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Pipeline, Issue #403

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline, Issue #403

PIPELINE PODCAST #9

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The New Comics Release List is over here.

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SIN CITY: FAMILY VALUES

After a few short short stories and mini-series, Frank Miller did something different in 1997. He did his next SIN CITY story as an original graphic novel. Rather than create the story in five or six parts and then collect them all into a trade afterwards, he went straight to the square bound paperback. FAMILY VALUES is a single 125-page story. Without the constraints of a monthly page count, he’s free to do away with the forced issue-ending cliffhangers and issue-starting recaps. The result is one smooth story from beginning to end. Reading it feels more like watching a movie than any previous SIN CITY story, just for the structure.

While obviously not the first Original Graphic Novel, some looked at the book at the time as a test case for original graphic novels. It was the first time in a long while that such a big name creator would be doing such a thick volume of a popular series in the format. DC hadn’t even started doing its original hardcover books at that point, for example. And when they later did dip their toes in those waters, it must have been chilly. It didn’t start a large trend.

Given that it didn’t change the business model of the industry, I guess the numbers weren’t nearly great enough to affect much change. It’s possible that Miller was just slightly ahead of his time. It’s also possible that people expect such large chunks of story to come at a discount. Publishers can do that with reprints since the work is already created; all they need to pay creators is a relatively minor royalty. Maybe the ten dollar price tag scared some people away eight years ago? I don’t know.

So let’s talk about the story, instead: Dwight is back to investigate a shoot-up at a diner that left a number of people dead and sparked fears of a renewed Gang War. We know only that he was sent by Gail to do so, which means there’s a vested interest in it from Old Town. We’re not made privy to that until the end.

Perhaps surprisingly, Miho ends up the real star of the issue. She gained popularity for her earlier appearances in SIN CITY, and was no doubt a favorite of Miller’s for her quick and clean cutting style. In this story, she’s shadowing Dwight every step of the way. Silently, she drops in when needed to take care of the dirty work. The third act is a deliciously violent killing spree, as the roller skating assassin has her way with any number of larger and better-armed men. In many ways, it undercuts the dramatic tension of the book. There’s never any real doubt that the good guys will win and the bad guys will get theirs. Dwight gets roughed up at one point, but that’s only because he lets it happen and he has backup. You have to have a slightly dark side to enjoy this book, because the fun in it doesn’t have anything to do, really, with good triumphing over evil or David rising up against Goliath. The fun is in the surgical precision of the action, and Miller’s storytelling of it.

Looked at another way, the story is less about the personal peril that we’ve seen in previous SIN CITY tales, and more about the reason for its existence. FAMILY VALUES is a CSI or LAW & ORDER episode. You start at the end and work back to the beginning, looking for that last clue that promises to pull all the pieces together to form one coherent whole. And whether you find the ending satisfying or not, I think the road getting there is awfully fun. This is a calm, cool, and collected story. I like stories of characters at the tops of their games. That’s the category this one falls into.

It also gives Miller the chance to draw a number of trademark SIN CITY things. The book starts with Dwight cursing his car, an old beat-up VW Bug. Miho gets a highlight reel filled with great action bits. The set piece at the end is set up with a beautiful architectural rendering of a mansion that fits perfectly into this art style. There is a nice mix of negative space and detail present in these pages. In many ways, you can see Miller going back to drawing detail in and not just blocking out pages in shapes of black and white. He started drawing those chunkier pages in latter volumes, but this one reels it back in nicely.

FAMIL VALUES may not be the high point of the SIN CITY library, but it is a very enjoyable read, and one that attempted something “new” for the industry. At only $10, it’s also a nice addition to the library.

There’s nothing in the movie trailer that would appear to come from this book.

