The Shopping List 4-13-11

As a blogger and reviewer, there are many ways one can choose to be. You can …Onslaught, You Are Very Wise … That’s the unspoken part of criticism. It’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it. Your favorite reviewers all have a tone. You may even be able to determine an author without seeing the byline. That’s a good writer. A tone. A voice. I guess I’m still working on mine. (For one, I think I should cut down on the parentheticals [but I’m so good at them!]).

Birds of Prey #11Birds of Prey #11 by Gail Simone and Pere Pérez ****

I was under the impression that the Catman/Huntress date was going to happen in Secret Six. But when I saw this (great) cover, it went right on my stack. I’ve read most of Simone’s previous run on Birds of Prey, but never found it any better than good. She’s a consistent writer and I like the characters, so I gave it a shot.

Critics are quick to praise a good done-in-one issue, but most are satisfied to simply have a hero/villain battle. Few have this much personal drama. Here, Catman and Huntress’ personal lives affect their costumed mission. On one hand, Helena thinks Blake’s a bad dude, which he is. On the other, she wants to get it on with him. This results in some great narration for the conflicted Huntress.

From roof diving to wind-ravaged kisses, Pere Pérez (is that the Latino equivalent of a name like Robbie Robertson?) fits the story quite well. He’s been poking around the Bat-verse for a while now, and handles Gotham’s bright lights and dark corners well. His Huntress shows a great range of emotion, but I wish he gave Catman more moods than flirty and blind-rage.

I’m not sure this book would interest me month to month without Catman, but I’m sure glad I picked it up. Fans of the Six are well recommended to give Gail Simone’s other monthly a try.

Flash #10The Flash #10 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul ***

I’m not one to complain when a cover doesn’t really reflect what goes on inside a comic, but where’s Wally? I’ve been blowing though Johns’ first run* and I don’t want to see him shoved into the background forever. Speaking of Johns’ first run, the bridge in front of which Flash, Kid Flash, and Hot Pursuit have their debate was constructed in the “Crossfire” arc. Nice nod there.

This is hard to judge this issue on its own. It’s the middle of an arc and mostly setup for Flashpoint, so I can’t complain that there are a lot of questions – Why is alt-Barry such a douche? Why is Bart so quick to judge Hot Pursuit? What about Hot Pursuit’s version of the Rogues? – that go unanswered. It’s a point A to point B issue, not much more. And with the amount of exposition here, the distance between those points isn’t very large.

I’ve spent enough time commending Manapul’s art in general. Now, each month I’m going to focus on a specific aspect. This month – fashion. From Patty’s glasses to her cropped jacket – I thought only Cliff Chiang has this good of an eye for style. And Barry’s wearing layers! A button down, then a hoodie, then a jacket. Just great.

* Anyone have an “Ignition” trade they want to give me? It’s the only one I can’t find cheap.

Onslaught Unleashed #3Onslaught Unleashed #3 by Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade ***

I think Sean McKeever is using the Secret Avengers better than Brubaker did in his inaugural arc. He’s using their skill sets and personalities in creative ways, creating conflict and forwarding the story. The (Gi)Ant-mans have always been disrespected, but being able to shrink then grow can be pretty powerful. Imagine if Ant-Man, under mind-control and in Sharon’s ear canal, grew to even one foot tall. BOOM goes Sharon’s skull.  I think Beast Boy pulled that in an episode of Teen Titans, going from mosquito to elephant in Trigon’s head. Onslaught is not the most compelling villain, but the character interaction make this series worth picking up for me.

However, the book is dragged down by the art. I mean, look at that cover. Wouldn’t this story be SO MUCH better with Ramos on art, rather than Andrade? This goes back to the idea of voice or tone from my introduction. It’s a matter of style. I’m not sure Andrade is done honing his. Drawing a lower-tier book, like this one, is the right idea. But I just wish it wasn’t on a book I was so excited to read.

The Shopping List 3-9-11

A nice, light week this time. It’s a good thing. I’ve been sick as death. This week has been

I'm Sick

OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But I can’t do much more than lay on the couch without something hurting. It sucks. Enough whining. Here’s the books.

Onslaught Unleashed #2Onslaught Unleashed #2 by Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade ***

With Onslaught Unleashed, Sean McKeever is writing a fun team-up between the Young Allies and Secret Avengers. The biggest strength of the partnership is the juxtaposition of some wildly different characters. Could any be more dissimilar than Gravity and Moon Knight?

The biggest problem though is the point of the team-up: Onslaught. There’s not much past the idea that he’s the combined “darkest impulses of Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto, along with all of their power, made manifest.” Great idea, but doesn’t exactly lead to a clashing of ideals. It’s going to be a slugfest. I also have a problem with Steve letting Toro go off on his own. Whether it’s Toro’s duty to face El Dragón or not, Rogers has to know that this is bigger than any one hero, especially someone so inexperienced. That’s the whole reason Steve didn’t let the Allies handle this on their own.

