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.

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 4-20-11

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

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

You want writing advice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Do Say So

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally! an enjoyable issue of Daredevil Reborn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dig it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kev Walker rules. ‘Nuff said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shopping List 2-23-11

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

Zoe Doesn't Know

You’ll just have to read and see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no words. Just buy it.

The Shopping List 2-2-11

After hitting 50 posts last week, Bells’ Kitchen hit another milestone: 500 visits! Yay! People are reading what I write. That’s all I want.Six Secret Things I Want

Invincible Iron Man #500.1Invincible Iron Man #500.1 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca *****

Matt Fraction is writing one of, if not the, best Iron Man runs ever. But, as much fun as I’ve had reading “World’s Most Wanted” and “Stark Resilient,” these one shot issues are killer.

On a recent episode of Word Balloon, Fraction described Tony Stark as an alcoholic that doesn’t go to meetings. But in this issue, he does. Reaching another anniversary of his sobriety, Tony find his local Friends of Bill W meeting and tells his story. Sort of. Being Iron Man, he can’t get into particulars, but Salvador Larroca’s art fills in the pronouns of Tony’s bird’s-eye view history. It’s a perfect use of the comics medium, letting the art tell the story that the words don’t (or can’t).

Marvel’s Point One initiative, of which this is one of the first issues, aims to pull in new readers with accessible, standalone stories. It’s a good story, but I wonder just how accessible this is to a new reader. They may not understand the significance of some panels as regular readers do. Without words describing those panels, how could they even do their research to figure out who or what is shown. I found myself looking at a Stark Board meeting saying “Tony, Pepper, Rhodey … Blonde Lady … That Guy.” An issues like this would have benefited from a “For more info on this part of Iron Man’s history, check out …”

The modern day framing sequence features the Larroca art we’ve come to know on the book. However, in flashbacks, he gets a chance to experiment, adding more lines and definition to his characters. It’s nicer than the photo-ref we’re used to. One art problem I’ll fault Larroca and Fraction for is the sheer number of panels per page. It’s a swift story, but it’s common for to see eight, ten, 12 panels a page. The art needs room to breathe. Fin Fang Foom isn’t impressive at six square inches.

Invincible Iron Man has already given us nine and a 12-issue storyarcs. They’re good, but I hope we’ve got more done-in-ones coming our way.

Secret Six #30Secret Six #30 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ***

Another month, another Secret Six crossover. I’m less familiar with Doom Patrol than Lex Luthor, so this was a bit tough for me, but I get the general idea – they’re weird. (Doom Patrol remains the most popular Morrison work I haven’t read.)

The conceit of the issue is a little lacking – kid finds out he’s heir to a fortune, decides to become a super-villain and hires the Six to clear Oolong Island of Doom Patrol, so it can be his secret base. After bad guys like Junior and those bastards that kidnapped Catman’s son, we get the guy from Wanted. Weak sauce.

The best sequence of the issue returns to Superiors, the superhero-themed strip club seen around the beginning of the series. Scandal set Bane up on a date. You should read it. It’s great. Scenes like this make me realize that Secret Six becomes more like X-Factor all the time. Nod disrespect is meant to either writer, but much like PAD’s book, the actual plots have become secondary to the character interactions.

Paul Cornell didn’t handle the Six too badly in his Action Comics issue, let’s see how Kieth Giffen does in the Doom Patrol wrap-up of “Suicide Roulette.”

Spider-Gril #3Spider-Girl #3 by Paul Tobin, Clayton Henry, Tim Seeley and Sergio Cariello ***

While I disagree with Paul Tobin’s belief that Anya Corazon needed more tragedy in her life, he is at least using as motivating to do good and not to get depressed.

Upon rereading the issue, I found very little worth commenting on. Tobin’s doing a good job, but it’s just that, good. No surprising twists, no “Hell yeah!” moments. Just an average, middle-of-an-arc superhero story. There’s nothing wrong here, but for a new hero book to succeed, you need more than that.

