THIS WEEK'S RELEASES
If a book sticks around long enough, it develops its own list of clichés, running gags, story premises, and rhythms. You can see it in X-MEN whenever a new creator comes on. The first thing that new creator will do is shake up the characters on the team, and follow that up with the Sentinels, Magneto, and the Shi'ar. Not necessarily in that order. It's up to you if this creates a problem with creators repeating the old and not instituting the new, or if it's a classical pattern that emerges over time to bring back memories of old glories while creating the much vaunted illusion of change.
The Avengers has it just as much as The X-Men, and Geoff Johns is off to a great start with his take on the Avengers roster shakeup story, combined with a change in the Avengers status quo in dealing with other groups and governments.
I dropped AVENGERS from my reading list after Alan Davis moved on. The title didn't excite me anymore, some issues had backed up on my reading stack, and I realized it was time to move on. It was the combination of Kurt Busiek's measured stories and George Perez's insanely detailed art that made the book for me. The Avengers, themselves, had never been a team I was interested in.
Now Geoff Johns appears ready to bring me back into the fold. This week's AVENGERS #61 starts a new direction for the title, one that seems ready to bring up new conflicts and political angles for the superteam. The Avengers are now under the auspices of the U.N. and located in New York City on newly sovereign territory. That's causing all sorts of problems from on high. Additionally, the team is ready to reorganize and restart, and some of the membership conflicts are interesting. Lots of great character bits permeate the issue. My favorite is the pair of pages with Namor and Captain America. When all is said and done, the membership is both new and old, and the wheel begins to turn again.
Continuity is not a major hindrance. I had no problems digging right into this issue. While there are previous storylines being touched on throughout the issue (what did The Jack of Hearts do so wrong?), it's nothing that can't be nodded towards and moved on from. I didn't feel lost at all through the issue. If anything, I now want to see a trade paperback collecting all the stories I missed so I could fill in those gaps. In lieu of that, I'll just take this as a new start and catch up as I go along.
Gary Frank pulls art duties here and does a decent job. Jon Sibal is inking him here, and gives the art a slightly different look. The finished ink line isn't as smooth as it is when others ink his work. All of Frank's quirks are still present: lots of stiff heads arguing back and forth, and a few odd angles in panels. There's a fantastic worms-eye view on Thor that works well, for example. I think Frank's art, though, needs a different style of inker to work best.
This new direction gives the title a new spark of energy that piques my curiosity. I think I'll give it a couple of issues to see if it can capture my enthusiasm, or if it's just destined to drift back to being another superhero team I needn't bother with.
THE PUNISHER #19 is the best issue of the series so far. It's handled by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (inking himself), and has Frank Castle wounded in the woods of Vermont, stumbling to the duck pond and house of one Jane the Mouse. Finally, we get the chance to catch up on the tenants of the apartment building that Frank occupied when Ennis restarted the series a couple years ago. Jane's little crush on Frank plays a part in this issue, and is nicely counterbalanced by Punisher's macho war on crime and the Russian criminals it brings to poor Jane's doorstep. I've probably already given away too much, but it's a great issue with a nice balance between the sweet Jane and the brutal Frank.
Dillon inks himself this month, and it lends a different look to the art. Gone is Jimmy Palmiotti's more fluctuating ink line. A uniformly thinner line that I like more replaces it, whereas Frank's is hurt in AVENGERS by the same look. Dillon's art reminds me a little bit of Frank's in other ways, as well. While Dillon's is a bit more fluid, they both seem to excel in drawing talking heads stories, and in creating "normal" people that are believable and easily differentiated. Dillon uses more panels in his storytelling and keeps a straighter grid format. That keeps the story moving along better. Frank has the tendency to use splashier images, but his art isn't as dynamic as it should be for that. It looks great, but it doesn't scream with enough energy to always pull it off.
THE PUNISHER #19 is a great one-part story that's easily accessible for new readers who might want to give the book a chance.
LAST WEEK'S RELEASES
SAVAGE DRAGON #102 is, to a certain degree, a return to form for Erik Larsen. If you miss Dung or that issue where Dragon contemplates children with Rapture or various other outrageous visuals, you'll love this issue. In it, the herald of a world-wrecker appears and takes the form of an overweight woman with three babies still hanging on by their umbilical cords. She rides two of them like some sick Kirby creation, while the third hangs around as a weapon. Dragon's fight with this creature is an instant classic, both inventive and well told. There's a larger plot afoot, but I won't blame you if the disturbing visuals of the first story lead you to overlook that. The series is still split into two halves per issue, with one set in each world. I wonder if the events in this issue aren't leading towards some sort of merger, or a last hurrah for one of the two worlds. I think that would help the readability of the series for potential new readers.
