disturbed by the callous evil of The Swine that I almost didn’t notice the absurdity of Cap trying to hide his shield under his suit jacket.

“No one will notice these shield buldges, because vertical lines are slimming.”
“No one will notice these shield bulges, because vertical lines are slimming.”

Rest in Peace, Jack Kirby.

Iron Man 95

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This issue ends with Ultimo crushing Tony’s armor, seemingly damaging the chest-plate that keeps his heart beating.

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I was desperate at the time to know what happened to Iron Man, yet somehow never managed to get my hands on a copy of issue 96. But I’m sure it all worked out.

Rest in Peace, Tony Stark.

Other Comics I Read From November 1976

  • Avengers 156
  • Batman 284
  • Eternals 8
  • Incredible Hulk 208
  • Invaders 13
  • Marvel Team-Up 54
  • Marvel Two-in-One 24
  • Metal Men 50
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 3
  • Star Trek 42
  • Superman 308
  • Thor 256

November 1981

Nexus 1

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Diamond Comics has had a monopoly on comic distribution since acquiring rival Capital City twenty years ago. But back in 1981, Capital City was doing well enough to venture into comics publishing and the first book they released was Mike Baron and Steve Rude’s Nexus. They published three black and white and six color issues, before getting out of publishing, leaving publishers First Comics and Dark Horse Comics to publish another 100 or so issues of Nexus.

Clearly, Steve Rude had not yet fully developed into the brilliant artist he is today, but Rude’s juvenilia is stronger than some artist’s best work.

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Interestingly, Baron and Rude allow readers to perceive Nexus as an anti-hero (if not a flat-out villain) for the entire first chapter. As his origin story spins out over the first three issues – and as the first-class science fiction world building continues over the following issues – Nexus becomes a complex and nuanced character, as well as a must-read comic.

Other Comics I Read from November 1981

  • Avengers 216
  • Captain America 266
  • Cerebus 32
  • Daredevil 180
  • Ka-Zar 12
  • Marvel Team-Up 114
  • What If? 31

November 1986

American Flagg 38

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Philosophically speaking, I’m totally on board with the notion that a creator should maintain control over their creation, making all artistic and commercial decisions connected to that creation. But speaking selfishly, I don’t want to live in a world where Batman was only ever written by Bob Kane. Answer honestly: Would Daredevil really be better off if Frank Miller, Brian Michael Bendis, and Mark Waid were never allowed to write him?

Now that that’s out there, I will present what is probably my least popular opinion: I didn’t enjoy American Flagg until J.M. DeMatteis took over the writing from Howard Chaykin.

Chaykin’s Rueben Flagg was unapologetically (even gleefully) surly, arrogant, and sexist. DeMatteis’ eight-issue run placed Rueben in a situation where he was made to confront and reexamine those attributes. I loved (and continue to love) this run. It is very close to the top of my list of “all-time favorite uncollected/unreprinted comic book runs.” But, it turns out that a large swath of American Flagg’s readership was not interested in seeing their man subjected to this level of introspection. In fact, immediately following DeMatteis’ run, it was right back to business as usual, with most reader’s general opinion of DeMatteis’ take on Flagg expressed on the issue’s cover:

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Batman 404

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While time has certainly been kind to Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s The Dark Knight Returns, it’s been even kinder to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One. Though they came out in the same year, DKR was heralded as the new champion of the form before it even came into print – the perfect bound format of DKR (which eventually came to be known as “Prestige Format”) was, for a short time, known as “Dark Knight Format” – while YO began life more humbly, as four issues of the ongoing Batman comic. Thirty years later, YO has achieved the same lofty status as DKR and Watchmen (which, strangely enough, also came out in 1986).

As the 80s progressed, Miller’s artwork (and that of Bill Sienkiewicz, his other major collaborator of the time) became more outrageous. But Mazzucchelli’s pencil remained tethered to the real world. As with all great noir, the grit has to be recognizably real to work.

