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Pipeline, Issue #432

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline, Issue #432

SHORT BOX CHRONICLES IV

This column was supposed to be the conclusion to the Short Box Chronicles. This series was only meant to run for 100 comics, and I hit that number last week. All told, it took me about six weeks to read 100 comics. That doesn’t count the three BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL trades I read in the same time period, nor the comic book magazines, web sites, message boards, and more. That’s not what matters. This was an experiment in clearing out some unread comics from my short boxes, and keeping up with the new releases. I think I’ve been successful in that. Now, I want to tackle that shelf of unread trade paperbacks on my book case. Maybe it’s time for the Book Shelf Chronicles? Wait and see. . .

Like I said, this was supposed to be the conclusion of this series. It’s not. There are a couple of holes in this segment you might notice as you read along. Those books deserve longer reviews, and I’ll have those for you next week. I’m sorry for the delay on the LIVEWIRES review, in particular, but I’ll make it up to you with a couple of pieces of Adam Warren’s pencil art that you just might like. In the meantime, pre-order the collection of the series. It’s really good stuff.

80. DEFENDERS #2: Wow. That’s a tiring read. Don’t get me wrong — I love it. I just can’t imagine sitting still long enough to read the entire five-issue mini-series at once in trade paperback form. This is a book that’s very satisfying on a one-issue-a-month basis. That’s all you need. You need three or four weeks between issues to find the energy to read the next. Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis combine for a very dense comic book. Nine panel pages are not all that uncommon, and consecutive panels of characters cutting on each other in dialogue scenes are the norm. Kevin Maguire might just be the best “talking heads” scenes artist in all of comics. He imparts emotion and appropriately rubberized faces to all the characters he draws. That makes it interesting visually, even when nothing is happening.

I like the series, but like most comedy, it works best in small doses.

82. WHA… HUH?: At long last, Brian Bendis and Company (minus Patten Oswalt and JMS) arrive to give us a series of short but funny “What If?” scenarios. I laughed a lot throughout the book, often at the “sacred cows” they chose to shoot at. Nobody’s safe, including Galactus, CrossGen, and DC’s editorial staff. Even the book’s own editor takes his share of shots. Yes, it’s the ultimate insider’s humor book, but that’s fine by me. Not everything needs to be accessible to the entire general audience.

For that reason, it might almost be for the best that this book didn’t fall in with the rest of the “What If?” style books. Those books tend to recap the original story before thrusting you in a new direction. WHA. . . HUH? doesn’t have the time or space to do that. It assumes you know a lot about the industry and Marvel’s long-running traits.

Your mileage may vary strongly according to how you feel about Jim Mahfood’s art, though. He draws the whole thing, and adds in all the usual background gags and details you might be used to from him by now. It’s visually goofy enough to keep pace with the breakneck-paced stories.

I’d love to see a greater cross-section of artists attempt a book like this some day. I’m sure many of the standard superhero comic book artists would love to scratch an itch to draw a parody or humor book within the confines of the Marvel Universe. Picture a book like this with art from Mike Wieringo, Mike McKone, Alan Davis, John Romita Jr., Joe Madureira, etc. (I’d love to include a Kubert brother or two, but they’ve jumped ship.)

83. ASTONISHING X-MEN #12: What is it lately with major characters acting completely out of character to precipitate a plot point? Lots of people will be ticked off by this issue. Some good lines of dialogue and John Cassaday’s art take the sting out of it, but this issue ends the year with a whimper more than a bang.

84. JLA CLASSIFIED #11: Beautiful Butch Guice art, but it’s Warren Ellis’ dialogue that steals the issue. This one is worth reading for the one-liners coming out of the mouths of Batman, Superman, The Flash, Lois Lane, etc. Purists may have issues with how out of character some of those one-liners are, but I don’t think that pure an audience is going to be jumping for this book, anyway. I think they know what they’re in for, once they see Ellis’ name attached.

85. POWERS #12: I was hoping this issue would follow more closely with the events of last issue. Instead, we jump back a couple of issues to finish up that storyline. The two do intersect by the end, but I’m definitely more interested in the personal problems of our characters right now than by the police procedural aspect of the whole thing. Still, it’s a good issue, but I bet it’ll be ten times better when read as the concluding chapter of a trade paperback.

