The Shopping List 5-18-11

Tony Wants To Know Where You Are

Avengers #13Avengers #13 by Brian Michael Bendis and Chris Bachalo ****

I enjoy Bendis’ dialogue, but often find his plots too boring. The inaugural arc of this book was very smashy, but with little consequence. When I saw that this issue was 90% talking heads, talking about Avengers history and future, I had to buy it.

As excited as I was, I wasn’t sure Chris Bachalo was the best choice for this story. I’m one of those guys that has a problem with his storytelling. You know, the whole “I have no idea what is happening here” thing. But the man can draw. His characters all look classic, with faces that finely underscore the subtext of their lines. It’s nice surprise. One of my favorite sequences has Hawkeye and Spider-Woman flirting. He hits on her and everything else falls away. Literally; the background drops out. It’s a really nice move.

Their relationship seems rather random though. There are certainly more organic ways to stick two characters in a relationship, like having them spend time together, or at least share a platonic moment before Hawkeye turns on the charm.  A questionable start, but with some big happenings about to happen in Fear Itself, things should move along nicely.

FIRST NITPICK OF THE WEEK: I’ve already  seen the Avengers’ Asgard press conference in Fear Itself and Invincible Iron Man, I didn’t need to see it a third time.

This isn’t the book Avengers has been over the past year, but to a reader like me, it’s welcome. I’m definitely in for the remainder of the arc.

Avengers Academy #14Avengers Academy #14 by Christos Gage and Sean Chen **

Avengers Academy is becoming a hard book to review. Whether a good or bad issue, there’s never much in the way of specifics to talk about. This issue, for example, is pretty weak. There’s just not that much here. It’s a done-in-one story, but feels empty. It’s fight and angst. No ups and downs.

SECOND NITPICK OF THE WEEK: I mentioned a few weeks ago how much I like Sean Chen’s art. Here, I have a small problem. The kids don’t always look like kids. Striker has the same body as Quicksilver, who must be almost twice his age. The action is dynamic, but the characters could use some more work.

On a grander scale, it seems like the entire Marvel universe is facing the Sinister Six. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some big story coming up. Doc Ock also has some fixation on proving he’s smarter than the great minds of the Marvel U – so far Tony Stark and Hank Pym.

I’m not questioning dropping Avengers Academy, but the title has been very unbalanced since the inaugural arc. We had the prom issue, but we also the weak sauce that was Korvac. Sad to say only 14 issues in, but AA needs to get back to its roots.

Invincible Iron Man #504Invincible Iron Man #504 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca ****

“Fix Me” was a big disappointment to me. It was boring and inconsequential.  This issue accomplishes so much and is so exciting that it just proves my point.

I’m not sure that the Grey Gargoyle has even been a scary villain, but give him a hammer and souped up powers and he can give Iron Man a true obstacle. It comes in a non-traditional way, but there’s a huge body count in this issue. None of that “The Hulk did the math in his head to make sure no civilians were crushed by that collapsing building.” These people got straight up fatalitied. GG is causing some serious damage on the streets of Paris. It’s fun.

My most common complaint about this book is the art. Even that gets an improvement this issue. Larroca has some truly great spreads and splashes in here. Of course, the coloring is still bad. Any human faces, look colored by warpaint, instead of shadows.

THIRD NITPICK FOR THE WEEK:  The dialogue from the Chosen (here and probably all Fear Itself titles) – are these real words? Will we ever see a translation for this rune language?

Yes, this is a big turn around. Fraction may have his focus on the main event book, but he doesn’t lack on his regular monthly title – Invincible Iron Man is back.

Amazing Spider-Man #661Amazing Spider-Man #661 by Christos Gage and Reilly Brown **

I dropped Amazing Spider-Man right around the Future Foundation stuff. Or so I thought. The appearance of the Avengers Academy cast, with creator Christos Gage writing, convinced me to pick up the book again. The students may be on the cover, but their professor, Hank Pym, also gets his time in the spotlight. Giant-Man punching a giant gorilla. It’s taken some time, but really appreciate seeing Pym respected as an important part of the Marvel Universe. The students are also portrayed well. Maybe a little too well. I know Gage created the characters, but they seem so much smarter and level-headed here than they do in their own book.

