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 3-2-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shopping List 2-9-11

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.

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

The Shopping List 1-12-11

A big week, with some of my favorite books. A couple first issues, but a distinct lack of creativity. I mentioned last week about how it’s easier to review bad books and that shows this week. Maybe you read it, but let’s be honest,

We Don't Get a Lot of Sightseers

None the less, I’m grateful for you, reader. So what was on the stack this week?

Daredevil: Reborn #1Daredevil: Reborn #1 by Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice **

This is a strange book. Matt Murdock, abandoning his post in Hell’s Kitchen, walks his way through Random Hicktown, USA. But there’s a big twist … NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS! OMG, Andy Diggle blew my mind with that. I had no idea there would be something bad going on in this strange desert town.

But a lack of originality is not the only problem here. Another is characterization. Murdock refuses to admit his blindness to just about everybody, even when it makes trouble for him. The locals don’t seem out of character; they have no character. They’re just stereotypical, one-dimensional violent rednecks. It all feels soulless.

I’m not familiar with Davide Gianfelice’s art. I only bought the first issue of Greek Street and I’ve never read Northlanders. This is the cleanest Daredevil‘s art has been since the Dodsons’ fill-in issues during Bendis’s run. From a bully’s tattoo to the Sheriff’s mustache, everything is more pronounced than Daredevil fans are accustomed too. Even Matt Hollingsworth’s colors are more saturated than ever.

If this was the first issue of a new series, I’d run far from the second issue. I should avoid books like this, not tell Marvel to make more like this by buying it. I wish I was stronger.

Heroes for Hire #2Heroes for Hire #2 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Brad Walker ****

Only two issues in, I can say that the emergence of Heroes for Hire will go down as the best part of Shadowland.

For the first time, I’m able to realize that I like an artist’s layouts, but not his actual art. From the extreme close-ups on Misty’s lips to wide shots showing an expansive morgue behind Paladin, Brad Walker places his camera at some great angles. But his people don’t look right, especially his females. His Silver Sable must be 60.

The book has one problem, but I’m not sure what it is yet. Choose Your Own Problem!:
Option 1) A lack of progress: The plot of last month’s issue got cleared up last month. Then we got hit with a bomb of a cliffhanger. That thread was only advanced by one page, this month’s cliffhanger. Abnett and Lanning may have something great planned for Puppet Master, so let’s see it. After all, he has to have some reason to want to stop these crimes. Perhaps to collect all the villainous items we see a la Scott Snyder’s recent Detective Comics?
Option 2) It’s repetitive. Perhaps this volume of Heroes for Hire will bypass longer arcs in favor of done-in-one stories with an overarching theme or threat. But in that case, this issue was too similar to the last. Threat pops up around the Marvel Universe, Misty calls a number of heroes in, each for a specific task until the day is saved.

The Infinite Vacation #1The Infinite Vacation #1 by Nick Spencer and Christian Ward **

Recently, I read a comic book about a new technology that allows you live a different life. It may be a little different that your current situation or wildly dissimilar. Whatever you want is possible, for a cost. As with any new technology, there’s also a group of rebels who are against the use of said technology. To go along with the story, there was some sketchy art with a lot of purposely imperfect color. And the first issue (and let’s say storyline) revolved around a murder mystery.

It was called The Surrogates.

Seriously? No one is going to acknowledge the similarities between these books?

I want to like Nick Spencer. Yes, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents didn’t wow me, but Morning Glories is great and his Jimmy Olsen work tells some fun short stories. But this is … meh. The previews had turned me off and I wasn’t even going to buy it, but it was in my subscription box so I gave it a shot.

The story itself, though not as original as it is being given credit for, is enjoyable. Dreaming of a change your life is the very definition of escapist fiction. Mark, our unhappy protagonist, is likable enough. He’s that guy with great ideas about where his life could take him, but with the ability to make those changes.

The art is where the book falls apart. Christian Ward’s pencils often resemble contour line drawings and the anatomy isn’t particularly strong. A bigger problem for me is the coloring. It’s a mix of watercolors and photoshop. With a rainbow across each page, there’s no focus. But the biggest offender, as many other reviewers seem to agree, is the expository sequence that explains how the Infinite Vacation process works. It’s done with photos. And not Greg Land photo-referencing either. Photos. It’s fummeti! Not my cup of tea, that’s for sure.

If a lack of originality was enough to make me avoid a book, I wouldn’t read enough to support this blog. Bad art can be enough though. And The Infinite Vacation can’t overcome some serious visual problems.

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I also picked up Spider-Man and Secret Six last week, but don;t have much to say other than they were good.

Talk soon. Bye.

The Shopping List 12-2-10 and 12-8-10

The Demon Returns!

