Cannonball: New Mutant, Avenger … Parent?

I was surprised, but not shocked, to find that my friend Sam was going to be a father. The older I get, the more serious my friends’ relationships become. Some are married. Some have kids. So it goes.

Sam’s 32, though I’ve only known him for a few years. I met him in college. Grad school maybe. So that’s 2007-2008. He’s a responsible guy who everyone can count on, but still, a kid? I had some concerns. I know that he’ll be a great dad, but how’s his relationship with the mother? Hell, who is the mother? Did they plan this? Are they a good couple? Does she even deserve someone as good as my boy Sam?

Years ago, my friend Thom passed an ultrasound image around the office saying, “Look what I made.” The way I found out about Sam was more low-key; he didn’t even tell me himself. I found out online, when I saw this:

Cannonball, Smasher, and Their SonAVENGERS WORLD #17
BEFORE TIME RUNS OUT!
• How did things get to be the way they are in the “Time Runs Out” story? Find out here in AVENGERS WORLD!
• Cannonball and Smasher face their greatest adventure yet…parenthood!
• Can the new parents survive an encounter with the SHI’AR IMPERIAL GUARD?

My friend Sam Guthrie. My boy Cannonball. New Mutant. X-Man. Avenger. Best guy.
Having a child with Smasher? The Imperial Guard Smasher? She and Sam are a couple? I always hoped Sam and Dani would have ended up together. I loved their chemistry last time I saw them together. And he did have that thing with Lila Cheney, though they may be too different to ever work it out.

So I had to do my research on this Smasher. Izzy. Isabel Kane. Formerly known as Isabel Dare (though no one can really say why). From Iowa. Was an astronomer until she found an Imperial Guardsman’s goggles in her family’s corn field.

IMG_0053So she’s family oriented. And she’s from the heartland. She can fly and she can kick some ass. So that’s a good foundation as far as compatibility goes.

She had a good heart. And was up for anything. But I barely knew her. And the next time I heard about her, she was bailing from a dinner with the Guthrie family. “Shi’ar stuff. … An obligation,” she says. So she has a sense to duty, but maybe a work/life imbalance. Hmm.

Art tries to tell us that love is all about grand gestures. So Sam called in few favors, followed his lady into space, and offered to save her ship from attack (and thus prove himself worthy of being the partner of a Smasher). But she wouldn’t hear it.

Cannonball and Smasher. Partners.Good on you, Izzy.

So, they cannonballed and smashed and of course saved the day. But there’s something scarier than space creatures the size of a Shi’ar ships. Parenthood.

IMG_0049IMG_0050Sam’s a good hero and a good man. Even Mentor of the Imperial Guard had to recognize this: “Sam Guthrie, Cannonball of Earth, you have earned the favor of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard. You are a worthy partner for Smasher, and will being honor to your new family.” You’re goddamn right. But Izzy also proved herself Sam’s equal. They’re partners. They’re a team.

IMG_0052So yeah. I’m convinced. Izzy gets my approval. I haven’t known her long, but I already know that she’s good enough for my boy Sam. But now I wonder … is he good enough for her?


Artwork from Avengers #2 by Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opeña, Avengers #5 by Jonathan Hickman and Adam Kubert, Avengers World #17 by Frank Barbiere and Marco Checchetto, and New Mutants #17 by Zeb Wells and Leonard Kirk.

Chuck Palahniuk’s Doomed

Two years ago, Chuck Palahniuk released Damned. In its pages, the recently deceased 13-year-old Madison Spencer navigated her way through Hell, battling its most famous citizens and collecting candy bars. When discussing the book, Chuck has referred to teen classics like The Breakfast Club (like Satre said, what is being stuck in a room with strangers if not hell?) and the books of Judy Blume. Along that theme, each chapter opened with a Margaret-esque missive, “Are you there, Satan? It’s me Madison.” In that book’s final pages, young Maddy found her ghostly self on Earth minutes after midnight on Halloween night, and so stuck here for a full year until the gates of Hell open again.

Doomed, Palahniuk’s 13th novel and first sequel, continues Maddy’s adventures as she wanders the Earth as a ghost.

Chuck Palahniuk's DoomedNo longer buddy-buddy with Satan, our little Madison Desert Flower Rosa Parks Coyote Trickster Spencer has started a blog addressed to us, the “Gentle Tweeter.” Madison’s year stranded on Earth as a post-living sounded interesting. What would she do for a year? Visit her A-list celebrity parents? Torment those who teased her at boarding school? Confront those present at her demise?

Not really. The exact timeline is hard to follow, but each of Madison’s posts went live over a six-hour span on December 21. It’s important to judge art on what it is and not what you want it to be, but the bait of an earthbound year was switched for a six-hour adventure with extensive flashbacks. And they are extensive. A flashback to Madison’s last summer as part of pre-dead society is almost half the length of some other Palahniuk books. In later flashbacks, Maddy adopts a cat and attempts to get a rise out of her parents, starting a romantic relationship with Jesus and keeping a diary of her journeys into bestiality. The relationship and the bestiality are both, mercifully, fictional. It’s worthwhile information, and interesting, at least until Madison’s attempts to annoy her parents annoy the reader as well. All this leaves the book with a lack of momentum, and attention is drawn away from the story at hand – that of Madison wandering the Earth.

