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Pipeline, Issue #222

SUICIDE SQUAD RETURNS!

[Suicide Squad]The return of DC's suicidal group of villains looking for a way out of prison begins this week, with SUICIDE SQUAD #1. This isn't the same team that you had in John Ostrander's incarnation of the series. Keith Giffen is behind the wheel this time. That becomes obvious when you start reading the dialogue between the members of the team. It's Major Disaster's troop, last seen as the Injustice Gang. Along with that comes all the bickering and back-and-forth dialogue you'd expect in a Giffen book. It isn't directly played out for laughs. It's more the result of a nervous tension that pervades the book. This isn't Giffen and DeMatteis' JUSTICE LEAGUE. There is a serious plot, but there's plenty of fun dialogue to keep up with along the way.

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The story is structured so that the main thrust of the plot doesn't happen until the final few pages, when mayhem breaks out. Most of the book is concerned with the team getting together and heading out on the first mission. That makes a lot of sense. You want readers to care about the characters to some degree before putting them in a life-or-death situation from which they may not make it out. The death of a character the reader doesn't know won't matter much. In this issue, then, the confrontation doesn't happen until the last few pages.

Giffen pulls off a very neat trick in all the dialogue. He doesn't use any exposition. There's nothing given to you on a silver platter. You have to pay attention to what the characters are saying to get everything that's going on. You get to put the pieces together from off-handed references. It's not difficult to do, but at a time when comics are so introspective and everything is explained outright in a caption box at the beginning of a scene, it might seem a little strange.

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This is a more mobile Suicide Squad than the previous incarnation, and Amanda Waller is not at the head. This time, it's Bulldozer. He's doing a great impression of Oracle here, strapped into his wheelchair and running the team from afar with a bank of computers and video sets laid out in front of him. There's someone over his shoulder keeping tabs on him, too, but that mystery figure isn't revealed until the final page, so I'm not going into that here. I am afraid that it might be a little too inside for newbies to the Squad to "get." I'm sure it'll be explained in the coming months, though.

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There is a continuity glitch or two potentially in the issue. Chuck Dixon said at Wizard World that he had to run some editorial interference to save a character's life. Anyone who's familiar at all with his ROBIN work will know instantly which character in this issue isn't nearly as dead as they'd have you believe. It also may cause a slight continuity glitch in the most recent issue of ROBIN, albeit one that could easily be explained away.

Paco Medina's art (with inks from Jose Sanchez) is fine. He's got a knack for doing expressive faces, which should work well for him in illustrating any Giffen script. It's more of the manga-influenced art so often seen on DC books. It reminds me of Humberto Ramos' art, too. Medina's characters have the same chubby hands and square faces.

It looks like this series won't have the same number of regular characters in it that the old series did. The first issue shows very little sign of engaging in the same kind of international politics that Ostrander's series handled so nicely. However, this is just the first issue, and a self-contained one at that. I'll have to hold out final judgment for a couple more issues, but there is most definitely hope.

ORIGIN

[Origin]Who'da thunk it? Marvel is producing Vertigo books now! That's what you'd think if you came into ORIGIN cold. It's the story of a class-conscious segment of society, set in a Victorian England-era mansion and its surrounding environs. There are abusive fathers, cold mothers, and scared children. There's little action, lots of dialogue, fancy lettering, and a grid approach to the art.

This is the first part of Wolverine's origin story. I kid you not.

Paul Jenkins' story introduces us to Thomas Logan, a drunk and quick-to-anger groundskeeper at a posh mansion. His son, referred to only as "boy" or "dog", is the troublemaker with a soft spot for red heads. Yup, that looks to be the Logan we know as Wolvie.

The thrust of the story is that of Logan and his two friends. The first is the sickly son of the mansion's owner. The second is a new caretaker whose parents have passed on and who moves to the mansion. (This is a time before institutionalized welfare kicked in.)

The story works on a number of levels. There are issues of class going on. There are issues of abusive fathers. It all comes together by the end, but it'll sneak up on you just a bit.

This is not a superhero story. It isn't a "child gets bitten by a radioactive furry creature and becomes Wolverine" story. We don't even know exactly where this story takes place. It sounds like the English countryside, but the dialogue is kept so straight and with so little inflection or accent that it could be in America somewhere.

At the end of the first story, you won't know Wolverine's origin. Of course, since we already know where he got the adamantium skeleton from, what else is there to know? He's a mutant so he has the healing power from birth. The rest is just gravy.

