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Pipeline, Issue #395

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Pipeline, Issue #395

PIPELINE PODCASTING – Updated 1/05/05

The next wave on the internet is do it yourself radio, called podcasting. At first glance, it’s just an MP3 file. But with the help of a little RSS trigger file to alert listeners to new podcasts, it becomes something not unlike TiVo for the radio. And Pipeline jumps into the pool with the Pipeline Podcast, the first podcast devoted to comic books. This week, it starts with a look at comics arriving at comic shops this week.

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll have the RSS file to include with your iPodder client, and the schedule smoothed out. For now, expect new installments weekly.

Listen to the first Pipeline Podcast here.

NEW YEAR, NEW BOOKS

It looks like I resisted the urge to do a year-ender column, the type where I declare a top ten list of comics. I’ve done it in the past, but just didn’t have the energy or likely suspects in made upon starting such a list. Maybe that’ll happen next year.

What’s in store for 2005, then? I’m hoping to carry through on my promise to review more trade paperbacks, collections, and graphic novels. The definitions might be a bit murky, and their reason for being a tad bit too economist and not enough creative, but that’s where I’m hoping to go in the new year.

Since I didn’t make it to the comics shop over the holidays, I caught up on some trade paperback reading during the break. It looks like we’re starting off the year right, then.

Coincidentally, the subjects of both reviews are black and white books drenched in sex and blood. Whoo-hoo!

BOY VAMPIRE

“Boy Vampire” follows a nameless ten-year-old boy who has been unable to die for 5000 years. Nor has he grown up. Since the time of the Pharoahs, he has been trapped in childhood. Due to a strange incident long ago he became invulnerable – every time the rising sun hits his body, all of his wounds are healed, no matter how grave. The boy has an enemy – a woman he once opposed in his father’s palace. Through 5000 ears, in many disguises and identities, she has pursued him, driven by pure hatred and only one wish: to finish the boy once and for all.

That’s written on the back of the first of four trade paperbacks now available through Diamond via SAF Comics. The “Boy Vampire” series is a fairly ludicrous one, beginning with two volumes that skip around and are fairly aimless. In the second half, there’s an actual plot arc that develops, along with explanations that start to pull the series together while sounding far fetched on their own. Have you ever read a series about a time traveler or an immortal who inevitably has met half of the famous people in world history you might be curious about? Yes, this book suffers from that, too, along with a weak attempt to link together the ancient wonders of the world.

Summing the plot up in a single sentence: Carlos Trillo’s story follows the nameless boy as he befriends an old Indian man living in New York City, travels to New Orleans with said Indian’s daughter and her aunt, and then has a misadventure that leads to much more death and dismemberment, before traveling to London where another man and his young daughter are placed in danger by the boy, who’s apparently too tired to see the obvious happening in front of him.

The boy’s nemesis, Ahmasi, is a comely woman who survives through those five millennia as a prostitute, more or less. Men are weak and she controls them with her shapely figure, though she’s long grown bored of it. She wants to kill the nameless boy because she wants to be the only immortal. That matters to her. Don’t ask me to explain why. In fact, don’t ask me to explain much of the “vampire” mythology in this book. I learned to glaze over it whenever it was forced upon me. They are all magical plot devices of Trillo’s creation to carry the action to where he wants it to go, giving us plenty of blood-letting and sex along the way to keep our attention.

The real reason to read this series is the art by Eduardo Risso. In the days before 100 BULLETS, he pounded out these 12 page serials with amazing creativity and flair. At least, he does for the first half of this series. You can see elements of HELLBOY and SIN CITY in his black and white artwork. It’s stunning, but not derivative. The solid black areas give the pages weight, and the high contrast art style is appropriate for the story.

Risso populates his backgrounds with the kind of stories-within-stories he’s used in 100 BULLETS. He has a good compositional sense. His storytelling is clear, even when the script (and leaden weight translation) is not.

For the first half of the story, the art carries you through the story’s murkiness. Ironically, when the story starts moving in a real direction in the second pair of books, Risso’s art becomes more simplistic and less interesting. He still takes some chances, but it’s not enough compared to the first half of this book.

You’ll also have to ignore the Whizbang lettering font used on the series. There aren’t any typos that I found with it, but there are a few balloons that read in counterintuitive orders.

The four volumes are $9.95 each, but the first two books are the real bargains. Those are 132 and 156 pages in length. The second two are only 88 and 100. The books are oversized, though, which presents the artwork nicely, particularly for the more detailed architectural shots.

