THE PIPELINE SESQUICENTENNIAL
Welcome to the 150th edition of what, in Internet time at least, can now be referred to as the "venerable" Pipeline Commentary and Review. In the past three years, there have been 45 Pipeline2 columns, 150 PCRs, and 3 special editions (from the pre-CBR days.) So, in theory, next week's column will be the 200th. And then, the following week, we would celebrate one year at CBR.
So in honor of all these celebrations, I'm not going to bother coming up with special columns for each. It would drive me batty. But I did want to thank all of you who wrote in with all of your suggestions for topics for this column this week.
STEAMPUNK - UP IN SMOKE?
I chastised STEAMPUNK: CATECHISM here some months back, based on the promo book Top Cow sold at the San Diego con. I finally had the opportunity to read the first two regular series issues of this latest Cliffhanger book this past week. After the dismal lead-in, I was afraid that Joe Kelly and Chris Bachalo had lost it completely.
After reading the first two issues, I can tell you that they haven't lost it completely. They are, however, on shaky and questionable ground. The groundwork for the world and the story that they want to tell is sort of laid out in these two issues if you look for it long enough and have the patience to sift through all the bits and pieces. I read the first issue completely in the dark as to what was happening and who these characters were. It wasn't until the last three or four pages that some semblance of a storyline made itself known. The second issue explains a lot more, but again in its own confusing way.
There seems to be a complete inability amongst comics writers these days to start a new book without throwing everything they intend to put into the series in the first issue. This is part of the reason I found TELLOS #1 so charming last year. Yes, there were a lot of new characters being introduced in it, but they were all in the context of the one story following the one character around. With STEAMPUNK, you get two page subplots that come out of nowhere and then disappear for no good reason. It's very confusing. You can figure it all out if you want to stop and think about it really hard, but if the writer asks this of his reader, he's going to lose him.
Kelly is also guilty of much the same thing in M. REX, where a high concept and some ill-defined characters mix and match. STEAMPUNK, however, puts that title to shame in terms of numbers of characters and concepts and designs.
All I ask of a first issue of a new series is some sort of focus and apparent direction. Keep it simple, introduce the theme of the title, the main character or two, and give us a little story to tie it all together. If there's some major over-arching storyline, start it off slowly and rev it up later. I know you need to jump out of the gate quickly these days, but when you go from 0 to 60 miles per hour simultaneously, you're going to throw people out of the car.
…came out two weeks ago now and I'm sorry I didn't get around to writing about it here sooner. Adam Hughes writes this one and gives us a charming little story. It's nothing complicated: The Gen13 kids journey to Metropolis, because Caitlin is fascinated by it and Superman. The two do, of course, meet up and Caitlin gets knocked on her head. See the cover image for what happens from there. The book contains some of the classic corny concepts you could find in both worlds - but mostly the giant ape with an exposed brain in a container that the kids joke could be Adolf Hitler's. (It seems the kids are SAVAGE DRAGON fans. ;-)
But the star of the issue is artist Lee Bermejo, who gets his big break with this book. (John Nyberg provides the inks.) He has drawn a couple of issues of GEN13 in the past, but this is his book. His style is tough to describe, but the phrase "chunky black lines" keeps coming to mind. Picture a little Adam Hughes, some Kevin Nowlan, and some Jackson Guice. It sounds funky, but it's a terrific look, and I hope this book leads to a regular assignment. Heck, his Superman looks good enough to land him a fill-in spot in one of those titles.
Yeah I admit it. I just bought it for the art. On that level, this first part of the crossover does not disappoint. Jay Anacleto's stuff, as rendered by Brian Haberlin's color studio, looks beautiful. The characters are three-dimensional (the opposite of Kano's style mentioned above), the shading and texturing is great, the backgrounds blend right in, the style of the times comes across nicely. Everything fits.
It's a period piece, set near the end of the nineteenth century in London. I'm not a student of that time period, but this stuff fits for me. The fog is there, the vaulted cathedral ceilings and stained glass windows… The architecture looks like the stuff I've seen in every other "authentic" period piece set in the time.
Most impressively, the story is just as captivating. It's not too complicated just yet. All of the characters are introduced and the issue ends as Angela and Aria finally meet up. All of the action looks to happen next month.
WILE E. COYOTE, SUPER GENIUS' NEW COMPETITION
I read all of Barry Ween in the past week, starting with the collection of the original 3 issue Image series, and then the first two parts of THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY WEEN BOY GENIUS 2.0. When I first read the very first issue of the original series, I commented here that it just seemed like a cross between SOUTH PARK and Stewy, the little baby from FAMILY GUY. While generally this crude description fits, it's still funny in its own right. To get the proper character description, you'd also have to add in the Alan Moore/Kevin Nowlan character, Jack B. Quick. Barry Ween is a foul-mouthed precocious kid who's incredibly gifted scientifically. But he does have his soft spots. He has a crush on one of his classmates, and is terribly loyal to his best friend.
