That’s Not What I Meant: Geoff Johns on Secret Six

No matter which comics news site(s) you read, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of coverage on the recent New York Comic Con. My Google Reader was packed with stories from the show, many of them duplicate information. Sometimes, I like to read how Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, and Comics Alliance cover the same information. In CBR’s coverage of the Justice League of America panel, one quote jumped out at me.

“A ‘Secret Six’ fan wanted to know if there was a possibility of those characters appearing the New 52 soon, Johns stating that because Gail Simone defined them so well he wanted to leave them alone for a while and focus on characters that were less well known, but ‘Never say never,’ Johns added.”

So Simone did such a good job with them that you want to leave them alone? That’s mental! She defined the characters so well, that you put them away? The superhero industry is built on well-defined characters. Look at the DC line. Take away the Justice League characters. What’s left? A bunch of under-performing books filled with bland characters. Without distinct personalities, they will just fade away. He was around for barely five years, but who can’t instantly hear Ragdoll’s voice? It was the same way with the other Secret Six members – Scandal, Deadshot, King Shark, Catman, Jeanette, Bane, the whole gang.

Secre Six #36

You ever hear the joke about the Justice League? How if you put them in a dark room, you wouldn’t be able to tell who said something? I’ve read each of them for years, but I’ll be honest; I can’t tell you how Aquaman and Hal Jordan’s voices are different. Or Barry Allen. Or Ted Kord. Or Ray Palmer.

Just to finish off my DC hate, let’s look at the X-Men. Make fun of Claremont and his “accents” all you want, but his characters had voices: Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Cannonball, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Beast, Magneto, Wolfsbane, Emma Frost, and on and on and on. Well-defined. Unique. Lasting.

Sorry. I’ve been rereading Secret Six recently. It was such a good book. I hate that it doesn’t come out anymore.

Support this Comic: Leaving Megalopolis

If you’re a fan of the current Batgirl series …
If you were a fan of the great Secret Six
If you want to be in on the ground floor of a new series …
If you want to support good comics and good creators …

Leaving Megalopolis

Get yourself to Kickstarter and support Leaving Megalopolis. From the Kickstarter page:

Leaving Megalopolis is a thrilling, original 80 page graphic novel of suspense and terror in a superhero universe gone horribly wrong, where a small band of survivors face the horror of both their formerly beloved protectors, and the dark secrets within themselves. Featuring the creative talents of writer Gail Simone and artist Jim Calafiore this is a story of violence, fear, hope and –if they’re lucky– survival.

Leaving Megalopolis will be brought to you by the team behind DC Comics’ critical smash, Secret Six. IGN.COM called the final issue of Secret Six, “the best single comic issue of 2011,” and in this dark ride of a story, we go even wilder! Leaving Megalopolis is a journey, by two professional creators, with no holds barred and no limits imposed. Our groundbreaking work on Secret Six was only the beginning. If you thought that was dark…

Leaving Megalopolis will be a new and complete story in a single 80 page volume. Bonus materials will include development sketches, single page illustrations by some of the biggest names in comics, a forward by industry legend Mark Waid, and a short prose story in the Leaving Megalopolis universe by Gail Simone.

This is what’s great about comics. It’s possible for two creators to say “Hey! We want to do this on our own, without any corporate overlords. Will you, the fans, help us?” And the fanbase shouts back “A million times yes! Here’s 15 dollars!” The campaign has already reached its goal, in fact it’s almost at three times its original goal. I’m coming to you more to get the word out about something that should be great. Since the campaign started, the plan has been revised – the book will now be a 96 page story and all copies will be a hardcover and come with a free digital download. Simone and Calafiore aren’t being greedy, all that extra money is going into making a better product.

For just $15, you can essentially preorder your own copy of the book. As your pledge goes up, so does your reward. Many rewards are claimed, but you can still get an 11×17 sketch from Calafiore or a portfolio or script review from the team. But for the budgetary-minded of us, $15 will suffice. And $15 for a 96 page hardcover is already a steal.

