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Pipeline, Issue #217

BIRDS OF PREY

[Birds of Prey #33]Phil Noto's art on the BIRDS OF PREY covers has been beautiful thus far. Since Brian Stelfreeze hasn't been doing the layouts of the covers in a couple of years, the covers have lost a certain sense of design. While they were mostly all great pieces of art and nicely done, there wasn't the sense of the heavy hand of design influencing them. With Phil Noto on the job now, I can say that the BIRDS OF PREY covers have reverted to form. It's nice to see a regular cover artist on a comic who is so obsessed with design. BoP covers are definitely something to keep an eye on in the future.

Chuck Dixon's story moves right along, reaching a dramatic breaking point near the end. He's not just killing time here, although the opening sequence – patterned slightly after the James Bond openings? – seemed like just a good chance to let Butch Guice draw Dinah in a bathing suit for a few pages. Mind you, I'm not complaining. The story concludes next issue, much to the relief of many, I know. I'm still enjoying it. BIRDS OF PREY exists in its own little continuity bubble, so some of those issues aren't bothering me at all.

Guice's art is fantastic. Just when I think it can't get any better, somehow it does. I think I realized this month what it is about his art I like so much. It's the ink line. It can be thick and chunky, but it's never wasted or given away. Every line has a meaning, and quite often is there to enhance the shadows and give the art some extra depth and sculpture. It's the one thing that has me worried about RUSE, his upcoming book at CrossGen. He's not inking it. How will it hold up under someone else's India ink? I've seen a couple of pages of that series and they look fine, but they're mostly architecture -- albeit gorgeously colored and solidly constructed architecture.

To exemplify what I mean about his inking style, check out pages 15 and 16 of this issue. It's two silent pages of Dinah sneaking off the boat and onto the island. It's one of the most moody and scary sequences I've seen in recent super-hero comic books, and it's not even a big event. It's the anticipation that gets you. Not only is everything in the art easy to follow, but also the second page, shrouded in thick shadows, is kept tight enough to have you anticipating what's going to happen next without exactly knowing. It's a wonderful sequence of storytelling.

Now if only DC would start pumping out more trades for this title. It really deserves it and the story structure would seem to allow for it, quite easily.

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THE OUR WORLDS AT WAR INTERLUDE

[Superman: The Man of Steel #116]SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL #116 is a really quick read just as soon as you ignore the poem running through it. The concept of a story set against a poem or set of song lyrics is one of my least favorite storytelling gimmicks. Sadly, Mark Schultz does nothing here to break me of that. (Jeph Loeb came the closest with his recent SUPERMAN stories set to famous historical speeches.) I quickly learned to ignore the strained quartets and couplets and just follow the action and dialogue. Of course, this did mean missing some of the stage directions and emotions behind the actions of the character, but it was either that or fall asleep reading the issue.

SUPERGIRL #60, on the other hand, is an excellent use of the company-wide crossover. First, it isn't an integral part of the overall headache of a plot that "Our Worlds At War" has become. Secondly, it stands on its own, to the point where you don't really need to have read OWAW to follow this story. Third, it works with the characters that are a natural part of the book. The flow of the series isn't interrupted terribly.

This is a nice issue putting Linda Danvers and Supergirl back in the spotlight, away from Buzz. It points up the strongest quality of the character. Even at quarter- or half-power (for nearly a year's worth of issues now), Linda can't help being Supergirl. She's done everything she can to keep fighting the good fight and helping people out. She's pieced together a new Supergirl costume. She's found ways of working around her depleted powers. And she hasn't let any of her new deficiencies get to her. At heart, she's still a hero. That's a really nice thing to see.

Leonard Kirk's art is as beautiful as ever this issue, with Robin Riggs on inks.

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MORE MISCELLANEOUS REVIEWS

[Midnight Nation #8]I'm in a tough spot when it comes to reviewing MIDNIGHT NATION #8. What's the point? If you haven't been reading it thus far, I'm probably not going to convince you that this is a good time. It's a twelve issue series, and I'd have to be nuts to suggest starting it two-thirds of the way in. But if it stinks, what would it matter if you were already reading it? It's just a speed bump on the way to #12. That issue is so close, you'd probably just glide right by.

I'm throwing caution to the wind and discussing it, anyway. With any luck, this might stick in your mind and cause you to buy the trade collection when it comes out at some point next year. (I presume that they'll do such a thing.)

The story has a very JMS-ian twist. In this issue, JMS tells us the ending. This is nothing new for him. He's said it before: The most interesting part is the journey, and not the ending. In BABYLON 5 terms, we knew from the first season that G'Kar and Londo would eventually choke each other to death in the emperor's throne room. Did that ruin the next 88 episodes? Far from it. Learning how they got there and what the exact circumstances surrounding it were turned out to be the fun part.

Here, David comes face to face with his eventual fate, as well as Laurel's. The exact details are kept muted, though, and David is sure that he can still change the future. The excitement in the last 4 issues is now how they get to that point and what they do to either overcome it or fall into it.

