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New Con: Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo

09/15/2010

Just in case the Boston Comic Con and New England Webcomics Weekend weren’t enough, September 25th brings the first Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo or MICE. MICE is a show dedicated to independent, alternative, small-press and self-published comics, webcomics and ‘zines.

I’ll be the first to admit my ignorance on truly independent comics. I understand that there is going to be some diamonds in the rough, but that’s just it: there’s a lot of rough. There may be some quality behind that random table at a comic convention, but I don’t have the time or desire to  talk to each creator about why their book is new or interesting. A more focused convention is perfect for this sort of thing. Without the distraction of big name creators, visitors will be forced to take some time and find something they just don’t get at the shop every Wednesday.

For more information, visit http://www.masscomics.com/.

Tip of the hat to Thom Wilk for the heads up on MICE.

Bells’ Kitchen Goes Social Media!

09/14/2010

As you can see in the handy-dandy widget on the right, Bells Kitchen has joined the Twitter. I still don’t get Twitter 100%, but it’ll let me announce new posts and give me a place to put short, to the point ideas. For example, I just posted my thoughts on the new Man Without Fear. Check it out and follow along. Thanks.

www.twitter.com/bellskitchen

Sale Alert: Top Shelf’s Massive 2010 $3 Sale!

09/13/2010

A heads-up to all the readers out there: Top Shelf Productions has started their huge annual sale. Great deals up and down their catalog. From Alan Moore to Jeffrey Brown, all kinds of great stuff is discounted. I haven’t read much of the offering, but I can surely suggest Matt Kindt’s Superspy: Lost Dossiers, Craig Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage and Jeff Lemire’s Essex County (paperback or HC).

I also picked up two things for myself:

Lost Girls HCLost Girls (Single-Volume Hardcover Edition)

What if you took Dorothy Gale, Wendy Darling and Alice from Wonderland and had them recount their sexual awakenings on the eve of World War I? Written by Alan Moore and drawn by Melinda Gebbie, Lost Girls is Moore’s admitted attempt at literary pornography. I’ve wanted to read this since its release, but the price has always been too high. Regularly $50, this all-in-one volume is available at half-price, only $25.

Hopefully it lives up to the cleverness of the title. OH! LOST GIRLS!

Surrogates Owner's ManualThe Surrogates Owner’s Manual

Another all-in-one hardcover, this volume includes both volumes of The Surrogates with bonus material. I thought the movie was really underrated or at least too ignored. I haven’t read the second series, but I liked where the first book left off, which was very different from the movie.

Regularly $75, this collection is only $10. Wow.

Top Shelf doesn’t put out bad books. Check them out. At these prices, it’s worth taking a chance.

Bonus Review: Lucid #1

09/13/2010

This review is brought to you by That’s Entertainment! It’s my local comic shop and Central Massachusetts’ best store for comics, video games, toys and all sorts of geekery. If you’re around Worcester or Fitchburg, check them out!

Lucid #1Lucid #1 by Michael McMillian and Anna Wieszczyk

“You’re telling me a religious cult that worships UFOs kidnapped one of our most gifted astrophysicists and stuffed him full of magic mushrooms to open a wormhole to another dimension?”

Archaia’s new sci-fi/spy miniseries feels new, yet familiar at the same time. It’s like I’ve seen all these elements before, though perhaps not all at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with mixing familiar ideas, after all, how many stories this side of Chew are truly fresh? But it also means you can fall prey to the same obstacles of each of the elements that make up the big idea.

Lucid marks Michael McMillian’s writing début (according to ComicBookDB). A quick internet search tells me McMillian’s day job is acting, with recurring roles on “True Blood” and a TNT medical drama called “Saved” from a few years back. (And check out the name drops on the credits page: Jeph Loeb, Tim Kring, Milo Ventimiglia and Zachary Quinto.) His dialogue flows well enough, but all his talk of “third eye neutralizers” and “chymicals” sounds cheap. When reading this week’s Invincible Iron Man, I could understand what Tony was saying about his suit. Much like someone describing how an airplane works, I can’t necessarily follow each step, but I can comprehend the big parts. In Lucid, it comes off as someone trying to sound sci-fi and failing because there’s no real science behind it.

A note on storytelling shortcuts: In the past, having a black president signified “the future.” With Barack Obama in office, we need a new signifier.

