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Pipeline 2, #181

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline 2, #181

UPCOMING MARVEL COLLECTIONS?

Over at the Pipeline message board, tennenbaum posted a list of upcoming titles from Marvel that are listed on Amazon. These are always subject to change, but the list seems likely and it might help some of you sort out your comics budget for the coming months. There are also one or two nice surprises in here that I hope come true.

April has a big time blast from the past, and a couple of long awaited volumes. The blast from the past is WOLVERINE LEGENDS: MELTDOWN, a four issue ‘prestige’ format mini-series from the late 1980s that was painted by Jon Muth and Kent Williams. This was before Alex Ross came around and everyone wanted to do a painted book. As I recall, it wasn’t all that amazing a story but it does get credit for style.

SPIDER-MAN: BLUE gets the traditional hardcover treatment that one expects with all Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale projects. I skipped the monthly installments (he says, tongue in cheek) of this mini-series in anticipation of the hardcover. I can live with that, and now I have something to look forward to in four months.

One last stand out for the month is FANTASTIC FOUR: IMAGINAUTS, the first trade paperback collection of the current Mark Waid/Mike Wieringo run of the series. I’m enjoying their stories so far, but don’t need another presentation of it. If there’s a hardcover solicited after their first year together, then I’ll have to consider it.

May is highlighted by the second ULTIMATE X-MEN hardcover. The Ultimate Universe hardcovers are what this format has been made for so far. The second Ultimate Spider-Man hardcover collection is due out a couple of months before this one, also.

(This just in: This book has been solicited for the next edition of PREVIEWS. Since most hardcovers from Marvel are advanced solicited by a month, it will probably be an April release for comic shops everywhere.)

Trades for the ULTIMATE X-MAN: ULTIMATE WAR, SPIDER-MAN’S TANGLED WEB, ALIAS, and WOLVERINE LEGENDS: LAW OF THE JUNGLE are also due up in May.

June sees the HULK movie adaptation penned by THE INCREDIBLE HULK writer, Bruce Jones. Paul Jenkins gets a third PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN collection. The HULK/WOLVERINE: 6 HOURS mini-series is collected, along with MARVILLE, THOR: GODS ON EARTH, ULTIMATE ADVENTURES, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THE HOOD, ELEKTRA, and THE INCREDIBLE HULK. That’s quite a haul.

July features an EDEN’S TRAIL collection. I really hope that’s not a mistake. I’m enjoying the book so far, and really love the format. A full-blast wide format trade paperback would be a great thing.

Kevin Smith’s SPIDER-MAN/BLACK CAT: THE EVIL THAT MEN DO gets a hardcover treatment, meaning the Marvel staff is fairly hopeful it’ll be all finished by then.

MARVEL MANGAVERSE: SPIDER-MAN LEGEND OF THE SPIDER-CLAN is a pleasant surprise for me. I liked the first issue a lot, and really enjoy flipping through the book when it hits the stands every month just to admire the art. I’ve been trying to cut down on my weekly purchases, though, in favor of more trades. I took a gamble on waiting for this one, and it looks like it may pay off.

THE ULTIMATES gets its second trade, which again is an indicator that Marvel’s staff seems to believe that 12 issues of it will be finished by then. Good for them. Now we can all sit back and wait for the hardcover edition of the first year. If all of the rumored additions and corrections make it to the hardcover, it would stand a chance to be an early favorite for anyone’s Best of Hardcover list for 2003

August has the CAPTAIN AMERICA: TRUTH hardcover collection, which is no big surprise. Alan Davis’ KILLRAVEN mini-series becomes a trade paperback. Chris Claremont’s ode to Kitty Pryde, MEKANIX, is also being collected. I’m a bit surprised by that. I didn’t think there’d be much interest in it. For all the alternative and indie fans out there, FANTASTIC FOUR LEGENDS: UNSTABLE MOLECULES gets traded up in August.

