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Pipeline, Issue #326

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline, Issue #326

20 YEARS LATER…

I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly excited about JLA/AVENGERS. I’m not a huge fan of either team, to tell you the truth, and big boffo crossovers like this are bound to get caught up in navel-gazing and searches for cutesy continuity moments. I’m not a big fan of cosmic storylines, either, and everything I had read in advance of the first issue seemed to indicate that this would be one.

Financially, I figured I’d be in better shape if I just waited for the hardcover reprint. But I could also imagine the arguments behind the scenes on that one. Marvel would want to do a nice hardcover reprint of all four issues — oversized — the week after issue #4 comes out. DC would want to wait six months after the second issue to put out a thin hardcover reprinting just the first two issues. The second volume would come a year later.

OK, so I decided to suck it up and buy the book for the sake of this column. People were going to ask what I thought of it, anyway, so I might as well have an answer.

Here comes the reversal of the first three paragraphs of this review thus far: I liked it. Kurt Busiek pleasantly surprised me with a cosmic storyline that not only doesn’t seem to stick its head up where the sun doesn’t shine, but also could pull some clever things out of its hat. The very last page of this issue promises that, piquing my curiosity for everything that’s yet to come.

The set-up to bring the two worlds together isn’t the most original thing in the world. Heck, it’s downright cliché. It’s another quest story, with a prescribed number of objects needing to be collected to save both worlds. It’s perfect for this series, though, as it gives both teams a chance to explore different portions of each other’s worlds. That exposure shows us how scary the Marvel Universe would be to a DC character, and how wondrous the DC Universe would be to a cynical Marvel character. The plot is the hook to give us all those character moments, fights, and explorations that we’ve been waiting to see for twenty years. There’s a grand mystery behind it all, but we have another two and a half issues’ worth of keeping the characters busy before we resolve that, I’m sure.

Busiek throws in a few clever character bits that sell the series. Hawkeye’s one liner near the end of the book is the biggest laugh-out-loud moment I’ve had outside of Keith Giffen’s JLA series. Batman’s disgust with The Punisher is well-reasoned and resolved quickly. There’s some question behind Superman and Captain America’s behavior, but that’s obviously part of the larger plot being slowly revealed.

You’re not going to get the modern style of storytelling in this series. Every page is packed. There is no decompressed storytelling here. When Thor throws his hammer, it tends to hit its target on the same page, and not three pages later after a sequence of panels shows us its exact route. Busiek’s familiar style of caption work and measured narrative highlight the story, while Perez’s heroes are all meant to look strong and sturdy.

Perez’s artwork is professional and, at times, exciting. He doesn’t take the easy ways out. That’s the mark of the professional. When faced with two double-page spreads to introduce the two title teams, Perez chooses a dramatic upshot on the Avengers and a lower perspective on the JLA to help emphasize the villains they’re both fighting.

I do have some problems with a scattered few figure drawings. Superman’s nose on the cover, for starters, looks like it’s bent to the right. Thor’s nose, just above, is pointed to the right and bent back at the tip. There’s a lumpy Flash head that I lost track of already. Superman’s head on the second panel three pages from the end looks no better proportioned than what most people would lance into Rob Liefeld for. (Or maybe the problem is Superman’s right arm being too bulky?) I can forgive the few minor transgressions, however, on a project of this scale. It features hundreds of characters and has taken nearly two years to finish, as it is. Every now and then someone is going to look askew, and it’s a credit to the artist that the occasional quirk sticks out so much.

But, let’s face it, neither the front nor back covers of this issue are the most interesting covers ever produced by either company. All the characters have the same look of dull surprise on their face that Kathy Ireland had throughout ALIEN FROM L.A. Their teeth are gritted, but I’m not even buying that, given the relaxed nature of the rest of the face. The characters meekly stand there looking half-asleep, like they’re actors waiting for the director to cue them to do something.

I think the first time I saw George Perez’s artwork was in THE INFINITY GAUNTLET. Due to a scheduling conflict with a DC mini-series at the time (WAR OF THE GODS, as I recall), his time was cut short and Ron Lim finished. However, those first couple of issues stick out in my mind to this day for their great sense of panel layout and design. Perez enjoyed drawing pages packed with characters, and doing so in ways that leant themselves to strong design work. Panels were laid out inside of sound effects. There’s not a lot of that in this book, but there are flashes of that brilliance, such as when the 12 objects at the center of the book are shown off to the two teams, or when the JLA first encounter earth. I’d like to see more, but we still have three issues left, so we’ll see what happens.

JLA/AVENGERS is off to a promising start. Perez’s art is, with a few minor exceptions, right on target here. Busiek’s story isn’t going to revolutionize comics, but it’s a perfect fit for the style and purpose of this series. That’s all I could really ask for. We’ll see where things go from here, but the first issue is a good value for your money.

THE TRIFECTA

Every now and then, the timing just works out. Three #3 issues came out last week: TROUBLE #3, FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE #3, and SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT #3. DC won the battle by a mile.

I had severe troubles with TROUBLE #2. Whereas the first issue established a tone different from other comics these days while giving us characters that might be interesting to follow, the series fell apart in the second issue. The plot went all over the place and the characters started bed hopping worse than an episode of DAWSON’S CREEK in its later seasons.

