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Pipeline, Issue #415

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline, Issue #415

OLYMPUS

Consider it the Humanoids swan song at DC, if you wish. While there are probably a few more reprint volumes left in the dying imprint, I think OLYMPUS (Humanoids/DC, $14.99) is the last one of any importance. Like the John Cassaday-illustrated I AM LEGION, it represents new work from American artists in the European format. Terry Dodson’s CORALINE (or whatever they’re calling it this week) is left orphaned, now without a home in the States. I’m sure it has a swift guarantee of publication in Europe.

OLYMPUS is the brainchild of writers Geoff Johns and Kris Grimminger. The artist on it is Butch Guice, in his return to comics post-CrossGen. It’s the story of modern pirates and archaeologists caught on a savage mystery world populated by Greek gods and myths. It reminds me a lot of the Duck comics. I can’t tell you how many Jeopardy! answers I can respond to based on knowledge gleamed from DuckTales episodes (“Pennies, quarters, nickels, dimes/come to us while there’s still time!”), Carl Barks, and Don Rosa Uncle Scrooge stories. Littered throughout those stories are classic mythologies, characters, and storylines. In them, the main characters clash with creatures out of time over riches of some sort, but wind up having a grand adventure, learning a lot about their adversaries, and leaving with nothing but the satisfaction of doing the right thing. (Remember, it’s the adventure that so often motivates Scrooge over and above the money.)

In OLYMPUS’ case, you have a small fishing boat carrying an archaeology professor, her students, and one or two hangers-on. When they come into conflict with a smaller boat of pirate types, the kerfuffle kicks up a storm and lands them on a mysterious island. Combining the knowledge of the ancient history students with the more action-oriented pirates, everyone has to fight to get off an island alive that’s populated with cyclopses, Medusa, flying horses, labyrinths, and more.

Johns and Grimminger do a good job in setting up a wide cast of conflicting characters, each with his or her own agenda. There’s plenty of backstabbing and differences of opinion to make the human interest angle strong while still giving the reader enough of the slam bang visual wonderment. The mythological elements seem, at times, a little more forced. Characters pop out of nowhere, only to be quickly identified by the students or their professor, and dispatched by the uneasily combined force of academia and piracy. Let’s be honest, though: the brains always win over the fists. This is a fictional work, after all.

The writers do a good story in explaining everything you need to know to follow the story, even if I did slam my head against the wall a couple of times, thinking that everyone should know some of the basics. Again, that’s just the Duck side of me talking. Quack quack.

Guice inks himself on the book, and the results are fantastic. I like the rougher look to his ink line. Most inkers tend to smooth the pencils over, creating a slicker look than the originals. Guice’s inks are often just as rough and scratchy as his pencils. There’s a great balance of solid black areas on each page, too. Guice’s self-inking doesn’t expose any weaknesses in his art, either. Lots of pencilers need an inker to correct their weaknesses, or tweak something that might look good at first but crumbles apart upon further inspection. Guice is in the clear on that one.

Coloring from Dan Brown is appropriately, er, brown. As is so often the case with the more serious Franco-Belgian comics, the tendency is to color in darker earth tones. Think Vertigo, another imprint that rarely finds a primary color it likes. The style only distracts from the storytelling in one or two small instances. I think it might have helped to have a slightly bright palette to bring out the art more across the book, but I can happily live with Brown’s job. He follows the art well, and enhances it with subtle shading.

OLYMPUS is a quick read, an action jaunt from beginning to end, tailor made for a big budget Hollywood blockbuster with just a bit of story tweaking. It barely took me 25 minutes to read the whole thing, running about 112 pages. Those last few pages constitute the art gallery, filled with early cover designs, character studies, and layouts from Guice’s pencil. The package is easily worth the $15 for me.

Of course, would this really be a Pipeline review of a Humanoids book if I didn’t mention how much better it would look in the hardcover album format? Dare to dream. Someday, perhaps the people who are brave enough to dig through the rubble from DC to pick up the license in this country will go back and correct some of these mistakes. Still dreaming, I know.

THE MODEL COMIC

F-STOP (Oni Press, $14.95) is the new original graphic novel from prolific writer, Antony Johnston, and new artistic find, Matthew Loux. It’s a light romantic comedy set in the world of high fashion. A struggling photographer bluffs his way into becoming fashion’s flavor of the month with his camera’s clumsily unorthodox style, and one of the models takes an interest in him. Along with the help of some friends and a Sean Connery double posing as the wisened veteran photog, Nick has to escape the trap he put himself in while recovering his dignity, his career, his friends, and his girlfriend.