Despite the uneven nature of the story, Filipe Andrade’s art shouldn’t inspire too much debate. It’s not good. It’s very sketchy and pointy. I’ve seen artists with more detailed page breakdowns. I understand that no artist will impress everyone, but even compared to some of the other new names in Marvel’s art department, this guy just doesn’t cut it. I mean, he’s not the kind of guy I’m looking to get a convention sketch from.

If you’re interested in following these two teams, you should check it out, but Onslaught Unleashed in no think piece. That’s for sure.

Zatanna #10Zatanna #10 by Paul Dini and Cliff Chiang ***

Zatanna is one of those C-list Justice Leaguers that most people don’t feel strongly one way or the other about. I lean toward the positive side, but Cliff Chiang handling the art tipped me toward picking it up.

With Zatanna, Paul Dini is crafting one of the brightest books DC offers. Sure, there’s a homicidal puppet, but at least there’s no one being shot in the head. That said, “Strung Along” is a strange issue. I went into it thinking it was the conclusion of “Pupaphobia,” but … it’s not. It’s just the end of Chiang’s run. It’s also the Empire Strikes Back portion of the story, but instead of being frozen in Carbonite, Z gets turned into a puppet. It’s a cool twist. Instead we have to come back next month, with a new artist, to get the end. This is a trend I don’t like in comics. I don’t need a Bagley-esque 110 issue commitment, but I’d like to see an artist at least complete an arc. Instead, the final issue will stick out like a seven-foot black man in China. Also, I don’t remember seeing this Detective Colton in the past two issues, but here he is. Couldn’t the main story here have combined with the abridged issue #9 to make one complete issue? Instead we get extra issue and extraneous plots. Just saying.

As I said, I picked this up for Cliff Chiang’s work. You may have seen his art in the OGN Greendale or a great issue of JMS’s Brave and the Bold. He uses a different, more jagged style here. I don’t like it as much as his standard work, but it’s alright. He still uses the great amount of detail I love in his work. I’m also beginning to think no one frames his art better. I don’t mean the actual borders, I mean deciding what is/isn’t in the frame and where he places his camera. There are some really cool shots as Zatanna and Hempel tour her home.

Zatanna is not a bad book by any means. I might pick up the next issue to wrap up this story, but beyond that, if Cliff Chiang’s leaving, so am I.

The Shopping List 2-9-11

Hey everyone! How are you? I’m pretty goo–

Barry Allen and I Are Late

I was … see cuz the other time? See cuz it had rained. No, seriously. It was my birthday. It was Valentine’s day. I was celebrating. I’m allowed aren’t I?

Flash #9Flash #9 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul ***

Manapul is back on Flash and I couldn’t be more excited. Between his return and the book getting back into multi-part stories, we’re back to the feeling we got from “The Dastardly Death of Rogues.”

For the past two issues, I’ve complained about Brian Buccellatto’s colors. They didn’t feel right on Scott Kolins, but on Manapul’s lines, they are perfect. It gives an old-timey almost Rockwell feel. Knowing how much Tim Sale is influenced by Rockwell, I wonder what Buccellatto would do to his art. (Sorry Dave Stewart.) There’s not much action in this issue. It’s not exciting, but damn it’s pretty.

Flash has traded its “Brightest Day” banner for a “The Road to Flashpoint” one and wastes no time getting into it. The bulk of the book involves Barry Allen investigating a dead body. It seems that The Elongated Kid (really?) had rapidly aged before death. It could be chalked up to another time-travel murder mystery, but that storyline is book-ended by the arrival of new character Hot Pursuit searching for Barry. Under the helmet, he’s a character known to all Flash readers. We don’t get any details, but we’re barreling towards “the single greatest time anomaly to even threaten reality.” Johns may put too much hyperbole in his writing, but I’m in for the ride.

Heroes for Hire #3Heroes for Hire #3 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Brad Walker ***

I’m enjoying a book whose main character is Paladin. I say again, I’m enjoying a book whose main character is Paladin. I’m as surprised as you are.

Abnett and Lanning have switched the characters each month, giving a good interpretation of each until this issue. Danny Rand shows up, no surprise in a book called Heroes for Hire, but he’s really combative and reluctant to help, even when Misty’s name is dropped. Not very heroic. Not very Danny. It all seems like fitting him into a round hole for the purpose of the (again, forced) closing line.

I’m coming around on Brad Walker’s work. It isn’t any prettier, but at least it’s consistent. His Misty Knight isn’t attractive, but she’s consistently unattractive. I can live with that.

Jurassic Park continues its influence on comics. This is fourth book I can think of in about two months to include a battle with a dinosaur. You’d think was 1994.

Last month I wondered if Heroes for Hire would be too repetitive. This issue says yes. Misty uses a number of heroes to piece-meal a mission together. It’s fun, but each issue feels too slight. I want something bigger.

Onslaught Unleashed #1Onslaught Unleashed #1 by Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade ****

Comics can interest people for a variety of reasons. The character. The writer. The artist. So why would I buy Onslaught Unleashed?

