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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fantastic Four: Who is the One that will Make Four Three?

Last week kicked off the “3” story arc in Fantastic Four in which one of our beloved First Family of Marvel Comics may eventually meet his or her maker. Sad. Okay, so let’s look at some pros and cons.

Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic
Reason to Live: Reed shows up all over the Marvel U to stand there in a lab coat, describe what mysterious disease/phenomenon is dooming a character, then explain there is nothing he can do about it. Nevertheless his presence always adds a nice cohesiveness to the books.
Reason to Die: His character can be pretty boring unless playing up his idiosyncrasies.

Johnny Storm, Human Torch
Reason to Live: He’s always been one of the more charismatic characters in comics. Johnny’s sarcastic wit can be counted on for a few laughs.
Reason to Die: Let’s face it, his power ain’t so hot. He turns into fire, can throw fire, and makes fire cages. I would hate to be falling from a building only to see a ball of flames headed towards me.

Ben Grimm, The Thing
Reason to Live: There is no more beloved character on this team than Benjamin J. Grimm. He’s got a great catchphrase (“It’s Clobberin’ Time”), he speaks like a stereotypical New Yorker, and he’s one of Marvel’s powerhouse heroes.
Reason to Die: I won’t even go there.

Susan Storm, The Invisible Woman
Reason to Live: She’s got two kids. C’mon!
Reason to Die: I could not tell you a single thing about this character’s personality other than she gives the impression of being a good mother. Her ability to create force fields and stuff is cool, but nobody else can see it—this seems like it would be more problematic than it appears in the comics.

Sue Storm wins the Dead Pool!

Wednesday's Finest, 9/29/10 Releases

By Don M. Ventura

Avengers Prime #3

Brian Michael Bendis has left me hot and cold over the years. Sometimes I have found his writing to feel rushed and not structured enough for my taste. Last week’s Avengers, for example, seemed to take the characters everywhere but, ultimately, nowhere.

But then I pick up Avengers Prime and I am reminded how good Bendis can be at telling a story. Avengers Prime is a bi-monthly mini in which Steve Rogers, Iron Man and Thor are stuck in one of the nine realms of Asgard. They have been separated for most of the story but are back together again by the end of the tale and it is evident that Bendis is having a good time with these characters.

Hela, a classic Thor baddie, has super-amped powers and is doing a number on the God of Thunder. A de-powered Tony Stark uses his million dollar charm, to great humor, as a means of escaping from the dragon Fafnir. I love this scene because it demonstrates, like in last weeks Steve Rogers: Super Soldier, that the cbest heroes do not rely on their powers alone to get out of the tightest of binds.

Because snappy bantering is an art form at which Bendis excels, Tony and Steve are given several opportunities for a little back and forth in this issue as they attempt tracking down Thor. These two have been at odds for years, culminating in Marvel’s 2006 crossover event Civil War. For the past few years things continued to grow darker, until Norman Osborn was brought down in Siege. Now we are in the midst of Marvel’s Heroic Age, a much brighter 616.

This book is supposed to act as a catalyst, bringing these three classic Avengers back to the tight bond that once held Earth’s mightiest super team together. Bendis is achieving this with ease. The story does not feel rushed, he’s not throwing too much into the mix, he has got the voices of these characters down. With each issue I have grown more impressed.

But Bendis is not alone here in the storytelling. Alan Davis makes a rare appearance on this book and brings an old school appeal as story like this requires. Davis’s work has not lost any charm. His panels are exciting, especially as Tony barely escapes fiery doom from Fafnir. There is pin-up worthy opening splash page of Thor facing off against Hela and the undead that is really powerful—get Davis on another Thor project.

Marvel, led by Bendis, seems dead set on delivering an army of Avengers books to readers (I believe I count four ongoing titles and two minis). They are not all up to the quality of Avengers Prime, but I am enjoying enough of what is being published to say there’s something for everyone.

G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds #5

This is the kind of book that reminds me immediately of the power of comic books as a means to tell a story. First, many casual readers passing by the comic racks would see the title and keep walking. Big mistake.

G.I. Joe: Hearts and Minds has been a wonderful series with the same two-story set up each month. The first half is a sparsely narrated tale of a classic Cobra baddie and a second similar story featuring a Joe. But writer Max Brooks’ approach is minimalist. Artists Howard Chaykin (Cobra features) and Antonio Fusso (Joe features) are as integral to bringing to life Brooks’ dialogue.

How does Cobra add to their ranks and how are they manipulated to join? Brooks demonstrates the ease in which people can be exploited when they have either lost their way or never had direction in the first place. The second story focuses on Blowtorch (guess what he does), as he ruminates over the power of fire and its discovery by the Cro-Magnon man. Fusso’s work here is powerful. He evokes first fear, then epiphany, at the realization of fire’s power by its discoverers.

Do not be turned of by the classic G.I. Joe Banner. Hearts and Minds continues to pack a wallop each month.

Chew #14

Get into Chew. The Eisner Award-winner deserves all of the praises bestowed upon it. If you haven’t picked it up yet, this is the only book in memory that seems to be a good jumping on point at just about any issue, regardless of where it is in its story arc.

This happens to be part four of the “Just Desserts” arc in which Tony Chu is inching ever closer to bringing down his former partner, the hulking Mason Savoy. The story opens, as usual, with a flash back (or forward) that may tie back to the story in some way. Tony’s bipolar ex Mindy is introduced and we learn she goes to extremes in picking out personal gifts; this ties into the cliffhanger ending which is unusual for this series so far.

Much of the issue is set-up for the final issue of this arc as Tony battles to keep Amelia, his newest lady love, happy in their burgeoning relationship and tries to finally track down Savoy. Layman is writing what must be the most original book being published right now. The craziness of Layman’s world is complimented perfectly by the cartoonish artwork of Rob Guillory. Guillory creates the liveliest of panels each month, and this issue offers more of the same.

Action Comics #893

Once Paul Cornell finishes this year long Lex Luthor tale, he should just go onto writing an ongoing Luthor title. How can this book continue to be one of the best Superman books in recent memory?