That story too is lacking. Damned was Palahniuk’s most enjoyable read since Snuff, possibly even Choke. Tell-All was boring and unrelatable. Pygmy‘s broken English narrative made it a chore to read, even for fans of Palahniuk. Damned was something new. A 13-year-old dead girl isn’t a common narrator for “transgressive” fiction. And Maddy’s persona brings a lot of questions that wouldn’t apply to characters like Victor Mancini and Agent 67. How does a child react to her murderer? How do her parents react upon seeing their specter of a child? How did a 13-year-old end up in Hell, really? Only some of these questions are answered. And some only in the last pages. Recurring characters from Damned, like punk rocker Archer, are never seen, or disappear at random. It feels too disjointed from the first book.

So the book is about a ghost stranded on Earth. But what’s it really about? Chuck has always used his past novels to explore something in his life. For example, when his father was murdered and the killer was sentenced to death, Chuck’s contemplation of the death penalty took form as Lullaby. The biggest takeaway from Doomed is the idea of fate. How much of our lives has been planned out for us? If the Heaven/Hell question is already answered, do our actions matter? Of course, those actions may have been predetermined too, so even that question isn’t fair. We can live moral lives and still be sent to hell by a clerical error. Life sucks and then you die.

Excepting some theories put forth in Rant, Damned also marked Chuck’s first foray in the metaphysical. Metaphysics turn to full-on religion here, which, sadly is another misstep. While working as a telemarketer in Hell (where did you think they were calling from?), Madison told her parents that all those bad things in life – swearing, littering – were actually the best way to get into Heaven. Her plan was that they would be sent to Hell, where they could at least be together. But Maddy’s parents shared this with their fans and thus the religion of Boorism was born. In her wake, Madison has left an Earth full of people sneezing without covering their mouths and cheerily telling each other to fuck off. It’s not meant to be shocking. Chuck can write genuinely shocking events, as that final summer flashback shows us. After only a few pages, the Boorists actions don’t induce disgust, only eye rolling.

The book’s storylines come together in an abattoir of a third act, which seems to just lead to another sequel. With Palahniuk having tentative plans for his next two novels Beautiful You and Make Something Up, not to mention the comic book sequel to Fight Club, who knows when that will come. After all, there was talk of Rant sequels too. Maybe some time away from Madison Spencer will do Chuck some good. He can put her back on the bookshelf until he has the perfect way to incorporate new and old characters and story threads to settle the war between Heaven and Hell. Until then, we’re left with the disappointing Doomed.

Doomed is available now at your local bookstore. If you do not have a local bookstore, you should move house.

___

Editor’s Note: Sequels are interesting things to review. You’re speaking to those who have read the first book and to those who haven’t. Does this book have enough in common with the previous one to satisfy those returning to the characters? What about those who read the book and didn’t like it? Can you convince them to come back for part two? For those new to the series, how good does a book need to be to justify buying and reading another before you even get to this one? You have to speak to a lot of audiences.

Becky Cloonan’s The Mire

Last week I was going through my mailbox and found a pink greeting card envelope. Was someone sending me a Thanksgiving card? An early Christmas card? A sticker covered some of the return address, so all I could see was:
Rebec
9115 Ri
Brook
USA

I started wracking my brain. Do I know any Rebeccas in Brookline? Beckys? Beccas? I don’t think so. And definitely not that would have a forked tongued demon on their return labels.

Get up to my apartment, open it up. Oh, Becky Cloonan! In Brooklyn! It was my copy of her new self-published one-shot The Mire.

The Mire by Becky Cloonan

All preorders of the book received a sketch on the title page. This is mine.

The follow-up her 2011 book Wolves, The Mire tells the story of a squire’s delivery of a letter to a castle on the other side of a haunted swamp. Of course, nothing is ever that simple. I’d say more, but in a story this short, it would give away all the fun. But I will say that after reading the 24 pages, I was flipping right back to the beginning to read it again.

While I can’t say much about the writing, let’s remember that Cloonan is primarily an artist. Specifically, she’s one of comic’s greatest chameleons. In Batman, look at the moxie in Harper Row’s smirk. Harper Row by Becky CloonanOr the adorable eyes on Abby Arcane in the recent Swamp Thing annual. Abby Arcane by Becky CloonanOr any issue of Demo. She constantly adjusts her style to the fit the story. Here, it was her liberal use of blacks that stood out to me. Yes, there’s plenty of darkness in The Mire, but she still draws every brick of the castle and every worm violating an undead rider’s mouth. Sweet.

An Interior Panel from the Mire

Image Stolen from Cloonan’s Own Site.

A note to any comics readers, from me: You can order your own copy of The Mire online or download a digital copy on your favorite stores including Graphicly and iBooks or for your Nook or Kindle.

