The Shopping List 4-6-11

Every week I try to take a panel from a book I reviewed and work its captions into some sort of commentary here at the top of the post. Sometimes I have an idea and find a panel that works. Sometimes I find a panel and write around it. Sometimes it’s graceful. Sometimes it’s not. This week it isn’t.

Ragdoll Elvis

I just like that panel.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #5Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #5 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung ***

Last month, I expressed my dismay with the Young Avengers one-shot spinoff. I felt it took the series in a strange, questionable direction. Now we’re back to the main miniseries, but we have the same problem. This series is about finding the Scarlet Witch, not time traveling back to “Avengers: Disassembled.” Let’s move forward, not muck about in a years-old story.

The history of the Young Avengers team is really becoming a problem here. I thought their Vision was programmed with the memories/personality of Iron Lad. And I also thought Cassie and Vision were dating. So why is Cassie so quick to shun Vision when Iron Lad returns? It may make sense if I read their previous appearances again, but I haven’t. This series’ schedule and the time since we last saw these guys is taking a toll.

Remember the huge spreads with dozens of characters that Bryan Hitch would do on The Ultimates? Cheung opens the issue with one that is truly awesome. He’s taking full advantage of the time Marvel is giving him. I do appreciate that.

This, the midpoint of the series, is a bit soggy, but with the cliffhanger we’ve been waiting for since issue #1, I’m optimistic. With at least eight weeks until #6, I’ve plenty of time to get re-acquainted with the Young Avengers’ history.

Fear Itself #1Fear Itself #1 by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen ***

I haven’t been this conflicted about a review in a long time. It’s not a bad issue, but it’s not not a bad issue. It’s a problem with event books: if you’ve read interviews or solicits or previews, you pretty much know the beats of the first issue.

And we do know the important parts. We see the heroes. We see Sin finding her hammer. Then Sin finding the Serpent. I guess its biggest problem is the scope. Why do we need to spend pages on regular people in Broxton? There are so many scenes here that despite the issue’s size, only the Thor and Odin story gets any real meat.

The nugget of Fear Itself came from Marvel’s desire to do a big Thor/Captain America story, to capitalize on this summer’s movies. So far, I’m not sure what makes this a Captain America story. Even with all the solicits and previews, the only connection is that his villain, the Red Skull started this. It hasn’t affected him on a personal level, not the way’s affecting Thor.

For artist, Stuart Immonen was a great choice. He kills that action scenes and does some nice acting work. Most important than his drafting skills is the fact that a monthly schedule shouldn’t be a problem for him. This should all be wrapped up in six months. That was an underrated strength of Siege. It was over and done in four short months. It had immediacy, and with it, power.

I get it. This is just lighting a fuse. The fireworks will come soon enough. I’m excited for that, but it does nothing to change the fact that this initial issue is kind of bland. There’s some great father/son stuff (Fraction’s been on a real generational kick for a few years now), but this issue can’t compare to the kickoffs of recent events like Siege and “Second Coming.”

Heroes for Hire #5Heroes for Hire #5 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Robert Atkins **

The past few issues of Heroes for Hire finally picked a direction and stuck with it. For that, I’m appreciative. However, the series is losing my interest. Much like DnA’s Guardians of the Galaxy, this series started with great characterizations and conflict, but it’s petering out. Action heavy issues, which this certainly is, bore me. Watching Puppet Master and Misty Knight fight for mental control of the Punisher is a cool idea for a scene, but it can’t support half of an issue. I knew as soon as I read the last page of last month’s issue Punisher was under mind control and would be brought out. No surprises here.

Even Robert Atkins work is a step down from last issue. and it’s not as if it starts strong and loses energy; it’s impossible to find any pattern between good and bad panels. Under detailed faces, jagged faces. Hell, the first panel of the book, a close up of Puppet Masters’ mouth (mirroring a Misty panel we’ve seen probably in every issue) looks bad. I hate to say it, especially on an artist’s second issue, but it looks rushed. Perhaps it’s multiple inkers that give the book an irregular look. Only one inker, Rebecca Buchman, is listed, but she’s credited as “Inkers.” Or I’m just grasping at that typo as an explanation.

