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Pipeline, Issue #231

IN STORES THIS WEEK

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #36 is due out tomorrow. It's the much-awaited reaction to the Twin Towers attack. J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr. are responsible for this one, and deserve a lot of credit for their work.

There's no story here. It's a 22-page speech done in caption boxes as written by JMS, reflecting on all the issues surrounding America after 11 September. As anyone who's a fan of BABYLON 5 could tell you, JMS excels at this kind of thing. He did it multiple times on the television show. G'Kar's Declaration of Principles is quite possibly the best example of it. When he's on, JMS can write the most smoothly flowing prose you could ever ask for. He's done an excellent job here showing the events of that day as filtered through the eyes of the helpless Spider-Man, along with an array of other super-powered individuals from the Marvel Universe. Aside from one page featuring the villains helping out at the site, I don't think the book falters at all for this.

Much of the eerie sense of realism has to be credited to JR Jr's artwork, with inks from Scott Hanna. They're gorgeous. They evoke the news and the images of the day so well. You'll find panels that will take you back to that fateful Tuesday morning and remind you of where you were and what you were thinking as you watched the first scraps of video coming out from Ground Zero.

The cover is all black, and so should stick out on the stands if it hasn't sold out already by the time you get there. There's great buzz for this book for good reason. It's the kind of thing you'll want to read more than once.

[Note: For more on this issue be sure to read the CBR News article 'Amazing Spider-Man #36' reacts to the WTC disaster.]

Chuck Dixon and Leonardo Manco reunite for a new three-part mini-series called DOOM: THE EMPEROR RETURNS. While I can't honestly recall where the last mini-series ended, I can tell you that the tone and the focus of this new mini-series falls in nicely with the previous one. Dixon's Doom is a bravura performance in characterization. There are no chinks in Doom's armor. Doom wouldn't have it. He's all confidence, cockiness, and attitude. Everything in this book comes directly from that.

This first issue takes place on Doomworld. Doom is under assault by a legion of forces, while trying to figure out the secrets that the planet beneath him holds. It has some elements of science fiction, along with a lot of alternate universe-type takes on familiar characters, such as Iron Man. While it helps to have some working knowledge of the Marvel Universe to fully enjoy the story, Dixon takes pretty good care to keep things straightforward and not to let the story get bogged down in needless comparisons between Doomworld's people and Earth's. The story moves along briskly.

Manco's art is as pretty as ever, although it's not as ink-heavy and overbearing as it has been in the past. He's left some room open for the colorist here (Mariana Manco) to show off her stuff. The overall effect is a little brighter than you might be used to from Manco, but it's still nice looking stuff. The shiny paper it's printed on helps to accentuate that, also.

Hopefully when this story is completed, Marvel will package the two mini-series together under one trade cover. It's fun stuff and an excellent storytelling lesson in characterization.

Gilbert Hernandez writes and draws the first part of a five issue Vertigo mini-series coming out this week called GRIP: THE STRANGE WORLD OF MEN.

Sadly, it isn't worth your time to bother with this. I read it. I'm glad I didn't pay for it first. It's bad. Pointless. Confusing. The lead character speaks in nothing but riddles. The characters surrounding him aren't much help. The story jumps around often enough that I get completely lost as to the chronology of what's happening. And the art isn't much to look at, either.

I know that one of the defenses for it will be that it's structured as a 5 part mini-series. The theory would be that if I were reading the collected volume of the work, I'd give it more time. No, that's not it. If I had spent the $15 for a trade of this story, I'd just be ticked that I had spent even more money for just as little entertainment. If the reader is this lost after the first 20 pages, he or she shouldn't bother with the last 100 plus pages. More realistically, the book is structured as a mini-series. The first issue should offer up something of interest to the reader to get that reader to want to read more. That just isn't happening here.

NEW FROM CROSSGEN

[Ruse]CrossGen has come out with two new titles in recent weeks in RUSE and the NEGATION PREQUEL.

RUSE is the long-awaited Mark Waid/Butch Guice collaboration, best recognized for its setting reminiscent of Victorian England, complete with a Sherlock Holmes-like lead character. Waid writes one of the strongest openings I've ever seen in a comic book to date. The first four pages give us an exciting bit of action in such a way that we can instantly peg Simon's (the Holmesian sleuth) character, as well as that of his leading lady, Emma Bishop. There's much more to Emma than meets the eye, as we find out in the next batch of story pages. There's more than just Victorian mystery going on here. There are ties back into the CrossGen universe, although they're being kept secret and vague at this point. While you can speculate about the role the First might be playing in this, that would seem highly suspect at this point. I also don't want to scare away potential readers with the comparison. For now, everything is well self-contained, with enough left to the imagination to bring you back for more. Unlike GRIP, there's enough story here to follow (a full 32 pages, at that!) to keep me interesting in coming back for more.

