Bells’ Art Collection, Part 5

Don’t worry. I’m feeling a bit more vocal this week. We’re in the second half of the alphabet, but there is some great art coming up. My Tara Chace pieces, work from a WWE legend, and a big old beard. But that’s to come.

This week I have:

  • Molly Hayes (from Runaways) by Adrian Alphona
  • Nico Minoru (from Runaways) by Christina Strain
  • Niightcrawler by Skottie Young
  • Nomad by David Baldeon
  • Penny B (from Phonogram) by Jamie McKelvie
  • Rachel Summers by Hwan Cho
  • Raven by Franco Aureliani
  • Raven by Mike McKone

Other posts of my collection can be found here.

And the whole thing is on Tumblr.

Come back next week!

– Bells

New York Comic Con 2012

New York Comic Con was … decent this year. Good guest list. Placing Artist Alley in its own aircraft hangar was nice. But there were so many people. And so many people stopping in the middle of aisles to take pictures. And so many swords bashing me in the face. Thanks Deadpool.

The only thing I can show you that no one else on the internet can is my new art!

Let’s go!

In the seven years since the current volume of X-Factor started, there have been a lot of artists on this book. Like dozens. So I’ve seen a lot of interpretations of the characters. Some artists draw Rahne Sinclair really well in human form. Some draw her really well in wolf form. But Emanuela Lupacchino does both. I was talking to Peter David and his only reply was “You don’t have to tell me.” Lupacchino lives in Italy, so seeing her at an American con is rare. So when I saw she was going to be at the show, she was the #1 (and possibly only) commission I needed.

Wolfsbane by Emanuella Lupacchino

My first convention was the 2008 Baltimore Comic Con. One of the commissions I wanted was Mike McKone, who had a great Teen Titans run. The character? Raven. Unfortunately, he was behind on his pages, so he wasn’t drawing at the con. But now, four years later, I caught him early in the show.

Raven by Mike McKone

No disrespect to Mark Brooks, but I was actually in line at the Marvel booth to see Kieron Gillen. While in line, Brooks was doing sketches. I like his work, so I said my standard “your favorite villain.” Almost always, the artist has to think about it. I’ve gotten Two-Face, Captain Cold, Dr. Doom. But never Sabertooth. Until now.

Sabretooth by Mark BrooksLee Bermejo is just awesome. At the DC Booth, he was doing sketches for fans. His favorite villain? A common one, the Joker. Sick, dude.

Joker by Lee Bermejo

And to finish of this post, I’ve got an older piece of art. Back in April, I saw Katie Cook at the Boston Comic Con. This was my only piece from the show and I guess I never got around to scanning it. For those of you who don’t know, Katie draws a webcomic called Gronk.
“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the New England Patriots have a player called Rob Gronkoski. We call him Gronk. So I was wondering if you could draw Gronk in Gronk’s jersey.”
Gronk by Katie Cook

The Shopping List 2-16-11

I know I’m behind schedule, so I carved out some time to get these reviews up. Maybe next week Bells’ Kitchen be completely back on track.

As I continue writing reviews, I keep wondering “What if the creators read these?” Maybe I should only say nice things. I only buy books I enjoy, so it’s rare that I’ll have that bad of a review, but I did have some stinkers this week. I guess I’ll just keep my negative thoughts to myself.

Yeah right.

If a book sucks. We should shame the team. But it’s not OK to just say “This sucks.” Don’t get me wrong, some comics do, in fact, suck. But as a reviewer, it’s my job to explore and explain why. Something I could point out to a creator. An area they can improve on, so their work and our comics industry is better. I’m not saying there’ll be no snark, but I try to have something behind all my complaints.An insult digs a lot deeper fi there’s some truth behind it.

Hyperion don't need no stinkin' redemption.
Right guy? No way. Not once. Not never. Here we go.

Avengers Academy #9Avengers Academy #9 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone ****

With “Teach Your Children,” Avengers Academy continues a hot streak. The issue does a great job showing that no hero, veteran or student, has all the answers. As much as Veil, Striker and Haz-Mat may have been impulsive in attacking the Hood, their teachers are unprepared to deal with such a violation. And who would have ever expected that Quicksilver would be voice of reason?

