Monday, June 30, 2014

Original Art Reorganization!

Sometimes housecleaning takes precedence over a new review! I spent my blogging time yesterday reorganizing my sketches and original art over on Comic Art Fans, organizing by character and team rather than by year. It seems to be a lot easier to find favorite characters and themes.

I'm also amused seeing how clearly some characters are my favorites. Black Knight, Blue Beetle, Martian Manhunter, Captain America, no surprises there. Same with She-Hulk, Tigra, Wasp, and Rogue.

But I guess I really like Hawkman and Hawkgirl? And Big Barda is another frequent commission for me too.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Outcast #1

I always give Robert Kirkman’s new series a chance. Hundreds of great issues of Invincible and Walking Dead have certainly earned him that. Thief of Thieves started slow and has gotten better (at least according to the trades I’ve read) and it seems Outcast might be on a similar path.

Kirkman plays around with time and our expectations of storytelling as the issue launches. There is some hopping around between time and locations that sort of throw the reader off. I assume that was the intention; that we would be unsure of which damaged kid we’re seeing in the opening pages is the child-version of our protagonist. It’s funny; I had ZERO expectations coming in to this comic. I literally had no idea what the book was about.

It takes a few moments, but eventually it becomes clear what kind of comic this is. It’s a book dealing with demonic possession in rural West Virginia. Our lead, Kyle Barnes, is the survivor of not one, but two demonic episodes in his past. One occurred when he was a child and the other as an adult as he tried to lead a happy life. These experiences have led Kyle to become a broken man, hiding in his childhood home avoiding contact with the world. Events in this issue conspire to get him back out there.

Kyle is what is known as an “outcast,” something the demons seem to at least recognize, if not value. His blood has unusual properties, and it seems Kyle is also good at punching kids in the face. It seems that Kyle will be teaming up with a local reverend to assist in demonic exorcisms.

Kirkman is ably supported by the moody art of Paul Azaceta. I’ve long had affection for Azaceta’s work; I got some commissions from him years ago at a con that blew my socks off (Taskmaster and Baron Zemo, if you are curious). The art is effective in setting the mood, and most upsettingly, the kids look like kids. Many artists have a hard time getting that look down, but Azaceta doesn’t. It is really upsetting seeing the spiritual and physical damage these kids endure as the book goes on. This is a horror comic; it is supposed to be upsetting.

There have been a fair amount of demonic possession stories over the years, and Kirkman’s holds up fine. Azaceta’s work is very strong, and I’m happy to see him on a high-profile monthly book. But while I love Kirkman’s survival horror and super-hero books, I’m only starting to come around on his horror and crime. I think I’m giving this the “Thief of Thieves” treatment and I’ll check out the next issues from the library.

This comic is GOOD for horror fans who like exorcist style stories, especially if you want those stories in a rural setting.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Longshot Saves the Marvel Universe TPB

To just get it out of the way, I didn’t love this limited series. But I do love that Marvel published it. I’m not familiar with Christopher Hastings’ work, but he has a fun tone and a good grasp on the many characters that fill these pages. Longshot isn’t my favorite character, but again, it is wonderful seeing a C-level X-Man like this get a few pages to himself. Every character is someone’s favorite, so giving Longshot a limited series is a good move.

The story is a tad wonky. After getting a new hipster haircut, Longshot interacts with a cosmic cube, setting off a chain reaction that includes the In-Betweener splitting his aspects between Order and Chaos. Longshot’s probability altering powers naturally draw the two Betweeners’ interest. With one aspect running loose hunting down lucky people and the other in charge of SHIELD, Longshot finds himself trapped in a weird other Earth.

Amusing team-ups and battles ensure. All sorts of Marvel characters make appearances here, Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man. Deadpool, Scarlet Witch, and Dazzler. There are tons. Throughout, Hastings keeps the tone light and Longshot’s magnetism strong. Everyone loves being around Longshot, and it is hilarious watching him sort of coast through life on his appeal.

Jacopo Camagni’s art is solid, but not a ton more. He captures the sense of fun that a demon teddy bear requires, and he keeps the tone and action light, even when the situation seems dire. A crashing helicarrier seems to be a dramatic, heavy moment, but Camagni’s art keeps everything more like a Road Runner cartoon.

