THE PIPELINE GRAB BAG
The highlight of this week's upcoming releases is GOTHAM CENTRAL #1, the new series written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker about the cops in the Gotham City Police Department. The series promises to do for the Batman corner of the DC Universe what Alan Moore's TOP TEN did for the ABC lineup. It has that same fluid sense of pacing and style, but without all the easter eggs and colorful extravagance. It's a ground-level look at Gotham and how Batman affects the jobs of the police department. Mr. Freeze becomes the turning point of the first issue, appearing for just a couple of pages or so, but impacting the entire department with his actions. The squad quickly mobilizes to take him out, and The Batman Question quickly arises.
Rucka and Brubaker handle the characters in this book really well. There's a variety of motivations and opinions of both police work and the Batman represented here. They resist the temptation to make the appearance of the colorful supervillain splashy and melodramatic. Freeze's actions seem so nonchalant, but the terror feels real. The reaction to the incident doesn't feel forced and things progress in a logical way.
Michael Lark is the perfect artist for this book. He draws "normal" people well, keeping them easily differentiated. I never once had a problem telling one cop from another. His storytelling is classic, moving fluidly from panel to panel and keeping things straightforward and non-experimental. These are just squares and rectangles telling the story here. His art is packed with background detail that helps to center the characters and place them firmly in an environment without showing off or making the art look busy.
The second issue -- which is the conclusion to this story -- is due out at Christmas. Give this one a shot. It's going to be tough to top this one this week.
Kurt Busiek and Tom Grummett's POWER COMPANY got off to a splashy start at the beginning of the year. DC made a big event of their new super powered team, giving each team member their own one shot to explain their origins before launching them together into the monthly series. The concept of a super team that's run like a law firm is a very interesting one, but it took a back seat to the action and hijinks in the earliest issues. Busiek's deliberate dialogue and captions explained everything very neatly to the reader, but often failed to spark enthusiasm. The moral center of the team, Skyrocket, came across as a whining ninny. A large cast of characters left little time to devote to their individual plights, instead rendering each one as a quickie caricature of a superhero type.
Thankfully, Busiek and Grummett recognized those issues and came up with an answer. The past three issues (#8-#10) have redefined the series into an exciting political power struggle, where the individual motivations amount to more than just a twist to the powers being generated by the characters. With the fall of the Power Company's leader, Josiah Power, the team must come together. This happens with incredible speed until a most shocking and brutal twist of fate befalls their intentions at the end of issue #9. It's a great turnaround in the plot, and kicks off the political plays that begin in the tenth issue.
It's to the point now where the cases that the company handles feel secondary to the struggle for control, and seem to sap the title of its momentum. Issue #10 does a great job in balancing the two out, using the action to influence the politics. The characters are the stars of the book, and we're following their lives. We're not waiting for the next big threat to see how ingeniously their powers can be combined to defeat it. I like that concept. It reminds me a little bit of the manga series, SANCTUARY. There's the same potential in this book now for characters to play off of each other. In a world where reality television's never-ending political savagery keeps millions entertained, it's a logical step to take in superhero comics.
If Busiek and Grummett keep this up, they'll have a winning title here for the ages. I just hope enough people give the book the second chance it deserves. Picking up the tenth issue alone should be enough to get the flavor of the book for you. I know it's tempting to refuse to start from anyplace other than the first issue. In this day and age of quick trade paperback printings, it's tough to start in 'the middle'. I think, however, that starting with issue #8, this is a new series. Issue #10 is the first bold step in that direction.
BATMAN/DEATHBLOW contains the most beautiful comic book art of the year. That art comes from Lee Bermejo with inkers Tim Bradstreet and Mick Gray, and coloring by Grant Goleash. Bermejo's interpretation of Gotham City is noir-ish, but replete with the dirt and scum you'd associate with street-level Batman stories. Goleash's painting adds both texture and mood to the piece as a whole, complementing Bermejo's artwork with another dimension.
Sadly, Brian Azzarello's story is a little less inspiring. It's a great idea, but the execution falls a little flat. In this crossover, the two characters never meet. Half the story happens ten years ago with Deathblow on a case. The other half happens "today" with Batman picking up the pieces. The timelines switch back and forth, and involve governmental conspiracies within conspiracies that I'm afraid I never had the chance to sort out. The third issue is doubly complicated by one of the shortcomings of Bermejo's art, I'm sorry to say. The secondary characters in the book don't appear to have aged at all in ten years. It's confusing trying to figure out which timeline you're in, particularly when Batman dresses up as Deathblow for the finale. It's a case of style overwhelming substance.
