Welcome, everyone, to a Pipeline oddity. I wrote so many reviews last week that I didn't have the space to put them all in two columns. (Technically I did. The hard drives on the server aren't that full. I just didn't want to overwhelm you all at once.)
So, for the first time in the two-year history of Pipeline, you're getting a third column inside of one week. We inaugurate "PCR Extra" as the banner to put any excess Pipeline columns for the future. Don't worry; I doubt we'll get to use it that often.
Pipeline2 is scheduled for its usual slot tomorrow and will cover some of the negative mail I've gotten in reaction to last week's reviews. It's probably even more entertaining stuff that I am capable of writing. I promise you - they're not hoaxes. I didn't bribe Gail to write any of the e-mails you'll see tomorrow.
With that having been said, I present to you:
THE REVIEWS, i.e. WHO CAN I PISS OFF THIS WEEK?
F5 #2 fails the K.I.S.S. rule. That's the one about keeping things simple. The simpler things are, the easier they are to follow, the more entertaining they become, and the happier the reader becomes. Instead, the second issue of creator/writer/artist Tony Daniel's series stars no less than ten characters in two teams, plus new bad guys, and two different situations with a bit of link between them. With only one issue so far in the series, it's much too early to assume the fans have a good knowledge of the characters and their abilities. So everything comes as a surprise to the readers. Imagine a new reader comes to THE X-MEN and the writer is telling a story with two different plots, both teams of characters, and no description of any of them except for their names on a title page. (Actually, that's probably not that hard to fathom. Heck, there are probably several of you holding up issues of X-MEN to prove it right now…) But that's what is happening here. It's tough to keep track of everything.
One major storytelling problem: The conceit of the story is that it's being told in flashback from the point of view of the first team's leader, Penny Hurst. So why are we seeing scenes inside the villain's lair that she could not possibly have been a witness to? You have to play fair with the reader. You can't change around points of view willy-nilly. If you want to show both sides of the situation at the same time, you have to go with some sort of third person omniscient narrator.
On the plus side, the production values are excellent. The paper is heavy and glossy, Chris Eliopoulos' computerized lettering shows the kind of lettering knowledge that many computer letterers don't have, and Steve Firchow's coloring is excellent. Firchow, as a matter of fact, color keys just about every scene. Each scene has a dominant color. Note the orange and blues in the cemetery in Paris, or the oranges in Afghanistan. The villain's lair is shown in an eerie steely blue/green that matches his silver hair and blue suit.
THE DC STUFF
I opened to the first page of the latest Superman issue, and saw Superman in the Grand Canyon praying. Right away I knew that J.M. DeMatteis was writing this. Sure enough, it's THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #581. DC tried to get some big publicity with Lex Luthor's announcement that he's running for president, but didn't get the advantage of a slow news day like they did when Supes died. (Has it been 8 years already?!?)
This issue has two points to it. The first is to carry on a few on-going subplots, including Thorn and the Prankster. The second is a lighter tale of Superman's battle with Adversary.
In and of itself, it's an average issue of Superman. There are some nice light moments, some interesting plots being advanced, and some stuff that's just carrying on through.
But the talking point for this issue is the debut of its new artist, Mike Miller. Miller's done some other stuff before, most notably (to me) a mostly forgettable Savage Dragon mini-series, that was riddled with some of the most embarrassing lettering ever seen in comics. That was then. This is now. I don't have many problems with Miller's storytelling here. Everything looks fine. His big problem is with Superman's face, of all things. It's not so much that it's as variable as Howard Porter's Superman was. It's just that it looks wrong. It's not the nice chiseled iconic Superman face we're used to seeing. It's a bit too common looking. I hope that's a good word for it. His face looks lumpy. Take a look through this issue and see if you agree.
BATGIRL #5 follows Batgirl as she tries to find the person who changed her last issue in an attempt to reverse the changes. Mayhem ensues. Meanwhile, Batman continues his investigation -- with a smart Tim Drake's help -- into Batgirl's past and her possible murderous childhood. Batman ends up looking pretty weak here, actually, trying as hard as he can to rationalize everything. In the end, we still have no conclusive answers, but there's enough here to make you think about it for a little bit. Kelley Puckett and Scott Peterson write the issue, while Damion Scott and Robert Campanella draw it.
THE MARVEL MUTANTS
THE UNCANNY X-MEN #383 is a "giant-sized spectacular." Why? Is it an anniversary issue? A major turning point? The focus for a cross-company event? No, none of those things. It's just a story that Chris Claremont needed the extra pages to tell. Is it worth it? Taken by itself, probably not. But there's something going on here that I cautioned you all about months ago when the word first came down that Claremont was returning: He writes in larger arcs that don't always seem readily apparent. While the individual issues may seem somehow fluffy, when the end of the overall storyline is revealed, you can go back and see how the events built up on one another. Marvel recently released the solicitations for their September titles. The storyline of the Neo hits critical mass in that month. The seeds for that are being sown right now. Furthermore, Claremont is trying to put all of this together without any pre-existing villains. This requires a lot of new introductions and a lack of shortcuts to be taken to simplify the storytelling.
Like STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE, I think this issue will look better when future plots are revealed. The most annoying thing about the issue, in the meantime, was the advertisement pullout stapled in the middle of a double-page spread. Argh!
Adam Kubert and Tim Townsend combine on the art. While it's not Kubert's most experimental or even his most solid issue to date, it's still contains some pretty stuff.
GENERATION X #66 ends the first four-part storyline too abruptly. Things just sort of come to a crashing halt at the end there. It's tough to tell if this is a fault with Warren Ellis' plot or Brian Wood's script, though. The characters interest me - particularly so the maturing Jubilee - but I just had a hard time with the overall story. In the end, it just wasn't satisfying. Maybe the next one will work better for me.
Steve Pugh's art is turning me into a claustrophobic. I'm hoping someday down the line he might consider some white space between panels and cutting out some of the more erratic panel layouts.
X-FORCE #111 has some nice-looking art, some pretty coloring, and a nice dramatic tension to it. Warren Ellis plotted it and Ian Edginton scripted it. Whilce Portacio and Gerry Alanguilan handle art duties. While Portacio still has issues drawing pinheads and elongated necks, there's plenty of nice stuff lurking across the pages in this issue. I'm looking forward to how the storyline concludes next issue, although I am left wondering this: How many ex-Cold War government conspiracy cover-up plots can Ellis dream up? Note also that it's always the evil American government behind the problems. I can understand wanting to move away from the standard status quo of bad guy with selfish motives against good guy with big powers, but how many super-powered good folk versus secret government nutty scientist stories do we need?
THE MISC. COMIC
Finally, I got around to reading AVENGERS FOREVER #8, "The Secret History of the Avengers." Yes, I bought the whole series and intended to read it once it was complete. I'm finally getting around to it now. While the early issues felt slow and like they were dragging just a bit, the eighth issue is just one large piece of exposition. Finally, however, we get to the meat of the story and the point to this series. We see Immortus' grand conspiracy, and how it wends throughout Avengers history. I haven't read the title long enough to nod knowingly at each referenced storyline, but it's an awesome display of continuity jump rope. It's Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern's attempt to iron out some questionable moments in Avengers history by linking them together. It's quite amazing to see laid out before you. I'm excited about this book now, and am looking forward to reading the last three issues of this to see how the storyline gets resolved.