MacGyver, The Walking Dead and NYCC


I fear I may romanticize the notion of "MacGyver" a bit too much. As a wee one, my favorite show in the world was "Dukes of Hazzard." That show did not hold up to a later viewing 15 or 20 years later. But, hey, I was five; cut me some slack.

After that, my new favorite show became "MacGyver." I liked the action. I liked the science. I was a geek, all right? I saw it a decade later in reruns and was impressed that the show mostly held up. Yes, it looked painfully like an '80s show, sounded like one, and could be a little slow at times. But the basic parts of it still held up. MacGyver was a do-gooder who could think on his feet. He was fast and friendly. He had grand adventures even if, in later viewings, it became more obvious how much of those adventures was made up of stock footage and backlot sets or cheap locations.

Then a funny thing happened and the word "MacGyver" became a verb. I'm not sure where it came from. The show was successful and popular in its day, but never verbed-up during its run. It only died because of its unfortunate Monday night time slot dooming it in the ratings from the weekly football game that made it invisible on the west coast. Still, it seemed funny that a geek-friendly show (OK, with a good-looking male lead that attracted a decent-sized female audience) would suddenly spawn an afterlife as a meme and not just a simple punchline to a nostalgic joke. I'm pretty sure there are kids today who talk about "MacGyvering" something who never saw the show. Worse, they probably only know it from the ridiculously over-played "MacGruber" parody that lasted on "Saturday Night Live" for a few years, spawning Yet Another Infamous SNL Bomb Movie.

That all brings us up to this week, and the debut of the comic book version of "MacGyver." Published by Image Comics with input from the original TV series creator, Lee David Zlotoff, the new comic resets the character to being a younger man living in modern times for a philanthropic organization who has a curious relationship with the ladies and hates guns but can come up with quick explosives. Something like that. There's a larger storyline about a mysterious third party who's put a hit out on MacGyver, who now needs to run from that while trying to save the world through best agriculture.

The script from Zlotoff and Tony Lee has all the elements of the original television series, but it leaves me cold. The biggest problem comes from those moments when MacGyver does his thing and fashions a tool or a weapon from the things left around him. Not that the show was ever subtle about it, but the comic almost comes grinding to a halt when Mac walks us step by leaden step through the contraption. The drama and the tension is lost while the captions walk us through the recipe. And the ingredients don't necessarily belong where he found them. They just happened to be there as a good plot device. Given the way the story is told in comics format, it seems less like MacGyver is poking around to find what he needs and more like he's following a recipe and he already knows where everything is in his kitchen. It kills the serendipity of the character, I'm afraid.

There's no shortage of action sequences in the book and the plot moves steadily along with a whole bunch of twists, but it's a lot of MacGyver reacting to what's going on around him and, ultimately, being helpless and acting futilely to what he comes across. The exposition needed to pull off the plot weighs heavily on the page, with crowded word balloons slowing everything down and visually stopping the book with their sheer weight.

The good news is that it's a good looking book. The art by Will Sliney is clear, with some dramatic angles and mostly medium distance 'camera' shots. The book follows a pretty good grid with its panels, making it easy to follow and giving each page a clean look. His characters are easy to tell apart, though I did confuse MacGyver and the bounty hunter once or twice in closer shots. Characters have a great range of expressions, and there's a hint of Chris Bachalo in some of the stylizing of the issue, particularly with the lines drawn on top of characters' noses.

The colors by Ciaran Lucas are great. They pop the right parts of each panel out to the reader. He uses a nifty trick with the wider shots of desaturating the background colors or colorholding the lines to make them recede a bit. The colorful backgrounds help to hide the fact that their detail often disappears for whole sequences. Keeping the 'camera' tighter means never having to show a large background after the establishing shot. Sliney takes advantage of that a few times too many.

Unfortunately, I can't say the book is off to an exciting start. I think it takes the rebooted character interesting places and has a good set-up. Lee and Zlotoff include all the things we associate MacGyver with, checking off all of those boxes. And Sliney's art is solid, if not spectacular. It's not an embarrassing book by any stretch of the imagination. As far as licensed titles go, it's a pretty strong start, but right now it feels like this is a story that would still be better told on the television screen than in a comic book.

The book has one nice bonus in it, though. There's a two page text feature penned by Zlotoff dealing with the origins of the television series. This first part ends with Zlotoff accepting the job of writing the plot for an upcoming TV show that will likely turn into "MacGyver" in the end. I can't wait to see how the story unfolds in following issues.