As an art book, I’d recommend the first two volumes only. As a nice bonus, they’re also your best value. If you do get hooked by the story and want to know what happens further and the silly extremes and dues ex machinas that Trillo uses to take us there, then you should pick up the last two. Don’t expect a satisfying ending, though. It uses on one of movie’s greatest clichés of the past two decades to undermine itself. It’s almost not fair.

I should warn you: The book contains plenty of blood, gunshots, and naked women. This isn’t all-ages appropriate material, even if the protagonist appears to be a 10-year-old boy.

SIN CITY

With the release of the movie trailer, interest in Frank Miller’s SIN CITY series has risen dramatically. I’ve talked about it being the comic book movie I’m most looking forward to in the past, so I started looking back at those stories over the Christmas break. Dark Horse is re-releasing all of the trades in the coming months in a new 6 x 9 inch format.

Shrinking the books down doesn’t produce an item I want to buy, but I also don’t think it’ll be damaging to the material. Throughout the series, Miller uses large images and few panels per page. His high contrast art style makes the story easy to read both at large and small sizes. The lettering is also large enough to show through easily at the smaller size.

With that in mind, here are my new reviews of the first two volumes.

SIN CITY: THE HARD GOODBYE

The original SIN CITY series still holds up, almost 15 years after its first publication. Quick: Think back to 1991-1992. How many other titles can you say that about today?

In fact, I was surprised in re-re-re-reading it this past week how much more I appreciate it today than I did in those first few readings. I think part of it has to do with the impact the visuals had on me. I was a bit blinded to the story by Miller’s art. Anything I didn’t grasp right off the bat I’d glance over. I didn’t want to stumble over the visuals. Miller’s writing is intentionally meant to be a roller coaster ride, and the momentum is everything. These books aren’t so dense or long that they can’t be consumed in a single sitting. I’d suggest that for all these trades, as it maintains momentum and keeps all the characters straight in your mind better.

This time through, I stuck with the story. I had no problems. It’s not that difficult a story to grasp. And knowing what I know about the follow-ups and the city itself now, I think, makes a deeper understanding of it easier. The noir qualities jumped out at me more.

I should point out that the book is not supposed to be set in the real world at a specific time. It’s a mish-mash of sensibilities, locations, and technologies. Miller doesn’t attempt to place Sin City in the real world. “Sin City” is short for “Basin City,” and any resemblance to Vegas is superficial. Timewise, there are references to modern tech, but a reliance on older cars. Don’t try to figure out if this book is an alternative history or future. Just enjoy it for what it is and the world Miller creates.

Though many consider this to be the best SIN CITY tale, it’s not mine. I think there are two that are stronger, for different reasons. We’ll get to those in a few weeks, though. . .

In this original series, Marv is a big thug with a mental problem, capable of calming down with the help of his drugs and his parole officer. When his lady friend — and that’s putting it politely — is dead in his bed The Morning After, all heck breaks loose. There is a bigger plot going on dealing with prostitute death and dismemberment that he’s unfortunately stumbled onto. Marv, with a heart of gold, takes on perhaps a bit more than he can chew and vows to avenge the dearly departed Goldie. It leads to only bad things. . .

Frank Miller is still working on his style for this series throughout the book. It progresses to a higher and higher level of contrast with each entry. Don’t forget: this story was originally presented over 13 months in Dark Horse Presents. Miller changed as the story went on.

This is a hard as nails noir pulp thriller. It pulls no punches and flinches from nothing. Miller draws all sorts of violent acts, and doesn’t shy away from drawing anyone naked, and then glorifying that. That goes for both men and women, though I don’t think any full male nudity occurred until the second volume.

Using Marv’s point of view for the narrative gives Miller the chance to write the kind of prose that even the most hard-boiled of novel writers might think goes too far. It gets better in future volumes, though. This is all part of why I don’t think the original story is the best of the lot. It is, however, better than 90% of the books you picked up at the comics shop last week.

In the movie trailer, Marv shows up prominently, with a few panels from the comic used in the movie quite obviously. See Marv bust through his own door. See Marv kick through a police car’s window. See Marv mourn Goldie.

Mickey Rourke looks a lot like Marv with the help of some makeup and a facial appliance, but the question is how believable will that makeup be for longer than a second here or there. Right now, it sticks out an awful lot.