The next three solicits show Spider-Man appearances, but as I’m sick of that character as well, it’s no benefit. I think I’m done with Heroes for Hire.

Secret Six #32Secret Six #32 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ****

Gail Simone is the best. I met her at last month’s C2E2 (recap to come?) and she’s just cool. She said she knows how weird someone is by how many issues of Secret Six they have to be signed. I had five.

As in previous arcs, “The Darkest House” revolves around a fracture within the team. This time, it’s Ragdoll who has split from the Six. Doll thinks he should be able to use the Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card from the series’ initial arc. Scandal disagrees. Hell doesn’t have to break loose; the team descends to the underworld on their own. After being the comedic relief for so long, he’s given some real dramatic work here. This is where an actor would have great fun with a role. (Can you imagine a Secret Six movie?)

Elsewhere, I’m tired of the Demon Etrigan. The rhyming thing is just too much. Even with a writer as good as Simone, it’s forced. We all know it. And no, I don’t think Catman’s interjection was worth the three pages it took to set it up. Whenever the dialogue needs a certain rhythm, I always lose reading and dramatic momentum. And it felt like the meter changed from line to line. I’ve studied Shakespeare, I should be able to manage this. It just doesn’t work for me.

Between the inventive, multi-layered compositions and some packed crowd scenes, this issue the work of J. Calafiore’s career. I’ve always considered him a competent artist, though often boring, but he has really impressed me here.

A logistics question that could hold the key to the ending of the story: If Ragdoll uses the card to get Parademon out of hell, how will he get out? I’m not sure he’ll be able to use the elevator.

Predictability is never the case when it comes to the Secret Six or their master, Gail Simone. Another great issue.

The Shopping List 3-16-11 and 3-23-11

Strap in kids. This one is a doozy. Between coming down with the death disease and C2E2, I never got to do the reviews for the books that came out of the 16th. And it was a big week. This week was supposed to be lighter, but there were a couple books from the 16th that exceeded my budget, so I picked those up. Sad thing is, writing these reviews I realized just how “BLEH” these books left me.

I Do Say So

I do say so. Oh well, can’t love them all.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade Young Avengers #1Avengers: The Children’s Crusade – Young Avengers #1 by Allan Heinberg and Alan Davis **

I don’t know what to make of this issue. Since it’s not part of the main series and has a different artist, it comes off as just a really confusing fill-in. Even after reading it, I can’t figure out if it will prove to be completely unimportant or the linchpin of the series. Will this come back in the end or was it Marvel grabbing another four dollars out of my wallet? I feel like I need to finish the series to even understand what happened here, despite mountains of exposition. Where are they going to tell me why these Avengers want to kill today’s Avengers?

The other story in the issue flashes back to the team’s first night out on patrol. It’s an interesting enough story, but everything you needed to know was handled on the first page of the first issue of Young Avengers: kid doppelgangers saving people from a fire, “Who the #*&% are the Young Avengers?”

I don’t like Alan Davis’ art as much as the people’s who has influenced, namely Bryan Hitch. It’s something about his faces, especially his character’s mouths. But I appreciate his ignoring of a grid or standard panel layouts. It’s fun to look at. It keeps your eyes on their toes.

I don’t know. This was an awkward aside. Of course, I can’t judge until Avengers: The Children’s Crusade is finished. But it’s not looking good.

Avengers Academy #11Avengers Academy #11 by Christos Gage and Tom Raney **

I knew it had to happen eventually – a bad issue of Avengers Academy.