Still, if I run across any of the original art pages from this series for sale at a convention next year, it'll be tough to keep the money in my wallet…
In the end, the series is worth picking up for the art alone. The story is interesting, but you have to work hard at the last issue to make heads or tails of it. No trade has been solicited yet, but I'm sure it's forthcoming. The last issue saw print just last month. An oversized hardcover would be ideal for the material, but I doubt we'll see that.
For more on the series, check out these short Quicktime movies featuring Bermejo discussing his craft. If nothing else, it'll teach you the proper pronunciations of everyone's names, in case you were curious.
The New York Times had a story this weekend about Jay Hosler's THE SANDWALK ADVENTURES. It's another fine example of why the most respected newspaper in the world is in the middle of a nosedive. It starts with the headline "Pow! Splat! Take That, You Darwin Disparagers!" Then it works its hardest to turn the comic into a piece of anti-Creationism propaganda, followed by making it out to be a superhero parody in casting Charles Darwin as a mock superhero. That's such a small part of the book that taking it out of context like this is only going to work against it. The article takes up nearly a half page-sized column of the Arts section of the paper, and includes a nice large reproduction of one of the pages from the series. It's nice to see Hosler's excellent mini-series getting attention -- along with word that the collection will be out in just a few months -- but I think it shows more of the shortcomings of the New York Times than it does the greatness of THE SANDWALK ADVENTURES.
Pocket Books recently announced that Kevin J. Anderson will be writing the novelization of the LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN movie. While this isn't quite as obscene as, say, Max Allan Collins writing the novelization of THE ROAD TO PERDITION -- a movie based on a comic he wrote himself -- it does annoy me. There's a book version of the movie, already. Yes, it's told in sequential art format and might make for a lousy book-on-tape. But so what?
I realize that as a comics fan, I'm fighting a losing battle that gets worse each passing year, but this is ridiculous. It's disrespectful to the creators of the book.
(The whole thing might not be quite as bad, perhaps, as the marketing of a set of THE LORD OF THE RINGS books as "Adapted From The Movie!")
The WALL STREET JOURNAL had a story on its front page a couple of weeks ago dealing with the amazing amount of dialogue on television shows these days. It reminded me a lot of the type of "banter comics" I've been talking about here for months. It seems that the comic industry is fairly well in line with other media as it moves towards more talking heads with more dialogue. (Witness the rise of Brian Bendis or Joe Michael Straczynski, for starters.)
Here are a few quotes from the article:
"When "ER" premiered eight years ago on NBC, its dialogue was so rapid-fire that scripts ran 60 pages, about 10 pages longer than the typical one-hour drama. Viewers loved it, and the show was a huge hit. Today, the show isn't a minute longer. But its scripts now run more than 80 pages."
"Hollywood producers think people seem smarter if they talk faster…"
"Fast talk is also a way for broadcast networks to make shows seem edgy when they can't feature the sex, violence and bad language of HBO."
Next time you read a comic that goes heavy on the dialogue, think back to some of those quotes. There is a movement towards this type of entertainment. We in comics are not alone.
The holiday giveaway is still on. Just send me an e-mail (see link below) with the words "Holiday Giveaway" in the subject header and your name and address in the body of the message. Please also indicate if you're older or younger than 13. Only one entry per person, please. If you entered last week, don't push your luck. The first nine packages have gone out already from Pipeline Central.
And Larry Young over at AiT/PlanetLar has also joined in the festivities. He offered up a box filled with AiT/PlanetLar trade paperbacks to one lucky Pipeline reader. I chose one from the entries provided last week, and that winner's prize is headed his way. Thanks, Larry!
Special thanks, also, to Justin at Dewey's Comics in Madison, NJ for the advanced comic help.
That long-delayed look at the mechanics of mixed-case lettering is still in the works. I haven't forgotten about it. I'm just working on the best way to explain it all.
Coming Friday: A look at the latest PREVIEWS.
VariousAndSundry.com has been updated with lots of good stuff in the past week since last I mentioned it. I've put up DVD reviews for COWBOY BEBOP: BEST SESSIONS and ICE AGE. There's an odd moment of hilarity courtesy of a major on-line vendor. I've got a movie review for the latest James Bond flick, and bad news regarding the shift in FOX's television schedule. Bowling and trick-shot billiards make an appearance, as does a rumor of the Looney Tunes shorts showing up on DVD in 2002.
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.