The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Six

The challenge: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject.  I chose “coffee.” From the work of how many comic book artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee?  I post these daily on Facebook, and collect them together here.

26) Robert Walker & Bill Black

Femforce #6, penciled by Robert Walker, written & inked by Bill Black, lettered by Walter Paisley, and colored by Rebekah Black, published by AC Comics, released December 1986.

I previously featured art from the AC Comics title Americomics.  Here we have another piece of coffee-drinking artwork from AC, this time from the company’s flagship title, Femforce.  Overseen by editor Bill Black, Femforce has been in continuous publication since 1985.  As the title indicates, it features the adventures of an all-female superhero team.  I discovered Femforce two decades ago, and fortunately was able to obtain a number of the earlier issues, including this one, which enabled me to get caught up very quickly.

The team is made up of a combination of public domain heroines who date back to the Golden Age of comic books and newer characters created by Black in the 1970s and 80s.  Black and his various collaborators have done a great job developing an exciting and intriguing fictional world, giving the large cast of characters interesting personalities and rich backstories.

Of course, there is also a fair amount of T&A in Femforce.  It firmly falls into the category of “good girl art.”  Robert Walker, who penciled a handful of stories for AC in the mid 1980s, was definitely one of the artists who emphasized the more, um, curvaceous aspects of the characters’ physiques.  I haven’t been able to find much info on Walker, but after his time at AC he did sporadic work for Marvel, Milestone, Dark Horse and Valiant.

Black has inked a diverse selection of pencilers during Femforce’s 35 year run, as well as producing full artwork from time to time.  I’ve always enjoyed his inking on the AC titles.  He has a very polished ink line.

This page, which has Femforce’s newest member Tara the Jungle Girl brewing some coffee, encapsulates the qualities of the series.  We have the team’s founder Ms. Victory touching upon her personal history and family life.  We also have these two female characters drawn in a sexy manner.  I suppose you could say the two hallmarks of Femforce are characterization and cheesecake.

Femforce 6 pf 4

27) Jamal Igle & Dan Davis

Let’s make a return trip to Radu’s Coffee Shop in New York City.  “Hard-Loving Heroes” is penciled by Jamal Igle, inked by Dan Davis, written by Ben Raab, lettered by Kurt Hathaway, and colored by Tom McCraw, from Green Lantern Secret Files #3, published by DC Comics with a July 2002 cover date.

By this point in time Green Lantern Kyle Rayner was now dating Jade, the daughter of the original GL, Alan Scott.  While Kyle is off fighting some nut in a giant knock-off Gundam suit, Jade is meeting with her alien friend Merayn for a cup of coffee at Radu’s.  Jade is sharing her concerns with Meryan about dating Kyle who, while a basically decent guy, is still a little on the immature and unfocused side.  Jade finds herself wondering if she might be nothing more than a replacement for Kyle’s dead girlfriend Alex.

This page is penciled by the incredible Jamal Igle, who really shows off his storytelling chops in this scene.  He makes the conversation between Jade, Merayn and Radu interesting and animated.

Igle’s earliest professional work was eight years earlier, penciling several pages of Green Lantern #52 in 1994, followed by a fill-in issue of Kobalt for Milestone.  Looking back, his work on those first couple jobs was pretty good, showing potential.  You can then see continuous growth as he did pencils for various titles over the next several years.  By the time we get to this story, Igle was doing really high-quality work.  Igle subsequently had well-regarded runs on Firestorm and Supergirl at DC.  He then made the decision to focus on creator-owned and independent projects.  I’m looking forward to future installments of his series Molly Danger, the first volume of which was released by Action Lab Comics.

Green Lantern Secret Files 3 pg 15

28) Dave Johnson with Keith Giffen

Superpatriot #4, penciled & inked by Dave Johnson, plotted by Keith Giffen, scripted by Erik Larsen, lettered by Chris Eliopolis, and colored by Digital Chameleon, published by Image Comics with a December 1993 cover date.

Today’s entry is from another part of Erik Larsen’s corner of Image Comics, what fans refer to as the “Dragonverse.”  Superpatriot was introduced by Larsen in the original Savage Dragon miniseries.