LOKI

I’m not a THOR fan, by any stretch of the imagination. While I grant you that I haven’t read Walter Simonson’s run on the title yet, I’ve just never been all that into Norse mythology. The only time I enjoyed the title to any degree was for the year or so that Dan Jurgens was writing it with John Romita Jr. on art. It had a decent hook and some nice art. My interest in that run waned not too long after Romita left. I became less forgiving of the plethora of gods that were showing up in the book. Maybe I should have taken it as a learning experience, but to me it was all magic. Any god could be created for any purpose to do anything, really. It’s much the same reason I can’t get into DOCTOR STRANGE or any of the mystical DC titles that might exist at any given time. I like the stories a little more grounded.

Last year, Marvel came out with a four issue mini-series starring Thor’s trickster brother, Loki. The art was beautiful, but I decided to wait out a collection for it and see what the reviews were like on it before I picked it up. Now, Marvel has collected those issues into a new hardcover, simply titled LOKI. With story by Robert Rodi and wonderful painted art by Essad Ribic, this is now my favorite THOR story. It’s not just good as a story of the Norse gods. It’s an honest-to-goodness enjoyable and solid story. You’d almost have to be a god geek to start poking holes in it. Thankfully, I am not. I can enjoy it.

The story of LOKI is set somewhere in the future where, after an unseen struggle, Loki finally wins the day, takes over Asgard, throws all the good gods into prisons, and now controls all. Think of Waid and Kitson’s EMPIRE, but with more Norse mythology. Rodi’s story doesn’t even turn into a Who’s Who of gods, instead focusing on a few select big names – Thor, Odin, Hela, and Sif, mainly. This keeps things focused, prevents the Where’s Waldo feel that books like KINGDOM COME had, and prevent any glaring deus ex machinas from coming into play. Put simply, it neutralizes all the elements I don’t like in THOR stories. This is a book made for people like me.

The story takes a hard look at what happens after you’ve won an unwinnable war. All those dreams you had can so easily come crashing down around you, as people seek to take advantage of you and remind you of what you owe them. For us mere mortals, picture winning the lottery, and then picture the long-lost relatives coming out of the woodwork. Like I said, these are the same kinds of themes that EMPIRE dealt with, but the book takes a different approach to it.

Ribic’s painted art works well at this larger size. Instead of appearing washed out, it looks all the more impressive, as if each brush stroke was now visible to the discerning eye. Comparisons to Alex Ross’ style are inevitable. These are two different styles, however. Ribic’s work doesn’t look quite so influenced by photo reference. Although I’m sure it was used, his art looks original enough to not be stiffly posed and painstakingly detailed after real life humans. Obviously, it’s going to be tough to find someone with Thor’s body to pose for you. But even the scrawnier Loki looks looser in this book. His face is filled with the emotion that you don’t see as much of in Ross’ artwork, just because Ross relies on the photorealism so much. Ribic’s more expressive approach works for this book. It doesn’t look as precise, perhaps, but it’s still enjoyable.

This is Marvel’s slimmest hardcover story compilation to date, but used on a very deserving project. It’s $18 for the four issues, reprinted at slightly larger size than the originals. You also get nine pages of Ribic’s character design work and cover sketches, both used and unused. Rodi’s initial proposal for the book is also reprinted in the back, and it’s fun to compare with the final product. I’m still not sure which ending I’d prefer.

THE PURGE UPDATE

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my plans to buy fewer comics from week to week. In many cases, I’d just wait out the trades. In some cases, I dropped books I bought out of habit or the misguided belief that someday I’d have a wealth of time to catch up with them all. Those long boxes sit untouched at the bottom of the wall of comics in my bedroom.

I’m happy to say that The Purge is working rather well so far, in ways both surprising and predictable. One result was immediate. When I get home from the comics shop and want to read a comic right away, I have more choices. It used to be that half my stack would have to be put aside, because I wasn’t caught up on a given series. Those books would get filed away with their unread previous issues and forgotten, until the next month rolled around and I had the same pangs of guilt, coupled with the frustration of spending money on books I couldn’t read right away. That doesn’t happen nearly as much anymore.

On the downer side, that means I have a bunch of orphaned series and storylines sitting in boxes likely never to be read. Sometimes, sacrifices have to be made in the short term for the long term’s good.

