Review: Avengers vs. X-Men #0

Most folks who know me – or who read my reviews here regularly – have probably noticed that I’m more of a DC man.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of Marvel titles I love (Ultimate Spider-Man, X-Factor and Uncanny X-Force are all strong ongoings, and Marvel’s recent mini-series Mystic is an early contender for one of the year’s best trade paperbacks), but on a month-to-month basis, DC tends to fulfill my comic-reading itch a little better, whether its because of their characters or (more likely) because of their more reasonable pricing structure.  So maybe it’s just that I’ve been absent from mainstream Marvel continuity for a time, but I cannot imagine how this month’s prologue to their upcoming big event, Avengers Vs. X-Men, is that much of a prologue at all.  But don’t let that stop you from checking it out: AvX #0 is definitely enjoyable – and surprisingly character-driven.

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Top 5 Best Comics of March 2010

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I read 17 comics in March, and these were the best.

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My Comic Con 2009!!!

Wow! It’s already come and gone. I thought I’d just give my report on my experience. But don’t expect to see any pictures of fat, sweaty guys, dressed in 300 “costumes.” No, my Comic Con involved laughter, love, and chatting with the talent.

Sketch-A-Palooza!

Aaron Lopresti’s Wonder Woman!

Alvin Lee’s Sagat!

Amanda Conner’s Power Girl!

Cliff Chiang’s Black Canary!

Cliff Rathburn’s Reaper!

Dean Yeagle’s Mandy!

Dustin Nguyen’s Batman!

Francis Manupal’s Cassie Sandsmark!

Jamal Igle’s Silver Banshee!

Jamal Igle’s Supergirl!

Joe Linsner’s Batman!

Jonboy’s Meyers’ Wonder Woman!

Micah Gunnell’s Wolverine!

Nicola Scott’s Scandal Savage! Hey, it’s signed by Gail Simone too!

Patrick Gleason’s Arisia!

Patrick Gleason’s Soranik Natu!

Philip Tan’s Red Hood!

Sanford Greene’s Supergirl!

Terry Dodson’s Emma Frost!

19 sketches in two days, for a total of 80 dollars. Not too bad, right? I think I did good.

And you have to get stuff signed!

Now, the only signature I need on my Sinestro Corps War hardcovers is Ivan Reis.

I’m gunnin’ for ya, Reis!

Green Lantern symbols provided by Geoff Johns.

Aww, Gail Simone loves me!

And she put a Wonder Woman star over her “i”. How precious! Terry Dodson and Bernard Chang have pretty signatures too.

Terry Dodson calls Frank Cho a perv!

The war is on. Which artist will win?

Greg Rucka gave me a free copy of Detective Comics #854!

So, I was standing in line for Jamal Igle at the DC Booth, when Greg Rucka shows up next to me! We talked. I said I was sad since I didn’t have anything for him to sign. He went into his magic bag and pulled that out. Sweet, huh?

So, there you have it, friends. I had a hell of a time, and you got to see my reward for fighting through the unkempt masses. Thanks for reading!

For more comic goodness, go here.

Review: Captain America #600

You’ve got to hand it to Marvel. Even though most of their comics cost 3.99 now, they always make sure you get your money’s worth on the big, anniversary issues. Captain America #600 is a billion pages long, and features an army of artists, most of them great. However, even with all the weight and pretty art, is the giant page-count necessary? I actually don’t think so.

We start off with a two-page reprint from Paul Dini and Alex Ross. It’s great, but it’s a reprint, so who cares? Up next is an “In Memoriam” story (I’m saving Brubaker’s tale for the end). It ends well, but it goes on way too long, and is ultimately just filler. After that comes a story from Mark Waid and the newly Marvel, Dale Eaglesham. This tale promotes memorabilia, and, especially after seeing Pixar’s “Up,” that message seems worthless. The real treat here is to get an early peek at Eaglesham’s Marvel work. It looks great, as always. What follows is a brief letter from Captain America creator, Joe Simon. It too is meaningless filler. And, of course, the issue ends with an old Captain America reprint written by Stan Lee. The problem? It’s not drawn by Jack Kirby! The Kirby estate must have a problem with Marvel. Otherwise, why in the hell wouldn’t Kirby’s art be part of a Captain America anniversary issue?!

Final Word on Bonus Stuff: Skip it, unless you really, really want to see a brief, but bad, Mark Waid and Dale Eaglesham story.

Now, onto the main event. Well, seeing as how this issue came with the Captain America: Reborn news, and the fact that issue #50 didn’t contain anything big, and the expectation that a big, anniversary issue would contain some startling events, you’d think the world would explode, right? Nope. This is one of the two major problems I have with Brubaker’s Cap. It’s too much setup and not enough payoff.