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Taking two panels from Batman 1, and blowing them up into two glorious pages, Miller and Mazzucchelli provide the details to the definitive Batman origin story.

Incredible Hulk 328

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Peter David initiates his mighty 140 issue run on the Incredible Hulk. Throughout this run, David would work with such seminal artists as Todd McFarlane, Dale Keown, Gary Frank, and Adam Kubert. But, here and now, David began his epic Hulk run with artist Dwayne “Who?” Turner.

Question 1

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Like American Flagg (see above), Denny O’Neil’s run on The Question is another example of how a new writer completely violated the original creator’s intention, and ended up with – in my opinion – a much more satisfying and entertaining comic.

Steve Ditko’s The Question is probably best known as the inspiration for Watchmen’s Rorschach. And for those of you who don’t know, the answer to Ditko’s Question appears to be, “Why yes, I am an Objectivist.” When asked to create an ongoing Question series in the wake of Watchmen’s success, Denny O’Neil completely reinvented the character. While this new characterization was interesting and entertaining – and, more importantly, worked – O’Neil later confessed that he wished he had created an original character rather than saddle Ditko’s character with his baggage.

The first issue opens with Ditko’s brutal right wing characterization pretty firmly in place, and by the end of the second issue, The Question is a left-leaning Zen Buddhist. Fair warning: It’s a pretty bumpy ride, made all the more bumpy when O’Neil asks his audience to suspend their disbelief beyond the breaking point by ending the debut issue with his main character beaten nearly to death, shot point blank in the head, and tossed into the river, where his body settles for a disturbingly long time.

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Sure, I’ll turn up for issue two, but this better be good… (Spoiler warning: It’s not.)

Superman 2

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I was totally on board for John Byrne’s Superman reboot. I liked the Man of Steel mini-series just fine, and was kind of excited to see where he’d go with the new Superman book and Action Comics. Within a few months, though, I had completely lost interest and moved on to other books.  But this issue stuck with me.

Over the years, Lex Luthor has been many things: Clark’s childhood frenemy, a mad scientist, a jetpack-packing super-villain, a desperate hero, President of the United States… Here Byrne solidified the “Luthor as Gordon Gekko” persona. Playing with the “how could anyone not figure out that Superman and Clark Kent were the same dude” trope, Byrne has Luthor hire someone to create a computer algorithm that will determine Superman’s secret identity with mathematical precision. (Note that Luthor as Reagan-era-Nightmare-Businessman isn’t smart enough to create such things – just rich enough to buy them.) Of course, it correctly concludes that Superman is Clark Kent. And of course Luthor cannot accept this – for so many good reasons.

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Like all Narcissists, Luthor’s ego is simply too great to imagine himself possessing the power of Superman and then pretending to be meek and mild-mannered. And that same Narcissism prevents him from considering that anyone could possibly feel differently about the matter. More significantly, he cannot face the fact that something so obvious might have eluded him. He may have employed a super-computer to determine Superman’s secret, but – deep down – he never really thought a simple machine could figure out something he could not.

Swamp Thing 57

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Swamp Thing continues his journey around the (literal) DC universe, jumping randomly from planet to planet desperately trying to make it back to Earth. This issue he finds himself on the planet Rann, adopted home-world of Adam Strange. And because everything Alan Moore ever wrote was eventually exploited by DC, this two-issue run includes the seeds of the Rann-Thanagar War that preceded Geoff John’s Infinite Crisis series.

Most of this issue read like this:

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And I include this comic here mostly to honor the many hours I devoted to trying to translate the Rannian language. Because this was written by Alan Moore, I had to assume it wasn’t just gibberish. So I set to work. Frankly, I would have given up pretty quickly if it wasn’t for this one horribly revealing panel:

Damn you, Alan. Now I’ve got something to work with.
Damn you, Alan. Now I’ve got something to work with.

Sadly, any breakthroughs I may have made were written on a piece of paper that I accidentally threw away 30 years ago.

