The Shopping List 5-11-11

There are some unexpected benefits in reviewing comics for Bells’ Kitchen. First, I end up reading the books twice. I read first on Wednesday and then again when I sit down to write my review. I pick up so much that I didn’t noticed the first time around. I also recognize when I’m not enjoying a book. If a book keeps getting two star reviews, it’s time to drop it. I may not always want to sit down and write, Comfort in These PagesIt’s something that is always there. It forces me to practice writing. Now, I can put it on a resume as a giant writing sample. I don’t have many friends who read comics, so it also gets my ideas out of my head. It’s nice. Enough taking. Here’s the books.

Daredevil: Reborn #4Daredevil: Reborn by Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice ****

I’ve had some real complaints about Andy Diggle’s work on Daredevil: Reborn but it goes out with a truly enjoyable issue.

My favorite sequence of the book was the one with Matt Murdock talking to the blind boy. The kid’s “Quit sayin’ your sorry!” speech is really well done, pointing out how much heroes are focused on galactic problems, but ignore small ones. This issue shows what Superman should be doing on his walk across America.

The action sequence was also a nice surprise. I’ve often seen people use their enemy’s weapons against, them but heroin as a weapon? Only in Daredevil: Reborn.

So yeah, the writing finally got to the level I expected from Diggle. Too bad that this issue ends his run.

I really liked Davide Gianfelice’s art on this series. It acts as a nice transition from the Maleev/Lark/De La Torre days to the upcoming Rivera/Martin days. Of course, Billy Tan will always be out of place, but that’s Shadowland for you. I hope Gianfelice sticks around.

My only issue with the book is the final pages. I know it’s necessary to start Mark Waid’s run, but Foggy seems too quick to forgive Matt for a bunch of the shit that’s gone down. Even if Matt has faced his fears and is ready to move forward, I’m not sure everyone else is.

Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt #1Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt #1 by Sean McKeever and Mike Norton ***

And so starts the deluge of Fear Itself tie-ins.

Any reader knows how much I like teen books, so between the cast and Sean McKeever’s name, this was a guaranteed buy.

The cast is also the strength of the book. We get members from The Initiative, Young Allies, and even The Order. No one gets that much time, but it’s nice to see a varied cast, especially with characters that are so underexposed.

I do have a problem with the timing of this book. Because of the release schedule, we haven’t seen this much hysteria in the main Fear Itself title. I don’t really understand why this is going on. I can’t tell if this “fear” is just a reaction to the hammers falling or something supernatural coming from the Serpent and all that. The Blitzkrieg USA would have been a sufficient inciting incident, but that happens 16 pages into the book. Thor Girl (still a terrible name) gets attacked for having a hammer, but we don’t even know who’s getting each of the hammers, let alone really see anyone use them. How does the public know to fear her? In another schedule issue (though not a problem), Gravity makes a comment about “Poor Nomad.” So … what happened? She was alive in Avengers Academy #13 (or will that take place previous to Onslaught Unleashed on continuity is established?).

Speaking of Gravity, he and Firestar have quickly become the hottest will they/won’t they of comics. I’m sure they will and can’t wait until they do. Let’s hope they get some sort of book where they get the chance.

Mike Norton is a chameleon of an artist. I’ve heard him speak about often aping the style of the artist before him. Is this Norton’s personal style, then? It’s good. Nothing special, but good. Something about Prodigy’s costume makes him look villainous to me. Maybe it’s the sharp metal. Maybe that you can’t see any of his face. Maybe the prominence of orange.

I realize I’ve said a lot of nothing in this review, but mostly this issue is concerned with setting up the story. I can’t until the cast building is finished and this book really gets going.

Flash #12The Flash #12 by Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins and Francis Manapul **

It may have been four issues, but not much happened in this arc. Hell, it’s been 12 issues, and not much has happened in this series. This issue starts with too quickly finishing a couple of plots, then we get two pages of epilogue and – BOOM – we’re off to Flashpoint.

As the name might suggest, “The Road to Flashpoint” is more about plot than its characters. Yes, last month’s intervention was all about Barry Allen’s relationships with his friends, but the more important parts of this story were all event and no fallout. Hot Pursuit never gets a chance to be a real character. He’s a plot in the form of a man. Bad. The same with Patty Spivot. If the book needed a crime scene analyst, Johns couldn’t have pulled one from the force? It’s nice that he pulled someone from the past, but her drama with Barry is more distraction than plot. There could have been a real story there, but it’s cut off so Flashpoint can start.

