G.I. JOE RETURNS
After a seven year hiatus, the G.I. Joe comic is back. If you missed it as it flew off the shelf, hang in there. The book is going to a second printing, as retailers across America under-ordered the title in record numbers.
For those with a mad passion for the characters, this will be a must-read. For those of us given to fits of nostalgia and a fond remembrance of everything those toys and those characters and television shows and comic books meant to us in a simpler time, this comic book will be enjoyable, although the occasional memory jog will be necessary. For those with no Joe experience looking to enter a world of high tech worldwide spy games and laser gun popping action, this probably isn't the issue for you. As much as I hate to say it, this book isn't terribly friendly to "outsiders."
The story by Joshua Blaylock is titled "Reinstated." It ends up reading more like "Reunion." That's what the first issue is. It's all the characters getting back together again after not seeing each other, in many cases, for seven years. There are serious character conflicts and back stories that are beginning to be developed in the first issue. I'm reminded of how little I remembered of the series when I watched the movie on DVD a couple of months ago. The comic hit me twice as hard. Thankfully, though, I can now read the book with a number of the voices in my head.
But Dusty is here! I can't explain it, but Dusty was my favorite Joe character when I was a devoted fan in my childhood. Even if it's only for a single panel, it's good to see he hasn't been forgotten. So many characters get one panel introductions (including some of the 'new' characters from the movie) that I imagine a lot of people will see their favorites in here.
There is some developing plot in the first issue, but most of it happens on the Cobra side of things, as Cobra Commander is trying to rally his troops around him, despite significant hesitation on the part of his allies. The plot development from the Joe side of things is really in starting the program back up again and getting the old gang around the same table. This issue functions better as a #0 issue than a first issue. I fear it might lose some readers when they read this and wonder why so little is happening.
The art is laid out by Blaylock and penciled by Steve Kurth with inks from John Larter. Comparisons have been made to J. Scott Campbell, who draws the front cover for the first printing. It's not completely an unfair comparison. It's just that Kurth's line is a little stiffer, and his characters seem to have lots of attention paid to their cheekbones. I've never seen so many hollow cheekbones in my life. I'd also compare it to Bart Sears' line. In the end, though, the art is far from distracting. You may not getting anyone who is reading the book strictly for the art, but you aren't going to get a mass exodus of readers who can't read the story through the art. The art, in all honesty, isn't as lively as I had hoped for, but it didn't distract me from the story, either. The storytelling is fine, and the characters are easy to differentiate and interestingly redesigned.
G.I. JOE is a fun book for those who have been waiting for it. Hopefully, the next issue will begin to move the story along, with characters showing themselves in action rather than just talking about themselves. In other words, the second issue won't be G.I. JOE: THE REAL AMERICAN SOAP OPERA.
The first storyline is four issues long and the second part is due out in November.
One last note about one of the members of the team behind the book: Editor Scott Wherle has a band called Pebbles Overflow. I picked up a copy of their CD at WizardWorld last month and it's since entered into regular rotation in my car's CD player. The band pulls off the neat trick of creating a professionally produced demo album while maintaining the raw energy that makes the music so engrossing. The Pebbles Overflow web site compares the band's sound to that of "the Gin Blossoms, Soul Asylum, Tonic, Counting Crows, Dada, Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20, Indigo Girls (if they were guys) and Toad the Wet Sprocket." I think it's a fair comparison. The only FM music station I listen to anymore is WPLJ in New York City, which plays adult contemporary songs, including stuff from at least three-quarters of those bands just mentioned. I think they'd fit in well there.
For now, though, they're an unsigned band playing local gigs in the greater Cincinnati area. If you're not from around there, try out the songs that are sampled on their web site, and pick up the CD if you like what you hear. I think they're worth a shot.
While I'm talking about music, the new They Might Be Giants Album, "Mink Car," is a treat, as well. I can't get "Yeh Yeh" or "Drink" out of my head.