A bulk of the issue is made up of Finesse facing her possible father, Taskmaster. It’s a super-exciting fight. Not because the stakes a very high, I never expected anyone to KO the other, but because these are two expect fighters (albeit one inexperienced), and Gage and McKone treat them as such. Finesse may be the most interesting student in the book. She’s got all these skills, but not the discipline to use them correctly. I hope she sticks around long after her time at the academy.

I didn’t read Fred Van Lente’s recent Taskmaster mini, but I may have to search the dollar bins this convention season. And the line he stole from Bill Cosby? My dad says the same thing.

McKone’s art looks great, especially with the extra heft given by Rebecca Buchman’s inks. It’s sad to see that this is his last issue. Do we know where he’s headed next?

Daredevil Reborn #2Daredevil Reborn #2 by Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice **

Following up hit runs on Daredevil by Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker, Andy Diggle is using Daredevil Reborn to cement his reputation as a disappointment. It’s not that Reborn is bad, it’s just not good. Why does this book need to be published, other than the keep Matt Murdock on people’s minds? Even worse, I believe this is Diggle’s swansong on the title, which gives the impression that everything he wrote was leading to this. Perhaps it’s editorial influence, but it’s his name on the cover, isn’t it?

As I said, it’s not bad, but it’s not good. Something evil is happening in a desert town and Matt Murdock happens upon it. He will then have to outsmart and outfight the corrupt police force. There’s a twist coming, right? Another question: What makes this the story to tell following Shadowland? It doesn’t even feel like a DD story. Out of costume, Matt Murdock could be just about anyone. This isn’t exactly “Spider-Man No More” or even “The Return of Bruce Wayne.” If you’re going to take Daredevil out of his book, show me something special.

The light at the end of the tunnel is Gianfelice’s art. The simple figures and thick inks offer a fresh look for DD and is miles past Billy Tan’s work on Shadowland. Good stuff.

Doom Patrol #19Doom Patrol #19 by Keith Giffen, Matthew Clark and Ron Randall *

Daredevil Reborn wasn’t bad. Doom Patrol is bad.

The plot has problems:
1) Ambush Bug pops up (can he teleport?), telling Jeanette about a cabana. The scene then cuts to the exterior of said cabana and what I assume to be her screams. What happened there?
2) What happened that Elasti-woman is super surprised that there’s a lava flow. She watched a volcano explode on page 1. Did she forget? Does she not know how volcanic eruptions work?
3) After whatsisname runs away, abandoning the Six, Robotman claims it changes nothing and punches Catman in the face. Next page, they’re all buddy-buddy. Maybe I’m asking too much, for the narrative sequence to be logical, but that’s what I like in a book.

The art has problems:
1) When Ragdoll is attacked by the pelican, the artist forgot to show that.
2) The guy that hired the Six has randomly changing wardrobe/facial hair. I see that two pencilers worked on the book, but editor Elisabeth V. Gehrlein needs to ensure stuff like doesn’t happen.

The lettering even has a problem:
1) A line which clearly doesn’t belong to Deadshot (“Lawton! You broke ranks!”) is attributed to him. Again, Gehrlein, this is on you. Read the book before it goes to the printer.

One more thing, which I’ll say is my problem, not theirs, is that the two teams say they fought before. When was this? I thought I had read all of this Six’s appearances.

We can blame a lot of people for this debacle. It’s cancellation is a chicken-or-egg argument though. Is it always this bad, so no one buys it, leading to cancellation? Or have the team lost all interest and effort once the news of cancellation came down? Either way, for me and anyone else who picked this up to complete the Secret Six crossover, this was an embarrassment.

Spider-Girl #4Spider-Girl #4 by Paul Tobin and Matthew Southworth ***

Four issues in, I still need Paul Tobin to up his game on Spider-Girl. There’s been so much set dressing that I’m not what sure what the status quo of this book is or will be. At first it revolved around Anya and her dad, maybe some recurring guest appearances by Sue Storm. Then her dad died, so it was Anya vs. the world. Now, she’s getting a roommate. I can’t wrap my head around who the cast will be, so I can’t begin to understand the relationships. Does she have a job? Problems at school? Should I care about Rocky’s friends or just the creep down the hall? You’re trying to hook people who may have never heard of this (or any) Spider-Girl before. Make it easy to understand. With sales about to drop below 20,000, maybe I’m speaking to a wall called cancellation. Sorry.

