The Shopping List 1-19-11

Hey kids! How y’all been? Thanks for coming over. I’ve gotten some nice traffic over the past month. Not a day has gone by where I haven’t had at least one visitor. That may not mean a lot to some people, but it’s nice to know that someone’s reading what I write. That said, if you’re the boy or girl who found Bells’ Kitchen by searching for “spider man and the black cat sex image” or “spiderman sexcomic,” I want you to take your computer and …

Tigra thinks you're a pervert.

I’m sure you’ll be able to find your porn somewhere, but it ain’t gonna be here. Thanks. To the books!

Avengers Academy #8Avengers Academy #8 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone ****

Tigra’s never been an interesting character to me. In her old Avengers days, she was all come-ons and purrs. Even when Bendis had the Hood beat her like a tiger-skin rug, I didn’t see much personality in her. Christos Gage has now fixed that. Her reaction to the possibility of the video of her beating going public is very believable and I’m glad to see some follow-up on what could have just been an exercise in building up a villain.

It’s also interesting to see the kid’s reaction. They can give any motivation they want, but by confronting the Hood, they’re getting revenge for their teacher. It’s an odd way to show her respect, but it’s there. Huge respect for Christos Gage for tackling the “Was this a sexual assault” issue. And it love that it’s Hazmat, another female, that points out that it isn’t. Switch the gender of Tigra and it isn’t even a question. If we’re going to treat female heroes the same as males, sometimes the ladies are going to be assaulted. I’m really impressed with Gage’s handling of this.

Mike McKone is back this issue, but turns in a mixed bag. His figures look great, but there are some extreme and some subtle emotions in these pages, and he doesn’t hit all of them. Some faces look great, others don’t match their context. Next month will be McKone’s last on the book, with Tom Raney and personal favorite Sean Chen coming up. We’ll see where this all takes us.

And a little “I’m retarded” kudos to Mike McKone this week. It took me eight issue before I noticed the biohazard symbol in Hazmat’s suit. I thought I had an eye for detail, but I’m retarded.

Invincible Iron Man #500Invincible Iron Man #500 by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, Kano, Nathan Fox and Carmine Di Giandomenico *****

Last month, we had Invincible Iron Man #33. Imagine what issue #34 would be like. Now imagine the book wasn’t renumbering and issue #500 came out some 40 years from today. Put those two issues together and Matt Fraction and a quartet of artists give you the best issue of the series for far.

It’s a very clever issue, showing how the present affects the future without being another time-travel story. Fraction gets to do some world building, giving Tony not only a son, but also a granddaughter. Much like the Immortal Weapons, Ginny Stark is a character I would love to read a one-shot or even miniseries about.

The issue also gueststars Spider-Man. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read the Sensational Spider-Man Annual Fraction did with Larocca a few years back, but Fraction writes a great Spider-Man. With Peter spouting off lines like “My therapist said beating up teenagers is good for my self-esteem,” it’s good times. I have no desire to see Dan Slott leave Amazing, but I bet Fraction could write some sweet back-ups.

This massive issue features four artist over its 56 pages. Larocca’s pages are standard fare. I’ve often complained about his character’s faces. Hidden behind a mask, his Spider-Man is outstanding.

Fresh off the Mandarin-focused Invincible Iron Man Annual, Carmine Di Giandomenico reprises his role here on the Manadrin/Tony pages. His art needs the right setting, like the Battlin’ Jack Murdock miniseries and yes, the Mandarin. He’s great.

I’m not as hot on Nathan Fox’s pages, which focus on Howard Stark II. They’re cluttered and messy in that Paul Pope way. These are new characters, which can be hard to identify, but the biggest problem is the coloring. The panels don’t have enough contrast and it’s very hard for your eyes to focus or flow through the panels easily.

My artistic hero of the issue is Kano. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his sequence, that of Ginny Stark, is my favorite. His thin lines and simple figures give you the essential information without bogging you down in details like Fox does. I’ve liked his work on Gotham Central and Iron Fist. I only hope his work impressed Marvel as much as it did me.

I want to do a little geek math here. If Howard Stark II is going to be 41 in 41 years, he needs to be born this year. I can’t believe that Fraction didn’t do the math in his head, so should we start expecting a Pepper Potts pregnancy? On another picky note, how is Howard the second? He could be Anthony the second, but Howard? That’s not how Jr.’s and III’s work.

Invincible Iron Man #500 is a great issue of a great series. All you need is the base man-in-a-metal-suit knowledge to follow along. I loved this issue and beg you to give it a shot.