A DAME TO KILL FOR

. . .is the second volume, but begins in continuity before the first. The clues for this are not subtle at all, but I don’t want to spoil anything about the first book. Miller gives the continuity-hungry some morsels to chew on in the course of the book to see which events occur in parallel to Marv’s first story.

ADTKF is the story of Dwight, a recovering alcoholic and now stealthy photographer. He shoots incriminating photos for a sleazy (aren’t they all?) private detective in Sin City. He has one weak spot – an old flame by the name of Ava. And when she comes to him for help, he can’t help but fall for her all over again. In the process, Dwight comes into contact with the women of Old Town, the den of inequity for Sin City’s sex trade. That pays off in a big way in the next volume.

This book is almost over-the-top in its melodrama. This is pulpish noir taken to an extreme: the charming wiles of the beautiful woman, the internal monologues from the lead, the calm gunman, the calculating shrew, the damsel in distress. Miller is throwing everything at the wall here. It all sticks. This is a book that works not despite those clichés, but because of them. Miller brings the reader into this world from the first page and doesn’t let up. He doesn’t attempt to soften it at all with self-aware comments or metatextual narrative. This is pure Sin City, and it’s an unflinching style that only grows stronger with each story.

You can also see the high contrast artwork settling in here. There’s no going back. If a page can be drawn by throwing in only the shadows in a thick Sharpie marker, that’s what Miller does. It’s a style he’ll go even further with in the next volume before pulling back a bit and mixing it up again. In reading these books in rapid succession, it’s interesting to see the evolution of the art. You wouldn’t necessarily notice all this over the course of years or even months in reading the books.

What the book lacks is either the grand scale bombast of THE BIG FAT KILL, the political intrigue of FAMILY VALUES, or the extremely personal narrative of THAT YELLOW BASTARD. Because it’s a general mish mash of all those things in parts, but focusing on none, it’s not my favorite of the books. It’s still great stuff, but I don’t think it’s the best.

The movie trailer appears to skip over this book, although the next couple are featured heavily.

I’ll get to the next two collections — THE BIG FAT KILL and THAT YELLOW BASTARD — later this month.

BITS AND PIECES

  • Whatever happened to MARVELS 2? Announced in July 2003, it would feature Kurt Busiek looking at the Marvel universe through Phil Sheldon’s eyes again, from 1973 to the end of the 1980s. Jay Anacleto was the announced artist. Since Anacleto isn’t known for being a speed demon, I didn’t expect the book to start up right away. 2004 has come and gone already, though. What happened?

    The tenth anniversary hardcover edition of the original mini-series did hit the stands in 2004, though.

  • I can’t imagine why DC would be upset with Jae Lee for leaving halfway through a Batman mini-series that’s been in the works just this side of forever. I mean, can you blame Lee for taking time away from that for the thrill of drawing WITCHBLADE AND TOMB RAIDER #1 and DARKNESS AND TOMB RAIDER #1, due out in March?
  • Larry Young’s PROOF OF CONCEPT is out now at a comics shop near you. It’s in slightly better shape than my earlier review might have led you to believe. The lettering kinks are worked out, which is a big improvement. Also, the pages have a slick glossy coating that’s new to the AiT/PlanetLar trade paperback catalog. Nice stuff.

  • Pipeline Previews tested out a new format for 2005 last week, highlighting some of the collections and graphic novels hitting the streets in March of 2005. It’s a format I like and one that fits in with the Pipeline 2005 Mission Statement. I’m not sure if it’s going to be The One Format yet or not. If you have any objections or appreciations, drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Next week: Pipeline catches up a bit on the weekly release lists. I’m sure there’ll be a trade or two reviewed, as well.

My empire grows:


The Various and Sundry DVD Podcast is now two weeks old, and those of you with a podcasting program can subscribe to it right here. It’s now listed in a category all its own – thanks, Adam! – under “DVD” in the iPodder podcasting directory. I feel official now.

If you don’t have a Podcasting program, you can download the MP3 directly from the blog below. Just look up the “Podcasting” category.

Over at Various and Sundry this week: More on podcasting, the empty mall on New Year’s Day, why is New Year’s a big thing?, iPod tech tips, a cool poker blog, the return of KenJen and more.

All political discussions have been pushed off to one neat side 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 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 also still available at the Original Pipeline page. I haven’t had that account in years, but they’ve yet to delete the page space. Bizarre.

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