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Pipeline, Issue #221

LOOKING FORWARD TO WEDNESDAY

There's a new art team in UNCANNY X-MEN #397. WILDCATS artist Sean Phillips does the layouts, with Mel Rubi on finished pencils and Danny Miki running inks. The difference in art and storytelling shows here. It's an easier and more enjoyable read. I don't have anything against Ian Churchill's artwork. I like it. But I think he made the right call in stepping aside from the book when he realized it didn't suit his style. I think the best work he's done is stuff with a more limited number of characters and a more limited story. Drawing this globe-spanning sprawling epic isn't his thing. I think his best stuff in the past couple of years was his two-issue story in WOLVERINE, where it was Wolvie, Spidey, and a NYPD cop in the sewers fighting a bad guy or two. That stuff was gorgeous. It looked three-dimensional; it was roomy enough to include larger art spreads and bigger panels. It sang. His UNCANNY stuff has been fine, but only shone in limited panels, in retrospect. A lot of it came off too stiff, particularly when he's trying to fit in five characters to a fight scene and three different locations.

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The story now is told much more simply, with Phillips' trademark grid-like approach. Rubi's art style is very complementary to Churchill's, but remains a little looser and more towards the iconic end of Scott McCloud's UNDERSTANDING COMICS triangle system. There are minor uncomfortable anatomical moments, but you really have to be looking for them to see them.

Casey's story, in the meantime, is much closer to his WILDCATS stories here. It's all talking heads. The issue only falters when it takes the time to start setting up the inevitable all-out brawl that you can see brewing in the London Underground. For the most part, though, it's the beginnings of a nice exploration of the similarities between celebrity and homo superior. It seems odd that a group of people well known for being well known would have so much in common with a set of people the world despises. But it works. My only complain is that Casey doesn't focus enough on it and ends up not being subtle enough in his presentation of it.

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The issue comes at a very good time, chronologically sometime just after the events at the end of last week's NEW X-MEN issue. This is better than the timing of the NEW X-MEN ANNUAL, which came out a week before the issue it had to have taken place after.

Also, we get another Carson Daly joke in this issue. I'm sure it's just coincidental from the timing of it with Brian Bendis' success on that joke in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN a couple of months ago. Maybe Marvel will get some more play on MTV from it. Either that, or MTV will start ignoring them, thinking it's all a big attention grabber.

This is part three of the storyline, so I'm not terribly sure that it's a great jumping on point. It is, however, an improvement over the last three issues.

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The seventh issue of the revitalized Top Ten-ranked GREEN ARROW series reintroduces Ollie to Hal Jordan. This, as you can imagine, is destined to be just a tad bit hairy, considering the last time the two met Hal was decidedly more corporeal. Now Hal has gone nuts, murdered, and turned into the Spectre. Wait till Ollie gets a load of him.

Kevin Smith's script is very much a dialogue piece, which is playing to his own strengths. Like UNCANNY X-MEN, there's no action sequence here. It's all talking heads, but this time with something of a more interesting backdrop to set it against, aside from some London tube tunnels and stadium back stages. In fact, this issue almost reads like an issue of PROMETHEA played for laughs. Smith has Ollie guided through some mystical after world, where cameos of other dead DC characters abound. While the issue works really well with the in-jokes, I think you'll be able to get through it without an extensive knowledge of DC lore. (JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, however, would require a great knowledge for the View Askewniverse history for full understanding. The movie is very funny if you have that. I'm not sure it works otherwise. That might explain the third place finish it has this weekend. This is quite the tangent, now isn't it?)

Phil Hester and Ande Parks continue as the art team. I don't think I've really said all that much about their efforts in previous issues. I should. I like their stuff. It fits the book. It's easy to look at. It's easy to read. It tells the story without drawing all that much attention to itself. It has a definite style that keeps it from looking pedestrian and keeps it standing out on the shelves, even past Matt Wagner's beautifully painted covers. I think Hester does particularly good work in creating montage pages and unorthodox panel arrangements. Take the first page of this issue, which is just Green Arrow writhing on a black page. It's simple, easy to follow, and makes the point well. (Open up a copy of Will Eisner's COMICS & SEQUENTIAL ART for "Hamlet on a Rooftop," for starters. He does a great job there in detailing how body language means so much in comics.)

There is one minor production issue. The colors are shifted on pages 6 and 20. They don't fit inside the black lines. It's annoying and intrusive, but you can read through those pages fast enough and hope for it to be corrected when it comes time for the collection of the series.

Speaking of which, shouldn't DC be soliciting for a collection of the first six issues soon? You'd think they would, what with all the printings the first issue has gone through. There are people sticking around to read past that, aren't there?

LOOKING BACK TO PREVIOUS WEDNESDAYS

With all the con coverage last week, there is a load of books I haven't had the chance or space to talk about. Here are just a few.