From a story standpoint, I’m starting to wonder: Does anyone like being a superhero? Anya, much like her Spider-namesake do it out of the idea of responsibility. They feel like it’s something they have to do. Doesn’t anyone want to? Gravity, maybe?

Another problem I had with the issue is the art of Matthew Southworth. I like Southworth, but not here. It just doesn’t fit. It looks nice in the Kraven vs. Kraven scene or when Spider-Girl fights a bugler in a dark apartment, but the brighter scenes, like anything in Anya’s civilian life … not so much. After seeing the bright art of the past issues, his sketchy visuals seem out of place. Moody art and teenage banter don’t mix.

I know I’m all sorts of negative, but it could be worse; I could not care at all. I like this book enough to want it to be better. Doesn’t that count for something?

Amazing Spider-Man #654.1Amazing Spider-Man #654.1 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos **

False advertising. That’s the best way to describe this issue. It should be titled Venom #0.1. That I would have known I wouldn’t enjoy it and would have left on the shelf. Had it been $4, I would have left it anyway. Damn Point One initiative. Spider-Man is never even seen on these pages (yes, Peter is, but out of costume. And Flash has no idea that he’s Spidey, so that doesn’t count.) This is a Flash Thompson/Venom comic.

I like Spider-Man. I don’t like Venom. I know that following characters instead of creators is a sure way to read some bad comics, but even with Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos’ names, this is a Venom comic. Symbiote … first-person plural pronouns … eat brains … blah. Rick Remender is trying a black-ops twist on Venom, but there are some tropes of the character that are unavoidable.

All that said … I think Venom fans would enjoy this. The black-suited symbiote has always been about the loss of control. You may cheer him on when he’s on the side of the angels, but inside, you’re waiting for him to lash out. This is no different with Flash Thompson under the goo. He’s fighting terrorists, but really you want to see him eat someone. You’ll get that here.

Flash is a good guy, but it can’t be long before we come to resent his superiors. Let’s put this out on the table. They’re taking advantage of a man who lost his legs at war. They offer him new legs, super strength, and another chance to be a hero. They know the Venom alien is dangerous, but hell, he can control it, right? It’s only corrupted everyone who ever wore it. They see a broken man, offer him a chance to live his old life, a chance to emulate his hero, all he has to do is put on a crazy cannibalistic suit and do their dirty work. Shady.

Between the Amazing Spider-Man backup and this issue, any reader should know if they’re in or out for Venom. I’m out.

Thunderbolts #153Thunderbolts #153 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker *****

I may have said this before, but Thunderbolts is the best book Marvel is publishing right now. It does everything right.

Since Kev Walker joined Jeff Parker with issue #144, it’s been perfect. There’s action, character moments, fan-favorite heroes, new characters brought to the spotlight. Perfect.

More than any other group I read, the Thunderbolts actually operate as a team. When going into battle, they survey the situation, divide and conquer. They’re a unit, each using their strengths in tandem to defeat their foe, in this case Godzilla-esque monsters. They may be forced to work together, but inside their villainous exteriors, they also care about each other. Even Ghost, the most emotionless of the group, pleads with Moonstone to save Juggernaut because “he is … … one of us.” It’s a surprise, and possibly in contradiction of his giddiness at giving Moonstone and Songbird mouth-to-mouth (I’d love to see how Parker scripted those panels), but the evolution of that character has been amazing. Parker may be able to develop characters (keep your eyes on Troll), but he also knows the Marvel U stalwarts; his Juggernaut and Luke Cage are pitch-perfect.

Declan Shalvey did a fine job on his fill-in issues, but these issues with Kev Walker are a step above. Start with the panels. Only the first two pages use right-angles. As the violence rises, the edges get more and more ragged. Next, look at the body language. The different poses that Ghost and Hyperion use to fly say so much about their characters. Juggernaut looks massive, but without looking out of place. And a simple shot of the back of Moonstone’s shoulder shows that she doesn’t necessarily want to help, but knows she should. A+.

