Fear Itself or Much Ado About Nothing

Bucky Got Killed, but Don't Worry

I wish I was friends with Matt Fraction. Then we could have conversations like this:

BELLS: “Oh man. You killed Bucky!”
FRACTION: “Yeah, I was honored that Ed let me do that. But he agreed, it was the right time. Hell, it was his idea.”
BELLS: “That’s cool. But I guess there weren’t really enough pages to really let the moment hit.”
FRACTION: “Just wait til the series is over. We’re going to have a whole issue for his funeral.”
BELLS: “Oh. That’s alright then. Still sucks to see such an interesting character go away.”
FRACTION: “Can you keep a secret?”
BELLS: “Uh yeah?”
FRACTION: “Don’t worry about it. He not really dead. It’s a fake funeral and he’s going to get his own series.”
BELLS: “Oh … cool. I guess. Bucky underground. I can live with that”
FRACTION: “Yeah. Ed’s gonna kill on that book. Back to the espionage stuff.”
BELLS: “Aw, I love that stuff! But, I have to admit … I’ve been lukewarm on Iron Man lately. I think you’ve been doing great with Pepper, but I find Tony melodramatic. I want to see the gravity of him giving up sobriety, and I’m sure as an alcoholic yourself, it’s a personal story, but … him drunk and shouting at Odin? Too much. And the cursing Ugnaughts? Not my favorite.”
FRACTION: “Sorry, but I hope you stick around. Good stuff coming up. Everything has been building to this. Ever since … The Order maybe.”
BELLS: “Yeah, I’m sure there will be some serious shit to come out the mess in Paris. I mean, DAMN! The whole city is in rubble!”
FRACTION: “Actually, I wanted to get back to Zeke Stane and the Mandarin.”
BELLS: “But Paris is like top 25 worldwide in population. That’s a serious blow. Like, to the world.”
FRACTION: “Don’t worry about it. Tony’s going to guilt Odin into fixing it. Again, keep that on the DL.”
BELLS: “Fixing it?”
FRACTION: “Yeah. He’s a god. He can do anything.”
BELLS: “Well, alright. I admit that I didn’t finish reading the main Fear Itself book, but I heard you killed Thor. You write him monthly. Wow. I must admit I didn’t see that coming.”
FRACTION: “Don’t worry about it. He’s Thor. Ragnarok, Rebirth, Repeat.”
BELLS: “So not dead.”
FRACTION: “Yeah, he’s dead.”
BELLS: “But not for long.”
FRACTION: “Really not for long. We’re already soliciting issues with him in them.”
BELLS: “So … after a long line of events that changed the Marvel U status quo, like House of M, Civil War, Secret Invasion, what’s really changed because of Fear Itself?”
FRACTION: “Well … the Serpent broke Cap’s shield.”
BELLS: “Yeah, I heard about that. Broke it like a stale Dorito. Nice”
FRACTION: “Yeah, but don’t worry …”

END SCENE

I dropped the series after issue four. It seems like I made the right decision. Not my cup of tea.

If you’re wondering about that knack for dialogue, yes, I did major in Theater in college. No big deal.

That’s Not What I Meant – Matt Fraction on Shared Characters

Series Down

I’ve done a couple “That’s What I’m Talking About” articles in the past. When I saw a creator or comics pro saying something I wholeheartedly agree with. Well, meet the ugly stepsister. I don’t often get too upset about creators with differing ideas, but …

So … I dropped off of Fear Itself after issue four. I just wasn’t enjoying it. Some people see Nazi Death Robots and go all in. I thought it was Fraction smashing action figures together with no real consequence, other than Bucky’s death, which was a throwaway. Even Tony Stark “sacrificing” his sobriety seemed like a joke to me.

But I’ve flipped through subsequent issues and continued buying some of the tie-ins, so I have the general idea. The blogs have been talking all about Thor saying “ass” and Spider-Man giving up, that these things were out of character. Which led to Fraction’s quote in a recent Comics Alliance interview.

