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Pipeline, Issue #404

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline, Issue #404

PIPELINE PODCAST #10

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The New Comics Release List is over here.

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TRAIN-ING DAY

Coming to stores this week is the new Oni Press original graphic novel, THE LONG HAUL. It’s a Western heist tale featuring a lovable gang of rogues and a filthy rich train. While I was a little disappointed in the heist itself, the book as a whole is a pleasant read. It’s the art, though, that wins me over completely.

Pick up THE LONG HAUL strictly for Eduardo Barreto’s art and you won’t be disappointed. This is old school comic art at its finest. Barreto’s Western style recalls the work of Joe Kubert and Neal Adams and many of the past masters, at the same time looking sleek and modern enough not to put today’s audience to sleep. This is a remarkable achievement in art for Barreto, whose best known work for me before this was the vastly underrated MARVEL KNIGHTS book that Chuck Dixon wrote a few years back. There, though, Barreto had Nelson De Castro’s vastly underrated inks smoothing out his art, and a coloring team to add to the mood. In THE LONG HAUL, Barreto inks himself and the book contains no color. It’s all on him, and he handles it with striking confidence. He doesn’t need Photoshop to draw this book. There are no fake Zip-A-Tone effects or blurs. It’s all done in good old-fashioned brush ink, and it’s brilliant. Every line of it.

I don’t mean to oversell it, but this is the kind of old fashioned storytelling that comics today needs more of. It won’t just entertain an existing audience, but it also leaves itself open to be accepted by a whole new audience. The fact that so few comic artists today can contain themselves enough to put together a book like this is sad. Barreto isn’t afraid to draw multiple characters with full backgrounds on every page. He draws them from all angles and at all distances. He keeps to a panel grid that makes it all easy to get into. Even with all of that, Barreto’s style shines through.

Antony Johnston’s story is your basic heist story set in the Wild West. The first two thirds of the book is the most entertaining, as suave bank robber Cody Plummer assembles his team for “one last heist.” Johnston handles all the sequences with a nice sense of humor and a good-natured feel for the Old West. It has its scoundrels, poker players, hookers with the hearts of gold, business tycoons, and every other cliché you could ask for. In a comics world with such a dearth of westerns, though, that just makes it a solid cowboy story.

The book does fall apart when the heist actually occurs. Aside from one forced attempt to put the robbers in danger, the whole thing goes too smoothly. The ending is satisfying, but I kept waiting for another twist to send the plot reeling. Heist tales generally come in two varieties — the kind where you know the plan and the tension comes from how it gets screwed up, and the kind where you don’t know how it works and you’re amazed at how it’s done as you watch it unfold. This book is split somewhere in the middle. We don’t know how it’s going to be done, and then it gets screwed up in only a most minor way, as if Johnston realized things were going too smoothly and something needed to be a speed bump for the plot.

That having all been said, the story is entertaining. There are some wonderful moments and well-constructed scenes in the book. In the end, though, it’s the art you’ll remember the most. Filled with intricate details and staged beautifully, Barreto’s art should be the talk of comics for at least a short little while. We spend all this time dissecting bad art, rotten anatomy, and continuity gaffes — why can’t we stop to celebrate an achievement like this book? Why can’t we notice the tricks Barreto pulls to keep the solid black areas anchoring a page, or how scant attention to detail allows the mind to fill in the detail across the rest of the rolling hills in the dramatic landscape panel? Look at the crosshatching to indicate the smoke-filled poker room, or the silhouettes used to add mystery to the figures in the distance, or the menacing nature of the character in the foreground.

Finally, it’s in my Pipeline Contract to review lettering, so I need to add this: Aside from some misplaced capital “I”s, the lettering job in this book is one of the neatest and most professional I’ve ever seen in an Oni book. From the choice of font, to the shape of balloons, it fits the comic well. Credit to Marshall Dillon for that.

THE LONG HAUL is available this week from Oni Press. For only $14.95, you get over 170 story pages, and the best art I’ve seen in comics so far this year. You can take a look at a whole raft of sample pages courtesy of CBR’s News Wire.

NOT AT ALL BOHR-ING

When you think of fascinating biographical studies, you of course flash back to international physicists from the first half of the 20th century. What could be more fascinating than the jumping electrons inherent in quantum physics? Perhaps a raging debate of waves versus particles?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either. No, I take that back. I can’t lie. I was a science nerd back in the day, too. Like many people interested in comics, I went through my astronomy phase. I took the chem and physics classes in high school. I dabbled in biology and took as many computer classes as I could. (I actually set the school record at the time, but that’s another story for another time.)

