I've been enjoying John Byrne's X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS since it began a few months back. The fifth issue seems to be a victim of changing production techniques, though. Either that, or people who are rushing up against a deadline and cutting corners to get the book out the door really fast. Or both.
THY #5 is the first to sport a new cover price of $2.75. I'm not going to berate it right away for that. I buy plenty of books for $2.95 that are in black and white, for goodness' sake. Price alone doesn't bother me, at least in this regard. (Price affects other issues that are columns for other times.) But it also seems as if they've changed the paper quality on the book, and didn't let the colorists know ahead of time. The color palette used here looks muddy and washed out. Actually, the change in paper quality is obvious. Hold the previous issue in one hand and the fifth issue in your other. Last month's issue definitely feels heavier. And if you bend the book in your hands, you can feel the paper this month gives much less resistance.
It's just really bad timing to raise the price at the same time the production quality goes south. People will notice and be miffed.
It gets worse, though. The color separations must be off. There are instances where background colors bleed through into the lettering, or the white from the balloons bleeds through just a bit into the surrounding areas. (Best example of the former: Page 3, panel 3.)
I've read before that there's always a color printed behind the black on a page. It seems like there are also a couple of instances where the black and the color - a dark blue - didn't line up all that well, either.
It's really a shame. This is an entertaining book with the best artwork John Byrne has produced in a while. (Tom Palmer does a great job with inks which are heavier than the normal Byrne line.) I wish we would see that better. Let's hope things get straightened out in time for the next issue.
In my continuing quest to reacquaint myself to the Batman corner of the DC Universe, I picked up BATGIRL #1. Scott Peterson and Kelley Puckett are credited with writing it, and Damion Scott and Robert Campanella draw it. And it took me three readings to figure it out.
This, needless to say, is not a good start.
Batgirl is silent. She doesn't talk. She reads body language to communicate: a little hokey, maybe, but an interesting thing to study. This could make for some interesting stories. In an effort, I suppose, to go with this flow, there are also no captions. There's no omniscient narrator to the tale, and this book could really use one. Just to add to the confusion, the art team comes up lacking in their storytelling in a few places.
For example: Batman and Batgirl meet in some deserted warehouse-type place. Batman challenges her to a fight. We cut to the next panel and Batman is calling her "out of shape" and then starts bleeding from the mouth. It makes no sense until you realize that the fight happened totally off-panel. The only clue to this is that some of the background is out of place and the windows are broken. The "camera" is in the wrong place to make that obvious, though, and it causes poor communication to the readers. Obviously, in a book like this it's more important than usual to make sure the visuals strongly tell the story. It also doesn't help that the before/after panels are on opposite sides of the same page. Your memory for the image might be soft by the time you see the new one.
There are also at least three different time periods that scenes in the book take place, and you have to rely on the artist's interpretation of Batgirl (and the recurring bad guy) to figure out which scene takes place when. Quite honestly, it's not that easy to tell the difference between her today versus yesterday, however long exactly ago that may have been.
Some captions would have been a real big help to explain the art.
We'll wait and see if this shows up better next month. Another problem the writing team will have to solve is in making this new character likeable. So far, all we can do is pity her. I want to root for her.
THEY'RE ASTRONAUTS! THEY'RE IN TROUBLE! (AGAIN)
The second mini-series by Larry Young and Charlie Adlard began a couple of weeks ago with the first issue of the new mini-series with the unwieldy name ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE: SPACE: 1959. That's more colons than you see in a web directory classification.
I have to admit that this one threw me. It starts off as far away from any hint of space as you can get. It begins as a news team covering a homicide. About halfway through, it twists into something vaguely astronomical. And by the end, you can sorta see where it's headed. It's a nice twist, and well told, too. Genre-mixing seems to be big in comics today. Brian Bendis' upcoming POWERS series, for example, mixes police drama and super-heroes, as does Alan Moore's TOP TEN.
The book is a lot of talking heads, but Young knows when to step aside and let the art tell the story. During the two or three "action sequences" in the book, the pictures work, and the writer all but disappears.
I wasn't born until 17 years after the time period of this book (3/3/1976), but this first issue doesn't seem at all anachronistic. My memory of sit-com reruns from the period seems to jive with the fashions shown in the comics, and everything "feels" right. There is a minimum of cultural references made in the book. The setting is shown more than told.
The only stumper about this book is that the flip cover is on the wrong side. The Kieron Dwyer cover with all the PlaNetLar Comics pricing information is on the flip side of the book. When you open the cover, you're at the back end of the book. But both covers - the other by Charlie Adlard - are great in different ways. Dwyer's is more rooted in reality, while Dwyer's comes off as a nice pulp science fiction movie poster of the time. Nice stuff.
Ed McGuinness' second issue of SUPERMAN (#155) is a bigger success than his first. That issue had me a little concerned for his storytelling style. This issue is a bit simpler, maybe because it's mostly talking heads. But it's easy to tell what's going on, and Jeph Loeb doesn't need to overwrite everything to explain it to the reader. (Hmm, that seems to be a recurring theme this week, for better and worse.) McGuinness is able to bring the subtle bits to the story that Loeb no doubt asked for, without resorting to excess thought balloons and the like.
Oh, the plot: Superboy visits Ma and Pa Kent. He knows Clark and Superman are one and the same. Clark doesn't and tries to keep it that way. Discomfort ensues.
COMING UP ON FRIDAY
Pipeline2 takes a look at this month's PREVIEWS and what books might be worth watching, as well as what hidden treasures lurk in the massive tome brought to you by Diamond this month. Plus we'll probably run a couple of your letters.