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Pipeline, Issue #554

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline, Issue #554

THREE FROM DC

One part of our long national nightmare is over: Chuck Dixon has returned to ROBIN. It might be too soon to start asking the cliched questions about “going home again,” but this is certainly an issue that feels comfortable for a long-time Dixon fan. If you appreciated the work he did for the first half of this series’ existence, I think you’ll feel much the same way with this issue. It follows Dixon’s well-honed storytelling practices and techniques. Always open on action. Let actions dictate the story. Throw in a couple of twists. Give us a Robin who is balancing school and superhero work. The only missing element now is long-term characterization and storytelling. That’s only a matter of time.

The settings and the continuity might have changed a bit since Dixon left the title to go to CrossGen earlier this decade, but the book feels much the same now. Robin has an unknown new adversary and a crime cartel to fight that’s led by a classic and much-loved villain that Dixon has a good handle on. The push-and-pull between Tim Drake’s school life and superhero life is readily apparent. Batman makes an appearance in the issue, to boot, to help antagonize the boy wonder in a way that’s perfectly in character.

Chris Batista and Jamal Igle are the credited pencillers for the book. I don’t know enough of Batista’s art to tell where one starts and one finishes, but I do like the soft and rounded overall look. It’s a style that fit well when Pete Woods was on the book with Dixon last, so it transitions nicely here. It’s a bit more photoreferenced-looking, perhaps, but still enjoyable.

Plus, there’s a scene set in a bowling alley with big props, high action, and appropriate puns and character moments. I like it.

It’s too early to tell if this is a return to greatness for ROBIN and the series’ founding writer, but it certainly feels right today. I hope this is an extended run and that things continue on like this. Knowing Dixon, he’s already scripted issue #180, so I’m sure things are well in hand.

Now, can we talk about Dixon’s return to NIGHTWING, BATMAN, and BIRDS OF PREY next? I’m greedy.

I’ve had my ups and downs with GREEN ARROW AND BLACK CANARY. The ending to issue #3 was definitely a down moment, as it seemed like a plot contrivance and a deus ex machina to make more characters miserable for new reasons and in new directions. The fourth issue, though, pays that off in a beautiful way.

I’m a mushy old man now, I have to admit. But the pain and anguish of Green Arrow over the potential damage done to his son by a red laser beam fired from the heavens — only in comics do you get to type that without being labeled a “crazy” — feels right. And forgive me for having a mushy moment, but I thought Judd Winnick did a wonderful job with this script, every stage of the way. I’m even willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to accept the first part of the issue where Ollie calls for help. More cynical people have probably found it contrived and silly; I think it works in the framework of a superhero universe.

The ending isn’t exactly uplifting, but it leaves enough wiggle room for better things to happen in the issues to come. By the time FINAL CRISIS is over, of course, none of this series might ever have happened. Who knows? Enjoy it while it lasts, right?

Cliff Chiang’s art looks great, as always, fitting in well with the art I just finished reading in ROBIN. It has solid forms, round lines, and an interesting set of ink lines. Chiang handles the thicker lines outlining closer forms well in proportion to the spare few thin lines in the background. He does a great job with leaving lines out or unfinished to suggest what he needs to. It’s a classic case of less-is-more, with Patricia Mulvihill’s restrained colors complementing the style well. A book like this shouldn’t have Photoshop filter effects running rampant over it.

John Ostrander possesses many great qualities as a writer. I’m afraid that subtlety is not one of them this month. SUICIDE SQUAD #5 features the squad going after Haliburton with the intent to execute Dick Cheney. Sorry, it’s “Haake-Bruton” and the board leader’s name is “Chambers,” though the visual resemblance is clear. Haake-Burton, you see, is an energy company now doing government/military contracts. And they recently moved their base of operations to Dubai, because I guess there’s no easy DC Universe stand-in for that to try to mask the connection.

Still, I wouldn’t crack this comic open at the airport. . .