Anna Wieszczyk’s only other professional work is an entry in the fourth volume of Image’s PopGun series. Her character work shows some great variety, which is important when introducing a cast from scratch. Her colors break up the scenes well, but she has an over-reliance on photoshopped textures. It’s the sort of thing that can effectively change a scene’s mood, but when overused is a nuisance. I’ve seen this in other books before including another Archaia book, Titanium Rain.

I’d love to say that this book will be Archaia’s next hit or to give it a shot if you’ve got some extra cash. The book has no real problems and this first issue does raise some interesting plot questions, (Who was Agent Dee talking to in his apartment?) but right now it’s just not worth your four dollars.

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The Shopping List 9-9-10

09/11/2010

Another short list this week.

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

Daredevil #510Daredevil #510 by Andy Diggle, Antony Johnston and Marco Checchetto ***

Like Captain America and Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil is such a dynamic book because of its supporting cast. From old favorites like Foggy and Elektra to newer additions like the Black Tarantula, they help keep the book unique. Each person adds a new facet to the events. That makes these Shadowland tie-in issues quite enjoyable. Foggy is mostly absent from the main miniseries, so it’s nice to see him show up here. On a related note, I’m so glad Ed Brubaker brought Dakota North into this book. Her scenes have brought some great non-superpowered action, especially this month. By focusing on the non-hero characters, Daredevil showcases an important side of the proceedings that is forgotten elsewhere.

We get yet another meeting between heroes discussing whether to take Matt out, with the addition this month of the Kingpin. Diggle and Johnston write a nice Wilson Fisk, who let’s not forget may be responsible for some of this, but also has as stake in taking Matt down. After all, how can a crime boss succeed in a city without crime? This issue also furthers the Hand conspiracy. In the past months, we’ve seen the new devil-inspired outfits on the Hand soldiers, but it’s a group of black-clad ninjas who attach Foggy and Dakota. This is even bigger than Murdock’s possession, which means the true antagonist has yet to be revealed.

Marco Checchetto shows up on penciling duties this month. He doesn’t have the flair of Roberto De La Torre, but his work suits the story just fine. On another art note, why are John Cassaday’s recent covers so boring? Look at his covers for Planetary, Astonishing X-Men, or the Irredeemable/Incorruptable books. They are all far and away more exciting that the work he’s turning in here.

Lines are being drawn for the big confrontation at the climax of this series. Let’s hope the fallout brings this book back to the level it was only a short time ago.

Daytripper #10Daytripper #10 by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá ***

Last month, I said I wasn’t sure how this final issue could top #9 as a finale for the series. It didn’t. It is a good issue, but it does not wrap up the themes Bá and Moon have explored in Daytripper as well as well as the last issue. I won’t get into the story too much, but I will say that after nine months of unnatural deaths for Brás de Oliva Domingos, it’s nice to see him live something resembling a full life.

There are no exciting set pieces like the flooding kitchen last week. This issue is more about complex emotions. The body language and facial expression of Brás’s wife when he tells her his plan says more than a caption ever could.

Daytripper is a well written, beautifully drawn series about the fragility of life and the importance of filling your days with the people you love. Pick up the trade. And once you’re done, share it with someone.

Invincible Iron Man #30Invincible Iron Man #30 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca ****

Superhero comics don’t have enough car chases. They’re such a staple of action movies, but you rarely see them in comic pages. Rather than have Tony Stark and Sasha Hammer have a tête à tête over a conference table, Fraction and Larroca place them in a car speeding down the highway. In case that wasn’t enough, Sasha finds the time to put the moves on Tony, while he’s driving. It’s a great way to up the drama and visual action in what could have been a floating head scene. One question: If they’re in Seattle, can someone tell me why Tony’s steering wheel is on the right side of the car? None of the panels give an idea of side of the road he’s on, so I can’t decide if he’s driving a European car or if Larroca made a mistake.

After a few months of spinning wheels, Fraction and Larroca have revealed part of Hammer Girl’s mission, shown off a hi-tech Sasha Hammer, as well as the Iron Man and Maiden, and tied the book back to its first arc, “The Five Nightmares.” Some fresh action and real plot development make this my favorite book of the week.

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The Shopping List 9-1-10

09/07/2010

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #2Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #2 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung ****

Issue one was tasked with a lot of exposition, but here, the story just moves, and not just from Manhattan to Wundagore Mountain. New players are introduced, conflicts are developed, and it’s all wrapped up with a cliffhanger of Doom. Good times. Heinberg created the Young Avengers, so his voices for them are still the ones dominant in most people’s minds. They don’t quite have the idiosyncratic personalities of Vaughan’s Runaways, but each has their own believable stake in the proceedings. He also does well in making sure the book lives up its title. This not simply a Young Avengers story: needless to say, Scarlet Witch is a key part, but Quicksilver and the old New Avengers also show up.