So the characters do well here, but the plot doesn’t match up. Firstly, the Psycho Man? Really? He’s got an iPad that controls people’s emotions? Super lame. But his schtick also results in the biggest problem of the issue. Psycho Man’s m.o. is to make people afraid. Accordingly, Spider-Man spends much of the issue second guessing himself. It doesn’t feel like the fun-loving, web-slinger we love. The very plot keeps him from being who we want to read. Terry Moore did a similar thing in his first Runaways arc. There, Moore had a curse placed on the kids that made them fight with each other. But the strength of that book was the characters’ friendships. When the conceit of the conflict is at odds with the strength of the book, it’s a problem.

The art is another high point though. Reilly Brown is doing what Francis Manapul was doing on The Flash. The art isn’t inked with black lines. Instead, the lines are darker versions of the fields they separate – yellow for Sue Storm’s hair, brown for the Thing’s hide, whatever. It gives a nice, soft look. The colors themselves are too dark, but the linework is very classy.

FOURTH NITPICK OF THE WEEK: Can we straighten out a definition of “hot mess?” I thought it was supposed to be someone who appears or looks good, but beneath that, is out of control. Peter was not a “hot mess” in front of the class. He was just a mess.

Thunderbolts #157Thunderbolts #157 by Jeff Parker, Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey **

Hmm … I wish I had better news, but this was a lackluster issue. I know some things happened, but even after reading it twice, I could say what. OK, so I guess I can’t say much about the plot. Except for my FIFTH NITPICK OF THE WEEK: The problem is solved a bit too easily. Magic words? REALLY?

Well, forgetting that, here’s some thought I had:

1) I wish Parker had planted seeds for the rest of the Underbolts like he did with Troll. I think I’ve read one Mr. Hyde appearance, and other than Shocker, I’ve never even heard of the rest.

2) This was the second book this week featuring a villain using fear as a weapon – and again, not a Fear Itself tie-in yet. Strange.

3) Troll’s battle suit is BAD-ASS!

So yeah, that issue wasn’t up to snuff. But you’ve got to expect some recruits to wash out pretty quickly, whether through being beaten in battle or nefarious teammates. With the promise of roster shakeups, it should at least be exciting once again.

X-Factor #219X-Factor #219 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino **

Are we done with this assassin plot now? It was just uninspired. Remember how the personalities of the characters – Shatterstar fighting pirates, Longshot at the craps table affected the Vegas plot? We don’t have any of that here. I feel like this arc could take place in any superhero title. That’s rarely the case with X-Factor, which is one of it’s virtues. Much like Thunderbolts, I was just unenthusiastic about this issue. So I don’t have anything to say.

We did get a news flash from the obvious department: Layla Miller can be confusing. “Wimmin. Go figger,” indeed.

Tedious story aside, the art is still great. If I ever Lupacchino at a show, I’ll have to get her to draw Rahne/Wolfsbane for me. She’s the only artist who draws both versions to my liking. She’s great.

The Shopping List 5-4-11

Arcade Wants To Play
This week had few mid-list books and the probable #1 book for the month of May. Only one was a disappointment. Care to guess which?

Avengers Academy Giant-SizeAvengers Academy Giant-Size by Paul Tobin and David Baldeon ****

I could review both of this week’s Avengers Academy books together. But with different writers, artists, and moods, it wouldn’t be prudent. Since Giant-Size comes first story-wise, it comes first review-wise.

This story was originally planned as annuals for Avengers Academy, Young Allies, and Spider-Girl. Of course, the latter two went and got canceled. So, it was re-solicited as a three-issue miniseries. When that was canceled, Marvel decided to put the whole thing under one cover. The final title is quite apt. There are more Academy members than Allies and this thing is huge.

