I'm a huge fan of BABYLON 5 and, by extension, of J. Michael Straczynski. I've been lucky enough to catch him twice in person: once at the San Diego Con this year and two years ago at I-Con in Long Island, NY. Both presentations were terrific. The man's got a good sense of humor, great work ethic, and created and ushered through the single greatest science-fiction show ever to appear on TV. Period. Bar none. On that point I am sure. Nothing has come close.
(You can see the "But…" coming already, can't you?)
So I was excited to see RISING STARS announced from Top Cow a while ago. And I thought the preview and first issue were good stuff. Showed great set-up and possibilities for the story.
The second issue of the series is really the first chance at telling a single story, revolving around a single character. And as good as it was, it scares me. More specifically, JMS' comic book writing style scares me. As I often do, I'll start with an analogous situation:
Chuck Jones often said that one of the secrets of a good animated short was that it had to be seen. The problem with Saturday morning cartoons is that they're "animated radio." You could close your eyes and still follow the story. If that's true, why bother animating it? If it's all talking heads, why do we need the pictures?
RISING STARS is quickly showing signs of that. You'd think JMS wouldn't fall into this trap. Sure, he's written a novel or two, but the bulk of his writing training has been in screenplay writing for television. The "illustrated radio" point follows there pretty strongly, too. You have to write for the screen and for the image. It has to look good. (Sadly, this is almost too strongly true for science-fiction shows and other such special effects-related genres.)
It gets to the point in this book where the last four pages are text pages, computer-lettered to look like a hand-written journal. When a similar technique was used in Babylon 5, it was used in association with the video. You'd get Ivanova doing a voice-over at the end of the season, while the characters she's talking about each get their moments. The camera can linger on the character to give them a slightly more touching moment. You don't get that in comics, really. You have to rely too much on the reader adding that moment in there. Maybe I just didn't provide it as I read the book.
Another possibility: Is this a case of the writer not trusting the artist? JMS has been quoted as saying that Keu Cha's art it strong architecturally, but not character-wise. Cha is now off the book, and may not even be drawing all of the third issue.
Quite honestly, some of the blame has to lie with Cha. Maybe it's just the house Top Cow style, but his layouts are all over the place. There are only about two or three spots where the panels line up. Visually, it's an annoyance to see the panels constantly not lining up and changing sizes for no good narrative purpose.
Now it looks like Cha is off the book. Is that going to solve the problem? I doubt it. The next Silvestri/Turner clone they bring in will probably have the same issues.
I'm still excited about the book's concept. And the story is good. I also know that an investment of time will pay off with JMS. (Ya hear that, TNT?!?) So I'm on the boat, but I have my reservations.
SPEAKING OF STORYTELLING NOT AT ITS PEAK...
Chuck Dixon posted the script to BATMAN #571 on his web page at Dixonverse.com. Why? Well, he wanted to show that his story was not as hideous as Mat Broome had drawn it. This is a great case study on why this medium is such a collaborative vehicle.
If you read the issue first, you'll probably get through it with little problem. But there will be those nagging feelings in the back of your head. And when you start to think about it, you'll feel a wave of claustrophobia wash over you. Read Dixon's script. Broome took just about every shortcut around it he could. Some of it isn't so bad. Penguin's "chippie" is just never shown in one scene. She doesn't really have any lines, so it's not all that bad, but it is symptomatic of the whole problem and does take a bit away from Penguin's character, however subliminally.
Most of the rest of it suffers from being too cramped. Panels are composed to show the least amount of visual necessary. Gangs get reduced to a few people. Background bits essential to show what occurred in the previous panels are missing, leaving the reader to assume the worst. Backgrounds go missing. Images seem completely disconnected.
Some examples: In one panel, some flares get launched in the air. Dixon's script called for a panel in which the origin of the flares could be seen. A map the Penguin uses to visually show the user the locations where the story is taking place (and furthermore why the plot is happening as it is) is reduced to nothing of importance. The labels that are supposed to appear and the apparent divisions of the geography can't be seen. (In all fairness, this is something the editorial department might have corrected with some last minute lettering and coloring fixes.) The panel on page 21 that was to have shown Robin picking a batarang out of the map isn't shown, so the next panel has the map with the batarang missing for no good reason. (We get a simple shot of Batman and Robin from the neck up, instead.)