And a note to any comics creators, from Cloonan herself on book’s final page: “Self-publish or perish.”

It Takes Action
: Passivity, Shazam®, and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Logan Lerman and Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

At a wedding last month, I debated with the stunning brunette next to me about the song that was playing. To convince her it was Rod Stewart, I took action and pulled out my phone. Four seconds later, Shazam® told us that I was right. “That’s All.” Unfortunately for Charlie, the protagonist of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, life in 1991 Pittsburg didn’t offer such luxuries.

Based on Chbosky’s own 1999 novel, Perks is the story of Charlie, his island of misfit friends, and his first year of high school. Many of the expected clichés, including first loves and drugs (both prescribed and recreational) are on display here, but Perks‘ strength comes from its surprising display of subtlety. This is a world where trying weed or LSD doesn’t turn you into an addict. Where it’s 1991, but you don’t constantly hear Marky Mark or C+C Music Factory.

In the film’s most memorable scene, Charlie (Logan Lerman) watches as Emma Watson’s Sam stands in the bed of her pickup truck, arms wide, flying toward the Steel City skyline. A mystery song plays on the blaring radio and he falls in love. I could have told him it was Bowie’s “Heroes,” but to be fair, at his age, Jakob Dylan was the reason I knew that.

We Can Be Heroes, Just for One Day

Chbosky took the adaptation as an opportunity to smooth out some of the more maudlin parts of the story. In the book, Charlie is too naïve. His explanations of “special brownies” and masturbation come off as perplexingly sincere. By simply excising these passages, Charlie becomes more well-rounded. Another point of subtlety, on the part of both Chbosky and actor Ezra Miller, is Sam’s gay step-brother Patrick. He’s not closeted, nor is he waving a rainbow flag for 103 minutes. He’s just a guy that likes football and The Smiths. And dudes.

Fans of the novel will have little to complain about. The broadstrokes are all here, along with enough details to keep you grinning. Morrissey fans rejoice, you’ll hear about “Asleep” at least three times. It’s also funny as hell. Like a truth-or-dare confession that is delivered with such a lack of emotion that everyone but the audience thinks it’s a joke. Or when Patrick takes Charlie on a tour of the local cruising spot, lovingly referred to as “The Fruit Loop.”

Through his freshman year, Charlie deals with depression over the recent death of a friend and the years-ago death of his favorite aunt. By reserving himself to the sidelines, Charlie gains a certain perspective on adolescent life. As a wallflower, he sees things, keeps quiet about them, and understands. But of course, he doesn’t act. He takes drugs because he didn’t understand what kind of brownies they were. His music taste comes from Ponytail Derek, his sister’s boyfriend. His books come from his English teacher, an underused Paul Rudd. He waits for the girl to kiss him.

Understandably, Charlie’s feelings for Sam are under-requited. She’s fond him of, sure, but she’s not the kind to wait around. Kissing the girl is like trying to identify a mystery song. In our youth, we sang whatever lyrics we could remember to friends and record store clerks, perhaps brought a guitar to recreate a stray melody. Today, we can find out what we’re listening to instantly. We used to wear an uneasy smile and avoid eye contact with a date, as Charlie does in the film. Now, we look in her eyes and lean in until our mouths meet.

When you’re older, all this stuff is easier, but it’s not just the passing of time that does that. All of our modern conveniences are the result of great minds and tireless labor. It’s not age that builds up our experience and our confidence. It’s taking a chance, whether you get the girl or you get shot down. Over the course of ten months, Charlie finds a place to fit in, confronts his depression, discovers Bowie and finally kisses the girl.

Sometimes you need to realize that the only thing pushing your back against the wall is your own weight. It doesn’t just take time to identify a song or kiss the girl. It takes work. It takes effort. It takes action.

Thinking About … Digital Comics

One thing I don’t think I’ve really spoken of on here are digital comics. It’s a big issue in the industry right now, and though I’m not the first, I do have some thoughts. And with this week’s release of Avengers vs. X-Men #1, and its new Infinite Comics and AR (augmented reality) bonuses, it’s the best time to do so.

Reading on the iPad/iPhone

When I got my iPad, one of the first apps I downloaded was the Marvel app. To this day, I’ll download anything that Marvel puts up for free. My copy of X-Men Season One and a few single issues since have come with a free download code, which I have taken/will take advantage of. And I’ve bought an issue both times they’ve offered a coupon for my local shop with a purchase. So I’ve ended up with a few of the Point One issues, some older #1s. Stuff like that. Jumping on points. But it’s rare that I actually care about these books. They’re just something to read when I’m stuck somewhere and bored: crappy opening band, waiting rooms, whatever.

