The Shopping List 4-27-11

Blog fatigue is very real. Regardless of any deadlines or restrictions you give yourself, sometimes you just don’t want to write. It can make comics feel like a chore rather than an exciting hobby. It’s like going to practice instead of playing a real basketball game. Sometimes you just have to spice things up.
With that in mind, AN EXPERIMENT! Live reviews! So, as I read each of the comics I bought this week, I’ll give you my thoughts. Let’s see how this goes. I hope this are easy to follow, even for those of you who haven’t read the books. But it’d probably be better if you can read along. It’d be like a DVD commentary. Except on comics. And you’re reading. And I had nothing to do with the creation of the book. But it’s like that.

Avengers #12.1Avengers #12.1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan Hitch ****

Recap page – Hitch’s version of Wolverine’s mask makes him look like a bird. An angry bird. However, I love that you can see a hint of Spider-Woman’s eyes beneath her mask.

Page 6 – “There are 32 alien races living here on planet earth.” – Agent Brand. Does that sound low to anyone else? I see Hitch never got the memo that Beast looks like a cat these days.

Page 9 – We’re lucky that Hitch gets all this leeway to stretch scripts out. If he was actually restricted to the 22 pages other artists are, we’d miss out on great splash pages like this.

Page 11 – Is anyone against those little logos/descriptions some writers use to introduce characters? They’re more graceful than shoving a character’s name in the dialogue. “Something not from earth, Moon Knight,” “We have to hope for the best, Protector.” I’ll admit I didn’t know that was Moon Knight at first glance, but help yourself out. Plus, those intro boxes are pure comic book. There’s a reason Edgar Wright carried them over into “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”

Page 13 – More clunky names.

Page 14 – The what? Spaceknight? Bendis seems to be going back into and old toybox on this one.

Page 18 – Villains are great. Even the smartest ones forget that Tony Stark is just as smart as they are.

Page 23-24 – Ultron? Sick. Can we get some Hank Pym up in here? Hitch gets a bit weird on his right thigh, but big credit to colorist Paul Mounts on bringing a lot of energy to this spread.

Page 25-26 – Good old Thor. Got a problem? Hit it with a hammer. Nice moment there.

Page 27-28 – Uh … if there was that much destruction, and we see A LOT, you’d have some dead bodies on your hands.

Overall – This was a really exciting issue. This is the kind of thing that can launch an event. The Age of Ultron may be contained within the Avengers title, but it should be big enough to have been an event. This is the best Hitch has looked in years. I wasn’t big on his Fantastic Four or his Captain America: Reborn work, but this is great. I would like to see some more vibrant colors though. A lot of the backgrounds and even characters are very washed out. Art this detailed still needs some pop. Either way, this is a successful .1 issue, but any goodwill from it may be wasted in the months until this storyline continues.

Captain America #617Captain America #617 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Mike Deodato, and Chris Samnee *****

Page 1-2 – Nazis are a really easy villain. No one cares if you kill a Nazi. Same with robots. Or some aliens (just as the Skrulls). But what about bears? Is this cool or is this animal cruelty?

Page 6 – These little tiny panels at the top? That’s some We3 shit right there. This is a 24 panel page, but reads so easy. I dig it.

Page 8 – Niko? Nick Fury? Or did I miss a character named Niko?

Page 9 – Nope. Not Fury.

Page 10 – Butch Guide is doing some real great design work here. Tiny moments, tiny panels. Events overlapping. I’d say it’s cinemetic, but really, it’s comics.

Page 18 – I knew there was a Steve Rogers feature starting soon, but I didn’t expect Black Widow. Sweet.

Page 20 – I like the style Deodato’s trying out here. It’s still got the shadows he’s known for, but his characters are much less chiseled, so it looks more fluid. Good to see he’s still not afraid to take a weird angle to tell the story, like in the shot directly above the desk.

Page 24 – Oh, Chris Samnee. You’re great.

Page 26 – A few pages back, Natasha got Steve on the phone. Now we see his side of the conversation. Nice job tying the stories together, Bru.

Page 30 – Damn, I’m really going to be sad when Steve gives up his Super-Solider outfit. That thing’s great.

Captain America has been a consistently good book since Ed Brubaker’s run started. But with each month expanding to 30 pages of his story and the storylines getting bigger and better in anticipation of the movie, there couldn’t be a better time to be a Cap fan.

