NEW FROM IMAGE
FIREBREATHER #3 is due out March 5th, and it's the strongest issue of the series to date. It weaves all aspects of the series together nicely, and provides a solid reading experience. It's not just a mish mash of ideas and subplots. FIREBREATHER merges teen angst with big monsters in a thoroughly entertaining fashion.
The issue starts with Duncan spending time with his father and getting in touch with his dragon side. It moves quickly back to home and school life, though, which involves a small cast of characters that are easy to like and sympathize with. Duncan's peer counselor, Jenna, provides a nice base of sanity in the melodrama that is high school. She'll probably also be the romantic interest for Duncan if the series continues after this initial four issue arc.
Phil Hester may be best known for his artistic skills, but his writing skills are sharp, as well. Even his talking heads scenes have snap to them. Characters have attitudes and aren't afraid to show them. Quips come quickly, and conversations never come from the standard superhero storytelling template.
Andy Kuhn, meanwhile, is doing the best work of his career. While REX MANTOOTH and FREAK FORCE were both fun in different ways, his art on FIREBREATHER feels more natural. His teenagers make sense, and his monsters and dragons have life in them. They aren't just meticulously constructed beasts, but are characters who are alive on the page.
Bill Crabtree's coloring is vibrant, adding color without dragging the book down. Too many comics these days go for too dark a color palette. While it's called for in many books, it isn't here. Crabtree is smart enough to know that, and colors the skies in purples, oranges, and pinks, with ground cover to match. It errs on the side of being too colorful, but that's something I can live with these days.
INVINCIBLE is a great companion title to FIREBREATHER. INVINCIBLE #2 came out last week from the word processor of Robert Kirkman and the easel of Cory Walker. This book is slightly more traditional, in that its lead super powered teenager, Mark, is a mere human who would be considered a mutant in the Marvel Universe. His father has super powers, and he developed his at puberty. Now, he's coming to terms with these abilities and that leads him to this month's adventures, a run-in with a teenaged superteam. This is the book that puts the fun back into teenaged superheroes.
Nearly the first half of this story is taken up with Mark's father's "secret origin story" (think of Krypton crossed with Erik Larsen's Vanguard and you'll have part of the idea), while the rest focuses on Mark (as Invincible) and his new friends. Kirkman shows a light touch, even when a character rambles on about his origin for a half dozen pages. Characters show attitude and personality as well as powers and costumes. There's a surprisingly low level of angst to the series. This is more about a boy who enjoys having his powers as a birthright and wants to do the most he can with them.
Bill Crabtree also colors this title, lending a similar scheme as he does in FIREBREATHER. It's a bit more subdued with INVINCIBLE, though, but I think Walker's more restrained art style has something to do with that. The coloring in this book stays better focused, with an overall attention to the kind of shading and shadow work that you might see in Japanese animation.
SHADOWS #1, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. I had high hopes for this one, based on the initial premise outlined in PREVIEWS and the original five page preview. In the end, though, it's going to be seen as The X-Files with a privatized team concept. Four characters hunt mythical creatures (that aren't so mythical) on behalf of a fifth character, who's wealthy enough to afford to hire them.
Jade Dodge's story in the first issue begins the hunt for Bigfoot, who turns out to have some complications of his/her own for the team to find. The Bigfoot story has been done to death by now, so I was looking for one of two things in this issue. The first would be a unique twist on the topic. That didn't happen. Yes, there's a change-up thrown at the reader near the end, but it's hardly the most original thing in the world. The second thing was strong characterization. While the characters seem to have their own personalities and some issues within the group dynamic, I was never drawn to any of them, and didn't get the same level of characterization as even The X-Files had with two main characters after a half dozen episodes. Dialogue services the story but isn't spectacular. The text page at the end talks about how the characters have secrets and "tortured pasts" that the plots will serve to act as a catalyst on. I haven't seen enough of that yet in this first issue to make me eager to read the second.