The carefree, disposable nature of this story makes it a good fit for Longshot. There are strong character moments scattered throughout. And the art is fine. That said, this is not a comic I’d run out of my way to recommend. It certainly isn’t "Evil," but I’m not sure if I can tag it “Good” either. In my old rating system, this would be Fair to Average. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Heroes Con 2014!

I'm off to Heroes Con 2014! I'm the chubby guy in his late-30's with a goatee and nerd shirt on. There shouldn't be too many guys like that there, right?

While I get some new sketches, feel free to check out my existing collection!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dark Avengers: Masters of Evil TPB

I’m not quite sure how this book got an extra lease on life, but I’ll take what I can get. Especially since Jeff Parker spends this last Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers trade frantically setting up the team to be used in other Marvel books going forward.

The core concept is pretty good; the Tbolts are trapped in an alternate reality created by AIM. This world’s twist? Earth’s greatest heroes have all turned to the wrong side. Iron Man has an army of iron slaves. Dr. Strange is a bloodthirsty horn dog shacked up with Clea and Tigra. The Thing has left his humanity behind and is the new Mole Man. Only Reed Richards (and to a lesser extent, Hank Pym) have retained their old moral compasses. In this stew of good guys turned bad, the Thunderbolts are ALMOST heroes.

The real problem is that I don’t really care for most of the team. Until this trade, Parker was spending equal time with his quirkier leads, Moonstone, Mr. Hyde, Boomerang, and the rest. Those guys are gone now, except for Moonstone. Instead, the leads are Skaar, Toxic Doxie, Trickshot, and the rest of the “Dark Avengers.” The only member of the team I truly like (other than Moonstone) is John Walker, US Agent. US Agent is the high point of the trade; Parker has addressed his missing limbs and put him in a place where he can easily be used in the future. No need to even mention the complicated way Walker “recovered.”

Moonstone and Toxic Doxie have the best voices in the collection. They are witty, courageous, and totally overconfident. It is hard not to like the ladies who are so certain that they can turn every situation to their advantage. Skaar still bores me. Trickshot has a few moments, but he’s no Hawkeye.

The art is a very pleasant surprise. I’m certain I’ve seen Neil Edwards’ art before, but it never looked this good. The character designs are strong, the action is clear, and the facial expressions are very well drawn. There are moments in here where I thought it was Georges Jeanty’s well-drawn faces and not Edwards’!

In summary, let’s see some more of US Agent and Moonstone! They shouldn’t go into limbo after this GOOD comic!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Avengers Arena: Boss Level TPB

This hurts me to admit, but I was wrong about this one. I refused to purchase the title because of the exploitative nature of the premise, but as I’ve caught up with it on Marvel Unlimited, I can recognize what a good job Dennis Hopeless did turning lemons into lemonade.


In the end, Hopeless did most of his damage in the first issue when he killed Mettle. Sure, a few other character did die, but they were mostly characters that Hopeless created, or they were built up and Hopeless “earned” the right to kill them through strong characterization. Most importantly, my old favorite Darkhawk ends up alive and kicking. (Hopeless has stated in interviews why he handled Chris Powell the way he did. The interviews make me even happier with the end product.)

The series was full of nice surprises. I never expected Cammi and the Runaways to be so important to the resolution. Or frankly, so effective as heroes. Arcade successfully made his jump from C-lister to very possibly A-list villain. X-23, probably the biggest name in the series, spends much of the final trade in a chemically-induced rage and so can do very little to affect the outcome of the story.

Even the new characters have made an impact. I want to see more of Anachronism and Cullen Bloodstone. I want to know if Deathlocket is ever going to have a moment of control. I want to know if we’ve really seen the last of the series’ surprise villain.

Most of all, I find myself very interested in what happens next. Even after the great closure in seeing Hank Pym and the other teachers reunited with their students, I want to know how these damaged kids are going to survive. Back in the world after Arcade tells everyone what happened, can they handle being heroes? Hopeless leaves us hanging on quite a few characters; how badly is Darkhawk hurt? Is Reptil still alive? What will Arcade do next? I’m ready for the follow-up.

