Thinking About … Spoilers!

Editor’s note: I did it again. I had a post all written and ready to go. And forgot about it. I had a final draft of this post 21 days ago. I’m awesome. It wasn’t until I heard today’s big news (which I won’t spoil until Wednesday) that I thought about it. Anyway, here you go.

Last month(?) on her Tumblr, Gail Simone posed a question about spoilers.

We live in a world where people want to see the sausage being made.
I understand, I have some of that myself, but now we want transparent casings on EVERYTHING. We want to see the works, we want to see the gears move.
Even with our very favorite media and storytellers, we like the previews, we read the advance reviews, we download the trailers that we KNOW will spoil the ending.
It’s interesting. Do you ever find knowing too much in advance ruins things?
Do you think it detracts from the experience of reading or seeing a story, or does it simply keep enthusiasm high?

What do you think…spoilers or no?

Spoilers are something that get brought up every time you mention the words “Breaking Bad” or “The Walking Dead” in public. But how much do I actually care? The simple answer is “it depends how much I like the book/show/whatever.”

To use the shows above as examples, if someone told me how the next eight episodes of Breaking Bad are gonna go, I’d be wicked pissed. But I gave up Walking Dead after Season 2. Tell me all you want. Who died? What’s the Governor like? Is Maggie still super hot? It won’t bother me.

And over at my comics shelf, part of the reason I go to the shop each week is to not get spoiled. I want to be part of the conversation on the Before Watchmen books and Batman. But before those discussions, I want to discover their twists and turns on my own, as the creators intended.

Spider-Man Spoiler

On the other hand, there are many books I’ve picked up because of the spoilers I heard. I like Spider-Man, but never enough to read his books up regularly. With the right creative team, I’ll pick up an issue here or there, but I don’t have the love I do for characters like Flash or Daredevil. When Amazing Spider-Man was approaching issue #700, Dan Slott warned readers and retailers “This is gonna be big. You are going to want these issues.” It got my attention, but I still wasn’t ready to buy it. Then #698 came out. I heard about the last page reveal. I heard how that reveal could change the way you read the 21 pages before it. Slott was right; I wanted that issue. So I picked it up on my next trip to the store. But only because I already knew what happened.

A month later I did the same thing. Issue #700 came out. (I skipped #699.) Again, it was knowing what happened that made me want to read it. They seriously let him die? I gotta read this. I gotta see what the loophole is. I need to have an opinion, a guess on how they bring Pete back.

And hell, I’ve read enough Batman stories for a lifetime. But every once in a while, I’ll pick up the first issue of a new story arc, flip to the last page hoping to see the villain of the story revealed. Penguin? Eh, no thanks. Mad Hatter? Now I’m listening.

And what about creators spoiling their own story? All-New X-Men #1 was never going to have a sales problem. But writer Brian Michael Bendis spoke loud and clear all over the internet about the hook of the series. In the interest of a good story, he spent the entire first issue getting the original five X-Men to the present. But he knew that last page moment was the hook. It would have come as a big shock to anyone coming in blind, but he knew that a little knowledge was going to get more people more interested. I’m not sure I would have picked it up the day it came out if I hadn’t heard. But I did and I’m eagerly waiting for issue #8.

Here’s another way to look at it: you ever read or watch a prequel? You now the big strokes about how this is all gonna end (this annoying kid will become Darth Vader, Laurie is going to follow her mother’s career and become Silk Spectre.) It can be that spoiler-ish information that makes the story interesting.

So being on those spoilers. Because the real question is not “What happens”? but “How does this happen?”

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.

The Shopping List 4-27-11

Blog fatigue is very real. Regardless of any deadlines or restrictions you give yourself, sometimes you just don’t want to write. It can make comics feel like a chore rather than an exciting hobby. It’s like going to practice instead of playing a real basketball game. Sometimes you just have to spice things up.
With that in mind, AN EXPERIMENT! Live reviews! So, as I read each of the comics I bought this week, I’ll give you my thoughts. Let’s see how this goes. I hope this are easy to follow, even for those of you who haven’t read the books. But it’d probably be better if you can read along. It’d be like a DVD commentary. Except on comics. And you’re reading. And I had nothing to do with the creation of the book. But it’s like that.

