The Shopping List 2-9-11

Hey everyone! How are you? I’m pretty goo–

Barry Allen and I Are Late

I was … see cuz the other time? See cuz it had rained. No, seriously. It was my birthday. It was Valentine’s day. I was celebrating. I’m allowed aren’t I?

Flash #9Flash #9 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul ***

Manapul is back on Flash and I couldn’t be more excited. Between his return and the book getting back into multi-part stories, we’re back to the feeling we got from “The Dastardly Death of Rogues.”

For the past two issues, I’ve complained about Brian Buccellatto’s colors. They didn’t feel right on Scott Kolins, but on Manapul’s lines, they are perfect. It gives an old-timey almost Rockwell feel. Knowing how much Tim Sale is influenced by Rockwell, I wonder what Buccellatto would do to his art. (Sorry Dave Stewart.) There’s not much action in this issue. It’s not exciting, but damn it’s pretty.

Flash has traded its “Brightest Day” banner for a “The Road to Flashpoint” one and wastes no time getting into it. The bulk of the book involves Barry Allen investigating a dead body. It seems that The Elongated Kid (really?) had rapidly aged before death. It could be chalked up to another time-travel murder mystery, but that storyline is book-ended by the arrival of new character Hot Pursuit searching for Barry. Under the helmet, he’s a character known to all Flash readers. We don’t get any details, but we’re barreling towards “the single greatest time anomaly to even threaten reality.” Johns may put too much hyperbole in his writing, but I’m in for the ride.

Heroes for Hire #3Heroes for Hire #3 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Brad Walker ***

I’m enjoying a book whose main character is Paladin. I say again, I’m enjoying a book whose main character is Paladin. I’m as surprised as you are.

Abnett and Lanning have switched the characters each month, giving a good interpretation of each until this issue. Danny Rand shows up, no surprise in a book called Heroes for Hire, but he’s really combative and reluctant to help, even when Misty’s name is dropped. Not very heroic. Not very Danny. It all seems like fitting him into a round hole for the purpose of the (again, forced) closing line.

I’m coming around on Brad Walker’s work. It isn’t any prettier, but at least it’s consistent. His Misty Knight isn’t attractive, but she’s consistently unattractive. I can live with that.

Jurassic Park continues its influence on comics. This is fourth book I can think of in about two months to include a battle with a dinosaur. You’d think was 1994.

Last month I wondered if Heroes for Hire would be too repetitive. This issue says yes. Misty uses a number of heroes to piece-meal a mission together. It’s fun, but each issue feels too slight. I want something bigger.

Onslaught Unleashed #1Onslaught Unleashed #1 by Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade ****

Comics can interest people for a variety of reasons. The character. The writer. The artist. So why would I buy Onslaught Unleashed?

Onslaught? No. I wasn’t into comics at the time, but the Onslaught Saga sounds bloated and very bad 90’s comics.
The Secret Avengers? Sure. Brubaker didn’t impress me, but Steve Rogers? Black Widow? Beast? These are some of my favorite characters.
The Young Allies? Of course. My favorite book of 2010.
Sean McKeever? From The Waiting Place to Allies, absolutely. He’s now a name I follow.
Filipe Andrade? Well … no.

Well, that’s 60% positive going into the book. How did it fare?

Pretty well. Despite Onslaught’s presence, it feels like the continuation of threads from Young Allies and the Nomad backups from Captain America. I was wondering if/where these stories, such as El Dragón would be addressed, so its nice to see they have not been lost, dropped or canceled. Of course, the threat here is bigger than Rikki or the Allies can handle, so her mentors, Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff take over.

McKeever impressed here. Onslaught Unleashed is a natural evolution of the story, giving reason for the team-up, without the played-out team vs. team battle. He writes established characters like Best and Ant-Man just as well as those he created.

Filipe Andrade’s art is much like that seen in the Nomad backups. It’s … fine. I can tell characters apart and he does some nice storytelling bits, but his characters are too jagged. Hell, Gravity could stab someone with his chin. I wonder how this series would look with David Baldeon or Humberto Ramos (who supplied the cover) on art duties. I wanto give some points to colorist Ricardo Tercio. Whether it’s the greens of the facility or the magentas of the Onslaught machine, each scene gets its own palette, expertly setting the tone.

