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 5-4-11

Arcade Wants To Play
This week had few mid-list books and the probable #1 book for the month of May. Only one was a disappointment. Care to guess which?

Avengers Academy Giant-SizeAvengers Academy Giant-Size by Paul Tobin and David Baldeon ****

I could review both of this week’s Avengers Academy books together. But with different writers, artists, and moods, it wouldn’t be prudent. Since Giant-Size comes first story-wise, it comes first review-wise.

This story was originally planned as annuals for Avengers Academy, Young Allies, and Spider-Girl. Of course, the latter two went and got canceled. So, it was re-solicited as a three-issue miniseries. When that was canceled, Marvel decided to put the whole thing under one cover. The final title is quite apt. There are more Academy members than Allies and this thing is huge.

Similar to Paul Tobin’s work on Spider-Girl, the character reactions are what makes this book. From Striker’s false bravado to the set-up of a possible Reptil/Spider-Girl romance, the characters feel familiar, yet pushed forward. Tobin also takes the chance to paint Arcade as a cleaned-up version of the Joker. He’s all about his plans, which are of course his undoing. And he loves to make puns. With the exception of Firestar, each of Arcade’s traps is matched to its victim. These element come together to show that this story couldn’t take place with other heroes or villains. It’s this match-up that is so enjoyable.

David Baldeon’s art is perfect. His characters are unique. Storytelling and emotions are clear. I had forgotten how much a part of Young Allies he was. I hope Marvel finds him a home soon.

Yes, Avengers Academy Giant-Size comes with a massive $7.99 price tag, but let’s do some math. 80 pages is almost four regular issues, which would cost $12. There is a lot of story here and something for fans of any of the previously mentioned books. Give it a chance.

Avengers Academy #13Avengers Academy #13 by Christos Gage and Sean Chen ****

Not that I’ve read the issues, but people always talk about X-Men baseball games. Small breaks between arcs where everyone could decompress and Claremont could do some character building. Peter David took it a step up with his psychiatry issues of X-Factor. This week, Christos Gage found the perfect rest for the teen characters of the Marvel U – prom! Gage catches up with some characters who’ve dropped out of the spotlight, brings everyone’s emotions to the forefront and there’s still a lot more action than my prom, if you know what I’m saying.

I dropped Avengers: The Initiative somewhere after Secret Invasion, but based on scenes like the ones with Komodo and Ultra Girl (“Oh. Golly.”), I may have to go back. And I love seeing the Young Allies again, even if their appearances are brief.

This issue also made me realize what separated Avengers Academy from televised teen dramas – horny adults. Shows like My So-Called Life and The OC were about the kids, sure, but they weren’t solely concerned with the young people. That’s a strength of the series and I’ll admit it, Tigra and Dr. Pym deserve to get some.

I like Sean Chen’s art. More when it’s close up. When his characters are too far back, they lose not only detail, but emotion.

It may be a small interlude between bigger stories, but that doesn’t mean Avengers Academy #13 isn’t one of the series best issues yet.

Fear Itself #2Fear Itself #2 by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen **

I found the first issue of Fear Itself bland; issue #2 is no better. In this installment, Matt Fraction is so concerned with getting hammers in the hands of The Worthy, that he disregards an actual plot. Four pages on the Raft. Three pages following the Hulks. Two and a half pages following the Absorbing Man and Titania. One panel of … some guy in the ocean. To finish off the issue, we get separate pep-talks from Odin and Steve Rogers.

I can’t explain it; so much happens, but it feels like nothing happens.

One disappointing change from the first issue was a lack of men-on-the-street. Last time, we saw regular people reacting to the status quo. (Remember the dudes in Broxton?) Here, reactions only come via quotes news reports. It’s less personal, and feels it.

I remember Secret Invasion having some logical problems. The idea that, within an hour of exposing themselves, the Skrulls would have thousands of humans cheering for them is ridiculous. Here, there are similar problems. One of the news reports says “Autism rates skyrocketing.” What? Within an hour or so, we already have data on the increasing level of neural development disorders? REALLY?

The best moment of the issue is Odin sending Thor off to prison. It seems a weird plot point (Is Odin always a dick?), but you know once he gets out, he’ll have some serious smashing to do.

Regardless of my problems with the plot, I have no such qualms with the art. Despite massive set pieces and dozens of characters, Stuart Immonen never missteps. I could criticize his Worthy-Hulk to be too similar to Drax the Destroyer, but I won’t. If he can keep this level of art and on-time, he’ll go right to the top of the list of crossover artists.

I’m very excited for the real action to start, but Fear Itself has starting out on bad feet.

Secret Six #33Secret Six #33 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ****

If you’ve ever wondered if someone’s torture could warm your heart, I give you Secret Six #33. Yes, we finally see to what corner of hell Thomas Blake was going off with Etrigan and the resolution of Catman’s family drama. (See: “Cat’s in the Cradle“). In a surprising move, Gail Simone used this arc to follow-up on more than just the get-out-of-hell-free card. It’s an impressive skill that every month she can still mine more than five years of stories featuring these characters.

In a series of great character moments, Simone shoes us the Six’s fears. From a mother’s sadness to the despair of eternal life to vegetarian restaurants, even the most vile people are afraid of something.