In the meantime, the new SAVAGE DRAGON: THIS SAVAGE WORLD hardcover is a classy presentation of the first batch of issues (#75-81) set in the Savage World. It's here that Larsen simplified his series and made Dragon the focus of every story, with a creative and imaginative new creature or foe to face. The stories are neatly compartmentalized, show great focus, and are fun for most ages. I didn't realize it when I originally read it, but the first issue reprinted here includes Dragon on every single panel of the story, for all 22 pages. That alone is a pretty neat trick.
The hardcover includes a dustjacket and great reproduction values on the same heavy glossy paper stock used in the series. For those who've shied away from the DRAGON hardcovers in the past due to their limited availability and higher price, this volume is a welcome break. It's a much more affordable $25 dollars. All future volumes are planned to be in this price range, as well. There's also a number on the spine to indicate what order the volumes should be read in. The previously printed collections won't be reprinted just for the sake of that number, but all future ones will. That should help new readers out, as well.
The next hardcover, TERMINATED, is due out this month. I'm not holding my breath, but we'll see…
GREEN ARROW #19 is a great example of the way that "decompressed" storytelling can go horribly wrong. There are about 6 pages of story spread out across 22 pages of the book. The repeated panels and pacing tricks that writer Brad Meltzer and artists Phil Hester and Ande Parks use feel like filler. There are too many examples of them in one issue, and only one (Arrow's meeting with The Flash) feels necessary to make the point about time elapsing. In the end, the story crawls through the entire issue, although it's not without its cute moments and clever dialogue bits. Meltzer has written some excellent issues of the series so far, but this one is a misfire. Perhaps it'll work better in the grand scheme of things and as a small chapter of the larger work. We'll have to wait for the collection for that in a few months.
AND FROM THE WEEKS BEFORE THAT...
TECH JACKET is the new series from writer Robert Kirkman and artist E.J. Su. Kirkman has shown a good sense of fun in his work at Image so far. SUPERPATRIOT: AMERICA'S FIGHTING FORCE was, in some ways, a loving tribute to the work of Erik Larsen's superhero universe over the past decade. INVINCIBLE (previewed in this book and SAVAGE DRAGON #102) looks to be a teenager-centric book in the vein of a Spider-Man or even Tom De Falco's late series, RANDY O'DONNELL IS THE MAN. TECH JACKET is somewhere in between.
Su's art has a bit of manga influence to it. It's in the speedlines, the costume designs, and the characters. The storyline may even reflect some of that, since it might at first remind some of the high concept of Jackie Chan's recent bomb, THE TUXEDO. With the quick crash of that movie, I don't think the comic will have any problem with those comparisons. One has to remember the existence of the movie to make the comparison. So many movies have come and gone through theaters in the past three or four months, that Kirkman and Su (with colorist Val Staples) shouldn't have that problem here.
The lettering from Kirkman bears a strong John Workman Jr. influence, but it fits the book perfectly. Su's art is very open, with few spotted black areas. Kirkman's lettering is made up of perfectly circular balloons that often stick to panel borders, and a nice font that owes much to Workman's sense of design. It's a nice look overall.
TECH JACKET is one to keep an eye on. It's too soon to pass final judgment on the series, and a trade collection is not a given by any stretch of the imagination. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, check it out on the shelves this week. The second issue isn't out yet.
Another half dozen packages went out this weekend to lucky winners across the country, and to one or two countries not of this continent. I have plenty more to giveaway. If you haven't entered yet, here's how:
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 for the entire contest, please. Thanks.
All entries will be deleted at the end of the contest (whenever I run out of packages or energy) and none will be sold to any third parties or used in any other way. You won't be getting spammed for this.
Special thanks to John and Justin at Dewey's Comics in Madison, NJ for the advanced comic help.
Coming Friday: A look at the rest of PREVIEWS for February 2003, plus a couple of updates on last Friday's picks.
Next week: A look at a couple of relatively new comics from animators.
VariousAndSundry.com is still going strong. The most recent updates includes links to movie trailers, the upcoming Kevin Smith DVD, the world's biggest scavenger hunt, Firefly, a dashboard record player, and more. Click on over and join the fun.
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.