The best news of it all for me, though, is a second volume of SPIDER-MAN LEGENDS: TODD McFARLANE, Volume 2. That would make me very happy, indeed. It would mean that, at last, I have a complete run of McFarlane’s run on the title, without having to spend $10 or more per issue. I was afraid they’d forget about this series completely after the first one. Marvel is so busy printing last month’s comics as hardcovers and trades that it sometimes forgets about any of its older comics. While we’re at it, I’d love to see more of John Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR issues in this format.

Again, these are not official schedules from Marvel. (Nor are they a complete listing of Amazon listings. Check out the link to the message board at the top of this column for the whole list.) This is based on what Amazon.com has linked on their site. Schedules are always subject to change. Don’t believe a word of it until PREVIEWS hits a couple or three months before these release dates. Much of the list is no big surprise. Many of the series included have been getting regular collected editions, and most of the mini-series are custom-tailored for a collection. Get out your grain of salt and cross your fingers.

A LOOK BACK TO ASTRO CITY

[Astro City]

With the Kurt Busiek/Brent Anderson/Alex Ross series returning in a couple of months, I thought it might be a good time to look back on one of their previous collaborations.

ASTRO CITY: THE TARNISHED ANGEL is a great mixture of genres, putting a super powered individual (nominally a supervillain) into a situation that has some of the trappings of crime noir. The lead character of the story, Steeljack, feels a lot to me like any of the protagonists of a Frank Miller SIN CITY storyline. It is most appropriate, then, that Miller writers the introduction to this book. Don’t worry about content issues, though. Kurt Busiek keeps the book firmly in the PG or PG-13 area. You won’t get strip club dancers and excessive violence here.

At its heart, ASTRO CITY is a love letter to the superhero setup, taking the concept from a new angle, and adding a bit of whimsy and faux nostalgia to the mix. (You can’t really be nostalgic for characters from 30 years ago when they’ve only been around for a few years, can you?) It’s a great mix that has earned the series numerous accolades and awards. This volume is no different.

Steeljack was raised by his mother to refer to the heroes flying in the sky as “angels,” and wants nothing more than to honor his mother by being one of them. A childhood accident leads to a dead kid and intense feelings of guilt, which lead to a life of unfortunate crime. Now, he’s a recently released convict who’s spent 20 years of his life in jail and wants nothing better than to go legit, find a job, and live a quiet and happy life. Steeljack is a crook. Make no mistake about it. But Busiek creates the character in such a way as to make him completely sympathetic and likeable. He’s a tragic character trying to sort out his life. It’s easy to root for the “villain” here, although the word “protagonist” would clearly fit better.

The problem is that with Steeljack’s reputation and his physical appearance (skin of bulletproof steel), very few people are willing to hire him. Those that are willing to do so often find themselves getting rid of him just as quickly as they hired him.

When a series of killings in his neighborhood frighten the local residents, they pool their money to hire Steeljack to find the killer. He begrudgingly accepts, finding it a welcome respite from days of dreary boredom. There’s a problem, though. He’s muscle, and not brains. This is not an easy fit for him, but it’s all he can do without invoking the wrath of his parole officer, whose restrictions on his activities have effectively backed him into a corner.

What happens over the course of the seven issues in this package is an introduction to a new corner of Astro City with some appearances by previous favorites, such as Samaritan and the Honor Guard. It easily stands on its own, though, and Busiek is careful to introduce everyone very carefully as he goes along.

The forward momentum of the book stops in the middle with a self-contained story of The Mock Turtle, a cheeky British hero who arrives in Astro City with a story to tell. The story itself is fantastic. It’s possibly the best single issue of the whole series. Busiek ties it into the overall story arc convincingly. But for twenty pages or so, you’re ripped out of a bleak corner of Astro City, and transplanted to Merry Olde England for a bit of a row between a luckless loser and his intended lady. Busiek brings in elements of fantasy from various prose sources to match the more apparent Jimmy Olsen Turtle Boy motif, and treats the concept of following your dreams with respect. The character obviously comes off hopelessly naïve, but you can’t help but be captured by his imagination and book smarts.