“Say you forgive me. And that love really exists. Even for us.” Like Delirium having a crestfallen moment of clarity, the issue’s most heartbreaking line comes from a most unexpected source, Ragdoll.

I’ve officially come around on J. Calafiore. He does his best every month and without any delays. He doesn’t have some flashy style, but he’s consistent. I like that. I did figure out my problem with some of his work. Some faces, noticeable Scandal’s, have a great lack of detail. Her face is a big oval with a birthmark. The contours are left to the colorist, who is sadly content to fill her with a simple gradient. Some more features, on either of their part, could do wonders.

The Shopping List 4-20-11

Some housekeeping before I get around to the reviews.
1) Bells’ Kitchen has now received over 1,000 views. Thanks.
2) One of this week’s reviews, the one for Twilight Guardian #4 was also picked up by videogame and entertainment supersite IGN for their weekly MyIGN reviews. Check it out.

I’m not saying I’m a ravishing success, but it’s cool to see people appreciate my writing. Which leads to the best advice I could ever give myself (and all of you).

You want writing advice?

You may have some skills, but 10,000 other people have more. Try harder. Do whatever it is you love, then do it again. Try harder until there are only 9,000 people who are better. Then 8,000. And on and on. Of course, this all happens one week at a time. Here’s this week.

Avengers Academy #12Avengers Academy #12 by Christos Gage and Tom Raney ****

Issue #11 of Avengers Academy was an expository festival. It was a slog, but it was all in service of page one of this issue – the student of AA, with the experience and powers of their future selves. Christos Gage has to cut some corners and play some sleight of hand to get around some logical flaws, but he turns in a great issue.

The strength of Avengers Academy has been seeing each character’s different reactions to each situation. Here, some enjoy their enhanced skills and future knowledge, other despair that they still aren’t “normal.” Some charge into battle, others retreat. Since these are newer characters and they are still being defined, we can watch them evolve. It’s hard to really change the character of Tony Stark after 40 years of stories. But each battle these students go through adds a little more paint to the canvas. With the exception of Finesse, each of the kids has a real emotion moment and a real development. You don’t see books like this enough.

The actual Korvac storyline is a little thin – he shows up, kicks some ass, the kids power-up and kick his ass, but the stuff that matters to me – those emotional moments – are all excellent.

Tom Raney’s art is never flashy, but he takes a lot on his shoulders here. He partially designs three new characters, ages the Academy forward a good ten years, and, oh yeah, depicts a hard-fought battle with a cosmic-level villain. He’s not pushing any boundaries and work like this won’t win any awards, but no one should any complaints about the visuals of this book.

Invincible Iron Man #503Invincible Iron Man #503 by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca and Howard Chaykin **

Mercifully, the “Fix Me” arc of Invincible Iron Man is now over. I wasn’t a fan of the “Stark: Disassembled” story, but this takes its place as the worst of Fraction’s work on the title. It’s not that there is one glaring problem with the story. There are a few.

Comics books are a visual medium and seeing two people debate is not as interesting to look at as people in metal suits punching each other. The action is ramped up in this finale, but the Tony/Ock scenes are primarily out of costume, something Larroca commonly struggles with. Behind these characters, backgrounds are almost nonexistent. They seem to be fighting in a neon green abyss.

The best arcs of IIM, “World’s Most Wanted” and “Stark Resilient” were 12 and nine parts, respectively. Those stories had reveals and twists and turns. Each month, you didn’t know what was coming. This was a simple story with not enough meat. Even still, their endings are both non-climaxes. Tony grovels, leading to Doc Ock’s retreat. (I guess feeling superior was enough for today.) Pepper picks a fight only to have Sandman and Electro run away. My only hope is that these attacks were setting the stage for a big Sinister Six throwdown in the future. As it stands, they feels unfinished.

To make matters worse, it appears the two plots were cut short to shoehorn in some Fear Itself-related scenes. Nothing is gained in the scenes and Fraction even has to reverse a decision one page after it was made so as to not conflict with what he himself wrote in FI #1. I hope the sales bump from the Fear Itself banner is worth the four of five wasted pages. Sloppy.

The best part of these issues have been the flashbacks. They showed how much these characters have changed as aged as well as laid the retroactive seeds for this eventual confrontation. Paired with a style that is unrecognizable as modern-day Larroca, they were winners.

I’m not thinking of dropping this book, but “Fix Me” was certainly a stumble.

Oh, and there’s an eight-page short of Tony’s parents meeting. It’s not related to anything. It has ugly Chaykin art.  It’s inconsequential.

Thunderbolts #156Thunderbolts #156 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker ****

Another month, another solid Thunderbolts issue. Not content writing Marvel’s best book right now, Jeff Parker is also writing the most consistent. It’s exciting. It’s funny. It’s a tour through some lesser-seen parts of the universe. Pick up any issue and you’ll see that this book shares more than conflicted protagonists with Secret Six.

They started as fellow inmates, but these half-dozen half-heroes have really bonded. Look at the scene with Ghost, Moonstone and Juggernaut outside the selection room, they work together, even off the field. Their opponents hardly even matter. Last arc, we had Godzilla rejects. Now, zombie ghosts. Awesome. And more importantly, each of these stories have given Parker a reason to add a new member. Hyperion didn’t work out so well. We’ll have to see about Satana. And with so many new recruits on the way – Shocker? Mr. Hyde? – there’s only more discord on the way.