If anyone thinks I’ve been overly critical of Scott Kolins art, just read this issue. The difference between his and Manapul’s pages is ridiculous. The inking is so dark and heavy on Kolins’ pages. Are dark and heavy EVER words you want to associate with Flash? No.

I’m sure we’ll have a Flash book of some sort after Flashpoint, but looking back on these 12 issues, this series has been a disappointment. Not much has happened in the life of Barry Allen. He’s back, but done nothing that Wally West couldn’t have done. Manapul’s glorious art has often been substituted by Scott Kolins. Between rolling out of Blackest Night and into Flashpoint, The Flash was just too distracted to tell great speedster stories. Sad.

Flashpoint #1Flashpoint #1 by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert ****

The Flash may not have done a great job setting up this story, but here it is. Remember how House of M didn’t place you in that world until issue #2? No such problem here. By setting everything up in Flash, we get dropped right in. It doesn’t make Flash any more enjoyable, but it’s better this way.

Alternate reality stories and big events are both great times to try to push a character to the A-list. Here, Johns pulls his boy Cyborg out of the Teen Titans and into the spotlight. I also like the idea of Citizen Cold (a heroic Captain Cold), but it seems he’s still got a dark side. It’s also nice to see Wonder Woman in such an important role. She’s been too ignored by events recently. Element Woman, seeming like a hero version of Delirium, is primed to be my breakout character of the series.

Since I got into comics, I haven’t read much by Andy Kubert. Because of that, I see his art as DC house style, mostly because of the Jim Lee similarities. I’m not accusing him of aping his style; I know they came up together. And besides, Jim Lee’s great. That’s why he’s Jim Lee. It’s just disappointing to see more of the same.

For such a different universe, the cliffhanger is not as big as I’d like. So Batman is Thomas Wayne. Whatever. He’s Batman. Same motivations, just more violent. Again, whatever. Give me reason to be invested in this world, not one character.

Overall, It’s a good start. I can already see the in-universe conflict as well as the problem Barry Allen is going to have getting back to his reality. Let’s go!

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 2-23-11

Last week I complained about a couple books. They weren’t good. That’s what I do. The good thing about that, as a reviewer, is that I can find things to say. This week was different. It was a lot of … OK books. Good, but not standout. Except for one. It was a week of good series, with new issues of Cap and Iron Man on the stands. Which was was the five star review?

Zoe Doesn't Know

You’ll just have to read and see.

Captain America #615 Captain America #615 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Pepe Larraz ****

Captain America is one of the few books I read where the bad guys regularly get a few ticks in the win column. After all, the Red Skull’s plot to kill Steve Rogers worked. And in this issue the (new) Red Skull fulfills her plan to give Lady Liberty a black eye. The only problem is that Sin is doing that ridiculous villain thing where she has the perfect opportunity to put a bullet in a hero’s head, but chooses to not take it … yet! Lame. Although Bucky, Steve, Sharon, Sam and Natasha make a good team. I wouldn’t want to lose anyone.

Ob the art front, best I can tell, the multiple inkers on this book divided the book by scene, which helps offer some consistency. Certainly better than recent months.

“The Trial of Captain America” wraps up here, even if I did have to look up what “commuting a sentence meant.” There’s an interesting turn in the final minutes of the trial, which gives way to an even better cliffhanger. Going on seven years of great stories, Captain America shows no signs of slowing down.

This issue also contains the last of the Nomad backups. I’ve been more friendly to these eight-pages than some reviewers. I’ll admit that Rikki’s stories don’t fit in with the book’s main content, but I’ve enjoyed them enough. Sean McKeever uses this last opportunity to put a cap on his Nomad sequence (Cap #600, the Nomad miniseries, these backups) with Rikki coming to terms with her place in this new world and even relishing in it. Good for her. With Filipe Andrade on Onslaught Unleashed, Pepe Larraz shows up on art. He’s got a fun, exciting style that fits the young and reckless nature of the Girl without a World. The strip may be done, but I hope to see his work again.

