The Shopping List 4-27-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 13 – More clunky names.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 9 – Nope. Not Fury.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 10 – Eww. Another reason to hate whales.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shopping List 3-30-11

After last week’s list of dull and disappointing books, March ends with a a well-balanced, enjoyable stack of comics. Some were better than others, but there wasn’t a true stinker in the bunch.

Spider-Girl's Here

Well, I did. Buy good books. Don’t buy bad books. Is that too much to ask?

Detective Comics #875Detective Comics #875 by Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla *****

All my favorite Batman stories are really Jim Gordon stories. Year One? Sure, it’s an origin, but Jim changes as much over that year as Bruce. The Killing Joke? Batman is the same guy at the end of the story that he is at the beginning; he plays Nick Carraway to the Commissioner’s Gatsby. We never even seen Bruce Wayne. I say all this because Detective Comics #875 is another great Batman story that’s about James Gordon, not Batman.

The issue gives us a look back at James Gordon Jr.’s childhood. It seems Jim has always been a bit weary of his son. The question is whether his fear is warranted or not. James Jr. has no problem admitting he’s a sociopath, but we haven’t seen him do anything wrong. It’s a testament to Francavilla and especially Scott Snyder that we fear this kid just because of his appearance and demeanor, not his acts.

Snyder spins a nice mystery told in two decades and wraps the whole thing up in 20 pages. This guy is new to the comics game, but he’s showing true skill here. Francavilla certainly pulls his weight too. From the moodiest colors I’ve seen since Laura Martin on Astonishing X-Men (remember the red hues right before Kitty found Colossus?) to two killer two-page spreads, he’s a revelation.

Since Scott Snyder came on, Detective Comics has simply great stories. Get in while it’s still early.

Captain America #616Captain America #616 by Ed Brubaker, Cullen Bunn, Frank Tieri, Howard Chaykin, Mike Benson, Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Travis Charest, Ed McGuinness, Jason Latour, Paul Azaceta, Mike Deodato, Paul Grist, and Pepe Larraz ****

This issue, commemorating Cap’s 70th Anniversary, has 104 all-new pages from over a dozen modern and classic creators. 104 pages, only eight of ads. Five dollars may be more than you’re used to, but that’s the content of over three regular issues of Cap for only a dollar more.

The two Brubaker stories, one following Bucky (illustrated by Mike Deodato) and one following Steve Rogers (Ed McGuinness) are far and away the best of the book. Some critics have asked if we need an arc of Bucky in jail when we just got one, but that arc didn’t have his fighting a Communist bear, did it? The concept is the same, but a Russian gulag is a very different situation than an American prison. In the second lead feature, Ed McGuinness enters into contention as my favorite superhero artist … I dunno … ever? Big action. Big emotions. Steve looks like a mountain of muscle. It’s just so pure that no one can touch him.

The rest of the stories, like any anthology, are a mixed bag. Howard Chaykin tells a nice story, but his art is marred by modern coloring. The over-rendered faces make his people look puffy action figures. Frank Tieri’s story relies too much on a very foreseeable twist ending and ends up saying nothing at all. Jason Latour does his best José Luis García-López impression, adding a well-appreciated bleak feel to Cullen Bunn’s story. The remaining two stories are golden age tales, one wacky, one in the midst of WWII. They’re throwaways, sure, but some will enjoy cameos by the likes of Baron Blood and Union Jack.

I may sound a lot down on the non-Brubaker tales, but every Captain America fan will find something to like in here. Give it a chance. You won’t regret it.

Spider-Gril #5Spider-Girl #5 by Paul Tobin, Matthew Southworth, and Sergio Cariello ****

When creating a sidekick or spin-off hero, it’s too easy to have them confront their hero’s adversaries. Robin fighting Two-Face. The Young Avengers facing Kang the Conqueror. Luckily, Spider-Girl tweaks that convention. As the teenage female version of Spider-Man, Anya Corazon has become a rival to Ana Kravinoff, the young daughter of Kraven the Hunter.

It isn’t a surprise that Ana is the better fighter, but you don’t get a spider costume by being foolish. Knowing she’s at a physical disadvantage, Spider-Girl uses her environment and resources to win the day.

With a lot of ground to cover before wrapping the series up with issue #8, writer Paul Tobin also starts to bring together some of the threads he’s introduced thus far. After months of teases, we get some answers regarding Anya’s sketchy neighbor and Raven, the mysterious group somehow involved with the death of Anya’s father.

Artist Matthew Southworth stumbled on the out-of-costume sequences in last month’s issue. His inky, shadowy art was great for action scenes, but when Anya was with her friends, it was out of place. This month, he’s assisted by Sergio Cariello. Cariello has a more open style, allowing large fields of color, setting his sequences apart from Southworth’s. And since the artists split the issue by scenes, the transitions are never jarring.

With only three issues left before the title is cancelled, I can’t recommend jumping on now, but when the trade comes out, it’d be worth putting on your shelf.

Amazing Spider-Man #657Amazing Spider-Man #657 by Dan Slott, Marcos Martin, Ty Templeton, Nuno Plati, and Stefano Caselli ***

Much like this month’s issue of Captain America, issue #657 is an anthology in all but name. Here, the remaining members of the Fantastic Four each relate a story of Peter and Johnny Storm’s adventures as superheroes and as friends. Also like Cap, it’s a mixed bag.

The Martin sequence is just connective tissue between the stories. There’s no heavy lifting, but he successfully navigates the sadness these characters are feeling.