Having said that, I really don’t have many complaints about the story itself. Just, for the love of God, don’t expect anything big, only hints of big things to come. Actually, without all of the hype, this would probably be one of the better Captain America issues. Multiple artists are on board, and if the guests aren’t better than the regular team, at least they don’t suffer from the horrible Frank D’Armata coloring. My favorite guest, of course, is David Aja (Get him a good, regular gig, Marvel). He illustrates a wonderful Crossbones and Sin segment. My other major problem with Brubaker’s Cap is Bucky. Since this issue contains multiple perspectives, we only see a little of him, and we’ll hopefully see even less in the coming months!

Final Word: Stellar main attraction, but due to the bloated page number and price, this issue’s overall quality suffers.

Grade: B-

For more comic goodness, go here.

The best Captain America bonus:

Top Ten Best Comic Artists

Why this list? I don’t know; I like lists! This is something I’ve thought about for awhile, but I’ve never had the organization skills to execute this idea. Well, I stopped bothering with some things (Sure, the west half of my house is on fire, but who cares?!?) so I could finally create the awesome list you’re about to experience.

Just to be clear, these are my top ten working artists. All ten of them produced interior work on at least one comic last year. Enjoy!

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10. Ed McGuinness

McGuinness is the Wolverine of comic artists. He’s the best there is at what he does. And what he does is draw big muscular cartoony fun! Hulk is the PERFECT book for him. The man was born to draw it. Throw in an extensive Superman (And later Batman) run and you’ve got plenty of pretty beefy heroes to look at. Did I mention that his art is a fantastic model for toys as well? Check it out! Sure, he doesn’t have much range and he’s a bit lazy, but if I ever need anyone to find a vein on my arm, I’ll go to him!

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9. Frank Cho

After criticizing EM’s range, I put Frank Cho? Am I crazy? Maybe, but Cho does actually have some range. Go check out his Spider-Man issues with Mark Millar. Sure MJ had big boobs, but his Venom was badass. He also renders some fantastic animals. Who draws Dinosaurs and monkeys better than Frank Cho? And yes, he draws some bodacious babes, but is that really such a bad thing? Yes they’re a bit crude, but it works with an American audience. We’re a bit too uptight when it comes to the female form. Cho just puts it out there. Too preachy? I like big boobs. Better? The fact is his women are tough, sexy, and usually pretty muscular. They can kick the shit out of the men. That’s a kind of female power, right?

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8. Steve McNiven

Good, we’re away from the cartoons. Steve McNiven is pretty new to the art scene. Ok, he’s been in the biz for about eight years, but I can count his projects with my fingers. I’ve always considered myself a fan of the man’s work, but his most recent project, Old Man Logan, is what got him on the list. Have you seen that stuff? It’s fucking epic! He’s created an entire future Marvel Universe, aged character designs, and zany stuff like a Venom T-Rex. He’s nailed them all. There’s no doubt in my mind that in ten years when fans discuss the best Wolverine artists, McNiven will be mentioned in the same sentence as Frank Miller and Barry Windsor-Smith. As if that weren’t enough, he also did a stellar job on Civil War, and whether you enjoyed that event or not, at least you were treated to some gorgeous images.

7. Tim Sale

Say what you want about Jeph Loeb, but when he and Sale get together, you get magic. I just picked up that new Daredevil Yellow hardcover a few weeks ago and Sale’s art was absolutely mystifying. His Daredevil is poetic. Sale captured the fallen hero, Battlin’ Jack Murdock, perfectly. Don’t even get me started on his Karen Page. Lois Lane, Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy, Selina Kyle, Tim Sale has rendered some of the most iconic women in comics and yet he always brings something new to the table. Sale is an expert at taking old characters, blowing off the dust, and making them look all shiny and new again.

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6. JH Williams III

Whoa! JH Williams III is number six? How the hell did that happen? Because Williams is awesome, that’s why. He’s an artistic chameleon. If you read his three-issue arc in Batman recently, you’ll know that every member of the Club of Heroes had a different art style. El Gaucho is Howard Chaykin, The Knight and the Squire are Ed McGuinness, and so on. On top of that, Williams has some of the most interesting layouts in comic history. If you want to see some expert graphic design, Williams is your man. How he presents his art is almost as intriguing as the art itself. Heck, the only reason why Williams isn’t higher on the list is his lack of content (Or perhaps my lack of reading his content), but with an absolute Promethea volume and his long-awaited Batwoman run coming up, Williams is sure to make my top five soon.