Andy Kubert's art on the book is beautiful, and Richard Isanove does an amazing job. Isanove is credited as doing the "digital painting." The colors are done over top of Kubert's tight pencils. Memo to the XTREME X-MEN office: This is how it should be done. Isanove uses a restrained set of colors in the book, mostly relying on earth tones and the kinds of colors you'd see in your mind if someone said "late-1800s" to you. There's nothing garish to the book.

ORIGIN gets a definite thumbs up from me on its first issue. If Jenkins can keep crafting intelligent tales like the one in this issue, the series will be worth its cost. Wolverine's "origin" is secondary.

THE FRANK TIERI PORTION OF TODAY'S COLUMN

[Wolverine #167]WOLVERINE #167 is due out this week, beginning the new three part "Bloodsport" storyline. Wolverine travels back to Madripoor to take part of a Bloodsport championship thingy. It's Ultimate Fighting. It's that Jean Claude Van Damme movie. It's a bunch of third-string Marvel characters fighting to the death in a ring, only to be revived when the next writer has an idea starring one of them.

It's not a bad comic, but I just can't get all that excited about it. It's one of those books I'd probably love if I were about 13 years old. It's got a bunch of super powered characters fighting each other. You don't need to hang around too many younger comics fans before a discussion of "Who's Stronger?" would break out. This comic does a good job with that premise.

But there's one fatal flaw in the story. Wolverine returns to Madripoor in his Patch persona. The point of Patch was that he could work undercover in the seedy underworld of Madripoor. It was a great personality to use to tell stories that didn't necessarily gravitate towards super-powered slugfests.

Yet that's what we get here: a superhero slugfest. It almost boggles the mind that none of the spandex-clad personas makes the connection that they're fighting Wolverine here.

The whole thing makes me want to get out my copy of ESSENTIAL WOLVERINE 1 for rereading purposes.

There's also a big shocker on the last page that will mean nothing to you unless you've been reading WOLVERINE for a while. (Reminds me of SUICIDE SQUAD that way.)

Dan Fraga does the art for the issue, including in it the much-anticipated N*SYNC cameo appearance. They're on one panel of one page and have some dialogue balloons to make it painfully obvious who they are. But who am I to argue with something that will get comics on TRL?

Fraga was last seen doing the computer-enhanced GEAR STATION. He brings with him inker Norm Rapmund, also from Extreme Studios. Fraga has drawn in a number of different styles in the past, with looks ranging from the McFarlane-esque to the Liefeldian. This one is somewhere closer to the look the mutant books had about ten years ago. It's very close to Ian Churchill's stuff, in a lot of ways.

[Deadpool]The style used here is just right for this story. Doesn't mean you're looking at Will Eisner. It just means that ten years ago, I would have drooled over this title. As much as you may not want to hear this, there are plenty of kids out there who might get hooked on comics thanks to comics like this. It's an overblown testosterone fest that's light on plot and looks cool.

On the other hand, DEADPOOL #57 – which came out last week -- is a good read. That means a lot. For my money, Joe Kelly created the best solo character-driven book at Marvel in the 90s with the first three years of DEADPOOL. Everything afterwards had a lot to compete with.

The new storyline is dubbed "Deadpool: Agent of Weapon X." Written by Frank Tieri, the story involves the Weapon X Project's new mission statement. As part of it, they send Sabretooth out to recruit Deadpool. While there are one or two bits of business in the issue that have been done almost to death by now, there's enough in this issue to bring me back for more. Tieri keeps Deadpool's humor going without overdoing it. The pop culture references are all there, but don't steal the show. There's a fantastically funny sequence in the middle where Deadpool meets with Sabretooth in the middle of an attempted hit.

Tieri seems to have an affection for using a ton of guest stars per issue. It just works out better in this issue than it did with WOLVERINE. Sabretooth, Kane, and Mesmero show up here, amongst others.

Georges Jeanty's artwork serves the story, although it's not exciting on its own. He's kept the little wisp at the back of Deadpool's head that Ed McGuinness originated. (It always amazes me how often a given artist's quirks can be absorbed into the character without thought. Deadpool has that little point in the back of his skull when his mask is on like Impulse will always have the big feet Humberto Ramos drew him with.) The style is reminiscent of Peter Woods' work on the title – simple and clean with lots of thick lines.

Barry Windsor-Smith even contributes a cover, evoking his original WEAPON X storyline from MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS. Nice stuff, with an overall cover design that's very respectable, even if it won't necessarily pop out at you on the stands. (Of course, with all the covers that scream for your attention, this nice understated one might do a better job reaching your eyeballs.)

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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