In the past, I’ve hated on Greg Land. Like a lot. A lot. But it wasn’t until I read another review for this issue that I realized he drew the cover. It’s a great cover. I love those ben-day dots.

Twilight Guardian #2Twilight Guardian #2 by Troy Hickman and Sid Kotian *****

My only complaint about the first issue of Twilight Guardian ongoing was that much of the story was repeated from the Pilot Season issue. With #2, Troy Hickman takes our protagonist somewhere much more dangerous than the nine block area around her house – a comic convention.

For those unfamiliar, Twilight Guardian is the story of a young woman who has taken on the responsibility of protecting her neighborhood. Of course, she lives in our world, so the biggest threats she faces are mysterious cars and neighbors who keep their Christmas lights up year-round. As you read, it’s revealed that our hero is both obsessive compulsive and depressed, which may be related to a recent breakup. Depression is like a cloud overhead. You can keep your eyes forward and forget that it’s there, but sooner or later, you’ll bend your head back and there it is. A big, black cloud. There’s some real human drama here, but never melodrama.

The trick to avoiding depression is to find something to fill your days, rather than sitting around staring at dust. Like a comic convention. Twilight Guardian, like any comic fan, feels the need to surround herself with like minds. Of course in her case, like minds are other real-life superheroes. They meet up, trade techniques and even solve a mystery. It’s a fun issue. After identifying so well with the character’s sorrow in previous issues, seeing her surrounded by friends, feeling in her element is more uplifting than seeing random cape hero punch his nemesis again. But in the final pages, when she’s left her friends and headed home, TG takes a moment, looks around and … oh yeah … that cloud.

All of this would be worthless without the right artist. Whether showing the personalities of a convention or the silver-age styles of the comics with the comic, Sid Kotian is the right artist. Seeing the excitement on TG’s face when carrying a stack of comics or her sadness as she sits alone on a hotel bed, I buy this girl’s emotions.

Two more issues. I miss you already.

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 11-3-10

I would like to have more substantial posts on here, diving deeper into stories or characters, but I am glad that these weekly reviews have kept me writing and thinking critically about comics. I’ve even noticed myself looking deeper into the stories of movies and television shows. Ah well, Deadshot, shall we move on to the books?

Deadshot Shoots at a Skank

Okay!

Avengers Academy #6Avengers Academy #6 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone ****

I was reading Avengers: Initiative when Reptil had his first appearance in some tie-in. But it had no connection that I could see and seemed like a cash grab, so I skipped it. I still don’t really regret that, but after reading this issue, I find him the be the most relatable in his class of recruits.

I’ve never harbored much delusion about becoming a superhero one day, but anyone can relate to growing up with a dream profession and doing (or not doing) what they can to make it real. Christos Gage does a lot in this issue, showing a number of ways Humberto (Reptil) tries to find what kind of leader he’ll be. All to often in a story like this, our protagonist would take a chance reaching out to his teammates and by the end, they all hug and receive him as captain. Get real. Here, Finesse, his friend with benefits (second post in a row to mention one of those … hmm) calls it off, Mettle and HazMat walk away in disgust from his suggestion they get together romantically. Ye, in the end he’s comfortable with the role, but not everyone is so fast to accept him. It feels more real, especially where this team doesn’t have the familial feel of say, the Teen Titans.

Mike McKone is assisted by four inkers over these 22 pages. That’s usually a problem, but there is a great deal of consistency on these pages. My fear is that the four inkers are a sign that Mike McKone’s art is coming in too slowly for the production schedule. Issue seven will feature Tom Raney, but no more have been solicited. As of issue four, Avengers Academy was selling over 30,000 copies, so I don’t think it’s in danger of getting canceled, but I am concerned that there’s a delay coming. Perhaps Marvel was dipping their toe with a few issues before giving a green light for this as an ongoing. Here’s hoping.

Scarlet #3Scarlet #3 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev **

Mr. Bendis? Mr. Maleev? You better wow me next issue. I know half the internet is creaming their jeans over this, but it is not good.

