The Shopping List 4-27-11

Blog fatigue is very real. Regardless of any deadlines or restrictions you give yourself, sometimes you just don’t want to write. It can make comics feel like a chore rather than an exciting hobby. It’s like going to practice instead of playing a real basketball game. Sometimes you just have to spice things up.
With that in mind, AN EXPERIMENT! Live reviews! So, as I read each of the comics I bought this week, I’ll give you my thoughts. Let’s see how this goes. I hope this are easy to follow, even for those of you who haven’t read the books. But it’d probably be better if you can read along. It’d be like a DVD commentary. Except on comics. And you’re reading. And I had nothing to do with the creation of the book. But it’s like that.

Avengers #12.1Avengers #12.1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch ****

Recap page – Hitch’s version of Wolverine’s mask makes him look like a bird. An angry bird. However, I love that you can see a hint of Spider-Woman’s eyes beneath her mask.

Page 6 – “There are 32 alien races living here on planet earth.” – Agent Brand. Does that sound low to anyone else? I see Hitch never got the memo that Beast looks like a cat these days.

Page 9 – We’re lucky that Hitch gets all this leeway to stretch scripts out. If he was actually restricted to the 22 pages other artists are, we’d miss out on great splash pages like this.

Page 11 – Is anyone against those little logos/descriptions some writers use to introduce characters? They’re more graceful than shoving a character’s name in the dialogue. “Something not from earth, Moon Knight,” “We have to hope for the best, Protector.” I’ll admit I didn’t know that was Moon Knight at first glance, but help yourself out. Plus, those intro boxes are pure comic book. There’s a reason Edgar Wright carried them over into “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”

Page 13 – More clunky names.

Page 14 – The what? Spaceknight? Bendis seems to be going back into and old toybox on this one.

Page 18 – Villains are great. Even the smartest ones forget that Tony Stark is just as smart as they are.

Page 23-24 – Ultron? Sick. Can we get some Hank Pym up in here? Hitch gets a bit weird on his right thigh, but big credit to colorist Paul Mounts on bringing a lot of energy to this spread.

Page 25-26 – Good old Thor. Got a problem? Hit it with a hammer. Nice moment there.

Page 27-28 – Uh … if there was that much destruction, and we see A LOT, you’d have some dead bodies on your hands.

Overall – This was a really exciting issue. This is the kind of thing that can launch an event. The Age of Ultron may be contained within the Avengers title, but it should be big enough to have been an event. This is the best Hitch has looked in years. I wasn’t big on his Fantastic Four or his Captain America: Reborn work, but this is great. I would like to see some more vibrant colors though. A lot of the backgrounds and even characters are very washed out. Art this detailed still needs some pop. Either way, this is a successful .1 issue, but any goodwill from it may be wasted in the months until this storyline continues.

Captain America #617Captain America #617 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Mike Deodato, and Chris Samnee *****

Page 1-2 – Nazis are a really easy villain. No one cares if you kill a Nazi. Same with robots. Or some aliens (just as the Skrulls). But what about bears? Is this cool or is this animal cruelty?

Page 6 – These little tiny panels at the top? That’s some We3 shit right there. This is a 24 panel page, but reads so easy. I dig it.

Page 8 – Niko? Nick Fury? Or did I miss a character named Niko?

Page 9 – Nope. Not Fury.

Page 10 – Butch Guide is doing some real great design work here. Tiny moments, tiny panels. Events overlapping. I’d say it’s cinemetic, but really, it’s comics.

Page 18 – I knew there was a Steve Rogers feature starting soon, but I didn’t expect Black Widow. Sweet.

Page 20 – I like the style Deodato’s trying out here. It’s still got the shadows he’s known for, but his characters are much less chiseled, so it looks more fluid. Good to see he’s still not afraid to take a weird angle to tell the story, like in the shot directly above the desk.

Page 24 – Oh, Chris Samnee. You’re great.

Page 26 – A few pages back, Natasha got Steve on the phone. Now we see his side of the conversation. Nice job tying the stories together, Bru.

Page 30 – Damn, I’m really going to be sad when Steve gives up his Super-Solider outfit. That thing’s great.

Captain America has been a consistently good book since Ed Brubaker’s run started. But with each month expanding to 30 pages of his story and the storylines getting bigger and better in anticipation of the movie, there couldn’t be a better time to be a Cap fan.