Once you get past that nasty little bit of business, though, you have another great issue of a book that has wheels within wheels, characters plotting far in advance both for and against one another, and a continuity that blends in with the rest of the DC Universe without relying on it. No, I don’t have much knowledge of any of the newer characters to this book, but their introductions are strong enough that I don’t need anything past what’s written inside this issue. That’s enough to work for me.

This SUICIDE SQUAD is an eight issue mini-series. I hope it does well. I hope there’s a quick trade paperback. And I hope there’s a new on-going series with this direction and this cast of characters right after FINAL CRISIS resets the DCU.

I just hope there’s more work done to keep the Real World parallels a little more subtle. It’ll be less distracting that way.

SELF-TRADING: THE LONE RANGER

Last week, I talked about the concept of “self-trading.” That is, reading a batch of issues together to simulate the collected comics experience. I did it last week with POTTER’S FIELD. This week, I did it with Dynamite’s THE LONE RANGER, issues #0-6. I’m both impressed and disappointed by it. My overall impression is positive, but there are enough nits to pick to fill a section of this column.

First of all, I don’t know anything about the Lone Ranger after the most superficial stuff. Silver. Silver bullets. “Hi-yo, Silver, Away!” That’s about it. Everything else is new to me, and I’m left wondering how much of it is modern day knee jerk “must correct the sins of the past” updating and how much of it is faithful to the original. I like Tonto as almost the Alfred to The Lone Ranger’s Batman, but I wonder if that’s not just a modern author trying to explain away the mistreatment of Native Americans in literature of the past. Is it an exercise in making Tonto a more interesting character, or just twisting things around to glorify a character who was all too stereotypical of his original author’s time? Or is it faithful to the source material? I just don’t know, but the cynic in me itches at these things.

I find myself dangling between groaning at the “updates” and being impressed by the added dimensionality of the characters. I loved what Darwyn Cooke did with Ebony on THE SPIRIT in 2007, so I’m open to change. I’ll treat THE LONE RANGER in the same way, I guess.

What really bothered me is the storytelling style. I don’t know who to blame here, but there are some very jumpy moments, sloppy transitions, and wastes of space. The first issue takes a full page to show a boy thinking about things for hours. Later issues repeatedly cut to new scenes in the middle of other ones only for very little to happen across multiple panels before jumping back to another character, another state, another time period. The reader is expected to keep up with all of this on very little explanation. There’s a bit of whiplash involved.

This also means that reading six issues in a block is a much more rewarding experience than reading issues at the rate of one a month. Those slower bits aren’t so bothersome in the span of a 144 page storyline.

Sergio Cariellos’ art is often jaw-droppingly gorgeous, particularly in the full-page and double-page splashes with the beautiful coloring of Dean White. Not enough can be said of the impact on this book of White’s color art. It adds textures and environmentally-appropriate color to every page.

As to Brett Matthews’ story, I’m afraid it loses something in its focus. There are two major bad guys running around, and the Lone Ranger’s story plays out in the moments between those. Tonto’s role switches from mentor to victim to spiritual advisor to technical advisor. The Lone Ranger’s decisions sometimes happen not for the sake of character development as they do for plot hammering purposes. And one or two issues seem to stop randomly in the middle of things, not at a high or low point that signals a transition.

Having said all that, I still enjoyed the book, despite the rough spots. There’s a love for the characters that shows in the art and in the wittier parts of the dialogue. There’s a knowledge of story structure that doesn’t always translate well to the comics page, but can be appreciated. It’s more of a serialized story, really. The art is beautiful, and the coloring lifts it up. It doesn’t take a long time to read these six-and-a-half issues, and I have the next batch lined up and ready to go. I might take care of those this week.

PIPELINE: RESOLVED

Every year, I think about where I want Pipeline to go. Every year I aim in a particular direction and shoot for a specific target.