All of this, of course, comes hot on the heels of Scott Lobdell's announced departure from WILDCATS just days after posting that Travis Charest virtually ignored his entire script for WILDCATS #1. Being very political about it, he doesn't point the finger of blame there, but let's face it: if you're a writer whose script is being ignored and whose talent is called into question by it, you wouldn't want to hang around too long, no matter the size of the paycheck.
HOW TO BRING AN END TO A STORYLINE
DIVINE INTERVENTION: GEN13 forms the third of four parts of the grand finale of Max Faraday's story. It's another yawner. It's just a pack of people in costumes fighting, really, with a little bit of background here and there and a couple of pages set aside to set up the grand finale next issue.
Compare this penultimate part of the storyline to the similar parts found in INHUMANS #11, THE FLASH #154 and THE AUTHORITY #7. Those three stories handle the situation differently, but very effectively.
In THE AUTHORITY, Warren Ellis sets us up for the grand finale of his story line in high style. The team has its back to the wall. The stakes are enormously high - one universe about to invade another - and the virtual knock at the door tells us there's big trouble coming. Since these aren't characters that have been around for 6 decades, either, we're left on the edge of our seats wondering just who might survive. After all, Ellis is known for killing his character just before leaving. =)
Mark Waid and Bryan Augustyn reveal the mystery behind the true identity of the latest Flash. Here we have the approach that you shouldn't answer a question unless it poses two additional questions. We now have the answer we've been waiting for, but none of the logic behind it. If anything, the final couple of pages set up such an absurd situation that we're left in anticipation of the magic Waid and Augustyn will have to weave to pull this one off.
Meanwhile, the situation in INHUMANS #11 is somewhere inbetween. Paul Jenkins explains what's going on and slams our heroes to the wall with death approaching. However, you end up with something of a more dramatic feeling and less of a nervous one. You feel confident that this team will win. They now seem to be smarter than their opponents. Their knowledge is their strength. There's still a ramification or two to be considered, but we have a better idea of what the plan was all along. Next issue should just blow us - and them - out of the water.
All three of these two have caught their artists on the upswing. I've never seen Paul Pelletier's work look so good. Angela, the policewoman, also gets my award for best-looking new character in comics. =) The only sore spot there was the gratuitous panty shot we get on the third page. Sheesh
Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary excel at the kind of grandeur Warren Ellis dishes out in his scripts on a regular basis. Nothing scares them. Not hordes on horseback. Not invasion fleets comprised of hundreds of ships. (Meanwhile, Mat Broome can't be bothered to draw a fourth gang member or a spare "chippie.")
Finally, Jae Lee is handing in the cleanest artwork and the best storytelling he's ever done. If all you remember him from is NAMOR, you don't know what he's capable of. Yes, that work was, near its end, absolute crap. This stuff is stylistic and almost surreal at times, but without interfering with the story.
Just to surreptitiously pull everything together, it is the combination and words and pictures which makes INHUMANS so damned great. Jenkins leaves room for Jae Lee to take over the story. His artwork, particularly with the striking colors of Dave Kemp, adds more drama and more power to the several panels in which it stands alone than any amount of verbiage could possibly do. The pages of Black Bolt walking defiantly exude more raw power than you could ever ask for in a comic book.
I really do hope that when this is all said and done, Marvel produces a hardcover compilation of this series in the same manner that DC has done with SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS and BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN. It deserves it. Write Marvel to ask for it now. Or post a message about this to the Marvel Knights message board right here on CBR. Joe Quesada has been known to read those messages!
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY
Also worth reading this week: WHITEOUT: MELT by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, ONI DOUBLE FEATURE by Paul Dini, and HELLBLAZER by Warren Ellis with Javier Pulido and James Romberger.
Definitely not worth reading: ASTONISHING X-MEN #3. How anti-climactic can you get?
I'm neutral on WOLVERINE #144. Aside from a couple of cute quips, it's not much more than standard superhero fare, I'm sorry to say.
The "TF" logos on the heroes in question from last week's DEADPOOL review referred to JUSTICE LEAGUE TASK FORCE, another series Priest rode into the sunset. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with that.
Another cheap outlet for those classic X-Men tales that Chris Claremont wrote which were discussed in Friday's Pipeline2 column is the CLASSIC X-MEN series, which reprinted a great deal of the Byrne years and afterwards. If that doesn't work, go haunt eBay for a while. Something is bound to turn up.