Detective Comics #874Detective Comics #874 by Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla ***

Part of me understands DC’s 20 pages for $2.99 initiative, but this issue sure is one of the growing pains of the change. The last portion of the Commissioner Gordon backup takes up the first nine pages, but the rest of the issue quickly shifts to follow Batman and Red Robin and there’s not much to that story. More or less it’s a bridge to the upcoming “Hungry City.”

The first section is odd. I have no history with James Jr., so the conversation about his past is lost on me. He did some bad things? It’s creepy that he’s back, but nothing really happens. I’ve applauded recent Spider-Man issues for planting future plot threads in its backups, but moving those seeds to the beginning feels strange. I want to tell Snyder not to bury his lead, but I can’t really find the lead anyway.

I hate to say it, but I don’t appreciate Francavilla’s work on the Batman sequences as much as I have on the Gordon ones. To his credit, he does some interesting layouts: the two-page spread that uses the silhouette of a bat as panel borders and the final page, with Commish in an outline of his son. Remind me of J. H. William’s work on this same title. You know, if JH3 used a thick brush and limited color palette.

It’s an awkward transitional issue. Mostly moving parts around, without moving them too much. Check it out, if only for Francavilla’s art.

Invincible Iron Man #501Invincible Iron Man #501 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca ***

At first, I thought of this issue as a disappointment. After all, I’ve loved the past two issues. But going over it again, Fraction and Larroca give us some good stuff here.

I’ve never found Matt Fraction’s Tony Stark to be that close to the guy portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. Obviously, comics Tony has been though a lot more. Alcoholism, Civil War, it all came together to make Tony a more serious guy. But since being reassembled, Tony seems to be enjoying life. Fraction’s got him on talk shows and engaging in a little wacky wordplay with Pepper and even giving Doc Ock some verbal jabs. That helps make #501 more fun than the past couple issues have been. And I always like seeing new matches of good guy/bad guy. Why wouldn’t a criminal, sick of being beaten up by the same guy go fight someone else? Here, Doc Ock and a couple famous cronies take it to Iron Man. It helps these old characters feel fresh.

Lorroca impressed me with the flashback style he used in #500.1 and again here. I don’t know any better, but I want to call it European-influenced. He is Spanish, so maybe I’m right. But the modern-day pages are a still a bit off. I have some problems with Sal’s work anyway, but his action scenes with Stark out of the suit are too stilted.

#501 is another solid issue. A bit of a holding pattern, but in another few months, I’m sure the stakes will skyrocket as we launch into Fear Itself.

Morning Glories #7Morning Glories #7 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ***

Zoe! More than meets the eye! After an introductory arc that focused mainly on Hunter and especially Casey, and then an issue featuring almost none of the kids I’m excited to see someone else in the spotlight. I can’t wait for Jade’s issue. She’s more my type.

Spencer’s dialogue in the flashback sequence is a little wonky, with odd slang and clunky portmanteaus, but it’s nice to see him making an effort to show that these kids are not what they once were – normal kids. Although, I wouldn’t call high-schoolers with rape fantasies normal either.

Speaking of which, this book sure has some heavy content. And what’s the deal with Spencer being allowed to say “cunt” but not “fuck?” I believe Image is mostly hands off with that sort of thing, so maybe that’s how he scripted it? Awkward.

Joe Eisma continues his consistently excellent art. He’s defined a look and luckily, since it’s a creator-owned project, we don’t have to put up with any substandard fill-ins. It’s a dialogue-heavy issue, but he never relies on still cameras or repeated panels. It’s appreciated. Hopefully, I can get a sketch at the upcoming C2E2.

For seven issues now, the mysteries of Morning Glories Academy get twistier and twistier. I wonder how long this book is planned for. I’m in no rush for it to end, just wondering how far down the rabbit hole we can go before we have to climb up.

Amazing Spider-Man #655Amazing Spider-Man #655 by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin *****

Dan Slott has said if you only buy one of his comics, ever, this is the one to buy. I agree. It’s a look at the current state of Spider-Man. It’s a tour through Spidey’s history. It’s a commentary on comics’ revolving door of death. It’s sad. It’s stirring. It’s a beautiful piece of art.