Also, I just looked up Ursa Major, the bear from pages 1-2. I guess he’s a mutant that can shapeshift to a bear. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Detective Comics #876Detective Comics #876 by Scott Snyder and Jock ****

Cover – Yeah, I’ll start early on this one. I love it. It may not stand out on the shelf, but how many covers have the reader inside the mouth of a damn sea beast? The benday dot coloring is great too.

Pages 2-3 – They set me up to think a bomb was going to go off on this page turn. They got me. I expect kablam, I get Shamu. A check out the way Jock plays with perspective. Try to find a perpendicular line.

Page 6 – Uh … Dick? Should you really be cutting that dead whale open? What expertise do you have in marine biology?

Page 7 – Dialogue is a weird thing. You want it to sound authentic, but you often need to clue your readers in on information that may not naturally come out in conversation. Writers try their best to fit it in, and  Scott Snyder usually does. But here, Commish is just a bit dramatic. “As in Anthony ‘Fats’ Zucco” DUN DUN DUN “The man who killed your parents.”

Page 10 – Eww. Another reason to hate whales.

Page 11 – Excellent page. I won’t even try to explain. Just check it out.

Page 12 – Right here, in the narration, Dick says Zucco killed his parents. If it was going to be said in the issue already, there was no need to jam it in the dialogue a few pages back.

I didn’t have too much say about this issue, but that’s not a bad thing. Scott Snyder is giving readers a great Batman story and his artists have been giving it their all. Even if you’ve been jaded by too many mediocre Batman stories in the past, check this out. Who knows when Detective Comics will be this good again.

Flash #11Flash #11 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul **

Page 1 – Oh no. Scott Kolins art. It’s not Kolins’ fault. He’s great, especially on Flash. It’s the coloring. When this style is laid upon Manapul’s art, it looks classic. Here, characters look plastic and lifeless. Not to mention it’s a lot darker than it needs to be, which could always be a printing problem. Working in advertising, I understand that 100%.

Page 6 – Pages like this are why I respect Kolins. Look at the details in the apartment – the rug, the pillows, the junk on the table behind Iris. But, why does everyone look squinty here (except Bart who looks ready to punch Barry in the face)? Speaking of Bart, he looks too much like the witness kid from the beginning of the issue. Both young redheads, and the kid is wearing yellow and red, Kid Flash colors.

Page 8 – I’m not sure if Johns is writing Bart as too self-centered or just whiny. “Barry didn’t come to the picnic because of me!” Wah wah.

Page 10 – Writer, artist, colorists, editors – This just doesn’t seem to be anyone’s issue. If Wally’s talking about being a kid, shouldn’t he be in his Kid Flash uniform? Back then, did they EVER wear red outfits at the same time? And Wally’s line “… I didn’t hope Barry Allen was the Flash — I hoped the Flash was Barry Allen” That’s more than a little melodramatic.

Page 15 – I hate when people in comics talk to themselves. Give them an internal monologue. Better yet, give them someone to talk to.

Page 20 – Well, I was right about the colors of the kid’s clothes. Just looking the wrong direction.

Not a bad issue, not really. But it’s flaws are so clear – overly sentimental writing and art that’s trying to clone what’s been done before, but with different ingredients. I’m still not sure how this will really connect to FlashPoint, but with one issue to go, who’s really going to stop reading now?

Morning Glories #9Morning Glories #9 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma ***

Page 2 – I will now welcome guests at my house with “Die alien scum!!!”

Page 11 – “I was warned you might be brainwashed.” Does Jun have someone on the inside?

Page 13 – All this birthtime stuff confuses me. Hisao was born second, at 23:59. That would mean they were both born on May 4, same as all the other students at Morning Glory Academy. So … what’s the problem with Jun?

Page 19 – Uh … so … we’ve haven’t been following Jun all this time? Why doesn’t Jun know who he is?

Page 26 – Wow, I never would have realized there were extra pages in this issue. ANYWAY, wasn’t Abraham the guy that discovered Zoe? Could he be the inside man?

There isn’t any real progress in this issue, but there’s some backstory that has already been proven important. That and a couple of twists and you’ve got a basic issue of Morning Glories. Next month: Jade. At C2E2, I told Nick Spencer that she was my favorite. It sounds like I’m the only one. Red-headed emo girls? Sign me up!

