…BUT FIRST, A CORRECTION
The BLACK WIDOW trade paperback that Marvel will be soliciting for a little later this year does, indeed, compile both the first and second Marvel Knights mini-series. I'm very happy to be corrected on that one, and humbly apologize for misreading the original announcement.
I still prefer the thicker trades, though.
Since Tuesday's column veered straight into the on-coming traffic of commentary, I'm taking this special occasion to write up some reviews. And we'll start with a preview:
GREEN ARROW #1 isn't due to arrive on your local retailers' shelves until February 28th, but I think you'll find it's worth the wait. The black and white preview I have here contains the first 20 pages of the issue. I'm assuming there's another couple that go at the end but weren't included. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if those two pages are the ones we'll all be talking about at the end of next month. DC is probably trying to preserve the surprise.
Kevin Smith writes an introspective story here. There's not much action, and what action there is comes from Black Canary's viewpoint. (There's a really odd flashback with here and Ollie Queen that I'm surprised DC is letting pass by. They're pretty touchy about the stuff they include in their code approved books, and somehow the intimation that Ollie Queen is, er, orally pleasuring Black Canary just off panel doesn't strike me as something DC would want to latch onto. But to each their own.) I'm a newcomer to the Green Arrow mythology. The closest I've ever come is my copy of the hardcover from last month reprinting the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams series of issues. I haven't had the chance to read that just yet. This issue acts as a nice expository piece to explain what's going on with the Green Arrow.
The story starts off in the midst of the FINAL NIGHT crossover series in which, if I'm remembering correctly, Green Arrow died. It's set atop the Daily Planet, with Superman and Batman chatting about the cold. It's an instant classic. Perfectly in character.
The rest of the issue introduces us to the main characters in this book (I assume) and lets us in on their relationships. It's a well-done bit of soul-searching, and Kevin Smith seems to be learning to control some of his wordier nature. Yes, this book is still stacked with caption boxes, but I've seen him do worse.
Phil "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" Hester and Ande Parks provide the art, and do a good job drawing a moody issue here. Most of it centers on characters brooding, so you know it's no easy task.
I'll be interested in seeing what this thing looks like in color. The title page lists Guy Major as the colorist, but I'm not all that familiar with his work. Sean Konot letters the thing. Bob Schreck has been keeping him really busy over at DC, and I'm happy for him. His dialogue lettering is compact and neatly formed. I can do without some of the more cursive captions, but you take the good with the bad. (His Alfred caption boxes in ROBIN: YEAR ONE can often be very difficult to get into. He falls into no such trap here.)
I got my hands on a copy of ULTIMATE MARVEL MAGAZINE this week. Found it at the local newsstand by me at work. Yes, they racked it in with all the comics they also carry. (It's a few DC and Marvel mainstream superhero books. Nothing spectacular.) So I guess the racking strategy isn't what it should be, but I did find the blasted thing. (I have no plans to go on eBay with it.) It reprints the first two issues of Brian Bendis' and Mark Bagley's ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, with a few oddball pages. Your Man @ Marvel takes the back page to let the world know that THE DEFENDERS are coming back, along with information on how to buy comics, including the 1-800-Comic Book number and some on-line choices. Other than that, the only stuff in the mag is a page of Marvel movie news and two pages of Marvel merchandising. Not very much. I would have liked more.
But the star of the magazine is the comics – and rightfully so. These pages have never looked better than they do here. The pages are slightly larger than the normal comics size, maybe by an inch. Blowing them up to full magazine size wouldn't work because of the proportions of the art page. The art looks a lot bigger and brighter in here, though, and that makes the story even easier on the eyes and a lot of fun to look at. The glossy pages don't glare and blind you like, say, SAM & TWITCH's pages often do. It's nice magazine stock paper.
For $4, it's not a bad way to read ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. If you already have the issues, though, you're not getting much more here than slightly larger art. If you're a collector, then you'll want to find this. It is rather nice to look at. Will it hook new readers and bring them into the fold? That may be out of Marvel's hands. All they can do is get the comics into distribution. What the retailers who buy them do with the magazine is up to them. Not Marvel. And so the nightmare stories of the mag being racked with the comics or far away from where kids would see them continue…
AREA 52 #1 is the surprise hit of the week. Lost amidst a sea of other Image Central titles, I didn't even consider picking this up until it caught my eye on the stands. Brian Haberlin scripts the story, while Clayton Henry draws it. Think of it as the book Brian Bendis would write if he were doing WHITEOUT. Corporal Monica Lane is the victim of a harsh commanding officer. He's sent her down to Antarctica, where a small ragtag band of likewise undesirable soldiers are set up to guard a warehouse filled with oddball genre-related things. "Think of it as Area 51's attic," the back cover of the issue explains.