Morning Glories #6Morning Glories #6 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ***

Morning Glories #6 issue is a bit of an odd duck. Only six issues in and Nick Spencer has the confidence to write an entire issue without any of the kids. Instead, this issue is more focused on building the mystery of Morning Glory Academy. It sure is a curveball. It gives some information, though not necessarily answers, about that spinning cylinder in the academy basement and suggests the possibility of time travel. The ideas in this book are still growing. It’s nice to see and keeps me coming back. Spencer has always said that he knows this series all the way to the end. It’ll be fun to review where we’ve been every couple arcs to see the seeds that were planted right in front of our eyes. For now, I’m content with his hints and smart dialogue.

This issue doesn’t give Joe Eisma anything too exciting to draw, he holds his own. With an ever-expanding cast and without iconic costumes, it can be difficult to keep everyone in a new comic straight. Luckily, Eisma’s pencils have the level of consistency a book like this needs.

With a new arc starting next month and a new lower price point, this is as good a time as any to get on board Morning Glories.

Scarlet #4Scarlet #4 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev **

Four issues and 16 dollars into Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s newest venture, I’m done. The idea of a female Punisher-in-development is interesting, but there’s not enough here. Months ago, Bendis commented this issue would be a game-changer. I don’t see it.

Bendis’s noble idea about this whole series – breaking the fourth wall – just amounts to first-person narration, but with the speaker facing the audience. No quite the “I can see you!” from Morrison’s Animal Man.

Another problem is that I don’t buy the inaction of the police force. No one lets Frank Castle run the streets because they’re afraid his arrest will incite a riot. The noble cops, whom she said are safe, should be able to take her down without fear. That’s what a good cop would do. To give credit where it’s due, I appreciate Scarlet’s mom a whole bunch. That’s a real character with rational feelings and reactions.

On the art side, Scarlet doesn’t fare any better. I know Maleev uses models and I know he mainly does his art digitally. But this may be the worst I’ve seen from him. Look at the conversation between Scarlet and Brandon halfway through the issue. It’s my favorite sequence, but it’s marred by ugly art. Brandon’s expressions range from confusion to nausea. His stubble comes and goes. The only culprit I can think is over-reliance on his photos. And the splotchy coloring is just ugly.

These are two high-level talents, but they’re not giving me enough. I gave it a shot, but I’m done with this book.

Amazing Spider-Man #652Amazing Spider-Man #652 by Dan Slott and Stefano Caselli, Fred Van Lente and Reilly Brown

I debated not reviewing Amazing Spider-Man for the second week in a row. Since this “Big Time” era started, the book has been consistently good. Combine that with a biweekly schedule and I’m left with very little to say.

The biggest change this issue comes from a switch in artist. For the second “Big Time” arc, Stefano Caselli picks up his pencil. Slott and Caselli had great chemistry on Avengers: The Initiative, and this is no different. His work is less exaggerated than Humberto Ramos’ was, but there’s a lot to like. Peter may look a bit off in his fruit boots, but there’s not much I like more than a roller derby gal.

Dan Slott and company take great advantage of Amazing‘s ever-changing back up pages. In the past few issues, Alistair Smythe, the Scorpion and Smythe’s insect army were built up, which means this month they can take center stage without spending pages on set-up. The foundation has already been laid. This time, Fred Van Lente and Reilly Brown use the pages to build up the Looter as well as the new Power Man. Expect these two to enter the main story some time soon.

Another artist, another story, but Amazing Spider-Man keeps on truckin’.

X-Factor #214X-Factor #214 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino ***

About six months ago, Gail Simone wrote a cowboy-centric done-in-one issue of Secret Six. Now it’s Peter David turn.

After becoming some sort of death god and leaving the team last issue, Darwin gets drunk off a cactus, fights a dragon, stumbles onto an old movie set, and gets shot by Rahne’s son. Yeahbuhwhat? You just gotta read it.

It’s a nice western tale drawn gorgeously by Emanuela Lupacchino. I can easily see her career taking a path similar to Nicola Scott. Scott was so good on Birds of Prey and Secret Six that she got moved up to the big leagues. Or, you know, whatever level Titans is these days. I don’t know how they found her, but she’s a real talent.

If you had told me five years ago that I’d be reading an issue starring Darwin that takes place in an old west setting, I wouldn’t have believed you. Moreover, I wouldn’t believe you that I’d enjoy it this much. But, here we are. From Brubaker’s Deadly Genesis to Uncanny X-Men and now X-Factor, our boy Armando has been through a lot. I don’t know how this will all fit into the larger X-Factor picture, but in PAD I trust.