5. John Romita Jr.

And speaking of Williams’ lack of content, here’s a man who has too much content. Romita has been in the biz for nearly three decades. That’s awesome, but what usually happens to artists over time is that their style gets boring. Not so with Romita, his style has evolved. Going from the traditional look of his Iron Man days, to the Kirby/Miller amalgam, Romita has proved that he’s still one of the best. Want proof? While some of the artists on this list (Even those ahead of him, sadly) produce only a few issues a year, Romita is the opposite. In just two years, he worked on a Neil Gaiman project for seven issues, a mega Marvel event for five, a six-issue return to Spider-Man, and an entirely new property with Mark Millar. Throw in directing part of a movie (An illustrated Kick-Ass segment) and you have one fabulous work ethic!

4. Joseph Michael Linsner

This is where you can stop calling my list predictable. What can I say? I feel a deep connection with Linsner’s work. There are times when I think he’s my favorite artist. His style is Cartoony yet realistic. Linsner’s women are cheesecake, yet independent and strong.  The man’s work is truly transcendent. I can just stare at for days and days. The Hulk is probably a poor example (Though funny), but please go check out his work. If you feel half the connection with it that I do, it’ll be a wondrous experience.

3. Alex Ross

What’s a “best comic artists” list without Alex Ross? Actually, when I was compiling this list, his name slipped my mind. Terry Dodson was on for quite a while, but eventually (Sorry Terry), an image of Kingdom Come Superman blazed across my mind. How is it, that a character that said so little and was part of so few stories can be as incredibly inspirational as Kingdom Come Superman? I blame Alex Ross. He brings such power and solitude to the grey-haired Man of Steel. It was hammered home this year; KC Superman is the symbol for the man who has unimaginable power, and yet he can’t save the ones he loves. A much bleaker ending than the one Jeph Loeb gave him in Absolute Power, but it’s still undeniably moving. Though Ross spends a little too much time rendering covers and writing nostalgic tales for my taste, Justice, Marvels and Kingdom Come are so well-crafted that he easily earns a spot on the list.

2. Frank Quitely

Remember what I said about Sale and Loeb being magic? Well, that goes triple for Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. See that picture above? Why did I choose that instead of something like New X-Men and All Star Superman? Because you already know those are great, but you may have never heard of We3. You should definitely read it because it’s fantastic, and that’s what every project is that Quitely works on. His art is truly unique and I mean that in the best possible way. Quitely handles everything, action, facial expressions, and emotion, all of it, like the master he is. The only reason Quitely isn’t number one is because his art has greatly evolved into marvelous beauty within the last five years. My number one, however, has always been at the top of his game.

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1. Jim Lee

I never thought Jim Lee would be my number one. It makes sense; Batman is my favorite hero, so it’s only natural that the quintessential Batman artist is my favorite. Lee has always demonstrated greatness. Whether your first experience was X-Men, WildC.A.T.s, Batman, or even way back to Punisher War Journal, you were probably impressed. He’s worked on a few bad projects, sure. That won’t stop you from gazing at his beautiful interiors though. Why do you think All Star Batman and Robin is a best-seller? Its gloriously groundbreaking dialogue? I think not. Whether the words accompanying his art were good or not, I’ve always enjoyed Lee’s renderings immensely.

So there’s the list. I doubt you’ll agree completely. “Good art” is purely opinionated. I only wish that if you haven’t heard of one of these talented men (Why isn’t Amanda Conner on the list?), you’ll go check them out. Hopefully, you’re in for a treat.

-Bruce Castle

Bruce Castle Presents: Bendis vs. Loeb – Spoilers!

Large Cover of New Avengers #48

New Avengers #48 (***1/2)

Ok, so if you’ve read my other reviews you’ll know that I didn’t like Secret Invasion. I disliked the New Avengers issues during that time and I liked that recent Dark Reign one-shot even less. But this issue was good. First off, Billy Tan has drastically improved, He’s soared above mediocrity and he assures you that he’s worthy of being featured in Marvel’s flagship title. The objective of this issue should have been to establish the new team, wrap up all the SI nonsense, present an intriguing future for our heroes and possibly a twist or two. Bendis accomplishes all of that, mostly. Yes there’s another damn Skrull (Can that be the last time I type that word please?) and I’m still not sure about my enthusiasm towards this book, but this issue was satisfying enough. Bendis uses “Talky Room” again (Description of that here) and he introduces his new team in a fun way. The new lineup is the five dudes on the cover (Big surprise) plus her, her, her and her. Jaw-dropping? No, it’s pretty much who’d you expect. And the big twist in this issue? Luke Cage sells out to you-know-who. So, it was a good issue, but will I stick around post-4 bucks? I don’t know.