Avengers #12.1Avengers #12.1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch ****

Recap page – Hitch’s version of Wolverine’s mask makes him look like a bird. An angry bird. However, I love that you can see a hint of Spider-Woman’s eyes beneath her mask.

Page 6 – “There are 32 alien races living here on planet earth.” – Agent Brand. Does that sound low to anyone else? I see Hitch never got the memo that Beast looks like a cat these days.

Page 9 – We’re lucky that Hitch gets all this leeway to stretch scripts out. If he was actually restricted to the 22 pages other artists are, we’d miss out on great splash pages like this.

Page 11 – Is anyone against those little logos/descriptions some writers use to introduce characters? They’re more graceful than shoving a character’s name in the dialogue. “Something not from earth, Moon Knight,” “We have to hope for the best, Protector.” I’ll admit I didn’t know that was Moon Knight at first glance, but help yourself out. Plus, those intro boxes are pure comic book. There’s a reason Edgar Wright carried them over into “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”

Page 13 – More clunky names.

Page 14 – The what? Spaceknight? Bendis seems to be going back into and old toybox on this one.

Page 18 – Villains are great. Even the smartest ones forget that Tony Stark is just as smart as they are.

Page 23-24 – Ultron? Sick. Can we get some Hank Pym up in here? Hitch gets a bit weird on his right thigh, but big credit to colorist Paul Mounts on bringing a lot of energy to this spread.

Page 25-26 – Good old Thor. Got a problem? Hit it with a hammer. Nice moment there.

Page 27-28 – Uh … if there was that much destruction, and we see A LOT, you’d have some dead bodies on your hands.

Overall – This was a really exciting issue. This is the kind of thing that can launch an event. The Age of Ultron may be contained within the Avengers title, but it should be big enough to have been an event. This is the best Hitch has looked in years. I wasn’t big on his Fantastic Four or his Captain America: Reborn work, but this is great. I would like to see some more vibrant colors though. A lot of the backgrounds and even characters are very washed out. Art this detailed still needs some pop. Either way, this is a successful .1 issue, but any goodwill from it may be wasted in the months until this storyline continues.

Captain America #617Captain America #617 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Mike Deodato, and Chris Samnee *****

Page 1-2 – Nazis are a really easy villain. No one cares if you kill a Nazi. Same with robots. Or some aliens (just as the Skrulls). But what about bears? Is this cool or is this animal cruelty?

Page 6 – These little tiny panels at the top? That’s some We3 shit right there. This is a 24 panel page, but reads so easy. I dig it.

Page 8 – Niko? Nick Fury? Or did I miss a character named Niko?

Page 9 – Nope. Not Fury.

Page 10 – Butch Guide is doing some real great design work here. Tiny moments, tiny panels. Events overlapping. I’d say it’s cinemetic, but really, it’s comics.

Page 18 – I knew there was a Steve Rogers feature starting soon, but I didn’t expect Black Widow. Sweet.

Page 20 – I like the style Deodato’s trying out here. It’s still got the shadows he’s known for, but his characters are much less chiseled, so it looks more fluid. Good to see he’s still not afraid to take a weird angle to tell the story, like in the shot directly above the desk.

Page 24 – Oh, Chris Samnee. You’re great.

Page 26 – A few pages back, Natasha got Steve on the phone. Now we see his side of the conversation. Nice job tying the stories together, Bru.

Page 30 – Damn, I’m really going to be sad when Steve gives up his Super-Solider outfit. That thing’s great.

Captain America has been a consistently good book since Ed Brubaker’s run started. But with each month expanding to 30 pages of his story and the storylines getting bigger and better in anticipation of the movie, there couldn’t be a better time to be a Cap fan.