This issue features Gorilla Grodd, as Luthor, Robot Lois (don’t ask, it works), and his shrinking group of yes-people continue to search for the spatial anomaly discovered in the last issue. I forget what this has to do with Lex’s search for an Orange Lantern ring, but you’ll realize by the final page that rings and anomalies are the least of his worries.

Kudos go to Cornell who maintains an exciting and fun ride using a 70-some year old villain with no powers to carry the story. Sean Chen pencils this issue, instead of Pete Woods, and he fills in just fine. I loved his Grodd. Especially when he confronts Lex in the jungle with an enormously fearsome silver spoon (don’t ask, it works).

Wonder Woman #603

J. Michael Straczynski has written a compelling Wonder Woman issue, as the Amazon princess searches desperately for her reality, accompanied by the Amazonian sisters she saved in last month’s issue.

Diana finds herself trapped in Hell after her soul is stolen by demons. The artwork by Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansica, and Allan Goldman is phenomenal in this issue. When Diana is lost in the underworld it looks like… well it looks a lot like Hell. But I have to nitpick. The book establishes the difficulty in getting out of Hell, so when she does it, it’s kind of lame. After I finished the book I thought, well what was the point of that?

Other than this flawed plot point, I am completely invested in Wonder Woman’s odyssey to regain her full powers and identity. Straczynski is writing one of the most interesting Wonder Woman stories that I can recall ever reading.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dear DC, Please Stop Asking Me to Use My Memory

Is DC worried about stealing from Marvel by adding a recap page to their comic books?  They can easily justify a little five-fingered discount.  After all, aren't Hawkeye and Mockingbird the House of Ideas' carbon copies of Green Arrow and Black Canary?  I'm tired of trying to remember all the details of a story arc by the fifth issue.  Clearly, if Supergirl is beating down Bizarro Supergirl at the open of a story I can pick up pretty quickly.  But issue #603 Wonder Woman begins with Diana and a troupe of Amazons walking through the desert and I couldn't immediately recall where last we left our buxom warrior.  Did their car break down on their way to Vegas?

Let's face it, sometimes these books can have some convoluted plots and it wouldn't hurt to be reminded of where we are three or four months in.  And don't get me started about books that come out months late.  So come on DC, Marvel is just using a little common sense, they didn't reinvent the wheel.  Get on board!

Editor's Note: I totally love Hawkeye and Mockingbird.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jim Lee Takes on the Justice League of America

Jim Lee just tweeted this version of the famous Brave and the Bold #28 cover featuring the first appearance of the Justice League of America and it is even more awesome than I expected!  Has Starro ever looked this menacing? Or sticky?

Darkseid: Straight Outta Apokolips!

It's been a big fat week for the big fat ruler of Apokolips.  Darkseid made his first appearance on Smallville this past Friday and Omega-Beamed his way into our hearts today with the release of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.  At this rate, who knows where he'll end up next!  I'm opting not to make a lame American Idol joke.

Superman/Batman (and Wonder Woman): Apocalypse

By Don M. Ventura

I think the reason the last two Superman/Batman movies have been adaptations of Jeph Loeb-penned stories is that they are big action-adventure stories with great guest stars and wonderfully evil villains.

In Superman/Batman: Public Enemies we were treated to the first arc of the Superman/Batman comic book series in which the heroes bring down President Luthor after battling it out with what seemed like every hero and villain in the DCU.

DC Universe Animation succeeds again here with this story, originally told by Loeb and the late Michael Turner, in which Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El arrives on Earth after several years in suspended animation. As well, the animators are to be complimented on their adaptation of Turner’s character designs. The animation is as strong in this film as viewers have come to expect from these films.

All the beats are there: Kara crash lands in Gotham, Batman serves up a heaping serving of mistrust, Superman and Kara bond, more mistrust, Wonder Woman takes Kara to Paradise Island, then Darkseid steps in. Screenwriter Tab Murphy includes all of the important plot points without everything feeling rushed; a feat for a 78-minute film.

The voice-acting is what we have come to expect from the leads. Kevin Conroy is, and always will be, the best animated Batman. Tim Daly returns as Superman, a role played for two seasons of the animated series plus a few animated movies. But it is Ed Asner who steals the show as Granny Goodness, one of Darkseid’s most sadistic cronies. Asner goes over the top only when required. Otherwise he brings a quiet creepiness that we have come to appreciate in producer Bruce Timm’s villains.

Summer Glau is fine as Kara. I read some rumblings about her work, but there was nothing that bothered me about her acting skills here. Andre Braugher is perfectly cast here as Darkseid. His voice, a deep baritone, is devoid of any humor and he is well suited to take on the role of the ruler of Apokolips.

One small qualm is that this movie could have used one more name in the title: Wonder Woman (voiced here by Susan Eisenberg from both series of the Justice League). She is as much a lead in this as Superman and Batman and her character is treated excellently here. I’m an enormous fan of watching Wonder Woman kick some ass, and there is plenty to be kicked in this film.

Green Arrow takes center stage in his own ten-minute short that immediately grabs you and only lets up for the remaining 30 seconds before the credits roll. I could have done without an extremely brief appearance by a C-List villain near the end, but it doesn’t take much away from another winning featurette.

Once again, DC Universe proves to be a force to be reckoned with in the animation field. Now let’s see those live action ventures!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (One More Day)

Tomorrow is the big day!  DC Universe releases their ninth animated feature Superman/Batman: Apocalypse and everything I have seen so far has me completely psyched.  Plus there is going to be a Green Arrow feature—if it's the same quality as the Spectre feature from the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths DVD, it's going to be something special.  Nevertheless, I promise to present balanced reviews of both tomorrow night!

Amazing Changes on the Way for Spider-Man

By Don M. Ventura

Around the summer of 2001 I got back into reading comic books after listening to an interview with Kevin Smith on The Howard Stern Show.  The two discussed their love of comics; Stern went on about his love of Superman and Smith spoke of his recent Green Arrow relaunching for DC.  This was enough to pique my interest and get me back to the comic shop.

As overwhelming as it was, I knew there was one character I wanted to immediately catch up with: Spider-Man.  And there was a lot of good stuff to pick from.

