Sam Kieth is an indy artist whose mixed-media renditions of superheroes are bound to give purist fans heart attacks. If you keep an open mind about such things, though, he'll drag you along for a fun ride every time that provides a visual feast like nothing else in superhero comics today. The recently-released WOLVERINE/HULK trade paperback is a perfect example.
I first saw Kieth's artwork a decade ago on an issue of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. It was Hulk versus Hyde, I believe. Even though Kieth restricted himself to straight pen and ink work for the issue, it was still like nothing I had ever seen. He used small panels, his characters looked both realistic and like cartoons at the same time, and he drew Hulk like a hunched over monster. There was something about his mixture of the realistic and the exaggerated that made my then-new comics reading eye stay glued to the page.
After a series of MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS serials, he jumped over to Image for THE MAXX, a cult classic series. There, he got to indulge his every artistic desire, and the results were a surreal mixture of influences, storytelling and art styles, along with a healthy dose of confusion.
After some time away from comics, though, he's come back with a more focused mission, taking on smaller mini-series, mixing creator-owned properties with work for hire. The results have been spectacular, including the memorable FOUR WOMEN and ZERO GIRL for Homage, and now WOLVERINE/HULK for Marvel. Its four issues are now collected into one neat trade paperback officially titled WOLVERINE LEGENDS VOLUME 1: WOLVERINE/HULK. If you think you've seen Kieth experiment with his artwork before, you haven't seen anything yet. This book uses paints, pen-and-ink, crayons and some other techniques and paper stocks that I don't even have the names for.
Po is a girl who's the victim of a plane crash. She appears to Wolverine -- the victim of another nearby plane crash -- and asks for his help. A slightly shaken and unsteady Wolverine follows her, and becomes even more unsure of the whole thing when her godfather appears: Bruce Banner. The Hulk. As you can imagine, the hot-headed Wolverine and the prone-to-anger Hulk quickly come to blows over a misunderstanding (hey, it is a superhero team-up!), before settling down to solve the problem of the little girl they see (or don't see) before them.
Kieth mixes all the best aspects of action comics with characterization and tugs at the heartstring in this book. The fights are imaginatively staged, involving local bears, snowy hillsides, and airplane carcasses. But most of the book takes place in the mind, as Wolverine works to keep Banner in control to some degree, while Banner has to explain his connection to a little girl who should be decades-long dead by now.
The whole thing has the pacing of an hour-long television drama, with just the right off-balance ending to satisfy you, but not leave you with a sense of forced resolution. It ties directly back into the characters, and explains everything that's gone on throughout the entire story.
WOLVERINE/HULK isn't the most original piece of comics work ever produced. At its heart, it's yet another crossover where two heroes clash until they put aside their misunderstandings for the common good of a slightly mystical third part. It is Sam Kieth's work, however, that lifts this material to a higher level, adding a quirky charm in addition to a fresh visual component. For $9.99, it's not a bad deal at all.
LO, THEY SHALL CALL HIM "MANTOOTH!"
We have great writers working at this very moment in comics. Their manuscripts are objects of art unto themselves. Alan Moore's scripts are things of legend for their conversational length. Neil Gaiman's scripts are masterpieces of mythology. Frank Miller's are terse, gripping, and gut-wrenching. These are writers whose work has entertained a generation, and whose work processes are of great interest to comics scholars looking to decipher what makes their minds tick and their stories buzz. Who wouldn't want to see a book published of one of those authors that contains both the sequential art and the original script?
And so it makes perfect sense that such a book has now been published in that format, with the wit and wisdom of the great Matt Fraction and his character, the perverted and violent cursing gorilla super spy, Rex Mantooth.
Let's backtrack. Here's the problem Larry Young faced. He wanted to republish the complete stories of Matt Fraction's favorite gorilla that originally saw print in a couple of anthology books. The problem is that all of those stories combined only took up 39 pages. That's a single floppy book. AiT/PlanetLar produces books with spines. 39 pages wouldn't cut it.
Thus was born the 'filler' material. In this case, all of the story pages would be printed on the right side pages, while the facing pages would include the original script. That still wasn't enough, so Fraction went back and annotated all of the scripts, poking fun at his own scripts and creating new gags as he went along. Still, that's not enough, so three artists were tapped to provide a pin-up section to the back of the book. You want more? OK, how about text pieces by Warren Ellis, Greg Rucka, Joe Casey, and Larry Young? OK, OK, more? Well, Fraction did write those text pages with each issue of the anthology that his stories originally appeared in. So include those. Then give a page of credits to all the schmucks who agreed to take part in this farce, and you're done.
A hefty trade paperback hiding 3 short stories scattered amongst its pages.
THE ANNOTATED MANTOOTH! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the title) is now available in glorious black, white, and every gray in between for a quaint $12.95. It's the manly man's kind of comic book, making no apologies for its insanity, the likes of which are usually only seen produced by the mentally ill in some sort of creative rehabilitation program.
Mantooth is a super secret agent sent on all sorts of oddball cases involving the likes of zombies, cults, and Adolf Hitler. He may be a gorilla, but his attitude is all tough guy. Mantooth interrupts his curse words to insert other curse words. He fights off killer ducks with razor sharp teeth. And he makes Oprah-like talk show hosts/cult leaders go weak in the knees.
It's definitely not a title for the kiddies, but it might turn any manly man into a little kid, giggling over the silliness and twisted nature of every caption box and thought balloon. Fraction's manic madness leaks out onto every page, creating the kind of book that you'll love, but have no idea why and wouldn't possibly be able to explain coherently to a friend.
Andy Kuhn gets to draw all the great clichés, from talking apes to fu-manchu-sporting evil leaders, large robot friends, grizzled Generals, and Adolf Hitler. Face it, bucko, this book has it all. After reading the full scripts, you might feel that Kuhn's art has too many close-ups. It doesn't hurt the story, though. You get the "story" and you get all the "jokes." Kuhn does a great job with all the character designs and solid panel-to-panel storytelling.
THE ANNOTATED MANTOOTH! is the kind of book that has to be experienced, as much as read. No review could fully do it justice. I love the book, though, and would love to see more. C'mon, Matt, throw us all a wooly mammoth-sized bone and bring us some more world-saving adventures.
Today's edition of Pipeline2 will be the last one for a while. It's going on hiatus.
The reasons for this are numerous. Real Life is intruding into my writing time. My batteries need to recharge. I have other writing things to tend to. You name it. It's a little of everything. There is no big scandal to unearth here.
Tuesday's Pipeline Commentary and Review column will continue marching forward. I'll now have a full week to concentrate on writing each edition, so I'm hoping to expand it just a tad and cover more material in the year 2003, including more commentary on the news of the day.
I'm not leaving Fridays completely to Mark Millar, though. I plan on doing at least one Friday column a month. That's where I'll stick the Pipeline Previews. The second Friday after a new issue of PREVIEWS comes out, you can expect a new Pipeline Previews column to take a look at the releases from the publishers two months down the line.
If inspiration strikes me, I'll write it down and deliver it as a PCR Extra for Friday publication in the future. I imagine you might see a couple of those in the near future. It's going to be tough to break this twice a week habit. I've had it for 185 weeks now.
VariousAndSundry.com has been updated some more this week, with the usual new DVD release listings, a short review of Catch Me If You Can, and some thoughts on whether releasing movies early for Oscar consideration is doing them more harm than good.
More than 400 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, a horrifically coded piece of HTML that's soon going away.