I want to praise Slott up and down, but really I want everyone to read this. Saying anything would spoil it.

Marcos Martin is a gem. His were the only issues of the One More Day era that I actively sought out and I’m glad to see him again. This is his first Big Time issue and he’s already made his mark. He’s saying “This is what I do. No one else does this. I win.” I wonder how many of the ideas come from Slott, but seeing where Ramos and Caselli havn’t do anything similar, I’m going to give Martin the credit. Whether showing the grandeur of an NYC cathedral or the simplicity of holding someone’s hand, he makes you feel it. There’s one spread (you’ll know it when you see it) that must have taken more time to plan than it would have taken most artists to draw.

There are no words. Just buy it.

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.

__

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

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 12-29-10

Books were delayed a bit for my shop last week. Despite a Thursday pickup, it was a good week. They’re delayed a day, I get delayed a day. That’s fair, no?

Before we get into the books, I want to point out Spider-Girl’s Twitter feed. @The_Spider_Girl. It’s maintained by Paul Tobin, who writes the series and she (he) seems great at replying to comments. You should follow it.

No. No I shouldn'tWell, yeah. It would be kind of weird to follow yourself. And narcissistic. Still, whatever it takes to keep a books sales up. Which Spider-Girl isn’t too good at. But I’ll get to that later.

Captain America #613Captain America #613 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade ****

Another month. Another steady issue of Cap. I’m running out of things to say.

To review:
– Newest chapter in years-long epic
– Best supporting cast in comics
– Even without a shield in hand, Steve Rogers is THE MAN
– Most consistent art on the stands, even with three inkers and two colorists

Specific to this issue, Butch Guice gets to draw some really crazy stuff in Sin’s dream. And Brubaker keeps raising the stakes. It’s not enough to put Cap in jail. He’s disgracing him through the media and threatening to blowup America’s most famous landmark. Here we go.

8-page segments can often have too little happening, (see Detective Comics, next) but McKeever continues to write an exciting back-up tale starring Nomad. Unfortunately, Filipe Andrade doesn’t bring the same level of talent. His art isn’t exaggerated; it’s inconsistent. Sometimes it’s rounded. Sometimes it’s jagged. If he works out some issues, maybe he could be a good artist. He’s just not there yet. Hopefully, he’s got something new up his sleeve for the upcoming Onslaught Unleashed.

Detective Comics #872Detective Comics #872 by Scott Snyder, Jock and Francesco Francavilla ****

Batman’s a character that I really like, but it takes something special to actually get me to pick up the book. It just seems like there are so few unique stories told with him. So it’s great to say that I love what Scott Snyder is doing. He’s telling Batman stories that focus on the human side of the character, but without that pain in the ass Bruce Wayne guy. I know people loved Morrison’s Batman & Robin, but it didn’t grab me. Weird villain, punchy punchy, the end. I need to read it as one big chunk, I guess.

Dick is someone who is fun to root for, as opposed to Bruce where I just root against Joker, Two-Face, etc. Dick banters with Babs, flies a one-wheel motorcycle, then goes to a villain-paraphernalia auction in a burnt up old theater. Bruce would have just gritted his teeth and kicked until there was no one left to kick.

Our mystery bad guy sure is creepy. The first item up for auction is the crowbar the Joker used to beat Jason Todd to death. “There seems to be some human tissue still on the edge.” Ugh. The auctioneer must have some sort of connection, because he’s planned well ahead for Batman’s appearance at the auction. Can’t wait to see how Dick gets out of this.

The first time I saw Jock’s artwork was the Vertigo series Faker with Mike Carey. There, it was often hard to determine exactly what each panel was depicting. He’s fixed those problems here, even using some abnormal panel layouts to add to the tension. Often, silhouetted characters are laid over other images. By breaking out of panels and being drawn larger, they are literally more imposing,

The Commissioner Gordon back-up is too short for its own good. All that really happens here is the Jim tells Babs what’s up. She leaves and we are left with the same cliffhanger as last issue. But it impresses me for one reason – Francesco Francavilla’s colors. Francavilla’s art, with its thick brushstrokes and  large swatches of contrasting colors, is moody, dour, and other adjectives.