Also, I just looked up Ursa Major, the bear from pages 1-2. I guess he’s a mutant that can shapeshift to a bear. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Detective Comics #876Detective Comics #876 by Scott Snyder and Jock ****

Cover – Yeah, I’ll start early on this one. I love it. It may not stand out on the shelf, but how many covers have the reader inside the mouth of a damn sea beast? The benday dot coloring is great too.

Pages 2-3 – They set me up to think a bomb was going to go off on this page turn. They got me. I expect kablam, I get Shamu. A check out the way Jock plays with perspective. Try to find a perpendicular line.

Page 6 – Uh … Dick? Should you really be cutting that dead whale open? What expertise do you have in marine biology?

Page 7 – Dialogue is a weird thing. You want it to sound authentic, but you often need to clue your readers in on information that may not naturally come out in conversation. Writers try their best to fit it in, and  Scott Snyder usually does. But here, Commish is just a bit dramatic. “As in Anthony ‘Fats’ Zucco” DUN DUN DUN “The man who killed your parents.”

Page 10 – Eww. Another reason to hate whales.

Page 11 – Excellent page. I won’t even try to explain. Just check it out.

Page 12 – Right here, in the narration, Dick says Zucco killed his parents. If it was going to be said in the issue already, there was no need to jam it in the dialogue a few pages back.

I didn’t have too much say about this issue, but that’s not a bad thing. Scott Snyder is giving readers a great Batman story and his artists have been giving it their all. Even if you’ve been jaded by too many mediocre Batman stories in the past, check this out. Who knows when Detective Comics will be this good again.

Flash #11Flash #11 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul **

Page 1 – Oh no. Scott Kolins art. It’s not Kolins’ fault. He’s great, especially on Flash. It’s the coloring. When this style is laid upon Manapul’s art, it looks classic. Here, characters look plastic and lifeless. Not to mention it’s a lot darker than it needs to be, which could always be a printing problem. Working in advertising, I understand that 100%.

Page 6 – Pages like this are why I respect Kolins. Look at the details in the apartment – the rug, the pillows, the junk on the table behind Iris. But, why does everyone look squinty here (except Bart who looks ready to punch Barry in the face)? Speaking of Bart, he looks too much like the witness kid from the beginning of the issue. Both young redheads, and the kid is wearing yellow and red, Kid Flash colors.

Page 8 – I’m not sure if Johns is writing Bart as too self-centered or just whiny. “Barry didn’t come to the picnic because of me!” Wah wah.

Page 10 – Writer, artist, colorists, editors – This just doesn’t seem to be anyone’s issue. If Wally’s talking about being a kid, shouldn’t he be in his Kid Flash uniform? Back then, did they EVER wear red outfits at the same time? And Wally’s line “… I didn’t hope Barry Allen was the Flash — I hoped the Flash was Barry Allen” That’s more than a little melodramatic.

Page 15 – I hate when people in comics talk to themselves. Give them an internal monologue. Better yet, give them someone to talk to.

Page 20 – Well, I was right about the colors of the kid’s clothes. Just looking the wrong direction.

Not a bad issue, not really. But it’s flaws are so clear – overly sentimental writing and art that’s trying to clone what’s been done before, but with different ingredients. I’m still not sure how this will really connect to FlashPoint, but with one issue to go, who’s really going to stop reading now?

Morning Glories #9Morning Glories #9 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ***

Page 2 – I will now welcome guests at my house with “Die alien scum!!!”

Page 11 – “I was warned you might be brainwashed.” Does Jun have someone on the inside?

Page 13 – All this birthtime stuff confuses me. Hisao was born second, at 23:59. That would mean they were both born on May 4, same as all the other students at Morning Glory Academy. So … what’s the problem with Jun?

Page 19 – Uh … so … we’ve haven’t been following Jun all this time? Why doesn’t Jun know who he is?

Page 26 – Wow, I never would have realized there were extra pages in this issue. ANYWAY, wasn’t Abraham the guy that discovered Zoe? Could he be the inside man?

