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 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.