PLAYING CATCH UP
I've been spending my lunch hours reading comics for the last couple of weeks, catching up on that stack that's piled up. While I always hope to write feature-length reviews on many of the titles I read, reality often points me in another direction.
Rather than ignore the books completely, I thought it would be a good idea to run through a bunch of them this week to see what's what. There are some hidden gems out there. Let's get to them, and a whole lot more:
We'll start with "Parade (With Fireworks)," a two issue mini that came out through Image Comics (and Jim Valentino's "ShadowLine") last year. It got some critical acclaim, but I suspect the final sales didn't reflect those. Sad, but typical. This is a case where I get to put on the critic's hat and join in on all the accolades for a well-deserved indie gush-fest. Cartoonist Mike Cavallaro tells a story (based on his family's oral history) of some of his ancestors from Italy in the post-World War I era. It's a deceptively simple tale that spreads out over the course of months, as rival political factions explode in one moment of fury that affects young Paolo's life forever, as he becomes a political scapegoat, a man on the run, and a conflicted man.
You can view this story in its historical context for the divide between the Fascists and the Socialists. You can look at this as a "Godfather"-esque generational family drama. Or you can look at it as a glimpse into the lives of several imperfect people in an imperfect world. In any case, please look at it.
Cavallaro is an excellent cartoonist, whose full color comics are designed to work with color. He's one of the few comic book artists I've seen successfully "knock out" his line work in favor of colors. It's an effect that usually sticks out like a sore thumb in superhero comics. Here, it helps create a style that's effective and attractive. Paired up with his hand-drawn (and tinted brown) lettering, the whole book evokes the period it's set in, while being easy to read and interesting to look at.
It's too short a book to receive a trade paperback treatment, but there's very good news. This story originally saw print as a webcomic at the Act-I-Vate collective. You can still read it in its entirety on-line. I highly suggesti taking a few minutes to do so.
Also from the Shadowline imprint at Image comes this year's "Cemetery Blues." This is a three issue mini-series that, likewise, got lost in the general comics mix. It's a much more light-hearted genre-poking piece of fun from Ryan Rubio and Thomas Boatwright. If you missed it, here's the official elevator pitch:
"Bumbling monster hunters Ridley and Falstaff are hot on the trail of their nemesis, the mysterious sorcerer Orlok. The trail leads them to the town of Hernesburg, where the heroes are asked to dispose of a lurking evil in the woods..."
It's a horror tale, mixed with a con man's tale mixed with a dose of humor. It feels like a period piece, but is laced with much more modern references. At the center of it is the buddy relationship between the two leads. Ridley is the wise guy. Falstaff is the straight man, though a bit of a humpback. It's tough to classify, but it was a joy to read.
Even if the main character's sense of humor doesn't draw you in, Boatwright's black and white art is sure to. It has a very animated and very European feel to it, complete with gray tones that almost mimic the side of a pencil shading in certain areas. You can catch art samples of the series at its ComicSpace page. I'd read it just for the art, but the interplay between the two leads sure to bring you back for more.
The story leaves a few questions unanswered. Some might even complain that the book breaks Chekhov's Law. I hope it means there's a second mini-series in the works. I'd love to see a trade paperback collection for this, but it'll likely need the additional material to round itself out.
The three issues had a $3.50 cover price on them each, but it's an extra fifty cents that I'd gladly pay for a book that is as enjoyable as this one.
We continue with the Image work with "Youngblood" #3. I'm enjoying this run on the title from Joe Casey and Derec Donovan. The art fits in well both thematically and artistically with an Image Universe that includes the likes of "Invincible" and "Dynamo 5." It even mixes in a bit of Chris Sprouse's style to go along with it. Casey's story goes its own way, often poking fun of reality television shows while placing the Youngblood team right into one. I laughed out loud at the second panel of this issue, which lifts a panel of Rob Liefeld art from the original "Youngblood" series and captions it "File Footage."
This is also the second issue in a row with a back cover ad for the "Youngblood" hardcover, collecting the original mini-series with Casey's new script. True to the original series, it appears to be running very, very late.
Finally for Image, I'll point you to "Death Grub," a one shot comic from "Invincible" artist Ryan Ottley. He wrote, drew, and lettered this comic. It's his "24 Hour Comic Day" outing from October 2007. As you'd expect in such a comic, this one runs fast and loose. The lettering is amateurish. The art is quick and often simple. And the story isn't anything that's going to fuel a movie adaptation or a sequel series, though it does wrap itself up in a neat little bow.
That's all OK. This is about finishing a 24 page comic book in 24 hours. Ottley falls short, finishing just 21 pages. The story is a fantasy tale set on another planet that includes a fearless adventurer hitching a ride on the Death Grub, a strong man with a love for a horrific woman, and how it all goes wrong. It's good for a laugh or two. It's a great comics exercise. I love seeing these experimental stories. It's really for fans of 24 hour comics and "Invincible"'s artist.
There are panels in the book that are impressive for such a quick piece of work. But it's all about the storytelling in a book like this, not about the final line work and the level of detail. You have to sacrifice something to reach the end goal. It might not be much more than a curiosity item, but I think it'll have a certain audience that will enjoy it for what it is.
Over at DC, Joe Kubert's "Tor" had its second issue recently. It's the first "Tor" story I've ever read, though I know Kubert has some past history with the character. It's an interesting story of a caveman who's been kicked out of his tribe, only to wander into a strange and fantastic world where an inability to communicate leads to confusion and chaos. Because of that, there are no word balloons in the series. Everything is told in captions, something that's all-too-often avoided like the plague today. Kubert's prose works, though, putting you inside the character's head and keeping the story moving.