Yes, it’s through Kickstarter, but this is not a pipedream. This book has reached its goal and will happen. But for the forseeable future, this is the only way to read the newest work from the great team of Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore.

Get on it. Now!

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 4-6-11

Every week I try to take a panel from a book I reviewed and work its captions into some sort of commentary here at the top of the post. Sometimes I have an idea and find a panel that works. Sometimes I find a panel and write around it. Sometimes it’s graceful. Sometimes it’s not. This week it isn’t.

Ragdoll Elvis

I just like that panel.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #5Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #5 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung ***

Last month, I expressed my dismay with the Young Avengers one-shot spinoff. I felt it took the series in a strange, questionable direction. Now we’re back to the main miniseries, but we have the same problem. This series is about finding the Scarlet Witch, not time traveling back to “Avengers: Disassembled.” Let’s move forward, not muck about in a years-old story.

The history of the Young Avengers team is really becoming a problem here. I thought their Vision was programmed with the memories/personality of Iron Lad. And I also thought Cassie and Vision were dating. So why is Cassie so quick to shun Vision when Iron Lad returns? It may make sense if I read their previous appearances again, but I haven’t. This series’ schedule and the time since we last saw these guys is taking a toll.

Remember the huge spreads with dozens of characters that Bryan Hitch would do on The Ultimates? Cheung opens the issue with one that is truly awesome. He’s taking full advantage of the time Marvel is giving him. I do appreciate that.

This, the midpoint of the series, is a bit soggy, but with the cliffhanger we’ve been waiting for since issue #1, I’m optimistic. With at least eight weeks until #6, I’ve plenty of time to get re-acquainted with the Young Avengers’ history.

Fear Itself #1Fear Itself #1 by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen ***

I haven’t been this conflicted about a review in a long time. It’s not a bad issue, but it’s not not a bad issue. It’s a problem with event books: if you’ve read interviews or solicits or previews, you pretty much know the beats of the first issue.

And we do know the important parts. We see the heroes. We see Sin finding her hammer. Then Sin finding the Serpent. I guess its biggest problem is the scope. Why do we need to spend pages on regular people in Broxton? There are so many scenes here that despite the issue’s size, only the Thor and Odin story gets any real meat.

The nugget of Fear Itself came from Marvel’s desire to do a big Thor/Captain America story, to capitalize on this summer’s movies. So far, I’m not sure what makes this a Captain America story. Even with all the solicits and previews, the only connection is that his villain, the Red Skull started this. It hasn’t affected him on a personal level, not the way’s affecting Thor.

For artist, Stuart Immonen was a great choice. He kills that action scenes and does some nice acting work. Most important than his drafting skills is the fact that a monthly schedule shouldn’t be a problem for him. This should all be wrapped up in six months. That was an underrated strength of Siege. It was over and done in four short months. It had immediacy, and with it, power.

I get it. This is just lighting a fuse. The fireworks will come soon enough. I’m excited for that, but it does nothing to change the fact that this initial issue is kind of bland. There’s some great father/son stuff (Fraction’s been on a real generational kick for a few years now), but this issue can’t compare to the kickoffs of recent events like Siege and “Second Coming.”

Heroes for Hire #5Heroes for Hire #5 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Robert Atkins **

The past few issues of Heroes for Hire finally picked a direction and stuck with it. For that, I’m appreciative. However, the series is losing my interest. Much like DnA’s Guardians of the Galaxy, this series started with great characterizations and conflict, but it’s petering out. Action heavy issues, which this certainly is, bore me. Watching Puppet Master and Misty Knight fight for mental control of the Punisher is a cool idea for a scene, but it can’t support half of an issue. I knew as soon as I read the last page of last month’s issue Punisher was under mind control and would be brought out. No surprises here.

