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Pipeline, Issue #302

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Pipeline, Issue #302

THE OSCARS

Conrad Hall deservedly won for cinematography on the comic book-inspired movie, ROAD TO PERDITION. That was the highlight of the Oscars for me, although Adrien Brody had a nice moment when he won and the producers of the telecast were smart enough to let him talk.

LORD OF THE RINGS, once again, brought home the sound editing award, which is everyone’s favorite award of the evening. All that’s left is to see the third movie sweep the Oscars next year, to pick up the awards it so richly deserves. Peter Jackson deserves a special Oscar for his work in pulling this film together, at the very least.

However, it’s the biggest movie of the year, SPIDER-MAN, that proved to be the biggest loser, at least for one person. “…sound mixer Kevin O’Connell [SPIDER-MAN] broke the record for the most Oscar losses in history with his 16th defeat.” Susan Lucci and Randy Newman can eat his dust now.

Near the end of the show, it was a lot of fun to see a broad sweep of Oscar winners of the past 75 years. I took particular delight in naming the movies they had been in with comic book connections. You had Jennifer Connelly from THE ROCKETEER and THE HULK, Sean Connery from LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (sorry, LXG), Martin Sheen from SPAWN, etc. It’s like playing Six Degrees of Separation with Stan Lee.

DC LAST WEEK

[Y - The Last Man #9]

Y: THE LAST MAN is the most clever book on the market today. Where most books wouldn’t get past the sexual aspect of the last man on the face of the earth, Brian Vaughan and Pia Guerra explore issues that naturally arise from the fall of man and the ways that those left behind might cope with it. It isn’t pretty. Vaughan presents it all with clarity and thoughtfulness, though. The stories in the series so far have introduced new aspects of the world that I hadn’t previously considered. Why are female penitentiaries uniquely qualified to cope in the new world order? How does the lack of female pilots affect the world? Won’t all those crashed planes and dead cars block the traffic lanes?

It’s all done with high drama, but Vaughan never forgets to lighten it with a solid dose of humor. You would need a sense of humor to survive in such a half-populated world. Yorick is the perfect character to have at the center of this book. I hope someday that he makes it to Australia to reunite with his girlfriend, if only to see how the culture there changed in relation to how it changed in the States.

The 9th issue came out last week and is the climax of the current storyline. Yorick’s secret is out and the Amazon women are coming for him. It all leads to a tense standoff at a farmhouse in Ohio, and a shocking ending the left me screaming for the next issue.

THE FLASH #196 features fill-in art from the woefully underappreciated Phil Winslade. He does a great job, suffering only in comparison to Scott Kolins’ artwork, which has become so identified with the title. Geoff Johns’ story is steeped in characterization, making even the corniest looking Silver Age villain look threatening and compelling. If Johns’ tenure on the title has any lasting effect, it will be his humanization of the Rogue’s Gallery and their increasing powers against The Flash. Issue #196 is filled with moral dilemmas for the Flash, from his refusal to help a friend in need to the pitiful case of Peek-A-Boo, who seeks only to help her father, but does too much damage along the way.

If only for the recent Gorilla Grodd storyline, this would be an excellent series to reprint in an oversized hardcover format, like the ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY package. I hope DC considers it. I can’t think of another of their titles that so visually sticks out from the rack.

IN STORES THIS WEEK

It’s a busy comics week. For starters, DC is offering the new DANGER GIRLS special drawn by Phil Noto and the ZATANNA one-shot by Paul Dini and Rick Mays. There’s new issues of UNCANNY X-MEN, WOLVERINE, AVENGERS (with the new art team in place), FANTASTIC FOUR (Mike Wieringo is back), WONDER WOMAN (Simonson/Ordway part 2), GLOBAL FREQUENCY, and a lot more. I’ve only read through three of them so far, but it looks promising.

BATMAN #613 is the best issue of the Loeb/Lee run so far. The extra time that Jim Lee was given to get a head start on his deadlines was put to good use with this issue, which takes place completely inside an opera hall, with Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in attendance. Of course, it’s Pagliacci, and that just opens up the door for another clown — Harley Quinn, in this case — to show up. That’s right. Jeph Loeb wrote in another female member of Batman’s rogue’s gallery for Jim Lee to draw. I’m not complaining, though, since Lee does a terrific job with her, keeping Quinn lively and bouncy without oversexualizing her in some way, like a cutout portion of her costume around the chest, or a suddenly bare midriff.

The performance hall aspect of the story is not lost on either the writer or the artist. Jim Lee takes great pains in drawing the crowds in the theater and every architectural nuance inside the theater and backstage. Jeph Loeb, meanwhile, uses opera as a thematic element to the story, relating the tragedy so often associated with opera to the events of the issue. He wraps it up beautifully with a great twist at the end.

