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Pipeline, Issue #511

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Pipeline, Issue #511

PIPELINE PODCAST UPDATE

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the podcast. In addition to the two usual Tuesday night shows, I’ve also posted:

  • An interview with George Khoury, in which we spend an hour talking about Image Comics. Khoury’s new book IMAGE COMICS: THE ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE is due out at the end of May, and features interviews with a wide variety of talent in and around the comic. Image has lasted about fifteen years longer than many of its critics ever suspected it would. And Khoury tells the story of how that happened. Full show notes are here.
  • The Pipeline Previews Podcast for May 2007. This one is so late that the new PREVIEWS is due out tomorrow. Eep! Sorry about that. This one was my fault. I accidentally deleted the podcast the first time we did it. It came out better the second time, anyway, so everything works out for the best. Listen to it here.

Thanks once again to Jamie Tarquini, the PREVIEWS podcast co-host, and George Khoury, interviewee, for participating in my little corner of madness on the internet.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, it’s free. Just look it up in iTunes, or paste this RSS feed address (right click -> save) into your favorite podcast catching client or RSS reader.

SPIDER-MAN AND THE LACK OF REASON

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #539: This time. . . Peter is ticked off. That’s the gist of the issue, though long-time fanboys will no doubt have a problem with the core conceit of the issue: Peter opines to himself that he originally did away with the black costume because he thought it sent the wrong message.

That’s not it, though. He did away with it because Mary Jane was hurt by Venom and she was scared to see Peter in the same suit. It hurt HER for him to wear it. It didn’t need to be retired because it represented the Dark Side of Spidey. Peter was just being a good husband and a good human being by not constantly reminding her of that traumatic experience by wearing it every day. Go back and reread AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #300. Better yet, here’s the relevant page:

“Back In Black” is the next stage of the classic Spider-Man cycle. If you read Spider-Man comics long enough, you’ll always get to the story where Peter wants to give up his powers and somebody happens to come along who can make that happen. (It’s even alluded to in a recent ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN issue.) And you’ll also get the story where Peter has had enough and goes nearly crazy beating people up who hurt him. Often, this coincides with someone hurting a member of his family.

Actually, that brings up another odd logic gaffe that I didn’t quite understand in the story. (You might consider this paragraph a spoiler, if you’re particularly sensitive or waiting for the trade.) Peter secretly drops gunshot victim Aunt May off at the local hospital. Since the world knows he’s Spider-Man now, he doesn’t want the world to know that it’s his aunt. He can’t check her in. Instead, he sends Mary Jane over to check on her. Mary Jane was once a supermodel. Mary Jane has been in bad movies. She’s been on soap operas. She’s starred in off-Broadway plays, as I recall. Mary Jane was once a NYC socialite. Like it or not, she has a higher profile than most. And doesn’t the world know she’s married to Peter Parker? It wouldn’t be terribly difficult for a determined supervillain to connect those dots, would it?

I shouldn’t think this much about Spider-Man comics. It makes my head hurt.

WHAT COULD BE STRANGER?

There may be too much going on in the background of TEXAS STRANGERS #1, but it doesn’t distract me from the infectious energy of the work at all. Creators Antony Johnston (read his blog), Dan Evans, and Mario Boon clearly have a long-term plan for this book. It’s an alternate history book set in the American Old West, in a world where magic exists, and elves and orcs greatly impacted the way North America was drawn up. There’s a longer explanation of it all – complete with a map! – on the inside front cover, but it’s not mandatory to read it to understand what’s going on. The characters throughout the book will give you what you need as you read it.

TEXAS STRANGERS tells the story of two siblings on the run to return a magical knife to someplace for some mystical We Must Avoid Doomsday Scenario reason. It’s all a little dodgy, but it’s just the trigger mechanism used to get the action flowing. At that point, TEXAS STRANGERS becomes a world unto its own, one which sucks you in and makes you want to see and learn more. It’s an accessible book to kids of all ages, from 8 to 80, who like their cowboys, orcs, and magic spells.

