PIPELINE PODCAST #13
It’s a big trade paperback, original graphic novel, hardcover collection week. FLIGHT VOLUME TWO is far and away the highlight of the releases, but there’s plenty of stuff out there for everyone.
Listen directly to the Podcast through the MP3 file (9:45, 4 MB)
- Flight Volume Two preview
Blade of the Immortal review – January 2001
- James Hudnall’s blog
Greg Horn’s web site
The New Comics Release List is over here, for those who miss it.
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THE SILVER SCREEN’S SIN CITY
SIN CITY is an art house film masquerading as a comic book adaptation. Of course, the HULK movie tried for that, too, and was a noble failure. SIN CITY is a noble success, in large part because it stayed true to the source material and never bores. It also helps that it maintained a tighter focus than HULK and didn’t work too hard to justify its existence. There are no winks and nods at the audience. Nobody involved in this movie looks ashamed to be part of it. This movie knows that it’s highly stylized and runs with it. That takes a certain amount of guts, especially in the Hollywood system today.
It looks great. Having read through all the comics recently, it wasn’t that far a leap for me to see these visuals up on the screen. They are, as everyone has pointed out by now, incredibly faithful to the original comics, almost to a fault. Some shots are thrown into the movie not because they make narrative sense to the movie, but to better mimic Frank Miller’s style of storytelling, making small motions into panels of their own to lengthen a scene or keep the eye moving. I wondered as I watched the film about how distracting those shots would be to the “civilians” who weren’t aware of the comics.
The theater I was in had a good mix of people. While the reactions to the trailers — including HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and STAR WARS, EPISODE III — and the t-shirt designs outed the geeks, there were a fair number of people in the theater on a Wednesday night that were there for a date night or just to see an interesting movie. That’s my take. I could be wrong. They could all just be better at hiding their geek status. Who knows? I found myself paying attention to their reactions to the movie as much as the movie, itself. Have you ever told your friends to watch something because it was the funniest thing or coolest thing ever? Have you ever then sat there to watch it with them, and felt a little funny? You could feel the heat of their stares on the back of your skull, like it’s your fault if they’re wasting two hours of their life. I felt that to a much lesser degree with SIN CITY. This is a movie made for a comics fan like me, and there’d be hell to pay from those others if they didn’t get it.
I don’t think they were disappointed by it, judging from the post-movie chatter, and the reactions throughout the film. In fact, I learned something about SIN CITY from the “civilians”: It’s a funny series. The biggest reactions the movie got weren’t from the blood and guts. It was from the gags. When Marv drags a perp along the ground while driving his car, it got a big laugh. When Marv gets hit by a car repeatedly, the potentially awkward special effects got a good laugh, from people who were able to suspend their disbelief to go with the flow of the movie. That was a very good sign.
Clearly, Marv was the crowd’s favorite. Mickey Rourke did an amazing job under the makeup with the character, portraying the mentally disturbed brute with a heart of gold as a large physical presence, but one that teeters on the brink of sanity. Watch his physicality in the movie, as much as the line delivery. It’s impressive.
The only actor in the movie to do a better job was Frank Miller. Does art imitate life, or life imitate art? Miller only has a few short lines in his cameo, but he nails them. As the writer, do they just come more naturally to him? And if he is such a good actor, why didn’t he stop Michael Madsen in the opening post-credits scene, before he made himself look like a bad high school theater actor? Seriously, Madsen’s first scene is some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen in a movie. I could have read the lines more convincingly, with the script in my hand visible on camera.
Clive Owen worked well for Dwight, but bothered me when his accent would start showing through. I don’t think his problem was in the line delivery, but in attempting a hard boiled American accent for the role. Again, if you can’t suspend your disbelief, you might hate the character. If you get into the movie, it all works. The only thing that disappointed me about the BIG FAT KILL segment was the ending. In the comics, there’s a page that sticks out like a sore thumb that explains the story Miller would later use in 300 and how they won the day. It pays off in spades at the end of the story in the narrow alleyway. Without that parallel being drawn at the beginning, I don’t think the reason for the conclusion was necessarily spelled out enough for the audience. It loses a bit of its impact.
Bruce Willis’ Hartigan didn’t bother me at all. I can think of one or two other actors who would look older and pull off the role better, perhaps — Brian Dennehy, maybe? — but he did a good job. Can’t fault that casting. I think the story worked much better on paper than in the film, because it’s so much a story set in one man’s mind, but I’m not disappointed in it.
The soundtrack seems to have annoyed a lot of people, but it didn’t bother me. So long as there’s a saxophone in there to portray the old school noir feel, I’m happy. It is a bit obvious, at times, but I chalk that up to stylization. Some have quoted the old rule about, “If you notice it, it’s not doing it’s job.” I’ve heard that about comic book lettering, too, but I don’t buy it. I notice all these things.
SIN CITY does trump all comic book movies in one category, though: It has the best opening credits sequence of any comic book movie I’ve ever seen. Yes, I think they’re even better than the two SPIDER-MAN movies. I’m glad Frank Miller’s art didn’t go to waste for this movie.
In the end, I enjoyed the movie a lot, and took away something new from it. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Check that: There’s one more thing I want out of this movie: a special edition DVD release. I want all the bells and whistles for this one, including a running “commentary” track placing the panels from the comic in the corner of the screen so that we can compare and contrast print to film as the movie goes along. I’d love to listen to a Miller/Rodriguez commentary track. I want to see all sorts of behind the scenes goodies. Is that so much to ask?
