PIPELINE PREVIEWS SOME STUFF
(Also known as: the least imaginative headline ever in the history of Pipeline.)
UNCANNY X-MEN #395 is the first of the four-part "Poptopia" storyline. It is, to say the least, unspectacular. There's not much here that would not have been done at any other point in the past twenty years of X-Men continuity, aside from some surface polish. We have a Christina Aguilera/Britney Spears type singer befriending Jonothan Starsmore. (One can wonder if it wouldn't have worked better to set up Dazzler in that role in some way.) And a small team of X-Men discovers a new group of Morlock-wannabes living underneath the ground in London. Aside from a groovy two page title page spread and a cool cover design, there's not that much inventive about this issue. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm just falling prey to the excessive hype leading into this revamp, or whether the book is just not that great. It's fine stuff. The storytelling structure is good. The characters act like they always have. There's a nice sense of interplay between then. But in the end, there's not much new here. Nightcrawler is using a cell phone to talk to his team, but in a universe where headsets and mini-microphones have been the norm before this, it hardly seems relevant or timely.
Ian Churchill's art is easy to look at. He doesn't have that many big money shots to pull off in this issue. His characters are starting to suffer from that, too. When he's drawing smaller panels and concentrating on storytelling, the flaws in his characters become more obvious than when he's drawing the big bombastic stuff. I thought his art in the recent two-parter in WOLVERINE guest-starring Spider-Man was spectacular, if you'll pardon the pun. It was very three-dimensional and exciting to look at. I don't get that sense from this title. I'm still having troubles occasionally telling Bobby Drake apart from Cyclops. Only one appears in a book at a time, but they do bear a certain resemblance, particularly in the new costumes.
It's relatively early yet. I'll give Poptopia a chance to impress me over its four issue. But right now it's a classic case of "the more things change, the more they stay the same."
THE PUNISHER #1 is a book that should only be read if you read the original 12-part Ennis-penned mini-series last year. If you haven't, go out and buy the trade paperback collection today. It's a lot of sick fun and it'll help explain everything that goes on in this issue.
Ennis hits the reset button, in a way, and restarts the Punisher's quest for vengeance and retribution. I won't go into details, but pretty much everyone's back in some way in this issue. Spacker Dave's influence is even felt, tangentially. I can't get into the details of the most surprising return of a character, but those of you who are familiar with NIGHTWING might see shades of Soames in it. This being Ennis, though, the concept is taken one or two steps further. It's more sick fun. Keep your eye out for a scene with Soap in the bar. It's quite possibly the sickest thing I've ever read in comics, although nothing is ever shown. There's another scene between Soap and Punisher that gets to the heart of the personality conflict between the two and moves towards a fundamental question that many readers have head.
The ending of this issue neatly parallels the ending of the first issue of the mini-series. It's a nice piece of cliffhanger, and I do want more. So I'll be back next month.
Steve Dillon's art is Steve Dillon's art. There's no great change between it now and then. Jimmy Palmiotti is still inking. Everything stays the same, except Stuart Moore is trying to be the tough guy on the letters page at the end. It's quite amusing. ;-)
DETECTIVE COMICS #759 starts off with the second part of the latest Mad Hatter scheme by Greg Rucka, Shawn Martinbrough, and Steve Mitchell. It still features the two-tone coloring job by the wizards over at WildStorm FX. This month it's a gray and gold looking thing. The highlight of the issue is something I can't really give away without spoilers. Suffice it to say, it's a conversation that all of us who've been reading this title for a while have been waiting for. I think it rings true and I look forward to more of the fallout from it next issue.
The backup story is the more interesting point of the issue for me. It features the first part of the serial meant to set up the upcoming CATWOMAN series later this year. Ed Brubaker writes, Darwyn Cooke pencils, and Cameron Stewart inks. I saw some of the pages for the first issue of the on-going series at the Pittsburgh Con. They were just pencils, but I think they're the most exciting pages I've seen all year. Cooke has an animation background, and really works that point of view in his comic book art. It translates well, with a highly structured and regimented storytelling style.
Cooke uses a 9-panel grid, varying from it only occasionally to lump panels together to form a larger image. His art style puts only what needs to be seen into each panel. This isn't being lazy. It's choosing his panels wisely and staging the action so that the reader can keep track of everything in a minimum amount of space. His chunky animated art style has touches of Bruce Timm, Jack Kirby, and Jim Steranko in it.
The story features Slam Bradley, who has some reverential place in DC history and lore. I don't know who he is, but others do. I wasn't reading comics when he was last around, I bet. Heck, I may not have been able to read yet when his tales were last told. He's a private eye who fits perfectly into the noir scene of Gotham. He's not the smooth-talking Humphrey Bogart type. He's a bit rough and tumble, but can be reserved and mellower when he needs to be. In this installment of the serial, he's called upon to find Catwoman, who it seems has been presumed dead after the last issue of her series.
The story is just getting started, but there's plenty of intrigue to pass around here, including some questions left hanging and people involved that you wouldn't expect. Read the story to see what I mean.
Sean Konot's compressed lettering is a perfect choice for the art. With all the storytelling that Cooke puts on each page, Konot's skinny letters fit in beautifully, without interrupting the story. His typewriter font is also a good choice for Slam Bradley's story narration. It perfectly evokes the noirish feeling Brubaker is going for with the story.