And as busy a new comics release week as this may be, it almost pales by comparison to the DVDs that are due out this week. That list includes the MASK OF ZORRO Special Edition, the complete first season of THE SIMPSONS, and CITIZEN KANE.
Thus ends the multimedia portion of this week's column.
TWO PREVIEWS OF BOOKS FOR THIS WEEK
The usual creative team of Ed Brubaker, Scott McDaniel, and Aaron Sowd does BATMAN #595. Brubaker is still working on the connections between Bruce Wayne, his father, and the Gotham mafia. This issue brings all of that to a head as we find out the link between Dr. Wayne and the mob. Brubaker comes up with a story that fits neatly into Batman continuity without forcing anything or tying into anything unnecessarily. It works well on its own and fits in like a puzzle piece on the jigsaw that Brubaker has been slowly developing during his tenure on the book. It's a nice thing to see. He's kept the stories accessible and interesting with a definite arc. Yet the storyline is not so horribly connected that you feel like you're reading part 6 of 12 along the way.
Brubaker begins the issue with a conversation between Bruce Wayne and his bodyguard, Sasha. Finally we get to see the conversation I've always been most curious about: Batman doesn't use a gun because a gun killed his parents. Isn't that a bit of an overreaction? While I wish Sasha didn't feel the need to qualify her question by distancing herself from the NRA – it's still the #1 source of responsible gun training for private citizens in this country -- I'm glad to see someone finally challenge the character with the question. It's something that obviously bothers Batman, yet something that is also concluded by the end of the issue. I was satisfied by the ending, which didn't get into heavy handed politics, but rather added a layer to the character.
McDaniel's art is everything you've come to expect from him. The "action" pages with Batman gliding through Gotham are as inventive as any he's ever done, and read smoothly to my eyes. There's not much action in this story, and the bulk of it appears off-panel or in the background as Batman busts some heads. McDaniel is capable of telling a talking heads story, as well. He plays around a little bit with page layouts during the flashback sequences, making them interesting without being overpowering.
NEW X-MEN #117 features regular writer Grant Morrison with regular fill-in artist Ethan Van Sciver and inker Prentiss Rollins. Morrison goes a step further in this issue in showing Professor Xavier's School for the Gifted as a full service training school for young mutants. We get a good look around at the school now, as it's become overrun with a full slate of mutant students. Not only is it an idea that makes sense, but it's also an idea that brings the comics slightly closer to the movie. (I don't think the tail should wag the dog, but it's a good enough idea that a little bit of chemistry between the two shouldn't be shunned.)
The star of the issue is Beast, who gets the emotional and physical crap beaten out of him. Let's just say he has a really bad day here and the poignant cover of his crying face fits perfectly with the story.
Van Sciver's art is up to the challenge of telling the story. He doesn't have many opportunities to draw pages with the dozens of characters that have frightened off more veteran artists in the past. When he does, however, he does it with ease and skill. He also doesn't blink at the smaller moments, the woodland surroundings, or the high tech gadgets he's called on to illustrate for the story. It's good to see an artist who can do both without batting an eye.
NEW X-MEN is living up to its billing as the rethought X-book. It seems like the scheduling difficulties are now behind it with the addition of Van Sciver as fill-in artist. Let's hope it keeps moving like this.
TWO MINI MINI-PREVIEWS
GREEN ARROW #8 continues Kevin Smith's "Quivers" storyline, with art from Phil Hester and Ande Parks. Here we finally learn the secret behind Ollie's return to the mortal coil. Smith does it with a heaping dose of smart-ass comments and character-based humor. It's not all exposition. The flashbacks are limited, but detailed enough to keep even relative newbies to the character (such as myself) apprised of what's going on.
Humberto Ramos' OUT THERE #5 carries through with the plot of the book so far. He's not resting on his laurels or getting stuck in a rut. With the premise of the town and its inhabitants well-established, Ramos (with writer Brian Augustyn) isn't afraid to move in new directions. A revolt is beginning against the demons that have taken over the town. A secondary force is better introduced, and the main characters are more publicly involved with one another. Nothing is shied away from here. The series continues to be a fun read, despite some occasionally clunky dialogue.