F-STOP doesn’t stop. It keeps chugging along. There’s a lot to happen in its 164 pages, and Johnston doesn’t shy away from getting in and getting out of scenes with ruthless efficiency. The good news is, the book is so much fun with so much light comedy and, later on, deeper character development, that you get swept along with it easily. Just when you think you like a character, he or she will do something to make you hate him or her. That just makes the reversal all the more appealing, as redemption is at hand for those who believe and those who remain true to themselves and their friends.

In fact, Johnston writes surprisingly high stakes for this book. Nick Stoppard goes from struggling to top of the world to the bottom of the world, and back. Nick is a strong character who just happens to get in over his head in a slightly comedic way. His problems start when he starts believing his own press and falls into the trappings of the lifestyle he said he didn’t want. He alienates himself from everyone, and has to eat a big helping of crow in order to claw his way back. Johnston very carefully plants all the clues and all of the supporting facts in the story each step of the way. This is very solid storytelling that doesn’t assume the reader knows something the writer “meant” the reader to know, but couldn’t.

The only problem I have is an occasional one with pacing. Some plot twists happen very quickly, but I would have liked to see them expanded upon a little more. The romance between Nick and Chantel, the model, is obvious to the reader as a matter of story structure. They’re right there on the cover which proudly proclaims this to be a “love story.” She’s the model we focus on from the very beginning and her big first appearance. Their romance still feels slightly forced to me, but not nearly so far as to call it a “contrivance of plot.” I can see it there, but it just takes a little more to convince me of its authenticity. Or, perhaps, Nick really is that dumb and Chantel is really that aggressive. Perhaps I’m reacting negatively to the characters, and not their situation.

The one scene that I thought fell flat happens behind the scenes in Paris, when Chantel loses a skirt she’s supposed to be wearing on the runway next. Her ex-boyfriend, the stage manager, has to get help to find it, which leads to — in retrospect — a foreshadowing of a revelation on his character’s part later in the book. At first, the scene goes nowhere, not being either romantic nor comedic. It doesn’t advance the plot. It’s a bit of color from behind the scenes at a fashion show. It’s only later than you’ll realize what Johnston was trying to foreshadow, and by that point you might have already forgotten it as an oddly dangling plot point.

Johnston either did his homework behind the scenes of runway shows and fashion shoots, or he bluffs surprisingly well. I don’t know anything about photography, honestly, but the technical terms Nick shouts out convinced me. The politics of fashion and design are another item, all together, but one that rings true to me as it does in many other commercial art forms. The world Johnston creates feels real, and that’s all this book needs to sweep the reader in.

Artist Matthew Loux is a real find. His style is just as you see it on the cover. It’s iconic, with a thick black line and lanky characters. Picture editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes as inked by Jim Mahfood, and you might get an idea.

There are some storytelling nit-picks I could point out, but I never had a problem following the panel-to-panel progression, so I can’t complain too much. With a little more experience, I’m sure Loux will see those spots. There is sometimes a feeling of claustrophobia on the page. Most pages don’t go further than four panels. This is a smart idea when telling a story in this smaller page format. There are still lots of pages, however, where character heads and bodies are being cropped off at the borders, or the characters are just way too close to the reader. The style adopted for the talking heads scenes reminds me of 60 MINUTES. Have you ever noticed the way they shoot the interviewee very closely? That head will fill up the whole frame, with no breathing room. That’s what this book looks like. I can’t be cynical and suggest that’s being done so Loux can skip the backgrounds. That’s one thing that impressed me about the book; Loux can drawn the backgrounds and place the characters in them. He’s not shy about that. He’s also sharp on the couple of crowd scenes Johnston writes in.

The photo shoots wind up as single- or double-page montages, which helps to open up the artwork. I particularly liked the opening one, which showed the nervous-but-in-control Nick working his magic like he actually knew what he was doing. It was in character while being a nice artistic moment.

The book uses gray tones, also, but not in an obstructive way. For starters, they’re very light. Loux isn’t trying to add a third dimension to character models here. He’s using the grays to lightly pop certain elements out to the reader, or just to add interest with a little bit of shadowing to break up all the white space. It’s a big help to the art.

All in all, the book is an entertaining and diverting read with a strong grip on its characters and the world they inhabit. The artist sells it with an inviting style that’s different from most everything else used in comics today.

F-STOP is 168 pages and available in stores smart enough to order it today.