Thus, a book about Niels Bohrs was not automatically boring to me. For many, though, I assume it would be. Rest easy, though. SUSPENDED IN LANGUAGE moves quickly enough and covers enough territory to be of interest to everyone. While some high level concepts of nuclear physics are discussed, they’re never so weighted that you feel lost for more than a page or two. When further developments occur later in the book, writer Jim Ottaviani does a good job in reminding you what he’s talking about, and keeping it all basic enough to follow.

It goes beyond the physics, though. This book spends a lot of time talking about Bohrs’ relationships with his fellow physicists at the time, and some of the political situations happening around him. This is Europe leading into World War II. There’s a lot going on. As it turns out, there’s a lot going on in physics, too. I don’t think we’ve had such a vibrant life-changing period of time in the sciences since then. Perhaps the era of the personal computer puts a lie to me there, but the concepts being thought up in Bohrs’ time are mind-boggling. Everything from the atomic nucleus to the ability of electrons to jump from the orbit of one nucleus to the next are the thoughts of the time. Scientists would gather together to brainstorm answers and share new theories.

It’s amazing how much of the stuff holds up 80 years later. Perhaps, though, it is more instructive to look at how much stuff changed in that course of time. Things taken for granted — basic assumptions about the model of the universe — were challenged and defeated. What science do we take as fact now that might be deemed irrelevant in ten years? Have we reached a point of scientific stagnation, where advances are limited to discovering new things or improving on them, rather than reimagining them? Is finding a certain genetic sequence as important as finding what a DNA strand is? Are we poking and hoping today? Or is it still too soon to tell? Do we need to come back in 100 years to see what tomorrow’s authors write about today, putting it all in a historic perspective?

Ottaviani throws a lot of stuff at the wall to see what sticks. The end result is a well-rounded survey of the time and place of the events, as well as the man who saw it all. Niels Bohr is, in fact, a bit of a bore. He talked at great length to say very little, confusing even himself in the process. Today, they’d call him eccentric or long-winded. In fact, he was always thinking. He just didn’t have the skills necessary to always explain it concisely to colleagues or the public at large. He stood by his beliefs in times of great political strife, including meeting with foreign leaders at the time of the development of the atomic bomb, in the hopes of explaining why such devices should not be used. He was, to put it mildly, unsuccessful.

The main story in the book runs more than 250 pages, all drawn and hand-lettered by Leland Purvis. There is a danger in the order in which you expose yourself to a particular artist’s work. In this case, Purvis is an artist I first noticed for his strange Dark Horse series, PUBO. Pubo was a bizarre creature with large appendages and Don King type hair. He was a government creation being tracked down by Men In Black.

Now I’m being asked to accept Purvis-drawn Europeans on the cusp of World War II, dutifully studying the emerging field of atomic physics. Niels Bohr is not an oblong creature. He’s a man used to wearing suits and crunching theoretical formulas in the name of greater physics. His wife is a “normal” woman. His fellow physicists were colorful characters — I’m looking at you, Einstein — but nothing worthy of such caricature. Purvis is able to capture a rough likeness and move ahead with it. He’s not worried about making sure every panel matched up to a picture of the scientist, which means he’s also not limited to the kinds of stiff poses you see on characters in licensed comics. This is a very good thing.

There are extras in the book, including a bibliography from Ottaviani. Most interesting are a series of short stories drawn by different people to illustrate footnotes in the main story. Jay Hosler almost steals the book with the story of Bohr’s education that leads off the section. It may be an apocryphal story, but it is entertaining.

The book is $25 for over 300 pages, with a color pull out poster inside the back cover. You can read some sample pages and get more information from the publisher’s web site for the book.

LOVE, EXCITING AND NEW

LOVE AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE is a relatively new series via Oni Press from writer J Torres and artist Eric Kim. It tells the story of Joel, an American man living in Korea making a living as an English teacher. Unfortunately, he’s a bit home sick and the culture is getting to him. Just when all seems lost and he has to make a decision about re-upping for another year, he meets the girl of his dreams. At that point, love becomes that foreign language. Or something.

The second volume of the quarterly series is much sharper and more focused than its predecessor. With the cast of characters introduced, Torres can zoom in on Joel’s day-to-day life, his attempts to woo the girl, and some angst-ridden meditations. If anything, this book plays out much broader as a comedy than as a romance. Joel is not exactly the smoothest romantic on the block, and his efforts to find the girl of his dreams again and make magic happen are often stymied in hilarious ways. The friends he’s surrounded with aren’t much help, either.