Other Comics I Read from November 1986

  • Action Comics 585
  • Adventures of Superman 425
  • Alien Legion 17
  • Alien Legion: A Grey Day to Die
  • Amazing Spider-Man 285
  • Avengers 276
  • Badger 22
  • Cerebus 92
  • Chronicles of Corum 2
  • Classic X-Men 6
  • Cloak and Dagger 11
  • Conan the King 39
  • Destroy!
  • Dreadstar 29
  • Elektra: Assassin 5
  • ESPers 3
  • Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men 1
  • Fury of Firestorm 56
  • Grendel 2
  • Justice League of America 259
  • Legends 4
  • Nexus 31
  • Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man 123
  • Scout 13
  • Spider-Man vs. Wolverine
  • Tales of Terror 9
  • Uncanny X-Men 214
  • Vigilante 38
  • Watchmen 6
  • Web of Spider-Man 24

November 1991

Doom Patrol 50

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More than 30 issues in, you’d expect Grant Morrison to ease up a bit – if only because he ran out of Strange – but the WTF train just keeps on rolling.

Mr. Nobody is back, with a whole *new* Brotherhood of Dada! (Loyal readers will recall that the old Brotherhood of Dada remained trapped in The Painting That Ate Paris, and those who haven’t read Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol will probably think I just made that up.) So out with Frenzy, The Fog, Sleepwalk, and The Quiz, and in with The Love Glove, Agent “!”, Number None, Alias the Blur, and The Toy.

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That is how Morrison lets his readers know that the source of The Love Glove’s power is a “Glove Tree.” It is the first and only time we see or hear anything about the Glove Tree. No time for exposition, we’ve got a President to elect!

Actually, there’s a shocking amount of exposition in this issue, as much of it is set up for the following two issues. But don’t worry. It’s a double-sized anniversary issue, so there’s still lots of room for random weirdness.

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For the following year, DC attempted to advertise the Doom Patrol using only the floating image of Rebus and the inexplicable phrase, “She’s got a boyfriend and she doesn’t like you.” Needless to say, it didn’t work.

Shade the Changing Man 19

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While there’s a lot to like about Shade the Changing Man from the very beginning, I think the comic (both the writing and the art) really hit its stride immediately following the first major storyline, The American Scream. Unfortunately, the American Scream was an 18 issue storyline. To be clear, I’m not saying I didn’t greatly enjoy the first year and half of the book. Rather, I am stating that the year or so of issues that followed the American Scream were some of my favorite comics of the early 90s.

As the comic tries to warn you with its horrifying cover, this is a Christmas issue of Shade the Changing Man.  But in case you missed it, Chris Bachelo provides many pages with an appealing wrapping paper border, as Shade composes a holiday-themed letter to his lover Kathy.

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Shade relates the story of how he met Dave, who – upon witnessing Shade’s super-powers – declared Shade to be the new messiah, only to later reveal himself to be a psychopathic terrorist hellbent on murdering the messiah. Of course, Shade survives this encounter, and finishes growing in his Jesus-beard just in time to complete his letter.

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Other Comics I Read from November 1991

  • Animal Man 43
  • Badlands 5
  • Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children 23
  • Cerebus 152
  • Detective Comics 639
  • Batman 473
  • Eightball 7
  • Everyman 1
  • Hellblazer 49
  • Incredible Hulk 389
  • Miracleman: The Apocrypha 1
  • Sandman 34
  • Spectacular Spider-Man 184
  • Swamp Thing 115
  • Wonder Man 5
  • X-Factor 74

November 1996

JLA 1

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It was one of those ideas so simple and obvious that it hardly qualifies as an idea, but it took no less a writer than Grant Morrison to suggest that perhaps the best take on the Justice League would be to put together a team of the best and most popular super-heroes in the DC pantheon. After promising to deal cheerfully with whatever continuity issues arose from writing a team-book made up of characters who all had their own solo books (and deal cheerfully he did – with Superman’s look and power-set changing without warning in the middle of a major storyline, with having to create a new winged-superhero when he wasn’t allowed to use Hawkman, with Wonder Woman flat-out dying…) DC editorial “allowed” Morrison to launch the new JLA title with the “Magnificent Seven” team of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter.

