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Pipeline, Issue #501

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Pipeline, Issue #501

GEORGE PEREZ: STORYTELLER

I know I’m reviewing this a couple of weeks too late, but Dynamic Entertainment’s GEORGE PEREZ: STORYTELLER would be an excellent Christmas gift for the George Perez fan in your life. The book is a heavy oversized hardcover tome discussing Perez’s life and career from his childhood right up to his current DC work. There are chapters devoted to his original work on Marvel’s AVENGERS and FANTASTIC FOUR, the CrossGen years, JLA/AVENGERS, his return to the AVENGERS in the late 90s, and more. The high points you remember are all there. The more interesting thing, for me, was in seeing how they string together and came about.

I didn’t realize Perez had the reputation he did for flaking out on work. I know he had some relatively tough time in the early 90s with spotty work and scheduling, but I didn’t realize the issues went back even further. Thankfully, the book doesn’t shy away from Perez’s issues with meeting deadlines, dropping projects, and having difficult times working on books he doesn’t truly believe in. It doesn’t paint him as a comics savant, but more as an adult fan who likes to work on what he likes to work on — largely superhero books with large casts. If they have pretty females, all the better.

That said, the book does have its moments of fannishness. Some of the adjectives and descriptions veer off from being journalistically sound and more into the “We love George Perez’s work and let’s talk about how awesome it is when it’s great” area, if you know what I mean. The book isn’t done in the straight-on interview format, like TwoMorrow’s wonderful Modern Masters series. It’s done in a more biographical form, including interviews with other creators with whom Perez has work interspersed with his own narrative, and that of the author’s. I think that helps round things out just a bit.

The prose is profusely illustrated, with both well-known published full color art and more hidden gems. The five pages Perez drew for the Lady Death/Sojourn crossover, for example, are printed here for the first time. A thirty-page gallery in the back includes Perez pin-ups, sketches, unseen finished CRIMSON PLAGUE sequence, and a complete story from earlier in Perez’s career. A 12-page bibliography runs down the complete list of Perez’s comic work. Credit goes to Andy Mangels for putting that exhaustive list together.

Overall, it’s a very nice package and a great coffee table book for a comics fan. Perez has had a fascinating career, and this book will help put it all into perspective for you. I know I’ll appreciate his work on the upcoming BRAVE AND THE BOLD all the more for it.

GEORGE PEREZ: STORYTELLER is written by Christopher Lawrence, published through Dynamite Entertainment, and available today for $29.99.

SOME SINGLE ISSUES

It’s not all heavy hardcovers here at Pipeline World Headquarters. I’m still trying to keep up on the weekly comics, too. Here’s a smattering of what caught my eye this month so far:

  • I really want to like PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL, but it has one weak spot that’s becoming tough to overlook: Ariel Olivetti’s art. I’ve never been a fan. It worked OK in the first issue of this series, but the second issue is a giant step backwards. If I wanted plastic-looking figures and talking heads without any backgrounds, I’d pick up an issue of TOYFARE.

    Olivetti handles all the artistic chores in this book — pencils, colors, and Photoshopped photographs for backgrounds. I know there’s a proud tradition of fumetti in other places (Italy comes to mind), but it’s not something that ever caught on over here. I’m not sure Mark Millar’s forthcoming (eventually) 1985 mini-series can even pull that off. But that’s what the art on PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL is — comic fumetti. It’s a bunch of drawn characters (computer painted, I’m guessing) sitting like a cel on top of a photo of New York City for 22 pages. Mind you, that’s when there even is a background. There are pages where a rough texture constitute setting.

    Sadly, the book is just ugly to me now. This is the rare case of a series where I look forward to the fill-in artist.

  • Archaia Studio Press’ THE KILLER has its second issue in stores now, and it’s just as good as the first, if not better. If you missed the first issue, this is a reprint of a European graphic novel series about a lonely assassin. The first issue was an engrossing exploration of the man’s mind and situation. This second issue capitalizes on all of that soul-searching to bring events into focus that threaten to upset our protagonist’s life. It’s a tense and thrilling issue that has you essentially rooting for the bad guy. The color art is a little dark for my tastes, but the story is gripping enough to help me get over that.
  • I don’t know what’s going to happen next in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #537, though I suspect it won’t be the obvious. It’s just a joy every month to see the artwork from Ron Garney and Bill Reinhold. It’s old-school Marvel style work that proves you can still look good while telling a story. Plus, it has Garney drawing beautiful Captain America pages again.
  • CIVIL WAR: FRONT LINE #10 is an interesting piece of work. Clearly, it was meant to be the finale to the mini-series. This is the book in which we see Speedball’s transformation, which Paul Jenkins has carefully laid out for the last nine issues. I’ll give Jenkins credit for that, even if I don’t buy the abrupt transition in Speedball’s state of mind that leads to this change. And, honestly, Steve Lieber is wasted on this story.