The art holds it back, but for three more issues, Onslaught Unleashed is a book I will look forward too.

Amazing Spider-Man #653Amazing Spider-Man #654Amazing Spider-Man #653-654 by Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente and Stefano Caselli **

Sophomore slump. That’s the only way I can think about “Revenge of the Spider-Slayer.” Compared to Dan Slott’s first “Big Time” arc, we’ve got an unsympathetic villain, flat dialogue, dull art, and a lack of Peter Parker’s personal life.

Taken on their own, any of these factors would be OK, but together they’re just a disappointment. Let’s go down the line.

  1. Alistair Smythe is boring. You stole my dad. You ruined my life. Blah blah. Who cares? And the return of the Scorpion? Who cares? Spider-Man has the second best villains in comics because they have interesting personalities: Green Goblin and his mental instability, Doc Ock and his inventor’s drive, the new Hobgoblin and his dark-side-of-the-spider personality. Smythe and Gargan don’t have anything to hang their hats on.
  2. For these two issues, Fred Van Lente has scripted over Dan Slott’s story. I’ve never been a fan of Van Lente’s writing and these issues are show why. Characters don’t speak naturally; they speak in plot points. Van Lente even uses a number of though balloons. Thought balloons! One of the most inelegant methods of comics writing.
  3. I loved Stefano Caselli’s work on Avengers: The Initiative, but something doesn’t work here. It’s over-detailed and over-rendered. And issue 654, with its nighttime climax, is very dark. No the fun BIG TIME Spider-Man we got with Ramos.
  4. This issue is action action action. The biggest emotional hit is on J. Jonah Jameson. Peter hasn’t really learned or changed or gone on a journey. I don’t like that.

We’ve got #654.1 next, launching the new Venom book (interest level: low) then the glorious Marcos Martin! I had the highest excitement for Martin when this “Big Time” status quo was announced. So far, Ramos gets a thumbs up, Caselli gets a thumbs down and I can’t wait to see where Martin goes.

X-Factor #215X-Factor #215 by Peter David and Valentine De Landro

Some quick scene setting: I love it when heroes use their powers in non-combative ways. Sue and Johnny Storm creating personal umbrellas in Civil War? Love it. Madrox creating a dupe so he can interview a client and her accused at the same time? It just makes sense. Think of how fast you could finish your chores if you could send a copy of yourself to do each task.

With X-Factor #215, Peter David uses another spotlight issues to focus on the real linchpins of the series – Jamie Madrox and Layla Miller. The story itself is a whodunit, which is solved fairly simply. But, as always, it comes down to the characters.

Some history: Back in issue #10, cover date October 2006, Layla Miller referenced her and Jamie’s wedding night. He had just slept with Siryn and Monet (separately, though still, lucky dude [again, think of how awesome duplicates are]), so he sort of brushed it off.  In issue #28 (April 2008), we saw Rahne’s terrible vision of the future – her killing Jamie and Layla on their wedding night (this vision was given by Damian Tryp to Rahne in issue #12). In issue #40 (April 2009), we see a Layla from the future, all grown up. Making their marriage a lot less creepy. In #50 (December 2009), Layla returns to our timeline. Now, with the April 2011 issue, we get another step – the proposal. This is more than four years of comics following one thread. I love it.

Not much to say about the issue itself, other than that De Landro toned down the shadows in his art to great improvement. It’s a lot clearer and his people are more attractive. I hope he keeps it up.

__

I know this was late. And the reviews for last week’s books are already late. They will come.

The Shopping List 1-19-11

Hey kids! How y’all been? Thanks for coming over. I’ve gotten some nice traffic over the past month. Not a day has gone by where I haven’t had at least one visitor. That may not mean a lot to some people, but it’s nice to know that someone’s reading what I write. That said, if you’re the boy or girl who found Bells’ Kitchen by searching for “spider man and the black cat sex image” or “spiderman sexcomic,” I want you to take your computer and …

Tigra thinks you're a pervert.

I’m sure you’ll be able to find your porn somewhere, but it ain’t gonna be here. Thanks. To the books!

