PIPELINE DAILY – DAY FOUR
Welcome back to the penultimate column of this very special Pipeline Daily week. Next week we'll discuss comics of special social significance in a very very special Pipeline Daily week.
No, just kidding. After this week, I'll need some rest. This column has three Pipeline Previews and one leftover con story from Pittsburgh.
Tomorrow's column is the Return of Pipeline One-Liners. Tremble in anticipation.
It took me a few moments of hesitation before I came up with the name of Marvel's big company-wide crossover from late last year. You know the one I'm talking about -- the one where some aliens turn earth into Australia by stashing their prisoners here?
Yes, "Maximum Security."
It was an idea that started off strong and had completely petered out by the time the mini-series came to a merciful end. The one redeeming value of the series was the character of USAgent/John Walker. His character was rehabilitated into something new and different. So Marvel solicited for a three-issue mini-series. Then they completely blew it by choosing an advertisement design that made it seem like a cheap Judge Dredd knock off. Appearances to the contrary, it's not.
The first issue hits your local comics shop today and it's not nearly as bad as many seem to want it to be. It's solid traditional Marvel stuff with a couple of twists in it. No, it's not earth shattering. It's not something likely to appeal to a greater audience than comic book junkies. It's fairly well self-contained in the Marvel Universe. Jerry Ordway writes and pencils it in a traditional style. While he could have gone with something more derivative of SHIELD superstar Jim Steranko, or relied more on the popular widescreen format, he didn't. For this series, he's drawing in a classic comic book style, and something that will probably get overlooked for that. (Karl Kesel inks him and does a fine job at it, too.)
Walker, as the USAgent, is now the head of STAR, the new Superhuman Tactical Activities Response team. It's like SHIELD, but with a focus more directly on superhumans. They help transport criminals, recapture them, or flush them out, depending on the situation.
The plot includes bits of spying, backstabbing, romance long thought lost, law and punishment, and just a touch of politics. To me, the politics are the most important thing. Walker answers to Congress and is held accountable for his actions by a bunch of weak-kneed politicians. It's already happening in the first issue, as a new agent is assigned to the group to watchdog the watchdog.
There is, however, some clunky dialogue along the way. "Even now, looking into your eyes, I don't know if I should kiss you or punch your lights out--?!?" Sounds like something from PEARL HARBOR.
There's also a bunch of exposition necessary to explain who the character is to new readers. But the threat of an ultra violent Dredd clone doesn't appear in this issue. John Walker is much more restrained than I expected him to be. He still has a bit of the untamed, unruly wildness to him, but he's easily calmed down. That's an important point to his character. It shows he has the capacity to improve himself and keep himself in check. Also, that he's not a miserable unsympathetic yutz.
His energy-charged truncheon is as close to super-powered as he gets. He and the rest of his team aren't, generally speaking, possessed of super powers. They are well armed, however, and good at what they do.
The mini-series has definite potential. It's yet another book this week that I can't fully judge by its first issue. Wait until the three issues of this series are over and we can figure out how they did. Right now, they've got my attention.
ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP #4
…is the first of a two-parter introducing Iron Man to the Ultimate universe. Written by Brian Bendis (as per the usual), this one is drawn by Mike Allred. It's by far the strongest issue of the series.
Bendis has changed Tony Stark's origin story. I'm not giving much away here, since that's all done in the first scene. It's not a radical shift in mythology, but it's just familiar enough to be comfortable, and just different enough to be new. The whole origin story is revealed during a speech Peter Parker delivers to his school with awe for the uber-scientist. It makes sense that Peter would admire Stark. Stark's a scientist, as often as that may be forgotten. So is Peter. With this new origin, Peter also gets to look up to him a little bit more and see a little bit more of himself in Tony Stark. They are, after all, both super-heroes.
It's the scene after that origin which steals the issue, however. Bendis indulges in a four-page conversation between businessman Stark and a representative of the Latverian government who's looking to purchase some of the tech used in the Iron Man armor. Bendis' dialogue sings here more than anything else he's probably written for Marvel so far. Not only is the limited back and forth pretty snappy, but everything also falls perfectly into character. My favorite quote from Tony Stark: "Did you know… they have a bowling alley… in the White House?" When you read the book and see that in context, you'll get it. Bendis also throws in a couple of in-jokes for Marvel Universe historians. In an effort not to spoil too much, I'll skip them, but they're very funny throwaway lines.
Artistically, Mike Allred's art is colored by JC. Instead of the flat-colored look you get when Laura Allred is coloring, you end up with a more sculpted three-dimensional look to the art. A lot of it is very subtle and needs to be, given that Allred's art style is so open. I like the look of it.
On the other hand, Allred's art does contain what has to be the worst Ronald Reagan caricature I've ever seen in comics. That's saying a lot, since there have been some pretty bad ones over the years. It seems like Reagan was a regular character in the DC titles in the mid- to late-80s. I can't image DC Legal letting that slip by today. Their butts are clenched too tight for anyone in the real world to show up, and any editor who lets it happen is immediately pink-slipped.