Slott writes Ty Templeton a prank war between Spidey and the Torch. Before this book, I’ve never seen Templeton’s art. It’s super simple, but super bold. It’s sort of silver age on crack. If this is what the I’m With Stupid miniseries is like, I’ve got to track that down.

Nuno Plati illsutrates the time Sue Storm got arrested for indecent exposure. It’s not as sexy as that may sound, but it does allow Slott to reverse the motherly role that Sue plays on the team. Also, seeing Johnny and Peter able to lecture someone is great. With its thin lines and pale colors, Plati has the most stylized art in the book. It’s not for everyone, but more importantly, it’s not the right fit for the story. It’s too serious, especially because of the color palate I mentioned.

The final story lets Johnny save the day for once. The Human Torch is probably the weakest member of the FF, but here he’s able to show up the big brains on Reed and Peter. Nice idea, but it’s the weakest of the trio. It just doesn’t have much to it other than “Hey! Johnny’s OK too!” Stefano Caselli however, looks great. I was underwhelmed with his art on the “Spider-Slayer” arc, but here, he’s back. I can’t put a finger on it, but he’s back to the days of Avengers: Initiative. Maybe the coloring? Who knows. Maybe it’s just a more exciting story.

These 30 pages feature four artists. Each has a radically different styles, but no one comes off as the runt. Pair that with a triad of cute, if too light stories and you’ve got a winner. A character question: why does Peterkeep his mask on in the flashbacks? The middle one, where they actually fight criminals, OK, but in space? In space, no one can learn you identity. And camping? Why is anyone in costume? That’s tipping your hand a bit far. They could have just been some friends in the woods. Now they’re clearly heroes in the woods. Just saying.

Ultimate X #4Ultimate X #4 by Jeph Loeb and Art Adams ****

The third issue of Ultimate X came out on June 16, 2010. Since then, writer Jeph Loeb was named Executive V.P. of Television and artist Art Adams and his wife had their first child. Adams has claimed full responsibility for the delay, but it’s hard to fault him for focusing on his family. All that said, I’m surprised at how much I didn’t feel lost starting this story.

Like previous issues, #4 mostly stands on its own. Liz Allen hasn’t been seen thus far in the series, so readers have nothing to reread to get acclimated. At first, the book seems like the high school drama we’ve seen before, but there’s a twist because Liz is, you know, Firestar.

What will surprise readers is that this isn’t a superhero book. It’s a book about how young people are affected by their abilities. It’s more fantastic than a series like Demo, but it doesn’t rely on villains and violence. People complain about Jeph Loeb because of books like Ultimatum and Hulk, but this proves he has a variety of voices.

Adams’ art certainly isn’t rushed. Once a book is this late, there’s no excuse for the art to be lacking. And it’s not. Each line is precise. Character’s emotions ring true. Backgrounds are full of details. This seems like a real, lived-in world.

You may have to dig through some longboxes to catch up, but Ultimate X features two veteran creators telling a story unlike anything in your stack this week.

Zatanna #11Zatanna #11 by Paul Dini and Jamal Igle ***

Defining the boundaries of magic is always an obstacle course in superhero comics. Scarlet Witch can commit genocide with three words, but not poof Ultron out of existence? In order to offer some real conflict, the story needs certain spells to work and others not to work. The very climax of this issue, concluding the Oscar Hemepl/Stringleshanks story, relies on such a convenience. In case the audience didn’t understand how it works (which we didn’t), Dini says (through Zee) there’s “no point in going into why and wherefores now.” It’s weak. In comics slugfests, Spider-Man or whoever always needs to come up with some alternate plan or specifically summon up all their remaining energy and then some to KO their opponent. In a good story, it’s never as simple as one more punch. It’s not a bad ending, but it’s too convenient.

Also this month, Jamal Igle takes over art duties from Bells’ Kitchen favorite Cliff Chiang. Igle may not have the identifiable flair of Chiang, but he’s a talented artist in his own right.He’ll do just fine here.

Puppets are creepy. Marionettes. Socks. Hand. Creepy. Creepy. Creepy. The very idea of sticking your hand up someone’s ass and controlling them is creepy. And sexual harassment. You know it. I know it. Zatanna knows it. And now, thanks to Paul Dini and Jamal Igle, she’s has conquered her fear of puppets. “Pupaphobia” is a good story, but in this world of budgets and down economies, it’s not worth my three dollars a month. Sorry guys.

While I’m thinking of it, I have a confession to make. I hate letter columns. They’re either readers’ half-baked ideas on where the book should go or page upon page of ballwashing. Does anyone really enjoy knowing how much some jamoke in Wisconsin enjoys Superman? They never have any real criticism, just “I’ve never really liked the X-Men before, but WOW! Writer X made me a believer! Make mine Marvel! Excelsior!” Blech.

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 2-23-11

Last week I complained about a couple books. They weren’t good. That’s what I do. The good thing about that, as a reviewer, is that I can find things to say. This week was different. It was a lot of … OK books. Good, but not standout. Except for one. It was a week of good series, with new issues of Cap and Iron Man on the stands. Which was was the five star review?

Zoe Doesn't Know

You’ll just have to read and see.