  • Reading the "Walking Dead: Michonne Special" displays just how much Charlie Adlard's art style has changed in the years he's been on the series. I've noticed that it looks more photo referenced in the last year or two. I don't think it's stiffer or that he's cheating by doing so, but I do think there's more of that technique at work in the book. Then I look at this "Michonne Special" and the change is crystal clear. The special collects both the Michonne origin special from an issue of "Playboy" last year and issue #19 of the series, when Michonne first walked onto the scene. It's night and day. Adlard's art makes use of a bolder pen stroke today. When he started on the series, he drew everything with thin lines and then filled in the shadows with small pools of black ink, usually just in shadows or silhouettes. Today, he draws a simpler line. He outlines the shapes, lets shadows define the form, and leaves the rest to your imagination. It's like he's gone from drawing with a fine-tipped ballpoint pen to a Sharpie marker. Adlard is coming up on 100 issues straight of the comic, and will surpass Mark Bagley's "Ultimate Spider-Man" streak eventually. Having a continuous lineup of issues for any series like this makes these comparisons easy. You just have to adjust how far apart you look at two issues for the difference.
  • I won't say any more about next week's 103rd issue of "The Walking Dead" except that it's the best episode of "The Shield" that Robert Kirkman has even written. And that comparison isn't completely out of left field (See Kirkman with his special cardboard friend -- and me -- at San Diego Comic-Con 2004.)
  • Also, "Cyber Force" #1 debuts next week. Per its Kickstarter origins, it's free. Seriously, Here, I checked the most relevant parts of the front and back covers for you. Oddly enough, there's not a price mentioned anywhere. Not even "FREE!"
  • I'm heading to New York Comic-Con this weekend. I'll only be there on Sunday, taking the ferry over the Hudson and shipping back off once the show floor closes. In and out. I'm doing something different than I've done in the past: I'm not preparing a bit for it. I'll probably bring my sketchbook, just in case, and my camera. And that's it. I don't even plan on spending money. I have more comics than I know what to do with, as it is. I'm just going to walk in, visit with the CBR crew who I haven't seen in a couple of years, then meander the floor, seeing what there is to see and talking to whoever I recognize. There are no plans for any panels, either. CBR has reporters there already. Next Tuesday, I'll bemoan all the people I missed because I didn't prepare, but it sure will make going to the convention less stressful.

    While I don't plan on carrying across boxes of comics from The Purge to foist off on anyone during the convention, I do have a stack of original art I'm looking to sell, piece by piece. If you're in the market and would be there on Sunday to make any exchanges, send me an email and I'll send you my For Sale list and scan in whatever you might be interested in.

  • Heidi MacDonald summed up the current state of Dave Sim's publishing plans for Cerebus as they don't relate to Fantagraphics. The whole thing is terribly frustrating and sad. Sim doesn't want to make a deal for the series as anything other than book-by-book, which I can't imagine too many publishers jumping at the chance to do. There are so many people out there ready and willing to revisit Cerebus -- some for the first time, har har -- that a new format and publishing schedule for the series would be a huge deal in comics today. But Sim seems to be still stuck in the past, adhering to an ideology that prevents his own success. He trusts nobody, doesn't want to work with anyone, and will ultimately self-destruct in an industry that doesn't exactly reward such total independence. Life is about compromise. Sim doesn't need to give up everything, and he has every right to do what he's doing. Too bad it's so self-defeating.

    That all said, the IDW "Cerebus" covers project sounds awesome. We can trust in Scott Dunbier to do this right, as we have with, well, every other project he's been involved in.

    Welcome to the Cerebus Roller Coaster, folks. Please enjoy the ride.

    And the comics, too!

    I'm very, very close to pulling out those "Cerebus" phonebooks I have in a box downstairs and giving them another read. the last time I went through them was more than a decade ago. reviewed the first "Cerebus" book on November 9th, 2001. I made the comparison there between "Cerebus" and "Groo." I haven't read much of either title in a number of years now. It's time to revisit old favorites, I think.

  • One more link to The Beat today: They interviewed Marvel letterer Joe Caramagna. About lettering. Someone other than me noticed that letterers exist. They interviewed one. I'm gobsmacked. I'm just a little surprised that Caramagna didn't answer the whole interview in a series of connected word balloons in a Marvel standard font. Imagine an interview that's one long image you have to scroll down to read, balloon by balloon. Annoying? Yes. But you'd certainly remember it.
  • Mark Evanier's mother passed away last week. He says that condolences and sympathies are not necessary, so I'll just point to his blog entry as a fine example of his writing.
  • Meta Note: I have an awful archives system when it comes to Pipeline. I only found the link to that Pipeline by using my Mac's Spotlight feature, which dug out some old email responses I had saved to that column. Crazy. In retrospect, I wish all my past columns had been written in plain text with the final version of each neatly organized in a folder structure somewhere on my local hard drive. I could easily grep my way through that. Someday, I'll have to get the CBR Database Team to give me a SQL Dump and I'll put that together myself. Because being a comic book geek isn't geeky enough for me. I like to throw in databases and scripting languages, too.
  • Next week in Pipeline: a New York Comic-Con Wrap Up.

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