Johnny Armstrong was an American soldier in World War II.  Captured by the Nazis, he was used as a guinea pig for scientific experiments.  Johnny gained superhuman abilities and escaped.  Assuming the guise of Superpatriot, he spent decades fighting crime.  By the early 1990s age was finally catching up to him, and he was brutally crippled by members of Chicago’s super-powered mob the Vicious Circle.

Superpatriot was rebuilt as a cyborg by the corrupt Cyberdata.  He was then captured by the high tech terrorist organization the Covenant of the Sword, who brainwashed him and sent him to attack the Pentagon.  Youngblood agent Die-Hard confronted him and was able to break through this mind control, and for the first time in months Superpatriot was in control of his own will.

In the final two page scene of the miniseries we see a brooding, contemplative Johnny having a cup of coffee at a Chicago diner.  The current incarnation of his old teammate Mighty Man arrives to provide a sympathetic shoulder, and to offer him a spot on the newly-formed Freak Force team.

Superpatriot 4 pg 23

I was a fan of Superpatriot from the moment Larsen introduced him in Savage Dragon.  I thought the design of the character was really striking and dynamic.  I was definitely thrilled that the character received his own miniseries and then joined Freak Force.

Dave Johnson is one of the top cover artists in the comic book biz.  He’s drawn covers for numerous series, among them 100 Bullets, Deadpool, Detective Comics, James Bond, Punisher Max and Unknown Soldier.  Early on in his career he did do some interior work, including the first two Superpatriot miniseries.  Johnson’s work on these was incredible, containing a tremendous amount of detail.  Apparently he decided he wasn’t fast enough to draw monthly comic books, and so transitioned to working as a cover artist in the mid 1990s.

Keith Giffen’s is credited on Superpatriot as both plotter and storyteller.  He probably provided some kind of layouts for Johnson to work from, although I have no idea how detailed they were.  Whatever the case, the storytelling on the miniseries was well done.

I like how this quiet epilogue is laid out, with the first page dialogue-free until the final panel.  Then on the next page the perspective shifts from one panel to the next, including a shot of Superpatriot’s face reflected in the coffee cup.  I don’t know who was responsible for planning out this scene, Giffen or Johnson, but it’s very effective.

Superpatriot 4 pg 24

29) Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III

Today’s coffee-drinking artwork is from what Entertainment Weekly referred to as “the scariest horror comic of all time.” Sandman #6 is penciled by Mike Dringenberg, inked by Malcolm Jones III, written by Neil Gaiman, lettered by Todd Klein, and colored by Robbie Busch, published by DC Comics with a June 1989 cover date.

Sandman was the story of Dream, aka Morpheus, and his siblings, the immortal Endless.  The first story arc Preludes and Nocturnes sees Dream, who has spent 70 years as the prisoner of an occult society, finally breaking free.  Dream must then search out his various lost objects of power.

Among these artifacts is a mystical ruby, which has fallen into the hands of John Dee, the super-villain Doctor Destiny.  “24 Hours” sees Dee using the ruby’s powers to slowly drive insane the patrons of a diner, torture them, and finally force them to murder each other.  It is definitely one of the most disturbing comic book stories I have ever read.

The story grew out of Gaiman’s idea of doing a 24 hour long story within 24 pages.  As he explained to EW in 2017:

“Suddenly I went, ‘Hang on. I’ll stay in one location, and awful things are going to happen in this one location over 24 hours.’ And it came into focus suddenly and beautifully. I knew roughly what had to happen in each hour and just brought a bunch of people onto the stage and destroyed them. And it was an awful thing. It was like, ‘Okay, where does my imagination go? What would I do to these people?’ And then going, ‘This needs to be relentless. It needs to be horrible. And it can never be torture porn. You can never enjoy what is happening to these people.’”

Dringenberg & Jones superbly illustrate Gaiman’s unsettling tale, suffusing it with menace.  Both the plot and the artwork begin very low key, with the diner patrons having their morning coffee, unaware that John Dee is crouched in a corner booth, waiting.  As the issue progresses the tension and horror of Gaiman’s writing and Dringenberg’s storytelling gradually escalate, eventually becoming almost unbearable.