A big team requires a big threat, and Morrison came through from the start, sending the JLA on much more elaborate adventures than recent incarnations of the team. But, as mind-blowing as the plots were, it was the spot on characterizations that really sold the book. In particular, Superman’s lack of awareness of the casual awe the other members hold him in never gets old.

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And, of course, here we see the origin of Morrison’s Batman as the guy who thinks of everything – the most vulnerable and least powered person on the team, but also the one all the others defer to as their tactical leader, and consider the single most dangerous member.

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Other Comics I Read from November 1996

  • Aztek 6
  • Batman: The Long Halloween 2
  • The Black Lamb 3
  • Bloody Mary 4
  • Bone 26
  • Cerebus 212
  • The Darkness 1
  • DC Universe Holiday Bash 1
  • The Dreaming 8
  • Farewell, Moonshadow
  • Flash 121
  • Flash Plus
  • Hate 25
  • Hellblazer 109
  • Hitman 10
  • Impulse 21
  • Incredible Hulk 449
  • Kurt Busiek’s Astro City 3
  • Leave it to Chance 3
  • Preacher 21
  • Seekers: Into the Mystery 12
  • Shadowman 1
  • Spectacular Spider-Man 242
  • Starman 26
  • Stormwatch 42
  • Strangers in Paradise 1
  • Supergirl 5
  • Untold Tales of Spider-Man 17

November 2001

Catwoman 1

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Ed Brubaker’s character-defining run on Catwoman begins here. Perhaps more importantly, Darwyn Cooke and Michael Allred’s character-saving visual re-imagination of Catwoman begins here, as well. After spending far too many years as the dictionary image under the term “male gaze” (doubters can Google “Catwoman Jim Balent”) Brubaker, Cooke, and Allred gave her a new look, taking a page from Miller and Mazzucchelli’s Catwoman (as seen in Batman: Year One).

Her redesign – which I am overjoyed to say remains the current design fifteen years later – is slick, practical, and “hot” in the “I feel hot in this” (as opposed to the “you look hot in that”) sense.

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Rest in Peace, Darwyn Cooke.

Punisher 6

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Garth Ennis’ lengthy run on the Punisher can be divided roughly into two piles: the Marvel Knights run – which, for the most part, played the character for laughs – and the Max run – which took the character deadly seriously. This is that rare Marvel Knights issue that told a serious story. And this time Frank is after one of his own. Joe Perrett is a friend from his military days who had lost his way, which, because this is a Punisher comic, means he’s started to randomly kill innocent strangers, and appears to be completely unaware of his violent actions.

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Like many vets suffering from PTSD, Joe feels lost and alone, unable to save himself and unsure he’s worth saving. He is also unaware that – having saved Frank’s life in Vietnam – the Punisher isn’t going to let him fall without catching him. Of course, since this is a Garth Ennis Punisher comic, the story plays out as violently as expected, aided by a gentle pun, and Steve Dillon’s deft pencil.

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Rest in Peace, Steve Dillon.

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up 10

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No one does monsters like John Totleben. No one.

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Other Comics I Read from November 2001

  • 100 Bullets 30
  • Adventures of the Rifle Brigade: Operation Bollock 3
  • Alias 3
  • Amazing Spider-Man 37
  • Avengers 48
  • Avengers: Celestial Quest 3
  • Batman 597
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 149
  • Daredevil 27
  • Daredevil: Yellow 6
  • Detective Comics 764
  • Elektra 5
  • Flash 180
  • Four Women 2
  • Fury 3
  • Green Arrow 10
  • Harlequin Valentine
  • Hellblazer 168
  • Incredible Hulk 34
  • JLA 60
  • JSA 30
  • Lucifer 20
  • New X-Men 120
  • Powers 15
  • Spider-Man’s Tangled Web 8
  • Transmetropolitan 51
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 15
  • Ultimate X-Men 12
  • Ulimate X-Men ½
  • War Stories: Screaming Eagles
  • X-Force 122