The back half of the book comprises the longest letters column in recent comic book memory. Only Dave Sim in his glory days, or Erik Larsen in his, could come close to touching this one. I have a feeling we might see Robert Kirkman attempt an entire issue of one of his comics to a letters column someday. Only he would be nutty enough to try that.

Mentioning those two names reminds me: I never officially welcomed Robert or Erik aboard the CBR bandwagon a few weeks ago when their columns debuted. Both columns have been an awful lot of fun so far, so don’t miss them later in the week. Click on their names to check them out.

86. HERO SQUARED #2: Welcome to Rashomon. It’s the old trick of looking at the same scene from two different perspectives. This allows Boom! the luxury of dropping two fill-in artists in there to make sure the comic hits shop shelves sometime this year. Unfortunately, the fill-in art isn’t all that attractive, and Joe Abraham’s art looks curiously flat this time around.

The dialogue from J.M. DeMatteis single-handedly saves the issue, as we learn (maybe) how it is that Valor/Caliginous destroyed their universe. DeMatteis packs the word balloons with reckless abandon.

Despite some of the visual letdown, this is still a great issue.

87-88. BANANA SUNDAY #1-2: This is Oni Press’ baby, a new four issue mini-series starring Kirby, a girl attending school with three smart simians in tow. Hilarity ensues when the simians steal the show. One is a lustful lothario type, one is the uber-smart William F. Buckley type, and the last is the dumb Hulk wannabe who just wants to eat bananas. With such a diverse cast of characters, it’s tough to keep the hilarity from commencing.

Colleen Coover has a great cartooning style. It feels very old school. There’s an obvious brush line in her work, with full backgrounds, a standard grid layout to the panels, and nothing distracting or fancy. She’s not showing off; she’s telling a story, and it’s one that would be safe for all ages. The artwork is good enough that I’m almost tempted to go find her previous work, but I’m not sure it’s my thing. (If you know what I mean. . .)

Root Nibot’s story is fairly mild, but still entertaining. There are no moments of high scary drama in here. Stuff just happens. There are lots of character moments, though, as each of the simians gets his moment to shine. There is an overall mystery at work here, also, but it’s not a rapid-paced one. It’s a safe comic, but very enjoyable.

91. GROUNDED #2: “The good news: Superheroes are real. The bad news: You’re not one of them.” There’s something about this issue that’s a little more challenging than the first issue, and not in the good way. The second issue has lots of new characters with lots of new situations to learn about all of them. Quirky superpowers add to the confusion. And does anyone really play dodgeball in gym anymore, or is that just the new superhero high school cliche? Wasn’t that done in FIREBREATHER? Or INVINCIBLE? Or both?

I loved the first issue of this series, but the second one feels off to me. There’s still lots in this issue to like — Paul Azaceta’s art, for starters — but the scattered introductions to new characters bothered me.

Check out Groundedcomic.com for more info and previews. Sadly, it’s a Flash-based website. Those things should be banned by Geneva Convention by now, right alongside the HTML “blink” tag.

92. FELL #1: This is Warren Ellis’ new one from Image, with art from Ben Templesmith and lettering by Chris Eliopoulos. It’s a 16 page story for $1.99 with a few leftover pages at the end devoted to the project’s origins. Just to make it worth your time, the story is told in an unrelenting nine-panel grid, packing in as much story as possible. It concentrates an awful lot on the atmospherics, establishing the city and giving us a done-in-one mystery all at the same time.

The only problem with the mystery is that it’s something I heard in one of those “Weird News Stories of the Week” kind of things back a couple of years ago. I saw the ending coming from the beginning. It undercut the CSI portion of the story, but Ellis still manages to entertain by drawing all the strings together at the right time.

For $2, it’s not a bad risk to take. Give it a looksee.

97. ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #82: This is a sexy issue. Black Cat flirts up a storm with Spider-Man for most of it. I almost feel sorry for Mark Bagley, though. How many rooftop conversations can he draw before going insane? At least the colorists get to have a little fun by making the scene take place at sundown. The background colors are interesting that way.

