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.

Comics in Public – This American Life FOLLOW UP!

Back in August, I wrote about the “Superpowers” episode of This American Life. This week, the show did one better.

In Marvel’s Nation X #1, James Asmus and Mike Allred had story about Nightcrawler and Wolverine going on a road trip. What did they listen to in the car? This American Life. The commemorate this, TAL has created a poster of the panel.
X-Men This American Life posterGo to http://store.thisamericanlife.org/ for more info or to buy the poster.

Library Reviews 11-8-10

Batman: Heart of HushBatman: Heart of Hush by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen

“Hush” was one of the stories that got be back into superhero comics when I was in college. I was creeping around the comic shop and saw a book drawn by Jim Lee that included a plethora of Bat-villains. It was a no-brainer. Not being knowledgeable at the time meant I enjoyed the book more than a lot of continuity-tied readers do. So, Hush may not belong in the top tier of villains, but his presence doesn’t offend me outright. This story, which fills in Hush’s backstory answers some questions, but also makes him less relatable.

The problem with Hush is that his only motivation is jealousy of Bruce Wayne. Jealousy that even drove him to kill his parents. The jealousy is the core of his character and it quickly gets overwhelming and reduces him to one dimension. Everything he does in this book is driven by wanting to get at Bruce. His plan, to give himself plastic surgery to become identical to Bruce Wayne, doesn’t make sense. One of the results of this, that he can pose as Wayne and loot his banks accounts is mental. This is the 21st century, no one under the age of 65 does banking in person. You want to loot his accounts? Get a password or pin number.

In the end, Hush comes off as an idiot. The biggest shock of the story is that Hush steals Catwoman’s heart, which he then keeps frozen and on display. Which sure pisses Batman off, but also makes it all too easy to save her life.

Thinking about this story a year later, it just seems like they needed a way handle the whole “Bruce Wayne is missing too!” question when they “killed” Batman. I don’t know, maybe this worked a lot better monthly as part of the whole Bat-continuity at the time, but upon inspection, it just falls apart.

But Dustin Nguyen is awesome.

Spider-Man: Return of the Black CatAmazing Spider-Man: Return of the Black Cat by Joe Kelly, Marc Guggenheim, Mike McKone, and a boatload of others

It was both a strength and a weakness to have rotating writers on Spider-Man. It’s like the weather in New England. You don’t like it? Wait five minutes. Here it’s “You don’t like Marc Guggenheim? Wait three weeks.”

The problem is that the collections are very uneven. Here, Joe Kelly and Mike McKone have a very fun story that takes advantage of the unmarried Peter Parker. The sexual tension between Spider-Man and Black Cat (though not necessarily Peter Parker and Felicia Hardy) ensure excitement without resorting to explosions or punching.

A slutty (I say that in the sex-positive “Yay sluts!” sort of way) Peter Parker is fun to read. He’s got the awkward tension with the roommate (Michelle), the friends with benefits that he works with (Black Cat), the ex-girlfriend (Mary Jane), and the girl with the crush on him (Norah). He’s a 20-something guy, and most 20-something guys have one or more of these in their life. It’s a nice touch.

Next, Marc Guggenheim writes an overly convoluted story involving some relics of the “Clone Saga” of the 90s. I didn’t read the “Clone Saga.” Everyone says to avoid it as it’s the paragon of what was wrong with comics in those days. The story is so elaborate that it needed a prologue in another book (Web of Spider-Man) just to get people up to speed. It didn’t work. It constantly cuts to flashbacks featuring Ben Reilly, who looks just like Peter, but isn’t part of the modern-day story. The scenes have the same villain and two heroes that look identical. Without any sort of visual competent to tell the two apart, it collapses by trying to be too clever.

Lastly, Joe Kelly comes back for a Deadpool story that is too much for me. I’ve heard Kelly is the best writer to ever work on the character, but his quips and fourth wall breaking have always turned me off. I understand that Deadpool’s juvenile is the heart of the character, but it’s not for me.

I didn’t have much investment in the Parker-Watson marriage, so I didn’t care when they were broken up. All I know is that this status-quo has some aspects that add a lot of enjoyability for me. I’d gladly read more of these stories, as lumpy as they may be.