The Shopping List 11-3-10

I would like to have more substantial posts on here, diving deeper into stories or characters, but I am glad that these weekly reviews have kept me writing and thinking critically about comics. I’ve even noticed myself looking deeper into the stories of movies and television shows. Ah well, Deadshot, shall we move on to the books?

Deadshot Shoots at a Skank

Okay!

Avengers Academy #6Avengers Academy #6 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone ****

I was reading Avengers: Initiative when Reptil had his first appearance in some tie-in. But it had no connection that I could see and seemed like a cash grab, so I skipped it. I still don’t really regret that, but after reading this issue, I find him the be the most relatable in his class of recruits.

I’ve never harbored much delusion about becoming a superhero one day, but anyone can relate to growing up with a dream profession and doing (or not doing) what they can to make it real. Christos Gage does a lot in this issue, showing a number of ways Humberto (Reptil) tries to find what kind of leader he’ll be. All to often in a story like this, our protagonist would take a chance reaching out to his teammates and by the end, they all hug and receive him as captain. Get real. Here, Finesse, his friend with benefits (second post in a row to mention one of those … hmm) calls it off, Mettle and HazMat walk away in disgust from his suggestion they get together romantically. Ye, in the end he’s comfortable with the role, but not everyone is so fast to accept him. It feels more real, especially where this team doesn’t have the familial feel of say, the Teen Titans.

Mike McKone is assisted by four inkers over these 22 pages. That’s usually a problem, but there is a great deal of consistency on these pages. My fear is that the four inkers are a sign that Mike McKone’s art is coming in too slowly for the production schedule. Issue seven will feature Tom Raney, but no more have been solicited. As of issue four, Avengers Academy was selling over 30,000 copies, so I don’t think it’s in danger of getting canceled, but I am concerned that there’s a delay coming. Perhaps Marvel was dipping their toe with a few issues before giving a green light for this as an ongoing. Here’s hoping.

Scarlet #3Scarlet #3 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev **

Mr. Bendis? Mr. Maleev? You better wow me next issue. I know half the internet is creaming their jeans over this, but it is not good.

Scarlet is a murderer. There is no denying that. I wanted to call her a terrorist, but for now she’s only targeting cops, not the widespread public, so I’ll stop short of that. She’s a girl who was the victim of police corruption that snapped and decided to do something about it. She has no morals that we’ve seen. No remorse. Just a desire to strike back. If she’s gone crazy and lost any sense of right and wrong, Bendis has got to tell us. Otherwise, he’s going to have a hard time getting us to connect to her. The problem only gets worse when Bendis tries to make us an accomplice to her crimes. Scarlet calling us out that we can’t recognize what’s wrong with our world and don’t have the balls to do anything about it if we did does not endear her to us. She’s trying to put the reader down, and just like a friend who does that, people are going to stop calling her.

Alex Maleev’s work has never been something I would call beautiful. Here, I would call it ugly. Characters have ridiculous expressions, especially Scarlet’s friend Brandon. This where Maleev’s photo-referencing pales in comparison to someone like Tony Harris. Harris stages his scenes, and his “actors” look like their emoting instead of posing for the camera. Shading is done in large splotches like jagged countries on a map. The colors are all dark, doing the storytelling no favors. The reader doesn’t know what to focus on.

One last note, and maybe this is sacrilege, but is this really a visual story? In other words, may this be better served as a novel? The only action here is Scarlet running from the cops and then sniping a couple of them. The images allow for some nice reveals, such as the fact that Scarlet is videotaping her actions, unafraid of the public knowing who she is. But really, between the narration and prevalence of talky scenes, the visuals don’t add much. If you write “Concert (Arcade Fire),” do we need to see two dudes in the crowd to understand what that mean? Just a thought.

One more issue sirs, then I’m out.

Secret Six #27Secret Six #27 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ****

People often complain about comic books covers falsely advertising the interiors. Well, I will warn you. The cover of Secret Six #26 shows Bane riding a dinosaur. The inside of Secret Six #26 shows Bane riding a god damn dinosaur! And Catman riding a the biggest cat I’ve ever seen. AWESOME.

Prior to “The Reptile Brain,” I had never heard of Skartaris. I only knew Warlord by name. I still don’t really know who Diemos is. In all that confusion, I was a bit lost with the intricacies of the plot. All that said, this was the best issue of the storyline so far. It’s small moments that become more important than the whole. The two Sixes come to blows, no one holding back. This leads to some great clashes, like those between Ragdoll and King Shark and Jeanette and everyone else.