There isn’t any real progress in this issue, but there’s some backstory that has already been proven important. That and a couple of twists and you’ve got a basic issue of Morning Glories. Next month: Jade. At C2E2, I told Nick Spencer that she was my favorite. It sounds like I’m the only one. Red-headed emo girls? Sign me up!

Spider-Girl #6Spider-Girl #6 by Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry ***

Recap page – I like that the frame of this page is an iPad. Seeing where the recap is made up of @The_Spider-Girl‘s tweets, it’s a nice tie in. It also doesn’t hurt that I love my iPad.

Page 1 – We’re back to Clayton Henry’s art. Now that the darker story is over, the darker art is as well. Nice.

Page 4 – Pop culture references … I appreciate it now, but will anyone know what Community was in 10 years? 5 years?
Henry’s art has clearer emotions than Southworth’s. That’s a good thing.

Page 8 – The real inciting incident for this series has been the death of Anya’s father. Since then, the Fantastic Four has lost someone as well. She goes to hang out with them, but we’re not going to comment on this?

Page 9 – I may have dropped Amazing Spider-Man from my subscription list, but it is nice to see the books tying together in regards to Phil’s crush on Norah.

Page 14 – Henry throws in a nice easter egg. “D-Man: Turn Off the Trash” I like it. Does the fact I like that conflict with my ambivalence on the Community reference?

Page 16 – It’s sad that Spidey shows little faith in Spider-Girl.

Page 21 – Faith which she totally deserves. There’s a narrative leap here. Hobgoblin is knocked out, but 4 panels later, escapes. It couldn’t have been thirty seconds. Spider-Man’s watching the whole time. We never see him even get up or get untied. Throw us a bone here. Focus on storytelling.

Page 22 – Spider-Man’s been more or less encouraging of Anya in the past, yet he criticizes her again, despite the fact that she’s now defeated numerous foes. This selective support doesn’t play well with me.

With its impending cancellation, Spider-Girl has some exciting ground to cover in the next couple months. If you’ve been reading up until this point, there’s no reason to stop now.

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So what do you think about live reviews? Interesting? Failure? An interesting failure? Let me know. Maybe I’ll do this again sometime.

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.

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Random Reviews 9-6-10

These are more library reviews. Usually, that would mean rolling the dice, but I actually had some things to say.

The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur LeotardThe Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best

Between its short length and ever-shifting art, everyone should read this book. There isn’t much I’d call a plot; this is mostly short events, called “Episodes” or “Épisodes.” Each includes the titular monsieur and his circus pals and their adventures, including the sinking of the Titanic and a jailbreak.

Watercolors, newspaper clippings, musical notation, Campbell uses anything that will help him tell the story. It makes a unique read that is never boring.

Unwritten: The Tommy Taylor and the Bogus IdentityThe Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

I have to say, this book was exactly what I expected. Which isn’t a good thing. I got the first issue for free last year at Fan Expo Canada and was not impressed. Reviews all over the internet were glowing, so when I saw the trade, I had to give it a chance. It still didn’t connect. In my head, I like metafiction. But too often, when I read a book or see a movie that is meta, I don’t like it.

Here, Mike Carey has written the story of Tom Taylor. Tom’s father wrote a Harry Potter-esque Tommy Taylor book series (not the difference in names, Tom [real world] vs. Tommy [book world]). As the series begins, Tom’s identity is called into question. And some of Tommy’s enemies have appeared to confront Tom in the “real world.” An interesting idea, nothing that hooked me.

The best word-of-mouth had been for issue #5 “How the Whale Became.” It was even nominated for the Eisner for best single issue. But it ended up being my least favorite. With the exception of the final page, it dropped the main storyline for a narrative of Samuel Clemens and Rudyard Kipling finding motivations for stories. Sounds like something I would enjoy. I was bored.

Peter Gross turns in some nice art though. He tweaks his style when we leave the “real world” for scenes from the Tommy Taylor novels, but for the most part, this is Vertigo art. I never of Vertigo as having a style, but Gross would not have been out-of-place if he filled in for a few issues of Y: The Last Man or American Virgin. Hell, Lizzy Hexam could be Dr. Allison Mann and Mathilde Venner could be Mamie Chamberlain.