The lettering by Klein and the coloring by Busch also play key roles in generating the mood of the story.  Especially the coloring. Busch’s color work is definitely a vital part of creating the unnerving atmosphere of “24 Hours.”

Sandman 6 pg 6

30) Arn Saba

The previous entry was from a very dark story, so this time I’m going with much lighter fare.  “Neil the Horse Meets Mr Coffee Nerves” is written & drawn by Arn Saba, from Neil the Horse Comics and Stories #3, published by Aardvark-Vanaheim with a June 1983 cover date.

Here is another series and artist that I was previously unaware of that I was introduced to by Comic Book Historians group moderator Jim Thompson.  I guess this is our second 1000 Horses / Comic Book Coffee crossover.  Regular contributor Cheryl Spoehr is a fan of Neil the Horse, as well.

What is Neil the Horse about?  As described by Quill and Quire:

“Saba spent more than 15 years combining his love of cartooning with his love of music to produce the adventures of Neil and his friends: Soapy, a feline grifter, and Mam’selle Poupée, a living doll in search of true love.”

Saba wrote & illustrated the adventures of Neil and friends from 1975 to 1989, first in a newspaper strip and then in comic books.  Saba also wrote a Neil the Horse musical comedy, Neil the Horse and the Big Banana, broadcast in 1982 on CBC Radio in Canada.  In 1993 Saba began transitioning into a woman, and is now known as Katherine Collins.

Conundrum Press published The Collected Neil the Horse in April 2017.  I may add this to my already-lengthy list of books to buy.  It looks like fun.

Neil the Horse 3 pg 1 coffee

“Neil the Horse Meets Mr Coffee Nerves” sees Neil, curious about everyone’s love for coffee, discovering both the joys and the dangers of hot caffeinated beverages.  I would undoubtedly be one of the people in that crowd enthusiastically declaring “Coffee time!”  Hopefully not that guy crawling on the sidewalk desperately searching for coffee!

Comic book reviews: Sensation Comics #11

Although Sensation Comics #11 starring Wonder Woman came out over a month ago, I was only just able to pick up a copy of the issue last week.  It made an impression on me and I wanted to discuss it here.

“Vendetta” by writer Josh Elder and artists Jamal Igle & Juan Castro is an incredibly well-told story.  In the past I have commented on the fascinating dichotomy of the character of Wonder Woman, in that she is both a warrior and a diplomat.  Elder’s story addresses these seemingly disparate roles head-on.

Sensation Comics 11 pg 1

Diana has been asked to help negotiate a ceasefire in Itari, an African nation that is plagued by civil war.  The long-simmering conflict between Itari’s two major tribes, the Uwange and the Mbindi, has exploded into full-fledged violence.  Both sides are committing atrocities, and thousands are already dead.

Wonder Woman’s already-difficult task of bringing the two factions into peace talks are complicated by the war god Ares who wishes for the bloodshed to continue.  He raises an army of inhuman monsters to kill Diana, the UN representatives, and any members of the two tribes who are considering peace.

Despite the fantasy trappings, Elder sets up a scenario that is very much rooted in the real world.  There are no good guys or bad guys.  The Uwange and the Mbindi each have legitimate grievances against the other.  Both ethnic groups contain factions that have engaged in war crimes and acts of brutal persecution.  For decades each tribe has passed down their hatred & distrust of the other from one generation to the next, perpetuating the violence.

Elder depicts Wonder Woman as a warrior whose goal is to make herself obsolete by ending war.  He opens the story with an appropriate quote by General Douglas MacArthur:

“The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for the soldier must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

Diana knows that, as terrible as the past actions of the Uwange and the Mbindi against one other have been, if they continue to focus on them, on obtaining so-called “just” vengeance, the conflict will never end.  Yes, it is important not to forget the past.  But at the same time one must also learn from the past so as not to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Elder utilizes some of the ideology of Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston, his espousing of “loving submission” to bring an end to conflict, and insightfully applies them within this story.  Diana advises the leaders of Itari’s two tribes:

“We Amazons believe that war is a contest that may be won, but peace is a gift that must be freely given. If there is truth to our philosophy, then peace will only be achieved if both of you surrender – to each other.