Similar to Paul Tobin’s work on Spider-Girl, the character reactions are what makes this book. From Striker’s false bravado to the set-up of a possible Reptil/Spider-Girl romance, the characters feel familiar, yet pushed forward. Tobin also takes the chance to paint Arcade as a cleaned-up version of the Joker. He’s all about his plans, which are of course his undoing. And he loves to make puns. With the exception of Firestar, each of Arcade’s traps is matched to its victim. These element come together to show that this story couldn’t take place with other heroes or villains. It’s this match-up that is so enjoyable.

David Baldeon’s art is perfect. His characters are unique. Storytelling and emotions are clear. I had forgotten how much a part of Young Allies he was. I hope Marvel finds him a home soon.

Yes, Avengers Academy Giant-Size comes with a massive $7.99 price tag, but let’s do some math. 80 pages is almost four regular issues, which would cost $12. There is a lot of story here and something for fans of any of the previously mentioned books. Give it a chance.

Avengers Academy #13Avengers Academy #13 by Christos Gage and Sean Chen ****

Not that I’ve read the issues, but people always talk about X-Men baseball games. Small breaks between arcs where everyone could decompress and Claremont could do some character building. Peter David took it a step up with his psychiatry issues of X-Factor. This week, Christos Gage found the perfect rest for the teen characters of the Marvel U – prom! Gage catches up with some characters who’ve dropped out of the spotlight, brings everyone’s emotions to the forefront and there’s still a lot more action than my prom, if you know what I’m saying.

I dropped Avengers: The Initiative somewhere after Secret Invasion, but based on scenes like the ones with Komodo and Ultra Girl (“Oh. Golly.”), I may have to go back. And I love seeing the Young Allies again, even if their appearances are brief.

This issue also made me realize what separated Avengers Academy from televised teen dramas – horny adults. Shows like My So-Called Life and The OC were about the kids, sure, but they weren’t solely concerned with the young people. That’s a strength of the series and I’ll admit it, Tigra and Dr. Pym deserve to get some.

I like Sean Chen’s art. More when it’s close up. When his characters are too far back, they lose not only detail, but emotion.

It may be a small interlude between bigger stories, but that doesn’t mean Avengers Academy #13 isn’t one of the series best issues yet.

Fear Itself #2Fear Itself #2 by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen **

I found the first issue of Fear Itself bland; issue #2 is no better. In this installment, Matt Fraction is so concerned with getting hammers in the hands of The Worthy, that he disregards an actual plot. Four pages on the Raft. Three pages following the Hulks. Two and a half pages following the Absorbing Man and Titania. One panel of … some guy in the ocean. To finish off the issue, we get separate pep-talks from Odin and Steve Rogers.

I can’t explain it; so much happens, but it feels like nothing happens.

One disappointing change from the first issue was a lack of men-on-the-street. Last time, we saw regular people reacting to the status quo. (Remember the dudes in Broxton?) Here, reactions only come via quotes news reports. It’s less personal, and feels it.

I remember Secret Invasion having some logical problems. The idea that, within an hour of exposing themselves, the Skrulls would have thousands of humans cheering for them is ridiculous. Here, there are similar problems. One of the news reports says “Autism rates skyrocketing.” What? Within an hour or so, we already have data on the increasing level of neural development disorders? REALLY?

The best moment of the issue is Odin sending Thor off to prison. It seems a weird plot point (Is Odin always a dick?), but you know once he gets out, he’ll have some serious smashing to do.

Regardless of my problems with the plot, I have no such qualms with the art. Despite massive set pieces and dozens of characters, Stuart Immonen never missteps. I could criticize his Worthy-Hulk to be too similar to Drax the Destroyer, but I won’t. If he can keep this level of art and on-time, he’ll go right to the top of the list of crossover artists.

I’m very excited for the real action to start, but Fear Itself has starting out on bad feet.