November 2006

52 30

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One of the more annoying aspects of Grant Morrison’s Batman epic is that it ran through several titles. To get the full story, you needed to read several issues of Batman (but, of course, with many gaps in the run), the first year of Batman and Robin (volume one), and all of Batman Incorporated (both volumes), as well as the Final Crisis and Return of Bruce Wayne mini-series. AND, this issue of 52.

Here Morrison lays out his take on Batman – that every single thing that ever happened in every Batman-related comic since 1939 actually happened to one dude named Bruce Wayne over a 15 year period.

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Of course, that’s simply too much Bat for any man to handle, so Bruce does what any sane Grant Morrison character would do, he treks to Nanda Parbot, where he undergoes the Thogal ritual, which removes the Bat demon from his body.

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This ritual is only ever shown in 52, yet it’s mentioned a LOT during Morrison’s longer Batman run.

Immortal Iron Fist 1

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Before Matt “Sex Criminals” Fraction was Matt “Sex Criminals” Fraction, he was Matt “That Guy Who Co-Wrote Iron Fist with Ed Brubaker” Fraction. If you’re a fan of either writer – or, frankly, would like to become a fan of either writer – you could do a lot worse than starting with this book.

Most issues in the run were illustrated by David Aja, who I’ve gushed about in the past. This issue is the first time I recall seeing Aja use the technique of drawing oddly colored circles around areas of specific action he wants to draw your eye toward, essentially creating a static focus pull. It’s a great technique, and the closest thing to Martin Scorsese’s iris shots I’ve ever seen in comics.

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Loveless 13

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Loveless is an enjoyable, if problematic book. I love Daniel Zezelj’s stylized art, but – as beautiful as it is – the complex HBO-style storylines are made a lot harder to follow when the art style renders many of the main characters (all thin white 25 year old men with long hair and beards) indistinguishable. In fact, it was while reading Loveless that I had a revelation that likely occurred to many of you years earlier: The only reason super-heroes wear uniquely designed and colored costumes is so you can tell the characters apart. As much as I love George Perez and John Byrne as artists, they don’t draw Captain America so much as they draw “male super-hero body and face.” Out of costume, Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, and Henry Pym could pass as triplets.

This issue mines familiar “done-in-one” territory, introducing us to a wounded Civil War solider as he writes a letter home to the love of his life.

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He pours his heart out to his beloved throughout the issue, highlighting his many regrets, and the subtle twist at the end is almost unbearably sad.

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Nightly News 1

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This is the book that should have changed comics forever. Jonathan Hickman should be the most important comic book artist of the 21st century. He’s had to settle for merely being one of the best comic book writers of the 21st century, which isn’t bad, I admit. And I don’t mean to imply that I haven’t enjoyed his work as a writer for Marvel. It’s just that when works like The Nightly News and Pax Romana came out, I really thought they were leading the way forward into a new century of comics storytelling and design.

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Look at that page. So much information communicated, yet word balloons and traditional panels are avoided. Storytelling, visual flow, and graphic design are given equal importance on the page.

Now, think about that friend of yours that hates comics. You know the one. Show them this page.

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They’d love this.

This is the book that should have changed comics forever.

