Bells’ Art Collection, Part 4

My collection. Eight pieces. Seven weeks. Part four.

Old posts here.

Whole thing on Tumblr.

This week:

  • Joker by Lee Bermejo
  • Juggernaut by Declan Shalvey
  • Kabuki by David Mack
  • Loki by Olivier Coipel
  • Madame Masque by Annie Wu
  • Magneto by Leonard Kirk
  • Magneto by Alex Sanchez
  • Magneto by Walt Simonson

Click to embiggen.

See you next week. Same Bells place, same Bells channel.

The Shopping List 5-18-11

Tony Wants To Know Where You Are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Troll’s battle suit is BAD-ASS!

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

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

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

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

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

The Shopping List 4-20-11

Some housekeeping before I get around to the reviews.
1) Bells’ Kitchen has now received over 1,000 views. Thanks.
2) One of this week’s reviews, the one for Twilight Guardian #4 was also picked up by videogame and entertainment supersite IGN for their weekly MyIGN reviews. Check it out.

I’m not saying I’m a ravishing success, but it’s cool to see people appreciate my writing. Which leads to the best advice I could ever give myself (and all of you).

You want writing advice?

You may have some skills, but 10,000 other people have more. Try harder. Do whatever it is you love, then do it again. Try harder until there are only 9,000 people who are better. Then 8,000. And on and on. Of course, this all happens one week at a time. Here’s this week.

Avengers Academy #12Avengers Academy #12 by Christos Gage and Tom Raney ****

Issue #11 of Avengers Academy was an expository festival. It was a slog, but it was all in service of page one of this issue – the student of AA, with the experience and powers of their future selves. Christos Gage has to cut some corners and play some sleight of hand to get around some logical flaws, but he turns in a great issue.

The strength of Avengers Academy has been seeing each character’s different reactions to each situation. Here, some enjoy their enhanced skills and future knowledge, other despair that they still aren’t “normal.” Some charge into battle, others retreat. Since these are newer characters and they are still being defined, we can watch them evolve. It’s hard to really change the character of Tony Stark after 40 years of stories. But each battle these students go through adds a little more paint to the canvas. With the exception of Finesse, each of the kids has a real emotion moment and a real development. You don’t see books like this enough.

The actual Korvac storyline is a little thin – he shows up, kicks some ass, the kids power-up and kick his ass, but the stuff that matters to me – those emotional moments – are all excellent.

Tom Raney’s art is never flashy, but he takes a lot on his shoulders here. He partially designs three new characters, ages the Academy forward a good ten years, and, oh yeah, depicts a hard-fought battle with a cosmic-level villain. He’s not pushing any boundaries and work like this won’t win any awards, but no one should any complaints about the visuals of this book.

Invincible Iron Man #503Invincible Iron Man #503 by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca and Howard Chaykin **

Mercifully, the “Fix Me” arc of Invincible Iron Man is now over. I wasn’t a fan of the “Stark: Disassembled” story, but this takes its place as the worst of Fraction’s work on the title. It’s not that there is one glaring problem with the story. There are a few.

Comics books are a visual medium and seeing two people debate is not as interesting to look at as people in metal suits punching each other. The action is ramped up in this finale, but the Tony/Ock scenes are primarily out of costume, something Larroca commonly struggles with. Behind these characters, backgrounds are almost nonexistent. They seem to be fighting in a neon green abyss.

The best arcs of IIM, “World’s Most Wanted” and “Stark Resilient” were 12 and nine parts, respectively. Those stories had reveals and twists and turns. Each month, you didn’t know what was coming. This was a simple story with not enough meat. Even still, their endings are both non-climaxes. Tony grovels, leading to Doc Ock’s retreat. (I guess feeling superior was enough for today.) Pepper picks a fight only to have Sandman and Electro run away. My only hope is that these attacks were setting the stage for a big Sinister Six throwdown in the future. As it stands, they feels unfinished.

To make matters worse, it appears the two plots were cut short to shoehorn in some Fear Itself-related scenes. Nothing is gained in the scenes and Fraction even has to reverse a decision one page after it was made so as to not conflict with what he himself wrote in FI #1. I hope the sales bump from the Fear Itself banner is worth the four of five wasted pages. Sloppy.