Secret Six #33Secret Six #33 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ****

If you’ve ever wondered if someone’s torture could warm your heart, I give you Secret Six #33. Yes, we finally see to what corner of hell Thomas Blake was going off with Etrigan and the resolution of Catman’s family drama. (See: “Cat’s in the Cradle“). In a surprising move, Gail Simone used this arc to follow-up on more than just the get-out-of-hell-free card. It’s an impressive skill that every month she can still mine more than five years of stories featuring these characters.

In a series of great character moments, Simone shoes us the Six’s fears. From a mother’s sadness to the despair of eternal life to vegetarian restaurants, even the most vile people are afraid of something.

“Say you forgive me. And that love really exists. Even for us.” Like Delirium having a crestfallen moment of clarity, the issue’s most heartbreaking line comes from a most unexpected source, Ragdoll.

I’ve officially come around on J. Calafiore. He does his best every month and without any delays. He doesn’t have some flashy style, but he’s consistent. I like that. I did figure out my problem with some of his work. Some faces, noticeable Scandal’s, have a great lack of detail. Her face is a big oval with a birthmark. The contours are left to the colorist, who is sadly content to fill her with a simple gradient. Some more features, on either of their part, could do wonders.

The Shopping List 3-2-11

You’d think that the more you write reviews, the easier it would get. But it doesn’t. It gets harder. There are only so many ways I know to talk about an artist. It’s all boils down to “I like it.” or “I don’t like it.” Stories I can track as they go up and down, but I’m not that good about art. Even books I like, I run out of things to say. Not that I want to waste money on books I don’t like, but sometimes it’s like my inspiration

Misty's Gone AwayI always want to do more varied posts, but sometimes the muse ain’t there. And the last thing I want to do is regurgitate news that you can read on 1,000,001 other sites. I’m striving for less reviews and more commentary. Keep your eyes out.

Avengers Academy #10Avengers Academy #10 by Christos Gage and Sean Chen ****

With issue #10, Avengers Academy lives up to the second half of its name. Superhuman Ethics, Applied Chemistry, Rudiments of Magic. Class is in session. Someone needs to teach the youth how to be heroes. It’s one of those things I’ve missed since the X-Men stopped living at a school.

It’s interesting to see how this book has picked up the crumbs of other stores around the Marvel Universe. Whether it’s Speedball/Penance post-Stamford, the Wasp’s fate after Secret Invasion, or last issue’s focus on Tigra’s beating. Big name writers (Millar, Bendis) have come in and made some big moves, but Christos Gage is the one looking for the emotional fallout. Great thanks to him.

The most interesting portion of this issue focuses on Haz-Mat. She’s spent the first nine issues pissed off. She wants to go back to her old life. But what happens when you no longer fit into that old life? For young metas, maybe you can’t go home again.

Sean Chen doesn’t have an instantly identifiable style, but this is good comic book art. His people look good. Their emotions are believable. This action is dynamic. I was impressed with him on DC’s Salvation Run (remember that debacle?), so it’s nice to see him again.

With another dip into Marvel history with the return of Korvac next month and an upcoming superhero prom, Avengers Academy couldn’t be much better.

Heroes for Hire #4Heroes for Hire #4 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Robert Atkins ***

My biggest complaints about this third series of Heroes for Hire have been a lack of plot progression and Brad Walker’s art. Both of those concerns are addressed here, but “No Strings” is still a disappointment.

For the first time, Misty Knight gets to be the focus of her own book. Most of the issue takes place in her head, which also leads to much of my dissatisfaction. The argument can be made that seeing Misty’s internal struggle is important, but this would have been better served if it had been split up over a number of issues. That way, her struggle would have taken longer (in publication time), seeming like a greater battle. She would have earned her awakening from under Puppet Master’s power. As it stands, it like she’s only fighting him in her head for 20 minutes instead of the weeks she’s been under his control.