All the fun of this book is in the characters. Very little happens in the way of hard plot in this issue – although what does happen at the very end will spur on the mystery and excitement of this book for the next few issues. The thrill is in meeting and getting to know the characters, all of which Haberlin has obviously spent some thinking about. They're all easily identifiable, and each personality is unique. Some even have mysteries in their past, that will most likely kick off other stories in the future.
Haberlin keeps the dialogue punchy. It's very lively and you don't feel bogged down while reading it. Something is always going on, and someone is always saying something that you can feel leading somewhere, without sounding forced.
Clayton Henry fills the unenviable task of illustrating this. While his style is very much manga influenced, he fuses it well with traditional Western storytelling. He's very adept at displaying emotions on characters. Their body language and facial expressions work perfectly in concert with the dialogue. He does draw backgrounds, although they're not often that necessary. The interest in this book comes from people talking, not their environment. The environment is rather cold and bleak, anyway. Even the interiors of the base are rather spare and metallic. The colors match that. They're more flat that you might be used to in this day and age, but they let the characters in the foreground take center stage, and not any computerized coloring affects.
This one gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Image overshipped this, so you should have no problem finding a copy, one should hope. Give this book a shot. The next issue doesn't come out until March, but it should be worth the wait, if this issue is any indication.
Kevin Maguire has a lot of fun with GEN13/FANTASTIC FOUR. Over the course of 48 prestige pages, he shows Gen13 having another wild night in New York City, this time involving the Fantastic Four in their troubles. Qeelocke has gotten loose and is inexplicably growing in size. Likewise, another extra-dimensional being has just warped in to New York City, and the two threaten to destroy everything.
Maguire does double duty in this special, not just in drawing it (with Karl Story's inks) but also in writing it. He does a good job of latching onto the characters fairly early on and letting their actions dictate the story. The trappings of the Gen13 mythos are also there, with lots of excuses for putting the girls in their evening wear before having them slug it out and fly over the city. It's not offensive stuff. It's just good clean fun, albeit not terribly mature or sophisticated. Makes for some neat one-liners, though.
For a man who's had so many problems with deadlines in the past decade, Maguire looks to be on the fast track towards turning it around. This one shot came out at the same time as he's in the middle of drawing X-MEN FOREVER, the third issue of which just came out yesterday. Add to that the two prestige format JLA books he drew last year and we're starting to see some real production out of him. With Art Adams returning to interior comics stories on THE AUTHORITY (if only for three issues) and the TOM STRONG spin-off title, and Dale Keown returning to comics (with a SUPERMAN issue), maybe we're finally getting that return of all that comics talent we love but miss. (OK, so maybe Joe Quesada couldn't drag Todd McFarlane out, but we're getting some other pretty good artists back on track, anyway.)
ULTIMATE X-MEN #2 would be my book of the week, if I kept track of such things. Mark Millar and Adam Kubert and Art Thibert have improved upon the first issue, and I didn't think that was going to be too easy. Kubert's is phenomenal. The cover uses his pencil art to great effect. The interiors appeal to the eye just as much. There's a double page spread in the second half of the book that will just stop you cold. I tend to read through comics pretty quickly these days. But when I got to that spread, I held the book open for a little while to admire it before turning to the next page. His sense of lighting and blocking of the characters is very cinematic. If the second X-MEN movie can be as good as this book, I'll be first in line. Mark Millar is free from the constraints of X-history and is having a blast adding in new layers and nuances to the characters. He's got what seem to be more and more referred to as "beautifully mad ideas" that he's slipping into this book when nobody notices. It's the little things that add up on this book. The X-Men get to act and think just slightly differently than we're used to, while remaining recognizable.
Tomorrow's Pipeline2 is a look at the rest of CrossGen's titles that I didn't get to last week.
Over 175 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 are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML. Those columns are even migrating over here in drips and drabs. Eventually, they'll all be on CBR.
And, finally, I write DVD movie reviews for the gang over at DVD Channel News. If you're into DVD, check out my stuff there.
See you tomorrow!