Scarlet is a murderer. There is no denying that. I wanted to call her a terrorist, but for now she’s only targeting cops, not the widespread public, so I’ll stop short of that. She’s a girl who was the victim of police corruption that snapped and decided to do something about it. She has no morals that we’ve seen. No remorse. Just a desire to strike back. If she’s gone crazy and lost any sense of right and wrong, Bendis has got to tell us. Otherwise, he’s going to have a hard time getting us to connect to her. The problem only gets worse when Bendis tries to make us an accomplice to her crimes. Scarlet calling us out that we can’t recognize what’s wrong with our world and don’t have the balls to do anything about it if we did does not endear her to us. She’s trying to put the reader down, and just like a friend who does that, people are going to stop calling her.

Alex Maleev’s work has never been something I would call beautiful. Here, I would call it ugly. Characters have ridiculous expressions, especially Scarlet’s friend Brandon. This where Maleev’s photo-referencing pales in comparison to someone like Tony Harris. Harris stages his scenes, and his “actors” look like their emoting instead of posing for the camera. Shading is done in large splotches like jagged countries on a map. The colors are all dark, doing the storytelling no favors. The reader doesn’t know what to focus on.

One last note, and maybe this is sacrilege, but is this really a visual story? In other words, may this be better served as a novel? The only action here is Scarlet running from the cops and then sniping a couple of them. The images allow for some nice reveals, such as the fact that Scarlet is videotaping her actions, unafraid of the public knowing who she is. But really, between the narration and prevalence of talky scenes, the visuals don’t add much. If you write “Concert (Arcade Fire),” do we need to see two dudes in the crowd to understand what that mean? Just a thought.

One more issue sirs, then I’m out.

Secret Six #27Secret Six #27 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ****

People often complain about comic books covers falsely advertising the interiors. Well, I will warn you. The cover of Secret Six #26 shows Bane riding a dinosaur. The inside of Secret Six #26 shows Bane riding a god damn dinosaur! And Catman riding a the biggest cat I’ve ever seen. AWESOME.

Prior to “The Reptile Brain,” I had never heard of Skartaris. I only knew Warlord by name. I still don’t really know who Diemos is. In all that confusion, I was a bit lost with the intricacies of the plot. All that said, this was the best issue of the storyline so far. It’s small moments that become more important than the whole. The two Sixes come to blows, no one holding back. This leads to some great clashes, like those between Ragdoll and King Shark and Jeanette and everyone else.

These are bad people, but it feels real. Reluctance to kill has long been a criticism of superheros. “I’m willing to put someone in a hospital, or drop them from a great height, or run from the police, but killing is wrong.” It’s a nice message, but crazy. If you had a great skill and could get away with it, you would take advantage. Shady contracts, bloody violence. Whatever.

I don’t give J. Calafiore enough credit on this book. Big and small, action or discussion, his pencils are consistent and exciting. In this issue specifically, I admire his habit of violating panel borders. It’s done rarely, but always emphasizes the right moments.

With the cliffhanger involving a character I’m not familiar with, I’m not sure where this is going. I am sure though that the two teams will unite and kick some ass. I can’t wait.

Young Allies #6Young Allies #6 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon ****

Rest in peace, Young Allies. I know no reason you should be forgot. You’re my favorite new series of 2010. You were fun. You were funny. You were exciting. You exposed me to some new characters that I’ll hunt down past and future appearances of. You had great, consistent, monthly art. And now you are canceled.

Obviously, I enjoy Avengers Academy. And I understand that there are a few reasons it sells three times as many copies (“Avengers” in the title, better known guest stars, tying in with other titles). But I find this to be a superior book. These heroes aren’t ready to defend the world either, but they’ve also got to deal with the real world. It’s a more complete picture of what it means to grow up super.

Young Allies was a book of underdogs. An underrated writer and artist and C-list characters may not light the charts on fire, but it also means they’re aren’t stuck in a rut of repetitive villains and cyclical plots. Sean McKeever shows his ear for many characters’ voices, this issue guest-starring Emma Frost, one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel U today.

David Baldeon wasn’t afraid to avoid the blood and violence of too many books these days. His cartoony art does what comic art should: help tell the story while adding to its tone. And he did it brilliantly.

“A Change of Mind” is one of those downtime issues that are enjoyable in an extended run, but hard to really discuss. The characters each have to make a decision and by the end, they do. But the outcomes of those decisions will come in the future. Which is a problem.

