PREVIEW REVIEW: CRUX #1
You can't swing a dead cat around the Internet without hitting a web site containing an interview with Mark Waid and/or Steve Epting talking about CRUX #1, due out on April 11th from CrossGen Comics. After the first three question and answer sessions, I stopped reading them.
In an effort to get word out on the book even further, CrossGen has been nice enough to supply black and white photocopies of the first issue. I presume I'm not the only one to get this, so you'll be seeing more reviews elsewhere in the days to come.
CRUX #1 starts out in the year 400,000 B.C. on the planet Earth. It'll remind you a bit of the opening to 2001: A SPACE ODDYSSEY. There are no monkeys and no obelisk, but there is a small number of early humanoids striking stones together to make fire. It's a slice of a moment at the "beginning of time." Observing them are members of the advanced race of Atlanteans, whose home is a magnificently designed island with a mix of alien and Roman design senses. That's where the story takes place. It's the time of ascension. The majority of the Atlanteans are banding their powers together in an effort that they think will "elevate them to enlightened" status. The others are staying behind to watch over the developing race of humans. Those who are staying behind are lead by Capricia, a strong woman with the power of shapeshifting. (The people of Atlantis can be separated into five groups that define what we would judge to be their "super powers": Mind, Body, Spirit, Passion, and Empathy. Shapeshifting fits into the "empathy" category.) As the ascension nears, those staying behind enter a series of "cradles" designed to protect them from any powerful backlash from the ascension.
And then things go really awry.
The first half of the issue is fairly expository in nature. After we get past the first four and a half pages of the Atlanteans observing the early humans, we return to Atlantis and hear of the plans afoot for their civilization. It's not all completely spelled out, but one could surmise that those leaving the planet are the ones who populate the other worlds of CrossGen. This is pure speculation on my part. I've never been any good at sorting the strings from all the CrossGen books into a unified whole.
The story is 28 pages long, bumped up from its original 22 pages. I don't know how they ever would have chopped 6 pages off this to get the same story. The opening sequence might have been reduced in size by a couple of pages with some dense storytelling, but the rest of it would have been difficult. The way the story ends, it's almost a PLANET OF THE APES-type cliffhanger. It's a perfect spot in the story to hang the readers over a cliff and leave them wanting more.
There's one clunky bit of almost deus ex machina near the end for the sake of assembling the team, but if you can overlook that, you shouldn't have too big a problem with the book. Besides which, that little plot device will likely be explained somewhere along the line in future issues.
Steve Epting's art looks as brilliant as ever. His art is one of the few regrets I have about the years I spent away from the Superman books in the 90s. As much as I loved the art, I couldn't bring myself to buy a Superman Blue/Red comic to look at it. His AQUAMAN stuff was nice, though, as were a couple of other little things he did in the interim. The cast of main characters for this book involves a boy, two woman, and four men or various ages and builds, so he has a variety of things to draw.
He also spends a lot of time on the backgrounds. There are two double page splashes in this comic and two single page splashes. Three out of those four are filled with highly detailed architectural renderings of Atlantis and one other place. (I'm being deliberately vague on that for spoiler purposes.) In-between those pages, he doesn't skimp, either. During the introductory tour of Atlantis the readers get, there's still a wonderful display of buildings in the background.
Check out the rubble on the last page for a couple of cute comics in-jokes, too. No, they don't interrupt the flow of the story. But if your eyes stay fixed to the art at the end of the story, you'll pick up on it.
Rick Magyar is the inker and does a good job following Epting's art. His style is a good pairing for Epting's. It's lush and interested in fleshing out a job, rather than overpowering it with a different style. It goes more for the naturalistic than the stylistic.
The preview I have here is black and white. It looks beautiful, but it isn't colored. Frank D'Armata is the colorist attached to this book, so we'll see what he can do with this in a couple of weeks. There's lots of room to show off his skills here, from the golden days of Atlantis to scenes set entirely underwater.
Oddly enough, the letterer isn't credited, but it's good stuff so far as computer lettering goes. It shows real life to it, and the pointers off the balloons are wont to travel in nice "s" shapes where appropriate.
If you've never read a CrossGen book in your life, don't fear this book. There's nothing in this book that requires any CrossGen knowledge to follow it. If you're just a Mark Waid or Steve Epting fan, you can jump right in. I can't guarantee you that it will stay this way down the line, but for the first month you're safe. I'm sure if there are ties later down the line that they'll be explained on the inside front cover before the story begins.
CRUX might just be the most accessible book in the CrossGen line. Besides the fact that it's a number one issue in a couple of weeks, it also starts off on the planet earth, so there's some familiarity a reader can feel to it, particularly with the legends of lost Atlantis. Mark Waid's writing is up to snuff here. I'm looking forward to seeing what direction he takes these characters in when he doesn't have to spend so much time explaining everything in an effort to set up the new world. He's got the potential here for a variety of character interactions, particularly set up in a stressful environment. I think that as much as the CrossGen books might sometimes rely on the "gosh wow" affect of their different worlds, this could be the book to win with its ensemble cast.
(If you are new to the CrossGen Universe, might I humbly recommend Part One and Part Two of my exhaustive look at the books back in January? In addition to that, you can also check things out on the Crossgen.com web site.)
Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips have crafted a noir Batman tale here that skirts the fine line between dutiful homage and playful satire. James Gordon plays the drunken ex-cop private eye who's low on cash and unlucky in love. Selina Kyle is the femme fatale, in her long red dress. You can hear her husky voice and feel her every breath. The mayor is corrupt. The mafia is running rampant. And Gordon is accused of a crime he didn't commit and on the run trying to prove himself. The one true wild card in the mix is Batman. But even he gets a noir treatment. How, you ask, could Batman be any more noir? And why, you would also rightly ask, am I using the word "noir" like this so much? To the latter question I have no clue. To the former I can answer: Batman is totally black. He's a silhouette. He's a force of nature. A whisper in the wind at times, a dark tempestuous cloud at others. But the story is Gordon's, not the Bat's.
The book starts with Gordon running through the streets, chased by Batman. When he gets cornered down a dark brick alley, Batman gives him the chance to explain himself. And that he does. The bulk of the issue is that flashback as Gordon explains how it is he got there in some perfectly selected tough guy noir narration. Would it be a noir book without proper narration?
The stylistic elements don't come at the expense of the plot, however. All of the major characters have a purpose here. They're all a part of the overall plot, with their own motives and back story and double-dealings. You'll get pulled in to the book by the format, but you'll stick around for the story. If it were any other way, it would be one long waste of time.
Bill Oakley letters and Dave Stewart colors. Oakley's letters fit in just fine, and given the pulp cover and overall feel to the book, it's a good choice not to be using a slick computer-lettering firm. Stewart keeps the issue in earth tones, as dark as it can get, while still keeping the art legible.
The story weighs in at 64 slick pages inside a square bound prestige format cover. It'll set you back $6.95, but I think it's worth it.
PREVIEW: IMAGE TWO IN ONE
Back in November, Erik Larsen was a guest of the National Comic Book Expo in New York City. After the convention wrapped, he spent 24 straight hours in a room with Chris Eliopoulos. It's enough to drive anyone to pneumonia.
They each drew a 24-page comic over the course of 24 hours. Those two stories will arrive at your comic shop tomorrow in the form of IMAGE TWO-IN-ONE #1, a 48 page black and white comic book for a mere $2.95. It's an interesting experiment in the art form and, given the two creators involved, should prove to be a lot of fun.
Courtesy of Chris Eliopoulos – who got stuck with extra production duty on this book after Larsen fell ill – here's a small sample of the book. There are two pages from each half of the book. One thing should be readily apparent: Larsen hires Eliopoulos to letter his comics because his handwriting is barely legible.
LEONARD KIRK DESERVES BETTER
Farbeit for me to trumpet the call of another columnist, but when he's right, he's right. I just got the latest issue of THE COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE in the mail today. It's up to #1429 now. In his column at the back, Peter David wonders why Leonard Kirk, artist on SUPERGIRL, isn't a fan favorite. Why isn't he getting any awards? Where's the praise and acclaim?
He's right; it is insane. Kirk is a great artist. In this day and age of free agent comics talent, he's stuck with SUPERGIRL for four years now and kept up with the monthly pace of the book. The number of fill-in issues can probably be counted on one hand. His stuff is consistent month in and month out. It's easy on the eyes. His characters are individuals, and not just the same body with slightly different haircuts and clothes. Their expressions are varied. He can tell a story, even one as dense as David is writing in that title, without missing a beat. It's great stuff.
I remember falling in love with it originally when he did the three issues of ULTRAGIRL for Marvel. Barbara Kesel wrote that book. This must be going back five or six years now. I'm proud to be an owner of a page of original art from that series, featuring the New Warriors. While ULTRAGIRL may never have resurfaced, Kirk thankfully did. (And Kesel is working in Florida now with some young upstart company.)
So next time there is a reader's vote somewhere or annual comics poll of your favorite artists, give Kirk some consideration. At least remember his name when you're trying to think up your pick.
The big question, of course, is why Kirk isn't that well known, or accepted, or praised. Why doesn't he have so much as a Squiddy on his mantle? Part of it might just be stylistic choice. But I think there's a political element to it, too, and it's something I've talked about in Pipeline before, but it's been a long time and bears repeating.
What does staying on a book for a long time get you? Nothing. Yes, it engenders the loyalty of the small fan base that sticks with that one book for the long haul. But does it get you any new fans? Not likely. What gets your attention these days? That's simple – comics news. Change books. Do something new every three months. Be so insanely late with something that everyone starts asking about you. Get WIZARD to hype you up, but they'll only do that after you make some big news move somewhere.
But to stick to one book and be on time with it month after month? Everyone takes you for granted. If you have a style with a lot more substance to it than style, you're doubly screwed. I like Kirk's soft-lined style. It's closer to an Adam Hughes or an Alan Davis than J. Scott Campbell or Jim Lee. But it doesn't necessarily have the eye-catching flair that their art styles all do. Kirk is a workman. He draws great pages that actually advance the story with good attention to detail. He doesn't get offers to draw everyone else's covers. He doesn't draw magazine covers. He doesn't do fill-in issues all over the place.
He's out of the public eye and tucked neatly into the SUPERGIRL corner, where he can be left alone. He draws well, does it month in and month out, and never offers up excuses. For all his hard work, he's forgotten over on the side.
It's a damn shame, but that's how it works.
Next week: Pipeline Commentary and Review #200!
Over 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. Those columns are even migrating over here in drips and drabs. Eventually, they'll all be on CBR. I can't believe Pipeline is entering its fifth year in a few short weeks…
This year, I'll be at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego), and the Pittsburgh Comicon, which requires no second name. Hope to meet some of you there.
Finally, I write DVD movie reviews (occasionally) for the gang over at DVD Channel News. If you're into DVD, check out my stuff there. I should have a couple of new reviews up there in the next couple of weeks, so keep an eye out here for links to those.