The best part of these issues have been the flashbacks. They showed how much these characters have changed as aged as well as laid the retroactive seeds for this eventual confrontation. Paired with a style that is unrecognizable as modern-day Larroca, they were winners.

I’m not thinking of dropping this book, but “Fix Me” was certainly a stumble.

Oh, and there’s an eight-page short of Tony’s parents meeting. It’s not related to anything. It has ugly Chaykin art.  It’s inconsequential.

Thunderbolts #156Thunderbolts #156 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker ****

Another month, another solid Thunderbolts issue. Not content writing Marvel’s best book right now, Jeff Parker is also writing the most consistent. It’s exciting. It’s funny. It’s a tour through some lesser-seen parts of the universe. Pick up any issue and you’ll see that this book shares more than conflicted protagonists with Secret Six.

They started as fellow inmates, but these half-dozen half-heroes have really bonded. Look at the scene with Ghost, Moonstone and Juggernaut outside the selection room, they work together, even off the field. Their opponents hardly even matter. Last arc, we had Godzilla rejects. Now, zombie ghosts. Awesome. And more importantly, each of these stories have given Parker a reason to add a new member. Hyperion didn’t work out so well. We’ll have to see about Satana. And with so many new recruits on the way – Shocker? Mr. Hyde? – there’s only more discord on the way.

Kev Walker continues his trend of inventive layouts and panel borders. There’s a scene where Songbird, Mach V, Fixer and John Walker are interviewing potential Underbolts. Each interview happens in a different room with different participants, but at the same time. Parker may be asking a lot of his artist and readers, but Walker (with an assist from Frank Martin) slays the sequence. To anyone willing to truly pay attention to visual details, the scene is perfectly clear.

I almost sick of hyping this book. Start buying it already!

Twilight Guardian #4Twilight Guardian #4 by Troy Hickman and Sid Kotian ***

With issue #4, Twilight Guardian, one of the winners of Top Cow’s 2008 (seriously) Pilot Season comes to a close.

A number of threads have been introduced in the past three issues and it’s possible the story got too big for its own good. What Troy Hickman is able to wrap up, he does well. The mystery of Dusk Devil, and that of the strange man in TG’s apartment last issue, are cleared up. But most importantly, Twilight Guardian saves the day. Since she was introduced, Pam has needed a sense of belonging, a purpose. Here, she comes out of the story more sure of herself, certain that she is a true hero.

But as I hinted, Hickman isn’t able to address everything. We’re not sure what her dad really wants. Where’s her ex-boyfriend dissipate to? In a standard series, this would be fine. Some of the best comics aren’t divided into defined arcs; the stories flow into one another. But who knows if we’ll ever see TG again? There are a lot of balls left in the air. Without knowing if they’ll ever come down, it left me feeling a bit uneasy.

Artist Sid Kotian didn’t slack on this concluding issue either. He hasn’t drawn much action in this series, but each time when he has, he’s proven his worth. His panels are open and clear, with a good sense of emotion. As in past issues, he adopts another style for the comic with the comic, here simple black and white lines for a hero steeped in objectivism, special dedication to Steve Ditko.

The saga of Twilight Guardian may not finished, but this series is. Next time you’re looking around your comic store, give Twilight Guardian a shot. She’s like no other hero on your pile.

X-Factor #218X-Factor #218 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino ***

I figured out my problem with the more action-oriented stories in X-Factor. They stray away from what makes the book unique. There are enough superhero teams in the Marvel universe and comics in general; there’s only one super-powered detective agency. Hell, based on concept, X-Factor has more in common with Powers than it does X-Men.

Moving on to this specific issue, is Black Cat being set up as a new member to the team? The whole idea behind a guest appearance is to see how they clash with the standard team. But here, Black Cat deals with the attackers on her own. If someone was on the roof with her, it would add some X flavor to the scenes and she wouldn’t have to talk to herself to get some exposition across. From a writer as skilled and experienced as Peter David, it’s a strange flaw to see.