In addition, I’m buying more trades. It’s not an awful number. I’m not buying more than one or two per week right now, though I realize that number may increase dramatically in a few months as the books I dropped start showing up in collected editions. It’s enough that I can keep up with them. It only takes 40 minutes, usually, to read 6 issues of a series. Sometimes, it’s a little less. I think LOKI took about 35 minutes. That would have been faster if I didn’t spend as much time soaking in the artwork as I did. Being in a trade habit, though, has changed this column. In case you hadn’t noticed, I reviewed nothing but trade paperbacks and hardcover collections in the first two months or this year, and plan on keeping that habit up for as long as possible.

There’s something else about trades that I like: They’re more self-limiting. I can recognize the limits of my schedule to read them. Buying “just one more trade” is at least a half hour investment of time. Buying “just one more single issue” is only a six minute investment. That’s a fairly small price to pay for the return. Keeping the monthlies at a minimum and striving towards thicker chunks of story provide a certain set of checks and balances.

Unfortunately, I haven’t kept track in the past of my weekly trade paperback purchases. My monthly mail order shipment would throw that number off, anyway. I have kept track, however, of how many of those 32 page books I pick up from week to week. And I have the hard numbers there through the first two months of the year versus last.

In 2004, I bought 131 comics through February 28th. That made up the first nine release weeks.

In 2005, we’ve had eight release weeks so far in the first 2 months. I’ve only bought 88 comics in that time, and I know for a fact that I’ve read more of them at this point than I had at this point last year. Add in a ninth release week, and I’m still at least two dozen books ahead of the game. I’d also have to subtract out a couple of issues I bought to finish out storylines before dropping the series. That would lower the number just a bit.

As the trades for those series are released in future months, the cost difference may be negligible. My gut tells me that it won’t be, though. I think there are a few series I was reading that won’t look as appealing six months out. Combined with the limits of time and the investments trades represent, I think I’ll be far ahead of this game by the summer.

The Purge, as it turns out, is still a work in progress. I keep finding books that I didn’t realize were on my list and need to be purged. There are also books I like and add. JINGLE BELLE, for example, has shifted from Oni to Dark Horse. I can wait for those trades eventually, but by the time The Purge had come I was already an issue or two in. I needed to finish those out before dropping the series in monthly form. I’m sure a couple of other mini-series will spring to life in the near future that haven’t been around for a while. Those will serve as reminders.

I also recently added Marvel’s upcoming G.L.A. mini-series to my pull list. The descriptions for it are hilarious, the art from Paul Pelletier is sure to impress, and humor comics are not guaranteed trades. I’m chickening out on that one, thanks. On the flip side of the coin, though, I’m keeping up with SHE-HULK monthly, and not buying the trades in addition to those.

While I’m looking at numbers, I should look at my other year end stats. I haven’t talked about it this year yet, like I have in years past. In 2004, I bought almost the same exact number of comic books as I did in 2003. I spent, however, 10% more on them. No, this completely unscientific survey doesn’t take manga into account. I count those separately, alongside the trade paperbacks. I just think there are more mini-series a monthly comics clocking in at $3 and $3.50 each to help skew it. A full year of $7 Gemstone titles also made a slight dent. The average price of a comic went up for me last year by nearly a quarter.

I had six letters printed in 2004, as opposed to two in 2003. While this is partially a commentary on the dearth of letters columns in recent years, the biggest reason for the single digit figure there is just my lack of interest in writing them. I have this column I can vent in every week.

Next week: Pipeline Commentary and Review #404: Make your circles complete and dark. If you make a mistake, erase your mark completely and then make a new mark.

Over at Various and Sundry this week: Complete AMERICAN IDOL commentary. Thorough AI discussion. An Oscars rundown. Next year, I may have to liveblog that one. The Grammarian. The ‘Enterprise’ protests. More general Podcasting news. How to kill Linux with Windows? And more.


The Various and Sundry DVD Podcast continues to look at the week’s DVD releases, every Sunday afternoon. Those of you with a podcasting program can subscribe to it right here.

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. Go fig.

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