J. Michael Straczynski had recently taken over the writing duties on The Amazing Spider-Man and I followed with great delight for a few years.  Then came a creepy Gwen Stacy story, the Spider-Armor (seen below), Spidey’s unmasking in the pages of Civil War, and finally, the coup de gras: “One More Day”.  In the span of two years, Spider-Man had gone through one dramatic status quo change after the next and I wasn’t enjoying where they were taking the character so I eventually dropped all of the Spider-titles.

Love it or hate it, Marvel is to be commended for the choosing to unmask the character.  Significant changes to such a mainstream character’s status quo are a rare thing (Hulk doesn’t count because his character demands it).  Ultimately though, Peter Parker may have been backed into too tight a corner.  Magical cleanup was required.

Only recently, thanks to stories penned by the likes of Mark Waid and Joe Casey, has The Amazing Spider-Man gotten back to some really strong stories.

Today’s announcement that Dan Slott would become the ongoing writer of Amazing seems to hit most of the right chords. Humberto Ramos, who drew a fantastic Peter Parker: Spider-Man arc back in 2002, is the artist of the first arc—I’m not sure if he’ll be sticking around.  According to Slott, Peter will be given a career befitting a man with his obvious intelligence.  This sounds good.  He’s going to get some kind of new sciencey-enhanced costumed. This sounds… like another opportunity to reserve judgment.

While I have been enjoying most of the stories produced by Amazing’s rotating team of writers, it will be nice to have a single, consistent voice for the character.  Is it too much to ask for something this side of spectacular?

Birds of Prey Musical Number on Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Gail Simone tweeted this clip on Saturday and I haven’t been able to get its catchy tune outta my head since.  Hitting “Replay” doesn’t much help.  But I wondered who a splashy Bird of Prey musical number was aimed at?  Especially with the double entendres:

Batman throws his batarang,
What a weapon,
What a bang!

There’s also a cute nod to the famous Charlie’s Angels silhouette 15 seconds in. I’ve never watched Batman: The Brave and the Bold mainly because the animation hasn't appealed to me.  However, I loved what I saw here in terms of character designs and movement—I believe those are Silver Age versions of Catwoman and Black Canary vamping it up with the Huntress.

I’ll set my DVR before passing any further judgments on this series.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

DC's 75th Anniversary Homages

I love when artists reimagine classic comic book covers.  I was excited to see that Jim Lee is currently hard at work on his take of The Brave and the Bold #28 (the first appearance of the Justice League of America).  As ridiculous as the villain is, Starro the Conqueror, it has always been one of my favorite covers; Alex Ross's sweet as hell version is on the right.

DC has been commissioning some of their artists to take on other classic, and not so classic, covers as a part of their 75th Anniversary.  Below (right) is Frank Quitely's version of Green Lantern #52 which was originally drawn by longtime Green Lantern artist Gil Kane.  Keep 'em coming DC!

Selling Your Comic Books Online

By Don M. Ventura

Have you ever taken your old comic books in to a comic book store to make some room in your closet, to earn a little extra dough, or worse, in an attempt to earn that money back for all those collectible editions and sold out issues?  Then you take in a few hundred issues all bagged and boarded and sorted by title and the comic shop owner says: “Fifteen bucks in store credit.”

Insert sinking heart here.  All that money spent on the books and, while you may not have thought you were about to strike gold, you would have liked to walk out with a chunk of change.  Look, if you want to earn some cash for your books, do not take them to comic book store because they will not give you what you feel is a good price.  They can’t afford to.

So let’s put our marketing hats on boys and girls and I’ll tell you what worked for me.  If you are going to sell your books, I strongly suggest doing so on online.  A few years ago I needed to make a lot of extra space and decided to sell my comic book collection and I was able to sell all of them.  All of them.  This is what worked for me.

You’ll Need:
1.  A camera
2.  A computer
3.  Boxes
4.  Shipping supplies
5.  An internet connection
6.  Time on your hands

Have greater than 50 reviews on eBay: If you haven’t done so yet, get some reviews on eBay (and make sure they are all positive).  I have primarily used eBay to fill holes in my collection.  The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of people who try to scam eBayers out of their hard-earned money.  No matter how good a deal is, some people won’t purchase from you if you do not have a respectable number of reviews on your account.

Categorize your comics:
The first thing to do is sort all of your comics by the groupings that you will want to sell them.  For example, put all of your Green Lantern issues together.  I would not recommend selling them by arcs if you have a lot of comic books.  My experience is that a lot of people like to buy long runs of books.  If you can, make sure there are not a lot of holes in your runs.

Bag and board them: Not much to say about that.  I have received comics from eBay sellers that were not bagged and boarded and I questioned why they would use NM to describe it condition.  Highly dubious.   Which brings me to my next subject: grade your books (fairly).

Grade your books (fairly):  Google search “Overstreet Grading Scale” and you should find everything you need to know about grading your books.  Because I tend to bag and board my books immediately, I was confident that my books were no less than Very Fine (VF).  Don’t overstate the quality of your books by grading everything Near Mint (NM) unless you are positive your books are in pristine condition.  This doesn’t mean you have to look at all of your books with a magnifying glass—just be fair to your buyers or suffer the consequences of low seller ratings on your eBay account.

Take photos of your books:  You don’t have to be a professional photographer, but buyers deserve to see what they are buying.  If you want to get people to buy your comics, you are going to need to include photos.  If you have some comics that have a lot of interest, such as early Ultimate Spider-Man’s take close ups of those books.  Even if you don’t post some of those pics, have them handy in case someone emails you requesting them.

Describe ‘em:  Your descriptions of your books must be hyperbole-free.  Nothing says Snake Oil Salesman like “These books are sure to go up in value…”  Just write a paragraph on your books and throw in your thoughts on the books, even if they aren’t entirely complimentary.  On a few occasions I would write, “I know this is a popular title, but it didn’t resonate with me.”  Did I mention I sold every book I put on eBay?

Price them low: If there is one rule you may not want to follow it’s this one.  But don’t be surprised if you don’t get as many bites as you would like.  If you’ve got good titles on sale, and you’ve followed the other rules, the buyers will come.