Onslaught? No. I wasn’t into comics at the time, but the Onslaught Saga sounds bloated and very bad 90’s comics.
The Secret Avengers? Sure. Brubaker didn’t impress me, but Steve Rogers? Black Widow? Beast? These are some of my favorite characters.
The Young Allies? Of course. My favorite book of 2010.
Sean McKeever? From The Waiting Place to Allies, absolutely. He’s now a name I follow.
Filipe Andrade? Well … no.

Well, that’s 60% positive going into the book. How did it fare?

Pretty well. Despite Onslaught’s presence, it feels like the continuation of threads from Young Allies and the Nomad backups from Captain America. I was wondering if/where these stories, such as El Dragón would be addressed, so its nice to see they have not been lost, dropped or canceled. Of course, the threat here is bigger than Rikki or the Allies can handle, so her mentors, Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff take over.

McKeever impressed here. Onslaught Unleashed is a natural evolution of the story, giving reason for the team-up, without the played-out team vs. team battle. He writes established characters like Best and Ant-Man just as well as those he created.

Filipe Andrade’s art is much like that seen in the Nomad backups. It’s … fine. I can tell characters apart and he does some nice storytelling bits, but his characters are too jagged. Hell, Gravity could stab someone with his chin. I wonder how this series would look with David Baldeon or Humberto Ramos (who supplied the cover) on art duties. I wanto give some points to colorist Ricardo Tercio. Whether it’s the greens of the facility or the magentas of the Onslaught machine, each scene gets its own palette, expertly setting the tone.

The art holds it back, but for three more issues, Onslaught Unleashed is a book I will look forward too.

Amazing Spider-Man #653Amazing Spider-Man #654Amazing Spider-Man #653-654 by Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente and Stefano Caselli **

Sophomore slump. That’s the only way I can think about “Revenge of the Spider-Slayer.” Compared to Dan Slott’s first “Big Time” arc, we’ve got an unsympathetic villain, flat dialogue, dull art, and a lack of Peter Parker’s personal life.

Taken on their own, any of these factors would be OK, but together they’re just a disappointment. Let’s go down the line.

  1. Alistair Smythe is boring. You stole my dad. You ruined my life. Blah blah. Who cares? And the return of the Scorpion? Who cares? Spider-Man has the second best villains in comics because they have interesting personalities: Green Goblin and his mental instability, Doc Ock and his inventor’s drive, the new Hobgoblin and his dark-side-of-the-spider personality. Smythe and Gargan don’t have anything to hang their hats on.
  2. For these two issues, Fred Van Lente has scripted over Dan Slott’s story. I’ve never been a fan of Van Lente’s writing and these issues are show why. Characters don’t speak naturally; they speak in plot points. Van Lente even uses a number of though balloons. Thought balloons! One of the most inelegant methods of comics writing.
  3. I loved Stefano Caselli’s work on Avengers: The Initiative, but something doesn’t work here. It’s over-detailed and over-rendered. And issue 654, with its nighttime climax, is very dark. No the fun BIG TIME Spider-Man we got with Ramos.
  4. This issue is action action action. The biggest emotional hit is on J. Jonah Jameson. Peter hasn’t really learned or changed or gone on a journey. I don’t like that.

We’ve got #654.1 next, launching the new Venom book (interest level: low) then the glorious Marcos Martin! I had the highest excitement for Martin when this “Big Time” status quo was announced. So far, Ramos gets a thumbs up, Caselli gets a thumbs down and I can’t wait to see where Martin goes.

X-Factor #215X-Factor #215 by Peter David and Valentine De Landro

Some quick scene setting: I love it when heroes use their powers in non-combative ways. Sue and Johnny Storm creating personal umbrellas in Civil War? Love it. Madrox creating a dupe so he can interview a client and her accused at the same time? It just makes sense. Think of how fast you could finish your chores if you could send a copy of yourself to do each task.

With X-Factor #215, Peter David uses another spotlight issues to focus on the real linchpins of the series – Jamie Madrox and Layla Miller. The story itself is a whodunit, which is solved fairly simply. But, as always, it comes down to the characters.

Some history: Back in issue #10, cover date October 2006, Layla Miller referenced her and Jamie’s wedding night. He had just slept with Siryn and Monet (separately, though still, lucky dude [again, think of how awesome duplicates are]), so he sort of brushed it off.  In issue #28 (April 2008), we saw Rahne’s terrible vision of the future – her killing Jamie and Layla on their wedding night (this vision was given by Damian Tryp to Rahne in issue #12). In issue #40 (April 2009), we see a Layla from the future, all grown up. Making their marriage a lot less creepy. In #50 (December 2009), Layla returns to our timeline. Now, with the April 2011 issue, we get another step – the proposal. This is more than four years of comics following one thread. I love it.

Not much to say about the issue itself, other than that De Landro toned down the shadows in his art to great improvement. It’s a lot clearer and his people are more attractive. I hope he keeps it up.

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