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Pipeline #284

GUNS, HONG KONG COPS, AND NAZIS

[Gun-Fu]GUN FU #1 is the new self-published book from writer/inker Howard M. Shum and artist Joey Mason. The pair has created a colorful book with a unique combination of elements that make it more fun than it ought to be.

Some writers have been known to put character traits on scraps of paper, throw them in a fish bowl, and reach in to randomly grab three or four to create characters. GUN FU has a set-up so bizarre that one is left to wonder if that's what Shum did in creating this book. Here's the introductory paragraph from the inside front cover:

"Welcome to the world of Gun Fu. The year is 1936. Cheng Bo Sen is a gun-shooting, kung fu-using Hong Kong cop. He also speaks hip-hop which no one seems to notice…"

The British government, a beautiful but evil scientist, and a Nazi robot show up shortly after that. Where, you may ask, is the talking gorilla? Hopefully, he'll show up in a future issue, because this is a series with a lot of promise. Right now, it's just a one shot. If it sells well, though, you can expect to see more.

Shum's story sucks you in from the start. It doesn't take any effort on the reader's part to catch on to what's happening, or to find something to like about the smug grinning Hong Kong cop who's quickly shown to be good a what he does, albeit a little extreme. He's a little two-dimensional right now, but that's fine for this one shot. As a series, he may need to be developed a little further to keep from becoming a single joke repeated too often. (That worked for GROO, but what are the odds of lightning striking twice?)

Mason's art is highly stylized, looking like something out of a Flash-animated Cartoon Network series. It always feels like cheating to me when I see it animated, but it always works better in a comic book. It's not a shortcut; it's a style. Mason's storytelling is adequate, but a couple more long shots would have helped to set up the action a little better, particularly in the early gunfight. It seems at times that his "camera" is stuck between a mid-shot and a close-up. You can't appreciate all of the movement in a scene that way.

The first issue has 26 pages of story in full color on glossy paper. There are also four pages at the end with the creators listing who they think are the most beautiful women in the world. To save it from seeming completely out of place, it does come with caricatures by Mason. A couple of sketchbook pages rounds out the package. Most of the art from the book can be seen on Shum's web site, if you'd like to preview it before you buy it. For $3.50, it's a pretty packed book.

FROM THE DC RACKS LAST WEEK

[Nightwing]Devin Grayson has done an excellent job so far maintaining the feel and style of NIGHTWING, the book she took over from Chuck Dixon. Rather than jettisoning everything and starting with a clean slate, she's continued the storylines Dixon had in place, and brought things to their logical (if somewhat rushed) conclusions.

The extra-sized 75th issue wraps up things that started the day that Dick Grayson became an officer in Bludhaven. With the acquisition of Mary Redhorn's journals, the hammer is primed to drop on the corrupt Bludhaven Police Department. Now everything's in the hands of the legal system and Dick Grayson has to figure out where this leaves him. Since this isn't LAW & ORDER, the legal proceedings are only given a couple of pages. The focus of the story is on Dick and the police.

Devin Grayson's love for the character of Dick Grayson shows through in this issue, and her appreciation for long-term Batman continuity works to her advantage as well. She doesn't conveniently forget portions of the past for the sake of the clichéd moment. When Nightwing finds a new "cape" working the streets of the dirty city, he comes up short of lecturing her on the dangers of the job and thinks back to his days as an early teenaged hero. There's also a lot of good character work done in the issue pointing up the differences and similarities between Dick Grayson and Batman.

[Batgirl #34]BATGIRL #34, likewise, is a strong character issue that marks the beginning of a new direction for the Batman prodigy. With the original creative team of Kelley Puckett, Damion Scott, and Robert Campanella back on the book, the character feels more alive now. I enjoyed Chuck Dixon's three-issue stint for what it was. I have no problem with it. But it failed to stand out amongst a sea of superhero comics aside from being written by Dixon. What these creators do with Batgirl is something different each month, and something to look forward to. The stories are always presented from a fresh angle, with a strong emphasis on the girl at the center of all the action. We've seen her grow up a lot in the three years that the title has been around. She's learning to fight the old fashioned way (without the strong body language interpretation powers). She's learning to communicate verbally. She faced down death and came out a winner. She's learning to subdue her more suicidal tendencies. With this issue, she's learning something else that can only bring her closer to the Batman. That's the ending, though, and I don't want to give away the whole thing. BATGIRL has been one of the best superhero titles of the past couple of years, and this issue is another good reason as to why that is.