X-Men OriginsX-Men Origins by Mike Carey, Chris Yost and more than a boatload of others

This book is hard to review as it doesn’t collect one story. It’s six one-shots, each giving the backstory a different character.  This book shines where Spider-Man failed: BALANCE. I’ve got to give the credit to editor Nick Lowe. He’s got more writers (4) and artists (6) than Steve Wacker had on Spidey, but each story succeeds in its own way, resulting in a more cohesive package.

Chris Yost shows us the duty to family and country that drives Colossus. Then he turns around and gives a clean 30-page summation of Wolverine’s days prior to Giant Size X-Men #1.

Mike Carey shows the Clark Kent, small town boy side of the Beast and later makes the best of the ridiculousness that is Gambit’s history. As a child of the 90s’ X-Men cartoon, I dig Gambit. I can’t help it. But some of the ways he’s been tied to X-continuity are a stretch. Carey streamlines it all, painting him as a man who’s looking to control his powers and have his freedom, and finding the costs are a too high.

Also in the trade, Sean McKeever shows more personality for Jean Grey than I’ve seen just about anywhere and Kieron Gillen shows Sabretooth’s favorite part of his birthday.

I won’t go into details for each of the artists, but again, Nick Lowe earned his paycheck on this one. The stories that flashback to youth (Jean, Beast) are painted in beautiful, nostalgic styles. The violent life of Wolverine gets jagged, rough lines. The fun that Sabretooth finds in fighting is reflected in the quick panels and stark colors. Gambit’s story is illustrated with all the shadows that a thief deserves. This book shows what comics are at their best: a perfect unity of writing and art telling a story.

If you have any interest in the X-Men, X-Men Origins is worth a read.

The Shopping List 9-22-10

Uhh … Mixed bag this week. I may have found another unclaimed seven dollars for comics next month.

Avengers Academy #4 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone ****

This second and concluding chapter of the “Scared Straight” crossover with Thunderbolts is also the weakest issue of this book yet. Most of this has to do with the prominence of Mettle, who I so far find the least interesting of the group. Also, his persistent use of the word “brah” is grating.

There is some good stuff here though. Hazmat makes a nice threat and you can really tell Hank Pym wants what’s best for these kids. Christos Gage decides to play Norman Osborne as Lex Luthor rather than the dissociative identity disorder guy we’ve seen since Civil War. Nothing wrong with that, but you really wonder how these kids could believe a word he says. The heroes have said a million times since he was in power “He’s the freaking Green Goblin!”

As I say, this may be the weakest issue of this book so far, but still, four stars.

Black Widow #6Black Widow #6 by Dwayne Swierczynski and Manuel Garcia ***

This is an exciting start for a new creative team. Nothing more complex than a case of mistaken identity, but Swierczynski has Natasha doing some undercover work, surveillance, and hand-to-hand combat proving her years of training.

Manuel Garcia draws some emotional, action-filled panels with his jagged pencils. His females show a bit more cleavage than necessary, but they do look good. I will say though, for a smooth, crafty spy book, I’d like some art that matches. (I would do bad things for a Greg Rucka/Terry Dodson Widow book.) Garcia would be well suited to something grittier, maybe Moon Knight.

It’s nice to see this book continue, even without its original creative team.

The Flash #5Flash #5 by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul ****

This book has a lot of good things going for it. But for each, you gotta take the bad with the good.

The Good: The Rogues – Part of what makes the Flash so great (regardless of who’s in the suit) is the Rogues. They’re unique and they share a bond. Teamwork comes more natural to them than Superman’s villains, for example. With that in mind, pitting two sets of Rogues against each other is a great idea.

The Bad: But it also mean that your storytelling has to be crystal clear. When you zoom out too far, no one can tell the difference between Captain Cold and Commander Cold. I swear there are some errors in this book because I’ve read page 4 a few times and it still does not make sense.

The Good: Momentum coming out of Blackest Night – Plenty of people read about Barry in last year’s big event and seeing Johns’ name on a new iteration of a book he was great on years ago no doubt influenced plenty of them to pick it up.

The Bad: Not everyone read Blackest Night. So having Captain Boomerang go into a hallucination about his post-resurrection mission feels out-of-nowhere. Way to cater to new readers.

The Good: A simple hook – The Rogues from the future have to come back to stop a murder before it happens.

The Bad: You know what the problem with time travels stories is? You have to spend half your time explaining how it works and why the typical paradoxes do or don’t apply here.

The Good: The art – Francis Manapul is perfect on this book.

The Bad: I got nothing. He’s perfect.

I don’t mean to make it sound like I don’t enjoy this book, but it does have problems.