This second series is better than the first, due in large part to a bigger concentration on the storyline. Rather than just getting laughs from the dirty punch lines, creator Judd Winnick is packing each page with more story and many additional panels. He also gets to add in plenty of extra pop culture references, such as the first issue's on-going E.T. parallel.
This is funny stuff, but definitely only recommended for mature audiences.
PUNISH THE DEVIL
This may come as a shock to some of you who have been reading this column for the past few months, but I really liked PUNISHER #3. It's the first issue of the new Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon/Jimmy Palmiotti series that really clicked for me. Is this because this issue has a superior story, or it's just that I'm comfortable with what the series' tone is set to be? I'm thinking it's the former, but you're all allowed to think what you want. =)
I think it has to do with this being the smartest issue to date of the new series. Frank Castle comes across as more than just a creative agent of mayhem. Nope, he also appears more thoughtful, more conniving, and more manipulative than in previous issues. The bind he puts Daredevil in, complete with his own remorse for it ahead of time, is creative and morally challenging. It's a complete Catch 22 situation.
I still have some problems with the art, which is sure to drive many of you nuts, but sobeit.
The one big sticking point with this issue is Marvel's latest money grab. Say what you will about the annoying and incessant Spider-Man anti-drug story that's popped up in the Marvel titles for the past few months, but we didn't have to pay for it. This month, PUNISHER #1 is packaged together with a thin 16-page booklet containing "previews" of the forthcoming MARVEL KNIGHTS and MARVEL BOY series. They're both simple sketchbooks of the characters from the book by Eduardo Barreto and J.G. Jones, respectively. And all I've learned so far is that Jones is adamant on drawing as anatomically correct a male in spandex as he can.
There's some accompanying text made up of quotes from the artists and writers on the series, but not much else. It's pretty to look at, I'll grant you. (I'm always a sucker for pencil artwork, before the inks.)
The problem comes with the extra $1 is tacks onto the price of the comic so you can see this advertisement. There's no way around it. If you want to buy PUNISHER #3, you have to spend the extra dollar and get the preview in a cute polybag.
I'm not a big fan of this concept. I mean, even WIZARD doesn't raise its price when it puts a book like this in with its magazine. If Marvel wants to do something like this, they should throw it up on its web site, put in an insert stapled in with the comic, or give the reader the chance to buy a copy of the book without the insert. There's something particularly loathsome about a consumer being forced to buy an advertisement to read a comic.
GENERATION X #64
We're now in the second month of "Counter X." One thing is for certain: Judging by the second issue of GENERATION X under this umbrella, the story is written to be collected. Read individually, the first two issues almost seem forced in their endings. This issue ends just as abruptly as the previous one. I'm sure it won't look so bad when read through upon completion, but right now it seems odd. The book feels really padded when we see the villain's lair, for starters. We get questionable near-full-page splashes in spaces where the story doesn't demand much more than a half-page of visuals. There are some nice characterizations in this issue, including one pretty strong one for Jubilee.
Now, to the costumes: I took one look at the first page, and thought it was a WIZARD OF OZ poster. The first thing that caught my eye on that page is Monet's skirt and shoes. It looks like Judy Garland's blue dress and ruby red slippers.
I'm not even going to ask what concoction of spandex Jubilee's wearing.
YOUNG JUSTICE #20
The cover is a little deceiving. This isn't a knockdown drag-out fight between the guys and Li'l Lobo. Heck, the two don't even meet up in this issue. The other big cover blurb has to do with Wonder Girls' new look. I'm glad she's put down the ugly wig and oversized glasses, but this new look does little for me. Oh, well. It's hip enough for a teenager to be believable, though, so I can't fault the design.
The story itself is all follow-ups from SINS OF YOUTH. There's no big plot in this issue. It's a series of character moments, including a wonderful two-page sequence between Batman and Robin.
Amazingly, Todd Nauck continues this manic artistic pace without missing a beat. His art this month looks just as good as it has in the previous year and a half of this title. Despite drawing the two bookends last month, he needs no rest and is right back in the thick of things.
Finally, I just wanted to compliment Jason Wright and the gang at Digital Chameleon for the coloring in this issue. It's nice and bright, with some minor shadowing and modeling apparent. It's a real colorful book and a lot of fun to look at.
IN THE PIPELINE
Friday's Pipeline2 is especially dedicated to those who agreed with Pipeline's Biggest Fan from last week. It's a special question and answer session. As much as I was humored by what PBF said in his e-mail, I was horrified by those of you who agreed with him on so many points. So please come back on Friday so I can straighten you all out. =)