Be friendly and responsive to questions: Remember that putting your stuff up for sale on eBay means that you are running your own mini-business.  And your business is going to live or die by your ability to provide good service.  Answer any emails immediately.  Provide any additional information requested.  Also remember to be cordial and friendly and provide contact information.  I have been shocked at the amount of times people have made me feel as though I was wasting their time.  So I would waste their time or my money.

Package them well: Purchase mailing boxes, bubble wrap, and tape at Target or Wal-Mart because they seem to have the best prices.  Make sure all of your comics are wrapped snugly in bubble wrap (in batches of about ten or so).  Use old newspapers, magazines or paper in the box to ensure there isn’t a lot of shifting.

One last thing.  I’ve only used eBay, but there are other places out there to sell your books online: Amazon and ComicsPriceGuide seem to be reputable sites as well.

Happy selling!

Holy Beefcakes!

Just a quick word of appreciation to the fine producers of next summer’s super hero flicks. Namely Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and Green Lantern which star Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Ryan Reynolds respectively. I can only assume they are working their darndest to keep the girlfriends of America, who will invariably be dragged to these films, from being bored. MTV caught the first picture of Chris Evans (above left) and he appears to be diving, lunging, lifting, benching, pressing, and dieting into the role of Steve Rogers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Batman by Gabriel Hardman

I really loved this week's art in Hulk by Gabriel Hardman. It is contemporary with a throwbacky feel. Yeah, I said "throwbacky." Well it has a 60's retro feel to it. Here's a recent piece he did of the Dark Knight. Very menacing. I'm looking forward to seeing much more from him.

Comic Shop Monogamy is an Oxymoron

By Don M. Ventura

I have a confession to make: I got me a cheatin’ heart. While it would be wonderful to be in a monogamous relationship, time and again I find myself unable to commit. Trust me, I wish I could. It would save on time. And gas.

The victim here is my local comic book shop owner. Let’s call him “Annie.” But Annie is just one in a long line of store owners who have been required to maintain an open relationship with me.

Annie’s been different though. Annie gives me twenty percent off of all of my titles. Forty percent off of trades and graphic novels. If I walk in on a Saturday to refill a hole in a book I’m reading, Annie comes and asks if I got all my books. He’s a real peach.

But Annie never has every book I’m interested in. They never do. “They” being the long list of shop owners who have regularly pulled my titles, but either neglect to pull one or run out of a book by the time I request it. It is here where my commitment to my store begins to fray. When I don’t get a book I want, I become antsy and start making the rounds to find it. Fear of paying a ridiculous amount or wait for a second printing takes over.

Please, don’t mention anything. I think Annie has an idea, but it isn’t something we choose to discuss. He wouldn’t understand.

Just this Wednesday I stopped by after a long day’s work to pick up my books; I had emailed some last minute additions to my regular list but Annie hadn’t responded to let me know he’d pull the books. Lo and behold, Superman/Batman #76 was not with my pulls. I was upset, but I couldn’t say anything. After all, he set aside Skull Crackers #1 and I was afraid I was going to be driving all over town for that one.

So after sunset, I drove by Comics Unlimited in Huntington Beach. I was certain “Roxie” would have it.

Hello!” says Roxie with a warm welcome. I return a guilt ridden smile. Roxie knows the score. The scent of a two-timing comic book enthusiast permeates through the shop. In the back corner I sigh as I clasp the issue I so desired to read. I go to the counter with my single title. Roxie is aware he’s my sloppy seconds.

Later that night I got an email from Annie:

“Hey Don - did you get all the books below...I think I remember dropping a Skullkickers in your box, but I have a Superman Batman stashed behind the counter for someone and I am wondering if it is for you. Please let me know ASAP - thanks, (Annie)”

I felt this big.

One of these days I’m going to sit down and come clean with Annie. I’ll confess that, although he cannot keep me completely satiated, he has filled a hole in both my heart and my wallet.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wednesday's Finest, 9/22/10 Releases

By Don M. Ventura
Titles released on September 22nd.

Superman/Batman #76

While running some errands this afternoon, I continued to reflect on a powerful image from Superman/Batman #76. Lois Lane has awakened to find her husband, still in costume, sitting at the edge of their bed. Slumped over, he grieves over the passing of his closest friend. He is engulfed by his iconic cape. A cape that, at this moment, is much larger than the man wearing it. This issue is the exploration of Superman as a man.

In the current run of Superman, J. Michael Straczynski has been attempting to write a tale in which Superman is more relatable. However, Judd Winick has been able to achieve something much more powerful in this one-shot by presenting a story that needed to be told: how did Superman react to the death of Batman? I can only surmise, because we know Bruce Wayne will eventually return to his cape and cowl, it was considered a story pointless to tell. Thankfully Winick was passionate to give us this.

The story opens with Dick Grayson and Tim Drake running things from the Batcave at the concluding events of Final Crisis. Superman and Wonder Woman arrive to inform Batman’s longtime protégé’s of the tragedy.

Winick and artist Marco Rudy take us inside Superman’s head and his heart in this emotionally gripping piece which is less a story than a series of substantive vignettes. Superman is reminded of the recent passing of his own father, he recalls his first meeting with Batman, and there is a moving scene where the man of steel is staring at the caped crusader’s hand while listening to the autopsy results. Winick, one of DC’s unsung storytellers in terms of producing well-paced super hero yarns, has struck a home run here. Page after page offer one moving scene after another as Superman ultimately comes to terms with the death of his friend.

Wonder Woman and Nightwing are used nicely here as well, as they are so integral to the two leads of this title. After a nasty run in with Dick, who recently donned the Batman costume, Superman has heart-to-heart with Wonder Woman on his fears of being immortal and what it ultimately means to their loved ones. She consoles him, takes his hand, and they have a quiet moment on a bridge overlooking Metropolis.

My only qualm was with some of the inconsistencies Rudy had in drawing Superman’s face—other than that, his layouts were dynamic. Page slowly through this issue and search for all of the nods to iconic batman images; one in particular: Superman holding Batman’s tattered costume while in the silhouette of Batman standing over his slain parents.

With all of the Batbooks and tie-ins that were released after the “death” of Batman in the pages of Final Crisis, it is shocking that it took so long for this story to be told. But truth be told, it was worth the wait.