It’s a simple problem. There’s way too much exposition. Don’t get me wrong, I have no idea who this Korvac guy is beyond an Avengers villain, but the explanation goes on too long and is so convoluted that I still don’t get it. Most of this issue feels like an illustrated OHOTMU entry, though narrated by Korvac’s wife and with interjections by other characters. Over the 22 pages, I came to understand that Korvac is wicked powerful and it’s going to take a lot to beat him, but I could tell that from just the pictures. If I wanted the backstory, I could have dived into the longboxes at my local shop and read, ya know, THE BACKSTORY?!

This isn’t to say that the Avengers characters are wasted, set aside to focus on Korvac. It’s Veil that sets this all in motion and Speedball gets a big moment, something he really needed, even after last month’s trip to Stamford. All the others get their panels too, even if they serve as Korvac fodder.

Making sure the massacre is exciting, we welcome new artist Tom Raney. It sounds a bit back handed, but Raney is a better than average superhero artist. No more. In a nice move, he and Gage are gracious enough to illustrate the exposition not with talking heads, but with violence. Giant-Man getting giant-punched. Thor brought to his knees. Quicksilver tripped up. It keeps things visually interesting. I have a complaint though – the further into the background a character is, the worse they look. I don’t know if I should blame Raney or inker Scott Hanna, but if a character isn’t the focus on a panel, they become scantly more detailed than a smiley face.

A rough issue to be sure, but with the heavy narrative lifting out of the way, I look for AA to bounce back next month.

Captain America #615.1Captain America #615.1 by Ed Brubaker and Mitch Breitweiser ****

Steve Rogers is not the same character he was in the 1960s. Many of his defining characteristics have been negated. The man out of time, waking up after 20 years frozen in ice? Well, he’s had time to acclimate in the 15 or so Marvel years since the thawing. Remorseful for the loss of his sidekick while ending WW2? Oh … yeah … he never actually died. No problem. This is why Bucky makes an interesting Captain America. He’s got some conflict in him.

Despite that, Ed Brubaker is taking steps to get Steve back in the suit. I have no doubt it’s influenced by the movie, but because Bucky is such a good Cap, I don’t like the idea.

Despite that, Brubaker has me convinced after 22 pages. If I were a hero in the Marvel Universe, there is no one I would rather have lead me into battle. It’s not even that he’s a strategist, he can just handle any situation. He takes everything in this issue in stride, knows the right thing to do (both morally and fight-wise). My only hope is that Bucky has a place to fit in outside of the red, white and blue. I don’t want anyone to think Bucky’s story is finished and kill him off. It’d be a waste.

Mitch Breitweiser has drawn Captain America a few times in the past, so he’s no stranger to the character. His artwork is a great demonstration to anyone picking up this Point One issue, regardless of the fact that he’s not the regular artist.

Lastly, I want to call attention to letterer Joe Caramagna. I usually don’t like sound effects in my comic art. If you show me a gun with a muzzle flash, I can do the sound math. Other times, they feel intrusive or take me out of the story* Here, they’re well integrated into the art; they aren’t just pasted over it. It makes a difference.

A great done in one. A great starting point. A great issue.

* This is one reason I didn’t like the few issues of Incredible Hercules that I read. I don’t need the sound effect “NURPLE” when some twists a nipple. It’s not funny either.)

Daredevil Reborn #3Daredevil Reborn #3 by Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice ***

Finally! an enjoyable issue of Daredevil Reborn.

After a couple issues that were derivative of … a lot of things, this finally feels like a uniquely Daredevil story. Not because Matt uses his super senses, but because we see some of the theme that ave carried the character for years,  like protecting the innocent. It’s not a perfect issue though; it’s very uneven. The first half is all action, the second half all talking. Neither part is bad, but it feels like there are only two scenes over these 22 pages.

I don’t have much to say. One more issue of Reborn, then Matt heads back to Hell’s Kitchen and the hands of Mark Waid, Marco Chechetto and Marcos Martin. I wish I could hit fast forward.