Captain America #615 Captain America #615 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Pepe Larraz ****

Captain America is one of the few books I read where the bad guys regularly get a few ticks in the win column. After all, the Red Skull’s plot to kill Steve Rogers worked. And in this issue the (new) Red Skull fulfills her plan to give Lady Liberty a black eye. The only problem is that Sin is doing that ridiculous villain thing where she has the perfect opportunity to put a bullet in a hero’s head, but chooses to not take it … yet! Lame. Although Bucky, Steve, Sharon, Sam and Natasha make a good team. I wouldn’t want to lose anyone.

Ob the art front, best I can tell, the multiple inkers on this book divided the book by scene, which helps offer some consistency. Certainly better than recent months.

“The Trial of Captain America” wraps up here, even if I did have to look up what “commuting a sentence meant.” There’s an interesting turn in the final minutes of the trial, which gives way to an even better cliffhanger. Going on seven years of great stories, Captain America shows no signs of slowing down.

This issue also contains the last of the Nomad backups. I’ve been more friendly to these eight-pages than some reviewers. I’ll admit that Rikki’s stories don’t fit in with the book’s main content, but I’ve enjoyed them enough. Sean McKeever uses this last opportunity to put a cap on his Nomad sequence (Cap #600, the Nomad miniseries, these backups) with Rikki coming to terms with her place in this new world and even relishing in it. Good for her. With Filipe Andrade on Onslaught Unleashed, Pepe Larraz shows up on art. He’s got a fun, exciting style that fits the young and reckless nature of the Girl without a World. The strip may be done, but I hope to see his work again.

Detective Comics #874Detective Comics #874 by Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla ***

Part of me understands DC’s 20 pages for $2.99 initiative, but this issue sure is one of the growing pains of the change. The last portion of the Commissioner Gordon backup takes up the first nine pages, but the rest of the issue quickly shifts to follow Batman and Red Robin and there’s not much to that story. More or less it’s a bridge to the upcoming “Hungry City.”

The first section is odd. I have no history with James Jr., so the conversation about his past is lost on me. He did some bad things? It’s creepy that he’s back, but nothing really happens. I’ve applauded recent Spider-Man issues for planting future plot threads in its backups, but moving those seeds to the beginning feels strange. I want to tell Snyder not to bury his lead, but I can’t really find the lead anyway.

I hate to say it, but I don’t appreciate Francavilla’s work on the Batman sequences as much as I have on the Gordon ones. To his credit, he does some interesting layouts: the two-page spread that uses the silhouette of a bat as panel borders and the final page, with Commish in an outline of his son. Remind me of J. H. William’s work on this same title. You know, if JH3 used a thick brush and limited color palette.

It’s an awkward transitional issue. Mostly moving parts around, without moving them too much. Check it out, if only for Francavilla’s art.

Invincible Iron Man #501Invincible Iron Man #501 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca ***

At first, I thought of this issue as a disappointment. After all, I’ve loved the past two issues. But going over it again, Fraction and Larroca give us some good stuff here.

I’ve never found Matt Fraction’s Tony Stark to be that close to the guy portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. Obviously, comics Tony has been though a lot more. Alcoholism, Civil War, it all came together to make Tony a more serious guy. But since being reassembled, Tony seems to be enjoying life. Fraction’s got him on talk shows and engaging in a little wacky wordplay with Pepper and even giving Doc Ock some verbal jabs. That helps make #501 more fun than the past couple issues have been. And I always like seeing new matches of good guy/bad guy. Why wouldn’t a criminal, sick of being beaten up by the same guy go fight someone else? Here, Doc Ock and a couple famous cronies take it to Iron Man. It helps these old characters feel fresh.

Lorroca impressed me with the flashback style he used in #500.1 and again here. I don’t know any better, but I want to call it European-influenced. He is Spanish, so maybe I’m right. But the modern-day pages are a still a bit off. I have some problems with Sal’s work anyway, but his action scenes with Stark out of the suit are too stilted.

#501 is another solid issue. A bit of a holding pattern, but in another few months, I’m sure the stakes will skyrocket as we launch into Fear Itself.

Morning Glories #7Morning Glories #7 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ***

Zoe! More than meets the eye! After an introductory arc that focused mainly on Hunter and especially Casey, and then an issue featuring almost none of the kids I’m excited to see someone else in the spotlight. I can’t wait for Jade’s issue. She’s more my type.

Spencer’s dialogue in the flashback sequence is a little wonky, with odd slang and clunky portmanteaus, but it’s nice to see him making an effort to show that these kids are not what they once were – normal kids. Although, I wouldn’t call high-schoolers with rape fantasies normal either.

Speaking of which, this book sure has some heavy content. And what’s the deal with Spencer being allowed to say “cunt” but not “fuck?” I believe Image is mostly hands off with that sort of thing, so maybe that’s how he scripted it? Awkward.

Joe Eisma continues his consistently excellent art. He’s defined a look and luckily, since it’s a creator-owned project, we don’t have to put up with any substandard fill-ins. It’s a dialogue-heavy issue, but he never relies on still cameras or repeated panels. It’s appreciated. Hopefully, I can get a sketch at the upcoming C2E2.

For seven issues now, the mysteries of Morning Glories Academy get twistier and twistier. I wonder how long this book is planned for. I’m in no rush for it to end, just wondering how far down the rabbit hole we can go before we have to climb up.

Amazing Spider-Man #655Amazing Spider-Man #655 by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin *****

Dan Slott has said if you only buy one of his comics, ever, this is the one to buy. I agree. It’s a look at the current state of Spider-Man. It’s a tour through Spidey’s history. It’s a commentary on comics’ revolving door of death. It’s sad. It’s stirring. It’s a beautiful piece of art.