MF: I just did an interview on Fear Itself #5, and it’s gone from having questions to being told, now, that Thor wouldn’t say “ass.” Thor isn’t real. My Thor doesn’t talk like Stan [Lee]’s Thor and his Thor didn’t talk like [J. Michael Straczynzki]’s Thor, and his Thor didn’t talk like Walter [Simonson]’s Thor. Everybody’s Thor talks differently. Also, being told that Spider-Man wouldn’t leave. Spider-Man, who has single-handedly kept the costume-shaped trash can industry afloat in the Marvel Universe. Spider-Man, who has quit numerous times.

I don’t think he gets it. Yes, these characters are based on the words and actions that their creators give them, and they can evolve, but it’s the consistency of those words and actions that make us want to read about these characters. Steve Rogers isn’t defined by his shield. He’s defined by his bravery, by his sense of right and wrong, by his slightly outdated way of life, by his refusal to give up. No leader, whether high school football coach or military general should ever tell his troops, “I think we’re going to lose.” That’s not Steve Rogers.

And someone can easily come back with, “But he did! Look how extreme this situation is that even Captain America lost hope!” But that’s you can say that about anything, so it’s bullshit.

No, these characters won’t speak the same way forever. Everyone hears them differently, so everyone would write them differently. Think about your group of friends. There are things that each of them would and would not do. They have a consistency that let’s you appreciate them. Without consistency, there is no character.

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 5-11-11

There are some unexpected benefits in reviewing comics for Bells’ Kitchen. First, I end up reading the books twice. I read first on Wednesday and then again when I sit down to write my review. I pick up so much that I didn’t noticed the first time around. I also recognize when I’m not enjoying a book. If a book keeps getting two star reviews, it’s time to drop it. I may not always want to sit down and write, Comfort in These PagesIt’s something that is always there. It forces me to practice writing. Now, I can put it on a resume as a giant writing sample. I don’t have many friends who read comics, so it also gets my ideas out of my head. It’s nice. Enough taking. Here’s the books.

Daredevil: Reborn #4Daredevil: Reborn by Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice ****

I’ve had some real complaints about Andy Diggle’s work on Daredevil: Reborn but it goes out with a truly enjoyable issue.

My favorite sequence of the book was the one with Matt Murdock talking to the blind boy. The kid’s “Quit sayin’ your sorry!” speech is really well done, pointing out how much heroes are focused on galactic problems, but ignore small ones. This issue shows what Superman should be doing on his walk across America.

The action sequence was also a nice surprise. I’ve often seen people use their enemy’s weapons against, them but heroin as a weapon? Only in Daredevil: Reborn.

So yeah, the writing finally got to the level I expected from Diggle. Too bad that this issue ends his run.

I really liked Davide Gianfelice’s art on this series. It acts as a nice transition from the Maleev/Lark/De La Torre days to the upcoming Rivera/Martin days. Of course, Billy Tan will always be out of place, but that’s Shadowland for you. I hope Gianfelice sticks around.

My only issue with the book is the final pages. I know it’s necessary to start Mark Waid’s run, but Foggy seems too quick to forgive Matt for a bunch of the shit that’s gone down. Even if Matt has faced his fears and is ready to move forward, I’m not sure everyone else is.

Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt #1Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt #1 by Sean McKeever and Mike Norton ***

And so starts the deluge of Fear Itself tie-ins.

Any reader knows how much I like teen books, so between the cast and Sean McKeever’s name, this was a guaranteed buy.

The cast is also the strength of the book. We get members from The Initiative, Young Allies, and even The Order. No one gets that much time, but it’s nice to see a varied cast, especially with characters that are so underexposed.

I do have a problem with the timing of this book. Because of the release schedule, we haven’t seen this much hysteria in the main Fear Itself title. I don’t really understand why this is going on. I can’t tell if this “fear” is just a reaction to the hammers falling or something supernatural coming from the Serpent and all that. The Blitzkrieg USA would have been a sufficient inciting incident, but that happens 16 pages into the book. Thor Girl (still a terrible name) gets attacked for having a hammer, but we don’t even know who’s getting each of the hammers, let alone really see anyone use them. How does the public know to fear her? In another schedule issue (though not a problem), Gravity makes a comment about “Poor Nomad.” So … what happened? She was alive in Avengers Academy #13 (or will that take place previous to Onslaught Unleashed on continuity is established?).

