THE KIRKMAN KORNER
When THE COMICS JOURNAL gets hold of Robert Kirkman to do his career-spanning interview in another 10 or 15 years, their first question should be, "You have a pretty decent relationship with your father, don't you?" For once, starting out an interview with a creator by asking about their relationship with their parents might be fitting. Kirkman is quickly cornering the market on writing about teenaged superheroes and their relationships with their fathers. TECH JACKET and INVINCIBLES are two strong examples of how Kirkman has chosen to explore the idea in two totally different directions. The first is the excitement of discovering something outrageously alien and new; the second is the discovery of something new that's expected. The first father is a conflicted man, while the second is an honest-to-goodness hero already. We'll start with the former.
TECH JACKET: LOST & FOUND is the first volume to reprint Image's TECH JACKET, collecting the six issues of that series so far. You might notice something different about it from the monthly issues, though. It's reprinted in black and white in the smaller manga TPB size. The good news is that this allows the book to be priced out at a mere $12.95, and it was done at the artist's request. It isn't a strictly financial move. It's an entertaining book, although not one without flaws.
Kirkman's series is about a high school boy who becomes the new owner of a Tech Jacket, an alien piece of equipment designed to produce incredible strength and abilities in the bodies of otherwise-weak aliens. When a human gains control of one, though, it makes him into a high-tech superman. The story starts as a boy, Zack Thompson, discovers the jacket and shares the secret with his father. It's not too long before the aliens come back to reclaim the jacket for themselves and lead Zack into a battle of planets. Then, Zack goes home. There's also a whole storyline about Zack's father and his business woes, including a shady loan shark whose prone to violence to get what he wants.
You might have noticed that things in that description seem a little choppy. It's because they are. The book tries hard to be two things at once: an interstellar war comic, and a kid's coming-of-age power trip. While it doesn't go quite as far as your average Spider-Man comic, it has a bit of the boy-gets-dumped-by-girl flavor to it. There's also the "How Do These Powers Work" scenario, which is dropped when the aliens pick the boy up, the exposition kicks in, and the storyline jumps ahead far enough for us to all assume he's learned how to use his new abilities.
In the end, though, Zack sleepwalks through too much of this comic. He's given the powers, he adapts to them quickly, he solves his problems too easily, and he doesn't show hesitation or fear when it comes to using the Jacket. While there's a big gap of time left to the reader's imagination when it comes to his training in space, I would have liked to have seen more character out of Zack there. The only time he really emotes is back on earth, as he's dealing with girls, parents, and his best friend. Hopefully, the next series will explore the limitations of the Jacket, as well as his personal life back at home. At worst, bring the alien presence to earth. Splitting up the story into two halves really robs the tale of its focus.
E.J. Su, thankfully, can handle them both well. He excels at the big space faring battles, where squadrons of ships and people in high tech armor create a spectacle. Thankfully, his work also looks natural when it's just Zack hanging out at school or learning about his newfound powers with his all-too-accepting father. In either case, he doesn't take any shortcuts, placing characters in their environments and staying away from the classic cheats like cutting feet off panel or resorting to extreme close-ups of facial features. This book is Su's big break, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't get a few offers from other companies thanks to this work.
The presentation of this book for the trade is excellent. It's printed on surprisingly heavy and glossy white paper for a trade paperback. If I had to guess, I would place my bets on it being done that way to accommodate the art. Su went back to the art and added in details by way of grey tones, duo tones, and the like. I'm sure it was all done on Photoshop, but it gives it that authentic manga feel, and helps ease the art away from the color. The only problem with it is that it looks too busy at times. There are some dense fights here, with pages of a half dozen panels with guys-in-tech suits fighting in each other in the void of space. It can be difficult to keep track of who is who in situations like that when they're reprinted this small without the color cues.
All in all, TECH JACKET is a fun read that should appeal to a younger audience as well as the older readers. I'd suggest showing this one to your nephew who likes STAR TREK or who's found ROBOTECH on cable and thought it was cool.
INVINCIBLE: FAMILY MATTERS is a more straightforward volume, but in much the same fun tone as TECH JACKET. Where that one went for a science fiction angle, INVINCIBLE is more a super hero comic book, complete with the tights, the superteams, and the generational heroes. It's about Mark Grayson, a teenager who's lived with a super-powered father from another planet all his life. As puberty hits, he gains his powers and a whole new world opens up to him. However, it's a world he's seen already through his father's eyes, so it's not totally unfamiliar to him. In fact, it's a relief that they've finally kicked in.
Kirkman splits the focus on the book between the relationship he has with his father as a mentor, and his school life, which is complicated by being classmates with a girl in a teenaged superhero group that he soon teams up with. Not to be ignored, we get to see the wear and tear all of this gallivanting around has on Mark's mother, who is remarkably blasé about the whole thing except, she confesses, when it has to do with disappearing into other dimensions for months at a time. Whereas that split was pronounced and distracting at times in TJ, here it all blends together. The split isn't as disparate, I think. In the end, it's all about a teenager and his relations with the people around him. It doesn't attempt to throw him in two directions at once.