Flash #8Flash #8 by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins ****

The actual idea of Reverse Flash confuses me. I understand his powers are a reaction to Flash’s but then why does he really hate him? Was that covered in here? Disirregardlessly …

In every time travel movie, the main character is warned that if s/he changes anything in the past, it could change the future. But, what if that was the idea? What if you wanted to change the future?

I was a little rough on the Captain Boomerang spotlight last issue, but Johns and Kolins really turn it around this time. Johns does some experimental stuff this issue, with Reverse Flash turning back time mid-page. He changes to past, which changes his future. Brother’s a pain in the ass? Go back in time so he was never born. Professor won’t share his research with you? Go back in time and take his job. It’s a really refreshing twist on well-trodden ground. It’s wordy, but it tells a full, interesting story. I can’t wait to see how this seed blooms.

I find the same problems with Scott Kolins art this month that I did last month. Kolins’ pencils and Brian Buccellato’s colors both try to render shadows, making pages over-rendered and too dark. It’s a common problem in comics. If you’ve got an artist who loves crosshatching, and a colorist darkens the areas that are crosshatched, they’re doubling efforts at the cost of the art. A penciler needs to know that his inker will treat the pencils correctly. The penciler and inker need to trust that the colorist will render shadows and highlights in the best way to fit the art. They need to put more faith in each other.

Next month should be a boss issue: A) The return of regular artist Fancis Manapul, B) debut of a new villain, Hot Pursuit, and C) Team up with Wally West and Bart Allen. Awesome.

Spider-Girl #2Spider-Girl #2 by Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry ***

I appreciated Spider-Girl #1 because it was a good book. It felt like part of the Marvel universe, but without being weighed down by continuity. I don’t really know her Araña past, and I didn’t need to. It was easily accessible and made me eager to continue reading.

This issue offered much of the same, but it took a swift turn that I don’t like. After establishing Anya’s great relationship with her dad last issue, he gets killed. REALLY? WE NEED THAT? I thought this book was going to star someone who enjoys being a hero, free of moping. I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore. Anya continues being a hero even after losing her powers. That’s a strong character. She’s got the motivation she needs. She didn’t need to lose her father too.

Something else I mentioned last time was that the book would live and die by age recognition and guest stars. Last month we got the Fantastic Four, this we also get Red Hulk. And based on sales – less than 24,000 copies – this book does not have long. You’ve got to expect, what? A 20% decrease in sales for this issue? So that leaves 19,200, just below the cancellation threshold of 20,000. And that’s only issue #2. We’ve got another Young Allies on our hands. Help a good book out! Pick up a copy!

One place I can’t fault Spider-Girl is the art. The style switches more than I’d like from Clayton Henry on the heroic first half to Ray-Anthony Height on the private life second half. (Thanks to Comic Book DB for letting me know Height’s full name. No thanks to Marvel and their credits page.) Henry draws some great emotion, but I may like Heights work more. It’s a bit less nuanced, it has a nice smooth style. The bright pages by both artists suggest we may have some hope for a cheerful book after all.

Shall we put the over/under for cancellation at 5.5 issues? It’s a shame. This is the sort of book Marvel and the superhero genre need.

The Shopping List 11-24-10

Finally

Yes, I know. These posts keep coming later than I expect. Later than I want. It was a tough week at work.

Batwoman #0Batwoman #0 by J. H. Williams, W. Haden Blackman, and Amy Reeder ****

She baaack! Sort of.

I never know what to expect out of 0 issues, but this operates as a perfect introduction to the new title. It summarizes Kate until this point and sets up the status quo going forward. But more importantly, it’s a showcase for the art styles of J. H. Williams III and Amy Reeder. The two share duties, not on separate pages, but on the same spreads. Williams handles the Batwoman sequences; Reeder, the Kate Kane sequences. Simply put, it works.

The narrative comes from Batman’s perspective as he does some real detective work (My favorite Batman cliche is “We’re going to see Batman do some real detective work.” Here, he actually does.) Bruce trails Kate, taking on a variety of disguises, trying to find evidence that she and Batwoman are one in the same. But Kate proves she’s worthy of the Bat-mantle, going about her life, never letting herself be exposed.

The main story is only 16 pages, with the remainder of the pages made up by a previews of the upcoming #1 and Scott Snyder’s debut issue on Detective Comics. Whether you read the Rucka/Williams run or not, get in here. I have huge hopes for this book.