But there’s an awful lot going on here. Not two pages go by that we’re not introduced to some new and more wild set of circumstances. Honestly, it does get a little tiring by the end, but I’m hoping it’s all helping to set up things for future issues, where the payoffs will begin and more action will happen without the need for as much exposition.

The art from Mario Boon (read his blog) is pleasant and fitting for the book. It’s in the cartoony camp, a highly stylized thing that would look good as Flash animation on the web or on a late night Comedy Central series. His line is almost uniformly thick, with little emphasis placed on intricate details. What Boon lacks in fine linework, though, he more than makes up for in the storytelling. He’s great at that. For a rookie artist on the American scene — he’s likely done work in Belgium, but I can’t track it down at the moment — he has a confident storytelling style that belies a great many years of studying the art form. He can mix up angles and distances in his panels in a way many full-time professional Big Two comic artists have a hard time doing. He’s also able to draw anything the script throws at him, and that includes horses, saloons, forests, cowboys, and fantasy creatures.

His open style leaves lots of room for the colorist to define the feel of the book. Traci Hui makes a very colorful book out of TEXAS STRANGERS, indeed. The book is bright and rarely reserved. She doesn’t rely on gradients and special effects to tell the story. While Hui adds shadows in the colors, there’s never a sense that this is a book using color to cover up any of the artist’s shortcomings. It also points to how you can color a comic using more than just three or four colors and still make it visually appealing.

Overall, TEXAS STRANGERS #1 is not a book for everyone, but I think it’s something that might appeal to a youthful audience, as well as those of us who enjoy westerns, alternate histories, or fantasy tales. It covers a lot of bases.

For more on this book, check out CBR’s preview and interview with the creative team.

ROBIN: HE’S BAAAAACK

When Chuck Dixon left the Bat-cave for the (as it turned out) not-so-greener pastures of the CrossGen compound, it was a crippling blow for the family of titles he left behind. However many years later it is now, NIGHTWING still hasn’t recovered. BIRDS OF PREY fares the best under Gail Simone’s watchful eye, and that’s in large part thanks to how she worked with the book she was given, and didn’t immediately try to turn it into something different. And ROBIN was left mostly to Bill Willingham, who kept the machine going for a few years, but whose run I could just never get into.

Finally, though, I think DC has hit pay dirt with their creative team for ROBIN. (Wake me up should that ever happen with NIGHTWING.) The current run by writer Adam Beechen and artist Freddie Williams II is the surprise hit of the “One Year Later” books. It’s a return to the book’s earlier Dixon-penned glory days, with a strong creative team and an action-packed story that doesn’t ignore characterization.

ROBIN: WANTED is the new trade paperback collecting the first six issues of the team’s run on the title post-OYL. (Karl Kerschl handles the art on the first issue.) It’s a spectacular return to form for the book, even if some might question the direction DC has chosen to go with Batgirl, Cassandra Cain. If you think of this as a new DCU and can accept what they do with the character here, you’re going to enjoy the ride and fly through the book. If you’re a bit more of a traditionalist, I’m afraid it might be a major speed bump for you. I bit on it, just because the character changed so much over the course of her own series and what came immediately afterwards that this next step almost seems logical. I miss the original version of the character, but I suppose it would have been too much to ask to keep her like that forever. At least she has a chance to grow and evolve.

In any case, let me get back to the overall feel of the series. It’s tough to handle a Dixon-created series. Dixon is best known for making action comics. His belief is that a superhero comic book needs to deliver things of visual interest. If he wants to write an issue of Robin and Nightwing chatting for 22 pages, he blindfolds them and puts them on top of a moving train to spar. Sounds silly, but it really works. It’s a strength that I don’t think enough writers try to emulate today. Comics are still a visual medium — you should use that more.

Beechen does. Robin doesn’t get much of a chance to sit down in this book. He’s constantly on the run, fighting bad guys, good guys, questionable guys, and everything inbetween. It’s all done for a good reason, though, as Robin has been framed for Batgirl’s murder. Except it wasn’t Batgirl. It was Lynx. There’s a long lesson in 1990s DCU history needed here for many of you, I know, but I can’t get into it at the moment.