Avengers Academy #8Avengers Academy #8 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone ****

Tigra’s never been an interesting character to me. In her old Avengers days, she was all come-ons and purrs. Even when Bendis had the Hood beat her like a tiger-skin rug, I didn’t see much personality in her. Christos Gage has now fixed that. Her reaction to the possibility of the video of her beating going public is very believable and I’m glad to see some follow-up on what could have just been an exercise in building up a villain.

It’s also interesting to see the kid’s reaction. They can give any motivation they want, but by confronting the Hood, they’re getting revenge for their teacher. It’s an odd way to show her respect, but it’s there. Huge respect for Christos Gage for tackling the “Was this a sexual assault” issue. And it love that it’s Hazmat, another female, that points out that it isn’t. Switch the gender of Tigra and it isn’t even a question. If we’re going to treat female heroes the same as males, sometimes the ladies are going to be assaulted. I’m really impressed with Gage’s handling of this.

Mike McKone is back this issue, but turns in a mixed bag. His figures look great, but there are some extreme and some subtle emotions in these pages, and he doesn’t hit all of them. Some faces look great, others don’t match their context. Next month will be McKone’s last on the book, with Tom Raney and personal favorite Sean Chen coming up. We’ll see where this all takes us.

And a little “I’m retarded” kudos to Mike McKone this week. It took me eight issue before I noticed the biohazard symbol in Hazmat’s suit. I thought I had an eye for detail, but I’m retarded.

Invincible Iron Man #500Invincible Iron Man #500 by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, Kano, Nathan Fox and Carmine Di Giandomenico *****

Last month, we had Invincible Iron Man #33. Imagine what issue #34 would be like. Now imagine the book wasn’t renumbering and issue #500 came out some 40 years from today. Put those two issues together and Matt Fraction and a quartet of artists give you the best issue of the series for far.

It’s a very clever issue, showing how the present affects the future without being another time-travel story. Fraction gets to do some world building, giving Tony not only a son, but also a granddaughter. Much like the Immortal Weapons, Ginny Stark is a character I would love to read a one-shot or even miniseries about.

The issue also gueststars Spider-Man. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read the Sensational Spider-Man Annual Fraction did with Larocca a few years back, but Fraction writes a great Spider-Man. With Peter spouting off lines like “My therapist said beating up teenagers is good for my self-esteem,” it’s good times. I have no desire to see Dan Slott leave Amazing, but I bet Fraction could write some sweet back-ups.

This massive issue features four artist over its 56 pages. Larocca’s pages are standard fare. I’ve often complained about his character’s faces. Hidden behind a mask, his Spider-Man is outstanding.

Fresh off the Mandarin-focused Invincible Iron Man Annual, Carmine Di Giandomenico reprises his role here on the Manadrin/Tony pages. His art needs the right setting, like the Battlin’ Jack Murdock miniseries and yes, the Mandarin. He’s great.

I’m not as hot on Nathan Fox’s pages, which focus on Howard Stark II. They’re cluttered and messy in that Paul Pope way. These are new characters, which can be hard to identify, but the biggest problem is the coloring. The panels don’t have enough contrast and it’s very hard for your eyes to focus or flow through the panels easily.

My artistic hero of the issue is Kano. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his sequence, that of Ginny Stark, is my favorite. His thin lines and simple figures give you the essential information without bogging you down in details like Fox does. I’ve liked his work on Gotham Central and Iron Fist. I only hope his work impressed Marvel as much as it did me.

I want to do a little geek math here. If Howard Stark II is going to be 41 in 41 years, he needs to be born this year. I can’t believe that Fraction didn’t do the math in his head, so should we start expecting a Pepper Potts pregnancy? On another picky note, how is Howard the second? He could be Anthony the second, but Howard? That’s not how Jr.’s and III’s work.

Invincible Iron Man #500 is a great issue of a great series. All you need is the base man-in-a-metal-suit knowledge to follow along. I loved this issue and beg you to give it a shot.

Morning Glories #6Morning Glories #6 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ***

Morning Glories #6 issue is a bit of an odd duck. Only six issues in and Nick Spencer has the confidence to write an entire issue without any of the kids. Instead, this issue is more focused on building the mystery of Morning Glory Academy. It sure is a curveball. It gives some information, though not necessarily answers, about that spinning cylinder in the academy basement and suggests the possibility of time travel. The ideas in this book are still growing. It’s nice to see and keeps me coming back. Spencer has always said that he knows this series all the way to the end. It’ll be fun to review where we’ve been every couple arcs to see the seeds that were planted right in front of our eyes. For now, I’m content with his hints and smart dialogue.