[Vampirella #1]VAMPIRELLA #1 is the debut of the new team of Mark Millar and Mike Mayhew. I haven't read many Vampirella books in my life -- I think the grand total is two -- so I'm not constrained in my outlook on the title by generations of continuity and tradition. This can work out either way. But I like enough of what I saw in this issue to come back for more next month.

Millar's story revolves around Vampirella's search to break up a series of killings from a number of different vampires. While dressed up in her usual red flossy costume, she mingles with average Janes and Joes and hunts for clues.

Mayhew's art is fairly impressive. While it looks a little stiff and posed in the way that many artists get when they start photo-referencing things, it's still multidimensional and easy on the eyes. The colors by Haberlin Studios work to emulate a painted look, but it's tough to tell how it's done. I don't know if Mayhew did greywashes that were colored over, or whether the entire effect was done on the computer. In any case, it looks nice, although some of the skin tones come off to shiny. It also pays a lot of attention to detail. At one point, you can see Vampirella's tan line. Odd.

On the other hand, some of it is needlessly shocking or cheesecakey. The leader of the "official" investigation into the matter is pulled out of stock casting for some cheesy late night cable sex romp. With the feathered up blonde hair, wide tie, and short skirt, you'd almost expect to see her in a movie Gilbert Gottfried is introducing on USA at two a.m.

Still, the book has enough going for it to be worth another look next month.

Daredevil #22]DAREDEVIL #22 is the third part of Bob Gale's storyline, joined by Phil Winslade and James Hodgkins on art. This is easily my favorite story arc so far on the restarted title since Kevin Smith left. While the trap door that Gale left himself at the outset still looms large in the story, everything he's done since then has been logical, yet unpredictable.

The high concept is, "What if Matt Murdock sued Daredevil?" It's a simple idea, but one that Gale is putting through the paces with great bits of media recognition, political intrigue, and just a tad bit of the superheroic. There isn't a fight scene in this issue. There isn't a parade of costumed clowns coming after Daredevil. It's all in his head. While some may find this cerebral type of comic boring, I think it's more exciting than any confrontation with 95% of the supervillains available in the Marvel Universe today.

Winslade's art is solid. It's vaguely reminiscent of some of the older Gene Colan-style of art in spots, but it is structurally very sound. Backgrounds are there, perspective works, anatomy is dead on, and storytelling is strong. What more could you ask for?

I hope you can track down the first two parts of this storyline and hop aboard now. Waiting for Bendis's run to start after this is fine, but this is a great story and one I hope less people miss.

"Our Worlds At War" comes to a conclusion in ACTION COMICS #782. Thank goodness.

"Our Worlds At War" continues, however, next week in OWAW: WORLD'S FINEST #1, in which all the heroes mourn their losses. It's got a stunning array of artists and an extremely nice bit of business with Batman (illustrated by Mike Wieringo from Jeph Loeb's script). Aside from that, it's a whole lot of mourning. Piling funeral on top of funeral has a tendency to diminish the importance of each, I'm afraid.

WILDSTORM SUMMER SPECTACULAR is a rather nice bit of business. It's a prestige format book featuring stories by Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello, and Paul Jenkins. The art is from Gaijin Studios to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Most of it comes from Brian Stelfreeze, Cully Hamner, Karl Story, and George Jeanty. It's a beautiful book, but hardly feels worth the $6 investment. The fact that you could read through this in about ten minutes doesn't help it any. On the brighter side, the paper is glossy and it shows off the art really well. All the stories are excellent character pieces that are rather light in plot and breezy to read through, but displaying a mastery of craft that's great to see. Adam Hughes does the cover, while Chris Sprouse, Mike Wieringo, Jason Pearson, Joe Phillips, and Tony Harris contribute pinups. It's a beautiful book, but you'll have to judge for yourself if it's worth the cost of admission.

[Sojourn #2]SOJOURN #2 is out now, with story from Ron Marz and art by Greg Land and Drew Geraci. There's something that strikes me in particular about the world of comics after looking through this book: I am in awe of colorists today.

Caesar Rodriguez is, hands down, one of my favorite colorists working in comics today. There are few colorists I can spot. Laura DePuy and Paul Mounts are probably the only two. Rodriguez's colors are fast joining that elite pairing. His colors really make a book shine. Since he left SCION, the look and feel of that book has changed – and not for the better. The new colorist, Justin Ponsor, has a tendency to leave everything too dark and not differentiate colors enough to present the art as clearly as Rodriguez did. In SOJOURN, it's evident that he's playing with coloring techniques a bit more such as textures and patterns, but the same skills still surface when it comes to being able to read a panel easily. It's also obvious that he's not fighting with Greg Land's amazing artwork for attention. One does really complement the other.

Special thanks to John at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ, for his expert Dewey Decimal knowledge.

More from the CrossGen side of things in this space on Friday.

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 250 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 or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.

I'll be at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland for one day this September.

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