The art by Matt Camp is passable, although many characters have heads too large for their bodies. Colors by Guy Major are a surprising problem. They're too dark, and I don't think it's just a printing problem, the way it was with VENTURE #1. Yes, the printing on paper is much darker than in the preview on-line. The night scenes are still far too muddy, and the daylight scenes come off awkwardly, as if there's no overall color scheme. It's coloring the parts without keeping an eye on how it affects the whole. And just to pour salt on the wound, the lettering also looks like it came off of a dot matrix printer.
Finally, the X-FILES comparison is stretching it a bit. I think everything that deals in the paranormal is automatically compared to THE X-FILES now. When the show was at its peak, numerous comics series were introduced that compared themselves to the show, just because there might be a ghost in one of the early storylines. That misses, I think, what made X-FILES so special. It was the fact that you had two characters (with good chemistry) that represented polar opposite sides of each argument. One had solid scientific evidence and speculation to back up her theories, while the other had case files and mythologies to prove the lore and "extranormal" possibilities in every situation. At the end of the good episodes, you were left with the question still up in the air. While you tended to agree with Mulder (and a little twist at the end might prove him out), Scully's scientific analysis was equally as strong. One of the ways the series went off the track was when the writers had to stretch themselves too thin to keep Scully in the disbeliever department. When she finally converted, the original charm of the series was gone. Doggett was a great character, but he was a streetwise cop, not a rational scientific thinker. Instead of being the informed opposition, he was a man who just seemed too set in his ways. And the viewers knew too much already to believe him and not Scully.
This isn't to say that every supernatural series must follow the X-Files premise. Far from it. Things would get boring if they did. SHADOWS needs to make its own way.
My biggest problem, perhaps, is that the comic shows you Bigfoot in the full light of day and doesn't take an intelligent position yet as to the evolution of the creature or an explanation for its existence. It merely shows Bigfoot as a big boogey man monster to be afraid of, balanced against the team's desire to prove its existence for mercenary purposes. I'm not hooked.
But, heck, Hollywood is interested.
SHADOWS is an on-going series on a bi-monthly schedule. I'm going to stick with it for as long as this first storyline takes to tell. There's potential for something good to come out of it. I'm hoping for better characterization in the next couple of issues.
SHADOWS #1 arrives on comics store shelves near you this week.
SAMMY: TOURIST TRAP #1 (of 4) is an entertaining story of a ne'er-do-well in Mexico after a big heist. As he's waiting for his pick up, he runs into more trouble and an ending that will either have you throwing the book away in disgust (at an urban legend given life) or hanging on out of curiosity as to how writer/artist Azad plans to get out of this and explain everything.
Azad's artwork is crisp -- a smooth black and white line combined with nice gray tones to add dimension to the page. His panel-to-panel work is strong and looks influenced by comic strip storytelling. The only place where the visuals fall apart is in the lettering department, where he uses the much-loathed Whizbang font. Aside from that, his balloon placement and sizing works fine.
The events of this series happen after the story told in a special preview on Image's web site. Not only is it a good example of what to expect in the comic, but it's also entertaining in its own right. Thankfully, Azad dropped the clear word balloons for the printed comic.
SAMMY: TOURIST TRAP #1 has all the charm and quirkiness you could ask for in a comic today. It hits comics shops this week.
TIM BURTON BRINGS YOU THE BIZARRE
Watching a Tim Burton movie is like watching a live action comic book. Watch PLANET OF THE APES again, if your stomach can take it. (If not, go with SLEEP HOLLOW. The effect still holds.) Pay close attention to the way Burton frames his shots and how similar they look to really good comic book storytelling. Characters are blocked out just so, and the frame captures the moment nearly perfectly at every opportunity.
There's another side to Burton than just directing. He's also an author of picture books. NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was one. Another is THE MELANCHOLY DEATH OF OYSTER BOY & OTHER STORIES, released through HarperEntertainment, and planned to be the basis of a line of merchandise from Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse was kind enough to pass along a copy of the book, and I was surprised at how much fun it is. If you like your humor dark and your art gothic, this is the book for you.