Fear Itself: Book of the Skull #1Fear Itself: Book of the Skull #1 by Ed Brubaker and Scot Eaton ****

Part of me didn’t want to review this until issue one of the actual event came out, but I figure they will be different enough that each deserves its own review.

I’ve heard the complaint that the plot of Fear Itself isn’t a result Marvel’s ongoing continuity as House of M, Secret Invasion and Siege have. It hasn’t been bubbling for months and years, it’s starting here and now. I see it the other way, if someone wants to read Fear Itself, they can start with this issue or Fear Itself #1. No more back story in necessary.

Take the Marvel Universe, mix in one part Hellboy, and one part Raiders of the Lost Arc, and you get this book. Though not completely original, it does a good job laying the groundwork while telling a satisfying tale on its own. Part of me feels that this new Red Skull could be Marvel’s Joker. She’s an agent of chaos. She sees an opportunity to raise hell and goes for it. She likes to make symbolic attacks, like her recent desecration of the Statue of Liberty. She quickly turns on her allies. With a shepherd as good as Ed Brubaker, she’s getting a real personality. I’m excited for her starring turn. It could be star-making.

Book of the Skull also features etter art from Scot Eaton than I expected, possibly due to the brighter coloring, especially compared to what I remember of his work on X-Men: Legacy. These big, open panels really do a service to his art. I used to shy away if I saw his name on a book, but he’ll get another look now.

Generation Hope #5Generation Hope #5 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie ****

This is a weird one. Phonogram 2: The Singles Club is the best comic of the past ten years, but everything else Kieron Gillen writes leaves me cold. Of course, anything McKelvie draws, even an 8-page backup, gets a look from me. So,when I saw this was a stand-alone issue and only three bucks, I gave it a shot.

It’s a cool book. You can easily see it as the newest entry in the line of New Mutants, Generation X, Academy X, New X-Men, Young X-Men, but it’s a handful of fresh characters, being defined by one clear voice (Gillen’s). I understand that due to their very nature, books like this don’t sell very well, but I hope it sticks around. These characters will only be able to blossom if they have a regular book. Pop in appearances here and there will just leave them to wither away, the way people like Surge, Prodigy and Dust have done recently.

Writers always talk about catering scripts to their artist. Gillen/McKelvie is one team where you can see this in action. Some of these jokes only work with McKelvie’s art. Could you read Prof’s “There’s few things I love more than seeing young mutants at play.” line with anyone else’s art? Greg Land? Prof would be a pervert! As it stands, he’s more of a weird uncle.

Dig it.

Invincible Iron Man #502Invincible Iron Man #502 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca **

I’m not sure if it’s a flaw of the issue or a testament to Fraction’s character building, but I much preferred the Pepper Potts scenes in this issue to the Tony Stark/Doc Ock ones. I have no doubt that Dr. Octopus will somehow be saved (like he would ever die in a non-Spider-Man book) and I also don’t think he’ll set off his bomb. It’s all just pacing until the problem is finished. Because the Stark scenes are just talking, they don’t feel like they have real conflict until too late in the game. Also, the strength of this series has been each arc coming off the one before it. This has an non-Iron Man villain coming to a man who isn’t the best to solve his problem, as Stark even points out. It feels more contrived than it needs to.

To harp on the Tony/Otto scenes again, the 11-13 panel pages, with a reliance on talking heads do Larroca no favors. Those aren’t his strength. The suit is. Action is. Not these blank, plastic faces.

Sure, this is my least favorite arc of Invincible Iron Man, but with Fraction at the helm of Fear Itself, I’m sure he has big plans for his boy Tony.

Amazing Spider-Man #656Amazing Spider-Man #656 by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin **

Talk about a letdown. After the incredible issue #655, we get a pretty standard Dan Slott Spider-Man issue, even Marcos Martin is wasted. Just one month after Slott wrote Martin some acting-heavy silent scenes and some dynamo spreads, we get an average issue. The only page that stood out to me was the opener with the detonator in Massacre’s hand. And with Martin off to do Daredevil with Mark Waid, I’m not sure he’ll get another go.