REBOOTING SUPERMAN

SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT is an effective mini-series for what it tries to be, but it’s hardly something that changes my perception of the characters and the mythology. Mark Waid pulls off some neat little tricks and rearranges continuity moments so that they all fit together a little better than they once did, perhaps. But I just don’t care. I think this is the book I needed to read to realize that I’m not really a Superman fan. When the best SUPERMAN books of the past few years are Steven T. Seagle/Teddy Kristiansen’s IT’S A BIRD and Kurt Busiek/Stuart Immonen’s SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY, it’s about time to realize that the future of the character doesn’t lie in reviving the past. It lives for the future and current interpretation. (I haven’t read SUPERMAN: STRENGTH yet, so I’m not sure where that falls yet.) While I’ve tried to jump back on to the monthly Superman titles multiple times over the past decade, there hasn’t been anything in there to hold my interest long enough to make it a staple of my comics reading.

SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT is for professional Superman fans who agonize over every detail of the character’s origins. It might also work on total newbies, perhaps those reading their first comics in light of their enjoyment of SMALLVILLE. There are a few nice “a ha!” moments in there and a good ending that brings it all back around. You don’t need to know the current chronology to “get” this book. However, I didn’t particularly enjoy it.

I’ve enjoyed Leinil Francis Yu’s artwork in the past. He’s drawn lots of pretty covers, and did a great job with the interiors of HIGH ROADS, written by Scott Lobdell. Reading 12 straight issues drawn by him here, though, didn’t impress me. If anything, it began to grate on me. His panel layouts are wild for no reason. Will Eisner had insane layouts that worked for the story. Carl Barks had simple grid storytelling to keep everything accessible. Jack Kirby would break panel borders and throw in splash pages for dramatic effect. Yu has a layout sense born of the early 1990s, where panels are thrown about the page, overlapping for no good reason. While I never had a problem following his storytelling, I did have an aesthetics issue with his page compositions. All you need to do is flip through the book randomly to see where nothing ever looks planned. It looks like he puts all the drawings on the page and then decides how to border them up.

I don’t detest the book. There are plenty of great small moments written by Waid, and Yu’s art has some pretty dramatic moments to it. Dave McCaig’s colors are a perfect complement for Yu’s art. It’s a pretty book with nice moments. To get me to read 12 issues of a comic series, though, you’ve got to give me more. Maybe I’m just not the right audience for this book. I’m willing to accept that.

Waid’s original series proposal, a cover gallery (three covers per page, sadly), and Yu sketchbook material round out the package. The book contains 12 comic books plus more than a dozen pages of extras and a two page intro from the creators of SMALLVILLE. In hardcover form, the final price tag is only $30. That’s a good deal if you like the material.

FOLLOW UPS

  • Last week’s Pipeline Podcast is still available, in case you missed it last week. Click on over to last week’s column. All of the podcast information is right at the top.
  • Todd Klein popped up on the Pipeline Message Board this week with an explanation for the lettering style on DESOLATION JONES that I pointed out last week.

    The style is straight from DC’s superhero books of the early 1960s, like JLA and many others, really the house style at the time for inside pages on such books. The font was originally created for a Wonder Woman 1960s-style story, then used on the Julie Schwartz tribute Adam Strange story that J.H. and I worked on together. He liked it so much he requested it for this book. We’re both pleased with the results.

  • Last week, I also asked about “transparency.” How much should we, as comics fans, demand to know about the personal lives of creators to explain late comics? Just to show that I’m not making this stuff up, Bryan Hitch was driven to Millarworld’s message boards to discuss Paul Neary’s sick mother to fans of THE ULTIMATES 2.

    I wonder if all the details are needed because “family illness” has been so overused and abused that nobody believes it anymore.

  • I enjoy the entertaining theories put forth every week by commenters on Newsarama’s weekly shipping date changes memo. I’m shocked Graeme doesn’t link to it every week on Fanboy Rampage. It’s the same discussion of late comics every week, though, so don’t read too many of them in a row.

Don’t forget to check back for the Pipeline Podcast this week (subscribe to the feed), and I’ll be back next Tuesday with an all new Pipeline Commentary and Review.

This past week was another insanely busy one for my blog, Various and Sundry. This includes thoughts on lots of TV shows (THE SHIELD, ALIAS, 24, JEOPARDY!, THE APPRENTICE, SURVIVOR), and their new fall schedules, DVDs (TITUS, THE MUPPET SHOW, SCRUBS), and lots of the usual miscellaneous bits you’ve come to expect — people watching at the mall, more bits of podcasting news, the decline of magazine covers, ordering food, etc.


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. Shownotes are posted each week on Sunday afternoon.

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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