“For all unions that endure – be they between two people or two peoples – are built upon a foundation of mutual submission and interdependence, a commitment to compromise, and a willingness to forgive.

“That is my counsel. The path will be difficult. The risk, great. But the alternative is certain death and despair for friend and foe alike.”

The story closes with the fate of Itari undecided; peace is a possibility, but so is continued conflict.  Elder recognizes that Diana, for all her powers & abilities, is not a messiah or miracle-worker.  It is the responsibility of the Uwange and the Mbindi peoples to decide for themselves if they will continue on the path of war or set aside their hatred and attempt to chart a new course for their nation.

Sensation Comics 11 pg 11

“Vendetta” is set within the post-Crisis revamp of Wonder Woman by George Perez.  It definitely demonstrates just how effective and influential Perez’s work on the character was, as all these years later many of the creators working on Sensation Comics have set their own stories within that now-classic era.

Like Perez before him, Elder draws heavily on Greek mythology.  In a dark sequence, Ares explains the origins of his I inhuman army:

“Take heed, oh soldier, to the tragic tale of Cadmus, he who slew a great dragon, then sowed the dragon’s teeth into the earth. The seeds bore fruit, and from the soil rose a poison crop: the Spartoi, red of hand and black of purpose.”

Obviously that was part of the inspiration for the now-iconic final battle in the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts, when the Hydra’s teeth are sown by King Aeetes to “grow” an army of seven skeleton warriors.  As a fan of Ray Harryhausen, I enjoyed seeing the mythological basis for this iconic sequence utilized by Elder in his story.

Sensation Comics 11 pg 21

The artwork by Jamal Igle & Juan Castro on “Vendetta” is absolutely amazing.  I’ve been looking forward to Sensation Comics #11 ever since it was announced several months ago that Igle would be penciling a story in it.  He is an incredibly talented artist, and I have been a fan of his work for a long time.

Igle does excellent work penciling this story.  He is great with both action sequences and quiet character moments.  As with all the great Wonder Woman artists, he draws her as a figure that is simultaneously beautiful and strong and determined and kind.  Some artists appear to struggle to successfully convey that broad range of characteristics & emotions within Diana.  But Igle very much succeeds.

I am not too familiar with Castro, but his inking appears to be well suited to Igle’s pencils.  I’ve seen Castro’s name in the credits of other DC Comics series, and those stories looked good.  There are some nice before & after examples on Castro’s Deviant Art page that demonstrate what his inks bring to the finished artwork.

After reading Sensation Comics #11, I found myself wishing that Elder, Igle & Castro were the creative team on the regular Wonder Woman series.  Yes, I do realize that Igle is busy on his creator-owned title Molly Danger, which is very much a labor of love.  He’s doing excellent work with it and I’m looking forward to the next installment.  Having said that, if Igle has any free time in the future and is asked to draw Wonder Woman again then I would be very happy.

Sensation Comics 11 cover

Sensation Comics #11 is topped off by a cover illustrated by Stephane Roux.  Due to the anthology nature of this book, most of the covers regrettably have very little to do with the material inside.  It would have been nice if the editors could have coordinated things so that Roux had drawn a cover that reflected the story.

Oh, well, even if it is more of a pin-up than a cover, the talented Roux does beautiful work on it.  And I guess you could say that Roux’s art does tie in with the story thematically, as we see Diana with a white dove, which can be regarded as a symbol of peace.

As is the case with nearly all anthology titles, Sensation Comics is inevitably an uneven series.  Nevertheless I have enjoyed most of the stories featured in it over the past year.  Issue #11 is definitely one of the highlights.

Free Comic Book Day 2013

Yesterday I headed into Manhattan for Free Comic Book Day, which takes place on the first Saturday in May each year.  The past few years I’ve gone to Jim Hanley’s Universe, and while I always had a good time there, it seemed like I kept missing out on the really cool promo issues because the store ran out of them early in the day.  This year, I decided to change things up.  I went over to Manhattan Comics, a cool store on 23rd Street near the Flatiron Building.