By now, readers should know I love Lupacchino’s art. This issue specifically has some nice moments. When Rahne delivers the news about Guido, she’s clutching her cross. A nice character moment there (possibly David’s). And her Black Cat is equal parts sex bomb and coy kitten. Good.

This isn’t the best issue of X-Factor, but it’s only because I’ve seen such great things from this creative team that I get disappointed. Next issue should wrap us this story and if I read the last panel correctly, Layla knows something. Let’s hope it adds some spark.

The Shopping List 3-16-11 and 3-23-11

Strap in kids. This one is a doozy. Between coming down with the death disease and C2E2, I never got to do the reviews for the books that came out of the 16th. And it was a big week. This week was supposed to be lighter, but there were a couple books from the 16th that exceeded my budget, so I picked those up. Sad thing is, writing these reviews I realized just how “BLEH” these books left me.

I Do Say So

I do say so. Oh well, can’t love them all.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade Young Avengers #1Avengers: The Children’s Crusade – Young Avengers #1 by Allan Heinberg and Alan Davis **

I don’t know what to make of this issue. Since it’s not part of the main series and has a different artist, it comes off as just a really confusing fill-in. Even after reading it, I can’t figure out if it will prove to be completely unimportant or the linchpin of the series. Will this come back in the end or was it Marvel grabbing another four dollars out of my wallet? I feel like I need to finish the series to even understand what happened here, despite mountains of exposition. Where are they going to tell me why these Avengers want to kill today’s Avengers?

The other story in the issue flashes back to the team’s first night out on patrol. It’s an interesting enough story, but everything you needed to know was handled on the first page of the first issue of Young Avengers: kid doppelgangers saving people from a fire, “Who the #*&% are the Young Avengers?”

I don’t like Alan Davis’ art as much as the people’s who has influenced, namely Bryan Hitch. It’s something about his faces, especially his character’s mouths. But I appreciate his ignoring of a grid or standard panel layouts. It’s fun to look at. It keeps your eyes on their toes.

I don’t know. This was an awkward aside. Of course, I can’t judge until Avengers: The Children’s Crusade is finished. But it’s not looking good.

Avengers Academy #11Avengers Academy #11 by Christos Gage and Tom Raney **

I knew it had to happen eventually – a bad issue of Avengers Academy.

It’s a simple problem. There’s way too much exposition. Don’t get me wrong, I have no idea who this Korvac guy is beyond an Avengers villain, but the explanation goes on too long and is so convoluted that I still don’t get it. Most of this issue feels like an illustrated OHOTMU entry, though narrated by Korvac’s wife and with interjections by other characters. Over the 22 pages, I came to understand that Korvac is wicked powerful and it’s going to take a lot to beat him, but I could tell that from just the pictures. If I wanted the backstory, I could have dived into the longboxes at my local shop and read, ya know, THE BACKSTORY?!

This isn’t to say that the Avengers characters are wasted, set aside to focus on Korvac. It’s Veil that sets this all in motion and Speedball gets a big moment, something he really needed, even after last month’s trip to Stamford. All the others get their panels too, even if they serve as Korvac fodder.

Making sure the massacre is exciting, we welcome new artist Tom Raney. It sounds a bit back handed, but Raney is a better than average superhero artist. No more. In a nice move, he and Gage are gracious enough to illustrate the exposition not with talking heads, but with violence. Giant-Man getting giant-punched. Thor brought to his knees. Quicksilver tripped up. It keeps things visually interesting. I have a complaint though – the further into the background a character is, the worse they look. I don’t know if I should blame Raney or inker Scott Hanna, but if a character isn’t the focus on a panel, they become scantly more detailed than a smiley face.

A rough issue to be sure, but with the heavy narrative lifting out of the way, I look for AA to bounce back next month.

Captain America #615.1Captain America #615.1 by Ed Brubaker and Mitch Breitweiser ****

Steve Rogers is not the same character he was in the 1960s. Many of his defining characteristics have been negated. The man out of time, waking up after 20 years frozen in ice? Well, he’s had time to acclimate in the 15 or so Marvel years since the thawing. Remorseful for the loss of his sidekick while ending WW2? Oh … yeah … he never actually died. No problem. This is why Bucky makes an interesting Captain America. He’s got some conflict in him.