Avengers #5

This book is beginning to give me a headache. Its story is going all over the place. What began as a story about the future children of the Avengers, has become an ultra-hyper time travel adventure featuring Kang, Ultron, Galactus, Apocalypse, Marvel Boy, Devil Dinosaur, and geriatric versions of the Hulk and Tony Stark. I believe I understand what Brian Michael Bendis is attempting: a bombastic action-adventure series with one WTF-cliffhanger after the next. But it is just too much because all of the dramatic choices are coming off as arbitrary.

While John Romita Jr.’s artwork was improved in this issue and last, it is still not working well with everything Bendis is throwing into the mix. If the next arc does not calm down by a few decibels, I won’t be giving any more issues of Avengers a warm home.

That said, the following Avengers titles I am currently reading are all solid; Children’s Crusade, The Secret Avengers (a strong Nick Fury-centric issue came out this week), and New Avengers (the better Bendis-scribed Avengers series).

Velocity #2
Top Cow

While I tend to pick up my books based on the writers and storyline, I have been completely captivated by Kenneth Rocafort’s artwork on Velocity. That is not to say that Ron Marz is playing the part of chopped liver on this mini, but Rocafort pages are one exquisite example of strong drawing after another. Even when the story slows down for a little exposition, Rocafort nails every panel. Rocafort’s work is made even more pleasing by Sunny Gho’s coloring; a spectacular water color effect has been employed, adding delicate texture to the artwork.

So there is a story. Velocity was caught by Dr. Erasmus Payne in the last issue and she and her teammates from Cyberforce have been injected with a deadly virus. Velocity has one hour to provide her comrades with an antidote before the virus does it’s dastardly business. Marz is a reliable writer (and the guy who turned Hal Jordan into a murderer) who knows how to tell a strong super hero tale with wit and solid action.

Now let’s get Rocafort on a team book!

Hulk #25

There was nothing that interested me about a Red Hulk or the Jeph Loeb-penned story that has unfolded over the past two years. After reading the first issue of Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman’s run on the book, I see great potential for this character.

Thunderbolt Ross, who was unmasked (figuratively) as the Red Hulk a few months back, has been offered an opportunity to use his powers for good by Captain Steve Rogers. In this issue, Red Hulk takes him up on it and is thrust immediately into action against M.O.D.O.K. and the Leader’s genetic weapons of mass destruction. Iron Man is soon on the scene, unaware he and Red Hulk are on the same side. Naturally this leads to the time-honored tradition of the heroes beating one another to a pulp due to a case of mistaken intentions.

Parker’s spin on a good Red Hulk is believable considering what has occurred before this. I enjoyed the friction between Thunderbolt Ross and Bruce Banner; their distaste for one another is matched only by that of J. Jonah Jameson and Spider-Man. Hardman draws an awesome Red Hulk and the fight between he and Iron Man is some really quality stuff.

Flash #5

When I first opened this issue I thought, “Man, Barry has been fighting these Renegade guys for too long.” However, the story has actually progressed nicely. By the final page it is clear that Geoff Johns is getting everything tied together in this penultimate issue of the “Death of the Rogues” storyline.

As usual, Francis Manapul proves he was born to draw splash pages. There’s a two-page doozy with the Rogue’s and Renegades squaring off in front of Mirror Master’s Silver-Agey mirror. Come on, “In case the Flash returns break glass”?

Johns is having fun introducing his Rogue’s to the returning Barry Allen; he continues to demonstrate his ability to create really bad bad guys. Johns sets up the finale of this inaugural arc with two fantastic cliff hangers. Barry is placed squarely in the wrong place at the wrong time if he is planning to save his beloved Iris. Though there was a lot of groaning upon Barry’s return, it is hard to dispute that The Flash is one of the best super hero books being published.

Skull Kickers #1

There’s been a lot of early buzz on Jim Zubkavich’s Skull Kickers and the first issue by no means disappoints. After all, the opening page is of a dwarf fighting a potbellied werewolf. Dwarf: “Yeesh! Who ever heard of a fat werewolf?” The tone has been set.

Skull Kickers is the story of two medieval mercenaries, one a large contemporary-speaking man and the other a temperamental (underline temper and mental) dwarf, who travel around villages and kingdoms looking for monsters to battle. For a price. The two main characters remain nameless, but their personalities are clearly identified over the course of the story.

The art chores are split evenly between two artists, who have worked uniformly here: Chris Stevens and Edwin Huang. The artwork is cartoonish and gory, when the story calls for it (which is a fair amount).

Is this Image offering worth the buzz? It may be too early to say. I wasn’t as taken with this book as I have been with Chew or Morning Glories. That said, this is absolutely a fun first issue that grants all the dark laughs comic book readers embrace.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Walking Dead

We’re about a month away from the premiere of AMC’s Walking Dead series (and Halloween—I need a costume) and everything about this it looks to ring true to Robert Kirkman’s long-running hit series. Television was the perfect medium to translate Kirkman’s story because it has always asked the question “What happens next?” After the credits roll on your average zombie movie, how does humanity cope? Survive? And most important, how do they change? I have been catching up on The Walking Dead in trades, which prefer over following in its issue-format, and I have been pulled in further with each engrossing arc. Based on the set photos, the trailer that premiered at this summer’s Comic-Con, and the recently released poster, this series is going to get it all right.

Here’s a clip of the goods:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Secret Identity

By Don M. Ventura

I read comic books.

For me, that has not always been the easiest thing to say. And it still isn’t. I’ve been reading them ever since my Mom bought me my first book: Uncanny X-Men #149 while grocery shopping at Skaggs. Skaggs is long gone, but I believe that X-Men book is still plugging along.

And in those years I have gone from voracious fan to casual reader to stopping all together. And back again. I’d now describe myself as a comic book enthusiast (who is no longer fooled by crossover events or variant covers).

There are hobbies and interests that immediately pigeonhole you into a certain category faster than you can say Comic Book Guy. Reading comic books is such a hobby. Even after a decade where superhero films been embraced by the general public, the source material has not been met with the same enthusiasm. Were it, there would be no need for a “Read Comics in Public Day”, which passed a few weeks ago.