Kev Walker continues his trend of inventive layouts and panel borders. There’s a scene where Songbird, Mach V, Fixer and John Walker are interviewing potential Underbolts. Each interview happens in a different room with different participants, but at the same time. Parker may be asking a lot of his artist and readers, but Walker (with an assist from Frank Martin) slays the sequence. To anyone willing to truly pay attention to visual details, the scene is perfectly clear.

I almost sick of hyping this book. Start buying it already!

Twilight Guardian #4Twilight Guardian #4 by Troy Hickman and Sid Kotian ***

With issue #4, Twilight Guardian, one of the winners of Top Cow’s 2008 (seriously) Pilot Season comes to a close.

A number of threads have been introduced in the past three issues and it’s possible the story got too big for its own good. What Troy Hickman is able to wrap up, he does well. The mystery of Dusk Devil, and that of the strange man in TG’s apartment last issue, are cleared up. But most importantly, Twilight Guardian saves the day. Since she was introduced, Pam has needed a sense of belonging, a purpose. Here, she comes out of the story more sure of herself, certain that she is a true hero.

But as I hinted, Hickman isn’t able to address everything. We’re not sure what her dad really wants. Where’s her ex-boyfriend dissipate to? In a standard series, this would be fine. Some of the best comics aren’t divided into defined arcs; the stories flow into one another. But who knows if we’ll ever see TG again? There are a lot of balls left in the air. Without knowing if they’ll ever come down, it left me feeling a bit uneasy.

Artist Sid Kotian didn’t slack on this concluding issue either. He hasn’t drawn much action in this series, but each time when he has, he’s proven his worth. His panels are open and clear, with a good sense of emotion. As in past issues, he adopts another style for the comic with the comic, here simple black and white lines for a hero steeped in objectivism, special dedication to Steve Ditko.

The saga of Twilight Guardian may not finished, but this series is. Next time you’re looking around your comic store, give Twilight Guardian a shot. She’s like no other hero on your pile.

X-Factor #218X-Factor #218 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino ***

I figured out my problem with the more action-oriented stories in X-Factor. They stray away from what makes the book unique. There are enough superhero teams in the Marvel universe and comics in general; there’s only one super-powered detective agency. Hell, based on concept, X-Factor has more in common with Powers than it does X-Men.

Moving on to this specific issue, is Black Cat being set up as a new member to the team? The whole idea behind a guest appearance is to see how they clash with the standard team. But here, Black Cat deals with the attackers on her own. If someone was on the roof with her, it would add some X flavor to the scenes and she wouldn’t have to talk to herself to get some exposition across. From a writer as skilled and experienced as Peter David, it’s a strange flaw to see.

By now, readers should know I love Lupacchino’s art. This issue specifically has some nice moments. When Rahne delivers the news about Guido, she’s clutching her cross. A nice character moment there (possibly David’s). And her Black Cat is equal parts sex bomb and coy kitten. Good.

This isn’t the best issue of X-Factor, but it’s only because I’ve seen such great things from this creative team that I get disappointed. Next issue should wrap us this story and if I read the last panel correctly, Layla knows something. Let’s hope it adds some spark.

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 3-2-11

You’d think that the more you write reviews, the easier it would get. But it doesn’t. It gets harder. There are only so many ways I know to talk about an artist. It’s all boils down to “I like it.” or “I don’t like it.” Stories I can track as they go up and down, but I’m not that good about art. Even books I like, I run out of things to say. Not that I want to waste money on books I don’t like, but sometimes it’s like my inspiration

Misty's Gone AwayI always want to do more varied posts, but sometimes the muse ain’t there. And the last thing I want to do is regurgitate news that you can read on 1,000,001 other sites. I’m striving for less reviews and more commentary. Keep your eyes out.

Avengers Academy #10Avengers Academy #10 by Christos Gage and Sean Chen ****

With issue #10, Avengers Academy lives up to the second half of its name. Superhuman Ethics, Applied Chemistry, Rudiments of Magic. Class is in session. Someone needs to teach the youth how to be heroes. It’s one of those things I’ve missed since the X-Men stopped living at a school.

It’s interesting to see how this book has picked up the crumbs of other stores around the Marvel Universe. Whether it’s Speedball/Penance post-Stamford, the Wasp’s fate after Secret Invasion, or last issue’s focus on Tigra’s beating. Big name writers (Millar, Bendis) have come in and made some big moves, but Christos Gage is the one looking for the emotional fallout. Great thanks to him.

The most interesting portion of this issue focuses on Haz-Mat. She’s spent the first nine issues pissed off. She wants to go back to her old life. But what happens when you no longer fit into that old life? For young metas, maybe you can’t go home again.

Sean Chen doesn’t have an instantly identifiable style, but this is good comic book art. His people look good. Their emotions are believable. This action is dynamic. I was impressed with him on DC’s Salvation Run (remember that debacle?), so it’s nice to see him again.

With another dip into Marvel history with the return of Korvac next month and an upcoming superhero prom, Avengers Academy couldn’t be much better.