Not to overstate, but much of the impact of this book is due to the stellar artwork of Kev Walker. The passion and emotion of the faces of the cast have to do a lot of lifting in this series, and Walker’s art carries the load every time. The action is dynamic and exciting. The cliffhangers are perfect (although that is Hopeless’ script).

And Arcade… man, do I want to see him get his. We only got a tease, but that last page… somebody get him!

This comic is unexpectedly quite GOOD!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Secret Avengers: Illiad TPB

To put it simply, this is one of the most disorganized, confusing comics I have ever read. 

I’m reading it on Marvel Unlimited, so perhaps my confusion is due to the digital format and waiting for the next issue, but I don’t’ think so. Instead of me actually missing issues and somehow skipping them, it seems the plot is actually just shifting every few issues, with little to no connection between the plot threads. Every 2 or 3 issues, the focus shifts radically, whether the previous story was concluded or not.

Issue 6&7 are relatively straight forward, continuing Nick Spencer’s tale of a covert Avengers team invading AIM island. Spencer is still wasting the potential in his top-notch team of villains, but at least I understand what is happening. And for the most part, everyone is acting in character.
Issue 8 starts the weirdness. Mockingbird is in the body of a man. Nic Klein’s artwork is solid, and we actually get some time with Mentallo, Graviton, Black Widow II, and other villains. Things are coming together, and while I find the Mockingbird story very, very odd, I’m certainly interested to find out what happens next. This is the most interested I’ve been in the series so far!

Unfortunately, the next issues have literally nothing to do with the series so far. Issue 9 is a flashback to the personality conflicts between Daisy Johnson and Maria Hill. While I am not really interested in this, it feels like an old-school fill-in issue. Switching to a different artists makes this feel like even more of a disconnect. Something that needed to be dumped out of the editor’s drawer. I’m losing interest, but still hopeful.

Then things go further off the rails. Issues 10& 11 put the focus on Nick Fury Jr., Agent Coulson, and a new Inhuman character as they fight off the Infinity crossover. New writer. New artist. Old storyline totally dropped and abandoned. What the heck is going on here? It isn’t that this is BAD. While not the most interesting thing in the world, it isn’t necessarily bad. But I am now totally confused as to the purpose of this comic and the story it is trying to tell. It honestly feels like a book where Marvel is simply inserting approved stories in a cover and publishing it. What the heck is happening here?

Maybe things will go back to normal next month? I’ll keep reading (as part of my Marvel Unlimited subscription) but it is no secret how this title died. I’m not sure how you can start a story then just take a 3 month break to do other random things and expect people to sit around and wait. Simply put, this is a mess.

I stopped buying this EVIL series after issue 2, and it is looking like that was a good choice. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cable & X-Force: This Won't End Well TPB

I've got to admit, Salvador LaRocca's art goes a long way for me. It doesn't take much more than his art on a couple of classic characters like Colossus and the Avengers for me to be entertained. Even when the core plot of the book is weak, and the conflicts seem a tad manufactured, strong art and a few nostalgia call-outs can make a big difference. When guest artists come in with wildly varying styles? That blurs my focus a bit. Could LaRocca already be heading out for his X-Men OGN while this book was going?

So this is the big reveal. We find out just who has been manipulating Cable's powers, giving him flashes of "future-sight." Dennis Hopeless makes a good choice; our masterminds have good intentions and are inherently trustworthy, so it is difficult to get too angry at them.

Hopeless has a nice handle on his cast, particularly the budding romance between Colossus and Domino. Both are favorites of mine. Seeing them paired off, while unexpected, leads to some nice character moments throughout the collection.  I also appreciate that there could be reasons for Forge's out-of-character behavior while under Warren Ellis' pen in Astonishing X-Men. Having old time supporting characters like Boom Boom and the Reavers show up just makes this feel more like an X-Men comic.

I am fascinated by the appearance of the Uncanny Avengers. Often in comics, a team will seem more like a "real" entity when they show up as antagonists or guest stars in another comic. That isn't the case here. I've read every single issue of Uncanny Avengers, yet when they show up to take down Cable, and Havok shouts out "Avengers Assemble!" I'm still not buying it.