As adult as the themes may get, whether you are reading Superman, Fables, or Chew, there continues to be a stigma that this method of storytelling—and it is an a method of storytelling—is for kids. Or at least a juvenile pastime. Because we are still talking about people running around in capes and boots, or fairytale characters solving murder mysteries, or men with the ability to psychically connect with their consumed food.

And the Comic Book Guy, 40-Year Old Virgin, the social-retarded characters from The Big Bang Theory have only helped to foster the stigma. If I reference an affinity for comic book reading—and I consider the term Graphic Novel a total copout—I am invariably treated to a Comic Book Guy or Big Bang Theory reference by a non-comic book reader. Yeah, those rabid fans exist, but they are not the model of a comic book enthusiast. In the same way I don’t believe that a sports fan is a beer guzzling, loud obnoxious boar. Do these types exist? Yeah, of course.

But I thoroughly recognize that this is nobody’s problem but my own. Right, wrong, or otherwise, in the end, I am unfortunately saying that I care what people think of me. Strangers or not.

So I question if something like “Read Comics in Public Day” does more bad than good. When I first read of it, it simply confirmed what I had originally been thinking: “So I must not be alone in this.” We would probably be better served with an initiative called “Get over yourself and read your damn comics wherever and whenever you like. Loser.”

When I step back and reflect on this, I’m talking about something I have embraced since I was ten years old. Comic books have been there when I was a shy lonely kid in middle school who needed his imagination piqued, helped me bond with my twin brother when we started reading them again at 30, and they’ve given me the inspiration to start blogging about them.

Maybe I just needed two strong Cher slaps in the face and a “Snap out of it!” to knock some sense into me. I don’t know that tomorrow my Facebook status will be “I’m coming out of the closet: I read comic books” but the days of hiding my enthusiasm are behind me.

Make mine Marvel! And DC! And the rest!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hire Date: December 2010

Every company has a library of beloved characters whose ongoing titles have a shelf life of one or two years, regardless of the talent behind it. The best way to handle these properties, besides a well executed mini, is to put them all in a team book—no matter how ill fit some of the characters may be. So far I like the teasers I’ve seen for the new Heroes for Hire book; Marvel is due to announce it tomorrow. The best thing about a team of also-rans is that the creators are allowed more flexibility with how the writers handle (or mishandle) the characters. The original Heroes for Hire consisted of Power-Man and Iron Fist. This time Iron Fist is back, accompanied by a group of such 70’s mainstays as Paladin, Ghost Rider, Falcon, and Moon Knight. With Elektra and Punisher thrown into the mix, I’ll assume this is not an “all ages” title.

Writing team Abnett and Lanning (Majestic and The Authority) are behind this book, so let’s hope they regularly play up the stakes. Heroes for Hire is released this December.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wednesday's Finest, 9/15/10 Releases

By Don M. Ventura
Titles released on September 15th.

Morning Glories #2

Two issues in, and Morning Glories has quickly become the most exciting new book on the shelves. Writer Nick Spencer has produced a non-superhero comic book with all the thrills, suspense and mystery any reader could want from a book. While we are only at issue #2, I am reminded of Matthew Vaughn’s thrilling opening to Runaways, another book about a group of kids in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Morning Glories is the story of six teenagers, all sixteen-years old, who have been recruited to attend the prestigious Morning Glory Academy, a prep school with what appears to be the most sinister of intentions. In the inaugural issue we were introduced to the Glories (a nickname for the group assigned by Image I presume): Casey, Ike, Zoe, Hunter, Jade, and Jun. Spencer quickly established each of his main characters and gave them a voice as they made their way to school for the first day.

The second issue opens with Casey finding it difficult to forgive Miss Daramount and the rest of the faculty for their unacceptable behavior in the last issue—I’m opting not to spoil it here. Casey is sent to detention with the rest of the Glories, who are secretly being observed by Miss Daramount. The action takes place in the detention hall with a series of flashbacks to show what the Glories did to receive punishment, each demonstrating that Morning Glory Academy is one truly effed-up school.

Morning Glories goes to some wonderfully dark places, but the book is not morose. Credit the lightness of Spencer’s characters and their teenage sensibility. Spencer has given each of them a voice and, for the most part, they all speak and make decisions like teenagers, a craft many writers do not have an easy time doing.

When Ike and Hunter go traipsing around the campus after hours, they observe some occultish-looking activities. Ike tells Hunter, “You should probably run. They definitely sacrifice virgins down here.” Later in the issue, with the Glories in seemingly mortal danger, Zoe, the last to admit there is something dubious about Morning Glory Academy says, “Do you really think the last thing I’m gonna do before I die is admit someone else was right?”

Spencer has created some wonderful villains: faculty member Miss Daramount will not spare the rod at the expense of academia, an unnamed spectre that wanders the halls, and my favorite, Resident Advisor Pamela. Spencer is having fun turning this seemingly sweet-as-pie R.A. into a callous monster who speaks to everyone in a sing-songy voice and assigns obnoxious nicknames to the students. Isn’t it those people who are in a constant state of happiness the ones we are certain we can trust the least?

Joe Eisma’s artwork is fantastic. His character expressions are spot-on and compliment Spencer’s dialogue. He draws the action and there is never a question of who is who, a problem a book without characters in costume can face. Rodin Esquejo gets cover duties on the book, and this issue’s is stirring. The Glories are submerged in water with little space remaining to breath—the book’s masthead and the Image logo appear to be sinking as well.

Highland Laddie #2

Garth Ennis takes readers, and his Boys’ character Wee Hughie, back to his Northern Ireland roots with this crime/family/friendship drama about a group of friends who, at one time, fancied themselves young detectives ala the Hardy Boys.

In the last issue we were introduced to Wee Hughie’s childhood mates, which was an exercise in oddness that felt like it was done for the sake of being odd. That said, the story of a man coming home and reflecting on his past is was what I responded to. We are treated to more of the same as Hughie spends time with his old chums, Bobby and Det, and a paternal new friend named Alastair Vigor.

A crime is beginning to brew in the background involving drugs, and gives Ennis an opportunity for some garishly violent happenings involving pruning shears. If you’ve read any of his work on The Punisher, you’ll be comfortable with the events that transpire. I enjoy Ennis’s sense of humor to a point—there is a disturbingly humorous flashback of the boys, so full of whim and wonder as they discuss a foiled criminal plot with a detective as a couple of officers mercilessly beat the suspect out of his daylights.