This issue is one of transition. Which is made awkward by the fact that it’s a transition to … nothing. Time to talk publishing for a moment. The book in canceled. Recent comments from Ed Brubaker (“I’ll be doing both the main feature and writing the back-up feature. And they’ll be intertwining stories.”) suggest that the Nomad backup in Captain America will end soon. All fans have left on the horizon is the new Spider-Girl. I’m interested, but we know how much success that title has had in the past.

#6 is the weakest issue of the title yet, but I implore all of you to read this series when it’s released in trade.

Library Reviews 11-8-10

Batman: Heart of HushBatman: Heart of Hush by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen

“Hush” was one of the stories that got be back into superhero comics when I was in college. I was creeping around the comic shop and saw a book drawn by Jim Lee that included a plethora of Bat-villains. It was a no-brainer. Not being knowledgeable at the time meant I enjoyed the book more than a lot of continuity-tied readers do. So, Hush may not belong in the top tier of villains, but his presence doesn’t offend me outright. This story, which fills in Hush’s backstory answers some questions, but also makes him less relatable.

The problem with Hush is that his only motivation is jealousy of Bruce Wayne. Jealousy that even drove him to kill his parents. The jealousy is the core of his character and it quickly gets overwhelming and reduces him to one dimension. Everything he does in this book is driven by wanting to get at Bruce. His plan, to give himself plastic surgery to become identical to Bruce Wayne, doesn’t make sense. One of the results of this, that he can pose as Wayne and loot his banks accounts is mental. This is the 21st century, no one under the age of 65 does banking in person. You want to loot his accounts? Get a password or pin number.

In the end, Hush comes off as an idiot. The biggest shock of the story is that Hush steals Catwoman’s heart, which he then keeps frozen and on display. Which sure pisses Batman off, but also makes it all too easy to save her life.

Thinking about this story a year later, it just seems like they needed a way handle the whole “Bruce Wayne is missing too!” question when they “killed” Batman. I don’t know, maybe this worked a lot better monthly as part of the whole Bat-continuity at the time, but upon inspection, it just falls apart.

But Dustin Nguyen is awesome.

Spider-Man: Return of the Black CatAmazing Spider-Man: Return of the Black Cat by Joe Kelly, Marc Guggenheim, Mike McKone, and a boatload of others

It was both a strength and a weakness to have rotating writers on Spider-Man. It’s like the weather in New England. You don’t like it? Wait five minutes. Here it’s “You don’t like Marc Guggenheim? Wait three weeks.”

The problem is that the collections are very uneven. Here, Joe Kelly and Mike McKone have a very fun story that takes advantage of the unmarried Peter Parker. The sexual tension between Spider-Man and Black Cat (though not necessarily Peter Parker and Felicia Hardy) ensure excitement without resorting to explosions or punching.

A slutty (I say that in the sex-positive “Yay sluts!” sort of way) Peter Parker is fun to read. He’s got the awkward tension with the roommate (Michelle), the friends with benefits that he works with (Black Cat), the ex-girlfriend (Mary Jane), and the girl with the crush on him (Norah). He’s a 20-something guy, and most 20-something guys have one or more of these in their life. It’s a nice touch.

Next, Marc Guggenheim writes an overly convoluted story involving some relics of the “Clone Saga” of the 90s. I didn’t read the “Clone Saga.” Everyone says to avoid it as it’s the paragon of what was wrong with comics in those days. The story is so elaborate that it needed a prologue in another book (Web of Spider-Man) just to get people up to speed. It didn’t work. It constantly cuts to flashbacks featuring Ben Reilly, who looks just like Peter, but isn’t part of the modern-day story. The scenes have the same villain and two heroes that look identical. Without any sort of visual competent to tell the two apart, it collapses by trying to be too clever.

Lastly, Joe Kelly comes back for a Deadpool story that is too much for me. I’ve heard Kelly is the best writer to ever work on the character, but his quips and fourth wall breaking have always turned me off. I understand that Deadpool’s juvenile is the heart of the character, but it’s not for me.

I didn’t have much investment in the Parker-Watson marriage, so I didn’t care when they were broken up. All I know is that this status-quo has some aspects that add a lot of enjoyability for me. I’d gladly read more of these stories, as lumpy as they may be.