I want to praise Slott up and down, but really I want everyone to read this. Saying anything would spoil it.

Marcos Martin is a gem. His were the only issues of the One More Day era that I actively sought out and I’m glad to see him again. This is his first Big Time issue and he’s already made his mark. He’s saying “This is what I do. No one else does this. I win.” I wonder how many of the ideas come from Slott, but seeing where Ramos and Caselli havn’t do anything similar, I’m going to give Martin the credit. Whether showing the grandeur of an NYC cathedral or the simplicity of holding someone’s hand, he makes you feel it. There’s one spread (you’ll know it when you see it) that must have taken more time to plan than it would have taken most artists to draw.

There are no words. Just buy it.

The Shopping List 1-26-11

Six months and a new URL later, here we are at the 50th post of Bells’ Kitchen.Moonstone Doesn't Believe Me

No, seriously. There was a chance this was just going to be a lark, but between the two sites, I’ve had over 1,200 hits. That’s awesome. Personally, it’s been interesting to see my writing improve, even to the point where other people have noticed and commented on it. Also, I’m thinking more about what I read and of course, what it means. Better writer, better reader, better comics fan. Woot.

For my fiftieth post, I wanted to do something a little different. This week, all reviews will be 50 words long. It’s important to shake things up, keep it interesting, avoid blog fatigue. So, five books, 50 words each. Go ahead. Count them.

Captain America #614Captain America #614 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade ***

Bucky is more interesting as Cap than Steve Rogers had been in years. Not being the golden boy, he can make mistakes. Bru keeps the tension high, but six inkers and four colorists kill any visual consistency. They’re pushing issues out; maybe to time Roger’s return with the movie? Sad.

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Detective Comics #873Detective Comics #873 by Scott Snyder and Jock and what happened to the Francavilla backup? ***

Much like Bucky in Captain America, Dick Grayson is a substitute hero that’s been more enjoyable than the original. He’s a fun Batman. Here, he relies on his will and acrobatics to save the day. Snyder dark plots and Jock’s fragile lines prove that Detective Comics is in good hands.

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Thunderbolts #152Thunderbolts #152 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker ****

It’s common for people to get really excited about plots like “They’re fighting Dracula ON THE MOON!” that sound stupid to me. Despite this issue being “Villains and Superman analogue fight Godzilla monsters,” it was great. Parker’s masterful character interactions make this serious fun and Kev Walker is my hero.

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Twilight Guardian #1Twilight Guardian #1 by Troy Hickman and Sid Kotian *****

Years in the making, everyone’s favorite depressed, obsessive-compulsive real-world superhero is back! I may mock, but I truly enjoyed this. Much is repeated from the Pilot Season issue from 2008. Kotian’s art is sexier than I expected. I’m excited to see what Hickman does with a full miniseries.

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Zatanna #9Zatanna #9 by Paul Dini and Cliff Chiang, Adam Beechen and Jamal Igle ***

I get the 20-page issue thing. But this issue is a 12-pager and an 8-pager. It’s a Zatanna anthology. Neither story is bad, but they are both too slight. I really hope Dini has a big finish planned. I’m not hot on the style Chiang’s trying here.

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They may be quicker to write, but 50-word reviews are still hard. Economy of words is not an easy skill.

Well, it’s been fun. See ya’ll soon.

The Shopping List 12-29-10

Books were delayed a bit for my shop last week. Despite a Thursday pickup, it was a good week. They’re delayed a day, I get delayed a day. That’s fair, no?

Before we get into the books, I want to point out Spider-Girl’s Twitter feed. @The_Spider_Girl. It’s maintained by Paul Tobin, who writes the series and she (he) seems great at replying to comments. You should follow it.

No. No I shouldn'tWell, yeah. It would be kind of weird to follow yourself. And narcissistic. Still, whatever it takes to keep a books sales up. Which Spider-Girl isn’t too good at. But I’ll get to that later.

Captain America #613Captain America #613 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade ****

Another month. Another steady issue of Cap. I’m running out of things to say.

To review:
– Newest chapter in years-long epic
– Best supporting cast in comics
– Even without a shield in hand, Steve Rogers is THE MAN
– Most consistent art on the stands, even with three inkers and two colorists

Specific to this issue, Butch Guice gets to draw some really crazy stuff in Sin’s dream. And Brubaker keeps raising the stakes. It’s not enough to put Cap in jail. He’s disgracing him through the media and threatening to blowup America’s most famous landmark. Here we go.

8-page segments can often have too little happening, (see Detective Comics, next) but McKeever continues to write an exciting back-up tale starring Nomad. Unfortunately, Filipe Andrade doesn’t bring the same level of talent. His art isn’t exaggerated; it’s inconsistent. Sometimes it’s rounded. Sometimes it’s jagged. If he works out some issues, maybe he could be a good artist. He’s just not there yet. Hopefully, he’s got something new up his sleeve for the upcoming Onslaught Unleashed.

Detective Comics #872Detective Comics #872 by Scott Snyder, Jock and Francesco Francavilla ****

Batman’s a character that I really like, but it takes something special to actually get me to pick up the book. It just seems like there are so few unique stories told with him. So it’s great to say that I love what Scott Snyder is doing. He’s telling Batman stories that focus on the human side of the character, but without that pain in the ass Bruce Wayne guy. I know people loved Morrison’s Batman & Robin, but it didn’t grab me. Weird villain, punchy punchy, the end. I need to read it as one big chunk, I guess.