Even Robert Atkins work is a step down from last issue. and it’s not as if it starts strong and loses energy; it’s impossible to find any pattern between good and bad panels. Under detailed faces, jagged faces. Hell, the first panel of the book, a close up of Puppet Masters’ mouth (mirroring a Misty panel we’ve seen probably in every issue) looks bad. I hate to say it, especially on an artist’s second issue, but it looks rushed. Perhaps it’s multiple inkers that give the book an irregular look. Only one inker, Rebecca Buchman, is listed, but she’s credited as “Inkers.” Or I’m just grasping at that typo as an explanation.

The next three solicits show Spider-Man appearances, but as I’m sick of that character as well, it’s no benefit. I think I’m done with Heroes for Hire.

Secret Six #32Secret Six #32 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ****

Gail Simone is the best. I met her at last month’s C2E2 (recap to come?) and she’s just cool. She said she knows how weird someone is by how many issues of Secret Six they have to be signed. I had five.

As in previous arcs, “The Darkest House” revolves around a fracture within the team. This time, it’s Ragdoll who has split from the Six. Doll thinks he should be able to use the Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card from the series’ initial arc. Scandal disagrees. Hell doesn’t have to break loose; the team descends to the underworld on their own. After being the comedic relief for so long, he’s given some real dramatic work here. This is where an actor would have great fun with a role. (Can you imagine a Secret Six movie?)

Elsewhere, I’m tired of the Demon Etrigan. The rhyming thing is just too much. Even with a writer as good as Simone, it’s forced. We all know it. And no, I don’t think Catman’s interjection was worth the three pages it took to set it up. Whenever the dialogue needs a certain rhythm, I always lose reading and dramatic momentum. And it felt like the meter changed from line to line. I’ve studied Shakespeare, I should be able to manage this. It just doesn’t work for me.

Between the inventive, multi-layered compositions and some packed crowd scenes, this issue the work of J. Calafiore’s career. I’ve always considered him a competent artist, though often boring, but he has really impressed me here.

A logistics question that could hold the key to the ending of the story: If Ragdoll uses the card to get Parademon out of hell, how will he get out? I’m not sure he’ll be able to use the elevator.

Predictability is never the case when it comes to the Secret Six or their master, Gail Simone. Another great issue.

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!

The Shopping List 2-2-11

After hitting 50 posts last week, Bells’ Kitchen hit another milestone: 500 visits! Yay! People are reading what I write. That’s all I want.Six Secret Things I Want

Invincible Iron Man #500.1Invincible Iron Man #500.1 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca *****

Matt Fraction is writing one of, if not the, best Iron Man runs ever. But, as much fun as I’ve had reading “World’s Most Wanted” and “Stark Resilient,” these one shot issues are killer.

On a recent episode of Word Balloon, Fraction described Tony Stark as an alcoholic that doesn’t go to meetings. But in this issue, he does. Reaching another anniversary of his sobriety, Tony find his local Friends of Bill W meeting and tells his story. Sort of. Being Iron Man, he can’t get into particulars, but Salvador Larroca’s art fills in the pronouns of Tony’s bird’s-eye view history. It’s a perfect use of the comics medium, letting the art tell the story that the words don’t (or can’t).

Marvel’s Point One initiative, of which this is one of the first issues, aims to pull in new readers with accessible, standalone stories. It’s a good story, but I wonder just how accessible this is to a new reader. They may not understand the significance of some panels as regular readers do. Without words describing those panels, how could they even do their research to figure out who or what is shown. I found myself looking at a Stark Board meeting saying “Tony, Pepper, Rhodey … Blonde Lady … That Guy.” An issues like this would have benefited from a “For more info on this part of Iron Man’s history, check out …”

The modern day framing sequence features the Larroca art we’ve come to know on the book. However, in flashbacks, he gets a chance to experiment, adding more lines and definition to his characters. It’s nicer than the photo-ref we’re used to. One art problem I’ll fault Larroca and Fraction for is the sheer number of panels per page. It’s a swift story, but it’s common for to see eight, ten, 12 panels a page. The art needs room to breathe. Fin Fang Foom isn’t impressive at six square inches.

Invincible Iron Man has already given us nine and a 12-issue storyarcs. They’re good, but I hope we’ve got more done-in-ones coming our way.