Despite that, Ed Brubaker is taking steps to get Steve back in the suit. I have no doubt it’s influenced by the movie, but because Bucky is such a good Cap, I don’t like the idea.

Despite that, Brubaker has me convinced after 22 pages. If I were a hero in the Marvel Universe, there is no one I would rather have lead me into battle. It’s not even that he’s a strategist, he can just handle any situation. He takes everything in this issue in stride, knows the right thing to do (both morally and fight-wise). My only hope is that Bucky has a place to fit in outside of the red, white and blue. I don’t want anyone to think Bucky’s story is finished and kill him off. It’d be a waste.

Mitch Breitweiser has drawn Captain America a few times in the past, so he’s no stranger to the character. His artwork is a great demonstration to anyone picking up this Point One issue, regardless of the fact that he’s not the regular artist.

Lastly, I want to call attention to letterer Joe Caramagna. I usually don’t like sound effects in my comic art. If you show me a gun with a muzzle flash, I can do the sound math. Other times, they feel intrusive or take me out of the story* Here, they’re well integrated into the art; they aren’t just pasted over it. It makes a difference.

A great done in one. A great starting point. A great issue.

* This is one reason I didn’t like the few issues of Incredible Hercules that I read. I don’t need the sound effect “NURPLE” when some twists a nipple. It’s not funny either.)

Daredevil Reborn #3Daredevil Reborn #3 by Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice ***

Finally! an enjoyable issue of Daredevil Reborn.

After a couple issues that were derivative of … a lot of things, this finally feels like a uniquely Daredevil story. Not because Matt uses his super senses, but because we see some of the theme that ave carried the character for years,  like protecting the innocent. It’s not a perfect issue though; it’s very uneven. The first half is all action, the second half all talking. Neither part is bad, but it feels like there are only two scenes over these 22 pages.

I don’t have much to say. One more issue of Reborn, then Matt heads back to Hell’s Kitchen and the hands of Mark Waid, Marco Chechetto and Marcos Martin. I wish I could hit fast forward.

Fear Itself: Book of the Skull #1Fear Itself: Book of the Skull #1 by Ed Brubaker and Scot Eaton ****

Part of me didn’t want to review this until issue one of the actual event came out, but I figure they will be different enough that each deserves its own review.

I’ve heard the complaint that the plot of Fear Itself isn’t a result Marvel’s ongoing continuity as House of M, Secret Invasion and Siege have. It hasn’t been bubbling for months and years, it’s starting here and now. I see it the other way, if someone wants to read Fear Itself, they can start with this issue or Fear Itself #1. No more back story in necessary.

Take the Marvel Universe, mix in one part Hellboy, and one part Raiders of the Lost Arc, and you get this book. Though not completely original, it does a good job laying the groundwork while telling a satisfying tale on its own. Part of me feels that this new Red Skull could be Marvel’s Joker. She’s an agent of chaos. She sees an opportunity to raise hell and goes for it. She likes to make symbolic attacks, like her recent desecration of the Statue of Liberty. She quickly turns on her allies. With a shepherd as good as Ed Brubaker, she’s getting a real personality. I’m excited for her starring turn. It could be star-making.

Book of the Skull also features etter art from Scot Eaton than I expected, possibly due to the brighter coloring, especially compared to what I remember of his work on X-Men: Legacy. These big, open panels really do a service to his art. I used to shy away if I saw his name on a book, but he’ll get another look now.

Generation Hope #5Generation Hope #5 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie ****

This is a weird one. Phonogram 2: The Singles Club is the best comic of the past ten years, but everything else Kieron Gillen writes leaves me cold. Of course, anything McKelvie draws, even an 8-page backup, gets a look from me. So,when I saw this was a stand-alone issue and only three bucks, I gave it a shot.

It’s a cool book. You can easily see it as the newest entry in the line of New Mutants, Generation X, Academy X, New X-Men, Young X-Men, but it’s a handful of fresh characters, being defined by one clear voice (Gillen’s). I understand that due to their very nature, books like this don’t sell very well, but I hope it sticks around. These characters will only be able to blossom if they have a regular book. Pop in appearances here and there will just leave them to wither away, the way people like Surge, Prodigy and Dust have done recently.