Nemesis #3 by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven *

Wow. This book is tasteless. Just trashy. It’s got one issue left and I don’t want to buy the final issue. The only redemption here would be to see Nemesis pay for his sins. He has to pay for his cruel, revolting, implausible sins. If Mark Millar is going to give me that, maybe I’ll give him another three dollars. But I can’t encourage a book where this guy wins. Of course, Millar teases a follow-up series in the back matter, so I may as well piss into the wind.

I’m not going to boycott Millar. Just this book. Superior looks very nice. Maybe it’s actually about a hero.

Violence doesn’t bother me. I read superhero comic books, so maybe that’s obvious. Nemesis can kill all the cops he wants. But when you inseminate a teenage girl with her gay brother’s semen and then booby trap her womb so terminating the pregnancy will make her unable to ever conceive again, you leave me so offended that I cannot describe it.

Did I just spoil that for you? Good.

Steve McNiven does draw some nice pictures though. I wish he didn’t waste his time on this story.

Uncanny X-Men #528 by Matt Fraction and Whilce Portacio **

Yeah, I’m done with this book too. I know I said I may hold on until Kieron Gillen helps on writing chores, but I can’t wait. If I hear that the book turns, I’ll probably pick up the issues I skip. In the meantime, this book is not enjoyable.

It’s not for a lack of plots either. We’ve got another of the five lights, Iceman trying to find the X-men a publicist, Emma dealing with her prisoner (Sebastian Shaw), Namor dealing with underwater subordination, Colossus trying to connect with his ghost of a girlfriend, and a riot at a San Francisco art museum. Six plots in 22 pages. As it stands, 11 pages are dedicated to Storm and Hope saving the new mutant. Another half of them: Iceman, Namor, and the art museum, are brand new. I’m not sure one monthly issue can handle much more than an A, a B and possibly, a C plot. Give each one some real attention so they can move forward.

Once again, this book is suffering from a lack of focus. I’m done.

So yeah … some new holes in the budget. Maybe I can save some money for New York Comic Con next month!

The Shopping List 8-18-10

***** = Loved It
**** = Really Liked It
*** = Liked It
** = Didn’t Like It
* = Hated It

Secret Avengers #4Secret Avengers #4 by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato, Jr. **

From Gotham Central to Daredevil, Catwoman to Captain America, Ed Brubaker has to be one of my favorite superhero writers. I’ve been following Deodato from Thunderbolts through Dark Avengers. The team includes Steve Rogers, Beast and the Eric O’Grady Ant-Man. So, when the post-Siege books were rolling out, this is the one that interested me the most. After giving it a whole arc, I’m done with the book.  This is the introduction to a new, black-ops Avengers team and you spend it on Mars, chasing the Serpent Crown? REALLY?

Four dollar books really have to be great month in, month out. Deodato is bringing it, but Bru isn’t. This was the best issue of the arc, but even the mystery of whatever this Nick Fury-looking guy is up to is not enough to justify sticking with the book. There’s not enough here. Brubaker shows his love for Steve Rogers, and him putting the Nova helmet on is a cool idea (a great cover, though only my second favorite “putting someone else’s helmet on” cover. That’d be Son of M #5). But this book didn’t have Valkyrie’s best appearance of the week (Avengers Academy) or the most unexpected hero (Thunderbolt’s Man-Thing). I’ll keep my eye on the reviews, but I’m not impressed.

Uncanny X-Men #527Uncanny X-Men #527 by Matt Fraction and Whilce Portacio **

This is another book that has just not impressed me enough. I’m going to finish out the current arc, “The Five Lights,” but now that this book is four dollars a month, it needs to be better. I understand that I’m talking about one dollar a month, 12 dollars a year, but it’s forced me to justify these purchases.

Whilce Portacio’s art has too many scratchy lines, but after the Dodsons, I’m going to complain about almost anything. Fraction does well by most of the characters (other than Emma’s “Rad Bromance” comment last month). I just don’t care about their problems. Second Coming had huge stakes, scary villains and real threats (right Kurt?). These two issues have been new mutants realizing their powers, which I’ve seen before. This one has Emma flirting with Tony Stark and Namor, which I’ve seen before. The most interesting scene was between Wolverine and Cyclops, but it’s only two pages. Now that Hope is back in the present, what is the mission of this book? Its characters have plenty of personality, but Uncanny X-Men has none.