Secret Six #30Secret Six #30 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ***

Another month, another Secret Six crossover. I’m less familiar with Doom Patrol than Lex Luthor, so this was a bit tough for me, but I get the general idea – they’re weird. (Doom Patrol remains the most popular Morrison work I haven’t read.)

The conceit of the issue is a little lacking – kid finds out he’s heir to a fortune, decides to become a super-villain and hires the Six to clear Oolong Island of Doom Patrol, so it can be his secret base. After bad guys like Junior and those bastards that kidnapped Catman’s son, we get the guy from Wanted. Weak sauce.

The best sequence of the issue returns to Superiors, the superhero-themed strip club seen around the beginning of the series. Scandal set Bane up on a date. You should read it. It’s great. Scenes like this make me realize that Secret Six becomes more like X-Factor all the time. Nod disrespect is meant to either writer, but much like PAD’s book, the actual plots have become secondary to the character interactions.

Paul Cornell didn’t handle the Six too badly in his Action Comics issue, let’s see how Kieth Giffen does in the Doom Patrol wrap-up of “Suicide Roulette.”

Spider-Gril #3Spider-Girl #3 by Paul Tobin, Clayton Henry, Tim Seeley and Sergio Cariello ***

While I disagree with Paul Tobin’s belief that Anya Corazon needed more tragedy in her life, he is at least using as motivating to do good and not to get depressed.

Upon rereading the issue, I found very little worth commenting on. Tobin’s doing a good job, but it’s just that, good. No surprising twists, no “Hell yeah!” moments. Just an average, middle-of-an-arc superhero story. There’s nothing wrong here, but for a new hero book to succeed, you need more than that.

Though the writing is good, a three-man art team does some damage. At first glance, it seems that the art is divided into three parts – current day, Anya’s story and Red Hulk’s story – each with its own artist. But closer inspection proves that it’s not that simple. Red Hulk gains an extraordinary amount of muscles. Anya’s nails grow and change color (though only one colorist is credited so …) and her shirt can’t decide if it buttons half way or all the way down. I can understand the need to help an artist get a book out, but a little consistency wouldn’t hurt anyone.

I enjoy reading this story, but to avoid cancellation in three more issues, the creators really have to bring more to the table.

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

The Demon Returns!

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

Well, better late than never. Here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 9-29-10 and 10-6-10

Two quick notes:
1) Captain America was my only book on the 29th, so I didn’t even go to the shop. Bonus for this week!
2) Sorry this is so late. NYCC was … overwhelming. More on that later.

Avengers Academy #5Avengers Academy #5 by Christos Gage and Jorge Molina ****

Christos Gage continues to impress me on this book. He manages to sidestep every possible cliché this book could fall into. Instead of a grand reveal of the team’s traitor on a page turn, it’s revealed though a conversation. Rather than following comic book convention, Gage lets his plot develop naturally. I won’t spoil who the character is, but it does add dimension to him/her.

One aspect of the book I appreciate is that the kid’s aren’t shown as invincible. They are still inexperienced. They can contribute, but can’t defeat Whirlwind with the Wasp’s help. And as it should be, Steve Rogers can kick their asses, even six on one.

Jorge Molina fills in on pencils and does a good job. His panels are but more unpolished, but Andrew Hennessey’s inks and Jeromy Cox’s colors keep the look consistent. With the Hank Pym-centric issue #7 coming up, this book couldn’t excite me more.

Captain America #610Captain America #610 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice ***

Baron Zemo takes a play out of Reverse Flash’s book in this issue, with Zemo revealing that this has all been about making Bucky a better hero. It’s an interesting twist and is more inline with the Zemo we’ve seen since his Thunderbolts days. But really, this is all pushing pieces into place for the next story, where the new Captain America has to face the actions he made as the Winter Soldier.

I do have some reservations about the art. Guice’s pencils are fine. But two inkers (including Guice) and three colorists kill the consistency of the pages. I understand the periodical comics business is built on a four-week cycle, but if Marvel gave me a more consistent book every five weeks, I’d be happier.