Spider-Girl #6Spider-Girl #6 by Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry ***

Recap page – I like that the frame of this page is an iPad. Seeing where the recap is made up of @The_Spider-Girl‘s tweets, it’s a nice tie in. It also doesn’t hurt that I love my iPad.

Page 1 – We’re back to Clayton Henry’s art. Now that the darker story is over, the darker art is as well. Nice.

Page 4 – Pop culture references … I appreciate it now, but will anyone know what Community was in 10 years? 5 years?
Henry’s art has clearer emotions than Southworth’s. That’s a good thing.

Page 8 – The real inciting incident for this series has been the death of Anya’s father. Since then, the Fantastic Four has lost someone as well. She goes to hang out with them, but we’re not going to comment on this?

Page 9 – I may have dropped Amazing Spider-Man from my subscription list, but it is nice to see the books tying together in regards to Phil’s crush on Norah.

Page 14 – Henry throws in a nice easter egg. “D-Man: Turn Off the Trash” I like it. Does the fact I like that conflict with my ambivalence on the Community reference?

Page 16 – It’s sad that Spidey shows little faith in Spider-Girl.

Page 21 – Faith which she totally deserves. There’s a narrative leap here. Hobgoblin is knocked out, but 4 panels later, escapes. It couldn’t have been thirty seconds. Spider-Man’s watching the whole time. We never see him even get up or get untied. Throw us a bone here. Focus on storytelling.

Page 22 – Spider-Man’s been more or less encouraging of Anya in the past, yet he criticizes her again, despite the fact that she’s now defeated numerous foes. This selective support doesn’t play well with me.

With its impending cancellation, Spider-Girl has some exciting ground to cover in the next couple months. If you’ve been reading up until this point, there’s no reason to stop now.

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So what do you think about live reviews? Interesting? Failure? An interesting failure? Let me know. Maybe I’ll do this again sometime.

The Shopping List 3-30-11

After last week’s list of dull and disappointing books, March ends with a a well-balanced, enjoyable stack of comics. Some were better than others, but there wasn’t a true stinker in the bunch.

Spider-Girl's Here

Well, I did. Buy good books. Don’t buy bad books. Is that too much to ask?

Detective Comics #875Detective Comics #875 by Scott Snyder and Francesco Francavilla *****

All my favorite Batman stories are really Jim Gordon stories. Year One? Sure, it’s an origin, but Jim changes as much over that year as Bruce. The Killing Joke? Batman is the same guy at the end of the story that he is at the beginning; he plays Nick Carraway to the Commissioner’s Gatsby. We never even seen Bruce Wayne. I say all this because Detective Comics #875 is another great Batman story that’s about James Gordon, not Batman.

The issue gives us a look back at James Gordon Jr.’s childhood. It seems Jim has always been a bit weary of his son. The question is whether his fear is warranted or not. James Jr. has no problem admitting he’s a sociopath, but we haven’t seen him do anything wrong. It’s a testament to Francavilla and especially Scott Snyder that we fear this kid just because of his appearance and demeanor, not his acts.

Snyder spins a nice mystery told in two decades and wraps the whole thing up in 20 pages. This guy is new to the comics game, but he’s showing true skill here. Francavilla certainly pulls his weight too. From the moodiest colors I’ve seen since Laura Martin on Astonishing X-Men (remember the red hues right before Kitty found Colossus?) to two killer two-page spreads, he’s a revelation.

Since Scott Snyder came on, Detective Comics has simply great stories. Get in while it’s still early.

Captain America #616Captain America #616 by Ed Brubaker, Cullen Bunn, Frank Tieri, Howard Chaykin, Mike Benson, Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, Travis Charest, Ed McGuinness, Jason Latour, Paul Azaceta, Mike Deodato, Paul Grist, and Pepe Larraz ****

This issue, commemorating Cap’s 70th Anniversary, has 104 all-new pages from over a dozen modern and classic creators. 104 pages, only eight of ads. Five dollars may be more than you’re used to, but that’s the content of over three regular issues of Cap for only a dollar more.

