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Pipeline, Issue #215

BUT FIRST…

It doesn't fit in with the theme of the column, but I need to sneak this in.

The book of the coming week will probably be PETER PARKER SPIDER-MAN #33. I can't go on about this book enough. There's no super-villain fight in it. Peter Parker barely appears in his Spidey costume.

This is the story of a younger Peter Parker and his Uncle Ben and the common link of baseball that they shared. This is the quintessentially American baseball story. Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham (with Wayne Faucher) have their best work to date in this issue. It's the kind of story that pulled me right in, as a baseball fan. While I fear there will be those who think it's too sloppy or sentimental, I'm of the opinion that this book is worthy of an Eisner nomination next year for best single story.

It's the kind of book that can sell outside of comics shops to your baseball loving friends. I, as a Yankee fan, am not even turned off by the fact that Peter Parker is a Mets fan. It makes sense, and Jenkins spends much of the issue pounding away on that fact. It's a great case of parallel hard luck losers.

BENDIS-ARAMA

ELEKTRA #1 debuts from Marvel later this week. It's written by Brian Bendis and drawn by Chuck Austen. It's a double-sized issue that culminates in a nearly 7-page silent fight sequence. So don't worry about Silent Month in December; it's in good hands.

The book flows nicely. It's easy to read. It moves along at a good clip. Elektra is back. She's after some revenge. Shield wants to hire her. Hijinks ensue, ending in a big final panel that, while shocking, won't worry you all that much. While it's not a book that I'm going to go screaming out a window to promote, it is an interesting start and didn't turn me off.

Austen's art is getting a lot of attention, as it's done mostly on a computer. While it looks fine for the most part, I have a couple of nit-picks with it. First and foremost is that the colors all look washed out. There are no solid colors in the book. It looks like a watercolor painting in spots, but the blacks aren't very solid and large areas of color end up with something of a grainy look that's a little distracting.

The other problem is one that relates directly back to the computerized nature of the art. Austen creates models in his computer for all the backgrounds. It's really easy to show a scene from a different angle, since all you have to do is push the computer's camera forward a little bit and recompile it. Bendis' scripts are well known for panels that basically just push in a little bit at a time. The first page of the book does just that. It starts with a far overhead shot, zooms into the ground, and then pans up to a house and pushes in through the door. There are two panels in the middle of the sequence that ruin it for me. One is a far shot of the house, and the next is just a little bit closer. There isn't much difference between the two panels. Usually, when you push into a location in a comic book, the difference between panels is more dramatic. This gives you, the reader, the feeling of actual movement and change. The overall affect here is static. It's a slightly different look at the same exact porch. I think part of that is due to the computerized nature of the art. Maybe the artist doesn't realize that he's not changing that much because it's so simple. An artist with a pen in his hand would draw a much different panel to keep from drawing something tedious and architectural. It's a good side affect of "laziness." With the computer, though, it's much easier to redraw the scene without changing it much.

Bendis is on the book for its first six issues. Given the relative strength of this first issue, I'm sure I'll be on board for all six. It would take a really lousy second issue to drop it now.

POWERS #12 came out this past week. Bendis writes and Michael Avon Oeming draws, as per the usual. There are, however, three big changes in this issue.

First and foremost, it's the start of a new storyline. This is the "Groupies" storyline, as Bendis explores what happens in a world of super-powered individuals when their fans are young, attractive, and sexually aware. Needless to say, this book would be for Mature Readers. The discussions in this issue are quite graphic, for a super hero comic, at least. However, it's really entertaining. When a behemoth of a super-powered man, Olympia, is found dead, the only person to question is the groupie who "serviced" him.

Most of the issue is set in The Box as Deena and Walker question her. It's a hilarious sequence. Deena is almost unstoppable in her curiosity about super-powered sex, while Walker is trying to be business as usual. The interplay there is superb. If you've never read POWERS before, this is as good a place to start as any.

Secondly, there's a new colorist in Peter Fantazis. His style follows Pat Garrahy's fairly closely. It's very monochromatic, to follow the simplified artwork. He does, however, use more shades of the same color and attempting to sculpt the artwork a little more with his coloring.

Thirdly, and most importantly to me, is the addition of Ken Bruzenak as the letterer. The single biggest pain in the ass about this book over its past year of existence has been the god awful, albeit serviceable, computerized lettering. A book with this clear of a writing point of view and this stylized a style of artwork needs much more than the boring flat stiff lettering that has been sitting on top of it all along. Bruzenak brings an experienced letterer's point of view. His lettering fits in the balloons much better. His letterforms look more natural and less rigid and stiff. The word balloons interact with the artwork much more smoothly. The book just looks more like a natural organism and not a prepackaged thing. The book is improved immeasurably by this move. The lettering is no longer something to be merely tolerated. It can now be enjoyed.