Writers always talk about catering scripts to their artist. Gillen/McKelvie is one team where you can see this in action. Some of these jokes only work with McKelvie’s art. Could you read Prof’s “There’s few things I love more than seeing young mutants at play.” line with anyone else’s art? Greg Land? Prof would be a pervert! As it stands, he’s more of a weird uncle.

Dig it.

Invincible Iron Man #502Invincible Iron Man #502 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca **

I’m not sure if it’s a flaw of the issue or a testament to Fraction’s character building, but I much preferred the Pepper Potts scenes in this issue to the Tony Stark/Doc Ock ones. I have no doubt that Dr. Octopus will somehow be saved (like he would ever die in a non-Spider-Man book) and I also don’t think he’ll set off his bomb. It’s all just pacing until the problem is finished. Because the Stark scenes are just talking, they don’t feel like they have real conflict until too late in the game. Also, the strength of this series has been each arc coming off the one before it. This has an non-Iron Man villain coming to a man who isn’t the best to solve his problem, as Stark even points out. It feels more contrived than it needs to.

To harp on the Tony/Otto scenes again, the 11-13 panel pages, with a reliance on talking heads do Larroca no favors. Those aren’t his strength. The suit is. Action is. Not these blank, plastic faces.

Sure, this is my least favorite arc of Invincible Iron Man, but with Fraction at the helm of Fear Itself, I’m sure he has big plans for his boy Tony.

Amazing Spider-Man #656Amazing Spider-Man #656 by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin **

Talk about a letdown. After the incredible issue #655, we get a pretty standard Dan Slott Spider-Man issue, even Marcos Martin is wasted. Just one month after Slott wrote Martin some acting-heavy silent scenes and some dynamo spreads, we get an average issue. The only page that stood out to me was the opener with the detonator in Massacre’s hand. And with Martin off to do Daredevil with Mark Waid, I’m not sure he’ll get another go.

#655 touched on a lot of things: power and responsibility, comics’ revolving door of death, etc. This issue has a lame villain and an over-the-top J. Jonah Jameson. I bought his sadness after Marla’s death, but his reprisal is a bit much. Nice job letting him take advantage of his office as mayor though.

Four months in, and I’m ready to drop Amazing Spider-Man. I really liked the first “Big Time” arc, was underwhelmed with the second and only enjoyed the art of this third one. After the next issue, which ties into the Fantastic Four arc “Three,” I think I’m done. Of course, I recently saw that Christos Gage is coming on to help with a few scripts and do a bit of crossing over with his Avengers Academy kids, so I’m sure I’ll pick those up. I’m not going to add ASM to my pull list, but I’ll keep an eye on the solicits so I can be a cafeteria reader. “I have some of this … but not this.”

Thunderbolts #155Thunderbolts #155 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker ***

It’s draft day for the Thunderbolts! Issue #155 finds two units (Fixer and Songbird, and Luke Cage, Dr. Strange and Man-Thing) enlisting new recruits for their cadre of villains gone good. It may sound uneventful, but Jeff Parker keeps it interesting in a number ways. Luke and crew fight show that there’s more than one way to skin an incantation. Meanwhile, the Fixer/Songbird sequences are more low key, but the Raft’s female prisoners have some nice catcalls directed at Fixer: “I know you can rig up a piece of tech that goes in here …” When was the last time a Marvel comic objectified a male character? I like it, though I guess it only serves to balance out the “private bath for the women of Shandor-Rah” that Satana uses to tempt the ex-Power Man and ex-Sorcerer Supreme.

As an issue, it feels a bit unfinished. There are some abrupt cuts, as when Dr. Strange drops Luke on an ice beast. The ntire battle takes place while we turn the page. We didn’t even see one punch. And the scenes back at the Raft don’t have much in the way of drama. I understand this is an issue of putting pieces in place for a Thunderbolts JV team, but it could have been smoother. I also wish I could recognize some of these prospects. Though I did tell you guys to keep an eye out for Troll.

Kev Walker rules. ‘Nuff said.