Black Widow #8Black Widow #8 by Dwayne Swiercynski and Manuel Garcia ****

The cover says “Part 3 of 3,” but this issue ends with a “To Be Continued.” If that wasn’t enough, it will be continued in another series. The “Kiss or Kill” story is over, but a one page epilogue points us to the upcoming Widowmaker miniseries. Not quite the closure I was looking for. No more issues of Black Widow are solicited, but we don’t know much who is behind the plot against the Crane family, only a name. But that’s only one flaw of this issue.

Swierczynski’s neutralizes his threats as fast as he introduces them. It keeps the plot moving, but the fights never seem even. Widow is too clever to ever seem in real jeopardy, even when simultaneously attacked by Fatasma and the Crimson Dynamo. Stretching the story out, even by one issue, could have given the fight more heft and drama. I know fandom loves to cry out against decompression, but anything that ups conflict is worth doing. It’s not about length (or girth even); it’s about good stories.

I can’t get a handle on Garcia’s art. Sometimes it resembles Mark Bagley, other times a bright, cleaner Mike Deodato. This is not a complaint mind you. He just doesn’t stand out as his own artist.

I’m not sure if I’ll follow Natasha’s story over to Widowmaker, but just like he did on Iron Fist, Dwayne Swierczynski has come to a book midway through its run and proven that he can stand up to any writer. I’d be interested to see what he would do with his own series, starting from scratch.

Captain America #612Captain America #612 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Felipe Andrade ***

Part two of “The Trial of Captain America” is a disappointing pile of exposition. Bucky sits in his cell alone, telling us what prison is like, ” Echoed screaming … Fights … Threats yelled between cells,” but we see none of it. Elsewhere, Bucky’s lawyer, Bernie Rosenthal goes on TV, telling us what we already know: the evidence against Bucky is overwhelming but he’s truly a hero.

In other news: Sin!!! I loved her in the beginning of Bru’s run and she’s back! She’s as repulsive as a Nazi burn victim as she was cute as a redhead anarchist. Now that she’s taken up her father’s mantle as the Red Skull, I’m excited to see story continue.

Last month, I said how much I liked Daniel Acuna’s stylized (though out of place) fill-in issue. Sadly, it was just that, a fill-in. Butch Guice returns this month. Because of the expository nature of the issue, much of it is made up of talking heads. Great artists can make even calm discussions look exciting, but Bru hamstrings Guice with the television sequences. Televised news interviews are static affairs: bust shot of reporter, inset image over their shoulder. Really, when was the last time Larry King Live was visually stimulating? When Lady Gaga was on? Luckily, Guice takes advantage of a Black Widow/Falcon subplot, using a variety of angles and panel shapes and sizes to create a stirring, gymnastics-filled infiltration sequence.

In Sean MchKeever’s Nomad back-up story, Rikki Barnes has some serious ovaries. After being captured by the Second Shadow, the stays strong, despite being beaten until her face looks like an eggplant. She admits to us that she is too ignorant to give up the plan if she wanted to, but she refuses to give any information up. Then she breaks her own thumbs to get out of a pair of handcuffs. I haven’t been that impressed by self-mutilation since Hawkeye flicked his fingernails off in Ultimates 2. Sweet.

Invincible Iron Man #32Invincible Iron Man #32 by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, and Jamie McKelvie****

I have a friend who complains about the climax of the first Iron Man movie. His problem is that Pepper, not Tony, turns on the arc reactor, defeating Obadiah Stane. Iron Man was the hero, but his girlfriend did the actual work. In the beginning of the issue, Team: Iron Man (Iron Man, War Machine and Rescue) start the fight against the attack drones swarming Stark Resilient’s product launch, but Tony saves the day. By the end, he’s left Pepper and Rhodey behind and reject Maria Hill’s assistance, determined to save the day by himself. Moments like that make him one of the premier Marvel heroes.

Fraction keeps the banter going in this issue, referencing TED talks, Space Invaders, Wired magazine, even the Backstreet Boys. The quips would feel more at home in a Spider-Man book, but it does keep the full-issue fight going.