While the “Hush” storyline has taken its fair share of lumps so far for moving the story at a glacial place, this is one chapter of it that feels important. It advances the overall plot, tells a good story on its own, shocks the reader with an important event, and beautifully sets up the next issue with a harrowing cliffhanger. This is what the BATMAN comic should be all about.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #51 has Mary Jane and Peter happily back together again, a pair of lovebirds cooing in the nest. Writer J. Michael Straczynski doesn’t gloss over the problems of their relationship to make it look like they’ve all made up. However, the elements of the fun younger couple that many of us grew up with are back. Mary Jane and Peter Parker are made for each other, and Straczynski shows that here. Even their hesitations and nervousness show the depth of their relationship.

Issue #50 got some mixed reviews. To be honest, even I don’t know what to make of it completely. The imposition of a supervillain plotline into the middle of such a monumental moment in Peter Parker’s life felt like the worst of Marvel Comics, where no character moment was too important that it couldn’t be ruined by a random villainous occurrence. At the same time, moments of the issue felt like a throwback to Marvel’s hey day, when a wedding would be crashed by some cosmic bad guy. In a time when Marvel is working so hard at “moving forward” and not resorting to those kinds of plot devices, though, it didn’t seem to fit in with the overall line. In the end, I still have mixed opinions of the 50th issue, but I’m very happy with the end result.

That, of course, brings us back to issue #51. John Romita’s art is as lively and as fun as ever, matching the relationship of Peter and Mary Jane. His art maintains a loose style that never looks rushed. It keeps its energy from pencils to inks (by Scott Hanna), a trick that many artists never master.

The super villainous aspects are already leaving my mind, and I’m glad they are. The story starts off with a nicely illustrated history of a Las Vegas mob hit from a few decades back. It feels disconnected until it’s coupled with a gamma bomb test near Vegas, and you realize that it’s the origin of a new menace for Spider-Man. It involves a bunch of dead bodies being brought back to life through the energy of a gamma bomb that fuses them all into one. No, I’m not kidding you. It sounds too hokey for even Stan Lee to contrive. We’ll see what JMS and JR Jr. can pull off when the two inevitably duke it out, but it had better be one heck of a fight to erase that origin from my memory.

WILDCATS 3.0 #8 doesn’t leave me with much new to say. It’s politics, talking heads, powerful characters, and macroeconomic discussions. Oh, yeah, and there’s some superpowers involved. Blink and you might miss it, though.

The book is earning its Mature Readers label lately, as Agent Wax uses his powers in a bold new way and Cash puts a couple of goons on retainer. The issue looks a little different from previous efforts. While it’s still Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend doing the art, the opening pages in particular look different. They’re more shadowy than usual, with a thicker line. It’s not at all the delicate work that Nguyen usually does. It looks like the opening pages were experiments, since the regular look of the art returns for most of the rest of the book. This would be a very hard book to jump into cold right now, but I think that fans of Joe Casey’s take on the book so far will enjoy this one just as much.

There is a series of trade paperbacks containing Casey’s run on this series, and they all come recommended.

COMING SOON…

[Kore #1]

KORE #1 is the new fantasy title from Image Comics produced by the folks at Devil’s Due Studios. It’s a bit of a mystery to me after the first issue, but it has enough going for it to warrant a look at the second issue.

I’m not a big fan of stories involving the devil or aspects of hell. It’s not a religious thing on my part. I’m not very religious. It’s just that very few people have ever made it interesting. Alan Moore has done it a couple of times, notably in a SPAWN story from that series’ first year. Peter David worked aspects in to SUPERGIRL that were excellent. The rest of the stories usually involve melodramatic horned and fiery creatures that are set to rip open the bodices of nubile blondes posing for the reader. Throw in a river of blood and you’ve got a whole genre. Pick up a Chaos book sometime to see it in action.

KORE is different that all of that. The first issue gives us the start of the story without being the origin of the story. It’s an important distinction in that it lets us be in on the ground floor, but teases us with something new to learn along the way.

We’re introduced to Alex Crane, a down on his luck guy working a dead end job to pay off his gambling habit. His girlfriend is ragging on him the whole time, and throws him out of their apartment. This, needless to say, causes Crane to do some stupid things leading up to his possession by a demonic creature with red skin, two horns, and wisps of flame crawling off his body.

Crane’s girlfriend and his interaction with her are the most interesting parts of the book. They’ve got a good chemistry and Blaylock adds in enough character bits to differentiate them from the other luckless couples in comics. The book stands a chance so long as it doesn’t take itself overly seriously. This is the kind of book that could get bogged down in melodramatic fantastic nonsense. I could picture a writer like Peter David going places with this book, pitting the luckless Alex Crane stuck in a devil’s body against a world filled with people with bad attitudes giving him a hard time. It’s too soon to tell where the book is going, but I hope Blaylock doesn’t lose the humor element.