There is enough charm inside to recommend this little tale, but non-Ennis fans may have grown tired of the writer’s violent tones long ago.

Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #3

I have been enjoying Ed Brubaker’s take on the newly returned Steve Rogers in both the Secret Avengers and this title. This four-issue mini returns the former Captain America to the world of espionage as he attempts to uncover who is behind the apparent replication of a new Super Soldier serum.

At the end of the previous issue, Steve has his powers taken away and is reverted to the 90-pound weakling he originally was prior to being injected with the serum during World War II. Steve comes face to face with the one of Marvel’s more obscure villains, the Machinesmith, who plans to sell his new Super Soldier serum to the highest bidders.

This issue is heavy on action, as Brubaker firmly establishes that Steve Rogers does not need to be a heavyweight fighting machine to be a hero. This is a solid superhero story with the classic comic book feel that Marvel has strived for with its Heroic Age line of books. Dale Eaglesham’s pencils also add to that classic Marvel feel to the characters.

Time Bomb #2

Time Bomb continues the story of a Special Ops Team sent back in time to stop the spread of a Nazi-generated virus that is quickly spreading across the globe after the accidental detonation of the Omega bomb. Initially expecting to travel back two days to prevent the virus from being exposed, the team finds itself outside a concentration camp surrounded by Nazi’s.

Though warned in the last issue of the Butterfly Effect, the team throws caution to the wind and immediately takes down the Nazi’s and frees the Jews. “Die you fucking Nazi fucks!” yells science expert Peggy Medina as she blasts the soldiers to bits. Butterfly-shmutterfly.

Writing team Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have written a fun time-travel yarn and introduced us to some strong action characters. While there is not much in the way of character development, the story’s strength is in its tension as the team is ripped apart and each working independently to locate the Omega Bomb. Paul Gulacy’s artwork and Rain Beredo’s colors fit the tone perfectly; much of the action takes place in the dark, but even the tones of the lit scenes are muted and drab.

This prestige-format book rings in at five bucks, but it’s a bargain considering it’s 56 pages without ads interspersed between the story.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's Blubberin' Time!

By Don M. Ventura

About a week after Toy Story 3 was released, I read an article with the headline “What is it about Toy Story 3 that makes grown men cry?” If so moved, I’ve been known to go from choked up to waterworks in a matter of seconds. I’ve been a big softie ever since E.T. told Elliot “I’ll be right here” and I was right there with the rest of America when Woody waved goodbye to Andy.

But I have experienced a different form of tear duct breakdown over the last decade: tears of comic book nostalgia.

It began with 2002’s Spider-Man. I’m sitting in the theater with my brother and the Marvel logo comes up. Then the music starts and it hits me: after years of development, we are finally being treated to what looks to be a genuinely proper treatment of my favorite comic-book hero. A huge lump sat in my throat until I mustered the strength to fight back the tears, fearful my twin would taunt me as he did when E.T. bid Elliot adieu.

Even more powerful, and unexpected, was my reaction to the words “with great power comes great responsibility.” By this point, I thought “Okay man, pull it together… this is hokey right?” Well, yes of course. But this small moment was important to me, as a fan, because these words are so engrained in the Spider-Man mythos. I was transported back to my stack of Marvel Tales books, reprints of the classic Lee and Ditko stories which originally introduced us to the character.

Imagine my surprise a few years later while I am watching The Fantastic Four and I almost jump out my skin to yell at myself: ”I know you’re not about to start crying during this piece of shit!” But—judge away—when Ben Grimm plows through a wall to save Reed and Sue from Doctor Doom and yells, “It’s clobberin’ time!” I choked up. I reacted to this tiny morsel of appreciation for the source material. As far as I can recall, in the old days, Thing’s fists wouldn’t work unless he charged the villain shouting out his ever lovin’ catchphrase.

It is these small evocative moments that are the icing on the cake. For a better context of what I am referring to, think back to 1999’s Galaxy Quest. In that movie, the fans of the television series Galaxy Quest beg Alan Rickman to recite his character’s famous oath—which he begrudgingly does with little gusto. But the fans go nuts nonetheless because that’s a piece of their childhood. Later in the film when he says, with great conviction, “By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged,” we are treated to what is arguably the most moving scene in the film.

In retrospect, I should not have been caught off guard by my reaction to a clip from the Green Lantern panel at this year’s Comic-Con in which Ryan Reynolds is asked by a youngster, “What was it like to say the Green Lantern oath?” The audience went wild. The actor looks caught off guard. Then he says it: "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight! Let those who worship evil's might, beware my power… Green Lantern's light!" My eyes instantly welled up.

When you see a Spider-Man movie, you want to hear J. Jonah Jameson refer to Spider-Man as “wall-crawler” or have Mary Jane call Peter “tiger”. In an X-Men movie, you want Wolverine to describe his lethal approach to resolving conflict with “I’m the best I am at what I do.” In a Hulk movie, you want Hulk to destroy something followed by the monosyllabic third person “Hulk smash!”

It takes much more than catchphrases to bring these characters to life or to create an engrossing story, but as a comic fan, these are the moments in the movies that take us back to when we started reading our favorite books. I’m preparing myself for 2012 when Cap finally raises his shield and calls his comrades to action with two words: “Avengers Assemble!”

I’ll have a hanky ready.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rocketeer by Chris Samnee

I am loving Chris Samnee's work on Thor, the Mighty Avenger and really dig this recent take on the Rocketeer. His use of shadows is stunning. I'd love to see him do an arc on Spider-Man.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Readers

By Don M. Ventura

It isn’t fair to judge something that you haven’t experienced yet. But I won’t let that stop me.

In two months the massively over-budget Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, directed by Julie Taymor with music by Bono and the Edge, will finally open at the Foxwoods Theater for theatergoers interested in viewing it and buying drinks during its intermission.

From the start, nothing seemed appealing about the idea of a Spider-Man musical. Then came the first pictures of the Green Goblin and the latest to villain terrorize New York City: Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark… I mean, Swiss Miss. Now my opinion has been cemented.

