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I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but I think a recap is in order:

I noticed this summer that I have an alarming number of unread comics piling up. As fast as I drop titles from my pull list or pass on new ones, the old ones never go away. With that in mind, I picked up a couple of short boxes, loaded all the unread comics in there along with the week’s new releases, and made a pledge to myself to empty those boxes as quickly as possible. It’s a fool’s errand. This is one task that cannot be finished. However, it has driven me to read more in the past three weeks than I otherwise might have. And it feels good to discover new stuff — sometimes quite belatedly — and catch up on old favorites that had started to languish.

The process began on July 28th, and I hit the 50 comic mark on August 17th. This doesn’t include a couple of graphic novels I read in the same time frame, nor the magazines, web sites, and blogs. This is just about moving stacks of comics from the To Be Read pile to the File Them Away pile.

As I read through the comics, I kept a catalog of first impressions of them on the Pipeline Message Board. Some days, I had five or six new comics to discuss. Others, I only had one or perhaps none. For this week’s column, I’m going to look at some of the backlog of titles I haven’t reviewed here yet, but that I’ve read for The Short Box Chronicles.

These aren’t all the timeliest of reviews, but they get the job done. In the interest of space and time, I’m only going to cover the first twenty this week. Hopefully, we’ll get the next twenty in next week.

1.MARVEL ADVENTURES SPIDER-MAN #5. Mark Bagley, another Spider-Man artist, got his start by winning the Marvel Try-Out Contest. Most casual fans have long forgotten that, but internet comics geeks might never let him live it down. Now, Patrick Scherberger is following in Bagley’s footsteps. First, he wins CBR’s COMIC BOOK IDOL, and now he’s drawing the kids-friendly Spider-Man adventures for Marvel, and knocking it out of the ballpark every month. His style is just slightly cartoonish and stylized to make the characters appeal more towards a general age range, but without being another Bruce Timm knockoff or a manga wannabe. It’s closer to Art Adams’ style than any of that, but with its own set of quirks. Scherberger’s characters have rubbery faces to be expressive, and a sense of weight and action that keep them bouncing all over the page. They look exciting, and that rubs off on the reader.

Sean McKeever replicates some of the frantic feel of Stan Lee’s old stories, packing enough stuff into the issue to please all the decompression-weary junkies, plus give the kids their parent’s $2.50 worth. The story is simple, but not stupid. It allows for some great visuals, and the children in the story speak like kids. If you read the book carefully, you might even learn a lesson or two. It’s great stuff.

2. FANTASTIC FOUR #529: I forgot about the ending of last issue, so it took me a couple of pages to realize what was going on. Whoops. Still, JMS writes a book with a healthy dose of his sense of humor infused into it, plus some wild action in the beginning. I don’t know that we need to dip back into the well of “answering unasked questions about a character’s origins,” but I’ll give him more rope. He’ll either reward me with a solid story and a good ending, or hang himself. Only time will tell.

Mike McKone’s art is as beautiful as always, with one of my favorite versions of Sue Richards in recent memory.

3. GRAVITY #2: McKeever is at it again, fashioning a series that’s accessible to a broader range of ages, while being satisfying to all. Gravity is a new superhero, clearly out of his element in NYC without being stupid. It would be too simple to make the usual assumption that anyone from outside the urban environment would be a rube or a fool. Gravity is a little naive, but he can pull his stuff together when he needs to, without tripping over the line and going out of character.

It’s a book in the classic Marvel mold, with a bad luck protagonist with a complicated civilian life, a cute girl after him that he doesn’t make time for, and the on-going struggle between powers and “normalcy.”

Mike Norton’s art almost looks funny on a superhero book. We’re not used to seeing him drawing this style. The storytelling is clean and consistent, though, and he does a good job throwing in some classic superhero poses. Characters are buff without being steroidal.

There’s a nice color scheme from Guru FX, too. It’s kept simple, which means we’re likely to see any eventual trade for this book in digest size. Crap. I mentioned this in the podcast recently, but I know not everyone listens. (Shame on you.) I waited for the trade on Adam Warren and Rick Mays’ LIVEWIRE. It was recently announced for a fall release, but it’s going to be in the cheaper digest format. I don’t mind the smaller pages, but it’s the coloring that always suffers from the change in paper stock. Those books look awful. Compare the recent RUNAWAYS hardcover with the digests of the same issues. It’s like night and day. I thought LIVEWIRE was a book that would merit a standard format trade. I guessed wrong and now I get to pay the price.

Lesson learned: Don’t wait for the trade with everything. Just buy all the issues, and save them up until the story is finished. If there’s a chance the book’s contents might be marketing to a younger group, expect a digest reprinting from Marvel, then buy the monthly installments.

That’s one of the reasons I have so many unread comics, actually. I wait for a story to be over before I start reading it. By the time the story is done, I have to block out enough time to read four or six issues at once to catch up on it all. That fattens up the backlog.