Gary Frank's art hasn't wavered throughout the series. It still looks strong and is easy to follow.

If you're not already reading the series, wait for the trade. If you are reading it, don't fear. It's still worth reading.

[Fantastic Four 1234 #1]FANTASTIC FOUR 1234 #1 features THE THING and is an excellent look at the Fantastic Four as a family. I have to admit to never having felt a real connection to these characters. It's the one book at the heart of the Marvel Universe that's always escaped me. So any F4 book is a tough sell to me. (OK, THOR doesn't rock my boat, either, but that's because I don't usually go for books about a pantheon of gods.)

This one is easy to pick up on from the start. I've read enough F4 stuff in the past to have a basic understanding of who all the characters are, but Grant Morrison manages to draw a number of inside conflicts in a convincing way. These are the four core members of the team driven to distraction, mostly due to Mister Fantastic's intense thinking habits. The fish rots from the head down, and that seems to be holding true for F4. You can see everything coming unglued from there, and it seems Morrison's idea for the mini-series is to break them apart one per issue until it's just Doom versus Reed Richards at the end.

Jae Lee's art is as beautiful as ever, painted by Jose Villarrubia. His storytelling format this time around seems more tilted towards including at least one large image per page with a series of overlapping or inset panels, very similar to how Brent Anderson handles ASTRO CITY. I like it. This stuff looks great, so I can't complain.

I won't hold it against you if you wait for the trade, though. Judging by recent PREVIEWS, you'll probably see the four issues of this series collected in time for Christmas…

[Tangled Web #4]TANGLED WEB #4 is entitled "Severance Package" and is, by far, the best issue of the series to date. For once, it sticks to the premise of the series. This isn't a Spider-Man story. This is a story of how Spider-Man's actions impact the lives of people around him, without his necessarily knowing about it. "The Thousand" suffered from being Yet Another Spider-Man story. While the plot hinges around a character that attempts to duplicate Peter Parker's radioactive spider accident, the rest of the story is still Spider-man finding and stopping him. Nothing terribly special.

In this issue, Spider-Man's breakup of a deal set up by one of Kingpin's men puts that man and his family in serious jeopardy. Spidey only appears in one panel in this issue, but his action has serious consequences.

Greg Rucka writes the story. He keeps it simple and straightforward. Despite that, there are still a couple of twists to be had in the plot. Characterization is strong, which is a good thing since this is a story that hinges on the audience sympathizing with a character who is a bad man. The story slows up near the end, but that works out well. It's the reader's anticipation of what might happen at the next turn of a page that keeps the issue going. It's actually a very suspenseful tale.

Eduardo Risso draws the issue. Risso is quickly developing into one of my favorite artists. (I'm really sorry I didn't get the chance to meet him in San Diego.) He knows how to tell a story and gets things done with an economy of line and a strong style. It's all very impressive. He pulls off a great deal of the storytelling near the end, as the protagonist moves to face the Kingpin. Also, check out the way the protagonist is drawn as his elevator rises to the Kingpin's office. It's a nifty bit of storytelling. I think Will Eisner would be proud.

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SAN DIEGO DAILY CON JOURNAL INDEX

If you missed any of them, my daily con journals for each day of the con can still be read in the archives:

DAY 0 reviews what I read in the airplane on the way to San Diego: SKY APE and Ed Brubaker's A COMPLETE LOWLIFE. There's also the first installment of what eventually turned out to be an on-going series of rants against America West Airlines.

DAY 1 is Thursday at the con, including first impressions of the convention and reviews of DOUBLE IMAGE #5 and SLOW NEWS DAY #1.

DAY 2 mistakenly reviews SLOW NEWS DAY #1 again, but also talks about The Eisner Awards, costumed attendees, Scott Kollins and THE FLASH, and more.

DAY 3 kicks off Saturday's highlights with Scott Shaw!'s Oddball Comics panel, segues into a conversation with CrossGen founder Marc Alessi, The Image Founding Fathers panel, and some rapid-fire name-dropping.

DAY 4 wraps up the weekend with the review of BONEYARD #3 that should have been in a previous column, more woes on America West, and the mad dash to fill my sketchbook with special help from Andi Watson, the TELLOS gang of artists, Stan Sakai, Michael Avon Oeming, and more.

There's more coming this Friday. It's my photographic take on the con, completely annotated. In other words, it'll start out looking like the Parade of Photos and end up looking like the usual Pipeline. =)

Of course, the lengthy list of books I picked up in San Diego will also be reviewed over the course of the following weeks and months. Many of them are a little more offbeat than regular readers might be accustomed to from Pipeline. But there's also a lot of stuff to recommend in that vein.

A couple of quick updates from those con journals and recent columns:

The STAR code for the ELECTRIC GIRL TPB is STAR12452.

The editor for THE COMICS JOURNAL is Anne Elizabeth Moore.

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 WizardWorld in Chicago in a couple of weeks. Look for a couple of interesting announcements around that time.

I'm also tentatively scheduled for a day at the Small Press Expo in Maryland this September.

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