The latest Paul Dini/Alex Ross collaboration, JLA, is now out in stores. It's in the same format as their previous four holiday classics. The big difference here is that there is no story. Each of the big seven characters gets a two-page spread devoted to telling their origin story. The origins for the four characters who previously had books of their own are reprinted here. What's new in the book? You get three pages of introduction to the JLA and then two page segments for The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, Hawkman, The Atom, Plastic Man, and the League as a whole. The rest of the book is filled out with interviews of the two creators and plenty of sketchbook material from Ross. While it's a bit disappointing that this isn't a full-length new story, the art is still pretty and the price is knocked down a couple of bucks to $7.95. It's a nice companion piece if you're collecting the set of these books, but you're not missing much if you skip over it.

[Superman: Day of Doom #1]SUPERMAN: DAY OF DOOM is Dan Jurgens taking a look back at the story of Superman's death. The first issue of the weekly mini-series came out last week, and has strong possibilities, even if the first part isn't as exciting or as daring as it might have been.

It's the tenth anniversary of the death of Superman in our time (and an unknown but assumed lesser number of years in Metropolis time), and it's time for Perry White to assign the annual retrospective story to one of his reporters. He chooses Ty Duffy, a young reporter looking to make his name. The problem is that he's stumped by it. The story's been done countless times over the years, and he would prefer to write something new and more "relevant." White convinces him of the merits of the story and then pushes him out the door to get to work.

The story thus far is a bit meandering. You have a couple of nice speeches, and some nice light interplay between best friends Booster Gold and Blue Beetle. (It does seem, however, to forget about everything Chuck Dixon did with the Beetle character in BIRDS OF PREY.) The fault lies with the main character. The protagonist of our story is flailing around a bit, poking around and hoping desperately to find an angle on the story. Since the reporter doesn't have a terribly strong character established yet, you might find yourself feeling like you're flailing along reading the story. At the end of the issue, he's in no better shape than he was when he started.

The last couple of pages set up a subplot that seems to be angling towards a bit of ret-con activity. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it won't be a huge bait and switch, or that it won't try to undercut everything the story was about ten years ago.

Bill Sienkiewicz, who shows up everywhere these days, inks Dan Jurgens. Sienkiewicz isn't my usual cup of tea, but he's growing on me. His Punisher/Daredevil issues of ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP a couple years ago really turned me around. His work here is its usual loose and scratchy self, but elevates the art by adding details and levels of shading not usually found in Jurgen's more open style of art.

Using Sienkiewicz is a good idea on the part of the Superman editors. It prevents the art from looking like a clone of the job done ten years ago, and it also works to separate this title from the other SUPERMAN books these days, which tend towards the cartoonish or manga-inspired styles.

It's too early to tell if this mini-series as a whole will be worth reading, but it's got capable creators and good material to work with. The original Doomsday story is thin. It's only in the retellings and follow-up series that things have been fleshed out, mostly by Jurgens. That's why I'm giving this one a shot as being something more than just an attempt to cash in on something that was a great boom at the peak of the early 90s' market.

OVERLOOKED IN PREVIEWS

I missed a very important book in last Friday's look at the new PREVIEWS catalog. Jeff Parker is self-publishing (through his label "Octopus") a 128 page full color original graphic novel called THE INTERMAN.

This is the story of a man named Van Meach. He is an orphan of the military, genetically altered to be adaptable to any environment. After forgetting his existence for a couple decades, the military latches back on to him. He wants nothing to do with it, however, since he's already using his powers in potentially extra-legal ways. When the governments of the world come after him, Meach has to scramble to stay one step ahead.

The preview art from Parker is clean and easy to follow. His coloring is unobtrusive and adds to the art without being distracting. There's plenty of preview material available for the book on Parker's web site. I suggest checking it out to see if you'd be interested in it. The early reviews on it are very positive.

Pipeline2 returns on Friday with trade paperback reviews, including Marvel's DEADLINE.

VariousAndSundry.com has been updated all weekend, with thoughts on movie schedules, Dance Dance Revolution, DTS versus Dolby Digital sound systems, and more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

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.

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