It’s been talked up and down – reading made-for-print comics on a phone doesn’t work. There are certain storytelling tricks used in print, like differing panel sizes to emphasize important moments, especially the full-page or two-page splash, that become worthless when each panel is expanded or shrunk to fit the screen. The zoom can make smaller panels easier to view, but the impact of larger ones is diminished. Another problem is how panels are oriented. I was reading Dark Avengers #1 the other day. Mike Deodato’s panels were rarely uniform. Vertical panels as big as the page, panels curving across the page in sequence. I remember enjoying this issue a few years ago when I read it in print, but this time I was forced to flip my phone again and again, just to properly read the story.

It doesn’t work. And that’s OK. Says the comic, “I just wasn’t made for these times.”

One benefit of reading a digital copy is you don’t know how much comic is left. When flipping though a physical issue, you can feel that you’ve got two pages left. Your brain prepares you for a conclusion. If it’s a book that showcases upcoming covers or has a letters page, you do the math even sooner. This just brings you out of the story. You’re too busy thinking about the act of reading, the object you’re holding, to lose yourself in the narrative. But when going one panel at a time, you could have one panel or one hundred. Like watching TV on DVD, or a show on HBO, you never know when it might end. This episode of The Wire could be 52 minutes. Could be 64. You don’t know until the credits roll. It allows for more surprises.

Infinite Comics

When Mark Waid announced that he was thinking about how comics should work in this new medium, and was working with the Deviant Artist Balak01, I was very excited. I can’t remember how, but years ago, I was linked to Balak’s DA page. I’ve had it bookmarked ever since, as an example of someone thinking ahead of the rest of the industry. He was thinking about how this medium is different – the pacing of a user’s clicks, how to take advantage or (the presumed setback) of the locked screen size. But my first reading of Waid and Immonen’s new Nova story was a disappointment. Then I realized my setting were off. Yes, use the setting that Marvel suggests on the introductory page, but also make sure that you are set on panel, and not page, view.

Settings fixed, I tapped back into the story. Wow. This is what I’m looking for! I control pacing. The new tricks, like characters in the foreground moving across a static background, or a rack focus, help tell the story. Waid and Immonen aren’t limited to reveals on page turns. They can change scenes or locations at any time. And it’s made to fit the screen! The impact of panel sizes and splashes is back, baby! The story itself is pretty basic, but with these first steps, it truly feels like a new experience.

Check out this extract.

Marvel Infinite Comics - NovaA nervous Nova enters the sky above New York. Tap.

Marvel Infinite Comics - NovaIn not quite a new panel, but an evolution of that first panel, he crashes into a building. The panel gets bigger, the story progresses. Tap.

Marvel Infinite Comics - NovaAnd into another building. Another tap, another expansion, another evolution. It’s progression. It’s storytelling. It’s that suggested motion usually imagined in the gutter. Unlike cartoons or motion comics, there’s a sequence that you control the timing of.

We’re lucky that Marvel is throwing this in with purchase of Avengers vs. X-Men #1. That should get a lot of eyes on this, pushing for more advancement. But it’s also available as a stand-alone for 99¢. I’d gladly pay that for more of this.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality. In the advertising industry, these words have been thrown around for years because of their possibilities. They represent enhancements possible for ads, business cards, magazines, anything that you can shoot with a webcam or camera phone. But in my experience, no one had it quite right. AR was always clunky, buggy, or plain useless. Well, let me tell you, Marvel doesn’t have it quite right either.

Big credit to Marvel for the idea. They are really bringing something new to the table. Process animations (pencils, inks, colors). Character bios. Creator commentary. Simply put, this is added value. You want to encourage people to go to their local shop, instead of buying a glorified PDF? This is a good start. Retailers must love it.

But the execution? Whomp whomp. In order to activate the AR features, you hold up your Marvel AR App-enabled tablet or smartphone to certain panels, indicated with a AR icon. This has logistical problems. It’s hard to hold the comic open and position a camera at the same time. For reference, I was using my iPhone, but I’d really suggest something with a bigger screen. Of course, that’s even more unwieldy, but full-screen character bios are close to impossible to read on a four-inch screen.

As a Wednesday warrior, I’m not the target audience for the character bios. But if I was, they’d be a big help. Rather than send someone off to Wikipedia to learn Hope’s story, keep them engaged with the comic. And you can protect them from spoilers. I do think these would be better suited to the recap page though. They could even carry across all Marvel’s books. Imagine a code for, Iceman for example, on the recap page of every book he’s in. And another for the Vision. Another for Strong Guy. And these bio could easily be updated regularly on Marvel’s end. New reader? Don’t recognize one of these 30+ characters? Beep boop. Bio! Here’s their powers. Here’s their origin. Here are some stories you can read about them – sending them back to their comic shop.

The process animations are also a nice bonus. I like seeing how much impact the inking has. How much impact the color has. If something changed from layout to pencils, as happened pretty drastically in one place here. As AR though, they are too clunky. How about a activate the AR, then tap once to drop to pencils, tap again to add inks, and again for colors. Allow the reader more control.

Two last comments. 1) I still don’t know if I needed to focus on one panel or an entire page to start the AR. 2) If you start an AR function, and your hand twitches, your camera may lose focus and you have to start the clip over. It’s a drag.