Brent Anderson’s art is steady throughout the issues. He’s not the kind of artist you find making dramatic changes to his art from month to month. His style is rock solid and carries great weight to it. The characters and environments don’t look like comic book representations of the real world. They look real, with added depth and substance. He’s a perfect fit for a book more grounded in reality than superhero iconography.

The $30 hardcover is nicely designed by Comicraft. In addition to the Miller intro that’s spread out across five pages, each chapter gets its own title page, and there’s a nice sketchbook in the back from Ross and Anderson alongside a cover gallery that includes reference photographs Ross shot during their creation. The trade paperback edition of the book is ten dollars cheaper and features a cover that’s an homage to all those pulp magazines and crime novel paperbacks of the past.

ASTRO CITY: THE TARNISHED ANGEL is a nice addition to anyone’s bookshelf, whether in hardcover or soft. It’s a smart series that should have appeal beyond the typical superhero reader, without insulting those who enjoy a good superhero story already. It would make for a good Christmas present for just those reasons.

THE DUCKS ARE BACK IN TOWN

Steve Geppi just might be the smartest man in comics. If nothing else, he sure knows what he’s doing when it comes to his newly-acquired Disney Comics license. The man couldn’t be any more right with everything he says in both CBR’s interview with him, as well as the longer one at ICV2.com.

The long and short of the story is that he’s acquired the license in such a way that he can produce as many books in as many formats as he wishes. This allows him to leverage Diamond’s ability to reach out to new markets aside from the Direct Market with whatever format the retailers want. If Wal-Mart and Barnes and Noble want a format like the CrossGen Compendium, that’s what Gemstone Publishing will make for them. In the meantime, the hardcore Duck collectors can still get their fill with the full-sized prestige format books being produced for the Direct Market. Gladstone’s $6.95 price point for WDC&S and UNCLE SCROOGE may have been a bit high, but you can’t deny the production values in them. It’s the kind of price that kept new readers and young children away, but didn’t stop too many of the core fans.

Now, it looks like Geppi is ready to give both sides the best of both worlds. He looks to be running Gemstone in the same way that Mark Alessi is running CrossGen. Rather than trying to shoehorn his product into the market, he’s seeing what the market wants and is following their lead. There’s a lot of new outreach for the world of comics today thanks to those two men alone. For that, we should all be grateful.

There is a dearth of comics for kids these days. There are very few superhero comics that I’d feel perfectly comfortable giving a small child. Even mainstream Spider-Man titles have the occasional curse word. The re-introduction of the Ducks into the current marketplace is a great thing.

It looks as though the Ducks are in good hands, with promises of everything from The Carl Barks Library to trade paperbacks to “pocket-sized” books and more. We’ll have classic stories reprinted and new stories never before seen in the English-speaking part of the world. And we’ll be able to find them in more places than we have since the 1950s or 1960s. That can’t be a bad thing at all.

The long period of time during which we didn’t see Duck comics in this country just means that there’s a sizeable catalogue of stories to reprint from some of our favorite creators, including William Van Horn and Don Rosa. 2003 looks to be an exciting year, if only for this development.

Special thanks again to tennenbaum (the ever-affable Ben C) for the Amazon.com list used at the beginning of the column.

Next week: Christmas Eve sees a brand new Pipeline Commentary and Review, with all the usual reviews you’d expect to find there. And next Friday’s column will be a Year In Review sort of thing, with links back to some of my favorite columns of the past year. I’ll be ringing in 2003 the week after that with a look at the best books of 2002, books due out in March, and more.

We’re fast approaching the 300th straight week of Pipeline, and the 200th for Pipeline2. Where does the time go?

VariousAndSundry.com has been updated with a pre-game analysis of the finale to THE AMAZING RACE 3, plus the traditional look at the week’s new DVD release list, the worst movie teaser in memory, Leonard Nimoy singing the Hobbits’ praises, and more.

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 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML that’s soon going away.

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