Three trades in, and that's still how I feel about this team. Hopeless and LaRocca have been telling stories about them for a dozen issues now, yet the team still feels forced together. It feels like the group was built by a group of editors dividing up characters, not by the natural progression of the story. This book feels like summer camp. They made different friends and hung out with different folks during the summer, but you know they are all going to shift back to their old alliances and teams when the story is done.

This comic is FAIR; more consistent art could have bumped it to GOOD.

Monday, June 9, 2014

X-Men Legacy: Revenants TPB

I don’t love the art. The main character has never been one that interested me. The plot doesn’t exactly hook me. And yet Simon Spurrier has me interested in catching up on this title because of the unique voice that infuses every bit of this title.

This trade focuses on Legion’s run-ins with Pete Wisdom and other English supporting characters. I liked that Spurrier really scrapes the bottom of the barrel, including Alchemy, a character from a throwaway issue of X-Factor back in the day. He also includes a blowing up kid who I don’t even recognize. 13-year-old Timbotron would be mortified that there were X-Men characters he didn’t know…

Spurrier plays some fun tricks on both the reader and Wisdom. Thanks to Legion’s increasing mastery over his powers, the different things he can do become more and more varied. It’s a wise choice to use Wisdom as a POV character. Even after all these issues, I immediately found myself more drawn into the story when David Haller/Legion was being portrayed as the antagonist rather than our hero.

After wrapping up the England-based story, Legion heads off to America to face down the man who killed Professor X; Cyclops! Once again, Spurrier’s irreverent tone is quite enjoyable, somehow building up the respect due to Cyclops even as Legion tries to mock and belittle him. It is an easy target to doubt the use of “child soldiers” on X-teams, but Spurrier still does a nice job with it when Cyclops uses his entire team.

 Make no mistake; this is a very weird comic. The art, by Khoi Pham, looks a bit more mainstream than Tan Eng Huat’s at the beginning of this collection, but it is still out there. The backgrounds do lack a bit, and the faces can get mighty lumpy at times. I’ve seen both artists do stronger work on other titles. Huat’s art does have a certain mad energy to it that goes a long way in his issues.

This is a FAIR comic, but certainly one worth reading if you are looking for a little something different from your X-Men comics. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

New Avengers: Infinity TPB

If I never hear the word “incursion” again, I will be a happy man. 

Honestly, that was the story on page 1 of New Avengers #1. These crossover issues aren’t even a good jumping-on point, since the main plot is still the same as it has been for months and months. 12 issues of this title alone and Hickman is dealing with this story in his other books too!

The best parts of this crossover involved Black Panther kicking butt in Wakanda, but unfortunately those aspects of the book are quickly passed by in favor of more incursion based weirdness. I’m not entirely positive, but did an alternate dimension version of the Builders come in during this story? How sad is it that I can’t even tell? There is too much talk of “superflows” “conduits” and then nonsense words that I don’t even understand.

The worst part of the story also involve Black Panther, along with Namor. Both characters are so degraded and shamed by the time the epilogue rolls around, I think this whole chapter in their histories is going to have to be ignored by future writers. Black Panther is cast out, king of a city of the dead but uninvolved with Wakanda. Namor is a coward who sold out his friends and surrendered. Blackbolt is depowered (and married to a ton of women, but that happened in another book). The rest of the Illuminati must continually consult Black Swan to have the plot explained to them. Ridiculous.

I know there are people enjoying this; it still sells quite a bit every month. But honestly? This book feels like techo-babble nonsense moving from plot point to plot point because it is written to do so. The characters do not sound or “feel” like themselves. In fact, I worry that some of what they are doing in these pages is damaging the characters.

Mike Deodato’s art is pretty solid, especially when drawing the Black Panther or Iron Man.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Avengers: Infinity TPB

This is the book that made one of my friends, a lapsed comic reader, say "I guess I don't like comics anymore." (He was reading issues in a Barnes & Noble to try and catch up on the Marvel U.)

I see why he said it. 

Leinil Yu draws some handsome Avengers. I’ve now run out of positive things to say about this crossover storyline. Although, I’m a bit confused why Iron Man is wearing his space armor when he’s on Earth… isn’t the point of that suit… space? Yu draws Captain Marvel with some awesomely spiky hair, and he still has his tendency to over-exaggerate certain features, but his action is fun and the storytelling is clear.