Burton's book is a series of short stories written in poetry, accompanied by simple character art. The characters range from the improbable to the bizarre. Brie Boy is a kid with a head that's a wheel of cheese. Mummy Boy is a particular favorite; he's born wrapped in cloth, lives his life as an Egyptian, and meets an untimely demise at a birthday party where he's mistake for a piñata. The Boy With Nails In His Eyes? Well, here's that poem:
The Boy with Nails in His Eyes,
put up his aluminum tree.
It looked pretty strange,
because he couldn't really see.
That's the complete poem. Some are just as short, others go on for pages, but they're all delightful in a sometimes-macabre fashion. Burton's ear for scansion rings true, and the poems sound best when read aloud. Find yourself a nice quiet corner where people won't give you strange looks if they overhear you, and have yourself a fun little poetry reading.
The physical book has the appearance of a reader that you might have seen in the schoolhouse on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. It's an undersized hardcover book that fits in your hand. (It fits in one of my large hands, at least.) The cover is a simple silver image of Oyster Boy surrounded by typesetting that looks straight from a turn-of-the-century catalog. It all fits.
THE MELANCHOLY DEATH OF OYSTER BOYS AND OTHER STORIES is a mischievous compilation of quirky characters, off-kilter poetry, and laughs a plenty. It's a very odd book. At a $20 cover price, it limits itself to Burton fans and "art book" fans. Still, this one's a lot of fun and I'm glad I got the chance to read it.
AROUND THE WEB
I've talked about Rich Henn's documentary-in-progress in Pipeline before. It's called SCENES FROM THE SMALL PRESS: THE ROAD TO SPX. It has a lot of editing and focusing to be done before it's completed. If you're impatient, however, Henn is offering two hours of raw footage on DVD from the interviews he's completed so far. Right now, the best place to get it is through your retailer and Cold Cut Distributors. For $24.95, you're getting Frank Miller's now-infamous Harvey Awards ceremony speech with the ripped-up WIZARD magazine, plus interviews with Colleen Doran, Dave Sim, Joe Quesada, Matt Wagner, and more. Henn has shown bits and pieces of this at a couple of conventions in the past year, and it's worthy stuff. Being able to see the uncut footage like this is a real treat.
If this goes well, expect to see it in PREVIEWS and elsewhere, followed perhaps by more volumes of the footage.
Sergio Aragones' home page is starting to take shape, including an "Ask Sergio" feature. The front page also hints of an upcoming book compiling some of his best MAD cartoons. That's certainly something to look forward to.
The big web release of the week is the start of Marvel's Tsunami line on Marvel's DotComics. Excerpts from the first issues of VENOM, MYSTIQUE, RUNAWAYS, SENTINEL, and HUMAN TORCH can be viewed with the handy Flash plug-in to your browser. The highlight of the five for me so far is RUNAWAYS. The initial selection of pages is all talking heads, but there are a lot of characters with potential across those pages, and I can't wait to see how they interact as they get all together. There's not much going on in the VENOM preview yet. It's more of a teaser, really. If you like the Humberto Ramos school of artistry, you'll like this one. If you don't, you'll hate it and decry it as the death of comics. Gotta love fandom!
DAREDEVIL MOVIE UPDATE
Still haven't seen DAREDEVIL yet. Plan A was ruined by the blizzard. Plan B got squashed in heavy traffic a few nights later.
People at work - - knowing I'm the comic book guy at the office - - asked me about the movie's success last week. I told them to wait a week to see what the second weekend's take was. Anything less than $20-$25 million would be trouble. The initial estimates now put the movie at just under $19 million for its second weekend. It'll hit $100 million eventually, but it won't be pretty. Still, an ELEKTRA spin-off movie with a decent story could do well at the box office, I think. Jennifer Garner's star is rising, and she says she'd be interested.
No, I'm not doing anything for Marvel's EPIC line.
Various and Sundry has been updated with the usual week-in-review of DVD releases, a Grammys recap, an idea for a sure-fire ratings-grabber TV dating show, commercials inside of TV shows, American Idol chatter, and an odd bit of anime DVD release habits. Oh, yes, and much much more.
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.