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 1-5-11

I went to the shop this week thinking Secret Six and Heroes for Hire were coming out.

Poker Talk

Yeah … no matter what Diamond or whomever said, they weren’t this week. So only two books. Luckily, two good ones. These are the hardest reviews to write. There are only so many ways to praise books like these. To paraphrase, “Good books are all the same. Bad books are each bad in their own way.”

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #4Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #4 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung ****

– Solid, on character writing, but I’ve yet to have a “Wow!” moment.

– I’m glad Marvel isn’t worried about where this fits into continuity right now. Who knows, when issue 9 comes out, this could match the status quo. Readers confuse publication dates, reading order and continuity too much. In five years, you can read this story and say “Oh, it’s after House of M.” And that’s all you need. Good.

– I’m glad Cheung is taking his time. Of course, I’ll have to reread eight issues for the finale, but at least it’ll be pretty. Gotta get a sketch from this guy at the next con I see him. Iron Man? Quicksilver?

X-Factor #213X-Factor #213 by Peter David and Valentine De Landro ****

– Barely any action, but still exciting.

– Hate to say it, but the return of Valentine De Landro is a step down from Lupacchino. He’s had a couple months off, so I don’t think this is rushed. His facial shadows are weird.

– The cover for next month shows a gun-toting cowboy Darwin. Stupendous.

Some interesting books coming out this week including the sophomore issue of the new Heroes for Hire and the first issue of Daredevil: Reborn. Let’s hope for the best for our boy Matt Murdock.

The Shopping List 11-10-10 and 11-17-10

Lots of book. Little time. Here we go.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #3Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #2 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

– Heinberg writes great dialogue. Here, he writes too much. The issue is full of talking and debates and arguments and only one action of consequence.
– Cheung is taking his sweet-ass time on this book. I’m glad he is. It looks great.
– Once again, the schedule is killing the momentum on this book.
– I love Magneto and Quicksilver. I think they’re great characters on their own, but their relationship, especially here, really pushes them to a new level.

The Flash #6The Flash #6 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul

– “The Dastardly Death of the Rogues” wraps up a little too easily here. Spinny, spinny, rewrite the future, change how a police department is run.
– Johns gives his characters great, unique personalities.
– Manapul is good. Colorist Brian Buccelato makes him amazing.
– Now that this arc is done and Scott Kolins is coming on for a few issues, maybe the book will get back on schedule. More Johns Flash? Yay!

Morning Glories #4Morning Glories #4 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

– This book is a delight every time it comes out.
– Now that the characters have all been introduces, Spencer can start placing them together, letting their relationships build. I think most geeks will relate to Hunter. I know I do.
– Ooh! The plot thickens!
– Eisma’s art has smoothed out again. It looks great.

Amazing Spider-Man #648Amazing Spider-Man #648 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos

– This is kind of exactly what I want in a Spider-Man book.
– I’ve never liked Humberto Ramos’ art. Runaways was close though. Here, it perfectly fits the energetic pace of Slott’s script.
– The issue has about 10 plots. Instead of cutting between each, they are dealt with one by one. You may think it would come off as disjointed, but it works. If these are the stories Slott is going to tell, I’m interested.
– Spider-Girl prologue! Yay!

Spider-Gril #1Spider-Girl #1 by Paul Tobin, Clayton Henry, and Dean Haspiel

– It’s nice to see Anya land on her feet after the cancellation of the great Young Allies.
– I wish the industry could have supported this book with the name “Araña.” It reeks of changing a book to suit the industry rather than the story.
– This book is the Marvel equivalent of Batgirl. That’s a good thing. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It will live and die by its name-recognition and guest stars.
– Clayton Henry draws an amazing range of emotions. He’s a real talent.
– Anytime I get to complain about the cancellation of Young Allies I’m going to take it.