X-Men OriginsX-Men Origins by Mike Carey, Chris Yost and more than a boatload of others

This book is hard to review as it doesn’t collect one story. It’s six one-shots, each giving the backstory a different character.  This book shines where Spider-Man failed: BALANCE. I’ve got to give the credit to editor Nick Lowe. He’s got more writers (4) and artists (6) than Steve Wacker had on Spidey, but each story succeeds in its own way, resulting in a more cohesive package.

Chris Yost shows us the duty to family and country that drives Colossus. Then he turns around and gives a clean 30-page summation of Wolverine’s days prior to Giant Size X-Men #1.

Mike Carey shows the Clark Kent, small town boy side of the Beast and later makes the best of the ridiculousness that is Gambit’s history. As a child of the 90s’ X-Men cartoon, I dig Gambit. I can’t help it. But some of the ways he’s been tied to X-continuity are a stretch. Carey streamlines it all, painting him as a man who’s looking to control his powers and have his freedom, and finding the costs are a too high.

Also in the trade, Sean McKeever shows more personality for Jean Grey than I’ve seen just about anywhere and Kieron Gillen shows Sabretooth’s favorite part of his birthday.

I won’t go into details for each of the artists, but again, Nick Lowe earned his paycheck on this one. The stories that flashback to youth (Jean, Beast) are painted in beautiful, nostalgic styles. The violent life of Wolverine gets jagged, rough lines. The fun that Sabretooth finds in fighting is reflected in the quick panels and stark colors. Gambit’s story is illustrated with all the shadows that a thief deserves. This book shows what comics are at their best: a perfect unity of writing and art telling a story.

If you have any interest in the X-Men, X-Men Origins is worth a read.

The Shopping List 8-18-10

***** = Loved It
**** = Really Liked It
*** = Liked It
** = Didn’t Like It
* = Hated It

Secret Avengers #4Secret Avengers #4 by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato, Jr. **

From Gotham Central to Daredevil, Catwoman to Captain America, Ed Brubaker has to be one of my favorite superhero writers. I’ve been following Deodato from Thunderbolts through Dark Avengers. The team includes Steve Rogers, Beast and the Eric O’Grady Ant-Man. So, when the post-Siege books were rolling out, this is the one that interested me the most. After giving it a whole arc, I’m done with the book.  This is the introduction to a new, black-ops Avengers team and you spend it on Mars, chasing the Serpent Crown? REALLY?

Four dollar books really have to be great month in, month out. Deodato is bringing it, but Bru isn’t. This was the best issue of the arc, but even the mystery of whatever this Nick Fury-looking guy is up to is not enough to justify sticking with the book. There’s not enough here. Brubaker shows his love for Steve Rogers, and him putting the Nova helmet on is a cool idea (a great cover, though only my second favorite “putting someone else’s helmet on” cover. That’d be Son of M #5). But this book didn’t have Valkyrie’s best appearance of the week (Avengers Academy) or the most unexpected hero (Thunderbolt’s Man-Thing). I’ll keep my eye on the reviews, but I’m not impressed.

Uncanny X-Men #527Uncanny X-Men #527 by Matt Fraction and Whilce Portacio **

This is another book that has just not impressed me enough. I’m going to finish out the current arc, “The Five Lights,” but now that this book is four dollars a month, it needs to be better. I understand that I’m talking about one dollar a month, 12 dollars a year, but it’s forced me to justify these purchases.

Whilce Portacio’s art has too many scratchy lines, but after the Dodsons, I’m going to complain about almost anything. Fraction does well by most of the characters (other than Emma’s “Rad Bromance” comment last month). I just don’t care about their problems. Second Coming had huge stakes, scary villains and real threats (right Kurt?). These two issues have been new mutants realizing their powers, which I’ve seen before. This one has Emma flirting with Tony Stark and Namor, which I’ve seen before. The most interesting scene was between Wolverine and Cyclops, but it’s only two pages. Now that Hope is back in the present, what is the mission of this book? Its characters have plenty of personality, but Uncanny X-Men has none.