Heroes for Hire #4Heroes for Hire #4 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Robert Atkins ***

My biggest complaints about this third series of Heroes for Hire have been a lack of plot progression and Brad Walker’s art. Both of those concerns are addressed here, but “No Strings” is still a disappointment.

For the first time, Misty Knight gets to be the focus of her own book. Most of the issue takes place in her head, which also leads to much of my dissatisfaction. The argument can be made that seeing Misty’s internal struggle is important, but this would have been better served if it had been split up over a number of issues. That way, her struggle would have taken longer (in publication time), seeming like a greater battle. She would have earned her awakening from under Puppet Master’s power. As it stands, it like she’s only fighting him in her head for 20 minutes instead of the weeks she’s been under his control.

Artists that can follow a monthly schedule must be dropping like flies, because no matter what kind of lead-time this book had, it needed a fill-in artist after only three issues. He may be a stop-gap, but I enjoy Robert Atkins work a lot more than Brad Walker’s. The biggest item on his resume is IDW’s recent G.I. Joe books. His time spent on those books sure influenced his action scenes. The pages showing Misty fighting Elektra, Silver Sable and a whole gang of others show someone who is not to be taken lightly. Kicking, punching, blasting, it’s all fluid and very exciting.

We all know that the issue’s Punisher cliffhanger is not what it seems. Between seeing how that goes and hopefully a reveal of Puppet Master’s … master, #5 should be a good read.

Secret Six #31Secret Six #31 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore *****

After a slow arc in Skartaris, followed by uninspired crossovers with Action Comics and Doom Patrol, the Secret Six we know and love is back. Issue #31 opens with the eight (I know, right?) team members filing a commercial and closes with Ragdoll leading the forces of hell against his teammates. In between, we get the crackling dialogue and depravity we’ve come to expect from Gail Simone, at least on this title.

The plot brings back the Get Out of Hell Free card from the first arc. Scandal may be the first one that comes to mind when thinking of a team member who’s lost someone they love, but way back when, Ragdoll lost his best friend – Parademon. Don’t remember him? Check out the Villains United series that put this team together the first time. It’s awesome.

Looking at the team, it’s easy to see Doll as the whipping boy. He’s not muscle like Bane or a fighter like Scandal or Catman. He’s the comic relief. Rightfully so, he spends most of this issue surrounded by his pet monkeys – each dressed up as a member of the Six. But in this scene, he’s fighting Scandal Savage. More importantly, he’s holding his own. Classic.

Calafiore continues turning in solid, if unremarkable art. One sequence that did catch my attention is Scandal’s dream. Therein, he uses a couple unique layouts to set it off from the remainder of the issue. Another nice touch was the names of stores in the Iowa mall that doubles as a gate to hell. They include Fred’s Saltless Pretzels and Non-Descript Apparel. Hell, indeed.

Thunderbolts #154Thunderbolts #154 by Jeff Parker and Declan Shalvey ***

Man-Thing. He’s the butt of Giant-Sized jokes, but more importantly, he’s the most mysterious member of the Thunderbolts. Much like the Ghost’s story was told in #151, Man-Thing gets his own focus here.

I’m unfamiliar with the walking pile of flora, so it was nice to get a brief history, but not much happens. A sorceress frees M-T from The Raft, he defeats some six-eyed Avatar knockoffs, then goes home. This issue goes a long way in proving that he’s a valuable member, but it lacks the team dynamics that make this book so interesting.

You may remember Declan Shalvey’s name from the Shadowland tie-in issues. He’s back doing an adequate job. I don’t mean to be negative. I enjoy Shalvey’s work, but filling in for Kev Walker is a fool’s errand.

Thunderbolts is my favorite book right now, but I must admit that this issue is nothing if not skippable.

X-Factor #216X-Factor #216 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino ****

Valeria and Franklin Richards. Thor. Spider-Man. Since issue #201, Peter David sure has been doing his part in integrating X-Factor in the rest of the Marvel Universe. With most of mutantdom on the west coast, X-Factor’s the only game in New York town, acting like a bridge to the rest of the world. It makes sense.

This issue, X-F Investigations gets hired by the mayor of New York City – none other than J. Jonah Jameson. It seems a buddy of his was gunned down last week and Jamie and Co. have to find out why. In another storyline, a hitwoman awakens a former partner who has been lost in regular society. It had some shades of 100 Bullets. Not a bad book to steal from. Hmm … I wonder if these stories will intersect?

It also seems that PAD is getting used to his secondary artist, Emanuela Lupacchino, and has started writing to her strengths. After seeing how well she drew Rahne in her underwear, he writes a nice scene involving M in a bikini and a topless Shatterstar. Lupacchino’s a great artist. She draws an awesome Spider-Man. I hope the De Landro/Lupacchino team sticks on this book. Revolving artists has always been its shortcoming.

Spider-Man fans! Unite and give X-Factor the sales boost it deserves!

The Shopping List 2-16-11

I know I’m behind schedule, so I carved out some time to get these reviews up. Maybe next week Bells’ Kitchen be completely back on track.

As I continue writing reviews, I keep wondering “What if the creators read these?” Maybe I should only say nice things. I only buy books I enjoy, so it’s rare that I’ll have that bad of a review, but I did have some stinkers this week. I guess I’ll just keep my negative thoughts to myself.

Yeah right.