Dick is someone who is fun to root for, as opposed to Bruce where I just root against Joker, Two-Face, etc. Dick banters with Babs, flies a one-wheel motorcycle, then goes to a villain-paraphernalia auction in a burnt up old theater. Bruce would have just gritted his teeth and kicked until there was no one left to kick.

Our mystery bad guy sure is creepy. The first item up for auction is the crowbar the Joker used to beat Jason Todd to death. “There seems to be some human tissue still on the edge.” Ugh. The auctioneer must have some sort of connection, because he’s planned well ahead for Batman’s appearance at the auction. Can’t wait to see how Dick gets out of this.

The first time I saw Jock’s artwork was the Vertigo series Faker with Mike Carey. There, it was often hard to determine exactly what each panel was depicting. He’s fixed those problems here, even using some abnormal panel layouts to add to the tension. Often, silhouetted characters are laid over other images. By breaking out of panels and being drawn larger, they are literally more imposing,

The Commissioner Gordon back-up is too short for its own good. All that really happens here is the Jim tells Babs what’s up. She leaves and we are left with the same cliffhanger as last issue. But it impresses me for one reason – Francesco Francavilla’s colors. Francavilla’s art, with its thick brushstrokes and  large swatches of contrasting colors, is moody, dour, and other adjectives.

Flash #8Flash #8 by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins ****

The actual idea of Reverse Flash confuses me. I understand his powers are a reaction to Flash’s but then why does he really hate him? Was that covered in here? Disirregardlessly …

In every time travel movie, the main character is warned that if s/he changes anything in the past, it could change the future. But, what if that was the idea? What if you wanted to change the future?

I was a little rough on the Captain Boomerang spotlight last issue, but Johns and Kolins really turn it around this time. Johns does some experimental stuff this issue, with Reverse Flash turning back time mid-page. He changes to past, which changes his future. Brother’s a pain in the ass? Go back in time so he was never born. Professor won’t share his research with you? Go back in time and take his job. It’s a really refreshing twist on well-trodden ground. It’s wordy, but it tells a full, interesting story. I can’t wait to see how this seed blooms.

I find the same problems with Scott Kolins art this month that I did last month. Kolins’ pencils and Brian Buccellato’s colors both try to render shadows, making pages over-rendered and too dark. It’s a common problem in comics. If you’ve got an artist who loves crosshatching, and a colorist darkens the areas that are crosshatched, they’re doubling efforts at the cost of the art. A penciler needs to know that his inker will treat the pencils correctly. The penciler and inker need to trust that the colorist will render shadows and highlights in the best way to fit the art. They need to put more faith in each other.

Next month should be a boss issue: A) The return of regular artist Fancis Manapul, B) debut of a new villain, Hot Pursuit, and C) Team up with Wally West and Bart Allen. Awesome.

Spider-Girl #2Spider-Girl #2 by Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry ***

I appreciated Spider-Girl #1 because it was a good book. It felt like part of the Marvel universe, but without being weighed down by continuity. I don’t really know her Araña past, and I didn’t need to. It was easily accessible and made me eager to continue reading.

This issue offered much of the same, but it took a swift turn that I don’t like. After establishing Anya’s great relationship with her dad last issue, he gets killed. REALLY? WE NEED THAT? I thought this book was going to star someone who enjoys being a hero, free of moping. I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore. Anya continues being a hero even after losing her powers. That’s a strong character. She’s got the motivation she needs. She didn’t need to lose her father too.

Something else I mentioned last time was that the book would live and die by age recognition and guest stars. Last month we got the Fantastic Four, this we also get Red Hulk. And based on sales – less than 24,000 copies – this book does not have long. You’ve got to expect, what? A 20% decrease in sales for this issue? So that leaves 19,200, just below the cancellation threshold of 20,000. And that’s only issue #2. We’ve got another Young Allies on our hands. Help a good book out! Pick up a copy!

One place I can’t fault Spider-Girl is the art. The style switches more than I’d like from Clayton Henry on the heroic first half to Ray-Anthony Height on the private life second half. (Thanks to Comic Book DB for letting me know Height’s full name. No thanks to Marvel and their credits page.) Henry draws some great emotion, but I may like Heights work more. It’s a bit less nuanced, it has a nice smooth style. The bright pages by both artists suggest we may have some hope for a cheerful book after all.

Shall we put the over/under for cancellation at 5.5 issues? It’s a shame. This is the sort of book Marvel and the superhero genre need.

The Shopping List 11-24-10

Finally

Yes, I know. These posts keep coming later than I expect. Later than I want. It was a tough week at work.

Batwoman #0Batwoman #0 by J. H. Williams, W. Haden Blackman, and Amy Reeder ****

She baaack! Sort of.

I never know what to expect out of 0 issues, but this operates as a perfect introduction to the new title. It summarizes Kate until this point and sets up the status quo going forward. But more importantly, it’s a showcase for the art styles of J. H. Williams III and Amy Reeder. The two share duties, not on separate pages, but on the same spreads. Williams handles the Batwoman sequences; Reeder, the Kate Kane sequences. Simply put, it works.

The narrative comes from Batman’s perspective as he does some real detective work (My favorite Batman cliche is “We’re going to see Batman do some real detective work.” Here, he actually does.) Bruce trails Kate, taking on a variety of disguises, trying to find evidence that she and Batwoman are one in the same. But Kate proves she’s worthy of the Bat-mantle, going about her life, never letting herself be exposed.