The Nomad backup continues to be well written with underwhelming art. It starts well enough, but the final page is rushed. Out of seven faces on the page, only two can be said to have any resembling eyes.

Secret Six #26Secret Six #26 by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore ****

Until the book, I always saw Bane as one-note. He broke Batman’s back and that’s it. Like Doomsday, he debuted with one big, fantastic action and had nothing else to him. God bless Gail Simone. She’s made Bane interesting and his relationship with Scandal one of the most interesting, if confusing, in comics. With each of their two factions facing off in this issue, they’ve taken another swerve and I love it.

I’m usually good with Calafiore’s art, but his faces here come off as flat and emotionless. Blank expressions and gritted teeth about in these pages. There are some great sight though, such as a giant, three-headed small intestine and battle-axe wielding madman.

Also included here is a preview for J. T. Krul and Nicola Scott’s Teen Titans. I met Scott this weekend at NYCC and she’s a sweetheart, I just wish she was headed to a book I had more confidence in. She’s one of DC’s greatest talents, I hope she isn’t wasted.

Young Allies #5Young Allies #5 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeón *****

Sean McKeever sure has created some great characters for Young Allies. The Bastards are interesting themselves, but Toro is a new favorite. In two silent panels, we see a great deal of character as he calmly stops Gravity from doing something he’ll regret.

Baldeón’s pencils are nothing to ignore either. You know the feeling that was lacking in Calafiore’s work on Secret Six? I found it. Fear, rage, whatever ring you wear, your emotion is here. They have so much movement and energy to them that my only hope is that he stays with this book. I’d hate to lose him to something more high-profile.

I addition to being great on its own, this book also has me excited for Spider-Girl’s upcoming solo series. That’s the mark of a great book.

The Shopping List 9-1-10

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #2Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #2 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung ****

Issue one was tasked with a lot of exposition, but here, the story just moves, and not just from Manhattan to Wundagore Mountain. New players are introduced, conflicts are developed, and it’s all wrapped up with a cliffhanger of Doom. Good times. Heinberg created the Young Avengers, so his voices for them are still the ones dominant in most people’s minds. They don’t quite have the idiosyncratic personalities of Vaughan’s Runaways, but each has their own believable stake in the proceedings. He also does well in making sure the book lives up its title. This not simply a Young Avengers story: needless to say, Scarlet Witch is a key part, but Quicksilver and the old New Avengers also show up.

I don’t like the bimonthly schedule. Two months is too long a time to remember any plot intricacies. It’s not that bad this early, but nine issues is a lot for anyone to remember, nevermind those nine issues coming out over a year and a half. However, the slower distribution allows Jim Cheung to perfect every panel. Scenes regularly involve 5+ characters, but they don’t seem rushed. Cheung doesn’t even skip backgrounds all that often.

I don’t have the memory for bimonthly publication, but with a book this good, having to reread every eight weeks is not a problem.

Scarlet #2Scarlet #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev ***

I don’t dislike this book, but I do have some problems with it.

Bendis is trying the whole address-the-audience thing. It works, but other than addressing it “you,” it’s not all that different from the first person narration of Ultimate Spider-Man or Daredevil. Scarlet tells us she needs our help, but unless this book goes interactive all of a sudden, there’s nothing we can actually do to help her. Reading comics is a passive thing. We’re not involved in the events. Bendis certainly would be among the first to try something new like that, but until it happens, Scarlet’s request feels empty.

Then there’s the art. Maleev makes choices that confuse me. When I first read Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum, I didn’t understand it. I could follow the plot, sure, but panels would go by and I didn’t understand their relevance. Luckily I had the 15th anniversary trade, which includes the full script. I read that and then everything clicked. I then understood Morrison’s allusions to Anubis or who certain characters were, regardless that the book hadn’t explained them. Maybe seeing the script would also make the difference here. Each issue has featured panels of solid color for reasons I can’t comprehend. Also, Maleev’s coloring is distracting; it bathes everything in an eerie glow. With Spider-Woman’s alien-centric story and Madripoor setting, this same technique made sense. Here, it doesn’t help tell the story, it’s bothersome.