If a book sucks. We should shame the team. But it’s not OK to just say “This sucks.” Don’t get me wrong, some comics do, in fact, suck. But as a reviewer, it’s my job to explore and explain why. Something I could point out to a creator. An area they can improve on, so their work and our comics industry is better. I’m not saying there’ll be no snark, but I try to have something behind all my complaints.An insult digs a lot deeper fi there’s some truth behind it.

Hyperion don't need no stinkin' redemption.
Right guy? No way. Not once. Not never. Here we go.

Avengers Academy #9Avengers Academy #9 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone ****

With “Teach Your Children,” Avengers Academy continues a hot streak. The issue does a great job showing that no hero, veteran or student, has all the answers. As much as Veil, Striker and Haz-Mat may have been impulsive in attacking the Hood, their teachers are unprepared to deal with such a violation. And who would have ever expected that Quicksilver would be voice of reason?

A bulk of the issue is made up of Finesse facing her possible father, Taskmaster. It’s a super-exciting fight. Not because the stakes a very high, I never expected anyone to KO the other, but because these are two expect fighters (albeit one inexperienced), and Gage and McKone treat them as such. Finesse may be the most interesting student in the book. She’s got all these skills, but not the discipline to use them correctly. I hope she sticks around long after her time at the academy.

I didn’t read Fred Van Lente’s recent Taskmaster mini, but I may have to search the dollar bins this convention season. And the line he stole from Bill Cosby? My dad says the same thing.

McKone’s art looks great, especially with the extra heft given by Rebecca Buchman’s inks. It’s sad to see that this is his last issue. Do we know where he’s headed next?

Daredevil Reborn #2Daredevil Reborn #2 by Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice **

Following up hit runs on Daredevil by Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker, Andy Diggle is using Daredevil Reborn to cement his reputation as a disappointment. It’s not that Reborn is bad, it’s just not good. Why does this book need to be published, other than the keep Matt Murdock on people’s minds? Even worse, I believe this is Diggle’s swansong on the title, which gives the impression that everything he wrote was leading to this. Perhaps it’s editorial influence, but it’s his name on the cover, isn’t it?

As I said, it’s not bad, but it’s not good. Something evil is happening in a desert town and Matt Murdock happens upon it. He will then have to outsmart and outfight the corrupt police force. There’s a twist coming, right? Another question: What makes this the story to tell following Shadowland? It doesn’t even feel like a DD story. Out of costume, Matt Murdock could be just about anyone. This isn’t exactly “Spider-Man No More” or even “The Return of Bruce Wayne.” If you’re going to take Daredevil out of his book, show me something special.

The light at the end of the tunnel is Gianfelice’s art. The simple figures and thick inks offer a fresh look for DD and is miles past Billy Tan’s work on Shadowland. Good stuff.

Doom Patrol #19Doom Patrol #19 by Keith Giffen, Matthew Clark and Ron Randall *

Daredevil Reborn wasn’t bad. Doom Patrol is bad.

The plot has problems:
1) Ambush Bug pops up (can he teleport?), telling Jeanette about a cabana. The scene then cuts to the exterior of said cabana and what I assume to be her screams. What happened there?
2) What happened that Elasti-woman is super surprised that there’s a lava flow. She watched a volcano explode on page 1. Did she forget? Does she not know how volcanic eruptions work?
3) After whatsisname runs away, abandoning the Six, Robotman claims it changes nothing and punches Catman in the face. Next page, they’re all buddy-buddy. Maybe I’m asking too much, for the narrative sequence to be logical, but that’s what I like in a book.

The art has problems:
1) When Ragdoll is attacked by the pelican, the artist forgot to show that.
2) The guy that hired the Six has randomly changing wardrobe/facial hair. I see that two pencilers worked on the book, but editor Elisabeth V. Gehrlein needs to ensure stuff like doesn’t happen.

The lettering even has a problem:
1) A line which clearly doesn’t belong to Deadshot (“Lawton! You broke ranks!”) is attributed to him. Again, Gehrlein, this is on you. Read the book before it goes to the printer.

One more thing, which I’ll say is my problem, not theirs, is that the two teams say they fought before. When was this? I thought I had read all of this Six’s appearances.

We can blame a lot of people for this debacle. It’s cancellation is a chicken-or-egg argument though. Is it always this bad, so no one buys it, leading to cancellation? Or have the team lost all interest and effort once the news of cancellation came down? Either way, for me and anyone else who picked this up to complete the Secret Six crossover, this was an embarrassment.

Spider-Girl #4Spider-Girl #4 by Paul Tobin and Matthew Southworth ***

Four issues in, I still need Paul Tobin to up his game on Spider-Girl. There’s been so much set dressing that I’m not what sure what the status quo of this book is or will be. At first it revolved around Anya and her dad, maybe some recurring guest appearances by Sue Storm. Then her dad died, so it was Anya vs. the world. Now, she’s getting a roommate. I can’t wrap my head around who the cast will be, so I can’t begin to understand the relationships. Does she have a job? Problems at school? Should I care about Rocky’s friends or just the creep down the hall? You’re trying to hook people who may have never heard of this (or any) Spider-Girl before. Make it easy to understand. With sales about to drop below 20,000, maybe I’m speaking to a wall called cancellation. Sorry.