Inna final analysis, Marvel’s new digital initiatives don’t score a perfect 10, but they are a perfect start.

Fear Itself or Much Ado About Nothing

Bucky Got Killed, but Don't Worry

I wish I was friends with Matt Fraction. Then we could have conversations like this:

BELLS: “Oh man. You killed Bucky!”
FRACTION: “Yeah, I was honored that Ed let me do that. But he agreed, it was the right time. Hell, it was his idea.”
BELLS: “That’s cool. But I guess there weren’t really enough pages to really let the moment hit.”
FRACTION: “Just wait til the series is over. We’re going to have a whole issue for his funeral.”
BELLS: “Oh. That’s alright then. Still sucks to see such an interesting character go away.”
FRACTION: “Can you keep a secret?”
BELLS: “Uh yeah?”
FRACTION: “Don’t worry about it. He not really dead. It’s a fake funeral and he’s going to get his own series.”
BELLS: “Oh … cool. I guess. Bucky underground. I can live with that”
FRACTION: “Yeah. Ed’s gonna kill on that book. Back to the espionage stuff.”
BELLS: “Aw, I love that stuff! But, I have to admit … I’ve been lukewarm on Iron Man lately. I think you’ve been doing great with Pepper, but I find Tony melodramatic. I want to see the gravity of him giving up sobriety, and I’m sure as an alcoholic yourself, it’s a personal story, but … him drunk and shouting at Odin? Too much. And the cursing Ugnaughts? Not my favorite.”
FRACTION: “Sorry, but I hope you stick around. Good stuff coming up. Everything has been building to this. Ever since … The Order maybe.”
BELLS: “Yeah, I’m sure there will be some serious shit to come out the mess in Paris. I mean, DAMN! The whole city is in rubble!”
FRACTION: “Actually, I wanted to get back to Zeke Stane and the Mandarin.”
BELLS: “But Paris is like top 25 worldwide in population. That’s a serious blow. Like, to the world.”
FRACTION: “Don’t worry about it. Tony’s going to guilt Odin into fixing it. Again, keep that on the DL.”
BELLS: “Fixing it?”
FRACTION: “Yeah. He’s a god. He can do anything.”
BELLS: “Well, alright. I admit that I didn’t finish reading the main Fear Itself book, but I heard you killed Thor. You write him monthly. Wow. I must admit I didn’t see that coming.”
FRACTION: “Don’t worry about it. He’s Thor. Ragnarok, Rebirth, Repeat.”
BELLS: “So not dead.”
FRACTION: “Yeah, he’s dead.”
BELLS: “But not for long.”
FRACTION: “Really not for long. We’re already soliciting issues with him in them.”
BELLS: “So … after a long line of events that changed the Marvel U status quo, like House of M, Civil War, Secret Invasion, what’s really changed because of Fear Itself?”
FRACTION: “Well … the Serpent broke Cap’s shield.”
BELLS: “Yeah, I heard about that. Broke it like a stale Dorito. Nice”
FRACTION: “Yeah, but don’t worry …”

END SCENE

I dropped the series after issue four. It seems like I made the right decision. Not my cup of tea.

If you’re wondering about that knack for dialogue, yes, I did major in Theater in college. No big deal.

DC’s New 52: Week 4

I’m already a week behind. I read these books six days ago, and just got around to finishing a post. I’d love to get to work my Phonogram piece but I …

Starling RulesI’ll see what I can do.

Birds of Prey #1Book of the Week: Birds of Prey #1 by Dwayne Swierczynzki and Jesus Saiz

Wait … what? Didn’t Daredevil come out this week? And Scott Snyder’s Batman? Wonder Woman by Brian Azzarello and Cliff fucking Chan?

Yes, they did, but a book I wasn’t even sure I was going to buy was the biggest surprise and my favorite book of the week: Dwayne Swierczynzki and Jesus Saiz’s Birds of Prey.

The internet loved Wonder Woman, but it left me really flat. Some of you nerds could identify the different gods in those pages, but not me. If it wasn’t for my faith in the creators, I may not even buy issue #2.

Daredevil was fun, but I didn’t get that “Oh, wow!” moment I expect when I see Marcos Martin’s name.

Batman was GREAT. But even that didn’t get me as excited as this.

So … why’d I even go for it?

  1. <sacrilege>I liked Swierczynzki’s Iron Fist more than Brubaker and Fraction’s.</sacrilege>
  2. Birds of Prey always interested me as a concept, but Gail Simone’s work never grabbed me unless the Secret Six showed by. Come to think of it, I feel that way about ALL Simone’s work. Seeing a new name on the title peaked my interest.
  3. Jesus Saiz does nice work. Not that I could have told you this a month ago, but I’d seen his work on Checkmate and an issue of Crime Bible.

 

Reading this book was the most fun I had all week. Well, second most fun, but let’s not continue down that path. And I don’t like “fun” books. Why can’t I have fun with some super serious and violent? I don’t need something light and cartoony and filled with jokes to have fun. I just need something I can get sucked into. Reservoir Dogs is my favorite movie. I find Harvey Keitel and Eli Roth’s “You’re gonna be okay” scene more fun than anything in Caddyshack.