This issue doesn’t give Joe Eisma anything too exciting to draw, he holds his own. With an ever-expanding cast and without iconic costumes, it can be difficult to keep everyone in a new comic straight. Luckily, Eisma’s pencils have the level of consistency a book like this needs.

With a new arc starting next month and a new lower price point, this is as good a time as any to get on board Morning Glories.

Scarlet #4Scarlet #4 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev **

Four issues and 16 dollars into Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s newest venture, I’m done. The idea of a female Punisher-in-development is interesting, but there’s not enough here. Months ago, Bendis commented this issue would be a game-changer. I don’t see it.

Bendis’s noble idea about this whole series – breaking the fourth wall – just amounts to first-person narration, but with the speaker facing the audience. No quite the “I can see you!” from Morrison’s Animal Man.

Another problem is that I don’t buy the inaction of the police force. No one lets Frank Castle run the streets because they’re afraid his arrest will incite a riot. The noble cops, whom she said are safe, should be able to take her down without fear. That’s what a good cop would do. To give credit where it’s due, I appreciate Scarlet’s mom a whole bunch. That’s a real character with rational feelings and reactions.

On the art side, Scarlet doesn’t fare any better. I know Maleev uses models and I know he mainly does his art digitally. But this may be the worst I’ve seen from him. Look at the conversation between Scarlet and Brandon halfway through the issue. It’s my favorite sequence, but it’s marred by ugly art. Brandon’s expressions range from confusion to nausea. His stubble comes and goes. The only culprit I can think is over-reliance on his photos. And the splotchy coloring is just ugly.

These are two high-level talents, but they’re not giving me enough. I gave it a shot, but I’m done with this book.

Amazing Spider-Man #652Amazing Spider-Man #652 by Dan Slott and Stefano Caselli, Fred Van Lente and Reilly Brown

I debated not reviewing Amazing Spider-Man for the second week in a row. Since this “Big Time” era started, the book has been consistently good. Combine that with a biweekly schedule and I’m left with very little to say.

The biggest change this issue comes from a switch in artist. For the second “Big Time” arc, Stefano Caselli picks up his pencil. Slott and Caselli had great chemistry on Avengers: The Initiative, and this is no different. His work is less exaggerated than Humberto Ramos’ was, but there’s a lot to like. Peter may look a bit off in his fruit boots, but there’s not much I like more than a roller derby gal.

Dan Slott and company take great advantage of Amazing‘s ever-changing back up pages. In the past few issues, Alistair Smythe, the Scorpion and Smythe’s insect army were built up, which means this month they can take center stage without spending pages on set-up. The foundation has already been laid. This time, Fred Van Lente and Reilly Brown use the pages to build up the Looter as well as the new Power Man. Expect these two to enter the main story some time soon.

Another artist, another story, but Amazing Spider-Man keeps on truckin’.

X-Factor #214X-Factor #214 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino ***

About six months ago, Gail Simone wrote a cowboy-centric done-in-one issue of Secret Six. Now it’s Peter David turn.

After becoming some sort of death god and leaving the team last issue, Darwin gets drunk off a cactus, fights a dragon, stumbles onto an old movie set, and gets shot by Rahne’s son. Yeahbuhwhat? You just gotta read it.

It’s a nice western tale drawn gorgeously by Emanuela Lupacchino. I can easily see her career taking a path similar to Nicola Scott. Scott was so good on Birds of Prey and Secret Six that she got moved up to the big leagues. Or, you know, whatever level Titans is these days. I don’t know how they found her, but she’s a real talent.

If you had told me five years ago that I’d be reading an issue starring Darwin that takes place in an old west setting, I wouldn’t have believed you. Moreover, I wouldn’t believe you that I’d enjoy it this much. But, here we are. From Brubaker’s Deadly Genesis to Uncanny X-Men and now X-Factor, our boy Armando has been through a lot. I don’t know how this will all fit into the larger X-Factor picture, but in PAD I trust.