OK, that’s enough of my whining. Back to the comics:

4. SON OF VULCAN #2: I’m upgrading my stock valuation when it comes to this title. I don’t think it’s long for the world, given the state of the direct market and DC’s plans for reshaping the DCU. It doesn’t seem to fit in. But I think it’s a far better book than perhaps I gave it credit for with the first issue.

With this second issue, it’s found its stride. I compared some of Scott Beatty’s dialogue in the first issue with that found on a typical Joss Whedon show. In the second issue, it’s a little more generic than that, but just as funny. The book feels more comfortable. The sense of humor is nice, and the dialogue flows smoothly throughout the book. In all honesty, not a whole heck of a lot happens in this issue, but we do get to follow the new Vulcan adjusting to his new fate, and not quite figuring it out. He’s about to face serious trouble for that, as a matter of fact.

Keron Grant’s art is just as stylized and aggressive as it was in the first issue, but the storytelling is much simplified. There are more grids here, with panel layouts that are easier to follow. The color scheme still fights against it at times, but there’s a nice attempt at color keying through the issue that gives it a nice even look.

5. OWLY: SPLASHIN’ AROUND: This is the Free Comic Book Day issue, which I picked up in San Diego. It’s a brand new 28-page story featuring Owly being kind and compassionate while alternating between his good and bad mood swings. This is one bird that requires drugs to level him off.

But the comic is horribly cute, a joy to read, and very well cartooned by Andy Runton. This time, Owly enters a contest to help the birds with a bird bath of his own creation. Happiness and sadness follow.

Despite being Top Shelf’s FCBD comic, it’s not shorted on the printing values, either. This is printed on nice stock white paper that holds the ink line beautifully.

6. G.I. SPY #1: This is from Boom! Studios, written by Andrew Cosby and drawn by Matt Haley. It’s a WWII story of a G.I. who becomes a spy with a penchant for bad one-liners. Although there are a couple of good bits in the issue, it feels mostly empty. It’s so busy trying to be an action thriller that it forgets the little things like giving the reader a character to root for, and an overall plot to grasp. This is merely a sequence of well-illustrated events.

I can see throughout the blogosphere that I’m about the only one who wasn’t excited by the issue. I’ll definitely give the second issue a chance to grab me, but their reviews don’t track with what I read at all. (OK, the Einstein bit was cute.)

7. DESOLATION JONES #2: Warren Ellis and J.H. Williams III return for more in Los Angeles, as the missing Hitler porn case has some twists.

Without the events of the first issue fresh in mind, I had a tough time remembering what happened last month and what the current events meant. That’s not a problem of the creators’. It’s mine. That’s comics for you. I should have waited for the story to end before reading it all.

8. NITROGEN #1: This is the latest from Rob Liefeld, sort of an AUTHORITY with teenagers of too much power. If you loved comics circa 1993, you’ll probably enjoy this. Brandon Thomas tries hard to keep it readable with the scripting, but its not enough to save a comic with serious storytelling issues and an utter lack of motivation/back story. The story starts with the rebellious teenagers taking on an old superhero guy to steal something from him. Then, they go on to further slaughter and mayhem. Unfortunately, we don’t know what their motivation is besides youthful arrogance, or what their triggering events were. It’s like it doesn’t matter; the book is too busy showing us ugly characters being powerful and trampling over others. Oh, well.

9. BATTLE POPE IN COLOR #1: I held off on reading this book for a loooong time. Before Robert Kirkman was THE ROBERT KIRKMAN, he asked me to read this book a couple of times, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to read another assault on the Catholic church or religion, in general. To be sure, this book isn’t politically correct and is likely to hit several buttons of religious folks. It isn’t for them. It can be fairly offensive at times. I just found the absurd parts and the word play to be funny and effective. Color me entertained.

Tony Moore’s art is really good for such an early point in his career, too.

10. GODLAND #1: I’m not a fan of the 60s throwback-to-Kirby look. That’s what artist Tom Scioli is going for in this Joe Casey-written book. The story is so cosmic and old fashioned — while being set in a future world — that it almost requires that style of storytelling. However, it’s just not my thing. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the book, and a couple of things left as a mystery on purpose. People keep getting cut off mid-sentence early in the issue before anyone reveals anything. . . That gets frustrating.

It’s not a bad book. If this is your thing, there’s plenty to like here, including Bill Crabtree’s colors and Comicraft’s lettering. I want to keep reading so I can get to the point where the alien is drinking a martini on the cover. It’s just going to be a long way there. Otherwise, I’m not the right audience for this book. I mean, I can’t even get through most of Kirby’s early Marvel work, so how am I supposed to enjoy the look of a comic based on that?

11. STYLISH VITTLES: FARE THE WELL. Already reviewed it. There’s a new book coming up from the same creator that you’ll read a review of in this column next week. That one gets high marks. I’ll tell you all about it in seven days.