From a story standpoint, I’m starting to wonder: Does anyone like being a superhero? Anya, much like her Spider-namesake do it out of the idea of responsibility. They feel like it’s something they have to do. Doesn’t anyone want to? Gravity, maybe?

Another problem I had with the issue is the art of Matthew Southworth. I like Southworth, but not here. It just doesn’t fit. It looks nice in the Kraven vs. Kraven scene or when Spider-Girl fights a bugler in a dark apartment, but the brighter scenes, like anything in Anya’s civilian life … not so much. After seeing the bright art of the past issues, his sketchy visuals seem out of place. Moody art and teenage banter don’t mix.

I know I’m all sorts of negative, but it could be worse; I could not care at all. I like this book enough to want it to be better. Doesn’t that count for something?

Amazing Spider-Man #654.1Amazing Spider-Man #654.1 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos **

False advertising. That’s the best way to describe this issue. It should be titled Venom #0.1. That I would have known I wouldn’t enjoy it and would have left on the shelf. Had it been $4, I would have left it anyway. Damn Point One initiative. Spider-Man is never even seen on these pages (yes, Peter is, but out of costume. And Flash has no idea that he’s Spidey, so that doesn’t count.) This is a Flash Thompson/Venom comic.

I like Spider-Man. I don’t like Venom. I know that following characters instead of creators is a sure way to read some bad comics, but even with Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos’ names, this is a Venom comic. Symbiote … first-person plural pronouns … eat brains … blah. Rick Remender is trying a black-ops twist on Venom, but there are some tropes of the character that are unavoidable.

All that said … I think Venom fans would enjoy this. The black-suited symbiote has always been about the loss of control. You may cheer him on when he’s on the side of the angels, but inside, you’re waiting for him to lash out. This is no different with Flash Thompson under the goo. He’s fighting terrorists, but really you want to see him eat someone. You’ll get that here.

Flash is a good guy, but it can’t be long before we come to resent his superiors. Let’s put this out on the table. They’re taking advantage of a man who lost his legs at war. They offer him new legs, super strength, and another chance to be a hero. They know the Venom alien is dangerous, but hell, he can control it, right? It’s only corrupted everyone who ever wore it. They see a broken man, offer him a chance to live his old life, a chance to emulate his hero, all he has to do is put on a crazy cannibalistic suit and do their dirty work. Shady.

Between the Amazing Spider-Man backup and this issue, any reader should know if they’re in or out for Venom. I’m out.

Thunderbolts #153Thunderbolts #153 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker *****

I may have said this before, but Thunderbolts is the best book Marvel is publishing right now. It does everything right.

Since Kev Walker joined Jeff Parker with issue #144, it’s been perfect. There’s action, character moments, fan-favorite heroes, new characters brought to the spotlight. Perfect.

More than any other group I read, the Thunderbolts actually operate as a team. When going into battle, they survey the situation, divide and conquer. They’re a unit, each using their strengths in tandem to defeat their foe, in this case Godzilla-esque monsters. They may be forced to work together, but inside their villainous exteriors, they also care about each other. Even Ghost, the most emotionless of the group, pleads with Moonstone to save Juggernaut because “he is … … one of us.” It’s a surprise, and possibly in contradiction of his giddiness at giving Moonstone and Songbird mouth-to-mouth (I’d love to see how Parker scripted those panels), but the evolution of that character has been amazing. Parker may be able to develop characters (keep your eyes on Troll), but he also knows the Marvel U stalwarts; his Juggernaut and Luke Cage are pitch-perfect.

Declan Shalvey did a fine job on his fill-in issues, but these issues with Kev Walker are a step above. Start with the panels. Only the first two pages use right-angles. As the violence rises, the edges get more and more ragged. Next, look at the body language. The different poses that Ghost and Hyperion use to fly say so much about their characters. Juggernaut looks massive, but without looking out of place. And a simple shot of the back of Moonstone’s shoulder shows that she doesn’t necessarily want to help, but knows she should. A+.

In the past, I’ve hated on Greg Land. Like a lot. A lot. But it wasn’t until I read another review for this issue that I realized he drew the cover. It’s a great cover. I love those ben-day dots.

Twilight Guardian #2Twilight Guardian #2 by Troy Hickman and Sid Kotian *****

My only complaint about the first issue of Twilight Guardian ongoing was that much of the story was repeated from the Pilot Season issue. With #2, Troy Hickman takes our protagonist somewhere much more dangerous than the nine block area around her house – a comic convention.

For those unfamiliar, Twilight Guardian is the story of a young woman who has taken on the responsibility of protecting her neighborhood. Of course, she lives in our world, so the biggest threats she faces are mysterious cars and neighbors who keep their Christmas lights up year-round. As you read, it’s revealed that our hero is both obsessive compulsive and depressed, which may be related to a recent breakup. Depression is like a cloud overhead. You can keep your eyes forward and forget that it’s there, but sooner or later, you’ll bend your head back and there it is. A big, black cloud. There’s some real human drama here, but never melodrama.

The trick to avoiding depression is to find something to fill your days, rather than sitting around staring at dust. Like a comic convention. Twilight Guardian, like any comic fan, feels the need to surround herself with like minds. Of course in her case, like minds are other real-life superheroes. They meet up, trade techniques and even solve a mystery. It’s a fun issue. After identifying so well with the character’s sorrow in previous issues, seeing her surrounded by friends, feeling in her element is more uplifting than seeing random cape hero punch his nemesis again. But in the final pages, when she’s left her friends and headed home, TG takes a moment, looks around and … oh yeah … that cloud.