The spread covering pages 2-3 shows Scarlet 12 times. Each panel shows the same facial expression and background, with her clothes, hairstyle and the panel’s coloring changing each time. Why? If it’s to break up the monotony of a floating head monologue, this is not the way to do it.

Scarlet may be one issue away from its real hook, but if not, it needs to do more for my $4.

Secret Six #25Secret Six #25 by Gail Simone and J. Calafiore ****

After two months of standalone issues, Secret Six is back to doing what it does best: showing terrible people doing terrible things. After expressing his displeasure with the Six’s recent activities, Bane has assembled his own team. And next issue the two teams will fight. I can’t wait.

Simone has a great talent for infusing new characters into a story without resorting to a dead-stop to introduce them. I don’t remember reading anything with Dwarfstar or King Stark before, but I feel I already understand their personalities. Much like my introduction to Cheshire in Villains United, she has a way of making me love these people. And that’s in addition to her skill creating new characters like Scandal or the new Ragdoll.

Calafiore’s art is certainly adequate. I don’t mean that as an insult, but there is nothing unique about his art. His name will never scare me away from a book, but it won’t convince me to try something either.

Please buy this book. I don’t want it to ever go away.

Shadowland #3Shadowland #3 by Andy Diggle and Billy Tan ***

Wow. This book. All action. All the time. Maybe I’m adjusting my expectations, because I didn’t hate it. Once I expected it to be all action, I didn’t mind waiting for the Daredevil tie-ins to give me real emotion. Once I accepted that Daredevil was possessed or whatever, I wasn’t bothered by his being out of character. Let’s be honest, if a correctly thinking Matt Murdock killed Bullseye, he would never EVER resurrect him. He would just cry about it for a while and say his prayers.  Shadowland is not good on it’s own, but it’ll do.

I’m not going to give Billy Tan any shit this month. This is the best his art has looked in the series. I like his rendition of the Punisher and his female characters, especially Lady Bullseye. I also want to give special recognition to colorist Christina Strain this month. Between all the shadows, Ghost Rider’s flames and the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, playing with light in this book must be a bear, but she does a great job. I’ve met her at cons and she’s always very sweet and does great sketches.

Stumptown #4Stumptown #4 by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth ****

Rucka and Southworth have a gem on their hands. With this 32-page closer to “The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo but Left Her Mini,” the pair has left me waiting for more. To solve the case (and not die) Dex has to use her PI skills, but also know how to read a situation and play the other parties against each other. Real crafty, this one.

Southworth’s art is perfectly unfinished. Darker books always run the risk of their art coming off too exaggerated and not fitting the mood. Looking at another Rucka series, Queen & Country, the art oscillates between cartoon and grit, much to the chagrin of some of its readers. Southworth is the regular artist on this title, so we don’t have to worry about that. What we do have to worry about is the schedule. Issue one came out on November 2009. That’s an almost three month average time between issues. The creators have assured us such delays will no longer happen, but that means a longer time between each arc.

The coloring in the book’s climax is a great experiment. The nighttime beach setting is washed in dark blue, with only a flashlight’s yellow glow to illuminate the characters. Not only does this preserve the beach’s shadows, but the contrasting colors make the players pop.

Young Allies #4Young Allies #4 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon *****

This is my new favorite book. I wish I read these characters before. I know Gravity had his own series, but I never tracked it down. Same with Araña or whatever she’s called now. These are great characters finally finding a place in my spotlight.

McKeever spends this issue throwing the Bastards’ identities into question, leading to inner-group tension as well as hinting at a larger conspiracy. I was wondering who the Allies would have as antagonists after this initial arc. That conspiracy is just what I was looking for, a hook to keep the book going.

Compared to Stumptown, this is the kind of book that can use non-realistic art. Baldeon, Bowling and Sotomayor take advantage and have given us some exciting, fun pages.

I’m running out of ways to praise this book. Just read it.

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