Also, I just looked up Ursa Major, the bear from pages 1-2. I guess he’s a mutant that can shapeshift to a bear. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Detective Comics #876Detective Comics #876 by Scott Snyder and Jock ****

Cover – Yeah, I’ll start early on this one. I love it. It may not stand out on the shelf, but how many covers have the reader inside the mouth of a damn sea beast? The benday dot coloring is great too.

Pages 2-3 – They set me up to think a bomb was going to go off on this page turn. They got me. I expect kablam, I get Shamu. A check out the way Jock plays with perspective. Try to find a perpendicular line.

Page 6 – Uh … Dick? Should you really be cutting that dead whale open? What expertise do you have in marine biology?

Page 7 – Dialogue is a weird thing. You want it to sound authentic, but you often need to clue your readers in on information that may not naturally come out in conversation. Writers try their best to fit it in, and  Scott Snyder usually does. But here, Commish is just a bit dramatic. “As in Anthony ‘Fats’ Zucco” DUN DUN DUN “The man who killed your parents.”

Page 10 – Eww. Another reason to hate whales.

Page 11 – Excellent page. I won’t even try to explain. Just check it out.

Page 12 – Right here, in the narration, Dick says Zucco killed his parents. If it was going to be said in the issue already, there was no need to jam it in the dialogue a few pages back.

I didn’t have too much say about this issue, but that’s not a bad thing. Scott Snyder is giving readers a great Batman story and his artists have been giving it their all. Even if you’ve been jaded by too many mediocre Batman stories in the past, check this out. Who knows when Detective Comics will be this good again.

Flash #11Flash #11 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul **

Page 1 – Oh no. Scott Kolins art. It’s not Kolins’ fault. He’s great, especially on Flash. It’s the coloring. When this style is laid upon Manapul’s art, it looks classic. Here, characters look plastic and lifeless. Not to mention it’s a lot darker than it needs to be, which could always be a printing problem. Working in advertising, I understand that 100%.

Page 6 – Pages like this are why I respect Kolins. Look at the details in the apartment – the rug, the pillows, the junk on the table behind Iris. But, why does everyone look squinty here (except Bart who looks ready to punch Barry in the face)? Speaking of Bart, he looks too much like the witness kid from the beginning of the issue. Both young redheads, and the kid is wearing yellow and red, Kid Flash colors.

Page 8 – I’m not sure if Johns is writing Bart as too self-centered or just whiny. “Barry didn’t come to the picnic because of me!” Wah wah.

Page 10 – Writer, artist, colorists, editors – This just doesn’t seem to be anyone’s issue. If Wally’s talking about being a kid, shouldn’t he be in his Kid Flash uniform? Back then, did they EVER wear red outfits at the same time? And Wally’s line “… I didn’t hope Barry Allen was the Flash — I hoped the Flash was Barry Allen” That’s more than a little melodramatic.

Page 15 – I hate when people in comics talk to themselves. Give them an internal monologue. Better yet, give them someone to talk to.

Page 20 – Well, I was right about the colors of the kid’s clothes. Just looking the wrong direction.

Not a bad issue, not really. But it’s flaws are so clear – overly sentimental writing and art that’s trying to clone what’s been done before, but with different ingredients. I’m still not sure how this will really connect to FlashPoint, but with one issue to go, who’s really going to stop reading now?

Morning Glories #9Morning Glories #9 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ***

Page 2 – I will now welcome guests at my house with “Die alien scum!!!”

Page 11 – “I was warned you might be brainwashed.” Does Jun have someone on the inside?

Page 13 – All this birthtime stuff confuses me. Hisao was born second, at 23:59. That would mean they were both born on May 4, same as all the other students at Morning Glory Academy. So … what’s the problem with Jun?

Page 19 – Uh … so … we’ve haven’t been following Jun all this time? Why doesn’t Jun know who he is?

Page 26 – Wow, I never would have realized there were extra pages in this issue. ANYWAY, wasn’t Abraham the guy that discovered Zoe? Could he be the inside man?

There isn’t any real progress in this issue, but there’s some backstory that has already been proven important. That and a couple of twists and you’ve got a basic issue of Morning Glories. Next month: Jade. At C2E2, I told Nick Spencer that she was my favorite. It sounds like I’m the only one. Red-headed emo girls? Sign me up!

Spider-Girl #6Spider-Girl #6 by Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry ***

Recap page – I like that the frame of this page is an iPad. Seeing where the recap is made up of @The_Spider-Girl‘s tweets, it’s a nice tie in. It also doesn’t hurt that I love my iPad.