Not for me.

Final Crisis: Legion of Three WorldsFinal Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds by Geoff Johns and George Pérez

Five issues and almost none of this made sense to me. I just read the Wikipedia synopsis. It sounds like a good story, but reading it was gibberish.

When people talk about impenetrable mainstream comics, this is exactly what they mean. I am not a Legion expert. I’ve maybe read Legion five stories, but as I said recently, I’ve always enjoyed them. As a basic point of the plot, this book involved too many characters. I understand who Braniac 5 is, but I can’t look at three Braniacs and tell you what universe each is from or their differences. And Despite all of Johns’ exposition, the scenes didn’t flow together. A group was sent to find the last Green Lantern, but I didn’t understand why. Kid Flash and Superboy were resurrected, but I don’t understand why. Braniac wanted the unite three universes’ worth of Legions, BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY. If he just wants allies, why not summon three Justice Leagues too? Three teams of Titans?

My problems with the story aside, George Perez is a god. He easily draws over a hundred characters in this book. Panels are packed with information. No one else in comics could have drawn this story.

Another question: What did this have to do with Final Crisis? Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation were never mentioned in these pages. Did this launch out of Final Crisis? Or was it just a marketing ploy?

The Stand: Captain TripsThe Stand: Captain Trips by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Mike Perkins

In high school, we read a few short stories by Steven King. My favorite was “Night Surf.” It tells the story of a few kids, trying to deal with a plague that is wiping out the world. That plague, known as “Captain Trips,” is the one featured in King’s The Stand. The Stand is one of those books I always want to read, but get intimidated by. The 1000+ page novel is heralded as one of King’s best, but it’s just daunting. I was mildly impressed with the Dark Tower comics, so when I saw this I had to grab it.

This hardcover includes only read five issues, around 110 pages, but King and Aguirre-Sacasa have introduced their main players, hinted at their greater conflicts and managed to show the sheer scope of what the story entails. Very impressive.

I dig it. Not having read the original novel, I can’t tell what’s missing, but Aguirre-Sacasa’s adaptation must cover chapters worth of material in mere pages. That being said, I never feel like the scenes aren’t long enough. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to have these scenes extended, but it doesn’t feel that they need more info.

Mike Perkins delivers solid art, though his characters’ faces can be wonky in places. It looks to me that Perkins has modeled Larry Underwood after Bruce Springsteen and his Stu Redman looks an awful lot like his Steve Rogers. That’s not a complaint, those models work as a shortcut to the characters’ personalities.

I will definitely continue this series. Who knows, I may even pick up the novel.

GoldfishGoldfish by Brian Michael Bendis

It’s not the differences between Bendis’ earliest and recent works that are interesting; it’s the commonalities. Goldfish educating two pool players about the significance of the title of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly strikes the same chord as Hawkeye and Ant-Man discussing their “Can’t Haves” in Avengers #500. Two-page spreads that feature only a handful of small panels, the remaining negative space holding only dialogue was a technique used again in Alias. (I assume Bendis had as much a hand in that as Michael Gaydos.)

Goldfish is a nice, easy to follow crime story, not unlike something you would find in Ed Brubaker’s Criminal. David Gold is back in Cleveland after a 10-year hiatus to collect the one thing of his an ex-girlfriend still has. I could tell you what (and the back cover will spoil it for you), but it was a nice moment to stumble upon.

You can tell Bendis was still finding his voice years ago. His start, stop, interject dialogue on the first few pages of this book had me scared, but it quickly morphs into something more readable. It’s never a true problem, but his dialogue is much more slick these days.

Of course, Bendis also drew this story. The black and white art is not bad, but it could use more subtlety. As with many a crime story, characters are often bathed in shadow. Here, with gray-tones a rarity, faces are partially spotlighted, partially blackened, leading to lost facial expressions and inhuman appearances.

Worth a read. I just hope I can find Fire, Jinx and Torso somewhere nearby.