Twilight Guardian #3Twilight Guardian #3 by Troy Hickman and Sid Kotian ****

After last issue’s reveal that a comics company wants to publish the adventures of Twilight Guardian, issue #3 shows us a few possibilities. It’s a fresh idea, but it leaves the issue a bit lacking, because we’re not following Pam anymore. When we go into the comics within the comic, it slows the forward motion of the issue. It pauses all the actual plot and drama of the series. I hope that these aren’t reflections of any suggestions Top Cow made to Hickman about where the character could go. Can you imagine if Twilight Guardian was shoved in Artifacts? Yeesh. Talk about not understanding the book.

The real star of this issue is Sid Kotian. Not only does he turn in the strong linework we’ve seen in the previous two issues, but he also adopts a new art style for each of the pitches Avernus Comics sends. Hopefully this guy doesn’t disappear; his style on the super-mega-superhero-crossover segment proves he’d be a great fit on a book like Legion of Super-Heroes, and his TG in the same sequence look an awful lot like my favorite Teen Titan, Raven. One question – when girls are home alone, do they really hang out in their underwear and knee-high socks? Or is Kotian spying on my dreams?

Yes, it’s a stumble, but in addition to the metafiction, this issue pushes the pieces into place for the upcoming finale. I’m not sure how, or if, all the plots up in the air – Dusk Devil, TG’s missing ex-boyfriend, her newly reappeared father – will tie in, but I’ll be there.

Last question: What parent lets their three children, none of whom seem older than 10, light firecrackers outside at 12:45 AM? (Though the lettering says PM, the sky and the fact that TG is on patrol means it’s night.)

X-Factor #217X-Factor #217 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino **

Right before Messiah Complex, X-Factor had its only stinker of a storyline, “The Isolationist.” It featured a few stories, but I don’t remember how or if they tied together. The biggest problem was that it didn’t feel like an X-Factor story. They aren’t really fighters anymore. They work at a detective agency? Sure, they’ve got muscle in Strong Guy and fighting skills in Shatterstar, but characters like Rictor and Layla are the glue of the team and they are action oriented at all. So when an arc comes along with a real physical threat, it feels off. And here we are with another action arc.

It’s rare that I don’t like an issue of X-Factor, but it has two serious problems:

  1. Lame villains – We’ve got a trio of female assassins going after J. Jonah Jameson and his friends. But after two issues, we don’t know who they are or what they want.I want to root against them, but no just because they’re labeled as the bad guys.
  2. Proselytizing – Peter David is a man with opinions. Anyone who’s read his blog knows that. And often times I agree with his opinions. But here, he spends three pages calling out anti-Muslim protesters on their bullshit philosophies. I agree with every word he puts in his characters mouths, but an issue of X-Factor isn’t the place for discourse on culturally insensitivity.

Emanuela Lupacchino loves breasts. Sure, her male characters are attractive as well, but you can’t go four pages in this issue without an eye-grabbing cleavage shot. Not a complaint, mind you, just an observation. To her credit, she really does draw stunning people. And unlike some lesser artists, she uses more face shapes than “male” and “female.” Most importantly, she’s a great fit on this book. Between her and Valentine De Landro, X-Factor has solved the artistic inconsistency that plagued it for years. Let’s just hope the next issue can turn the rest of the book around.

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 2-16-11

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 1-26-11

Six months and a new URL later, here we are at the 50th post of Bells’ Kitchen.Moonstone Doesn't Believe Me

No, seriously. There was a chance this was just going to be a lark, but between the two sites, I’ve had over 1,200 hits. That’s awesome. Personally, it’s been interesting to see my writing improve, even to the point where other people have noticed and commented on it. Also, I’m thinking more about what I read and of course, what it means. Better writer, better reader, better comics fan. Woot.

For my fiftieth post, I wanted to do something a little different. This week, all reviews will be 50 words long. It’s important to shake things up, keep it interesting, avoid blog fatigue. So, five books, 50 words each. Go ahead. Count them.

Captain America #614Captain America #614 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade ***

Bucky is more interesting as Cap than Steve Rogers had been in years. Not being the golden boy, he can make mistakes. Bru keeps the tension high, but six inkers and four colorists kill any visual consistency. They’re pushing issues out; maybe to time Roger’s return with the movie? Sad.