I will admit this; at least Jonathan Hickman uses these crossover pages to expand on plot-hopping core Infinity series. If read in order, these issues really do fill in the gaps of how the Avengers are spending their time during the crossover. Of course, you already know most of those actions if you are reading the core title, but it is something. Even worse is that if you read any Guardians of the Galaxy crossover issues, then some of the Avengers crossovers literally cover the same story.

The problem with the “expanded” and more focused view on the Avengers is that I still don’t like how Hickman writes the team. The junior characters all seem unnecessary. The dialogue from Thor and Captain America seems to treat the story like it is very important, but it never quite feels that way. 

As I said in my Infinity review, literally the only bit of characterization I enjoyed was seeing Captain Marvel treated as one of the “big 3” while the team was in space. She did a great job filling in for Iron Man as Cap’s confidant.

There are too many unnamed characters floating around helping or hurting our core cast. If I can’t remember every member of the Imperial Guard after 30-some years of reading comics, then I’d bet others might be lost too.

This EVIL event is very skippable. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Infinity HC

Oof. Talk about a miscast set of characters for a story. I’m not sure if it was the ridiculous space armor Hawkeye was wearing, the fact that Shang Chi took on a huge alien, or Falcon had a bird-headed helmet, but I could not take this thing seriously from start to finish.

From the start, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers hasn’t interested me. It is cold, clinical, and reads more like a project plan I’d have at work than a comic book. The Builders’ goals were never clear to me, other than they were bad for badness’ sake. I don’t understand the glut of Ex Nihili characters. Those weirdoes from Mars shouldn’t be on the Avengers, and frankly, I’m not sure that Cannonball, Sunspot, Smasher and the rest of the new blood belong there either. Other than a few important teleports for Manifold, none of the rookies have much to do.

This type of story worked in Annihilation because the leading characters weren’t so moored to their home. Many of these characters should not leave Earth-bound stories, not only do their cosmic adventures not seem appropriate for the character, but it makes their Earthbound stories seem small and insignificant.

The villains? Blah. The Builders are boring. Their expressionless faces make them into too-similar baddies that look like flunkies for a better villain. I couldn’t make myself care about them for the entire length of the series. And Thanos? My gosh, for a villain that seems so easy to “get,” he’s boring too. The main reason he’s attacking the Earth is to kill his son. He goes through a big Inhuman-destroying amount of trouble to get it done. Except that we’ve seen he has secret, invisible hunters, he’s got space supervillains. Heck, I’d think that Thanos could have just handled the problem himself. Let’s not even get into the silliness of Thane, Thanos’ son. The character design does nothing for me.

I will say that Hickman at least lets his leads be the stars of the book; Captain America, Hulk, and Captain Marvel do feel like the big players even in a cosmic space alliance involving the whole Marvel U. Thor in particular gets to deliver the big PLOT CHANGE moment of the series when he kills one of the Builders’ evil robots. Now, how he did it then when he couldn’t before? Not sure about that. How did Hawkeye start being able to hurt those aliens on crazy faraway planets during montage sequences? Because of the power of PLOT, of course! After literally MILLIONS of aliens dying in the early part of the series, suddenly the tide changed because there were only two issues left.

And the story where millions of aliens die? That’s just the beginning of the series. It wraps up early to make room for two issues with the Avengers trying to re-take Earth from Thanos’ clutches. But in the end, only the new character can get the job done. Annoying.

For a series that feels this clinical and is trying so hard to check off plot points, Jim Cheung does a decent job with the art. The main characters all look on-model, and he does do a nice job with Smasher, Gladiator, and some of the other cosmic characters. He can’t save Cap’s current costume, but few can.

I cannot stand the space suits on the more Earth bound heroes. As I said, most of them look absolutely ridiculous in their segmented space armor that should rupture during the first fight. Hulk in armor is not the Hulk. The bad guys all have pretty good designs, and Thanos has a nice heft to him, but the good guys do not fare as well.

This is another in a series of weak crossovers from Marvel. I’m trying to think of the last one I really enjoyed, but I’d have to go back pretty far to find one. For Infinity, I can say without a doubt that the crossovers in Mighty Avengers and Wolverine & the X-Men were the high point of the story.

This comic is EVIL and POOR.