I don’t like the bimonthly schedule. Two months is too long a time to remember any plot intricacies. It’s not that bad this early, but nine issues is a lot for anyone to remember, nevermind those nine issues coming out over a year and a half. However, the slower distribution allows Jim Cheung to perfect every panel. Scenes regularly involve 5+ characters, but they don’t seem rushed. Cheung doesn’t even skip backgrounds all that often.

I don’t have the memory for bimonthly publication, but with a book this good, having to reread every eight weeks is not a problem.

Scarlet #2Scarlet #2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev ***

I don’t dislike this book, but I do have some problems with it.

Bendis is trying the whole address-the-audience thing. It works, but other than addressing it “you,” it’s not all that different from the first person narration of Ultimate Spider-Man or Daredevil. Scarlet tells us she needs our help, but unless this book goes interactive all of a sudden, there’s nothing we can actually do to help her. Reading comics is a passive thing. We’re not involved in the events. Bendis certainly would be among the first to try something new like that, but until it happens, Scarlet’s request feels empty.

Then there’s the art. Maleev makes choices that confuse me. When I first read Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum, I didn’t understand it. I could follow the plot, sure, but panels would go by and I didn’t understand their relevance. Luckily I had the 15th anniversary trade, which includes the full script. I read that and then everything clicked. I then understood Morrison’s allusions to Anubis or who certain characters were, regardless that the book hadn’t explained them. Maybe seeing the script would also make the difference here. Each issue has featured panels of solid color for reasons I can’t comprehend. Also, Maleev’s coloring is distracting; it bathes everything in an eerie glow. With Spider-Woman’s alien-centric story and Madripoor setting, this same technique made sense. Here, it doesn’t help tell the story, it’s bothersome.

The spread covering pages 2-3 shows Scarlet 12 times. Each panel shows the same facial expression and background, with her clothes, hairstyle and the panel’s coloring changing each time. Why? If it’s to break up the monotony of a floating head monologue, this is not the way to do it.

Scarlet may be one issue away from its real hook, but if not, it needs to do more for my $4.

Secret Six #25Secret Six #25 by Gail Simone and J. Califiore ****

After two months of standalone issues, Secret Six is back to doing what it does best: showing terrible people doing terrible things. After expressing his displeasure with the Six’s recent activities, Bane has assembled his own team. And next issue the two teams will fight. I can’t wait.

Simone has a great talent for infusing new characters into a story without resorting to a dead-stop to introduce them. I don’t remember reading anything with Dwarfstar or King Stark before, but I feel I already understand their personalities. Much like my introduction to Cheshire in Villains United, she has a way of making me love these people. And that’s in addition to her skill creating new characters like Scandal or the new Ragdoll.

Califiore’s art is certainly adequate. I don’t mean that as an insult, but there is nothing unique about his art. His name will never scare me away from a book, but it won’t convince me to try something either.

Please buy this book. I don’t want it to ever go away.

Shadowland #3Shadowland #3 by Andy Diggle and Billy Tan ***

Wow. This book. All action. All the time. Maybe I’m adjusting my expectations, because I didn’t hate it. Once I expected it to be all action, I didn’t mind waiting for the Daredevil tie-ins to give me real emotion. Once I accepted that Daredevil was possessed or whatever, I wasn’t bothered by his being out of character. Let’s be honest, if a correctly thinking Matt Murdock killed Bullseye, he would never EVER resurrect him. He would just cry about it for a while and say his prayers.  Shadowland is not good on it’s own, but it’ll do.

I’m not going to give Billy Tan any shit this month. This is the best his art has looked in the series. I like his rendition of the Punisher and his female characters, especially Lady Bullseye. I also want to give special recognition to colorist Christina Strain this month. Between all the shadows, Ghost Rider’s flames and the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, playing with light in this book must be a bear, but she does a great job. I’ve met her at cons and she’s always very sweet and does great sketches.

Stumptown #4Stumptown #4 by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth ****

Rucka and Southworth have a gem on their hands. With this 32-page closer to “The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo but Left Her Mini,” the pair has left me waiting for more. To solve the case (and not die) Dex has to use her PI skills, but also know how to read a situation and play the other parties against each other. Real crafty, this one.