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Detective Comics #873Detective Comics #873 by Scott Snyder and Jock and what happened to the Francavilla backup? ***

Much like Bucky in Captain America, Dick Grayson is a substitute hero that’s been more enjoyable than the original. He’s a fun Batman. Here, he relies on his will and acrobatics to save the day. Snyder dark plots and Jock’s fragile lines prove that Detective Comics is in good hands.

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Thunderbolts #152Thunderbolts #152 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker ****

It’s common for people to get really excited about plots like “They’re fighting Dracula ON THE MOON!” that sound stupid to me. Despite this issue being “Villains and Superman analogue fight Godzilla monsters,” it was great. Parker’s masterful character interactions make this serious fun and Kev Walker is my hero.

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Twilight Guardian #1Twilight Guardian #1 by Troy Hickman and Sid Kotian *****

Years in the making, everyone’s favorite depressed, obsessive-compulsive real-world superhero is back! I may mock, but I truly enjoyed this. Much is repeated from the Pilot Season issue from 2008. Kotian’s art is sexier than I expected. I’m excited to see what Hickman does with a full miniseries.

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Zatanna #9Zatanna #9 by Paul Dini and Cliff Chiang, Adam Beechen and Jamal Igle ***

I get the 20-page issue thing. But this issue is a 12-pager and an 8-pager. It’s a Zatanna anthology. Neither story is bad, but they are both too slight. I really hope Dini has a big finish planned. I’m not hot on the style Chiang’s trying here.

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They may be quicker to write, but 50-word reviews are still hard. Economy of words is not an easy skill.

Well, it’s been fun. See ya’ll soon.

The Shopping List 12-15-10

These books came out last week. I’m doing better than last week. And I’ve already started putting together the stuff on this week’s books (Iron Man, Morning Glories, Zatanna). I’ve got a couple days off coming up,

Hobgoblin

Avengers Academy #7Avengers Academy #7 by Christos Gage and Tom Raney ****

In issue #6 of The Ultimates, Hank and Janet Pym get into a fight. A sadistic, visceral, hit-you-in-the-face-with-a-radio, spray-you-with-bug-killer fight. It’s a brutal display of domestic violence. And it instantly made Giant-Man and the Wasp two of my favorite characters. They were flawed, of  course, but they and their relationship were interesting. And filled with conflict. Even in the 616, I’ve had a soft spot for them when no one else has. So the past year or two have not been good to me. Janet died at the climax of Secret Invasion. They both died in Ultimatum. But since then, Hank has received some nice treatment, specifically at the hands of Dan Slott and Christos Gage.

I was never a big proponent of Pym as The Wasp, but anything to put him in the spotlight was appreciated. Here, Gage reverts him back to his best known alias – Giant-Man. He’s no longer the joke that is Ant-Man. He doesn’t have ridiculous goggles and wings. He doesn’t carry the baggage of the Yellowjacket mantle. It’s a step back, but still a step in the right direction.

The issue starts with Pym and Tigra discussing “their” child. Tigra’s a little crazy, not wanting Pym to help raise a kid that is “uh…genetically speaking” his, unless something happens to her. To repeat, he’s not worthy of being in the kid’s life with Greer, but if she dies, he’ll do. It’s a quick emotional jump and I’m not sure where it’s going.

The bulk of the remaining issue is taken up with a fight against The Absorbing Man. It’s a nice scene where Giant-Man can showcase his new (old) powers as well as the things he’s been working on since being donned Scientist Supreme. It’s a good read that shows why the book is called Avengers Academy, not Avengers Students or whatever. The teachers are just as important.

Tom Raney fills in on art this month, but the transition from Mike McKone is nearly flawless. Raney’s pictures range from a baby cat-person to abstract entities to 60-story punches. It’s bright and kinetic. If McKone can’t keep on a monthly schedule, Raney’s a great substitute.

Amazing Spider-Man #650Amazing Spider-Man #650 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos ****

The power of Gaga compels you!