Salvador Larocca turns in his standard art. Nothing new to report there. The real visual highlight in this issue is a Pepper Potts backup drawn by Jamie McKelvie. (The $6 price tag scared me away from Ultimate Spider-Man #150, so I’m glad I still got some McKelvie goodness this week.) Yes, Happy is a grown up Kid-with-Knife and Tony is a jacked version of David Kohl. I should complain, but I can’t. His clean, open art is gorgeous. I don’t care if there’s no action. He draws pretty pictures. I hope he ends up on a good book, because I know I’ll buy any monthly he ends up on.

Amazing Spider-Man #649Amazing Spider-Man #649 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos ****

Getting my head into Amazing Spider-Man isn’t easy, but this book is very enjoyable.

A few things that start me at a disadvantage:

  • I’ve never read a Hobgoblin story before.
  • The last (and first) time I read of Phil Urich was in The Loners, where I thought he was going back to heroics.
  • Having read very sporadic Spider-Man stories, and only about six issues of Brand New Day-era ASM, I’m not sure what is years-old continuity, what’s been recently established, what’s new in the past couple issues, etc.
  • A lot of new characters have been dropped on my plate: Norah, Randy, Carlie, Pete’s new co-workers

Despite my difficulty in determining what brought us here, Dan Slott makes great use of Peter Parker’s current life. He uses Norah to keep the Bugle around, but puts Pete in a new job where his skills don’t go to waste. The fact that he is qualified for his position at Horizon Labs makes you realize how extraordinary his life has been. Because of that fateful spiderbite, he knows that creatures from the vacuum of space hate fire and sonics, that you’d need a magnetic braking system for an anti-gravity harness.

A guidance counselor in my high school loved to tell us “There are no bad schools, only bad matches.” Her point was that we each had to find the right college for us. Similarly, Humberto Ramos is not a bad artist, but he’s had some matches. X-Men was a bad match. It was too dark, too moody for his bright, exaggerated art. That’s why Runaways was better. That’s why Spider-Man is a perfect match. His name almost scared me away from this book, but these past two issues have turned me around on him really quickly.

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.

The Shopping List 10-27-10

Death and Lex Luthor

Action Comics #894Action Comics #894 by Paul Cornell and Pete Woods ***

I didn’t realize this issue was part five of the arc, but I’ve been interested in getting into the book and featuring Death on the cover is about as good of Bells-bait as anything.

To me, Lex Luthor has never been a great villain. Xenophobia + genius = Lex Luthor. Bleh. I suppose I see him as too reactionary. What I mean is, if Superman did not exist, would Lex Luthor, as we know him? No. Without the X-Men, Magneto still has it out for Homo sapiens. Without Daredevil, the Kingpin is still ruining crime in NYC.

Paul Cornell is a writer whose name I hear lauded often, but nothing he wrote even grabbed me. Here, Lex’s personality is as clear as a bell in the night and there are some great character moments. Sadly, there’s not much more than that. No action. I understand I grabbed one stray issue on the middle of a run but I’m not sure what the actual mission of this book is. Did this issue even have an antagonist? Was it Death?

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book. I really did and will buy the next issue. I’m just saying that it didn’t grab me the way an issue sure to grab new readers should. Bringing Death to mainstream DC Universe is a big step. I’m afraid it was a wasted opportunity.

It’s interesting to see Death in a modern art style. It works. Pete Woods draws her as the cheeky enigma that she should be, but modern coloring makes her more rendered, less distant than some Sandman artists. Negative reviews of his New Krypton work has me scared, but I had no problems here at all.

Last month, I took Uncanny X-Men off my subscription list. I just found a place for that $4, Action Comics.

Black Widow #7Black Widow #7 by Dwayne Swiercynzki and Manuel Garcia ****

Swiercynzki has certainly made this book more action-packed that Marjorie Liu did. His plots twist and turn, and once you think you see where it’s going, you’re kicked into a pit in a Polish bunker. I’m also impressed by his skill working Natasha’s various talents and weapons into the story. Most writers are content to have her shoot someone, maybe kick someone in the face, but he uses her full repertoire: Widow’s Kiss, Widow’s Bite, whatever. The books sales aren’t good; it’s selling less than 19,000 copies a month, but just as he did on Iron Fist, Swiercynzki refuses to let a character’s lack of popularity stop him from telling great stories.