The real star is Kubert's art. The man is 80 years old (give or take) and still drawing comics that can be released on a monthly schedule. The fun thing with seeing someone so skilled and experience in drawing comics is that it loosens up his line. The work has just enough detail to tell the story and show off the textures of physical objects, but not so much to ever get distracting. Kubert isn't showing off here. He's telling a story.
And, yes, you can see elements of both of his children's art styles scattered across these pages. It's easy to see at whose feet they learned the art of comics.
The story won't be for everyone. It's a bit laborious, though perhaps that's due to the choice of storytelling technique. It's a nice change of pace from all the superhero comics, with enough meat on its bones to justify the three dollars spent. It even has a cardboard cover for no extra cost. Marvel could learn a thing or two from that.
"Robin/Spoiler Special" #1 features a lead-off script from Chuck Dixon illustrated by DC rising star, Rafael Albuquerque. Spoiler's sudden return to Robin's life puts Tim in a tough spot, as he has to juggle a girlfriend and a crime-fighting partner with conflicted feelings. Spoiler hasn't changed much, still seeking the action and the thrills of putting on the costume and hitting the town. Tim is trying to keep up. It's a fun story that has all of the Dixon trademarked elements, and helps us see how Spoiler's return is affecting Tim's day-to-day life. As the "Batman R.I.P." storyline is set to derail the regular "Robin" title, this special issue is a much-needed shot in the arm for a very important storyline in the regular series' history.
Albuquerque seems to be picking up a lot of DC work lately, which is good to see. He's done some work before this at Boom! Studios, most notably the interior work on "Cover Girl" and some covers for "Two Guns". He's also done a run on "Blue Beetle" for the last year that I need to read some day. He's a great artist, though I'm not sure superhero work is really his thing. The only awkward parts of this issue came in the costumed portions. Luckily, the bulk of this story is focused on Tim's "normal" life, so this story is a good fit.
It's Dixon's second story, "Katavi," that answers more of your questions on what happened to The Spoiler while she was away. Turns out, she and Leslie went off to Africa to help the poor. This is the story that triggers her return to Gotham, and it's beautifully drawn by an artist named Victor Ibanez. I don't know where they found him, but I want more. This guy is a real treat. He's a complete package, inking and coloring his own work. He draws believable people that act like human beings and not comic book cyphers. Then, he combines that with a coloring style that's detailed without being flashy. He makes amazing things happen with slight shadows. Keep an eye out for him. I hope we'll be seeing more of him soon
The only down side is that it's yet another story of a superhero character going to Africa to "find herself." I guess it was either this or a "walkabout" in Australia, right?
"Trinity" #1 is, yes, a DC title in which characters sit around a table to chat. It was cool and new when Mark Waid and Alex Ross did it for "Kingdom Come," but I wonder if it isn't getting old. The funny thing is, I really enjoyed that section of this issue. Kurt Busiek has a strong handle on these characters and easily shows us their personalities by the little things they do. I love that.
The rest of the issue is signs and portents, though. Ooh, something is going to happen eventually. Stuff is happening in the shadows. The bad guys are forming. The good guys are confused. It's a necessary part of the story, I suppose, but it's also the part I'm looking forward to getting past. With the weekly schedule, "Trinity" should have no problem ramping up the story quickly.
And I don't know what it is, but Scott McDaniel's art doesn't do anything for me anymore. I used to love it on "Nightwing," but I'm not enjoying it anymore. The thick lines and looser style are a turn-off now. I found myself looking forward to the next Mark Bagley page while reading the backup.
While it's a mixed bag for a start, I think I'm more into this story so far than I am "Final Crisis." Let's see who wins out over the long haul.
Over at Marvel, "Amazing Spider-Man" #561 wraps up a very successful story arc from Dan Slott and the amazing Marcos Martin. Slott can write Spider-Man. He has the feel for this comic like no other writer today. His Peter Parker is humorous, frustrated, heroic, and never annoying. That was the main problem I had with the initial concept of "Brand New Day." Would Peter Parker be a whiney git now? So long as Slott is writing it, that isn't a problem. Slott goes through great contortions to keep Mary Jane away from Spider-Man, but there's a romantic longing and sadness over the whole thing that kept me glued to the page. It's obvious that Mary Jane cares for Peter and regrets that life turned out like this, but that she did what she had to do.
Martin's art doesn't go through quite as many contortions and layout inventiveness as previous issues, it seemed to me, but it's still one of the best Spider-Man interpretations I've seen in a long time. I hope Martin does a lot more high profile work at Marvel.
One little thing: The geek in me cheered at the site of Peter's box of "Webs" comp copies. That book was (theoretically) released about 20 years ago now. Thankfully, some writers still remember it.
Finally, "Secret Invasion" #3 shows us that the mini-series is going to have the same structural problem as "Civil War." This is the mini-series that forms the skeleton for the crossover. All the major events will happen here, but if you're not reading (at least) "Mighty Avengers" and "New Avengers," things are just going to come out of left field for you. That's disappointing.
Next week: There are always more comics, right? So there will always be more Pipeline. Don't forget to check your feed tonight for the next edition of The Pipeline Podcast, also!
The Various and Sundry blog chugs right along, with the return of Link Dumps, DVD releases, Twitter compilations, and general news of the day. I bet there's stuff up there right now about the new Apple announcements.
If you're really interested in what daily news bits grab my attention in the worlds of tech and comics and more, the best way to track is it at the Google Reader Shared Items. Several items are added to that page every day. I'm an RSS feed junkie.
The only social network I use anymore is Twitter, for all my thoughts 140 characters at a time.
More than 800 columns -- nearly eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.