All of this would be worthless without the right artist. Whether showing the personalities of a convention or the silver-age styles of the comics with the comic, Sid Kotian is the right artist. Seeing the excitement on TG’s face when carrying a stack of comics or her sadness as she sits alone on a hotel bed, I buy this girl’s emotions.

Two more issues. I miss you already.

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 12-15-10

These books came out last week. I’m doing better than last week. And I’ve already started putting together the stuff on this week’s books (Iron Man, Morning Glories, Zatanna). I’ve got a couple days off coming up,

Hobgoblin

Avengers Academy #7Avengers Academy #7 by Christos Gage and Tom Raney ****

In issue #6 of The Ultimates, Hank and Janet Pym get into a fight. A sadistic, visceral, hit-you-in-the-face-with-a-radio, spray-you-with-bug-killer fight. It’s a brutal display of domestic violence. And it instantly made Giant-Man and the Wasp two of my favorite characters. They were flawed, of  course, but they and their relationship were interesting. And filled with conflict. Even in the 616, I’ve had a soft spot for them when no one else has. So the past year or two have not been good to me. Janet died at the climax of Secret Invasion. They both died in Ultimatum. But since then, Hank has received some nice treatment, specifically at the hands of Dan Slott and Christos Gage.

I was never a big proponent of Pym as The Wasp, but anything to put him in the spotlight was appreciated. Here, Gage reverts him back to his best known alias – Giant-Man. He’s no longer the joke that is Ant-Man. He doesn’t have ridiculous goggles and wings. He doesn’t carry the baggage of the Yellowjacket mantle. It’s a step back, but still a step in the right direction.

The issue starts with Pym and Tigra discussing “their” child. Tigra’s a little crazy, not wanting Pym to help raise a kid that is “uh…genetically speaking” his, unless something happens to her. To repeat, he’s not worthy of being in the kid’s life with Greer, but if she dies, he’ll do. It’s a quick emotional jump and I’m not sure where it’s going.

The bulk of the remaining issue is taken up with a fight against The Absorbing Man. It’s a nice scene where Giant-Man can showcase his new (old) powers as well as the things he’s been working on since being donned Scientist Supreme. It’s a good read that shows why the book is called Avengers Academy, not Avengers Students or whatever. The teachers are just as important.

Tom Raney fills in on art this month, but the transition from Mike McKone is nearly flawless. Raney’s pictures range from a baby cat-person to abstract entities to 60-story punches. It’s bright and kinetic. If McKone can’t keep on a monthly schedule, Raney’s a great substitute.

Amazing Spider-Man #650Amazing Spider-Man #650 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos ****

The power of Gaga compels you!

Dan Slott is taking advantage of being the lone writer on this book and doing some exciting things. He has plots for Peter in and out of costume, which is becoming a necessity for me. Now that I think about it, that is something that holds back a lot of team books for me, not enough attention to the characters out of costume. But, back to SPider-Man. Slott is so good as using the supporting cast. Like any dude in his 20’s, Peter has to deal with his boss and co-workers, his girlfriend, his exes, his family … and Slott fits them all in. It makes Peter’s like three-dimensional and truly lived in. Peter’s antagonist, the new Hobgoblin is a nice threat because he seems crazy. I’m waiting for bit more motivation than having a crush on Norah, but Slott’s carving a nice identity for Phil Urich.

I’ve surprised at how much I like Ramos’ work on the book, but having three inkers really hurts him here. Their lines are too uneven. Right in the middle of the Hobgoblin fight, lines become much thicker. I’m not against any of the styles, but noticing the shift took me out of the story, if only for a second. Inkers, colorists, letterers, each of these people have the job of helping tell the story. Many will tell you the importance of staying out of the way (“If you notice what I’ve done, I haven’t done my job well enough”). Whoever is coordinating the art on this book would do well to find more consistency.

This is my first stint reading Spider-Man off the shelves. I’m having a great time. And with Stefano Caselli and then Marcos Martin coming up on art, things are only looking up.

Thunderbolts #151Thunderbolts #151 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker ****

Prior to his joining the post-Ellis Thunderbolts, I had no idea who Ghost was. Andy Diggle fixed that on his run and now Jeff Parker does more for the character than anyone since Bob Layton and Dave Michelinie created him.

“A Ghost’s Story” is origin-story-cum-confessional. Ghost, sating Moonstone’s desire to bond with her teammate, tells the tale that led him from nebbishy computer engineer to meta-human conspiracy theorist. Long story short – he fell for a girl named Shana, Shana was a pawn of his company, he found out, and experimented on himself to take his revenge, TADA! Supervillain! It’s well-trodden ground, but Parker gets us to a place where we root for retribution at Ghost’s hands. Like Gail Simone on Secret Six, this great writer makes complicit in heinous actions.

The implication, of course, is that Ghost sees a little of Shana in Moonstone. Is Ghost still capable of emotion, let alone romantic feelings? What’s Moonstone’s goal with all of this? Goddam this book is good.