Though the writing is good, a three-man art team does some damage. At first glance, it seems that the art is divided into three parts – current day, Anya’s story and Red Hulk’s story – each with its own artist. But closer inspection proves that it’s not that simple. Red Hulk gains an extraordinary amount of muscles. Anya’s nails grow and change color (though only one colorist is credited so …) and her shirt can’t decide if it buttons half way or all the way down. I can understand the need to help an artist get a book out, but a little consistency wouldn’t hurt anyone.

I enjoy reading this story, but to avoid cancellation in three more issues, the creators really have to bring more to the table.

The Shopping List 1-19-11

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

Tigra thinks you're a pervert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shopping List 12-22-10

Look who’s updating on Monday! The day I always want to update on! Woot.

Small week this week, but some of my favorite book next week : Flash, Captain America and new additions like Detective Comics and Spider-Girl. And if you’ve got any questions or recommendations, drop a comment. They’re always appreciated. See you later!

Zoe Can't Hardly Wait

Invincible Iron Man #33Invincible Iron Man #33 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca **

I was all excited last month when Tony left Pepper and Rhodey behind to save the day by himself. I was wrong. He was just running away so Maria Hill and General Babbage (who?) could save the day. It’s an idiot plot (if Stark wasn’t an idiot and accepted help, this could have been wrapped up issues ago) but that’s the point. Stark’s insistence of having everything on his shoulders is getting him into trouble. I can’t wait for it to bite him in the ass.

When “Stark Resilient” was first being discussed, Matt Fraction said it was going to be an eight-issue arc. This is part nine. And it shows; not enough happens in this issue. It opens with an exciting Tony and Detroit Steel chase scene through Seattle, but the narration needlessly recaps the last eight issues. Then we get the Hill/Babbage anti-climax. After that’s wrapped up, Rhodey gets a promotion (Iron Man 2.0 in stores soon!). Then it takes four pages to get Zeke Stane out of jail. Then we get a commercial for Stark Resilient. The events aren’t connected enough, so it feels like Fraction is setting things up and treading water before next month’s issue #500 rather than a telling real story.

There’s no closure here, but that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. Detroit Steel is rendered useless by bureaucracy, but ther will have to be a showdown soon. Stane is released from jail and reunited with girlfriend Sasha Hammer, who introduces her father, The Mandarin (Whaaaa?). I already mentioned the plug for the upcoming War Machine book. This is one of the best books month to month, so I’m excited to keep reading, but after nine months, I want to feel like something has been accomplished.

The silver lining on the issue is the Jamie McKelvie drawn “Good Morning, Tony.” Stark lives a busy life and we see it here from sunup to sundown. Like the “Wolf Like Me” issue of Phonogram 2: The Singles Club, it’s told without dialogue. Jamie McKelvie is love.

Morning Glories #5Morning Glories #5 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ***

Issue five opens with a new administrator, a Mr. Gribbs, giving one of the students (the person is hidden) a speech about youth, the school, their destiny, all kinds of stuff. It’s a good monologue, deepening the mystery of the academy, while illustrating the level of their belief and their cruelty. Speaking of deepening mysteries, Spencer acts as if it’s no thing, but Casey’s level of planning and contingency planning hints at a past much deeper than her blonde bombshell looks suggest.

Each issue, the events Joe Eisma draws get stranger and stranger. This month, a ghost presses his hand through a man’s head. As strange as things get, his art is always good enough that we understand what’s happening. His panel layouts also demonstrate the proximity of danger. Like a spidey-sense tingling, panels lose their 90º angles as danger approaches. It’s a nice, almost subliminal touch.

Issue six will wrap up the fist storyline for Morning Glories. The next month will bring the first trade and issue #7 at a reduced price point. Seems like the perfect time to jump on doesn’t it?

Zatanna #8Zatanna #8 by Paul Dini and Cliff Chiang ****

I like Paul Dini. His Detective Comics run was a good read and Batman: The Animated Series is a feat yet to be duplicated.

I like Zatanna. Her conflicts since Identity Crisis have been very interesting. Her Seven Soldiers series was one of the weakest, but still, good character.

I love Cliff Chiang. He does some of the best convention sketches out there. He drew one of J. Micheal Stracynski’s most memorable (and problematic) issues of The Brave and The Bold.

So when these three things came together in the perfect storm of Zatanna #8, I had to give it a shot. I’m glad I did. Part one of “Pupaphobia” is a great read. For reference, pupaphobia is the fear of puppets, not … that.