#655 touched on a lot of things: power and responsibility, comics’ revolving door of death, etc. This issue has a lame villain and an over-the-top J. Jonah Jameson. I bought his sadness after Marla’s death, but his reprisal is a bit much. Nice job letting him take advantage of his office as mayor though.

Four months in, and I’m ready to drop Amazing Spider-Man. I really liked the first “Big Time” arc, was underwhelmed with the second and only enjoyed the art of this third one. After the next issue, which ties into the Fantastic Four arc “Three,” I think I’m done. Of course, I recently saw that Christos Gage is coming on to help with a few scripts and do a bit of crossing over with his Avengers Academy kids, so I’m sure I’ll pick those up. I’m not going to add ASM to my pull list, but I’ll keep an eye on the solicits so I can be a cafeteria reader. “I have some of this … but not this.”

Thunderbolts #155Thunderbolts #155 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker ***

It’s draft day for the Thunderbolts! Issue #155 finds two units (Fixer and Songbird, and Luke Cage, Dr. Strange and Man-Thing) enlisting new recruits for their cadre of villains gone good. It may sound uneventful, but Jeff Parker keeps it interesting in a number ways. Luke and crew fight show that there’s more than one way to skin an incantation. Meanwhile, the Fixer/Songbird sequences are more low key, but the Raft’s female prisoners have some nice catcalls directed at Fixer: “I know you can rig up a piece of tech that goes in here …” When was the last time a Marvel comic objectified a male character? I like it, though I guess it only serves to balance out the “private bath for the women of Shandor-Rah” that Satana uses to tempt the ex-Power Man and ex-Sorcerer Supreme.

As an issue, it feels a bit unfinished. There are some abrupt cuts, as when Dr. Strange drops Luke on an ice beast. The ntire battle takes place while we turn the page. We didn’t even see one punch. And the scenes back at the Raft don’t have much in the way of drama. I understand this is an issue of putting pieces in place for a Thunderbolts JV team, but it could have been smoother. I also wish I could recognize some of these prospects. Though I did tell you guys to keep an eye out for Troll.

Kev Walker rules. ‘Nuff said.

Twilight Guardian #3Twilight Guardian #3 by Troy Hickman and Sid Kotian ****

After last issue’s reveal that a comics company wants to publish the adventures of Twilight Guardian, issue #3 shows us a few possibilities. It’s a fresh idea, but it leaves the issue a bit lacking, because we’re not following Pam anymore. When we go into the comics within the comic, it slows the forward motion of the issue. It pauses all the actual plot and drama of the series. I hope that these aren’t reflections of any suggestions Top Cow made to Hickman about where the character could go. Can you imagine if Twilight Guardian was shoved in Artifacts? Yeesh. Talk about not understanding the book.

The real star of this issue is Sid Kotian. Not only does he turn in the strong linework we’ve seen in the previous two issues, but he also adopts a new art style for each of the pitches Avernus Comics sends. Hopefully this guy doesn’t disappear; his style on the super-mega-superhero-crossover segment proves he’d be a great fit on a book like Legion of Super-Heroes, and his TG in the same sequence look an awful lot like my favorite Teen Titan, Raven. One question – when girls are home alone, do they really hang out in their underwear and knee-high socks? Or is Kotian spying on my dreams?

Yes, it’s a stumble, but in addition to the metafiction, this issue pushes the pieces into place for the upcoming finale. I’m not sure how, or if, all the plots up in the air – Dusk Devil, TG’s missing ex-boyfriend, her newly reappeared father – will tie in, but I’ll be there.

Last question: What parent lets their three children, none of whom seem older than 10, light firecrackers outside at 12:45 AM? (Though the lettering says PM, the sky and the fact that TG is on patrol means it’s night.)