Superior #2Superior #2 by Mark Millar and Leinil Yu

– A bit of a let-down. I know Millar loves the Superman archetype. Now do something new with it.
– Yu’s pencils are beautiful (just look at those pages in the backmatter), but the colors are too splotchy. It looks like Superior has a rash.
– This book has exactly what Nemesis doesn’t: heart. The only emotions in that book are anger, rage, wrath, blah blah.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 by Nick Spencer and Cafu **

– I bought this based on Nick Spencer and good reviews. After the incredible debut of Morning Glories, this falls flat.
– I’m not sure who is going to be the real protagonist(s?) here and the plot is a bit overthought.
– The big hook is the that the agents are given super-powers that will eventually kill them. But Spencer doesn’t show enough (if any) of the characters who would take such a deal.
– Cafu’s art is clean and Santiago Arcas’ colors give some eerie realism. They’d make a great fill-in if Salvador Larocca needed a break on Iron Man.

Thunderbolts #150Thunderbolts #150 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker

– This issue feels like a book. For $5, you get a 40-page main story, an 8-page “Thunderbolts Saga,” and a 38-page reprint of Thunderbolts #1. Almost double the standard cost of the book, but well worth it.
– A pared-down cast results in some great conflicts and better outcomes. Tony Stark disarms Ghost with no punches or repulsor rays, just words. Clever.
– It’s nice to see Kev Walker back. If his art has always been this good, I’ve got to do some back issue searching.
– I know people complain about anniversary issues containing reprint content, but this had something going for it; I had never read the story. Despite knowing the plot, specifically the twist ending, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the story. It’s a bit wordy and Bagley’s art is not as clean as it would be on Ultimate Spider-Man, but very enjoyable.

X-Factor #211X-Factor #211 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino

– Last issue, all the shit of the past few issues launched fanwards. Here, it splays all about Las Vegas. Three words: Undead Viking Henchmen.
– David’s best skill is his character interactions. Bringing prim and proper Thor and the motley crew of X-Factor Investigations together should be brilliant.
– I can’t wait to see where Emanuela Lupacchino ends up next. She’s so good. At NYCC, regular X-Factor artist Valentine DeLandro told me he would understand if they dropped him from the book and put here on full-time. (I’ve heard no plans to do so.)

Sorry for limiting this post to simple bullets points, but you know, life happens. Big week this week. Cap, Iron Man, Ultimate Spider-Man #150, and my girl Batwoman. Woot.

The Shopping List 9-1-10

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #2Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #2 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung ****

Issue one was tasked with a lot of exposition, but here, the story just moves, and not just from Manhattan to Wundagore Mountain. New players are introduced, conflicts are developed, and it’s all wrapped up with a cliffhanger of Doom. Good times. Heinberg created the Young Avengers, so his voices for them are still the ones dominant in most people’s minds. They don’t quite have the idiosyncratic personalities of Vaughan’s Runaways, but each has their own believable stake in the proceedings. He also does well in making sure the book lives up its title. This not simply a Young Avengers story: needless to say, Scarlet Witch is a key part, but Quicksilver and the old New Avengers also show up.

I don’t like the bimonthly schedule. Two months is too long a time to remember any plot intricacies. It’s not that bad this early, but nine issues is a lot for anyone to remember, nevermind those nine issues coming out over a year and a half. However, the slower distribution allows Jim Cheung to perfect every panel. Scenes regularly involve 5+ characters, but they don’t seem rushed. Cheung doesn’t even skip backgrounds all that often.

I don’t have the memory for bimonthly publication, but with a book this good, having to reread every eight weeks is not a problem.

Scarlet #2Scarlet #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev ***

I don’t dislike this book, but I do have some problems with it.

Bendis is trying the whole address-the-audience thing. It works, but other than addressing it “you,” it’s not all that different from the first person narration of Ultimate Spider-Man or Daredevil. Scarlet tells us she needs our help, but unless this book goes interactive all of a sudden, there’s nothing we can actually do to help her. Reading comics is a passive thing. We’re not involved in the events. Bendis certainly would be among the first to try something new like that, but until it happens, Scarlet’s request feels empty.

Then there’s the art. Maleev makes choices that confuse me. When I first read Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum, I didn’t understand it. I could follow the plot, sure, but panels would go by and I didn’t understand their relevance. Luckily I had the 15th anniversary trade, which includes the full script. I read that and then everything clicked. I then understood Morrison’s allusions to Anubis or who certain characters were, regardless that the book hadn’t explained them. Maybe seeing the script would also make the difference here. Each issue has featured panels of solid color for reasons I can’t comprehend. Also, Maleev’s coloring is distracting; it bathes everything in an eerie glow. With Spider-Woman’s alien-centric story and Madripoor setting, this same technique made sense. Here, it doesn’t help tell the story, it’s bothersome.