It’s usually an uphill climb. I’ve promised to do more trade paperback and hardcover reviews for the last three years. I throw numbers out like 50 and 75. I never get there. I haven’t counted them up just yet, but I’m pretty sure 2007 had fewer of those reviews than either 2006 or 2005. There are good reasons for that. I did a lot more previews of books last year then I have in the past. More companies and creators have shared those with me, and I can see by my e-mail and hit counter that a lot of you enjoy those, but they take up time and space I might have devoted to the trades. Personally, 2007 was a year of great change for me, between starting a new job and getting married, with all the new responsibilities both things entail.

This year, I’m not promising to do more of anything. I’m actually promising to do less. Far too many columns are unfocused 3000 word marathons. I think it’s time to pull up on the reins a bit. Don’t be surprised to see slightly shorter columns in the future. This year’s columns have been closer to the 2000 word mark, and have been some of the most read installments in Pipeline history. Sometimes, finding the right angle and using the right tone is much more effective than being exhaustive.

2008 is, thus, the Year of the Great Edit. Time to kill some of those children, as writers like to say so often. I want to continue providing those previews of books still unreleased. I want to keep current with the weekly releases better. And I want to break all of the above vows to review more ASTERIX books, because the little guy is just too cool to ignore.

At the same time, the launch of The Commentary Track last month means I’m creating more content for CBR than ever — two weekly columns, effectively, and a podcast. The reception that The Commentary Track has received both from fans and professionals has been great, and we’re going to keep on making them so long as we can continue to find people to stop by to talk about their books. Getting to work with creators is a lot of fun and an enlightening task. It’s a challenge that pays off. Special thanks, again, to CBR’s executive producer, Jonah Weiland, for entrusting me with this front page feature.

Maybe, just maybe, it’ll lead to the return of creator interviews on The Pipeline Podcast at some point down the line, too. It’s been almost a year since I did any of those.

Please note that there will be no Best of 2007 list. I’ve only done those year-enders a few times, and my lack of organization and memory prevents me from giving such a task an honest effort. Besides, I’d likely fill up a Top Ten list with the best of the ASTERIX series I read last year. Nobody wants that.

I have a couple other goals I’d like to reach for this year, but I’m not sure how to go about them yet, so I’m keeping mum. With any luck, they’ll quietly unroll in the coming months.

For now, thanks for reading and thanks for sticking around. We’ve got another fun year ahead of us!

Speaking of The Commentary Track, I hope you caught the great Track for STRANGE CASES #3 that went up on Friday, from both writer Dan Wickline and artist David Hartman. They had a lot of great behind-the-scenes stories and art to share.

We have an embarrassment of riches over in that department, so we’re running two more Tracks this week. Look on Wednesday for a NORTH WIND #1 Commentary Track by the book’s writer, Dave DiGilio. That’s the book that several retailers are upset over for being released for free on MySpace at the same time it’s showing up in comic shops. It promptly sold out and has gone back for a second printing. If giving the book away stifled sales, then lots of retailers dramatically under-ordered the book.

On Friday, we’ll have the usually scheduled edition of the Commentary Track for a book that made my 100 Comics of Christmas last month. Stay tuned. . .

Also, the latest and greatest Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast went up over the weekend. Jamie and I spent an hour talking about the books of March 2008 and beyond. We stuck to only books with a $4.99 price point and higher, and still couldn’t shut ourselves up. If you aren’t already subscribed to the podcast, you can go to ThePipelinePodcast.com for all the info you’ll need. Or just look us up in iTunes.

The Various and Sundry blog is back on American Idol coverage, with fully bullet-pointed reviews of the first two contestant audition hot spots. The big MacWorld announcements of last week led to more Apple discussion and a bit of Apple TV excitement. Plus, more Twitter round-ups, link dumps, and DVD releases.


Everything else: Twitter, Tumblr Blog, The Pipeline Podcast, ComicSpace, and Google Reader Shared Items.

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 800 columns — ten and a half years’ worth — are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.

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