Arriving at Manhattan Comics in the early afternoon, I was happy to see that they still had a huge selection of FCBD issues.  There was a limit of three free books per customer.  Here is what I got:

Atomic Robo – I am a pretty fan of Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener’s super-cool, fun, intelligent, witty series about a crime-fighting robot originally built by Nikola Tesla.  Atomic Robo teams up with the Action Scientists of Tesladyne Industries to combat all manner of bizarre foes.  Each year Clevinger & Wegener have put out a FCBD special issue, and I finally succeeded in picking up the latest one.

Molly Danger – This is a brand new series written & illustrated by the super-talented Jamal Igle published by Action Lab Entertainment.  I’ve followed Igle’s work on various titles for a number of years now, and I’m thrilled that he’s now working on a creator-owned series.  I’d read on Facebook that Molly Danger would be making its debut on FCBD, so I’m thrilled I was able to pick up a copy.

Uglydoll Comics – My girlfriend Michele loves the ultra-cute Uglydoll stuffed toys, so I got this one for her.  Yeah, okay, I think they’re adorable, as well.  VIZ Media will be releasing an Uglydoll graphic novel in August.  The FCBD issue also had a Hello Kitty back-up by Jacob Chabot.  Once again, Michele loves Hello Kitty, so that was a pleasant surprise.  Actually, our cat Nettie looked a lot like Hello Kitty when she was a little kitten.

Uglydoll FCBD

Manhattan Comics was having a huge storewide sale.  Everything was 40% off.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m actually trying to get rid of stuff to make more room in the apartment, I would have probably gone crazy snatching up comics and graphic novels.  As it is, I picked up several back issues.  I also bought the latest issue of Iron Man, which features the return of the classic team of David Michelinie & Bob Layton for a special story arc.  I expect I’ll be blogging about that once the whole storyline has been released.

There were several comic book creators doing signing at Manhattan Comics for FCBD.  Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder arrived at the store at three in the afternoon.  I’ve been a fan of Reeder’s exquisite artwork since she was drawing Madame Xanadu several years ago.  Reeder & Montclare created the Halloween Eve one-shot, which was published last October by Image Comics.  I was never able to find it when it first came out, so I was happy to see that they had copies for sale.  Reeder also did a really lovely sketch in my Beautiful Dreamer sketchbook.  I’m looking forward to their next collaboration, which is in the works.

Molly Danger FCBD

Afterwards, I headed down to the Greenwich Village.  A couple of employees from Manhattan Comics had decided to start up a comic book store of their own.  Carmine Street Comics is sharing space with a small independent book shop.  They’re located about a block off of Bleecker Street.  That made it a cinch to locate, which was a huge relief, since I usually get hopelessly lost in the West Village!

There were some good trade paperbacks for sale at Carmine Street Comics, as well as an interesting assortment of independent back issues from the last couple of decades.  There wasn’t anything that especially leaped out at me that day, but I’ll definitely be stopping back there again.  I certainly wish them the best of luck.  It seems like a nice little spot.

A number of small press & independent creators were signing at Carmine Street Comics for FCBD.  Enrique Carrion was there with copies of his series Vescell, which is published by Image Comics.  Vescell seems to be a risqué supernatural espionage series.  Flipping through a couple of the books, it seemed pretty interesting, and the artwork by John Upchurch was really nice.  So I decided to give it a try, and I bought a copy of issue #7.

Atomic Robo FCBD

It seems like a lot of people come out for Free Comic Book Day.  Maybe it is just the promise of free stuff drawing people, but hopefully some of them will actually become interested enough in what they see to try picking up some stuff.  Yeah, I do like to complain about Marvel and DC’s current output.  But the fact is, as I have said before, there really is so much great independent and small press material out there.  And with any luck, FCBD succeeds in putting the spotlight on some of it.

Oh, yeah, and be sure to buy Molly Danger when it comes out in July, okay?  Jamal Igle is amazing.