Kev Walker’s art? Me gusta. He gives a clean look to everything and his Songbird is best I’ve seen. He also uses some fun panel layouts Ghost’s story. Not the graphic design of J. H. Williams III, but overlapping, round panels. They never follow a strict grid, but to Walker’s credit (like I need to praise him more), it all remains perfectly readable. It’s a nice switch from the standard sepia-toned or desaturated colors that most art teams stick to for the for flashbacks.

I don’t hear enough praise for this book, but it may be Marvel’s best.

X-Factor #212X-Factor #212 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino ***

It’s always interesting when X-Factor gets into a straight up fight. Between their teammate drama and hijinks, I can forget that they’re still superheros. Even Strong Guy admits they “only fight when [they] have to.” Here, they and Thor fight more and more undead vikings. And just in case you though the whole Rahne-being-pregnant thing was going too well, her wolf-lover joins the fray too, almost eviscerating Shatterstar.

The one thing in this conclusion that threw me off was Hela’s ultimate motive. She was trying to get at Thor, but … why? To kill him? Seduce him? Madrox finds her out, but she goes into super evil goddess mode before telling us. That said, there are some great plot developments here, including the a pregnancy reveal (for the team, readers already knew Richter was not the father) and Darwin’s evolution into the lord of death.

Lupacchino is the newest artist to come out of nowhere and shock me with her talent. She draws regal gods, physical comedy and decaying corpses with equal aplomb. She could be just the think this book has needed since issue #1 – artistic consistency. Yay!

Between Shatterstar attacking pirate-actors and Longshot hitting the casinos, this arc started with some great fun. The end is a bit lacking in that department. Based on the next couple month’s solicitations, we’ve got a few freestanding issues coming up, including one guest-starring Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson. This arc may have lost some steam, but Peter David knows just how to get me excited.

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 9-29-10 and 10-6-10

Two quick notes:
1) Captain America was my only book on the 29th, so I didn’t even go to the shop. Bonus for this week!
2) Sorry this is so late. NYCC was … overwhelming. More on that later.

Avengers Academy #5Avengers Academy #5 by Christos Gage and Jorge Molina ****

Christos Gage continues to impress me on this book. He manages to sidestep every possible cliché this book could fall into. Instead of a grand reveal of the team’s traitor on a page turn, it’s revealed though a conversation. Rather than following comic book convention, Gage lets his plot develop naturally. I won’t spoil who the character is, but it does add dimension to him/her.

One aspect of the book I appreciate is that the kid’s aren’t shown as invincible. They are still inexperienced. They can contribute, but can’t defeat Whirlwind with the Wasp’s help. And as it should be, Steve Rogers can kick their asses, even six on one.

Jorge Molina fills in on pencils and does a good job. His panels are but more unpolished, but Andrew Hennessey’s inks and Jeromy Cox’s colors keep the look consistent. With the Hank Pym-centric issue #7 coming up, this book couldn’t excite me more.

Captain America #610Captain America #610 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice ***

Baron Zemo takes a play out of Reverse Flash’s book in this issue, with Zemo revealing that this has all been about making Bucky a better hero. It’s an interesting twist and is more inline with the Zemo we’ve seen since his Thunderbolts days. But really, this is all pushing pieces into place for the next story, where the new Captain America has to face the actions he made as the Winter Soldier.

I do have some reservations about the art. Guice’s pencils are fine. But two inkers (including Guice) and three colorists kill the consistency of the pages. I understand the periodical comics business is built on a four-week cycle, but if Marvel gave me a more consistent book every five weeks, I’d be happier.

The Nomad backup continues to be well written with underwhelming art. It starts well enough, but the final page is rushed. Out of seven faces on the page, only two can be said to have any resembling eyes.

Secret Six #26Secret Six #26 by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore ****

Until the book, I always saw Bane as one-note. He broke Batman’s back and that’s it. Like Doomsday, he debuted with one big, fantastic action and had nothing else to him. God bless Gail Simone. She’s made Bane interesting and his relationship with Scandal one of the most interesting, if confusing, in comics. With each of their two factions facing off in this issue, they’ve taken another swerve and I love it.

I’m usually good with Calafiore’s art, but his faces here come off as flat and emotionless. Blank expressions and gritted teeth about in these pages. There are some great sight though, such as a giant, three-headed small intestine and battle-axe wielding madman.

Also included here is a preview for J. T. Krul and Nicola Scott’s Teen Titans. I met Scott this weekend at NYCC and she’s a sweetheart, I just wish she was headed to a book I had more confidence in. She’s one of DC’s greatest talents, I hope she isn’t wasted.

Young Allies #5Young Allies #5 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeón *****

Sean McKeever sure has created some great characters for Young Allies. The Bastards are interesting themselves, but Toro is a new favorite. In two silent panels, we see a great deal of character as he calmly stops Gravity from doing something he’ll regret.

Baldeón’s pencils are nothing to ignore either. You know the feeling that was lacking in Calafiore’s work on Secret Six? I found it. Fear, rage, whatever ring you wear, your emotion is here. They have so much movement and energy to them that my only hope is that he stays with this book. I’d hate to lose him to something more high-profile.

I addition to being great on its own, this book also has me excited for Spider-Girl’s upcoming solo series. That’s the mark of a great book.