THE WEEK IN IMAGE
This is a good release week for Image Comics. In addition to the conclusion of the latest SUPERPATRIOT mini-series (more on this one in a future column, I promise), NOBLE CAUSES, and ATHENA INC., we have three titles I'm going to comment on for you right now.
SAVAGE DRAGONBERT: FULL FRONTAL NERDITY is a collection of all the comic strips of the same title from the back pages of the monthly SAVAGE DRAGON series. Written and drawn by Karl Hornell, the series pokes fun of the Dragon comic, but also takes shots at comic books, fandom, and superheroes in general. In rereading many of the strips this past weekend, I was surprised at how many of them would be accessible to those who've never read the comic they appeared in. It's a great cross-section of humor that anyone should be able to enjoy, but it's a must for all DRAGON fans with a sense of humor.
As the name might suggest, SAVAGE DRAGONBERT is a comic strip that crosses over the characters of Erik Larsen's creator-owned series with the characters of Scott Adams' insanely popular daily comic strip. It's odd how easily the two fit together, but putting Dragon in Dilbert's spot and Hitler's brain in Dogbert's is an inspired bit of casting. You can see their evolution throughout the 80 black and white pages presented here.
The strip is a labor of love, and thankfully its creator doesn't mind opening up about every little thing that goes into the strip -- or the things that come out of it. Hornell intersperses text pages with sample strips to explain his creative process, show us strips that failed, and muses on what makes things funny. It's great fun to read, particularly for those of us who are process junkies.
The book is $5.95 for 80 black and white pages stapled together. While that might seem too expensive in a day and age where DC's prestige format books are full color and glossy with a square binding, consider the quality of what you're reading. Those DC books are only 64 pages and can be flipped through in ten minutes. These 80 pages are jam packed with comic strips and will last through a couple of sittings. It's great fun and an impressive package. It's a good addition to your DRAGON collection, as well.
SAVAGE DRAGON/HELLBOY does fall into that square bound prestige format I was talking about above. Here, though, you get two issues (48 pages, total) of Larsen's on-going series, complete with cover gallery, pin-up, and a cover by Mike Mignola. While the storyline running through the title does bear on the events in the on-going series at the time, it's definitely accessible to regular HELLBOY readers who may have missed this the first time.
Since Larsen wrote the issues (with only the help of Mignola as "dialogue coach"), you'll have a different Hellboy story here. This is all about weird stuff and big fight scenes, without any of the more literary or mythological leanings that Mignola includes in his books. It doesn't make it any less entertaining. It just makes it a different style of book. It's definitely a SAVAGE DRAGON issue, complete with the infamous ending where Dragon and Hellboy find a way to escape from the creature's stomach that shouldn't be read while you're eating.
Larsen's art changes to adapt some of Mignola's storytelling devices, including the black gutters and panel grid storytelling. Larsen plays around with his art a lot in the series, and this is another successful experiment. I think he evokes the feel of Mignola's art without trying to mimic it.
If you're a fan of one series but not the other, this might be a good way to discover something new in a relatively painless way. The packaging looks great, the story is entertaining, and the art is some of Larsen's strongest from the period.
(Next week's schedule includes the new SAVAGE DRAGON: THIS SAVAGE WORLD hardcover. It's been a good few weeks for Dragon fans, hasn't it?)
POWERS #25 is another great issue of the series. Anything I'd have to say about it here would just be redundant with what I've said about other issues. Nicely colored (Peter "Where's my middle name?" Pantazis), well drawn (Michael Avon Oeming), dialogued magnificently (Brian Michael Bendis), etc. etc.
It's amazing to me how little the book has changed since the first issue. Most new series take time to develop. You'll see a big difference between the first issue and the 25th. While there are some changes here -- most notably the now legible lettering and different colorist -- there's nothing that you'd note as a major and obvious change. This isn't a bad thing. It means that the creative team nailed their concept from the start, which is one of the things that makes the book so special and made early issues sell so well. I remember reading those early issues and not having to recommend them with the caveat that, "There's some room for improvement, which I'm sure they'll settle down into eventually." Nope. They hit the ground running. That's special.
I do wish, however, that they'd do more single-issue stories.
In the meantime, this issue starts off with what looks like a sex scandal in the superhero community, a la R. Kelly, and quickly morphs into something else entirely. It's the start of a new storyline. It's a 25th issue without huge fanfare. It's just another solid issue that's a great place to jump onto.
One last thing from the Image side of things before moving on: HAWAIIAN DICKS is a new mini-series starting soon, by Steven Griffin and B. Clay Moore. As the title suggest, it's about a detective in Hawaii. As a bonus, it's set in the 1950s. Judging from all the preview material that's up at Image's web site right now, it looks pretty cool. In addition to the five page preview of the first issue that's linked in the previous sentence, they've posted a series of HAWAIIAN DICK strips as a preview for the series. Each one is a complete story by itself, and shows great promise. The strips vary in tone, but there's a great sense of humor to some of them (#4, especially) that I really like.
The good news is that you can make your own judgment call on these. It's all up there on the web for free for you to look at. I'd say they're worth reading. They might not be your thing, but I think they're well done and deserve a chance.
THE RABBIT KEEPS ON RUNNING
I've read far too little USAGI YOJIMBO in my life. In fact, aside from the first trade paperback, my only other exposure to the character has been the TMNT cartoon more than a decade ago. This week, though, I read USAGI YOJIMBO #61, a nice self-contained issue that excites me enough to go back and pick up more of the trade paperbacks to read through. I have the next couple sitting on my bookshelf. I think it's about time to dig in...
Stan Sakai's anthropomorphic comic book about a wandering ronin rabbit is as interesting and absorbing in its own way as any of the other Japanese samurai comics around today, including LONE WOLF AND CUB and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL. His art has an amazing energy to it. Sakai isn't as stylistic as the artists on those other titles, but there's a raw energy that sweeps you up. All of the pages use a strict grid format. There aren't any full-page splashes and nobody's breaking out of panels into the gutters. The characters move with fluidity and everything around them shows that. Storytelling is clear and sharp. You never get lost during an action sequence in the way that you might with LW&C. Sometimes, Sakai's line might look a little loose or almost sloppy. That's when you realize it's part of the charm of his art. He's not noodling all over the page, and that maintains the freshness of the art.
Like I said, I haven't read an USAGI book in more than a decade's worth of continuity. Yet, this story is easily accessible to me and just as entertaining as any of the comics starring humans that I've read lately. Don't overlook it because the lead character is a rabbit. To me, it's part of the charm. But, then, I like anthropomorphic comics that aren't done with a high T&A factor, or a demeaning childishness. I really miss the Disney Ducks, for starters.
USAGI YOJIMBO is one of those books that people take for granted just because it's been around 'forever' and keeps on coming. It's a shame that this industry is set up to overlook such accomplishments. Credit Stan Sakai for his work ethic and his creativity. And excuse me while I go tearing through some of the backlist.
Coming up on Friday, it's that time again: A flip through PREVIEWS. What's coming up to start off the Year 2003? Find some suggestions this Friday.
VariousAndSundry.com has been updated all weekend, with thoughts on a new home theater sound system, upcoming movie trailers, and a worrisome review on today's release of BABYLON 5 to DVD.
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.