Comic books I’m reading, part one: DC and Marvel

Back when I was a teenager and in my twenties, I read a lot of books published by DC and Marvel Comics.  I was very much into the mainstream superhero titles.  Over the last several years, though, my tastes have gradually changed.  Additionally, comic books have become more and more expensive, now costing around $2.99 to $3.99.  I don’t have as much disposable income as I used to, so I cannot afford to buy as many books.  Additionally, a lot of titles have become very decompressed and long form in their story arcs.  That means it takes more issues to tell a story while, conversely, much less time to read each actual issue.  I don’t see the point in spending three to four bucks for a ten minute read.

So, what ongoing series am I picking up?  From DC, I’ve been following Justice League International, Wonder Woman, and Blackhawks, and the last of those three was just canceled.  That leaves just two.

JLI is a pretty decent book.  I decided to give it a try because I liked the creative team of Dan Jurgens & Aaron Lopresti.  Also, the cast of the book contained Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, and various other so-called “second-stringers” who do not have their own solo titles, enabling Jurgens to engage in character development.  I also enjoy the interaction between Booster and Batman, which is almost of a student/mentor relationship.  So far, it’s been pretty entertaining.  The main ongoing subplot concerns a group of superhuman anarchists.  I’ll be sticking with JLI for the immediate future, to see what happens.  Lopresti’s art is very nicely done.  I just wish that he was also drawing the covers, but I guess David Finch is a hotter creator.

Justice League International #8

(I am somewhat curious about the main Justice League title, but seeing as it’s penciled by Jim Lee it is inevitably going to end up collected in trade paperbacks, so I can always check it out later.)

On Wonder Woman, the major draw, so to speak, has been Cliff Chiang’s stunning artwork.  It really is beautiful.  I am not nearly as much sold by Brian Azzarello’s writing.  Something about it doesn’t quite click with me.  He is one of those writers who play a very long game, so the plotlines he’s set up could take years to resolve.  I’m not sure I want to stick around that long to see it all pan out.  The major distinction for the Wonder Woman revamp has been Azzarello & Chiang re-imagining the Greek gods.  Instead of a bunch of people in white togas standing around spouting pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue, they are a dysfunctional group of freaks with murky motivations.  They really feel like mysterious, dangerous deities who could do some serious damage with their manipulations.

For me, the two best books DC has released lately have been miniseries.  I absolutely loved The Ray, which I initially picked up for Jamal Igle’s artwork.  Igle is an incredibly talented creator, and his artwork on this four issue miniseries is stunning.  What made The Ray such a great book was that the writing by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti was of an equally high standard.  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend tracking down back issues of this series.  I don’t know if there is going to be a TPB collection of this, but if DC has any sense, they will collect it.

The Ray #1

The other miniseries I enjoyed was Legion: Secret Origin written by Paul Levitz.  He does an excellent job setting down the post-Flashpoint origin of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Levitz introduces the characters and the world of the 31st Century in a manner that will please long-time Legion fans such as myself, yet is accommodating to newer readers.  Legion: Secret Origin is also an excellent example of how to set up a miniseries in such a way that it is self-contained and stands on its own, but at the same time plants the seeds for future storylines elsewhere.  Also, the series boosts superb artwork by Chris Batista & Marc Deering.

Over at Marvel, well, there’s not much I’m picking up, either.  I used to be such a HUGE fan of both Captain America and the Avengers.  Nowadays, they are hotter than they have ever been but, ironically, I’m just not as interested.  Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Avengers just never did much for me, so it has been several years since I followed any of the titles regularly.  (I did really enjoy Mighty Avengers when Dan Slott was writing it.)  As for Captain America, well, Ed Brubaker has been doing excellent work but, like Azzarello, he sets up storylines that take a long time to pan out, plus his writing style is definitely decompressed.  When the Captain America: The First Avenger movie came out last year, Marvel re-started the book with a new issue #1.  I was sort of underwhelmed by the first five issue arc, “American Dreamers.”  I’ve bought the next five issues, the “Powerless” arc, and read the first two chapters, but just haven’t gotten around to finishing it, despite some gorgeous artwork by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer.  The thing is, I’ve religiously bought every issue of Captain America since 1989, but now I’m actually wondering if I want to continue with it.