People have complained about the treatment of Catwoman and Starfire’s sexuality this week. Do you know how much sex was in this book? NONE. It was great. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some pretty ladies, especially naked ones, but I don’t need that in my comics. People try to sell me on True Blood, enticing me with nudity. TV is for stories. Porn is for nudity. The two don’t need to come together. Here, Black Canary wears more than I’ve ever seen. Her new costume is cool and still says “Dinah Lance.” And oh my god, this book would pass the Bechdel test. How many new 52 can say that? (Wonder Woman is the only other one I read that I can think of, though they did talk about Apollo.)

Alright, enough weird digressions. Why did I like the book so much?

First, it had character. “Who does bitch have to cut to get some service around here?” may be the best introductory line in years. I don’t know what powers if any Starling has, but I know what she’s like as a person because of lines like this. And her “Wheeeeeeee-haw!” as she drove through a church door makes me want to read more about her than knowing that she’s good with guns or has psi-powers or whatever ever would. She got whimsy this one. And some cool tattoos. We’ll find out about her abilities eventually. I’m not worried.

Two, the aforementioned Jesus Saiz art. My first thought was to call it Dodson-esque, but even that’s not right. Its just very clean and round, with great body language and action. So yeah, great.

Three, some nice comics moments, by which I mean using the medium in a fun way. The panels transitions into Keen and Starling’s flashbacks mirror those immediately proceeding them. E.G. On page eight, Keen is hiding under a car. The next panel, which took place two weeks before, is Keen under a car. It’s the sort of cut you’d seen a movie, but most comics would do something dialogue-wise instead of using the art.

Yeah. Sexy without being degrading. Fun. Full of character. Came out of nowhere. With Katana, Poison Ivy and Batgirl coming up soon, I can’t wait for the next issue.

DC’s New 52: Week 3

She's the Red Angel of the Night

Batwoman #1Book of the Week: Batwoman #1 by J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman

C’mon. This would have had to be a trainwreck for this to not be the book of the week. Hell, book of the month.

Good artists alter their style depending on the book or the story. J. H. Williams III alters his art to the scene. I counted some seven styles: Batwoman vs. La Llarona, Kate at the Police Station, Kate and Bette training, Chase, Kate with her father, plus those in the middle of spreads or flashbacks. And the layouts are just as varied. Some gutters bleed down the page, some fit together in perfect little boxes, some are bats, some are birds. Williams just thinks on another level.

It’s sad that Rucka dropped off the title, but Williams and his co-writer Haden Blackman turn in a great script and don’t miss a beat.

Now I get into the typical Bells “person behind the mask” theme. Yes Batwoman has a creepy new villain (without resorting to terrible violence *cough cough* Geoff Johns). But she also has familial conflicts and a burgeoning love life. In cape comics, you can assume that they will win the day against a criminal, but they could always break up with their girlfriend or lose a job. Think about Peter Parker. He’s been known to lose both.

I won’t know how a new reader will respond to this until I force someone to read it, but even to someone well familiar with the story, there are some nice questions raised here. Where’s Renee Montoya? How long til we see Alice again? What’s Mr. Skullface’s deal with Batwoman and Chase?

I could go deeper, but I don’t really want to. I want you to read this. Go. Spend the three bucks. Then hunt down the Rucka/Williams Detective Comics issues.

DC’s New 52: Week 2

So last post I got called out for not updating.

What can I say … I do what the fans want. All three of you.

It’s strange to see how little the lack of updates has affected traffic to the Kitchen.

Anyway … by the end of my regular updates, it was just getting tiring reviewing the same books every month. There’s only so many things I can say about Invincible Iron Man or X-Factor. But I could probably do a Book of the Week. And sometimes, on those special weeks, the Worst of the Week.

Hold on to your butts.

Eye of the Storm

A little preface on my thoughts on this whole relaunch stuff. For the past year or so, I’ve read three DC books regularly: Detective Comics, Secret Six and The Flash. This month I’m buying at least ten. It sucks that Six is cancelled, but if I end up with more quality comics, I can deal. And if I up the number of book I buy, DC will consider it a win too.

And since you didn’t ask: No, I don’t think any of this will get more people into comics. I do think however that this will get more people who are already into comics into DC Comics.

Swamp Thing #1Book of the Week: Swamp Thing by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette

Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics was pretty boss, but I wasn’t going to pick this up. I’ve only read the first collection of Alan Moore’s run, so Swamp Thing isn’t too much of a pull.

Then I saw the first few pages. I saw the layout of pages 2-3. Pretty. Real pretty. So I gave it a shot. Yes, Action Comics was a fun read. And I’ll pick up the next issue of Batgirl, but Swampy was my favorite.