Southworth’s art is perfectly unfinished. Darker books always run the risk of their art coming off too exaggerated and not fitting the mood. Looking at another Rucka series, Queen & Country, the art oscillates between cartoon and grit, much to the chagrin of some of its readers. Southworth is the regular artist on this title, so we don’t have to worry about that. What we do have to worry about is the schedule. Issue one came out on November 2009. That’s an almost three month average time between issues. The creators have assured us such delays will no longer happen, but that means a longer time between each arc.

The coloring in the book’s climax is a great experiment. The nighttime beach setting is washed in dark blue, with only a flashlight’s yellow glow to illuminate the characters. Not only does this preserve the beach’s shadows, but the contrasting colors make the players pop.

Young Allies #4Young Allies #4 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon *****

This is my new favorite book. I wish I read these characters before. I know Gravity had his own series, but I never tracked it down. Same with Araña or whatever she’s called now. These are great characters finally finding a place in my spotlight.

McKeever spends this issue throwing the Bastards’ identities into question, leading to inner-group tension as well as hinting at a larger conspiracy. I was wondering who the Allies would have as antagonists after this initial arc. That conspiracy is just what I was looking for, a hook to keep the book going.

Compared to Stumptown, this is the kind of book that can use non-realistic art. Baldeon, Bowling and Sotomayor take advantage and have given us some exciting, fun pages.

I’m running out of ways to praise this book. Just read it.

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Random Reviews 9-6-10

09/05/2010

These are more library reviews. Usually, that would mean rolling the dice, but I actually had some things to say.

The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur LeotardThe Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best

Between its short length and ever-shifting art, everyone should read this book. There isn’t much I’d call a plot; this is mostly short events, called “Episodes” or “Épisodes.” Each includes the titular monsieur and his circus pals and their adventures, including the sinking of the Titanic and a jailbreak.

Watercolors, newspaper clippings, musical notation, Campbell uses anything that will help him tell the story. It makes a unique read that is never boring.

Unwritten: The Tommy Taylor and the Bogus IdentityThe Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

I have to say, this book was exactly what I expected. Which isn’t a good thing. I got the first issue for free last year at Fan Expo Canada and was not impressed. Reviews all over the internet were glowing, so when I saw the trade, I had to give it a chance. It still didn’t connect. In my head, I like metafiction. But too often, when I read a book or see a movie that is meta, I don’t like it.

Here, Mike Carey has written the story of Tom Taylor. Tom’s father wrote a Harry Potter-esque Tommy Taylor book series (not the difference in names, Tom [real world] vs. Tommy [book world]). As the series begins, Tom’s identity is called into question. And some of Tommy’s enemies have appeared to confront Tom in the “real world.” An interesting idea, nothing that hooked me.

The best word-of-mouth had been for issue #5 “How the Whale Became.” It was even nominated for the Eisner for best single issue. But it ended up being my least favorite. With the exception of the final page, it dropped the main storyline for a narrative of Samuel Clemens and Rudyard Kipling finding motivations for stories. Sounds like something I would enjoy. I was bored.

Peter Gross turns in some nice art though. He tweaks his style when we leave the “real world” for scenes from the Tommy Taylor novels, but for the most part, this is Vertigo art. I never of Vertigo as having a style, but Gross would not have been out-of-place if he filled in for a few issues of Y: The Last Man or American Virgin. Hell, Lizzy Hexam could be Dr. Allison Mann and Mathilde Venner could be Mamie Chamberlain.

Not for me.

Final Crisis: Legion of Three WorldsFinal Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds by Geoff Johns and George Pérez

Five issues and almost none of this made sense to me. I just read the Wikipedia synopsis. It sounds like a good story, but reading it was gibberish.

When people talk about impenetrable mainstream comics, this is exactly what they mean. I am not a Legion expert. I’ve maybe read Legion five stories, but as I said recently, I’ve always enjoyed them. As a basic point of the plot, this book involved too many characters. I understand who Braniac 5 is, but I can’t look at three Braniacs and tell you what universe each is from or their differences. And Despite all of Johns’ exposition, the scenes didn’t flow together. A group was sent to find the last Green Lantern, but I didn’t understand why. Kid Flash and Superboy were resurrected, but I don’t understand why. Braniac wanted the unite three universes’ worth of Legions, BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY. If he just wants allies, why not summon three Justice Leagues too? Three teams of Titans?