Ultimate Spider-Man #129

Ultimate Spider-Man #129 (****)

This issue was great. It was an Ultimatum tie-in that was better than the main mini this week. But what did this have to do with Ultimatum? Business seems normal. There’s a bit of a big event in here though. It concludes with the cops with May wanting to talk about her relation to Spider-Man. That’s cool, but Ultimatum related? I don’t think so. Then again, Bendis did say that Spider-Man may not be Peter Parker after Ultimatum. Jessica Drew returns! The clone one not the Skrull (Damn it! Again!) one. Bendis loves him some Jessica Drew. Human Torch makes an appearance as well. The highlight of this issue of course is Bendis’ marvelous teenage dialogue. Well done again sir!

Ultimatum #2 (of 5)

Ultimatum #2 (***1/2)

Say what you want about this book, but at least it delivers the goods. Well, it does in the death and WTF departments. The biggest problem here is the lack of emotional attachment. If you aren’t invested in these characters, you probably won’t care much. And if you do care, you may feel Loeb shows disrespect towards the beloved characters. The deaths in this issue? The Blob eats the wasp! Again, WTF! The last time I saw Blob (Other than possibly Ultimates 3. That series is a blur) was in Ultimate Spider-Man when it was revealed that he was Liz’s father. He was a sympathetic character, and now he’s chowing down on the Wasp and says “tastes like chicken”. Ok, that one I can’t explain, but I think I can with the next one. Magneto snaps Professor X’s neck! So that’s a WTF, but that makes sense in the Ultimate U. Magneto is much more evil there. He’s furious about the death of his children, but he’s also a vicious bastard. And remember, Prof did screw with Magneto’s mind earlier. So I kind of like this outcome. Both of them are willing to go to extreme lengths to fight each other. Oh there was one more death in this issue, but even I didn’t care much because it was Valkyrie. But we did get to see Ultimate Hela who’s an S&M nightmare (Must all the Ultimate Loeb characters be so “modern”). Thor went to Valhalla and Cap was there too?! Oh noes! Is Cap dead?! Oh and it was a bit annoying to see events I already know the outcome to because of those recent Fantastic Four issues. Why must Finch be so slow? Oh well, he did another great job here. But have the boobs on his women always been this BIG?

Ultimatum #2 of 5 Preview Preview Page 7

See? Was Finch always that…Cho? Anyway, Ultimatum continues to be a violent shocking cleansing of the Ultimate U. I just wish there was more substance to accompany all that flash.

Large Cover of Hulk #9

Hulk #9 (****)

And speaking of Frank Cho, it’s his last issue of Hulk, for now. Reviewing this book is silly. Almost as silly as the book itself. You either love it or you hate it. And if you haven’t read it or even to those who hate it, this is basically a modern Stan Lee book. The comedy, the zany ideas, even the great art. It’s satirical people! Multiple Wendigos! Wendihulk! Sentry and Moon Knight talk about going to the same shrink! It’s a lot of big pretty dumb fun. Next issue? It’s Defenders vs. Offenders! Nuff said!

Large Cover of Hulk #10 (50/50 Variant)

Bruce Castle Presents: Hulk Gives Spider-Man an Ultimatum!

Hulk #8

Hulk #8 (****)

I have so much fun reading this comic. Art Adams and Frank Cho kill this book. And Loeb’s writing is exactly what it’s supposed to be, enjoyable. I still think this is his way of poking fun at what he dislikes about comics. So the Red Hulk is called Rulk right? And so many haters including a friend of mind say “So is green Hulk Grulk?” Check out the recap of this issue, “Mr. Fixit (Fulk? Grulk?)”. C’mon guys the silliness is intentional.

Ms. Marvel punches Fixit and takes out the power!

Pretty Lady, Sheet Face, and S-Man fight green Hulk!

But what about the Wendigos?

“The Lady Liberators. For when you absolutely, positively have to liberate the @#$% outta something.”

Abe on Mount Rushmore is collateral damage!

Tigra, Spider-Woman, Storm, Black Widow, Invisible Woman, and Hellcat join the party! Cho draws more pretty women! Oh yeah!