The interesting layouts continue throughout the issue, but everything remains perfectly readable. I’ve read a good amount of work by Paquette, and he certainly brought his A-game. I’m not crazy about his Superman, but his plants, bugs, and everything else is so good. I’m not sure if he always inks himself, but it works.

Scott Snyder doesn’t do anything revolutionary. He focuses a bit on some pre-DCnU storylines that I could have done without, but I could follow without having read that stuff. The man may resort to the “When I was a kid …” intro to much, but when it’s as effective as his “plants can scream” intro here, I can’t complain.

I suppose my favorite part of the book is its very nature – no costumed villains, no punching. This is a story about Alec Holland. I can’t wait to read more.

Stormwatch #1Worst of the Week: Stormwatch by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda

First draft. That’s how this issue reads.

I’ve repeatedly heard that the turnaround time on proposals and first scripts on this DCnU business was ridiculously fast, but these first issue should be so polished you can see yourself in them.

Some choice bits:
– “– and Harry Tanner, the “Eminence of Blades,” is good at … poking things out.” – Real suave way to slip the name and alter-ego your character into the dialogue.
– “This is me connecting with the alien language processing lobe that got lodged in my brain” – Yes, this is real dialogue. She telling you exactly what she’s doing in that panel. This is Psylocke telling you about using “the focused totality of [her] telepathic powers.”
– There’s a guy that explains to Jenny Quantum what her powers are. Even at Claremont’s wordiest, no one ever had to tell Gambit what his powers were.
– There’s also a joke about how horny a horn is. Yup.
– And is there any logic in referencing Superman #1, a comic that won’t come out for another three weeks!?

I always want to like Paul Cornell. Other reviewers seem to love him. But I’ve read a number of things: his Young Avengers mini, some issues of Action Comics, his Black Widow: Deadly Origin, but nothing’s grabbed me. I may give up on this guy.

No, it’s not all Cornell’s fault. When Martian Manhunter wants to scare Apollo, he turns into the snow monster from the newest Star Trek movie. ATTN: Miguel Sepulveda -: Try harder. And please use a little more subtlety with characters expressions. I thought Harry Tanner and Jenny Quantum were going to chew right through the pages.

I really wanted to like this book. Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch and his/Millar’s Authority are some of my favorite comics. A lot of what has gone into this relaunch is fixing that DC thought was broken (even if they don’t word it that way). Green Lantern and Batman books have sold great for a couple years, so they come out pretty unscathed. Superman? Justice League? They’ve been treading water for too long. (Hell, Superman even lost the spotlight of Action Comics for a while.) So they get overhauls. But giving Apollo a buzzcut and sending Midnighter to Rachel Summer’s tailor doesn’t fix these characters. Giving them purpose and threats that no one else can face would fix them.

So yeah, I bought four DC books this week – these two plus Action Comics and Batgirl. This is the only one I won’t be back for.

 

Readers: Thanks for not giving up on me. I’ll really try to do this more often.

Next Week: BATWOMAN!

The Shopping List 5-18-11

Tony Wants To Know Where You Are

Avengers #13Avengers #13 by Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo ****

I enjoy Bendis’ dialogue, but often find his plots too boring. The inaugural arc of this book was very smashy, but with little consequence. When I saw that this issue was 90% talking heads, talking about Avengers history and future, I had to buy it.

As excited as I was, I wasn’t sure Chris Bachalo was the best choice for this story. I’m one of those guys that has a problem with his storytelling. You know, the whole “I have no idea what is happening here” thing. But the man can draw. His characters all look classic, with faces that finely underscore the subtext of their lines. It’s nice surprise. One of my favorite sequences has Hawkeye and Spider-Woman flirting. He hits on her and everything else falls away. Literally; the background drops out. It’s a really nice move.

Their relationship seems rather random though. There are certainly more organic ways to stick two characters in a relationship, like having them spend time together, or at least share a platonic moment before Hawkeye turns on the charm.  A questionable start, but with some big happenings about to happen in Fear Itself, things should move along nicely.

FIRST NITPICK OF THE WEEK: I’ve already  seen the Avengers’ Asgard press conference in Fear Itself and Invincible Iron Man, I didn’t need to see it a third time.

This isn’t the book Avengers has been over the past year, but to a reader like me, it’s welcome. I’m definitely in for the remainder of the arc.

Avengers Academy #14Avengers Academy #14 by Christos Gage and Sean Chen **

Avengers Academy is becoming a hard book to review. Whether a good or bad issue, there’s never much in the way of specifics to talk about. This issue, for example, is pretty weak. There’s just not that much here. It’s a done-in-one story, but feels empty. It’s fight and angst. No ups and downs.

SECOND NITPICK OF THE WEEK: I mentioned a few weeks ago how much I like Sean Chen’s art. Here, I have a small problem. The kids don’t always look like kids. Striker has the same body as Quicksilver, who must be almost twice his age. The action is dynamic, but the characters could use some more work.

On a grander scale, it seems like the entire Marvel universe is facing the Sinister Six. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some big story coming up. Doc Ock also has some fixation on proving he’s smarter than the great minds of the Marvel U – so far Tony Stark and Hank Pym.