The spread covering pages 2-3 shows Scarlet 12 times. Each panel shows the same facial expression and background, with her clothes, hairstyle and the panel’s coloring changing each time. Why? If it’s to break up the monotony of a floating head monologue, this is not the way to do it.

Scarlet may be one issue away from its real hook, but if not, it needs to do more for my $4.

Secret Six #25Secret Six #25 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ****

After two months of standalone issues, Secret Six is back to doing what it does best: showing terrible people doing terrible things. After expressing his displeasure with the Six’s recent activities, Bane has assembled his own team. And next issue the two teams will fight. I can’t wait.

Simone has a great talent for infusing new characters into a story without resorting to a dead-stop to introduce them. I don’t remember reading anything with Dwarfstar or King Stark before, but I feel I already understand their personalities. Much like my introduction to Cheshire in Villains United, she has a way of making me love these people. And that’s in addition to her skill creating new characters like Scandal or the new Ragdoll.

Calafiore’s art is certainly adequate. I don’t mean that as an insult, but there is nothing unique about his art. His name will never scare me away from a book, but it won’t convince me to try something either.

Please buy this book. I don’t want it to ever go away.

Shadowland #3Shadowland #3 by Andy Diggle and Billy Tan ***

Wow. This book. All action. All the time. Maybe I’m adjusting my expectations, because I didn’t hate it. Once I expected it to be all action, I didn’t mind waiting for the Daredevil tie-ins to give me real emotion. Once I accepted that Daredevil was possessed or whatever, I wasn’t bothered by his being out of character. Let’s be honest, if a correctly thinking Matt Murdock killed Bullseye, he would never EVER resurrect him. He would just cry about it for a while and say his prayers.  Shadowland is not good on it’s own, but it’ll do.

I’m not going to give Billy Tan any shit this month. This is the best his art has looked in the series. I like his rendition of the Punisher and his female characters, especially Lady Bullseye. I also want to give special recognition to colorist Christina Strain this month. Between all the shadows, Ghost Rider’s flames and the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, playing with light in this book must be a bear, but she does a great job. I’ve met her at cons and she’s always very sweet and does great sketches.

Stumptown #4Stumptown #4 by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth ****

Rucka and Southworth have a gem on their hands. With this 32-page closer to “The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo but Left Her Mini,” the pair has left me waiting for more. To solve the case (and not die) Dex has to use her PI skills, but also know how to read a situation and play the other parties against each other. Real crafty, this one.

Southworth’s art is perfectly unfinished. Darker books always run the risk of their art coming off too exaggerated and not fitting the mood. Looking at another Rucka series, Queen & Country, the art oscillates between cartoon and grit, much to the chagrin of some of its readers. Southworth is the regular artist on this title, so we don’t have to worry about that. What we do have to worry about is the schedule. Issue one came out on November 2009. That’s an almost three month average time between issues. The creators have assured us such delays will no longer happen, but that means a longer time between each arc.

The coloring in the book’s climax is a great experiment. The nighttime beach setting is washed in dark blue, with only a flashlight’s yellow glow to illuminate the characters. Not only does this preserve the beach’s shadows, but the contrasting colors make the players pop.

Young Allies #4Young Allies #4 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon *****

This is my new favorite book. I wish I read these characters before. I know Gravity had his own series, but I never tracked it down. Same with Araña or whatever she’s called now. These are great characters finally finding a place in my spotlight.

McKeever spends this issue throwing the Bastards’ identities into question, leading to inner-group tension as well as hinting at a larger conspiracy. I was wondering who the Allies would have as antagonists after this initial arc. That conspiracy is just what I was looking for, a hook to keep the book going.

Compared to Stumptown, this is the kind of book that can use non-realistic art. Baldeon, Bowling and Sotomayor take advantage and have given us some exciting, fun pages.

I’m running out of ways to praise this book. Just read it.

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