With inks from Cory Hamscher, artist Tim Seeley does a clear job on the art, creating an easy to follow story that never cheats for page count purposes. (OK, the sideways double page spread might have been pushing it, but there was a dramatic purpose for it.) His characters are easy to differentiate, even with the commando squad at the beginning of the book that all wear the same outfits.

Studio F does their usual terrific job working the colors on this book, and proving that a dark scene does not need to be colored like mud to work. They do great work, and have a great feel for creating mood without destroying legibility of the art.

KORE is a series with promise, but it remains to be seen how far it goes with that. If it builds up on itself, maintains a sense of humor, and doesn’t look focus on the characterization, it stands a chance at becoming a good book. If you’d like to see a sample, the first five pages are available on-line now.

Finally, the book has a full color ad for the new MISPLACED series that starts in May from Image. I’m looking forward to that one.

[Mythstalkers #1]

MYTHSTALKERS #1 is due out from Image next week. It’s written by Douglass Barre, last seen writing DEFIANCE at the same company.

This first issue is a great looking piece of work, with an appropriate late-19th century look to it thanks to the magnificent pencil work of Jiro and coloring by Robert Chong and Quantum FX. I’m almost even taken in by the Comicraft font used to letter the series in lower case. It’s almost appropriate for a group of proper-speaking Britons of 1893 to speak that way.

But how do I describe the series? The best way is to just use what it says on the back cover.

“Join Lord Marston and his allies in Mythstalkers, a tale of high adventure in the last days of the nineteenth century, complete with time travel, ancient gods, gangsters, scandalous women, trolls, orichalcum, pirates, mad science, romantic entanglements, gunslingers, faerie princesses, African curses, sea monsters, lost civilization, Victorian superheroes, wizened monks, the music of Queen, glowing babies, old coots and, of course, the fate of the world!”

The first issue doesn’t give you all that, of course. What it does do, however, is magnificently establish the characters of the team, show us a bit of them in action, and tease us with enough to bring us back for more. The only part where the issue falls flat is in the bit of misdirection in the train yard at the end. I have no idea how it happened. Either the artist failed to tell the sequence of events properly, or the writer should have had someone verbalize it for us. In any case, it’s a big part of the book’s plot in the first issue and it’s disappointing that it falls flat there.

Individual characters in the team are shown on their own before beginning their next adventure, giving the reader a little time to understand them better. These are not just cardboard cut-outs following the plot. While the characterization isn’t all that deep yet, the fact that it’s there and the writer is showing it this early is a very good sign. I look forward to the added dimensions that are to come.

Barre mentions in the letters column at the end of the book that he has the book plotted out for a full 44 issue epic. In this day and age, that seems like a near impossibility. Most series like this don’t make it past their initial mini-series. I hope this one breaks that mold. It would be nice to see an “indy” title make it in this market.

Right now, this book shows greater promise than Image’s other supernatural/paranormal investigation book, SHADOWS. The art and coloring is easier on the eyes, the story feels more polished, and the period setting is more interesting.

For a preview to judge for yourself by, check out Image Comics’ web site and their five page preview.

AROUND THE WEB

* Richard Starkings’ original lettering style is now available as a font through his Comicraft web site. It’s one of my favorite fonts for computer lettering, but isn’t seen today unless Kurt Busiek requests it for one of his books. (It was last seen shining on the pages of SHOCKROCKETS, but I first ran into it on NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD, a Bob Harras-penned title of the early 1990s.) Called “Hedge Backwards,” it may not be one of Starkings’ favorite fonts, but it’s definitely a fan favorite for me.

* The 2002 Squiddies were announced this past week. Our own Rich Johnston won for “Best Journalist,” and congratulations to him on that. (Yours truly tied for “Best Letterhack” with Joey Marchese in the 1994 awards. Remember letters columns? You do? You must be an Image Comics reader.)

I perused the winners this year, though, and was a bit shocked. Look at the sheer numbers of voters. I wonder if it’s not time to drop the awards. There looks to be a lack of interest. Take the Favorite Writer category, for instance. In 1997, that category drew over 400 votes. This year, it tallied less than 100. You can call it a throwback to the number of votes the awards received in the days before web supremacy, but it just seems sad, quite honestly.

Special thanks to Dewey’s Comic City in Madison, NJ for the assistance with materials for this week’s column.

Next week: Back to some graphic novel reviews, including STYLISH VITTLES, Volume 2 and HIGH ROADS.

Various and Sundry has been updated all week with the mandatory look at the week’s DVD releases, a look at The Oscars and the Razzies, a review of the Press Your Luck documentary on Game Show Network, how Google works, more American Idol analysis, annoying movie trailers, and lost more. Various and Sundry was updated every day last week. There’s something for every multimedia entertainment maven.

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.

It’s getting late and I still haven’t locked down my final summer convention schedule. I have my plane tickets for San Diego, so I’ll definitely be there. I’m thinking about Chicago again this year, and Philadelphia is very likely since it’s only a two hour drive from home.

Nearly 500 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.

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