The two Brubaker stories, one following Bucky (illustrated by Mike Deodato) and one following Steve Rogers (Ed McGuinness) are far and away the best of the book. Some critics have asked if we need an arc of Bucky in jail when we just got one, but that arc didn’t have his fighting a Communist bear, did it? The concept is the same, but a Russian gulag is a very different situation than an American prison. In the second lead feature, Ed McGuinness enters into contention as my favorite superhero artist … I dunno … ever? Big action. Big emotions. Steve looks like a mountain of muscle. It’s just so pure that no one can touch him.

The rest of the stories, like any anthology, are a mixed bag. Howard Chaykin tells a nice story, but his art is marred by modern coloring. The over-rendered faces make his people look puffy action figures. Frank Tieri’s story relies too much on a very foreseeable twist ending and ends up saying nothing at all. Jason Latour does his best José Luis García-López impression, adding a well-appreciated bleak feel to Cullen Bunn’s story. The remaining two stories are golden age tales, one wacky, one in the midst of WWII. They’re throwaways, sure, but some will enjoy cameos by the likes of Baron Blood and Union Jack.

I may sound a lot down on the non-Brubaker tales, but every Captain America fan will find something to like in here. Give it a chance. You won’t regret it.

Spider-Gril #5Spider-Girl #5 by Paul Tobin, Matthew Southworth, and Sergio Cariello ****

When creating a sidekick or spin-off hero, it’s too easy to have them confront their hero’s adversaries. Robin fighting Two-Face. The Young Avengers facing Kang the Conqueror. Luckily, Spider-Girl tweaks that convention. As the teenage female version of Spider-Man, Anya Corazon has become a rival to Ana Kravinoff, the young daughter of Kraven the Hunter.

It isn’t a surprise that Ana is the better fighter, but you don’t get a spider costume by being foolish. Knowing she’s at a physical disadvantage, Spider-Girl uses her environment and resources to win the day.

With a lot of ground to cover before wrapping the series up with issue #8, writer Paul Tobin also starts to bring together some of the threads he’s introduced thus far. After months of teases, we get some answers regarding Anya’s sketchy neighbor and Raven, the mysterious group somehow involved with the death of Anya’s father.

Artist Matthew Southworth stumbled on the out-of-costume sequences in last month’s issue. His inky, shadowy art was great for action scenes, but when Anya was with her friends, it was out of place. This month, he’s assisted by Sergio Cariello. Cariello has a more open style, allowing large fields of color, setting his sequences apart from Southworth’s. And since the artists split the issue by scenes, the transitions are never jarring.

With only three issues left before the title is cancelled, I can’t recommend jumping on now, but when the trade comes out, it’d be worth putting on your shelf.

Amazing Spider-Man #657Amazing Spider-Man #657 by Dan Slott, Marcos Martin, Ty Templeton, Nuno Plati, and Stefano Caselli ***

Much like this month’s issue of Captain America, issue #657 is an anthology in all but name. Here, the remaining members of the Fantastic Four each relate a story of Peter and Johnny Storm’s adventures as superheroes and as friends. Also like Cap, it’s a mixed bag.

The Martin sequence is just connective tissue between the stories. There’s no heavy lifting, but he successfully navigates the sadness these characters are feeling.

Slott writes Ty Templeton a prank war between Spidey and the Torch. Before this book, I’ve never seen Templeton’s art. It’s super simple, but super bold. It’s sort of silver age on crack. If this is what the I’m With Stupid miniseries is like, I’ve got to track that down.

Nuno Plati illsutrates the time Sue Storm got arrested for indecent exposure. It’s not as sexy as that may sound, but it does allow Slott to reverse the motherly role that Sue plays on the team. Also, seeing Johnny and Peter able to lecture someone is great. With its thin lines and pale colors, Plati has the most stylized art in the book. It’s not for everyone, but more importantly, it’s not the right fit for the story. It’s too serious, especially because of the color palate I mentioned.

The final story lets Johnny save the day for once. The Human Torch is probably the weakest member of the FF, but here he’s able to show up the big brains on Reed and Peter. Nice idea, but it’s the weakest of the trio. It just doesn’t have much to it other than “Hey! Johnny’s OK too!” Stefano Caselli however, looks great. I was underwhelmed with his art on the “Spider-Slayer” arc, but here, he’s back. I can’t put a finger on it, but he’s back to the days of Avengers: Initiative. Maybe the coloring? Who knows. Maybe it’s just a more exciting story.