Dan Slott is taking advantage of being the lone writer on this book and doing some exciting things. He has plots for Peter in and out of costume, which is becoming a necessity for me. Now that I think about it, that is something that holds back a lot of team books for me, not enough attention to the characters out of costume. But, back to SPider-Man. Slott is so good as using the supporting cast. Like any dude in his 20’s, Peter has to deal with his boss and co-workers, his girlfriend, his exes, his family … and Slott fits them all in. It makes Peter’s like three-dimensional and truly lived in. Peter’s antagonist, the new Hobgoblin is a nice threat because he seems crazy. I’m waiting for bit more motivation than having a crush on Norah, but Slott’s carving a nice identity for Phil Urich.

I’ve surprised at how much I like Ramos’ work on the book, but having three inkers really hurts him here. Their lines are too uneven. Right in the middle of the Hobgoblin fight, lines become much thicker. I’m not against any of the styles, but noticing the shift took me out of the story, if only for a second. Inkers, colorists, letterers, each of these people have the job of helping tell the story. Many will tell you the importance of staying out of the way (“If you notice what I’ve done, I haven’t done my job well enough”). Whoever is coordinating the art on this book would do well to find more consistency.

This is my first stint reading Spider-Man off the shelves. I’m having a great time. And with Stefano Caselli and then Marcos Martin coming up on art, things are only looking up.

Thunderbolts #151Thunderbolts #151 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker ****

Prior to his joining the post-Ellis Thunderbolts, I had no idea who Ghost was. Andy Diggle fixed that on his run and now Jeff Parker does more for the character than anyone since Bob Layton and Dave Michelinie created him.

“A Ghost’s Story” is origin-story-cum-confessional. Ghost, sating Moonstone’s desire to bond with her teammate, tells the tale that led him from nebbishy computer engineer to meta-human conspiracy theorist. Long story short – he fell for a girl named Shana, Shana was a pawn of his company, he found out, and experimented on himself to take his revenge, TADA! Supervillain! It’s well-trodden ground, but Parker gets us to a place where we root for retribution at Ghost’s hands. Like Gail Simone on Secret Six, this great writer makes complicit in heinous actions.

The implication, of course, is that Ghost sees a little of Shana in Moonstone. Is Ghost still capable of emotion, let alone romantic feelings? What’s Moonstone’s goal with all of this? Goddam this book is good.

Kev Walker’s art? Me gusta. He gives a clean look to everything and his Songbird is best I’ve seen. He also uses some fun panel layouts Ghost’s story. Not the graphic design of J. H. Williams III, but overlapping, round panels. They never follow a strict grid, but to Walker’s credit (like I need to praise him more), it all remains perfectly readable. It’s a nice switch from the standard sepia-toned or desaturated colors that most art teams stick to for the for flashbacks.

I don’t hear enough praise for this book, but it may be Marvel’s best.

X-Factor #212X-Factor #212 by Peter David and Emanuela Lupacchino ***

It’s always interesting when X-Factor gets into a straight up fight. Between their teammate drama and hijinks, I can forget that they’re still superheros. Even Strong Guy admits they “only fight when [they] have to.” Here, they and Thor fight more and more undead vikings. And just in case you though the whole Rahne-being-pregnant thing was going too well, her wolf-lover joins the fray too, almost eviscerating Shatterstar.

The one thing in this conclusion that threw me off was Hela’s ultimate motive. She was trying to get at Thor, but … why? To kill him? Seduce him? Madrox finds her out, but she goes into super evil goddess mode before telling us. That said, there are some great plot developments here, including the a pregnancy reveal (for the team, readers already knew Richter was not the father) and Darwin’s evolution into the lord of death.

Lupacchino is the newest artist to come out of nowhere and shock me with her talent. She draws regal gods, physical comedy and decaying corpses with equal aplomb. She could be just the think this book has needed since issue #1 – artistic consistency. Yay!

Between Shatterstar attacking pirate-actors and Longshot hitting the casinos, this arc started with some great fun. The end is a bit lacking in that department. Based on the next couple month’s solicitations, we’ve got a few freestanding issues coming up, including one guest-starring Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson. This arc may have lost some steam, but Peter David knows just how to get me excited.

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.

The Shopping List 10-27-10

Death and Lex Luthor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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