Ultimate Spider-Man #128

Ultimate Spider-Man #128 (****)

Ok, this was pretty cool. I still think this arc was a little weak, but it ended nicely. So this issue begins the way the first one in the arc did. Cool. Aunt May has a giant Dirty Harry gun?! Really? Aunt May also has heart problems. Do I smell an Ultimate One More Day? We get more video game nonsense. Which is what this arc was really about I guess. That’s a big part of what’s crappy about this arc. So I guess Gwen Stacy is “alive” again? And this issue ends the same as the first one in the arc, but with a big twist. Will this be in Ultimatum or just the Spider-Man tie-ins?

Ultimate X-Men #98

Ultimate X-Men #98 (****)

An Ultimatum tie-in! And a bunch of stuff happens! In one issue, William Stryker is introduced, reluctant about fighting mutants, and by the end he kills one. Am I the only one who’s disappointed when Ultimate characters are the exact same as their 616 counterparts? I guess Kurt and Allison did “die”? So Rogue is kind of evil now? Don’t do drugs kids. The identity of Ultimate Vindicator is revealed! Ultimate Juggernaut is alive and it’s no big deal? Wasn’t he last seen as dead in that annual or am I forgetting something? Sabretooth and Juggie are not in the best strip club in the world. Those girls aren’t even topless! Oh but it does give an excuse to see Rogue half naked. Vindicator is already the Guardian? I told you a lot happened in this issue. Oh and again, Mark Brooks draws really pretty pictures.

Bruce Castle Presents: Kingdom Come Magog vs. Invincible Conan

JSA Kingdom Come Special Magog #1 (Variant Cover Edition)

JSA Kingdom Come Special: Magog (****1/2)

Ah villain comics, how I love you. This is the cool part too, before they become a villain. In fact, I’m pretty sure we witness Magog’s transformation here. “Once the course of a river’s changed, it’ll never be the same”, sounds like it, right? I think Tomasi is a pretty good writer. His heroes are mediocre but his villains are fantastic. He’s in his element here and he really delivers. Both of these Kingdom Come specials have punched me in the gut and I hope Johns can continue that next week.

Invincible #55

Invincible #55 (*****)

This issue opens with Mark and Eve having sex and so of course that means we check up on Allen the Alien. Am I the only one who wants Invincible to get laid more? First off, that expression on the bottom of the first page was hilarious when Eve warped off their clothes. Second, Allen the Alien is awesome! This issue’s events have been in the motion for a looong time, but I couldn’t be happier with the turnout. Actually, I’m glad that this took so long because now we have FCO (Yes I’m bringing it up again!) on board to really make things pretty. This is a prison breakout baby! A lot of fighting and awesomeness hooray! Oh and Battle Beast returned! Do people still remember him?

Conan the Cimmerian #5

Conan the Cimmerian #5 (****)

The enjoyment continues! “The Wolf’s Promise” is an apt title. This issue is all about promises. Truman not only provides entertainment, he also has me intrigued. Will Caollan join Conan’s adventures? That’d be awesome. I do love a badass chick, but what about the baby? Will Conan meet up with Connacht soon? See, it’s interesting. Oh and of course the art has to be good with all that action right? Well, Giorello and Corben definitely deliver. Man, this has been a great year for Corben. He did a fantastic Hellboy mini and some Conan interiors, how cool? Oh and I usually forget to mention it but these Frank Cho covers rock. How can you not read this book?

Bruce Castle Presents: Hulk vs. Thor!

Hulk #7 (Cover B - Frank Cho Variant)

Hulk #7 (****1/2)

We get two stories!

What Happens in Vegas: Art Adams! Multiple Wendigo! Joe Fixit! Moon Knight! Ms. Marvel (hubba-hubba)! Sentry!

Hell Hath No Fury…: Frank Cho! She-Hulk! Valkyrie! Thundra! Maria Hill! Rulk!

Jeph Loeb still continues to write for his artists. What can Art Adams draw well? Monsters! So we get multiple Wendigo and Joe Fixit (Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and Sentry are a bonus)! What can Frank Cho draw well? Women! Particularly strong muscular women with tree trunk thighs and that’s exactly what we get. Oh, and of course there is a changing scene as well. So, this book looks amazing! It’s also funny and entertaining. That makes me happy.

Thor Truth Of History #1

Thor: The Truth of History (***)

There’s no school like the old school. This is written and drawn by Alan Davis. Davis has a very Silver Age style of both drawing and writing. If you’re looking for some classic Thor that’s new, this is it. Davis provides superb art and the story is fun enough. Oh, the Warriors Three are in here too. Something that did infuriate me is that in the description of this issue, Marvel promises that this will change things forever or some damn thing. Unless I missed something, I’m going to call BS on that. And that’s the main problem with this book, who cares? It doesn’t really matter and I’ll probably never read it again. It’s good, but at 4 bucks in this economy, you can probably pass.