TROUBLE #3 is a step back in the right direction, pushing the series back into something approximating a teen comedy romp. It evens falls into the storyline of characters trying to hide other characters from each other for reasons they might not understand. (You’ve seen this in FRASIER a half dozen times by now.) However, I wonder if it’s too late. The detour it took last month might have derailed it completely.

The Dodsons’ art is as lush and gorgeous as ever, and Millar’s script plays well with the defined characters. But in the end, I just don’t care anymore. Forget about whether or not this is about Peter Parker’s parents or not. It just doesn’t hold my interest as a story about teenagers having a summer fling. The ending to this issue has been telegraphed, of course, since the first issue. There are two more parts to go. Can the series right itself? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT #3 is by far the most personal and most touching Superman story I’ve read in some time. Mark Waid talks frequently about not being able to write a story unless he can see part of himself in one of the characters he’s writing. He’s made no secret of how autobiographical the story in FLASH #0 was. I have to imagine that there’s a big chunk of him in this issue, as well. It’s a powerful story within the mythology about the difficulties Pa Kent has to deal with in letting his son grow up, and how the two can overcome the issues Clark’s alien heritage puts between them. Along the way, Waid also gives us the most convincing argument for the Clark Kent disguise that I’ve ever seen. It beats the hell out of the theory that Superman makes his image shimmer constantly…

FKATJL #3 is reality television meeting X-Men’s Arcade, with a little bits of a BIRDS OF PREY episode throw in for the heck of it. As usual, that’s just the excuse they’re using to get the characters trapped in situations they have to talk through. The entertaining part of the story is the way the main characters handle being imprisoned. Separated into pairs, their individual conversations dominate the issue, including the lack of a conversation between Fire and Mary Marvel. Kevin Maguire’s facial expressions shine in this issue, which is what the story needs the most.

Yes, you can go home again sometimes. I think this mini-series is proving it. I’ve never been so satisfied with a creative reunion as I have with this one. Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Maguire, Joe Rubenstein, and Bob Lappan haven’t lost a thing. I’d love to see this printed on slightly higher quality paper to let Lee Loughridge’s colors shine a little brighter, but that’s the only nit I could have to pick.

THAT OTHER MAJOR CROSSOVER…

The last of John Ney Rieber’s work that I read was the misfire that was CAPTAIN AMERICA. Not even John Cassaday’s art could save that one. The following storylines were just as bad. Even Jae Lee’s art couldn’t save the story. So I came to DreamWave’s TRANSFORMERS/G.I. JOE with a little more trepidation than I saw even JLA/AVENGERS with. I knew that the art would be pretty, but I had no idea what to expect with the story.

The story turns out to be historical fiction, and so far is devoid of political commentary. The central question here is, “What would have happened if World War II were fought between Cobra and G.I. Joe? What if Cobra had discovered the Decepticons before the Joe team discovered the Autobots?”

It turns out to be a pretty sturdy war movie set on paper, to start. It looks good and reads well. The only trick is that it would help you greatly to have some passing familiarity with characters from both universes. There are a lot of names dumped on you here, and while most of them will be made obvious as to whether they’re with the good guys or bad, it can still be a bit overwhelming. My G.I. Joe Fu is not as strong as it was 18 years ago. Even with the current comic, I often find myself working to remember who is who. This story might read better as a trade at the end, but I’m too anxious to see what’s next to wait that long.

A large part of that is due to Jae Lee’s art. Even without Jose Villarubia’s coloring, the art is so sharp here that I wish Lee’d draw a straight-on World War II drama. We need a return to war comics that aren’t influenced by superheroes or classic DC characters. Let’s just have a dramatic war story. Surely, there are some of those out there. Get a couple of big enough names on them and you won’t need to goose the sales by including Frank Castle or The Haunted Tank into the story. This is a beautiful book, even if the characters do nothing for you. Don’t expect to see the kind of hyper-detailed UDON artwork on the Transformer, though. Lee keeps them purposefully vague. There is one full page transformation scene, but for the most part the characters are rendered in shadows and at close distances. It keeps them from looking too cute and cartoony while set in the middle of a war scene.

Credit for the coloring on this one goes to June Chung, who draws a nice line at moody coloring before it becomes oppressively dark.

I picked five winners for last week’s giveaway contest, and all the packages went in the mail on Saturday. Congratulations to the winners, who will know they’ve won when they see the envelopes in their mailboxes.

Pipeline won’t be back on Friday, for a change. Sorry. But it will return next Tuesday with a look at CD and DVD-based comics items. You want to learn how to color a comic? You’re an artist looking for photoreference? You want to introduce comics to a kid who only knows PlayStation 2? Come back next week.

Various and Sundry is my on-going blog for non-comics-related reviews, commentary, and trivial links. This past week has featured DVD reviews of RUMBLE IN THE BRONX and EQUILIBRIUM. The weekly look at the DVD Release List is also updated every Tuesday. I also have a review of the first week of THE JOE SCHMO SHOW and some thoughts on the on-going shenanigans on BIG BROTHER 4. You also get links to scientific theories on the Five Second Rule, where a Segway has gone recently, the return of FIREFLY, CEO stupidity, and more. There is no advertising. You don’t have to register for everything. You can reply to any of the posts. Join the fun.

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.

Somewhere around 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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