Other Comics I Read from November 2006

  • 100 Bullets 78
  • Action Comics 845
  • American Virgin 9
  • Astonishing X-Men 19
  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book II 2
  • Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes II 1
  • Battler Britton 5
  • The Boys 5
  • Bullet Points 1
  • Captain America 24
  • Casanova 6
  • Criminal 2
  • Crossing Midnight 1
  • Daredevil 91
  • DMZ 13
  • Dr. Strange: The Oath 2
  • Goon: Noir 2
  • Hellblazer 226
  • Incredible Hulk 100
  • Invincible 38
  • Man Called Kev 4
  • Midnighter 1
  • New Avengers 026
  • The Other Side 2
  • Phonogram 4
  • Powers 23
  • Punisher 40, 41
  • Punisher War Journal 1
  • Stormwatch PHD 1
  • Teen Titans 41
  • Testament 12
  • True Story Swear to God 2
  • Ultimate Fantastic Four 36
  • Ultimate Power 2
  • Ultimate Spider-Man 102
  • Ultimate Vision 0
  • Union Jack 3
  • Walking Dead 34
  • X-Factor 13
  • Y: The Last Man 51

November 2011

Wolverine and the X-Men 2

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Here’s something I never thought I’d see: a fun X-men comic. Jason Aaron and Chris Bachelo’s Wolverine and the X-Men was a joy to read from beginning to end, and one of the prettiest comics you’ll ever see. I mean, look at that cover!

Most of the action takes place at the old Xavier School – renamed the Jean Grey School by new Headmaster Logan – so you get a good mix of old school X-Men as teachers and new teenage mutants as students.

And Iceman has never been (or looked) better.

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Other Comics I Read from November 2011

  • Action Comics 3
  • Amazing Spider-Man 673, 674
  • American Vampire 21
  • Animal Man 3
  • Aquaman 3
  • Astonishing X-Men 44
  • Avengers 19
  • Avengers Academy 21, 22
  • Avenging Spider-Man 1
  • Batman 3
  • Batman and Robin 3
  • Batwoman 3
  • Captain America and Bucky 624
  • Daredevil 6
  • Dark Horse Presents 6
  • Deadpool Max II 2
  • DMZ 71
  • Fantastic Four 600
  • Fear Itself 7.1, 7.2, 7.3
  • FF 12
  • Franksenstein: Agent of SHADE 3
  • Goon 36
  • Green Lantern 3
  • Green Lantern Corps 3
  • Green Wake 7
  • Grifter 3
  • Hellblazer 285
  • Hulk 2
  • Invincible 84, 85
  • Invincible Iron Man 510
  • Journey into Mystery 631
  • Justice League 3
  • Justice League Dark 3
  • Kick Ass II 5
  • Mighty Thor 8
  • Mystic 4
  • New Avengers 8
  • Northlanders 46
  • Punisher 5
  • Punisher Max 19
  • Red Skull 5
  • Secret Avengers 19
  • Six Guns 1, 2
  • Swamp Thing 3
  • Sweet Tooth 27
  • Ultimate Comics Hawkeye 4
  • Ultimate Comics Ultimates 4
  • Uncanny X-Men 1, 2
  • Walking Dead 90, 91
  • Wolverine 19
  • Wonder Woman 3
  • X-Factor 227


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The Author

Rand Bellavia

Rand Bellavia

Rand Bellavia is half of the Filk Pop Nerd Rock band Ookla the Mok. They’ve been playing at science fiction and comic book conventions since 1994. Their clever, media-savvy lyrics, catchy melodies, and accessible power-pop sound have made them a cult-sensation with nerds everywhere. With song titles like Super Powers, Welcome to the Con, Arthur Curry, Kang the Conqueror, and Stop Talking About Comic Books or I’ll Kill You, it’s easy to see why.

Rand and Ookla the Mok have won four Pegasus Awards, and the 2014 Logan Award for Outstanding Original Comedy Song. Ookla the Mok had the most requested song on Dr. Demento in 2012 (“Tantric Yoda”) and 2013 (“Mwahaha”). Rand co-wrote the theme song for the Disney cartoon Fillmore, and his vocals are the first thing you hear on Gym Class Heroes’ Top Five hit “Cupid’s Chokehold.”

In his secret identity, Rand is the Director of the Montante Library at D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. He has lectured and presented at international conferences on the subject of comics and libraries, and whatever your favorite subject is, he probably knows more about that than you do.

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