Speaking of Gravity, he and Firestar have quickly become the hottest will they/won’t they of comics. I’m sure they will and can’t wait until they do. Let’s hope they get some sort of book where they get the chance.

Mike Norton is a chameleon of an artist. I’ve heard him speak about often aping the style of the artist before him. Is this Norton’s personal style, then? It’s good. Nothing special, but good. Something about Prodigy’s costume makes him look villainous to me. Maybe it’s the sharp metal. Maybe that you can’t see any of his face. Maybe the prominence of orange.

I realize I’ve said a lot of nothing in this review, but mostly this issue is concerned with setting up the story. I can’t until the cast building is finished and this book really gets going.

Flash #12The Flash #12 by Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins and Francis Manapul **

It may have been four issues, but not much happened in this arc. Hell, it’s been 12 issues, and not much has happened in this series. This issue starts with too quickly finishing a couple of plots, then we get two pages of epilogue and – BOOM – we’re off to Flashpoint.

As the name might suggest, “The Road to Flashpoint” is more about plot than its characters. Yes, last month’s intervention was all about Barry Allen’s relationships with his friends, but the more important parts of this story were all event and no fallout. Hot Pursuit never gets a chance to be a real character. He’s a plot in the form of a man. Bad. The same with Patty Spivot. If the book needed a crime scene analyst, Johns couldn’t have pulled one from the force? It’s nice that he pulled someone from the past, but her drama with Barry is more distraction than plot. There could have been a real story there, but it’s cut off so Flashpoint can start.

If anyone thinks I’ve been overly critical of Scott Kolins art, just read this issue. The difference between his and Manapul’s pages is ridiculous. The inking is so dark and heavy on Kolins’ pages. Are dark and heavy EVER words you want to associate with Flash? No.

I’m sure we’ll have a Flash book of some sort after Flashpoint, but looking back on these 12 issues, this series has been a disappointment. Not much has happened in the life of Barry Allen. He’s back, but done nothing that Wally West couldn’t have done. Manapul’s glorious art has often been substituted by Scott Kolins. Between rolling out of Blackest Night and into Flashpoint, The Flash was just too distracted to tell great speedster stories. Sad.

Flashpoint #1Flashpoint #1 by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert ****

The Flash may not have done a great job setting up this story, but here it is. Remember how House of M didn’t place you in that world until issue #2? No such problem here. By setting everything up in Flash, we get dropped right in. It doesn’t make Flash any more enjoyable, but it’s better this way.

Alternate reality stories and big events are both great times to try to push a character to the A-list. Here, Johns pulls his boy Cyborg out of the Teen Titans and into the spotlight. I also like the idea of Citizen Cold (a heroic Captain Cold), but it seems he’s still got a dark side. It’s also nice to see Wonder Woman in such an important role. She’s been too ignored by events recently. Element Woman, seeming like a hero version of Delirium, is primed to be my breakout character of the series.

Since I got into comics, I haven’t read much by Andy Kubert. Because of that, I see his art as DC house style, mostly because of the Jim Lee similarities. I’m not accusing him of aping his style; I know they came up together. And besides, Jim Lee’s great. That’s why he’s Jim Lee. It’s just disappointing to see more of the same.

For such a different universe, the cliffhanger is not as big as I’d like. So Batman is Thomas Wayne. Whatever. He’s Batman. Same motivations, just more violent. Again, whatever. Give me reason to be invested in this world, not one character.

Overall, It’s a good start. I can already see the in-universe conflict as well as the problem Barry Allen is going to have getting back to his reality. Let’s go!

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 4-6-11

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

Ragdoll Elvis

I just like that panel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Do Say So

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally! an enjoyable issue of Daredevil Reborn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dig it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kev Walker rules. ‘Nuff said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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