Director Julie Taymor explains her passion in bringing Spidey to the Great White Way:
“I did my due diligence and read hundreds of comic books and thought about the idea of how do you bring Spider-Man, which is 40 years of extraordinary comic books, one villain after another after another after another after another… exploits that take him all over the world and into different galaxies of the mind… the real world, the astral plane, the dream world and I really was trying to think… how do we take this and bring it into a two or two and a half hour evening and try to encompass these forty years of comic books.”

I don’t share her enthusiasm about bringing our world-traveling, astral plane-swinging, wall-crawling crime fighter to the stage. Which issues did Marvel send her?

Think about it this way: Broadway is simply turning out another musical that fans of comic books have no interest in.

For more information about Spider-Man: Turn Out the Dark go to:

Or call Ticketmaster at (877) 250-2929.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Wednesday's Finest, 9/9/10 Releases

By Don M. Ventura
Titles released on September 9th.

Batgirl #14
DC Comics

I am sorry to say that I have not picked up any of Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl run prior to this issue, because Batgirl #14 was an excellent read. More than that, it was fun. How else could it live up to a title like “Terror in the 3rd Dimension”, a borderline goofy one-shot featuring Supergirl and two dozen marauding Draculas?

Kara Zor-El, who doesn’t go by Linda in this issue, comes to spend a Friday night with Stephanie since neither of them have any derring-do to do. Being a couple of teenagers, the two head to Gotham University where they eventually find themselves at a 3-D vampire film. When a nearby science experiment goes awry, unleashing 24 hard-light carbon copies of Dracula, the girls are ready to bring the cadre of vampires to justice (although in a hilarious scene, we see that Stephanie is unable to leap into action as quickly as Kara).

Tracking down and defeating the renegade Draculas is expertly laid out by Lee Garbett. This is especially so in a two-page spread showing the heroines in a number of oddball settings; most notably a photo booth where the action is depicted in four photos, beginning with a very regal Dracula and ending with Supergirl and Batgirl making funny faces to the camera. Garbett clearly has as keen a sense of humor as Miller does.

While Grant Morrison has brought some fun to his Batman and Robin series, Batgirl has got to be the lightest of the current slate of Bat titles. Miller takes several opportunities to establish the chemistry between Batgirl and Supergirl as well as managing to have fun with their differences (both as heroes and as their alter egos). I will also admit to being a sucker for a good pairing of any Batman and Superman protégés.

I enjoy a well structured story arc, but it refreshing to come across a good one-shot like this where it isn’t necessary to remember what occurred in previous issues. It delivers on the humor while further establishing the friendship of these two young women.

And I can’t finish without touching on the fantastic cover by Stanley “Artgerm” Lau. It is wonderfully busy, but sets the tone of the story inside perfectly.

X-Men #4
Marvel Comics
X-Men titles have never consistently been my cup of tea; this is mainly because the creative teams seem to change so often. New writers often come aboard to reintroduce obscure and little-beloved characters that they believe deserve a fresh spin. I’ve not historically been impressed with the results.

However, this new title has been solid in spite of a plot centering around a vampire army’s attempt to recruit the X-Men into their fold. Paco Medina’s artwork is top-notch. There’s a fantastic scene with Logan violently doing the best he does against a horde of the undead.
Victor Gischler has taken on what would seem a thankless task: heading up the "Curse of the Mutants" storyline. But he is handling the story with great excitement and has kept the story progressing nicely.

A minor qualm with this book has been the covers which have so far consistently shown action that does not appear in the book. That said, Gischler continues to put out good stories with strong cliffhangers.

The Amazing Spider-Man #642
Marvel Comics

Mark Waid returns to this book with great aplomb and demonstrates that he understands Peter Parker as much as anyone. Waid delivers some great comedy as Peter races across town to make a first date, then immediately interrupts the scene by a crowning Lilly Hollister on a Goblin Glider (trust me, it’s good stuff).

She is being chased by an army of Spider-villains led by Doctor Octopus who makes a creepy appearance—which is a testament to Mark Waid’s ability to set up a scene. The book goes quickly from light to chilling as Spider-Man, Harry Osborn, and Mary Jane are subdued by Ock as he delivers Lily’s child.

The artwork by Paul Azaceta fits the tone nicely, but feels rushed and awkward in some parts. This five-part arc titled “Origin of the Species” is a welcome departure from Joe Queseda’s needless four-issue “One Moment in Time” story.

Weird War Tales One-Shot
DC Comics

There may be a theme here. I am really enjoying my arc-free books this week.
I grew up on books like Weird War Tales and the other horror anthologies that flourished in the seventies for DC Comics, such as Weird Mystery Tales and Secrets of Haunted House.

This issue submits three tales for our approval: Darwyn Cooke and Dave Stewart present an oddity called “Armistice Night”, the story of Earth’s greatest deceased warriors at something of a family reunion (too peculiar in places); a second story, titled “The Hell Above Us”, revolves around a sunken sub and its last doomed survivor. Written by Ivan Brandon with chilling illustrations by Nic Klein, this was the best of the three; Jan Strnad and Gabriel Hardman offer a final piece about a mortally wounded young soldier with an affinity for dinosaurs titled “Private Parker Sees Thunder Lizards.”

Stories like this are best judged twofold: 1) did you enjoy it while reading it, and 2) did you continue to think about it afterwards? In other words, did it haunt you?
Yes to both.

Thor, the Mighty Avenger #4
Marvel Comics

Like Batgirl, I was impressed to read a second one-shot this week that was also lighter than a run of the mill Thor tale. Thor, the Mighty Avenger has been surprise. Since I was a kid I’ve never warmed to this character, but I’ve been hooked by this simple take on the God of Thunder.

Stripped away is all of the posturing and dread seriousness. In it’s place we have a fish out of water tale about Thor’s banishment to midgard (Earth).

In this issue he is visited by the Warriors Three who take him out for a boy’s night out in England that quickly turns to fisticuffs between the four Norsemen and Captain Britain. Writer Roger Langridge continues to impress with his take on Thor; it is both funny and accessible. Equally, I am becoming an enormous fan of Chris Samnee’s art. It is deceptively simple, but there is so much expression and character in his straightforward illustrations.