Avengers Academy #3Avengers Academy #3 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone ****

I’ve got a weakness for teen teams and for villains. Teen books are pretty common and between this book and Young Allies, I am finding plenty to fill the space in my budget opened by the above books. But villain books are tough. They have to reach some of their goals, but they can’t really win, because that would mean killing the hero. Or the writer has to come up with an even more despicable antagonist. Secret Six is my favorite DC book, which succeeds by creating terrible, terrible people for the Six to clash with.

Avengers Academy does a little bit of both. Finesse and Hazmat are trying to undermine their teachers, but the real bad guy of the piece is Norman Osborn, who tortured these kids while he was in power. The kids, whether you consider them the heroes or villains of the piece have understandable motivations, which lets us align with them. We align, we care, I enjoy.

I haven’t seen Mike McKone’s work since the Teen Titans relaunch, but it’s great. Beside defining five new characters (Reptil having appeared elsewhere), he’s drawn a kick ass Iron Fist, a perfectly arrogant Quicksilver, and a scary Hannibal Lector-masked Crossbones. Sweet.

Thunderbolts #147Thunderbolts #147 by Jeff Parker and Kev Walker *****

This issue offers another side of the events seen in this week’s Avengers Academy (as well as next month’s issue). It’s an interesting way to do a crossover as no full scenes are shared and the students don’t have any lines in Thunderbolts. If you only read Thunderbolts, you have no idea what caused the blackout or why it was done. That being said, it doesn’t really matter.

A lot happens in this issue, which had to wrap up last month’s search for some Terrigen crystals as well as show what the ‘Bolts were up to during the events seen in AA.

This issue was also featured the week’s best sequence, a five-page, three-row battle: John Walker shows what a one-legged man can do in an ass-kicking contest, Songbird fends off the Raft’s female populace (with the assist of Troll [Who?]), and Luke Cage shows the Purple Man why he’s the Power Man. Special recognition to colorist Frank Martin for keeping the whole sequence easy to follow as it went from page to page.

I’ve only been exposed to Kev Walker’s work through the Annihilation: Nova miniseries. I wasn’t sure how well it would follow Thunderbolts recent artists, which have included Mike Deodato and Roberto De La Torre. I have to admit, his over the top style goes toe-to-toe with this issue’s over the top action. His Juggernaut looks massive. Moonstone is smug, no words necessary. And the change of expression on Purple Man’s face when he realizes he can’t stop Luke is priceless.

Since the dawning of the Heroic Age, this is one of Marvel’s best.

I also want to point readers to David Brother’s discussion of aforementioned battle, specifically Luke Cage’s part, over at 4th Letter!. Brothers is one of my favorite bloggers. His stuff is always worth reading.

Ex Machina #50Ex Machina #50 by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris **

Brian K. Vaughan opens this final issue of Ex Machina with a theory about comic books, specifically ongoing superhero books: “Month after month, they just keep going. So no matter what terrible things happen, you know there’s always another chance for wrong to get righted.” As much as Hundred is letting us know that these “happy endings are bullshit,” that IS one of the reasons I enjoy comics.

Regardless, this tragic ending is not what I expected. People are going to go on and on about how we’ve know that Ex Machina is a tragedy since page two, but I’m not sure this was the way to go. Kremlin’s exit makes sense, but it’s a note BKV’s been playing for him since that first storyline. Doesn’t he get to evolve?

Vaughan also uses this final issue to turn the ever loyal Bradbury gay (at least for Mitchell Hundred [at least when drunk]). The mayor’s sexuality was never directly addressed, but his relationship with Bradbury has always been strictly homosocial. If you recall, the last issue of Y:The Last man ending up pairing Hero and Beth together. Beth, who had never shown signs of this before (I can’t remember for Hero). What is BKV saying here?

As for the actual tragic aspects, they’re there. At the end, Mitchell has what he wanted, but his flaws have led him to lose everyone in his life. When Hundred asks “What did I do? … What did I do to you?”, he’s not just talking about Kremlin. He’s talking about this whole Great Machine experience and how it’s driven his life. This last year’s worth of issues really took the book outside of its wheelhouse. I’ve got to admit, I liked the ex-superhero turned mayor book better than the ex-superhero turned mayor fights inter-dimensional aliens book.

Ex Machina is a great book that everyone should read, but I’ve got to place it below Y. Perhaps in a few months I reread from the beginning and do a review of the series as a whole.

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