The plots are fairly silly enough, revolving around stolen videogames, missing classmates, and human bombs. OK, they don't sound all that silly, but the explanation for it all is. Kirkman saves that for the end, though. The book wraps up quickly and leaves you waiting for me, but there is closure here. While the book might have suffered from looking like "just another superhero book from Image" at first glance, it definitely proved itself to be something more.
Cory Walker's art is fabulous, maintaining an open and clean line that fits the tone of the book. This is far from grim and gritty material here, and the lack of large black areas befits that. He does a great job in creating facial expressions that maintain a certain realism. His faces aren't rubbery and overly dramatic. While it might be passed off as boring to some, I like it for its natural qualities and the way it fits the story.
INVINCIBLE is just the start of a series that does its predecessors proud, subverting the clichés that superhero comics have become while maintaining a sense of heart. It's a good book and a breezy read as we wind up the summer.
PIPELINE OF THE RECENT PAST
Greg Rucka does a very smart thing with his first issue of WONDER WOMAN, #195. He tells a complete story in the first issue that introduces his take on the title character. He doesn't make this part 1 of 6. He gives new readers a chance to sample his take on the character without dragging them through six months' worth of storyline. That starts next month, but at least you have a good idea after this issue if you want to hang around for it. I'll definitely be there. Rucka has an interesting take on a character that I've never really been a major fan of, and his dialogue is snappy enough to keep things entertaining, even when the entire issue is just a bunch of people yapping at each other. Not bad.
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #45 is titled 'Guilt' on the cover. It brings us into the mind of Aunt May, as she sits in her therapist's office and works through the issues in her life that have been building throughout the entire series. Bendis' dialogue may keep your eye moving across the pages, but the way he pinpoints the issues in May's life thus far is unerring. It's always a pleasant experience to read a story that shows the writer knows what he's doing. That's what this issue does. It crystallizes the character of Aunt May for the reader, and makes her all the more interesting. Best of all, Bendis didn't need to create anything out of whole cloth to get there. It's always been there.
Mark Bagley gets bonus points for drawing an issue that's entirely (save three pages) two people talking. Aunt May talks to Peter for part of it, and her therapist for the rest of it. May is expressive here, mirroring the dialogue that she's speaking. It's not needless close-ups to cover any eventuality that the writer may come up with. This is all done very purposefully and very professionally. This is a more highly skilled issue for Bagley than any full-issue fight sequence could ever be.
I still like ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #13 better, mind you, but this issue isn't that far behind.
WAY BACK IN THE PIPELINE
"Standoff" was the three-part storyline that kicked off the year for Marvel through the pages of THOR, IRON MAN, and AVENGERS. Drawn entirely by Alan Davis (with inks by "CrossGen fan favorite" Robin Riggs and Mark Farmer), the storyline deals with another fictional country in Eastern Europe that you just know has to exist near Doctor Doom and Latveria. And so it does. Thor is basking in his revered god status, and lets it go to his head when the people of the aforementioned oppressed fictional nation call out for his help. Iron Man is sent in to help resolve the situation peacefully, and then Captain America is sent after them both to defuse the highly personal situation that it devolves into.
The storyline features an all out one-on-one duel between Iron Man and Thor, who ironically have a fistfight to prove that violence is not the solution to a problem. This is meant to be a classic Marvel superhero story, and doesn't do much to reach beyond that. While there's some pointed commentary about civil wars and generational warfare, there's also a lot of painful exposition where there needn't be any, and protracted fight scenes that quickly become redundant. Mike Grell is the guiltiest of the first offense, with the kind of stilted dialogue show-stoppers as Iron Man's "The voice… encroaching on my radio frequency... Dr. Doom! What do you want?" This happens a mere five pages after Doom pulled the same trick in the pages of THOR. It doesn't get any better with the stereotypical portrayals of the religious right as overweight toothless hicks by Davis.
The art is pretty and the story is serviceable, if not ground-breaking. It's the kind of innocuous stuff I might give a little kid who's never read a comic before. He'd appreciate the big fisticuffs and might learn a lesson, too.
Yes, I was joking at the top of the column. Somehow, I think Kirkman -- also a writer of Work For Hire fiction based on the He-Man universe -- would slide under the JOURNAL's attention.
Pipeline returns next week for two more original columns. Tuesday's column will be the normal reviews of the week with whatever commentary that might entail. Next Friday sees the return of Pipeline Previews, as I look into the crystal ball for what's due out on shelves in November. I'm also working on a surprise review or two for that column.
Various and Sundry continues with thoughts on BIG BROTHER 4, a slow news week, the hypocrisy of Rock The Vote, JUNKYARD MEGA-WARS, and more.
Somewhere around 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.