Page 1 – We’re back to Clayton Henry’s art. Now that the darker story is over, the darker art is as well. Nice.

Page 4 – Pop culture references … I appreciate it now, but will anyone know what Community was in 10 years? 5 years?
Henry’s art has clearer emotions than Southworth’s. That’s a good thing.

Page 8 – The real inciting incident for this series has been the death of Anya’s father. Since then, the Fantastic Four has lost someone as well. She goes to hang out with them, but we’re not going to comment on this?

Page 9 – I may have dropped Amazing Spider-Man from my subscription list, but it is nice to see the books tying together in regards to Phil’s crush on Norah.

Page 14 – Henry throws in a nice easter egg. “D-Man: Turn Off the Trash” I like it. Does the fact I like that conflict with my ambivalence on the Community reference?

Page 16 – It’s sad that Spidey shows little faith in Spider-Girl.

Page 21 – Faith which she totally deserves. There’s a narrative leap here. Hobgoblin is knocked out, but 4 panels later, escapes. It couldn’t have been thirty seconds. Spider-Man’s watching the whole time. We never see him even get up or get untied. Throw us a bone here. Focus on storytelling.

Page 22 – Spider-Man’s been more or less encouraging of Anya in the past, yet he criticizes her again, despite the fact that she’s now defeated numerous foes. This selective support doesn’t play well with me.

With its impending cancellation, Spider-Girl has some exciting ground to cover in the next couple months. If you’ve been reading up until this point, there’s no reason to stop now.

__

So what do you think about live reviews? Interesting? Failure? An interesting failure? Let me know. Maybe I’ll do this again sometime.

The Shopping List 1-26-11

Six months and a new URL later, here we are at the 50th post of Bells’ Kitchen.Moonstone Doesn't Believe Me

No, seriously. There was a chance this was just going to be a lark, but between the two sites, I’ve had over 1,200 hits. That’s awesome. Personally, it’s been interesting to see my writing improve, even to the point where other people have noticed and commented on it. Also, I’m thinking more about what I read and of course, what it means. Better writer, better reader, better comics fan. Woot.

For my fiftieth post, I wanted to do something a little different. This week, all reviews will be 50 words long. It’s important to shake things up, keep it interesting, avoid blog fatigue. So, five books, 50 words each. Go ahead. Count them.

Captain America #614Captain America #614 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade ***

Bucky is more interesting as Cap than Steve Rogers had been in years. Not being the golden boy, he can make mistakes. Bru keeps the tension high, but six inkers and four colorists kill any visual consistency. They’re pushing issues out; maybe to time Roger’s return with the movie? Sad.

.

Detective Comics #873Detective Comics #873 by Scott Snyder and Jock and what happened to the Francavilla backup? ***

Much like Bucky in Captain America, Dick Grayson is a substitute hero that’s been more enjoyable than the original. He’s a fun Batman. Here, he relies on his will and acrobatics to save the day. Snyder dark plots and Jock’s fragile lines prove that Detective Comics is in good hands.

.

Thunderbolts #152Thunderbolts #152 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker ****

It’s common for people to get really excited about plots like “They’re fighting Dracula ON THE MOON!” that sound stupid to me. Despite this issue being “Villains and Superman analogue fight Godzilla monsters,” it was great. Parker’s masterful character interactions make this serious fun and Kev Walker is my hero.

.

Twilight Guardian #1Twilight Guardian #1 by Troy Hickman and Sid Kotian *****

Years in the making, everyone’s favorite depressed, obsessive-compulsive real-world superhero is back! I may mock, but I truly enjoyed this. Much is repeated from the Pilot Season issue from 2008. Kotian’s art is sexier than I expected. I’m excited to see what Hickman does with a full miniseries.

.

Zatanna #9Zatanna #9 by Paul Dini and Cliff Chiang, Adam Beechen and Jamal Igle ***

I get the 20-page issue thing. But this issue is a 12-pager and an 8-pager. It’s a Zatanna anthology. Neither story is bad, but they are both too slight. I really hope Dini has a big finish planned. I’m not hot on the style Chiang’s trying here.

.

.

They may be quicker to write, but 50-word reviews are still hard. Economy of words is not an easy skill.

Well, it’s been fun. See ya’ll soon.

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

The Demon Returns!

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

Well, better late than never. Here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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