These 30 pages feature four artists. Each has a radically different styles, but no one comes off as the runt. Pair that with a triad of cute, if too light stories and you’ve got a winner. A character question: why does Peterkeep his mask on in the flashbacks? The middle one, where they actually fight criminals, OK, but in space? In space, no one can learn you identity. And camping? Why is anyone in costume? That’s tipping your hand a bit far. They could have just been some friends in the woods. Now they’re clearly heroes in the woods. Just saying.

Ultimate X #4Ultimate X #4 by Jeph Loeb and Art Adams ****

The third issue of Ultimate X came out on June 16, 2010. Since then, writer Jeph Loeb was named Executive V.P. of Television and artist Art Adams and his wife had their first child. Adams has claimed full responsibility for the delay, but it’s hard to fault him for focusing on his family. All that said, I’m surprised at how much I didn’t feel lost starting this story.

Like previous issues, #4 mostly stands on its own. Liz Allen hasn’t been seen thus far in the series, so readers have nothing to reread to get acclimated. At first, the book seems like the high school drama we’ve seen before, but there’s a twist because Liz is, you know, Firestar.

What will surprise readers is that this isn’t a superhero book. It’s a book about how young people are affected by their abilities. It’s more fantastic than a series like Demo, but it doesn’t rely on villains and violence. People complain about Jeph Loeb because of books like Ultimatum and Hulk, but this proves he has a variety of voices.

Adams’ art certainly isn’t rushed. Once a book is this late, there’s no excuse for the art to be lacking. And it’s not. Each line is precise. Character’s emotions ring true. Backgrounds are full of details. This seems like a real, lived-in world.

You may have to dig through some longboxes to catch up, but Ultimate X features two veteran creators telling a story unlike anything in your stack this week.

Zatanna #11Zatanna #11 by Paul Dini and Jamal Igle ***

Defining the boundaries of magic is always an obstacle course in superhero comics. Scarlet Witch can commit genocide with three words, but not poof Ultron out of existence? In order to offer some real conflict, the story needs certain spells to work and others not to work. The very climax of this issue, concluding the Oscar Hemepl/Stringleshanks story, relies on such a convenience. In case the audience didn’t understand how it works (which we didn’t), Dini says (through Zee) there’s “no point in going into why and wherefores now.” It’s weak. In comics slugfests, Spider-Man or whoever always needs to come up with some alternate plan or specifically summon up all their remaining energy and then some to KO their opponent. In a good story, it’s never as simple as one more punch. It’s not a bad ending, but it’s too convenient.

Also this month, Jamal Igle takes over art duties from Bells’ Kitchen favorite Cliff Chiang. Igle may not have the identifiable flair of Chiang, but he’s a talented artist in his own right.He’ll do just fine here.

Puppets are creepy. Marionettes. Socks. Hand. Creepy. Creepy. Creepy. The very idea of sticking your hand up someone’s ass and controlling them is creepy. And sexual harassment. You know it. I know it. Zatanna knows it. And now, thanks to Paul Dini and Jamal Igle, she’s has conquered her fear of puppets. “Pupaphobia” is a good story, but in this world of budgets and down economies, it’s not worth my three dollars a month. Sorry guys.

While I’m thinking of it, I have a confession to make. I hate letter columns. They’re either readers’ half-baked ideas on where the book should go or page upon page of ballwashing. Does anyone really enjoy knowing how much some jamoke in Wisconsin enjoys Superman? They never have any real criticism, just “I’ve never really liked the X-Men before, but WOW! Writer X made me a believer! Make mine Marvel! Excelsior!” Blech.

The Shopping List 2-16-11

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

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

Yeah right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two more issues. I miss you already.

The Shopping List 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 12-29-10

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 11-10-10 and 11-17-10

Lots of book. Little time. Here we go.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #3Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #2 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

– Heinberg writes great dialogue. Here, he writes too much. The issue is full of talking and debates and arguments and only one action of consequence.
– Cheung is taking his sweet-ass time on this book. I’m glad he is. It looks great.
– Once again, the schedule is killing the momentum on this book.
– I love Magneto and Quicksilver. I think they’re great characters on their own, but their relationship, especially here, really pushes them to a new level.