If you're in a Brubaker mood, by the way, you could do much worse than BATMAN #591. Those of you who were around in the month of March will probably remember my column extolling the virtues of John Ostrander's SUICIDE SQUAD series, and the DEADSHOT mini-series in particular. Brubaker has brought back Deadshot now for a new storyline in BATMAN. The two, as those who've read those series can attest, have something of an interesting relationship to one another. Deadshot has a weak spot for Batman, most notably, which makes the caped crusader a real tough shot for him.
This first issue doesn't really get to Deadshot all that much, but starts the wheels in motion for a big showdown in the next issue. Most of the issue revolves around flashbacks to Wayne's childhood, and Batman's detective work leading him to Deadshot.
Scott McDaniel provides the art (with Karl Story's inks), as always, and shines. He does just as good a job re-enacting the death of the Waynes (in Frank Milleresque fashion) as he does in showing the action bits that he's always excelled at.
PVP #2 is due out from DorkStorm this week. So what better time to read the first issue than two nights before the second comes out? Ah, better late than never.
Scott Kurtz's PVP #1 introduces us to the world of the PVP Magazine staffers, via an easy and quick to read text piece on the inside front cover. The cast includes the super-geeky know-it-all gamer, the boss who's stuck in the world of 1980s arcade games, and the big blue monster who interns at the magazine. (It's OK. He's no Jar Jar.) The book is comprised mostly of comic strip reprints from the daily web comic, available at PVPonline.com. The humor revolves around matters of computing, gaming, and office work. It's a mix of Fox Trot and Dilbert, with some extra geek quotient thrown in.
The book starts with a seven-page story. It rings way too true for those of us trapped in offices we'd prefer not to be in, with access to multimedia projectors and DVD players. Heh
After that, it gets into the strip reprints, keeping two four-panel strips to a page. I'm sure there's a good formatting reason for this, but nearly half of each page is left blank, save for a gray watermark image of a character. I don't know exactly how it could be done, but I'd prefer to see the strips printed a little bit larger on the page. They're fairly small to begin with. While this may not be Frank Cho drawing, Kurtz is still a very stylistic artist and I'd like to see his artwork a little larger, like it's seen in the opening story. It's also going to prove to be an issue down the line for any trade paperback collection. The film for all of the pages will have to be restripped to add extra margin space on the left side to allow for the binding. If the strips were on the far right of each page, instead, that wouldn't be a problem.
It's a minor formatting issue I have. The book itself is really funny, particularly so if you're into computer gaming or science fiction. It's heavy character work. There's nary a background to be found in a single panel of the book.
You also get three pages of letters in a format that reminds me fondly of the old FREAK FORCE letters columns. The three columns alternate black background/white lettering and white background/black lettering.
If you missed the first issue, though, check out some sample strips at the web site, and then pick up the second issue when it hits the stands at a comic shop near you this week.
MORE TRADE TALK
A couple of quick updates are in order on things I discussed in this column yesterday.
From Diamond's web site:
"Due to reductions in price (from $14.95 to $9.95) and page count (from 96 to 80 pages), DC Comics/WildStorm Studios' Superman/Gen13 TP (JUN010435) will be resolicited in the July issue of Previews. All previous orders for the book have been cancelled."
Thanks to Evan for pointing this out to me. The $10 price point is a lot more reasonable, given that the book is only reprinting a three-issue mini-series. $15 would have been real steep.
From Pipeline reader Mike O'Sullivan comes this Newbie's Guide to AKIRA:
"You don't have to worry about ruining the ending for yourself on this one. Not only is there more story in the books, the ending is almost completely different. Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of Akira, both comic and movie, had written the script for the film very early into the production of the comic. Thus, the film is a very early view of his story with an ending the served to wrap up all of the plot points that the first three or four books sets up. The comic series goes far beyond what the movie does and they both have completely different endings, the books running on a completely divergent path pretty much from the Olympic Stadium scene on. Purchase both, enjoy both, and enjoy a different story with each."
Thanks for the good news, Mike! I'm still new to the world of manga (and anime), but I'm getting quite the crash course. But once again, that's an idea for another column in the future.
I've talked about various trade paperbacks now, as well as the concept of what a trade should be. The one bit that's been left out of the equation so far is distribution of the trades. Aside from the hope that this format will lead to greater mass-market penetration, there's a matter of the standard comic store distribution.
One interesting scheme that popped up in PREVIEWS this month is the brainchild of CBR's own Larry Young. He has a mad plan. He's not soliciting anything new for August, but he took out a full-page ad. On it is pictured eight of the AiT/PlanetLar trades with little descriptions and checkboxes. The idea is to rip the page out, check which trades you want, and hand it into your retailer, who'll order it through the Diamond STAR system and get you the books ASAP. And aside from one glaring typo ("frm" for "from") near the bottom, it looks pretty good.
The page promises that ripping out the page will act as a coupon good for an autographed copy of DOUBLE IMAGE #1 or AiT: LIVE FROM THE MOON #1 with your order of any AIT-PlanetLar trade. (It seem Lar's been hoarding these issues in his basement.) I can honestly vouch for half of the books listed on the page – all the books pictured in the top half are great. The rest that are pictured I haven't read and one I didn't like, CHANNEL ZERO. SPACE BEAVER is also listed in the small print at the end. It's a really fun book, too.
It's a neat promotional idea, and one that utilizes some Real World marketing skills: Everyone loves free stuff. And a coupon helps things feel more real. That's what this page is – it's not just an ad. It's a coupon good for comics. Gotta love that.
We're but one step away from those ubiquitous club cards that all the supermarkets have right now…
Come back on Friday for more – stuff.
More than 225 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). I'm also tentatively scheduled for a day at the Small Press Expo in Maryland this September.