THE FOOT SOLDIERS, VOLUME ONE
The second volume of the collected THE FOOT SOLDIERS is due out in your local comics shoppe tomorrow. If you haven't a clue as to what this series is about, the first trade is still available. Let's talk about that one now.
There's an old storytelling rule that says you should always start a story at the last possible minute. GLADIATOR didn't need to start with an account of Maximus' rise to being a great General. UNBREAKABLE doesn't open on Bruce Willis' character's college days. ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE doesn't start with Hayes earning his first dollar. These are all extreme examples, but the concept applies.
In that same way, Jim Krueger opens up THE FOOT SOLDIERS with three teenage boys entering the graveyard of heroes and acquiring their powers. The rest of the book deals with their reactions to their new powers and their attempts to change their world for the better with them. We don't start off with a timeline of events that lead to the deaths of all the heroes, or the development of the B.T.L.s or the political reasoning behind food rationing. All of these might make great stories. TFS, however, is about three boys and their war against the established law. The post-apocalyptic type nightmare scenario they're living in is background. It's not the true story.
Two of the three boys who lead this book sport new boots, while the third wears a set of rags that magically heals wounds, allowing him to see for the first time in his life. With that power in hand, they go about trying to recreate society, one person at a time. It's weird and freaky enough that you never know exactly what's going to happen next, personified best, perhaps, by the wall that's alive. Issues of brotherhood, responsibility, maturity, and mortality are all touched upon, as well as a host of others that I'm probably not thinking of at the moment.
The art in the volume is predominately done by Michael Avon Oeming. This book isn't done in the same style you may be more used to from him in POWERS. It is energetic, though, and the storytelling is clear. (Sad to say, there are some artists who can't work without color in their art. Oeming is not one.) Neil Vokes draws one of the stories with Oeming near the end that has the most memorable splash pages of the book. The kinetic energy just pours off the page.
One thing I liked about the book is the series of shorter stories at the end. In total, there are four short stories (less than eight pages each) that tell brief stories. They're easy enough to breeze through in less than five minutes, but it does seem to be a lost art. As comics enters a phase of original graphic novels and an increased reliance on longer works in trade paperback format, I'm afraid the short short story is dead. The story format was a reliable staple of comics at the inception of the art form and survived in anthology titles until the 1990s. I think it still has a place today, but that's solely in promotion and advertising. What better way to give your audience a feel for a book than with a short three to five page story on your web site? If it's black and white, it'll load up really fast, too. But now I'm diverging…
THE FOOT SOLDIERS Volume One is a worthy read, set in a new post-apocalyptic world with lots of points to spark the imagination. Krueger is creating a world here, while not losing sight of the smaller personal stories that take place in it. If you're a POWERS fan, there's some nice Mike Avon Oeming art of a different style to be had here. The second volume debuts on Wednesday. Now's a good time to start reading.
It's been a while since I did one of these. I'm going to devote an upcoming column to answering whatever questions might be on your mind. I get my nose buried so deeply in this column sometimes that I miss some of the arrows that are being slung above my head. So here's your chance. What do you want to know? Are you curious about some aspect of Pipeline? Do you want my take on a specific comic book, or a creator, or a recent comics news article?
Let me know. Send me e-mail. I'll select a handful and answer them either this Friday or next.
I'll assume that you're OK with me printing your name and question in a future column. If you'd rather not have your name mentioned, just let me know. I won't be printing e-mail addresses. I don't want to be the cause of any additional spam in your mailbox.
Thanks to John at Dewey's Comics in Madison, NJ for the aid on this column.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.
Next year's con schedule tentatively includes Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, San Diego, Chicago, Bethesda, and New York. I'm seeing the country, one con at a time.