These are bad people, but it feels real. Reluctance to kill has long been a criticism of superheros. “I’m willing to put someone in a hospital, or drop them from a great height, or run from the police, but killing is wrong.” It’s a nice message, but crazy. If you had a great skill and could get away with it, you would take advantage. Shady contracts, bloody violence. Whatever.

I don’t give J. Calafiore enough credit on this book. Big and small, action or discussion, his pencils are consistent and exciting. In this issue specifically, I admire his habit of violating panel borders. It’s done rarely, but always emphasizes the right moments.

With the cliffhanger involving a character I’m not familiar with, I’m not sure where this is going. I am sure though that the two teams will unite and kick some ass. I can’t wait.

Young Allies #6Young Allies #6 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon ****

Rest in peace, Young Allies. I know no reason you should be forgot. You’re my favorite new series of 2010. You were fun. You were funny. You were exciting. You exposed me to some new characters that I’ll hunt down past and future appearances of. You had great, consistent, monthly art. And now you are canceled.

Obviously, I enjoy Avengers Academy. And I understand that there are a few reasons it sells three times as many copies (“Avengers” in the title, better known guest stars, tying in with other titles). But I find this to be a superior book. These heroes aren’t ready to defend the world either, but they’ve also got to deal with the real world. It’s a more complete picture of what it means to grow up super.

Young Allies was a book of underdogs. An underrated writer and artist and C-list characters may not light the charts on fire, but it also means they’re aren’t stuck in a rut of repetitive villains and cyclical plots. Sean McKeever shows his ear for many characters’ voices, this issue guest-starring Emma Frost, one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel U today.

David Baldeon wasn’t afraid to avoid the blood and violence of too many books these days. His cartoony art does what comic art should: help tell the story while adding to its tone. And he did it brilliantly.

“A Change of Mind” is one of those downtime issues that are enjoyable in an extended run, but hard to really discuss. The characters each have to make a decision and by the end, they do. But the outcomes of those decisions will come in the future. Which is a problem.

This issue is one of transition. Which is made awkward by the fact that it’s a transition to … nothing. Time to talk publishing for a moment. The book in canceled. Recent comments from Ed Brubaker (“I’ll be doing both the main feature and writing the back-up feature. And they’ll be intertwining stories.”) suggest that the Nomad backup in Captain America will end soon. All fans have left on the horizon is the new Spider-Girl. I’m interested, but we know how much success that title has had in the past.

#6 is the weakest issue of the title yet, but I implore all of you to read this series when it’s released in trade.

The Shopping List 9-1-10

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #2Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #2 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung ****

Issue one was tasked with a lot of exposition, but here, the story just moves, and not just from Manhattan to Wundagore Mountain. New players are introduced, conflicts are developed, and it’s all wrapped up with a cliffhanger of Doom. Good times. Heinberg created the Young Avengers, so his voices for them are still the ones dominant in most people’s minds. They don’t quite have the idiosyncratic personalities of Vaughan’s Runaways, but each has their own believable stake in the proceedings. He also does well in making sure the book lives up its title. This not simply a Young Avengers story: needless to say, Scarlet Witch is a key part, but Quicksilver and the old New Avengers also show up.

I don’t like the bimonthly schedule. Two months is too long a time to remember any plot intricacies. It’s not that bad this early, but nine issues is a lot for anyone to remember, nevermind those nine issues coming out over a year and a half. However, the slower distribution allows Jim Cheung to perfect every panel. Scenes regularly involve 5+ characters, but they don’t seem rushed. Cheung doesn’t even skip backgrounds all that often.

I don’t have the memory for bimonthly publication, but with a book this good, having to reread every eight weeks is not a problem.

Scarlet #2Scarlet #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev ***

I don’t dislike this book, but I do have some problems with it.

Bendis is trying the whole address-the-audience thing. It works, but other than addressing it “you,” it’s not all that different from the first person narration of Ultimate Spider-Man or Daredevil. Scarlet tells us she needs our help, but unless this book goes interactive all of a sudden, there’s nothing we can actually do to help her. Reading comics is a passive thing. We’re not involved in the events. Bendis certainly would be among the first to try something new like that, but until it happens, Scarlet’s request feels empty.