The main story is only 16 pages, with the remainder of the pages made up by a previews of the upcoming #1 and Scott Snyder’s debut issue on Detective Comics. Whether you read the Rucka/Williams run or not, get in here. I have huge hopes for this book.

Black Widow #8Black Widow #8 by Dwayne Swiercynski and Manuel Garcia ****

The cover says “Part 3 of 3,” but this issue ends with a “To Be Continued.” If that wasn’t enough, it will be continued in another series. The “Kiss or Kill” story is over, but a one page epilogue points us to the upcoming Widowmaker miniseries. Not quite the closure I was looking for. No more issues of Black Widow are solicited, but we don’t know much who is behind the plot against the Crane family, only a name. But that’s only one flaw of this issue.

Swierczynski’s neutralizes his threats as fast as he introduces them. It keeps the plot moving, but the fights never seem even. Widow is too clever to ever seem in real jeopardy, even when simultaneously attacked by Fatasma and the Crimson Dynamo. Stretching the story out, even by one issue, could have given the fight more heft and drama. I know fandom loves to cry out against decompression, but anything that ups conflict is worth doing. It’s not about length (or girth even); it’s about good stories.

I can’t get a handle on Garcia’s art. Sometimes it resembles Mark Bagley, other times a bright, cleaner Mike Deodato. This is not a complaint mind you. He just doesn’t stand out as his own artist.

I’m not sure if I’ll follow Natasha’s story over to Widowmaker, but just like he did on Iron Fist, Dwayne Swierczynski has come to a book midway through its run and proven that he can stand up to any writer. I’d be interested to see what he would do with his own series, starting from scratch.

Captain America #612Captain America #612 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Felipe Andrade ***

Part two of “The Trial of Captain America” is a disappointing pile of exposition. Bucky sits in his cell alone, telling us what prison is like, ” Echoed screaming … Fights … Threats yelled between cells,” but we see none of it. Elsewhere, Bucky’s lawyer, Bernie Rosenthal goes on TV, telling us what we already know: the evidence against Bucky is overwhelming but he’s truly a hero.

In other news: Sin!!! I loved her in the beginning of Bru’s run and she’s back! She’s as repulsive as a Nazi burn victim as she was cute as a redhead anarchist. Now that she’s taken up her father’s mantle as the Red Skull, I’m excited to see story continue.

Last month, I said how much I liked Daniel Acuna’s stylized (though out of place) fill-in issue. Sadly, it was just that, a fill-in. Butch Guice returns this month. Because of the expository nature of the issue, much of it is made up of talking heads. Great artists can make even calm discussions look exciting, but Bru hamstrings Guice with the television sequences. Televised news interviews are static affairs: bust shot of reporter, inset image over their shoulder. Really, when was the last time Larry King Live was visually stimulating? When Lady Gaga was on? Luckily, Guice takes advantage of a Black Widow/Falcon subplot, using a variety of angles and panel shapes and sizes to create a stirring, gymnastics-filled infiltration sequence.

In Sean MchKeever’s Nomad back-up story, Rikki Barnes has some serious ovaries. After being captured by the Second Shadow, the stays strong, despite being beaten until her face looks like an eggplant. She admits to us that she is too ignorant to give up the plan if she wanted to, but she refuses to give any information up. Then she breaks her own thumbs to get out of a pair of handcuffs. I haven’t been that impressed by self-mutilation since Hawkeye flicked his fingernails off in Ultimates 2. Sweet.

Invincible Iron Man #32Invincible Iron Man #32 by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, and Jamie McKelvie****

I have a friend who complains about the climax of the first Iron Man movie. His problem is that Pepper, not Tony, turns on the arc reactor, defeating Obadiah Stane. Iron Man was the hero, but his girlfriend did the actual work. In the beginning of the issue, Team: Iron Man (Iron Man, War Machine and Rescue) start the fight against the attack drones swarming Stark Resilient’s product launch, but Tony saves the day. By the end, he’s left Pepper and Rhodey behind and reject Maria Hill’s assistance, determined to save the day by himself. Moments like that make him one of the premier Marvel heroes.

Fraction keeps the banter going in this issue, referencing TED talks, Space Invaders, Wired magazine, even the Backstreet Boys. The quips would feel more at home in a Spider-Man book, but it does keep the full-issue fight going.

Salvador Larocca turns in his standard art. Nothing new to report there. The real visual highlight in this issue is a Pepper Potts backup drawn by Jamie McKelvie. (The $6 price tag scared me away from Ultimate Spider-Man #150, so I’m glad I still got some McKelvie goodness this week.) Yes, Happy is a grown up Kid-with-Knife and Tony is a jacked version of David Kohl. I should complain, but I can’t. His clean, open art is gorgeous. I don’t care if there’s no action. He draws pretty pictures. I hope he ends up on a good book, because I know I’ll buy any monthly he ends up on.

Amazing Spider-Man #649Amazing Spider-Man #649 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos ****

Getting my head into Amazing Spider-Man isn’t easy, but this book is very enjoyable.