Butch Guice's art is very pretty, keeping up with the dramatic change in setting over his last on-going title, BIRDS OF PREY. Mike Perkins inks him this time, which means the line work is a little less rough and more open. While I prefer Guice's own inks, Perkins stuff works well here, and keeps things alive for colorist Laura DePuy to show off her stuff.

Guice also does some interesting page layouts, stretching the left hand side of two page spreads over to the right side, effectively creating a widescreen image. While I applaud the effort, it's a bit unsteady. For one thing, it's not done consistently. A reprinting down the road couldn't be done in the 300 format, since some of the pages would just look awkward. Secondly, the artist is at the mercy of the printers. Misalignments between the left and right hand page lines could mean broken panels and ugly breaks in otherwise straight lines. Impressively, this doesn't happen in too big a way in this issue. This speaks volume for CrossGen quality control. Less than half of the spreads are misaligned, and the margin is so minor that it shouldn't bother you.

There's plenty in RUSE to read and enjoy, while leaving you with a curious taste for more. Combine that with the pretty art and coloring, and you've got yourself a winner of a title.

[Negation Prequel]The NEGATION PREQUEL is an interesting premise. It's been advertised all along as "The Dirty Dozen" meets "The Great Escape." I've never seen either of those movies, but from descriptions I've read of the two the comparison would seem apt. This is the story of 100 aliens from different cultures thrown into one world under the careful eye of the Negation, the on-going threat of the CrossGen Universe as seen in THE CRUX and promised to be seen in RUSE. At first blush, it would seem to be the clichéd sci-fi plot of aliens being treated as lab rats. But the set-up in this issue and the promise of the series is that the book will be all about the characters and how they work to escape from this hell. It isn't just the slow realization that they're being watched. Mark Waid and Tony Bedard's script ends in a wonderful little twist, the kind of thing you see in movies an awful lot these days.

Paul Pelletier is drawing the book, with Dave Meikis on inks and James Rochelle coloring things in on his Macintosh. I've said in recent days that Pelletier is an artist whose work I really like, but who's never drawn anything I've really been into. How quickly I forget - he did some great work on THE FLASH, albeit for a limited time. (Come to think of it, so did Paul Ryan. Wonder what he's up to now?) His style is very open and cartoony. It might remind you a bit of Mike Wieringo's or Ed McGuinness, but it's less cartoony than those two. It's nicely done, in any case, and worth looking at.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's what you do with them that counts. While NEGATION might not be the most startlingly original premise ever concocted, Bedard and Pelletier, et. al., are pulled off with flair and enough interesting characters to make it unique. In the end, that's what counts.

As an extra bonus, both NEGATION PREQUEL and RUSE #1 contain 32 pages of story with extensive notes afterwards on their respective creators for the regular price of $2.95. Not a bad deal in either instance.

CONTEST TIME

CrossGen recently sent me a package containing the latest issue of each of their titles. I've got THE FIRST #12, MERIDIAN #16, MYSTIC #17, SIGIL #17, CRUX #7, SCION #17, and SOJOURN #4 here. Thing is, I already bought them all. So I'm giving them away. They comprise a pretty neat sampler of the CrossGen Universe. The SOJOURN issue is a nice introduction to the title, given all the time the story spends on bringing new readers up to speed. The SCION issue stands well on its own. CRUX #7 is perhaps the finest issue of the series to date with a very strong story by Mark Waid. There are a few fill-in artists here. THE FIRST, MYSTIC, and SCION all have CrossGen's Associate Artists doing the pencil work. Nevertheless, it's a good sample of what the company has to offer.

I'll do a random drawing. Don't give me your sob story. I'm not listening this time. I'd prefer it if you were an open-minded reader looking for something new to latch onto, but I'm not doing any litmus tests. Just send me your name and address in an e-mail with the subject header of "CrossGen Contest" and I'll pick a winner at random and ship the books off to you at the end of the week.

As always, I'll destroy all the non-winning entries right away. Your names and addresses will not be sold to anyone.

Coming up on Friday: Some random JOKER: LAST LAUGH thoughts, comments, and reviews. Plus, I'm hoping to throw in another detailed trade paperback review.

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.

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