In any case, the issue ends on a somewhat funny cliffhanger. It's a good enough one that I'm really looking forward to the next issue now. Part two wraps it up, but we don't get to see that until the end of June. Argh!
ACTION COMICS #779
…is the final Joe Kelly book review I write for the week. I promise.
While Kelly scripts the issue, Duncan Rouleau pencils it, and Jaime Mendoza and Rouleau finish it off with the appropriate levels of India ink.
Behind Superman's back, Lois Lane recruits Superboy and Supergirl to help him out of a tough jam. Thus "Strikeforce Superman" is put back together, under a name that reminds me of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters referring to themselves as the "Scooby Gang." In any case, a gigantic fight ensues, Superman gets knocked around, some parts of a larger plot are revealed, and the issue ends.
This issue is lost in a sea of Superman books attempting to get things suitably ramped up for the World At War crossover that's soon coming. Because of that, this series is losing touch with what makes it so great – the relationship between Lois and Clark. While it's still shown here, it's treated as a plot device used to bring the characters to the spot the author needs them to be in.
There are also some elements of "kewlness" thrown in, such as the Strikeforce Superman's new black costumes. They're very reminiscent of the Matrix or the X-Men movie, which doesn't escape the characters' notice. Supergirl even quips about the clothing, "Strikeforce Superman Chic. Steel's idea. Plus black is slimming." Of course, this is Kelly writing, so everyone gets their chance to quip with the best of them.
Along the way, there's some snappy one-liners and posing from the characters in mid-fight.
In the end, very few questions are answered and more are raised. It's just frustrating. This storyline has been building for nearly two years and the teasing is getting to be a bit much.
The pay off is soon. I hope. It had better be. I'm threatening to lose patience with the Superman titles again.
THE IMAGE FIVE-DOLLAR BILL STORY
The Image booth was a large thing, about three tables wide with tables on either end. On those side-facing end tables laid stacks of books. They were freebies from the Image overstock. Some were recent; some were old. Some were laughable messes; some were good reads.
Amidst the piles were two high stacks of the 1999 San Diego Convention preview edition of M. REX, by Joe Kelly and Duncan Rouleau. Just as my sight fell on those books, Image Marketing Guru Anthony Bozzi walked up and told me to be sure to take plenty. I explained to him that I was slightly miffed at paying five bucks for the piece of crap two summers ago and that the last thing in the world I needed was Yet Another Copy. Bozzi, to his credit, didn't miss a beat. He immediately whipped out his wallet and offered me a five-dollar bill. I refused. The book was crap, but I didn't want my money back or anything. You pay your money and take your chances.
Some give and take continued as he tried various ways to foist the fiver off on me, including slipping it in a copy of M. REX and handing it over. I remained steadfast in my refusal.
Finally, Bozzi took out a pen and wrote a loving note on the bill and handed it to me. How could I refuse it at that point? He had personalized it to me. Sort of. Here's what it said on the bill:
I'm sorry for everything Image has done since 1992. It's nearly all my fault. Please punish me and not ANY new series debuting in 2001.
Reactions from the people I showed the bill to were mixed. Some wondered how long it would be before some federal agency swooped in to arrest the offending scrawler. It is, after all, illegal to deface American currency thusly.
But most laughed. And laughed hard. Others offered to buy it from me. Larry Young and Ed Brubaker damn near got into a bidding war over it. They quickly climbed to $20, but I'd hear none of it. (Besides, I already had Larry's autograph on an empty bottle of Budweiser. I don't need anything else from him! =)
Bozzi's fiver sits in pristine near-mint condition in my desk drawer. I'm going to have it CGC graded next month.
I apologize if this story in any way constituted a fourth review of a Joe Kelly book (M. REX) for the week. I didn't mean it to be.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Did you get here late? Have you missed the previous three editions of Pipeline Daily? Don't worry. It's not too late. You can make it up to yourself by reading them at the links I'm so handily providing you here.
Day One: Pipeline Daily began by reviewing two stories Joe Kelly is credited with writing or co-writing: this week's WONDER WOMAN and the backup story in this week's BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS.
Day Two: More Pipeline Previews as I looked at THE BROTHERHOOD, and gave you your first chance to see pages from the upcoming LAST KISS #2.
Day Three: A look at CROSSGEN CHRONICLES #3 and the CrossGen trade paperback line, not to mention CODENAME: KNOCKOUT #1 and HELLBLAZER 162.
Special thanks again to the gang at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ. Their assistance with review material this week is much appreciated.
Tomorrow's it! The last day of Pipeline Daily. Come back for the return of Pipeline One-Liners [sic].
More than 200 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 are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
This year, you can still catch me at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) and the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego). Things are looking good for the Small Press Expo in Maryland later this year, too.