I’m not questioning dropping Avengers Academy, but the title has been very unbalanced since the inaugural arc. We had the prom issue, but we also the weak sauce that was Korvac. Sad to say only 14 issues in, but AA needs to get back to its roots.

Invincible Iron Man #504Invincible Iron Man #504 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca ****

“Fix Me” was a big disappointment to me. It was boring and inconsequential.  This issue accomplishes so much and is so exciting that it just proves my point.

I’m not sure that the Grey Gargoyle has even been a scary villain, but give him a hammer and souped up powers and he can give Iron Man a true obstacle. It comes in a non-traditional way, but there’s a huge body count in this issue. None of that “The Hulk did the math in his head to make sure no civilians were crushed by that collapsing building.” These people got straight up fatalitied. GG is causing some serious damage on the streets of Paris. It’s fun.

My most common complaint about this book is the art. Even that gets an improvement this issue. Larroca has some truly great spreads and splashes in here. Of course, the coloring is still bad. Any human faces, look colored by warpaint, instead of shadows.

THIRD NITPICK FOR THE WEEK:  The dialogue from the Chosen (here and probably all Fear Itself titles) – are these real words? Will we ever see a translation for this rune language?

Yes, this is a big turn around. Fraction may have his focus on the main event book, but he doesn’t lack on his regular monthly title – Invincible Iron Man is back.

Amazing Spider-Man #661Amazing Spider-Man #661 by Christos Gage and Reilly Brown **

I dropped Amazing Spider-Man right around the Future Foundation stuff. Or so I thought. The appearance of the Avengers Academy cast, with creator Christos Gage writing, convinced me to pick up the book again. The students may be on the cover, but their professor, Hank Pym, also gets his time in the spotlight. Giant-Man punching a giant gorilla. It’s taken some time, but really appreciate seeing Pym respected as an important part of the Marvel Universe. The students are also portrayed well. Maybe a little too well. I know Gage created the characters, but they seem so much smarter and level-headed here than they do in their own book.

So the characters do well here, but the plot doesn’t match up. Firstly, the Psycho Man? Really? He’s got an iPad that controls people’s emotions? Super lame. But his schtick also results in the biggest problem of the issue. Psycho Man’s m.o. is to make people afraid. Accordingly, Spider-Man spends much of the issue second guessing himself. It doesn’t feel like the fun-loving, web-slinger we love. The very plot keeps him from being who we want to read. Terry Moore did a similar thing in his first Runaways arc. There, Moore had a curse placed on the kids that made them fight with each other. But the strength of that book was the characters’ friendships. When the conceit of the conflict is at odds with the strength of the book, it’s a problem.

The art is another high point though. Reilly Brown is doing what Francis Manapul was doing on The Flash. The art isn’t inked with black lines. Instead, the lines are darker versions of the fields they separate – yellow for Sue Storm’s hair, brown for the Thing’s hide, whatever. It gives a nice, soft look. The colors themselves are too dark, but the linework is very classy.

FOURTH NITPICK OF THE WEEK: Can we straighten out a definition of “hot mess?” I thought it was supposed to be someone who appears or looks good, but beneath that, is out of control. Peter was not a “hot mess” in front of the class. He was just a mess.

Thunderbolts #157Thunderbolts #157 by Jeff Parker, Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey **

Hmm … I wish I had better news, but this was a lackluster issue. I know some things happened, but even after reading it twice, I could say what. OK, so I guess I can’t say much about the plot. Except for my FIFTH NITPICK OF THE WEEK: The problem is solved a bit too easily. Magic words? REALLY?

Well, forgetting that, here’s some thought I had:

1) I wish Parker had planted seeds for the rest of the Underbolts like he did with Troll. I think I’ve read one Mr. Hyde appearance, and other than Shocker, I’ve never even heard of the rest.

2) This was the second book this week featuring a villain using fear as a weapon – and again, not a Fear Itself tie-in yet. Strange.

3) Troll’s battle suit is BAD-ASS!

So yeah, that issue wasn’t up to snuff. But you’ve got to expect some recruits to wash out pretty quickly, whether through being beaten in battle or nefarious teammates. With the promise of roster shakeups, it should at least be exciting once again.

X-Factor #219X-Factor #219 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino **

Are we done with this assassin plot now? It was just uninspired. Remember how the personalities of the characters – Shatterstar fighting pirates, Longshot at the craps table affected the Vegas plot? We don’t have any of that here. I feel like this arc could take place in any superhero title. That’s rarely the case with X-Factor, which is one of it’s virtues. Much like Thunderbolts, I was just unenthusiastic about this issue. So I don’t have anything to say.

We did get a news flash from the obvious department: Layla Miller can be confusing. “Wimmin. Go figger,” indeed.

Tedious story aside, the art is still great. If I ever Lupacchino at a show, I’ll have to get her to draw Rahne/Wolfsbane for me. She’s the only artist who draws both versions to my liking. She’s great.