I know it sounds like I’m making fun of the issue, but I really did enjoy it. It gets back to Peter’s insecurity about being Spider-Man and everything that goes with it. This issue also noticeably takes place before the events of ULTIMATE SPIDEY ANNUAL #1.

98. HOUSE OF M #6: Yes, She-Hulk’s right breast does appear to be coming loose from its mooring in this issue. More stuff happens, but I’ve already forgotten why it is that the Marvel heroes feel the need to take Magneto out. You’d think it’s only a matter of getting Lyla in touch with every super-powered being in the universe. I suppose that would take too much time, though.

I almost have to agree with Jessica’s speech in the issue, too, about leaving things the way they are. Wolverine cautions her against it, and I suppose we’ll find out why he’s right in another couple of issues.

Give Oliver Coipel more time with his art, though, and an oversized format, and he could be pumping out a couple of very nice science fiction type European novels for Marvel. When he’s not busying drawing muscular people whomping on each other or chatting amongst themselves, his artwork can be just that detailed and interesting. Dare to dream, eh?

99. LOVE AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE, Volume 3: I’m pretty sure I reviewed the second volume of this series a few months back. Everything I said there goes for here, too. It’s a funny and entertaining book, but its protagonist is a loser. The big problem with the book is that Joel is only somewhat likeable, squandering all that good will with his inability to affect change in his life. Yes, we’ve all had that person who made our mouths go dry or our heart speed up. They’re the ones we’ve been unable to summon the courage to talk to. But, you know what? We either moved on, or moved up to the plate. This is the third volume in a row now of Joel getting nothing done, doing his “woe is me” act, and then moping about.

I can sympathize with his situation — stranger in a strange land — but unless he starts to act to improve his condition soon, he’ll lose any likeability he now possesses.

Eric Kim’s art is great. J. Torres’ comedic moments are strange and funny like they should be for this book. We just need some more forward progress, even if it doesn’t take us down the stock road of hero overcoming great odds to get the girl.

100. SON OF VULCAN #4: Once again, Scott Beatty goes in a completely unexpected direction with the series. Yet it’s still a lot of fun. You find yourself rooting for the kid, even when he’s tripping over his own two feet or making decisions you know won’t pan out. He’s a kid. He’s new to this. He shouldn’t be making all the right moves right off the bat. There are parts to this story that are very funny, and other parts that are shocking and horrific. Beatty nimbly mixes all of that together.

Keron Grant has a lot to draw in this issue, and pulls it off well, so long as you don’t notice the lack of backgrounds on many pages. There’s an energy on every page that can’t be ignored, though, even when it results in overlapping panels that are jarring on the eyes. With the help of colorists “Danimation,” though, it’s very easy to read and sort through even the jumbled parts.

101. MARVEL ADVENTURES: SPIDER-MAN #7: It’s Spider-Man caught in a quandary between the Vulture, Kraven, and the right thing. Sean McKeever handles the script this time, writing a nice story with a lot of zip in the dialogue and caption work. This is old school Spidey action, friendly for all reading ages. It’s also further proof that you don’t need “darker” anything to make a good story.

Pat Scherberger’s art on the inside is ten times better than the simple and awkward cover by Tony Daniel. The big fault in Scherberger’s art is that the linework sometimes comes off a bit muddy. I’m not sure how much of this is to blame on inker Norman Lee, or how much of it falls on Scherberger’s style. For a new reader or a younger reader, it’s more than sufficient. It’s just wily old cranks like myself that might be concerned about uniformly thick line weights in certain panels.

Pipeline returns next week with trade paperback reviews. As already hinted at, LIVEWIRES and TOP TEN: FORTY NINERS will be there.

Check the Pipeline message board for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes now, too! You can still hear last week’s podcast through the MP3 file. This week’s is over here (as of Tuesday night).

Don’t forget about the VandS DVD podcast, while you’re at it.

Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, with additional thoughts on the state of television in the new fall season, and a couple of anniversaries this week, as well. All political discussions are 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 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.

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