Jim’s art reflects the more comedic aspect of the story. The word balloons of a particularly chatty character force characters physically to the sides of the panels they are in. Characters morph into cartoony versions of themselves at the right moments, and dream scenarios are worked out with the proper amount of trippy design. (Yes, this is the second week in a row that I’ve referred to something as “trippy.” Clearly, I need help.)

I also like that Kim uses all sorts of DuoTone effects in the book. His line art is consistently thin, so the dot patterns splashed across the page help to add some shadows to the page, as well as an extra point of artistic interest. It looks cool to me. At the same time, though, I love the color job on the cover. (The scan accompanying this review doesn’t do it justice.) I almost wish the interiors would be colored, too, just to see more of that palette, even at the loss of the dot patterns.

This second volume is available today for $6.95. It’s 66 pages of story at a size just beyond that of the average manga size. The quarterly release schedule and square bindings work well to mimic the manga formatting and scheduling. The stories also conform to that standard, with each book broken down into multiple chapters of varying importance to the main plot line. Torres lets his characters breathe, giving them vignettes that help strengthen their characters without boring the reader. While there’s something to be said for paring a story down to its bare essentials, I think one of manga’s great strengths is its ability to let its characters ramble on a bit. They can go down a side road for a little while without losing the sight of the main story or boring their readers. LOVE AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE may broadly fit into the “Amerimanga” (“Canadamanga?”) stereotypes, but I think it’s doing the best job of it so far.

Sticking to its quarterly schedule, the third book is the series is due out in May. You can see it in the latest PREVIEWS catalog.

PREVIEWED NO MORE

Being a regular feature of Pipeline Previews that I inevitably forget to include in the column, this is a look at the “Cancellations” section of each month’s Diamond catalog. In it, the royal “we” attempt to see patterns, stories, and wild allegations where publishers and distributors’ announced intentions are concerned.

From Now Comics comes word that the return of RALPH SNART is short lived. RALPH SNART ADVENTURES Volumes 2 and 6 are canceled. The MIRRORWALKERS graphic novel from the same company falls under the knife, as well.

Slave Labor Graphics canceled a whole series of t-shirts, featuring the likes of Little Scrowlie, Eager Beaver, and the Beastly Book Tour. HIGHWAY 13 #11 and CHARMED SCHOOL #10 are also off the schedule, by publisher’s cancellation.

Image Comics canceled Jim Krueger’s CLOCKMAKER Acts 1 and 3. Shame. And I should be clear in this case: The official notification is that the publisher has canceled the book. With a company like Image, it’s not always that simple. The publisher acts on behalf of the creator in this case, so it’s not so simple to say “Image canceled the book.”

FORSAKEN #4 is also canceled, along with the overship copies of FOREVER AVALON.

Blue Line Productions purges from its roster ART OF BLOOD & ROSES, LITTLE WHITE MOUSE Volumes 1 and 3 PERFECT COLLECTION (recently move to self-publishing), BEST OF SKETCH MAGAZINE Volume 2, AS IF Volume 1, and PARTS UNKNOWN Volume 2 trade. You’re probably asking yourself right now, “What are those?” Good question. Maybe that’s why they’re gone.

DC is out of stock on a long list of trades and hardcovers, but no big cancellations.

Oni’s KISSING CHAOS: SWEET NOTHINGS one shot is late.

All of Dreamwave’s books are announced as “Publisher out of business,” which includes WARLANDS Volume 4, DEVIL MAY CRY #4, KILLZONE #1-3, and much more.

Geek Punk’s HERO HAPPY HOUR #6 is late.

VARIOUS AND SUNDRY

On Friday, I snuck the latest Pipeline Previews in for the month of May 2005. It runs down a list of 20 collections worth looking at. I completely forgot to hype it in this column last week, so here’s your second chance to read it today. Click on this link.

Also, the ninth Pipeline Podcast ran on Wednesday, talking about the latest new comic books to hit the stands. The tenth podcast will do much the same thing, only on Wednesday, 09 March.

Next week: Pipeline Commentary and Review #405: I’m Augie De Blieck Jr. and I approve this message.

Over at Various and Sundry this week: Complete AMERICAN IDOL commentary. What’s the problem with MILLION DOLLAR BABY? Math invades the NBA. The World Poker Tour begins its third season. I had a birthday in there somewhere. 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. This week’s list was a downer, to say the least.

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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