The Flash #6The Flash #6 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul

– “The Dastardly Death of the Rogues” wraps up a little too easily here. Spinny, spinny, rewrite the future, change how a police department is run.
– Johns gives his characters great, unique personalities.
– Manapul is good. Colorist Brian Buccelato makes him amazing.
– Now that this arc is done and Scott Kolins is coming on for a few issues, maybe the book will get back on schedule. More Johns Flash? Yay!

Morning Glories #4Morning Glories #4 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

– This book is a delight every time it comes out.
– Now that the characters have all been introduces, Spencer can start placing them together, letting their relationships build. I think most geeks will relate to Hunter. I know I do.
– Ooh! The plot thickens!
– Eisma’s art has smoothed out again. It looks great.

Amazing Spider-Man #648Amazing Spider-Man #648 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos

– This is kind of exactly what I want in a Spider-Man book.
– I’ve never liked Humberto Ramos’ art. Runaways was close though. Here, it perfectly fits the energetic pace of Slott’s script.
– The issue has about 10 plots. Instead of cutting between each, they are dealt with one by one. You may think it would come off as disjointed, but it works. If these are the stories Slott is going to tell, I’m interested.
– Spider-Girl prologue! Yay!

Spider-Gril #1Spider-Girl #1 by Paul Tobin, Clayton Henry, and Dean Haspiel

– It’s nice to see Anya land on her feet after the cancellation of the great Young Allies.
– I wish the industry could have supported this book with the name “Araña.” It reeks of changing a book to suit the industry rather than the story.
– This book is the Marvel equivalent of Batgirl. That’s a good thing. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It will live and die by its name-recognition and guest stars.
– Clayton Henry draws an amazing range of emotions. He’s a real talent.
– Anytime I get to complain about the cancellation of Young Allies I’m going to take it.

Superior #2Superior #2 by Mark Millar and Leinil Yu

– A bit of a let-down. I know Millar loves the Superman archetype. Now do something new with it.
– Yu’s pencils are beautiful (just look at those pages in the backmatter), but the colors are too splotchy. It looks like Superior has a rash.
– This book has exactly what Nemesis doesn’t: heart. The only emotions in that book are anger, rage, wrath, blah blah.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 by Nick Spencer and Cafu **

– I bought this based on Nick Spencer and good reviews. After the incredible debut of Morning Glories, this falls flat.
– I’m not sure who is going to be the real protagonist(s?) here and the plot is a bit overthought.
– The big hook is the that the agents are given super-powers that will eventually kill them. But Spencer doesn’t show enough (if any) of the characters who would take such a deal.
– Cafu’s art is clean and Santiago Arcas’ colors give some eerie realism. They’d make a great fill-in if Salvador Larocca needed a break on Iron Man.

Thunderbolts #150Thunderbolts #150 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker

– This issue feels like a book. For $5, you get a 40-page main story, an 8-page “Thunderbolts Saga,” and a 38-page reprint of Thunderbolts #1. Almost double the standard cost of the book, but well worth it.
– A pared-down cast results in some great conflicts and better outcomes. Tony Stark disarms Ghost with no punches or repulsor rays, just words. Clever.
– It’s nice to see Kev Walker back. If his art has always been this good, I’ve got to do some back issue searching.
– I know people complain about anniversary issues containing reprint content, but this had something going for it; I had never read the story. Despite knowing the plot, specifically the twist ending, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the story. It’s a bit wordy and Bagley’s art is not as clean as it would be on Ultimate Spider-Man, but very enjoyable.

X-Factor #211X-Factor #211 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino

– Last issue, all the shit of the past few issues launched fanwards. Here, it splays all about Las Vegas. Three words: Undead Viking Henchmen.
– David’s best skill is his character interactions. Bringing prim and proper Thor and the motley crew of X-Factor Investigations together should be brilliant.
– I can’t wait to see where Emanuela Lupacchino ends up next. She’s so good. At NYCC, regular X-Factor artist Valentine DeLandro told me he would understand if they dropped him from the book and put here on full-time. (I’ve heard no plans to do so.)

Sorry for limiting this post to simple bullets points, but you know, life happens. Big week this week. Cap, Iron Man, Ultimate Spider-Man #150, and my girl Batwoman. Woot.