X-Factor #217X-Factor #217 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino **

Right before Messiah Complex, X-Factor had its only stinker of a storyline, “The Isolationist.” It featured a few stories, but I don’t remember how or if they tied together. The biggest problem was that it didn’t feel like an X-Factor story. They aren’t really fighters anymore. They work at a detective agency? Sure, they’ve got muscle in Strong Guy and fighting skills in Shatterstar, but characters like Rictor and Layla are the glue of the team and they are action oriented at all. So when an arc comes along with a real physical threat, it feels off. And here we are with another action arc.

It’s rare that I don’t like an issue of X-Factor, but it has two serious problems:

  1. Lame villains – We’ve got a trio of female assassins going after J. Jonah Jameson and his friends. But after two issues, we don’t know who they are or what they want.I want to root against them, but no just because they’re labeled as the bad guys.
  2. Proselytizing – Peter David is a man with opinions. Anyone who’s read his blog knows that. And often times I agree with his opinions. But here, he spends three pages calling out anti-Muslim protesters on their bullshit philosophies. I agree with every word he puts in his characters mouths, but an issue of X-Factor isn’t the place for discourse on culturally insensitivity.

Emanuela Lupacchino loves breasts. Sure, her male characters are attractive as well, but you can’t go four pages in this issue without an eye-grabbing cleavage shot. Not a complaint, mind you, just an observation. To her credit, she really does draw stunning people. And unlike some lesser artists, she uses more face shapes than “male” and “female.” Most importantly, she’s a great fit on this book. Between her and Valentine De Landro, X-Factor has solved the artistic inconsistency that plagued it for years. Let’s just hope the next issue can turn the rest of the book around.

The Shopping List 1-5-11

I went to the shop this week thinking Secret Six and Heroes for Hire were coming out.

Poker Talk

Yeah … no matter what Diamond or whomever said, they weren’t this week. So only two books. Luckily, two good ones. These are the hardest reviews to write. There are only so many ways to praise books like these. To paraphrase, “Good books are all the same. Bad books are each bad in their own way.”

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #4Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #4 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung ****

– Solid, on character writing, but I’ve yet to have a “Wow!” moment.

– I’m glad Marvel isn’t worried about where this fits into continuity right now. Who knows, when issue 9 comes out, this could match the status quo. Readers confuse publication dates, reading order and continuity too much. In five years, you can read this story and say “Oh, it’s after House of M.” And that’s all you need. Good.

– I’m glad Cheung is taking his time. Of course, I’ll have to reread eight issues for the finale, but at least it’ll be pretty. Gotta get a sketch from this guy at the next con I see him. Iron Man? Quicksilver?

X-Factor #213X-Factor #213 by Peter David and Valentine De Landro ****

– Barely any action, but still exciting.

– Hate to say it, but the return of Valentine De Landro is a step down from Lupacchino. He’s had a couple months off, so I don’t think this is rushed. His facial shadows are weird.

– The cover for next month shows a gun-toting cowboy Darwin. Stupendous.

Some interesting books coming out this week including the sophomore issue of the new Heroes for Hire and the first issue of Daredevil: Reborn. Let’s hope for the best for our boy Matt Murdock.

The Shopping List 11-10-10 and 11-17-10

Lots of book. Little time. Here we go.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #3Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #2 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

– Heinberg writes great dialogue. Here, he writes too much. The issue is full of talking and debates and arguments and only one action of consequence.
– Cheung is taking his sweet-ass time on this book. I’m glad he is. It looks great.
– Once again, the schedule is killing the momentum on this book.
– I love Magneto and Quicksilver. I think they’re great characters on their own, but their relationship, especially here, really pushes them to a new level.

The Flash #6The Flash #6 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul

– “The Dastardly Death of the Rogues” wraps up a little too easily here. Spinny, spinny, rewrite the future, change how a police department is run.
– Johns gives his characters great, unique personalities.
– Manapul is good. Colorist Brian Buccelato makes him amazing.
– Now that this arc is done and Scott Kolins is coming on for a few issues, maybe the book will get back on schedule. More Johns Flash? Yay!