A few things that start me at a disadvantage:

  • I’ve never read a Hobgoblin story before.
  • The last (and first) time I read of Phil Urich was in The Loners, where I thought he was going back to heroics.
  • Having read very sporadic Spider-Man stories, and only about six issues of Brand New Day-era ASM, I’m not sure what is years-old continuity, what’s been recently established, what’s new in the past couple issues, etc.
  • A lot of new characters have been dropped on my plate: Norah, Randy, Carlie, Pete’s new co-workers

Despite my difficulty in determining what brought us here, Dan Slott makes great use of Peter Parker’s current life. He uses Norah to keep the Bugle around, but puts Pete in a new job where his skills don’t go to waste. The fact that he is qualified for his position at Horizon Labs makes you realize how extraordinary his life has been. Because of that fateful spiderbite, he knows that creatures from the vacuum of space hate fire and sonics, that you’d need a magnetic braking system for an anti-gravity harness.

A guidance counselor in my high school loved to tell us “There are no bad schools, only bad matches.” Her point was that we each had to find the right college for us. Similarly, Humberto Ramos is not a bad artist, but he’s had some matches. X-Men was a bad match. It was too dark, too moody for his bright, exaggerated art. That’s why Runaways was better. That’s why Spider-Man is a perfect match. His name almost scared me away from this book, but these past two issues have turned me around on him really quickly.

The Shopping List 10-27-10

Death and Lex Luthor

Action Comics #894Action Comics #894 by Paul Cornell and Pete Woods ***

I didn’t realize this issue was part five of the arc, but I’ve been interested in getting into the book and featuring Death on the cover is about as good of Bells-bait as anything.

To me, Lex Luthor has never been a great villain. Xenophobia + genius = Lex Luthor. Bleh. I suppose I see him as too reactionary. What I mean is, if Superman did not exist, would Lex Luthor, as we know him? No. Without the X-Men, Magneto still has it out for Homo sapiens. Without Daredevil, the Kingpin is still ruining crime in NYC.

Paul Cornell is a writer whose name I hear lauded often, but nothing he wrote even grabbed me. Here, Lex’s personality is as clear as a bell in the night and there are some great character moments. Sadly, there’s not much more than that. No action. I understand I grabbed one stray issue on the middle of a run but I’m not sure what the actual mission of this book is. Did this issue even have an antagonist? Was it Death?

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book. I really did and will buy the next issue. I’m just saying that it didn’t grab me the way an issue sure to grab new readers should. Bringing Death to mainstream DC Universe is a big step. I’m afraid it was a wasted opportunity.

It’s interesting to see Death in a modern art style. It works. Pete Woods draws her as the cheeky enigma that she should be, but modern coloring makes her more rendered, less distant than some Sandman artists. Negative reviews of his New Krypton work has me scared, but I had no problems here at all.

Last month, I took Uncanny X-Men off my subscription list. I just found a place for that $4, Action Comics.

Black Widow #7Black Widow #7 by Dwayne Swiercynzki and Manuel Garcia ****

Swiercynzki has certainly made this book more action-packed that Marjorie Liu did. His plots twist and turn, and once you think you see where it’s going, you’re kicked into a pit in a Polish bunker. I’m also impressed by his skill working Natasha’s various talents and weapons into the story. Most writers are content to have her shoot someone, maybe kick someone in the face, but he uses her full repertoire: Widow’s Kiss, Widow’s Bite, whatever. The books sales aren’t good; it’s selling less than 19,000 copies a month, but just as he did on Iron Fist, Swiercynzki refuses to let a character’s lack of popularity stop him from telling great stories.

Manuel Garcia doesn’t have a quickly recognized style, but even in his days on Mystique with Sean McKeever, he knew how to keep even the talkiest scenes interesting. He’s night and day from Daniel Acuna, but his agreeably exaggerated figures are fun to watch. And to anyone worried, no, the pages do not look anything like his covers. In fact, a couple places reminded me of Mark Bagley, other places, not so much.

For the one solicited issue left, followed by the Widow Maker miniseries, keep your eyes on this book while you can.

Captain America #611Captain America #611 by Ed Brubaker and Daniel Acuna ***

Brubaker must be hoping a lot of people jump on this book with “The Trial of Captain America” arc. He spends most of this initial issue explaining what brought us here over the last five years, much as he did with issue 25 before he, you know, killed Steve Rogers. That was a good jumping on point, so maybe he knows something we don’t. The story itself is interesting, showing various heroes’ various reactions to Bucky’s past as the Winter Soldier. Hawkeye’s disbelief that Bucky used to be an assassin is a bit off, but luckily, Natasha is the kettle that reminds Clint of his pot’s color.

For months, I’ve talked about how consistent the art has been on this book. No longer. Daniel Acuna, fresh of his Black Widow run, brings his truly unique style to Brubaker’s epic. He doesn’t look like any of the previous artists, but his art is so cool that I didn’t care. The large patches of color and lack of eyes make the art look deceptively simple, but give a haunting tone. That’s something I’m not used to on a Captain America title. Solicits show that Butch Guice will be back for the rest the arc, which may only make this issue stick out in the eventual collections. I love Guice, but it would have been nice to see what Acuna could have done with a full arc.

Sean McKeever’s Nomad story continues with a fun Black Widow team-up. I wonder, just as Rikki does, why Natasha chose her as a teammate. With such a dangerous mission, you think she’d choose someone more experienced. And if it’s training, take her somewhere safer! With the last issue of Young Allies out this week, this may be the only place to see the new Nomad. Keep you fingers crossed for her.