SIN CITY has been out for two weekends now and grossed better than $50 million. One should think that a sequel would already be in the works. The only thing in its way for the Hollywood bean counters would be the 60% dropoff from the first weekend to the second. A DAME TO KILL FOR and FAMILY VALUES would be likely stories for adaptation, I should think, depending on actor availabilities and interest. It would be even more interesting for Frank Miller to create a new SIN CITY story to debut first in the movie, and then in expanded edition in the comics shops. I’m only left scratching my head that SAHARA beat SIN CITY for the #1 slot this weekend. I didn’t even realize that movie had come out already. If you can catch this past weekend’s episode of EBERT & ROEPER somewhere, do so. Their review of SAHARA is hilarious.
SUPERMAN FOR TOMORROW VOLUME 1
This is a book that works well if you think of it as a European-style Graphic Novel. Given that Jim Lee was living in Italy while working on much of the book, perhaps that’s fitting. FOR TOMORROW Volume 1 is a great artistic step for Lee, filled with the kind of researched and detailed settings that comics today lack. Lee includes the spectacle in his art as if it were commonplace. Brian Azzarello’s script sends Superman to such places as outer space and underseas and Metropolis, but Lee makes them all sing. The scenes inside the church, in particular, are spectacular. They have beautifully detailed architectural backgrounds and panels composed to show them off. Lee did not give himself the easy way out in this book. Every scene has a visual cue in it that sticks in your memory.
The heart of Azzarello’s story is the relationship between Superman and a priest that he chooses to hear his confession. This happens in light of a recent massive event in the Superman corner of the DC Universe that I knew nothing about before this. This part of the story is very cerebral, though. Azzarello spices it up with a friendly banter between the two that show a comfort level and a friendliness between the two characters that grows out of a sense of togetherness. They share certain things in common, and that lets them more easily relate to each other, even if Superman is talking about flying off to space or walking across water. It’s a double special bonus that Azzarello gets through these six issues without taking cheap shots at either religion or the Catholic church, specifically.
The story begins to go awry near the end of the volume, when the more considered threats that Superman faces are replaced with more supernatural threats that seem almost too “comic booky” for the way the book starts off. When an elemental threat hits Metropolis, I could almost groan. The great character study that Azzarello started off with is quickly becoming subsumed under the superhero playbook. From what I’ve heard about the second half of this storyline, it just gets worse. I have to take this book on its own merits, though, and I’d recommend this one for just that reason.
Because this book is so visual in its interest, I think it would make a great addition to the ABSOLUTE lineup of titles. I’d love to see more of Lee’s art in this book, even in the parts where he works too hard on the priest’s face. Is that Lee’s attempt to make a comic book character look more “ethnic,” or is he trying to caricature someone there?
Speaking of art books, let’s take a look at Image’s new printing of FREAK SHOW, a hardcover volume from Bruce Jones and Bernie Wrightson. This is a reprinting of a 40-plus page story from nearly thirty years ago. Two things jump out about the story. First, Wrightson’s artwork is stunning. Second, the art of comics writing has changed drastically since this story’s original printing.
Wrightson’s art is a fine pen and ink line, with plenty of feathering and crosshatching. It’s exquisite stuff, done with purpose. He’s not covering up poor anatomy with extra lines; he’s adding texture and lighting with those lines. Wrightson’s art knows that it’s for a black and white comic book.
I want to scan in half the panels in this book to show how good art and good storytelling go hand in hand. Wrightson varies angles in ways most comic artists today would find dizzying. He controls the black space on each page and in each panel to balance out the page as a whole and to guide the eye through the story. While he sticks with a grid approach to his storytelling, the art reminds me a lot of Will Eisner’s work. The title page looks torn straight out of THE SPIRIT, complete with an overlapping sound effect carrying on from the previous page. Plus, the rain looks like it just washed off from one of Eisner’s graphic novels.
Bruce Jones’ story is a horror short story given form on the comics page. By today’s standards, it’s wildly overwritten. I think that misses the point, though. Jones’ writing fits a different comics storytelling mold. It’s not bad — just different. If you have the patience for it, you’ll realize that Jones’ massive captions do more than just reiterate what is clearly shown in the art. He incorporates atmosphere and mood to the story with his florid prose. He adds dimensionality, not repetition. If nothing else, it slows down your eye enough to look at the art.
It also helps that John Workman lettered the story, giving a bit of white space to the lettering that makes it look like a lot less text than it really is. Anything that’s that appealing to the eye is going to be an easier mark. This story benefits from Workman’s craftsmanship.
Jones gets two demerits for using “it’s” instead of “its” in his introduction’s fourth sentence. It would be worse if it weren’t an established habit — the same mistake happens in the text of the story.
At the last minute, Desperado Publishing (going through Image) added three more short stories to the book, all written and drawn by Wrightson in the 70s. They’re much shorter pieces meant to pad out the overall length of the book. Their styles are different from the main story. The best looking one is done in gray washes. One looks to be from very early in Wrightson’s career, as the figure work is less sure and the ink line isn’t nearly as accomplished. The final story, in fact, is a two page short that’s more interesting as an historical oddity than a story on its own. The two pages are about 80% lettering and sparse illustrations.
The new expanded packaging means a higher price point of $15. Personally, I would have preferred the thinner cheaper edition, but it’s still all worth it for the main story.
The Pipeline Podcast returns late Tuesday night. This column returns next Tuesday with surprises a’plenty. I know I’ll be surprised to find out what I review. . .
Over at the busiest week in the history of Various and Sundry: The DVD podcast returns to normalcy. ABC jerking around BOSTON LEGAL? Google satellite maps. Daylight Savings — what’s the point? Sesame Street jerks around the Cookie Monster. NOWHERE MAN and PROFIT to DVD. The usual AMERICAN IDOL round-up spectaculars. And the man who wrote AUGIE MARCH died. All that, and much 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.
More than 600 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.
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