Chiang’s art is a little choppier than usual, but his framing, emotion, personality, and detail are all there. He does some incredible work with body language here. When Zatanna takes no less than six poses on her therapists couch, we see how uncomfortable she is discussing her history with puppets. He also realizes that people don’t all wear plain t-shirts and jeans. From Z’s bunny slippers to Jana’s necklace, his characters’ wardrobes show their personalities. So yeah, Cliff Chiang. Thumbs up!

Not that it’s hard to make puppets creepy, but Dini does not disappoint either. Zatanna is rarely a star player, but he gives her some believable backstory from which this plot can grow. This is my first issue of Zatanna, but between Jana, Mikey, and the magic community, I believe and appreciate her supporting cast. It’s nice to be able to drop in this late in the game and not feel lost.

I’ll definitely be back for the rest of the story, but Dini does have some work to do to keep me interested once Cliff Chiang moves on.

The Shopping List 11-24-10

Finally

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

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

She baaack! Sort of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few things that start me at a disadvantage:

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

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

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

The Shopping List 10-13-10

I really wish I had more posts on here, but between moving the blog and NYCC, my focus hasn’t been on writing about comics. It’ll come.

Invincible Iron Man #31Invincible Iron Man #31 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca

What a good book this is. How many sci-fi/industrial espionage books are there in mainstream comics? Not enough. Someone finally put together the whole Detroit Steel/videogame connection. And in the last issue of “Stark Resilient,” I’m curious to see how Tony is going to get out of this mess. It’s great to see Fraction getting milage out out his new characters, Sasha and Justine in this case.

I have no real comments on Larroca’s art, but I will say his consistency continues.

I’ve run out of ways to criticize this book. I’m not dropping it, but don’t be surprised if I skip a few issues between my reviews.

Shadowland #4Shadowland #4 by Andy Diggle and Billy Tan

This is the best issue of Shadowland yet. That may not say much, but it’s always nice to see an upgrade. The bulk of the issue was building for next issue’s climax, but that’s not a bad thing. What it reminds me of the most is Siege #3. Daredevil (Osbourne) has been defeated, but that only sets up the big bad, the Beast (the Void).

Even Billy Tan shows some improvement this issue. Part of me thinks it’s the coloring. Focusing on Elektra, the rendering of her face offers the kind of dimension I’m not used to seeing in Tan’s pencils. I don’t remember seeing colors this bright in Shadowland. It’s nice.

The supporting cast gets more focus this time with Spider-Man and Wolverine in particular having some nice moments. To speak of Elektra again, after seeing here lead and kick some ass here, I would love to see a new book focusing on her. I believe she is part of the upcoming Heroes for Hire. I hope she’s a big one.

Once again, I want to express my disappointment with John Cassaday’s covers. I love Cassaday, but these covers are super boring. Also, this issue’s is a lie as the Bullseye resurrection is never completed (right?).

Yes, Shadowland is a disappointment, and one of my favorite books is coming to an end because of it, but here’s hoping it can go out an a good note.

Superior #1Superior #1 by Mark Millar and Leinil Francis Yu

Superior is exactly what I expected and was hoping for. Forgetting my displeasure with Nemesis, I enjoy Millar’s books. He’s the kind of guy who can get me interested in even Superman. Through his character’s discussion, he acknowledges an opinion held by much of fandom “He’s boring, He’s a boy scout, etc.” But you know it’s only to turn things around show you how interesting a nigh-perfect alien can be.

There’s something to be said for a Scotsman who’s so interested in the hero that best personifies the American Dream. Same goes for Grant Morrison. Even Alan Moore (British, of course) wrote a couple great Supes stories. What is it about Superman that gets the British imagination running wild?

I don’t have the love for Leinel Yu that many do. His action is great, but he has a tendency to over-crosshatch his characters. His colorists then use those lines as a guide for shadows and highlights. This redundancy in rendering only leads to unnatural faces. His mouths are also a weak point. They are often open for no reason. In comics, a character’s face determines the tone a reader give a speech bubble; gaping mouths and squinted eyes make them look unsure and a bit dumb.

This is issue is mostly setting the scene, but I’m in for next month.