I’ve been somewhat more entertained by the original Captain America volume one, which continued the original series numbering, but was re-titled Captain America & Bucky for nine issues, before switching over the second spot to a rotating co-star.  Right now it’s Hawkeye sharing the spotlight with the Sentinel of Liberty.  The two Bucky-related stories were both very good. Part of that had to do with them being self-contained.  I wish Brubaker would write more stories of that nature.  A new creative team came on-board with Hawkeye.  So far, I’m not especially impressed, but I will wait to see how the entire story plays out.  But again, I am uncertain if I will stick around after that.

After a very long time away, I have started picking up Avengers, at least for a few issues.  The legendary Walter Simonson is penciling a six issue arc that ties in with the Avengers vs. X-Men crossover.  I am a huge fan of Simonson, and I have long wanted to see him draw Avengers.  He is doing an absolutely stunning job.  I was blown away by the first two issues out, #s 25 & 26.  In the later, we see Thor in combat with the Phoenix Force out in space.  It is just beautiful work.

Avengers #26 page 17: Thor vs the Phoenix Force!

Mention definitely has to be made of Scott Hanna’s contribution.  He is one of the absolute best inkers in the comic book biz today.  I often think he does not receive anywhere near the credit that is due him.  This is his first time inking Simonson, and the results look fantastic.  I also have to point out the vibrant coloring by Jason Keith, which really stood out in that sequence with the Phoenix.

The writing by Bendis is pretty good, but he could do a bit of a better job making this portion stand on its own.  I realize this is part of a huge crossover, but in the middle of #26, there’s a sudden jump forward in the action, with the explanatory caption “For details, see Secret Avengers #26-28 on sale now!”  That was jarring.

Anyway, despite this, Bendis does have a nice scene earlier between the Protector (not familiar with the character, but I think he’s a Kree agent and a new Avengers recruit) and his cute punk rock girlfriend.  Bendis is usually better at penning more personal character moments like this than monumental superhero spectacles, so it plays to his strengths.  That said, if you are going to do big & cosmic, Walter Simonson is your go-to guy, and Bendis gives him plenty to play with in the issue’s second half.  I would complain that it only took ten minutes each to read Avengers #s 25 & 26, but they both look so amazing thanks to Simonson & Hanna.  So I’m on-board for the next four issues, which they are also illustrating.

Other than that, the only Marvel book I’m following right now is the five issue limited series Hulk Smash Avengers.  It takes place during different eras of the team’s history, and examines their contentious relationship with the Hulk.  Topped off by beautiful covers from Lee Weeks, each issue has a different creative team.

The main reason why I decided to get this miniseries is because the first issue is by Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz & Sal Buscema.  I have really enjoyed DeFalco & Frenz’s work on Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, Thunderstrike, A-Next, and Spider-Girl.  Buscema is one of my all time favorite comic book artists.  Nowadays mostly retired, he still breaks out the old pen & brush to ink Frenz on various projects.  They go together extremely well.

Their issue is an homage to the early Avengers stories by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, and Dick Ayers.  In it, the Masters of Evil join forces with the Hulk against the original Avengers team.  DeFalco is very much going for a Silver Age vibe with his scripting, which makes it a bit goofy, but a lot of fun.  It was fun seeing DeFalco & Frenz do a story with Thor once again.  And, yay, it actually took longer than ten minutes to read this issue!  DeFalco, like Paul Levitz, really knows how to script a story full of substance.

Hulk Smash Avengers #1 page 3

I haven’t had an opportunity to read the next two issues of Hulk Smash Avengers yet, but they’re written by Joe Casey and Roger Stern, so I have high expectations.  And I’ll be buying the final two installments when they come out.

That’s really about it.  Aside from picking up an occasional issue of a title here or there, right now I’m not really committed to any other specific series from either DC or Marvel.  My interest has been shifting more and more over to releases from “independent” companies such as Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, and others.  I will be discussing those in an upcoming post on this blog.  Keep an eye out for it.