Yes, I return. Man, I’m not getting back on time with these. To be fair, I spent last Wednesday through Saturday in Portland, OR. Great city. Visited some great shops: Cosmic Monkey Comics, Floating World Comics, Things from Another World. I also found the Oni Press and Dark Horse Comics offices. Nothing to see at Oni, but Dark Horse’s foyer has a life-size statue of Concrete that is totally creepy.

Well, better late than never. Here we go.

Shadowland #5Daredevil #512Shadowland: After the Fall #1Three-fer!!!
Shadowland #5
by Andy Diggle and Billy Tan **
Daredevil #512
by Andy Diggle, Antony Johnston, and Marco Checchetto ****
Shadowland: After the Fall #1 by Antony Johnston, Marco Checchetto and Roberto De La Torre ***

Oh no, Shadowland is over! What am I going to do with the money I’ve spent on these issues? Oh, right. Buy something better.

Shadowland goes out singing the same song it came in on. Too much action. Questionable plot. Inconsistent art ill-suited to the story. And since Marvel thought these three books were needed to wrap up the same plot points, I thought I should review them together.

After five issues of fisticuffs, Iron Fist uses his chi to heal Matt, who then pulls a Ed Norton on the Brad Pitt of a demon possessing him. Maybe they should have tried that 100 pages ago. It’s an idiot plot, plain and simple. The heroes then have a “Wow, that was crazy. WAIT! Where’s Matt?” moment. Where’s Matt? He’s in church. (Murdock’s religion is an interesting facet that’s most been ignored for the past decade. Hopefully, when he makes his return, it’ll be a bigger part of Daredevil’s character.) Another outgoing sequence involves Kingpin taking control of Shadowland and unlocking Typhoid Mary’s DUN DUN DUH secret fourth personality! Stupid.

This last issue of Daredevil acts as an epilogue, setting up each of the characters going forward. It’s not a bad book, but no more than perfunctory. It’s the sort of wrap issue that needs to be published to wrap up/launch stories, rather than tell a story on its own. Foggy is loyal to the end (and beyond). The Kingpin does anything to get what he wants. Dakota North always has more knowledge and skills than anyone thinks. Diggle and Johnston know the characters.

Isn’t it about time Foggy gets some character growth? The only time he’s really interesting is when he finally snaps and yells at Matt for being an ass. Let’s give him a girlfriend, a new job, some sort of life away from Matt. Now that Murdock is out of the spotlight, this is Foggy’s chance, but in what book? Black Panther’s taking over the Daredevil numbering and I don’t know who his supporting cast will be. And yes, I’m still bitter that Panther and not Gambit is becoming The Man Without Fear. No matter how many issues they shoehorn him into, declaring his new position, nothing has helped it seem less arbitrary.

As I said, Daredevil #512 served as an epilogue. Matt and his supporting cast have all been shaken up and placed back home. So what does this leave for Shadowland: After the Fall? Much of the same, but focusing on Ben Urich and Detective Kurtz. Each is tasked with finding Matt  Murdock, despite the fact that it was never proven he’s Daredevil and that they don’t want to find him in the first place. The issue is told in clashing first-preson narrations, much like Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman. For the most part, it works. The issue’s best scene involves a Murdock monologue in the form of a confessional micro-cassette left for Urich. Matt knows he screwed up and rather than take the weight on his shoulders like he’s always done, he admits “Daredevil’s no good for me anymore.” After that, we can flash back to last page of Daredevil #512: Matt walking on a desert road, a cook without a kitchen.

Along with colorists Matt Hollingsworth and Morry Hollowell, Marco Checchetto and Roberto de la Torre turn in some nice pages. The foursome make Daredevil and After the Fall moody, but not overly dark. Telling a gloomy story in the four-color word of comics is an interesting task. It’s like the chapter of Gotham Central that featured the Teen Titans. Simply muting colors can ground even the most fantastic elements. This is where Shadowland proper failed. Whether his work was colored by Christina Strain or Guru eFx, Billy Tan’s work on the book was too bright. Hell’s Kitchen is a dark place. The book deals with ninjas and evil spirits. It is no place for bright spandex.

Detective Comics #871Detective Comics #871 by Scott Snyder, Jock and Francesco Francavilla ****

I know this came out two weeks ago, but I just bought it. It’s been a few big weeks and I have a small budget. Reviews were positive, so I picked it up this week. I’m glad I did.

Snyder’s inspiration for his run was the idea that Gotham is a black mirror. Its criminals are dark reflections of its hero: Two-Face is a reflection of Bruce’s dual nature, Joker the opposite of Bruce’s rules and boundaries. So, with Dick Grayson under the cowl, how will Gotham respond? Hearing that, I was hooked.