Then there’s the art. Maleev makes choices that confuse me. When I first read Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum, I didn’t understand it. I could follow the plot, sure, but panels would go by and I didn’t understand their relevance. Luckily I had the 15th anniversary trade, which includes the full script. I read that and then everything clicked. I then understood Morrison’s allusions to Anubis or who certain characters were, regardless that the book hadn’t explained them. Maybe seeing the script would also make the difference here. Each issue has featured panels of solid color for reasons I can’t comprehend. Also, Maleev’s coloring is distracting; it bathes everything in an eerie glow. With Spider-Woman’s alien-centric story and Madripoor setting, this same technique made sense. Here, it doesn’t help tell the story, it’s bothersome.

The spread covering pages 2-3 shows Scarlet 12 times. Each panel shows the same facial expression and background, with her clothes, hairstyle and the panel’s coloring changing each time. Why? If it’s to break up the monotony of a floating head monologue, this is not the way to do it.

Scarlet may be one issue away from its real hook, but if not, it needs to do more for my $4.

Secret Six #25Secret Six #25 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ****

After two months of standalone issues, Secret Six is back to doing what it does best: showing terrible people doing terrible things. After expressing his displeasure with the Six’s recent activities, Bane has assembled his own team. And next issue the two teams will fight. I can’t wait.

Simone has a great talent for infusing new characters into a story without resorting to a dead-stop to introduce them. I don’t remember reading anything with Dwarfstar or King Stark before, but I feel I already understand their personalities. Much like my introduction to Cheshire in Villains United, she has a way of making me love these people. And that’s in addition to her skill creating new characters like Scandal or the new Ragdoll.

Calafiore’s art is certainly adequate. I don’t mean that as an insult, but there is nothing unique about his art. His name will never scare me away from a book, but it won’t convince me to try something either.

Please buy this book. I don’t want it to ever go away.

Shadowland #3Shadowland #3 by Andy Diggle and Billy Tan ***

Wow. This book. All action. All the time. Maybe I’m adjusting my expectations, because I didn’t hate it. Once I expected it to be all action, I didn’t mind waiting for the Daredevil tie-ins to give me real emotion. Once I accepted that Daredevil was possessed or whatever, I wasn’t bothered by his being out of character. Let’s be honest, if a correctly thinking Matt Murdock killed Bullseye, he would never EVER resurrect him. He would just cry about it for a while and say his prayers.  Shadowland is not good on it’s own, but it’ll do.

I’m not going to give Billy Tan any shit this month. This is the best his art has looked in the series. I like his rendition of the Punisher and his female characters, especially Lady Bullseye. I also want to give special recognition to colorist Christina Strain this month. Between all the shadows, Ghost Rider’s flames and the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, playing with light in this book must be a bear, but she does a great job. I’ve met her at cons and she’s always very sweet and does great sketches.

Stumptown #4Stumptown #4 by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth ****

Rucka and Southworth have a gem on their hands. With this 32-page closer to “The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo but Left Her Mini,” the pair has left me waiting for more. To solve the case (and not die) Dex has to use her PI skills, but also know how to read a situation and play the other parties against each other. Real crafty, this one.

Southworth’s art is perfectly unfinished. Darker books always run the risk of their art coming off too exaggerated and not fitting the mood. Looking at another Rucka series, Queen & Country, the art oscillates between cartoon and grit, much to the chagrin of some of its readers. Southworth is the regular artist on this title, so we don’t have to worry about that. What we do have to worry about is the schedule. Issue one came out on November 2009. That’s an almost three month average time between issues. The creators have assured us such delays will no longer happen, but that means a longer time between each arc.

The coloring in the book’s climax is a great experiment. The nighttime beach setting is washed in dark blue, with only a flashlight’s yellow glow to illuminate the characters. Not only does this preserve the beach’s shadows, but the contrasting colors make the players pop.

Young Allies #4Young Allies #4 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon *****

This is my new favorite book. I wish I read these characters before. I know Gravity had his own series, but I never tracked it down. Same with Araña or whatever she’s called now. These are great characters finally finding a place in my spotlight.

McKeever spends this issue throwing the Bastards’ identities into question, leading to inner-group tension as well as hinting at a larger conspiracy. I was wondering who the Allies would have as antagonists after this initial arc. That conspiracy is just what I was looking for, a hook to keep the book going.

Compared to Stumptown, this is the kind of book that can use non-realistic art. Baldeon, Bowling and Sotomayor take advantage and have given us some exciting, fun pages.

I’m running out of ways to praise this book. Just read it.

Find Related Posts: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,