    But the real talking point to this issue is the first story. “Embedded” is a filler piece. It’s almost comical. I’ve talked a lot about soap operas here recently, and this one mirrors the worst tendencies soap operas have to stretch out one story point for an entire week. The same conversation happens again and again and again, advancing the plot not one bit. It’s possibly worse with this issue since it takes place during events that have to be taking place in CIVIL WAR #7.

    Basically, Ben Urich and Sally Floyd have something they need to tell each other. It’s REALLY important. It’s actually the same thing. And they find a new way on each page to NOT tell each other what it is. It stretches credulity and the reader’s patience, especially when we all know that there’s one more issue left of this series, so we’re likely about to get teased. And so we are. Disappointing filler.

  • C.B. Cebulski’s DRAIN #2 is out this week from Image Comics. Between this book and GIRLS, it’s become obvious that Image is your place to go for naked chicks. Very pretty art, though, from Sana Takeda.
  • FANTASTIC FOUR #541 is a great standalone issue. This is J. Michael Straczynski writing with his funny cap on and making it work. The Thing has left the country due to the events of Civil War. Where does any good expatriate go? Either London or Paris. The Thing chooses Paris, and hilarity ensues. This is really close in tone and feel to the best of the Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE years, and it stands neatly on its own. Give it a shot if you missed it a couple weeks back. Mike McKone’s art is beautiful, as well.

  • NEXTWAVE still makes me giggle out loud, too. The eleventh issue is no slouch in that department, capped off with a series of double page spreads that I can only imagine is Ellis and Immonen’s attempt to fit everything they ever wanted to do in this series in as little space as possible. From the gorilla Wolverines to the ticking banana time bombs to samurai, mostly naked ninjas, Elvis Modoks, and more. I’m sad to see the series go, but forever pleased there will be two hardcovers on my bookshelf to pick up and thumb through at any time.

ERRATA

Some quick corrections to last week’s 500th column:

  • 500 is half of a millennium, not a century.
  • TEXAS STRANGERS is a new on-going series starring brother-and-sister, not a mini starring sisters.
  • Ladronn is a Mexican artist, not European.

  • Curiously enough, I used the word “ancestuous” when I meant “incestuous” at one point. I blame Word’s spell-checker. Even funnier, my column now appears third on Google for the search term “ancestuous,” after two links for what appears to be a heavy metal band of the same name. I’m sure this column is destined to be fourth in a week or so.

RESPONSES

Thanks for all your kind words of encouragement after last week’s mega-column. There were some nuggets in there that I wanted to share this week.

First, I have some good news for those who missed the ESCAPISTS boat the first time around. I heard from Dark Horse this week that not only is the trade paperback for the mini-series on their fall schedule, but that it will be in the slightly smaller 6 x 9 inch format. As I suspected, the lettering was slightly larger for just that reason. Sometime, it pays to notice the lettering. You can look like an oracle.

Sometimes, it’s also smart to acknowledge that there are people better qualified to review a book. Or, at the very least, there are those coming at a book from a completely different angle who have very interesting things to say.

Thus, I give you Brendan McKillip, with the quick warning that the fourth paragraph here would constitute spoilers:

I also just finished reading the final issue of the series and was thoroughly impressed with the story. However, I think you limit the impact of the book when you call it ” Brian K. Vaughan’s love letter to the comics industry” and “a comic book about the making of a comic book.” I’m afraid readers of Pipeline will come away thinking that The Escapists is some sort of insider comic book about the inner workings of the industry, when it is certainly far from it.

I would argue that Vaughan tackles the same themes that Michael Chabon explored in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, though on smaller scale. In both works, the character of the Escapist serves the same metaphorical purpose – as that of an agent of change or escape in the creator’s life.

In the novel the Escapist comes to represent and embody the struggle of the characters fight for freedom. Whether it’s escaping from Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, struggling as an immigrant in America, or coming to terms with one’s sexual identity. Working on / creating Escapist stories provide Kavalier and Clay the catalysts to set themselves free of these shackles and forge a new life.