Artists that can follow a monthly schedule must be dropping like flies, because no matter what kind of lead-time this book had, it needed a fill-in artist after only three issues. He may be a stop-gap, but I enjoy Robert Atkins work a lot more than Brad Walker’s. The biggest item on his resume is IDW’s recent G.I. Joe books. His time spent on those books sure influenced his action scenes. The pages showing Misty fighting Elektra, Silver Sable and a whole gang of others show someone who is not to be taken lightly. Kicking, punching, blasting, it’s all fluid and very exciting.

We all know that the issue’s Punisher cliffhanger is not what it seems. Between seeing how that goes and hopefully a reveal of Puppet Master’s … master, #5 should be a good read.

Secret Six #31Secret Six #31 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore *****

After a slow arc in Skartaris, followed by uninspired crossovers with Action Comics and Doom Patrol, the Secret Six we know and love is back. Issue #31 opens with the eight (I know, right?) team members filing a commercial and closes with Ragdoll leading the forces of hell against his teammates. In between, we get the crackling dialogue and depravity we’ve come to expect from Gail Simone, at least on this title.

The plot brings back the Get Out of Hell Free card from the first arc. Scandal may be the first one that comes to mind when thinking of a team member who’s lost someone they love, but way back when, Ragdoll lost his best friend – Parademon. Don’t remember him? Check out the Villains United series that put this team together the first time. It’s awesome.

Looking at the team, it’s easy to see Doll as the whipping boy. He’s not muscle like Bane or a fighter like Scandal or Catman. He’s the comic relief. Rightfully so, he spends most of this issue surrounded by his pet monkeys – each dressed up as a member of the Six. But in this scene, he’s fighting Scandal Savage. More importantly, he’s holding his own. Classic.

Calafiore continues turning in solid, if unremarkable art. One sequence that did catch my attention is Scandal’s dream. Therein, he uses a couple unique layouts to set it off from the remainder of the issue. Another nice touch was the names of stores in the Iowa mall that doubles as a gate to hell. They include Fred’s Saltless Pretzels and Non-Descript Apparel. Hell, indeed.

Thunderbolts #154Thunderbolts #154 by Jeff Parker and Declan Shalvey ***

Man-Thing. He’s the butt of Giant-Sized jokes, but more importantly, he’s the most mysterious member of the Thunderbolts. Much like the Ghost’s story was told in #151, Man-Thing gets his own focus here.

I’m unfamiliar with the walking pile of flora, so it was nice to get a brief history, but not much happens. A sorceress frees M-T from The Raft, he defeats some six-eyed Avatar knockoffs, then goes home. This issue goes a long way in proving that he’s a valuable member, but it lacks the team dynamics that make this book so interesting.

You may remember Declan Shalvey’s name from the Shadowland tie-in issues. He’s back doing an adequate job. I don’t mean to be negative. I enjoy Shalvey’s work, but filling in for Kev Walker is a fool’s errand.

Thunderbolts is my favorite book right now, but I must admit that this issue is nothing if not skippable.

X-Factor #216X-Factor #216 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino ****

Valeria and Franklin Richards. Thor. Spider-Man. Since issue #201, Peter David sure has been doing his part in integrating X-Factor in the rest of the Marvel Universe. With most of mutantdom on the west coast, X-Factor’s the only game in New York town, acting like a bridge to the rest of the world. It makes sense.

This issue, X-F Investigations gets hired by the mayor of New York City – none other than J. Jonah Jameson. It seems a buddy of his was gunned down last week and Jamie and Co. have to find out why. In another storyline, a hitwoman awakens a former partner who has been lost in regular society. It had some shades of 100 Bullets. Not a bad book to steal from. Hmm … I wonder if these stories will intersect?

It also seems that PAD is getting used to his secondary artist, Emanuela Lupacchino, and has started writing to her strengths. After seeing how well she drew Rahne in her underwear, he writes a nice scene involving M in a bikini and a topless Shatterstar. Lupacchino’s a great artist. She draws an awesome Spider-Man. I hope the De Landro/Lupacchino team sticks on this book. Revolving artists has always been its shortcoming.

Spider-Man fans! Unite and give X-Factor the sales boost it deserves!