The point is, Beechen throws Robin into a variety of locations to perform a multitude of things, from breaking and entering, to breaking out, to hunting for clues. It’s not at all stale or repetitive. For the first time in a long time, it feels right for this title.

Beechen doesn’t forget the character of Tim Drake behind the mask, either. He doesn’t ignore the character’s detective instincts and, in fact, uses them. Don’t think for a second that this is a big dumb action book. It might not be Sherlock Holmes, exactly, but each move is well-reasoned or, at the very least, explained by the character of the person acting.

There’s a little less emphasis on Drake’s personal life in the first storyline printed in this book. I think that’s understandable, given how Beechen wants to get his One Year Later storyline off with a bang. He mixes in a couple of subplots along the way perhaps a bit too clumsily, but they all pay off by the end. And in the second story of the collection, he focuses a lot more on Tim’s character and family relations. When Tim is forced to work with the son of the man who killed his father (DCU History 2: See IDENTITY CRISIS), some raw feeling and emotions come out, and he acts much like the teenager he is, and not a crime-fighting emotionless automaton.

Freddie Williams II is a comics-drawing neophyte. It’s hard to believe, but this is only his second monthly gig in comics. The first was on NOBLE CAUSES at Image Comics. He draws his art directly to the computer. There is no original Freddie Williams II art out there. It’s all done on a Wacom Tablet and a Mac computer, as I recall. But you would never know that if you just looked at the art pages. They’re as clean and as accomplished as anything a traditional pencil artist could come up with. Any limitations on the art would be the fault of the artist and not his tool. There are some pages that seem really simplified, lacking backgrounds and detail. At the same time, though, the next page might contain an amazing amount of background detail and a crazy number of characters. I get the feeling that it’s not a limitation of Williams’ skill that creates some of those simpler pages, but rather the pressures of the deadline.

Williams lists Jim Lee as a major influence on his work, followed by the likes of Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, Travis Charest, and Alex Ross. I’m surprise not to see more manga creators named in there, because his art often has that simplified style with lots of panels and speedlines to it. Some of the faces often remind me of slightly more solid versions of faces I’ve seen in fan art by manga readers.

I don’t mean to sound negative here. I enjoyed the artwork a lot, and it fits a rather large bill as written up in Beechen’s script. I should also mention that he draws a broad range of facial expressions. For the simplified faces he goes with, he sure does get a lot of mileage out of them. Overall, it’s impressive work, made all the more impressive by the knowledge that he’s only at the beginning of his career. I can’t wait to look back at these issues in five years to see how far he’s come by then.

If you’re an “old school” Dixon fan who hasn’t returned to the Bat books since his departure, then I’m here to tell you today that it’s safe to come home. Beechen and Williams are doing strong work, and you can start at the top of their run with ROBIN: WANTED.

MICRO MINI LINK DUMP

  • The Wall Street Journal tells you how to be a comic book artist.

  • I don’t have a link to it, but the most recent ROLLING STONE magazine features an interview with AMERICAN IDOL 2006 finalist, Chris Daughtry. The article opens up with Daughtry admitting that his first career goal growing up was to be a comic artist. He’s one of us, too!

Another podcast is coming your way tonight. Keep an eye on iTunes, ODEO, Podcast Alley, or whatever podcast site your work doesn’t have blocked for that tomorrow morning.

I’ll return to this spot next week for more reviews. Whatever I talk about next week, I doubt I’ve read it already, so I won’t try to predict it.

My blog, Various and Sundry is your best spot on the ‘net to stop to chat about American Idol the day after every episode. Plus, I throw in link dumps related to the tech industry, TV and movies, and lots more.


I still have a MySpace page and a ComicSpace page, though I don’t hang out much on either of them at the moment. I do still check my messages at both places, so you won’t be ignored.

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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