Teen Titans #88Teen Titans #88 by J. T. Krul and Nicola Scott ***

Close, but this isn’t quite doing it. The team members are a great mix of New Teen Titans (Raven, Beast Boy), Johns’ Titans (Wondergirl, Superboy, Kid Flash) and even newer faces (Ravager and Damian!). As much as I miss Nicola Scoot on Secret Six, it is nice to see her on a higher profile book. And she kills it. But …

J. T. Krul spends his first issue treading old ground. 1) Readers don’t need to be told that Raven has to keep her emotions in check. 2) Titans should have some romantic tension, but does it still have to Connor and Cassie? 3) The villain needs a motivation, which he doesn’t yet. He’s just a sketchy high school teacher.

The whole concept behind the Titans has always been family. You can see it in their villains: Deathstroke, Trigon, Blackfire. The list goes on. Use that to tell some stories. I’ve enjoyed Teen Titans the most when things are fresh. And no, killing off members does not count as fresh. Define the team and then shake some shit up. I want to like this book, but it needs to improve or it will stay on the shelf like it has since Johns left.

Thunderbolts #149Thunderbolts #149 by Jeff Parker and Declan Shalvey ****

This was an interesting way to do a tie-in series. In reality, it simply took advantage of the way things are in the Marvel U, instead of a specific book/event. The plot of Shadowland, that Daredevil is possessed by The Beast, does not factor in the story. The only related factor is that DD is using The Hand as his soldiers, which has been the case for over a year.

Between those fully reformed like Luke Cage, those trying their best like Songbird, and those who may never repent like Crossbones, Jeff Parker does a great job allowing his protagonists to show the many layers of evil. Parker also takes advantage of the above-mentioned status quo, using inhuman demon/ninja opponents. Of course, this allows his characters can truly let loose, which is always fun to see.

Declan Shalvey once again shows up on art. I assume the black dots within his inks are his doing as colorist Frank Martin has not used them on regular artist Kev Walker’s pages. They give a nice, idiosyncratic touch. That’s what you’ve got to do to stand out in this industry. I applaud it. I will, however admit that I am excited to see Walker back for the big 150th issue. Woot.

Sorry this was so late. Halloween’s a hell of a drug.

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.

The Shopping List 8-25-10

Hey all! Short list this week.

Black Widow #5Black Widow #5 by Marjorie Liu and Daniel Acuna***

It sucks that this book is going to be canceled. No, Marvel hasn’t said so, but let’s be honest. Marvel thought this would be a good book to have on the shelves post-Iron Man 2. Issue #3 didn’t even sell 20,000 copies; that’s about Marvel’s cancellation line for monthly 616 titles. Next month, Dwayne Swierczynski comes on as writer. I loved his Iron Fist, but his name doesn’t exactly set the charts on fire.

Disregarding the impending cancellation, I enjoy this book a lot. This is a book about spies. Liu’s characters are always two steps ahead of the reader, just like they should be. Cap and Wolverine show up for two good jokes. Widow is a character that does well on her own, but has cameos by the aforementioned Wolvie and Cap, but also Lady Bullseye. She’s been a part of the universe since 1964 and these appearances help show that.

I do have an issue with Imus Champion. Why does he want to kill Natasha? To hurt the Avengers? Why does he want to do that? Lex Luthor hates that Superman is an alien. I get that. Dr. Doom wants to rule the world. I get that. I never understand the bad guys who just want to hurt the hero. It doesn’t feel like enough.

Daniel Acuna’s art looks like no one else’s in the business, but not at the cost of storytelling. It’s an amazing skill that Natasha spends a third of the issue naked, but it never feels lascivious. Acuna’s art usually accompanies stories that are more out there like Klarion the Witch Boy or Inhumans, but I was pleased with it here.

Captain America #609Captain America #609 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice***

Is there a reason why Marvel is trying to push this book out as soon as possible? Are they trying to get the story to a certain point before the movie next year? Steve back as Cap maybe? Issue #608 only came out three weeks ago. But three inkers put work in on these 22 pages. Why? Butch Guice’s art is good, but it gets styled in three different ways. Three inking styles means three coloring styles (at least it should). It feels disjointed.

After spending nine pages to fight the new Beetle last month, Brubaker makes some big moves. Zemo uses some strange logic to lure Bucky out, but everything goes according to his plan. I give Bru a lot of credit for his treatment of Cap’s supporting cast. Steve Rogers, The Falcon, Black Widow, they all get a chance to do something worthwhile. Makes it even sadder that I’ve never enjoyed his team books. This book is one of the most consistently good books Marvel has right now.

X-Factor #208X-Factor #208 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino****

Peter David writes the best dialogue in superhero comics today. Hell, he may be the best writer in superhero comics today. He plants seeds that don’t bloom for years. He perfectly chooses the right characters for maximum conflict without altering their personalities. All of this and nothing ever feels forced. Rictor and Wolfsbane have sex. OK. Rictor and Shatterstar hook up. I’m still with you. Then, a year and half after Rahne leaves the team, she comes back, pregnant, walks in on the dudes and flips out. I love it. On a related note, Rahne admitted in issue 13 that she had dreams of eviscerating Jamie on his and an adult Layla’s wedding day. At the time, Layla was like 13. Almost 40 issues later, Layla comes back from the future, all grown up. That shows forward thinking, faith that a book will continue and just plain good ideas.

Emanuela Lupacchino is the umpteenth artist on this book, but she nails it. She may also be the first artist on the book whose Rhane looks good both in human and wolf form. I hope she sticks around.

Next month: Longshot in Vegas. Such a good idea.

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