Morning Glories #4Morning Glories #4 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

– This book is a delight every time it comes out.
– Now that the characters have all been introduces, Spencer can start placing them together, letting their relationships build. I think most geeks will relate to Hunter. I know I do.
– Ooh! The plot thickens!
– Eisma’s art has smoothed out again. It looks great.

Amazing Spider-Man #648Amazing Spider-Man #648 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos

– This is kind of exactly what I want in a Spider-Man book.
– I’ve never liked Humberto Ramos’ art. Runaways was close though. Here, it perfectly fits the energetic pace of Slott’s script.
– The issue has about 10 plots. Instead of cutting between each, they are dealt with one by one. You may think it would come off as disjointed, but it works. If these are the stories Slott is going to tell, I’m interested.
– Spider-Girl prologue! Yay!

Spider-Gril #1Spider-Girl #1 by Paul Tobin, Clayton Henry, and Dean Haspiel

– It’s nice to see Anya land on her feet after the cancellation of the great Young Allies.
– I wish the industry could have supported this book with the name “Araña.” It reeks of changing a book to suit the industry rather than the story.
– This book is the Marvel equivalent of Batgirl. That’s a good thing. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It will live and die by its name-recognition and guest stars.
– Clayton Henry draws an amazing range of emotions. He’s a real talent.
– Anytime I get to complain about the cancellation of Young Allies I’m going to take it.

Superior #2Superior #2 by Mark Millar and Leinil Yu

– A bit of a let-down. I know Millar loves the Superman archetype. Now do something new with it.
– Yu’s pencils are beautiful (just look at those pages in the backmatter), but the colors are too splotchy. It looks like Superior has a rash.
– This book has exactly what Nemesis doesn’t: heart. The only emotions in that book are anger, rage, wrath, blah blah.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 by Nick Spencer and Cafu **

– I bought this based on Nick Spencer and good reviews. After the incredible debut of Morning Glories, this falls flat.
– I’m not sure who is going to be the real protagonist(s?) here and the plot is a bit overthought.
– The big hook is the that the agents are given super-powers that will eventually kill them. But Spencer doesn’t show enough (if any) of the characters who would take such a deal.
– Cafu’s art is clean and Santiago Arcas’ colors give some eerie realism. They’d make a great fill-in if Salvador Larocca needed a break on Iron Man.

Thunderbolts #150Thunderbolts #150 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker

– This issue feels like a book. For $5, you get a 40-page main story, an 8-page “Thunderbolts Saga,” and a 38-page reprint of Thunderbolts #1. Almost double the standard cost of the book, but well worth it.
– A pared-down cast results in some great conflicts and better outcomes. Tony Stark disarms Ghost with no punches or repulsor rays, just words. Clever.
– It’s nice to see Kev Walker back. If his art has always been this good, I’ve got to do some back issue searching.
– I know people complain about anniversary issues containing reprint content, but this had something going for it; I had never read the story. Despite knowing the plot, specifically the twist ending, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the story. It’s a bit wordy and Bagley’s art is not as clean as it would be on Ultimate Spider-Man, but very enjoyable.

X-Factor #211X-Factor #211 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino

– Last issue, all the shit of the past few issues launched fanwards. Here, it splays all about Las Vegas. Three words: Undead Viking Henchmen.
– David’s best skill is his character interactions. Bringing prim and proper Thor and the motley crew of X-Factor Investigations together should be brilliant.
– I can’t wait to see where Emanuela Lupacchino ends up next. She’s so good. At NYCC, regular X-Factor artist Valentine DeLandro told me he would understand if they dropped him from the book and put here on full-time. (I’ve heard no plans to do so.)

Sorry for limiting this post to simple bullets points, but you know, life happens. Big week this week. Cap, Iron Man, Ultimate Spider-Man #150, and my girl Batwoman. Woot.

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.

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