Stuck Rubber BabyStuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

In the list of great graphic novels, I’m amazed that this book isn’t mentioned more. Released in 1995, smack dab in the era of big guns, big muscles comics, this is an expertly drawn, realistic, emotional story. Stuck Rubber Baby tells the story of Toland Polk, growing up gay in the racist 1960s American south. It’s staggering to think that events like those in the story happened in our country only 50 years ago and continue today. Cruse tells this semi-autobiographical story as a flashback, so we also get the benefit of modern-day Toland’s commentary. As comics memoirs go, this deserves a place right next to Fun Home. I would say it even surpasses Bechdel’s story.

Cruse uses some of the best comic tricks I’ve seen the side of Los Bros Hernandez, including weaving text through the images and placing images within a characters head to show what they don’t or can’t say. He really understand the medium.

The art is cartoony, each person with their own identifiable look. Skin color is always a hot topic in comics. It can be too easy to only change someone’s skin tone, ignoring physical attributes. Case in point, when was the last time Storm looked black instead of white with brown skin? That Jubilee looked Asian? Cruse’s black characters look black without resorting to cruel stereotypes. The art is black and white, but Cruse’s panels are packed with expert crosshatching. Not the brash linework of Jim Lee clones, it is properly used to show shape and texture. Truly impressive.

As I said, this book came out in the heyday of crappy 90s books. Hunt it down, it’s a masterpiece.

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Roll of the Dice Reviews 8-14-10

I take a lot of books out of my local library and read them rather quickly. I’d like to get some thoughts on them down, but haven’t gotten into them deep enough for a full analysis. Which leads us to Roll of the Dice reviews.

Step 1: Read books
Step 2: Roll a six-sided die twice.
Step 3: Write a review for each book with a word count matching the numbers rolled. E.G. A 2 and a 6 means a 26-word review for each book.

This weeks rolls: 5 and 5 – 55 word reviews! Go ahead, do a word count.

Powers - Who Shot Retro Girl?Powers - RoleplayPowers, Vol. 1: Who Killed Retro Girl? and Vol. 2: Roleplay by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming

Pure, uninhibited Bendis. He prides himself on characters that speak in unique ways, but they don’t. They’re all clever and quippy and clash with other writer’s interpretations. Here, he defines the characters from the start, which means they’re truly special. These are serious cop stories, with Oeming’s cartoony art to stop it from getting grim.

Lost at SeaLost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Yes, Scott Pilgrim is hot right now, but O’Malley’s been exploring themes of asshole friends, emotional baggage and teen alienation for almost a decade. Here, he also experiments with what a book can be when completely created by one person. It doesn’t have the depth or action of SP, but it’s well worth a read.

Super SpySuper Spy by Matt Kindt

30-something short stories all focusing on spies on every side of WWII. I find espionage fascinating. The ways people transfer info in this book are unbelievable: morse code in laundry, hidden in comic strips, choreographed dances. A very interesting, quick read. Another example of one man in control of all creative aspects. Definitely unique.

Moving PicturesMoving Pictures by Kathryn & Stuart Immonen

More WWII goodness. Not a complex plot, but I did have trouble piecing the timeline together. It’s interesting to go from books like Super Spy or LAS to something that doesn’t use comics’ tricks. The black and white, six-panel grid keeps the book easy to read, and makes the writing that much more important.

De: TALESDe:TALES by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá

This teaches visual storytelling better than anything I can remember. You see girl on tip-toes, you know she’s kissing. You’re in love after four wordless pages. This is brothers telling stories they want to: about “bars and drunk people,” “fairies and talking birds.”  I love Umbrella Academy and Daytripper. Give me more of this.

32 StoriesShortcomings32 Stories and Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine

These books represent Tomine’s earliest and most recent works, respectively. Much of 32 isn’t the art style you’re expecting, but the tone is. Shortcomings, though, is a masterpiece. The art has the consistency of Watchmen. The story is relatable, yet feels fresh. Tomine does slice-of-life better than anyone out there. Check these out.

Wow, that was hard. But fun. Expect more in a week or two.

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