Vaughn explores the same theme of escape in the Escapists and again Tom Mayflower’s alter-ego plays a prominent role. In their attempt to launch a new comic starring the Escapist, the three main characters are provided an outlet to rise above the trappings of their current lives and begin realizing their own dreams. Ultimately they realize that these dreams cannot be achieved by riding on the creations of others, but by creating art of their own. It’s what the “grandson” of Kavalier/Clay tells them at the end of the series. The Escapist may have provided the key to their escape (from their dead-end jobs, clinging to the past, their own insecurities, etc.), but to remain free they must forge their own key using their own skills.

I was thoroughly impressed with this series. Vaughn did a wonderful job at breathing life into these characters and making a comic that resonates so emotionally with the reader. I’m glad that you enjoyed it as well and decided to highlight it in your column. It’s a fantastic story that more people should read.

I enjoyed the mini-series so much that I thought going back to the well on it to present Brendan’s well thought out review was worth doing. I came at the mini-series as one who hadn’t read the novel it’s inspired by. My appreciation of it, thus, might be a little more shallow than from someone who’s read and appreciate Michael Chabon’s original prize-winning work.

Like I said, there’s a trade coming out in time for Christmas. Put it on your Christmas list today.

Jeff K. wrote in to point towards DARK SHADOWS as a soap opera that’s available on DVD today. I can’t believe I forgot about that. While it doesn’t quite fit into the mold I was looking for — more recent complete season sets a la 24 or THE SHIELD, et. al. — it does speak towards a specific corner of soap fandom being interested in complete runs on DVD. I wonder, though, if that’s more because of the genre fans than the soap fans buying it. It’s insane, too: When I was doing the Various and Sundry DVD podcast regularly, it seemed like a new release came out every couple of weeks. It was a running gag for a long time.

Lester Spence wrote in to point out an obvious lesson from the soaps that I missed in my column last week, despite pointing an arrow right at it:

You talked about how characters in soap operas aged before your eyes, and a little bit about how this was able to both retain viewers and draw new ones in. I haven’t watched days of our lives in years, but I imagine that it’d be cool as hell to see the kids of Bo and Hope somewhere down the line.

But when you talk about what comics can learn from soaps, you don’t address this explicitly — how much better/different would comics be if the characters actually aged. Soaps are able to present the illusion of change, because in one way the characters do change – they grow old and die off. As the characters we knew and loved grow old we are able to grow old with them, and then latch onto their kids and their peculiar issues.

Perhaps this is the one area where we can never expect comics to “grow up” so this is something you didn’t want to touch. But I’m surprised you didn’t make this more of an explicit component of the column.

Two quick thoughts: Characters don’t always grow old and die in soaps. They grow old and get replaced by slightly younger actors. Why, I just saw Edward Quartermain on GENERAL HOSPITAL this past week. I think at least three actors who’ve played that character have died in the last 15 years.

And, secondly, this leads into the whole debate over aging in comics. There’s something to be said for freezing characters in time or even aging them slowly. The realities of corporate media comics (Marvel and DC) is that this will be an impossibility. It’ll happen very very slowly, perhaps, but the well-remembered characters will always be stuck in a continuity of their readers’ own making. Every now and then, one might pull an ’80s sit-com switcheroo where a child suddenly ages into a teenager overnight, but that’s about as far as things go.

The cases are few and far between where characters age. Right now, Erik Larsen’s SAVAGE DRAGON is the only one I can think of. Even there, the slowed production schedule has likely meant that the aging of the character isn’t one-to-one as it was when the series started. It used to be that a year of the character’s life passed in the span of time as a year of the comics came out.

The one thing the soaps do better than any prime time series I’ve seen so far, though, is in finding actors who bear a resemblance to their characters’ parents. Noah Drake’s kid looks like a young Rick Springfield again. It’s scary.

Good news: Jamie and I recorded the Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast over the weekend. It came out very very long. I’m working at chopping it down into something manageable this week. Look for it in the next week or so. Sorry for the delays.

Pipeline will return next week with a new segment I’ve been trying to find the time to introduce for the last month. I think the time is now right. Stay tuned.


Once again, here are the links to my MySpace page and my ComicSpace page.

My blog, Various and Sundry is refocused for the new year, and I hope you’ll all give it another look. I’m working on less link dumps and more full scale write-ups. Last week’s topics include a detailed look at my Podcasting set-up, the MacWorld announcements, updates on the previous week’s topics, a new spam stopper for the blog, and the new DVD release list.

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 700 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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