Avengers Academy #3Avengers Academy #3 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone ****

I’ve got a weakness for teen teams and for villains. Teen books are pretty common and between this book and Young Allies, I am finding plenty to fill the space in my budget opened by the above books. But villain books are tough. They have to reach some of their goals, but they can’t really win, because that would mean killing the hero. Or the writer has to come up with an even more despicable antagonist. Secret Six is my favorite DC book, which succeeds by creating terrible, terrible people for the Six to clash with.

Avengers Academy does a little bit of both. Finesse and Hazmat are trying to undermine their teachers, but the real bad guy of the piece is Norman Osborn, who tortured these kids while he was in power. The kids, whether you consider them the heroes or villains of the piece have understandable motivations, which lets us align with them. We align, we care, I enjoy.

I haven’t seen Mike McKone’s work since the Teen Titans relaunch, but it’s great. Beside defining five new characters (Reptil having appeared elsewhere), he’s drawn a kick ass Iron Fist, a perfectly arrogant Quicksilver, and a scary Hannibal Lector-masked Crossbones. Sweet.

Thunderbolts #147Thunderbolts #147 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker *****

This issue offers another side of the events seen in this week’s Avengers Academy (as well as next month’s issue). It’s an interesting way to do a crossover as no full scenes are shared and the students don’t have any lines in Thunderbolts. If you only read Thunderbolts, you have no idea what caused the blackout or why it was done. That being said, it doesn’t really matter.

A lot happens in this issue, which had to wrap up last month’s search for some Terrigen crystals as well as show what the ‘Bolts were up to during the events seen in AA.

This issue was also featured the week’s best sequence, a five-page, three-row battle: John Walker shows what a one-legged man can do in an ass-kicking contest, Songbird fends off the Raft’s female populace (with the assist of Troll [Who?]), and Luke Cage shows the Purple Man why he’s the Power Man. Special recognition to colorist Frank Martin for keeping the whole sequence easy to follow as it went from page to page.

I’ve only been exposed to Kev Walker’s work through the Annihilation: Nova miniseries. I wasn’t sure how well it would follow Thunderbolts recent artists, which have included Mike Deodato and Roberto De La Torre. I have to admit, his over the top style goes toe-to-toe with this issue’s over the top action. His Juggernaut looks massive. Moonstone is smug, no words necessary. And the change of expression on Purple Man’s face when he realizes he can’t stop Luke is priceless.

Since the dawning of the Heroic Age, this is one of Marvel’s best.

I also want to point readers to David Brother’s discussion of aforementioned battle, specifically Luke Cage’s part, over at 4th Letter!. Brothers is one of my favorite bloggers. His stuff is always worth reading.

Ex Machina #50Ex Machina #50 by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris **

Brian K. Vaughan opens this final issue of Ex Machina with a theory about comic books, specifically ongoing superhero books: “Month after month, they just keep going. So no matter what terrible things happen, you know there’s always another chance for wrong to get righted.” As much as Hundred is letting us know that these “happy endings are bullshit,” that IS one of the reasons I enjoy comics.

Regardless, this tragic ending is not what I expected. People are going to go on and on about how we’ve know that Ex Machina is a tragedy since page two, but I’m not sure this was the way to go. Kremlin’s exit makes sense, but it’s a note BKV’s been playing for him since that first storyline. Doesn’t he get to evolve?

Vaughan also uses this final issue to turn the ever loyal Bradbury gay (at least for Mitchell Hundred [at least when drunk]). The mayor’s sexuality was never directly addressed, but his relationship with Bradbury has always been strictly homosocial. If you recall, the last issue of Y:The Last man ending up pairing Hero and Beth together. Beth, who had never shown signs of this before (I can’t remember for Hero). What is BKV saying here?

As for the actual tragic aspects, they’re there. At the end, Mitchell has what he wanted, but his flaws have led him to lose everyone in his life. When Hundred asks “What did I do? … What did I do to you?”, he’s not just talking about Kremlin. He’s talking about this whole Great Machine experience and how it’s driven his life. This last year’s worth of issues really took the book outside of its wheelhouse. I’ve got to admit, I liked the ex-superhero turned mayor book better than the ex-superhero turned mayor fights inter-dimensional aliens book.

Ex Machina is a great book that everyone should read, but I’ve got to place it below Y. Perhaps in a few months I reread from the beginning and do a review of the series as a whole.

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