Snyder’s first issue doesn’t drop any revelations on you, but it is a solid read. Snyder gives a more unique personality in 22 pages than Grant Morrison did in 6 issues of Batman and Robin, and it’s easy to see why – the amount of time spent outside of the costume. We care about the hero because we care about the person under the mask. No personality under the mask, no drama. Dick spends time with Alfred and my boy Commissioner Gordon, making his mark on the legacy.

Speaking of the Commish, Snyder also writes a back-up tale starring Gordon. It’s mostly set-up, and hinges on a reveal of his son James. I have no idea who James is. Because of that, the story has no impact on me. Oh well.

As effective (or not) as these stories are, most people will be fixated on the art. Jock (on the Batman story) and Francesco Francavilla (Commissioner Gordon) have widely disparate styles, but both are enjoyable.

Jock relies on the jagged images he used on The Losers and his Batwoman issues of Detective Comics with Greg Rucka. Because this issue does not feature any of the classic Batman baddies, and I’ve never seen him draw Batman, this looks like Jock designing the book from scratch instead of using the work of others as a starting point. It’s truly his. Thumbs up.

Francesco Francavilla is a new name to me. If Sean Phillips only drew in a widescreen format, it would look an awful lot like this. Frankie also colors his own art, setting the tone by bathing entire scenes in oranges and blues. Simple, creepy art. I’m bummed that his current work is on the aforementioned Black Panther: The Man Without Fear. Not even his art can make me pick up an unproven book like that.

Flash #7Flash #7 by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins ***

Geoff Johns is a good writer with a bad tendency. He feels the need for aspect of a story to fit its theme. That theme is then used to bash us over the head. WE GET IT! BOOMERANGS COME BACK AND SO DO THE BAD THINGS IN LIFE! Not clever. Be smarter. A villain has daddy issues? That’s just fucked out. We hate it when heroes have overused origins, why are rogues any different? All this said, Identity Crisis is the only exposure I’ve had to Boomerang, so a full background is appreciated.

Francis Manapul gets the month off with Scott Kolins taking his place. I’ve been reading though Johns’ first run and Kolins art is great. The pages can have anywhere from one to eight panels, but each of those panels is packed with information. All that is only display here, but something is not quite right – it looks like a bastard son of Manapul. Kolins attempts the soft geometry that the book has had so fa, but should just stick to his own style. Also, for the past six issues, I’ve been in love with Brian Buccellato’s colors. He gave a painterly quality to Manapul’s art. He does the same here, but it doesn’t work as well here. Much like some of Simone Bianchi’s art, the shading becomes dark too easily. To be fair, I have heard artists complain about printed books being darker than they planned. I must judge the book on the book though, and it can be an eyesore.

“What Goes Around, Comes Around” is a bit of a speedbump (sorry). Hopefully next issue’s Reverse Flash spotlight won’t be reverse good.

Heroes for Hire #1Heroes for Hire #1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Brad Walker ****

A local store gave out free copies of the Heroes for Hire book that came out around Civil War. That edition never took off, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it wasn’t that good. Lucky for us readers, Abnett and Lanning take the idea of employable vigilantes and make Marvel’s newest non-team a great read.

Heroes for Hire is like a football game without any downtime. No penalty flags, no timeouts, just bone-crushing hits and 50-yard bombs. As Control’s (Misty Knight’s) personal hit squad, a variety of characters including Falcon, Black Widow and Moon Knight swoop in, have a great moment and swoop out. Finally, someone (both character and writers) focuses on each character’s specialties, rather than taking the chaff with the wheat.

Speaking of chaff, Brad Walker is on art duties. In Guardians of the Galaxy, he made Rocket Raccoon look like a rabid dog. Here, he makes Natasha Romanova look like a man. An ugly man. He puts some nice emotion in his faces though; Falcon looks like he’s truly having fun, grinning that he knows who’s behind all this. It’s strange, but it’s like he’s learning to draw backwards. He’s got the subtlety down, but he needs to work on his basic faces.

Teasers and covers suggest we’ll see more cameos in the future by the likes of Iron Fist and Ghost Rider. Perhaps DnA can make me interested in Rider for the first time. I’ll be back to find out, at least for issue #2.

Secret Six #28Secret Six #28 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ***

I say but what I have said before. Secret Six is great. J. Calafiore is a good artist, but this is all Gail Simone. She comes up with crazy plots and her characters bounce of each other in completely logical ways to great comic effect, much like Peter David does in X-Factor. Nothing new here. I don’t care that I couldn’t follow the final Skartaris climax, it’s about the characters. Ragdoll, Black Alice and even Giganta each get their chance to shine.

Plot-wise, I’m interested to see how many of the remaining members of Bane’s team stick around in service to Amanda Waller. Suicide Squad is a book I’ve never read, but really need to track down. It seems we could be inching closer to that book’s idea. As long as Simone is around, I will be too.