Manuel Garcia doesn’t have a quickly recognized style, but even in his days on Mystique with Sean McKeever, he knew how to keep even the talkiest scenes interesting. He’s night and day from Daniel Acuna, but his agreeably exaggerated figures are fun to watch. And to anyone worried, no, the pages do not look anything like his covers. In fact, a couple places reminded me of Mark Bagley, other places, not so much.

For the one solicited issue left, followed by the Widow Maker miniseries, keep your eyes on this book while you can.

Captain America #611Captain America #611 by Ed Brubaker and Daniel Acuna ***

Brubaker must be hoping a lot of people jump on this book with “The Trial of Captain America” arc. He spends most of this initial issue explaining what brought us here over the last five years, much as he did with issue 25 before he, you know, killed Steve Rogers. That was a good jumping on point, so maybe he knows something we don’t. The story itself is interesting, showing various heroes’ various reactions to Bucky’s past as the Winter Soldier. Hawkeye’s disbelief that Bucky used to be an assassin is a bit off, but luckily, Natasha is the kettle that reminds Clint of his pot’s color.

For months, I’ve talked about how consistent the art has been on this book. No longer. Daniel Acuna, fresh of his Black Widow run, brings his truly unique style to Brubaker’s epic. He doesn’t look like any of the previous artists, but his art is so cool that I didn’t care. The large patches of color and lack of eyes make the art look deceptively simple, but give a haunting tone. That’s something I’m not used to on a Captain America title. Solicits show that Butch Guice will be back for the rest the arc, which may only make this issue stick out in the eventual collections. I love Guice, but it would have been nice to see what Acuna could have done with a full arc.

Sean McKeever’s Nomad story continues with a fun Black Widow team-up. I wonder, just as Rikki does, why Natasha chose her as a teammate. With such a dangerous mission, you think she’d choose someone more experienced. And if it’s training, take her somewhere safer! With the last issue of Young Allies out this week, this may be the only place to see the new Nomad. Keep you fingers crossed for her.

Teen Titans #88Teen Titans #88 by J. T. Krul and Nicola Scott ***

Close, but this isn’t quite doing it. The team members are a great mix of New Teen Titans (Raven, Beast Boy), Johns’ Titans (Wondergirl, Superboy, Kid Flash) and even newer faces (Ravager and Damian!). As much as I miss Nicola Scoot on Secret Six, it is nice to see her on a higher profile book. And she kills it. But …

J. T. Krul spends his first issue treading old ground. 1) Readers don’t need to be told that Raven has to keep her emotions in check. 2) Titans should have some romantic tension, but does it still have to Connor and Cassie? 3) The villain needs a motivation, which he doesn’t yet. He’s just a sketchy high school teacher.

The whole concept behind the Titans has always been family. You can see it in their villains: Deathstroke, Trigon, Blackfire. The list goes on. Use that to tell some stories. I’ve enjoyed Teen Titans the most when things are fresh. And no, killing off members does not count as fresh. Define the team and then shake some shit up. I want to like this book, but it needs to improve or it will stay on the shelf like it has since Johns left.

Thunderbolts #149Thunderbolts #149 by Jeff Parker and Declan Shalvey ****

This was an interesting way to do a tie-in series. In reality, it simply took advantage of the way things are in the Marvel U, instead of a specific book/event. The plot of Shadowland, that Daredevil is possessed by The Beast, does not factor in the story. The only related factor is that DD is using The Hand as his soldiers, which has been the case for over a year.

Between those fully reformed like Luke Cage, those trying their best like Songbird, and those who may never repent like Crossbones, Jeff Parker does a great job allowing his protagonists to show the many layers of evil. Parker also takes advantage of the above-mentioned status quo, using inhuman demon/ninja opponents. Of course, this allows his characters can truly let loose, which is always fun to see.

Declan Shalvey once again shows up on art. I assume the black dots within his inks are his doing as colorist Frank Martin has not used them on regular artist Kev Walker’s pages. They give a nice, idiosyncratic touch. That’s what you’ve got to do to stand out in this industry. I applaud it. I will, however admit that I am excited to see Walker back for the big 150th issue. Woot.

Sorry this was so late. Halloween’s a hell of a drug.