My problems with the story aside, George Perez is a god. He easily draws over a hundred characters in this book. Panels are packed with information. No one else in comics could have drawn this story.

Another question: What did this have to do with Final Crisis? Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation were never mentioned in these pages. Did this launch out of Final Crisis? Or was it just a marketing ploy?

The Stand: Captain TripsThe Stand: Captain Trips by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Mike Perkins

In high school, we read a few short stories by Steven King. My favorite was “Night Surf.” It tells the story of a few kids, trying to deal with a plague that is wiping out the world. That plague, known as “Captain Trips,” is the one featured in King’s The Stand. The Stand is one of those books I always want to read, but get intimidated by. The 1000+ page novel is heralded as one of King’s best, but it’s just daunting. I was mildly impressed with the Dark Tower comics, so when I saw this I had to grab it.

This hardcover includes only read five issues, around 110 pages, but King and Aguirre-Sacasa have introduced their main players, hinted at their greater conflicts and managed to show the sheer scope of what the story entails. Very impressive.

I dig it. Not having read the original novel, I can’t tell what’s missing, but Aguirre-Sacasa’s adaptation must cover chapters worth of material in mere pages. That being said, I never feel like the scenes aren’t long enough. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to have these scenes extended, but it doesn’t feel that they need more info.

Mike Perkins delivers solid art, though his characters’ faces can be wonky in places. It looks to me that Perkins has modeled Larry Underwood after Bruce Springsteen and his Stu Redman looks an awful lot like his Steve Rogers. That’s not a complaint, those models work as a shortcut to the characters’ personalities.

I will definitely continue this series. Who knows, I may even pick up the novel.

GoldfishGoldfish by Brian Michael Bendis

It’s not the differences between Bendis’ earliest and recent works that are interesting; it’s the commonalities. Goldfish educating two pool players about the significance of the title of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly strikes the same chord as Hawkeye and Ant-Man discussing their “Can’t Haves” in Avengers #500. Two-page spreads that feature only a handful of small panels, the remaining negative space holding only dialogue was a technique used again in Alias. (I assume Bendis had as much a hand in that as Michael Gaydos.)

Goldfish is a nice, easy to follow crime story, not unlike something you would find in Ed Brubaker’s Criminal. David Gold is back in Cleveland after a 10-year hiatus to collect the one thing of his an ex-girlfriend still has. I could tell you what (and the back cover will spoil it for you), but it was a nice moment to stumble upon.

You can tell Bendis was still finding his voice years ago. His start, stop, interject dialogue on the first few pages of this book had me scared, but it quickly morphs into something more readable. It’s never a true problem, but his dialogue is much more slick these days.

Of course, Bendis also drew this story. The black and white art is not bad, but it could use more subtlety. As with many a crime story, characters are often bathed in shadow. Here, with gray-tones a rarity, faces are partially spotlighted, partially blackened, leading to lost facial expressions and inhuman appearances.

Worth a read. I just hope I can find Fire, Jinx and Torso somewhere nearby.

Stuck Rubber BabyStuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

In the list of great graphic novels, I’m amazed that this book isn’t mentioned more. Released in 1995, smack dab in the era of big guns, big muscles comics, this is an expertly drawn, realistic, emotional story. Stuck Rubber Baby tells the story of Toland Polk, growing up gay in the racist 1960s American south. It’s staggering to think that events like those in the story happened in our country only 50 years ago and continue today. Cruse tells this semi-autobiographical story as a flashback, so we also get the benefit of modern-day Toland’s commentary. As comics memoirs go, this deserves a place right next to Fun Home. I would say it even surpasses Bechdel’s story.

Cruse uses some of the best comic tricks I’ve seen the side of Los Bros Hernandez, including weaving text through the images and placing images within a characters head to show what they don’t or can’t say. He really understand the medium.

The art is cartoony, each person with their own identifiable look. Skin color is always a hot topic in comics. It can be too easy to only change someone’s skin tone, ignoring physical attributes. Case in point, when was the last time Storm looked black instead of white with brown skin? That Jubilee looked Asian? Cruse’s black characters look black without resorting to cruel stereotypes. The art is black and white, but Cruse’s panels are packed with expert crosshatching. Not the brash linework of Jim Lee clones, it is properly used to show shape and texture. Truly impressive.

As I said, this book came out in the heyday of crappy 90s books. Hunt it down, it’s a masterpiece.

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