Oh, what the heck, let's talk about some more Bendis missteps. ;-)

DAREDEVIL #19 is the fourth and final part of the "Wake Up" story from Bendis' copy of Final Draft and David Mack's easel. The story is wonderfully touching, in an odd sort of way. The ending reminds me of something you might have seen in an episode of HOMICIDE. In the end, it's a solid story.

However, it's much too long. I read the first three parts in one sitting the night before the final part came out. And the feeling I had was that the story just wasn't moving. Nothing had changed between the first part and the third. There seemed to be an awful lot of padding in the story. There were whole pages that to me seem like they were there just because they looked good and Bendis went in afterwards to try to drag the art into the story. There was a full-page splash of Echo at one point that had absolutely nothing to do with the story that I can remember. This story could have been told in two issues. It didn't need four.

Here's the short version of the story: Child has nightmare. Ben Urich ponders. Child repeats nightmare. Mother worries. Urich argues with JJJ. Urich wonders some more. David Mack provides some pinup pages of Daredevil and Echo and Elektra while Ben Urich ponders. Urich argues with JJJ. While Urich ponders some more, the kid draws some thought-provoking pictures. FINALLY, Urich takes some actual action and seeks out Daredevil, who's not there. So Urich waits and ponders. Daredevil shows up and the story is finally laid out for us. Urich digests the info and ponders its greater meaning.

DAREDEVIL #19 is a solid issue, with a touching tale of a wounded child. But the first three parts of this story should have been revised. There are a lot of wasted pages in there.

I liked the story, but I'm glad it's over.

TALE OF TWO DIXONS

NIGHTWING #59 and NIGHTWING: OUR WORLD AT WAR both came out this week. Both were written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Rick Leonardi. The end results, however, were vastly different.

NIGHTWING #59 is a neat self-contained single issue. A beginner could pick up this book, read a nice story, and put it down fully satisfied. A longer-term reader would be happy to learn the answer to a question that's been lingering in this title since its very start – Who is Keyser Soze? No, actually, "Where is Freddy Minh?" He's the elusive drug cartel leader. It's a very satisfying tale, with a bit of an uncertain ending, but yet very obviously written by Chuck Dixon. It's a fast read with characters that think. Reminds me of Isaac Asimov that way, actually.

J.G. Jones provides the cover. Rick Leonardi's art is just as good as ever. Jesse Delperdang inks him here. I'm happy to see Leonardi working regularly again and look forward to his forthcoming run on BIRDS OF PREY. It'll be a different look for that book, but I hope the built-in audience gives him a chance.

The OUR WORLDS AT WAR tie-in, though, is another matter altogether. I won't go so far as to call it a waste of paper, but I'm tempted. First of all, it ties into the overall crossover very flimsily, with just a brief nod to it in the beginning. It's enough to make you ask what the point was in having this one at all. The editorial team should have rethought this issue before it began the crossover.

Nightwing doesn't work best in a setting of aliens and deep space and whatnot. Yes, he's been a member of the Teen Titans, and that fact is even brought up in the issue as a joke. But Nightwing, for me, is in the shadow of Batman, and so works best on the ground in the dark alleyways. That might just be a matter of personal opinion, though, so I shouldn't base my entire review on that.

The problem is that the story is very stretched out. Dick and Babs go romping through time and come back at the end having learned nothing and providing only a brief clue as to what just happened and why. The whole story ends on a question mark for the reader that doesn't look to get settled right away. It's frustrating. It's bad enough to go through 38 pages of derring-do that ultimately seems pointless. But to compound that by not wrapping it up at the end? That's almost unforgivable.

John Lowe inks Rick Leonardi here. The art is a little less scratchy, but Leonardi's artwork is scratchy to begin with. Look at the stuff Al Williamson inked on SPIDER-MAN 2099 or his stuff on the classic fill-in issues of UNCANNY X-MEN. Leonardi's work looks best when it is a little dirty. This issue looks more heavily designed. It has almost a Walter Simonson look and layout to it in spots. Check out that first panel of page 19 if you get the chance.

To sum up: Stick with the monthly issue and skip the tie-in. So far, only the JLA: OWAW tie-in has been a necessary one.

SAN DIEGO IS COMING…

The con opens its doors Wednesday night for Preview Night, and then fly wide open for general admission on Thursday morning. The madness begins here on Friday. Three consecutive Pipeline daily con journals from San Diego will be coming at you over the weekend. The entire CBR site will be getting updated throughout as news breaks, so be sure to check in throughout the weekend.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

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 this weekend's 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.

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