12. INVINCIBLE #23: This is the Allen the Alien issue. It’s an old Marvel style throwback book that takes a bit of time to read, but is worth it. It ties in to Neil’s previous appearances and the first year of the book. Buy the hardcover to see where everything fits in. It’s a worthy purchase.

The issue is an interesting change of pace, but I’m glad it’s just a one-off.

13. INVINCIBLE #24: Back to normal, and we get the semi-conclusion of one of the long-running subplots of the book. Sometimes, the construction of this series — its character arcs, subplots, large cast of characters — reminds me strongly of the glory days of THE SAVAGE DRAGON. There’s an unpredictability to this book that makes it so much fun to read from month to month. You never know what new character is going to show up, or what old one we’ll see in a new light. Kirkman is keeping us all on our toes through this series. Serious fun.

The big INVINCIBLE #25 issue should be out any day now.

14. THE STARDUST KID #1: The ABADAZAD boys return — including their letterer and colorist — for a new kid’s faery tale. It’s very text heavy, but that gives it a nice feel, completely different from any other book on the stands. Michael Ploog’s storytelling goes from illustrated text to Will Eisner-esque character animation. DeMatteis’ narration is easy to digest, with a strong wittiness to it.

I wish more had happened in this issue. I read a lot, but did not get deeply into the story. That doesn’t matter – it’s interesting enough to warrant more issues.

Ploog’s art is captured directly from the pencils and colored by Nick Bell. I like the way the soft lines look, but I know others will disagree. Michael Netzer had some interesting things to say at his blog about reproducing art directly from the pencils. If nothing else, it’s good to see the argument met from a different angle.

15. NAT TURNER #1: This is the latest from Kyle Baker’s self-publishing concern. It’s mostly silent, minus a couple of historical excerpts from texts to embellish a scene. It’s amazing art from Baker, whose style changes for this book. It’s filled with shading and charcoal (?) work. It’s less concerned with a grid, a bit more open. For the second book in a row, it reminds me in places of Will Eisner’s work.

This is just the first part of what must be a very long series, since the events are merely putting Nat Turner in his place as a child. We haven’t reached the events that he would later be remembered for. . . It’s worth reading just to see the dramatic change in Baker’s style.

16. ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #81: I miss the smaller dynamics of Mary Jane and Peter and Friends. The “Who Can We Ultimatize Next?” stories don’t carry as much resonance. That said, this is a pretty good issue, just for the way Peter handles his moral question, and the surprising advice he gets on it. Things get even better in the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1, but that’s not coming for another 40 books, nearly.

17. SON OF VULCAN #3: Heavier on the plot, but there’s a very nice feeling with this book that it might go anywhere. A couple of the plot twists in this book were surprising, and Beatty’s sense of humor is still shining. Loved the “What’s Opera, Doc?” reference in there, too, even if there are only six of us who probably caught it.

I’m now really into this book, and would probably even recommend tracking it down if you want to read something inside the DCU that will stand nicely on its own. This is that one DCU title that doesn’t crossover with anyone else.

18. BALLAST #1: This is Joe Kelly’s latest creator-owned thing, with artist Ilya. It’s packaged by Active Images for four bucks. Once again, Kelly is unleashed to give us anything he wants, and once again he fails to create a satisfying story that makes sense in the first issue. While this isn’t as bad as your typical creator-owned first issue of a Grant Morrison comic — ooh, I can see the hate e-mail now — it does fail to explain itself clearly, instead gambling on a series of scene transitions that fall apart. I have no idea how much of this book occurs in the past, the present, or the future. Shame.

19. WILL EISNER’S MINOR MIRACLES: It feels fairly slight, but it’s still wonderfully entertaining, and done with skill and confidence. Eisner uses some amazing gray washes in this book — rendered in sepia tone — to really set the mood of the story and let his acting show off.

I wish there was more I could say in reviewing this book, but I’m afraid I’ve said it all before in previous reviews of Eisner’s material. If you liked those books, you’ll like this one.

20. RAVENOUS is the new OGN from Dawn Brown via Speakeasy. It sacrifices some clarity in storytelling in the name of technique — in this case, evoking Edgar Allen Poe’s work as hard as possible. It’s an interesting story, but the twists in the story aren’t pulled off with enough finesse to make the reader jump. The reader is always about two pages ahead of the story, which makes so many of the revelations anticlimactic. Catch the allusions to Poe’s work, though, and you’ll likely enjoy it more. I’ve not read much Poe, so those parts were lost on me. Thankfully, a few of Poe’s original texts are included in the back half of the book, with wonderful spot illustrations by Brown.

Pipeline returns next week with the second part of The Shortbox Chronicles, including a look at NEW AVENGERS #1-6, the new series from the creator of STYLISH VITTLES, and more.

Check the Pipeline message board for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes now, too!
You can still hear last week’s podcast through the MP3 file. This week’s is over here (as of Tuesday night).

Don’t forget about the VandS DVD podcast.

Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, and all political discussions are at VandS Politics.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.

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