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Pipeline, Issue #232

IN STORES THIS WEEK

Marvel has long had the reputation of being the company with comics of action. The Avengers don't stand around and talk about things - they act and get things done. DC has been the company, traditionally, with a more deliberate pace and more cerebral adventures. Part of this probably stems from the two different approaches the companies have traditionally held to the writing of their comics. DC's full script method allows the writer to have greater control over the story. Marvel's plot-first method leaves more room for artists to draw the action pages they want to do.

In today's day and age, writing methods vary from author to author and depend on the creative team. There is no hard and fast rule anymore. If anything, I'd guess that full scripting is used by a vast majority of creative teams in comics today at Marvel and DC.

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This week's batch of comics includes two Marvel releases that are very deliberate and rely on stories of the "talking head" variety. I refer to THE INCREDIBLE HULK #34 and CAPTAIN AMERICA #49.

[Hulk #34]HULK is the more anticipated of the two. It features the debut of the new writer for the title, Bruce Jones. John Romita Jr. remains the artist, with inks from Tom Palmer.

I haven't been reading HULK regularly for a long time, so I come to this issue completely cold. Thankfully, it's pretty easy to figure out. Bruce Banner is wandering the country, staying one step ahead of a massive nationwide manhunt for him, with the help of someone he talks to via his laptop with the code name of Mister Blue. Along the way, he's befriended one of those ever-present-in-comics "urban youths" who seeks a gang for friends and family and all the associated clichés. Banner helps him out, while hiding from the law.

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I may sound horribly down on the concept, but Jones pulls it off really well. He knows how to pace a comic and he keeps the characters from becoming too melodramatic. He keeps the story from getting maudlin. You won't feel the desperate grab of an author trying to tug at your heartstrings. This story doesn't wear its heart out on its sleeve. Banner comes across wonderfully sympathetic. It's really helped by the fact that the Hulk doesn't put in a single appearance in the comic. It's hinted at quite heavily once or twice, but it's never shown. This keeps the story grounded nicely. That which is hinted at but never shown is always more horrific in the mind of the reader. It's a nice twist on the Jekyll and Hyde formula.

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John Romita Jr.'s art is as amazing as ever. He really does nail this one, keeping the everyday people looking normal and not superheroic. Studio F provides the colors. They may not be household names just yet, but the work they've been doing is steadily piling up and it's impressive. In this issue, they use a darker palette tinged with subtle shades of dark green. Nothing is bright, but neither is it so dark that you have to squint to read the pages.

This is an excellent start to a new take on The Incredibly Hulk. It's too early to tell what the overall plot arc is going to be, but it fits in neatly with the old television concept of a lonely and misunderstood Bruce Banner traveling the country, staying long enough only to get in trouble. I'll give it a try.

The other talking heads book of the week is CAPTAIN AMERICA #49. This is Dan Jurgens' penultimate tale of the personification of the American dream. It is another book without a major fight scene that's needed for the plot. (That's my escape clause for those who point out that there is a fight scene near the end. It's not relevant to the plot at all. It's background material.)

Sam Wilson (The Falcon) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) begin the issue on vacation. Fishing. What could be more boring that two people talking? Answer: Two people fishing. Or so you'd think. Jurgens keep the writing light with a wry sense of humor as Wilson picks at Rogers to see what it is that's bothering him. Quick sample of dialogue:

WILSON: See, we like things resolved. If we see a bad guy die, we KNOW we gotta get the body or he might come back from the dead!

ROGERS: "Might"?

WILSON: Okay, will. With alarming regularity, in fact. Look, don't get hung up on details, OK?

Sure enough, he gets to the heart of the matter very quickly - it's the girl, Connie Ferrari. Regular readers of the title will know what this is all about. Those of you who haven't been following the saga will get caught up to speed very quickly. It's not an unusual story or a terribly new one: Superhero hides secret double life from girlfriend. Girlfriend finds out secret and won't trust superhero boyfriend. But Jurgens milks it for a little bit more, and it's something that helps define the character of Steve Rogers as much as it does Captain America.

Like much of Jurgens' run on the title, it's great soap opera, if not heroic fiction. It's classic Marvel work in that it works hard to personify the superhero.

The art in this issue is done by someone whose work I've never seen before. His name is Juan Bobillo. (Inks are by Marcelo Sosa.) Bobillo isn't bad, but he does need some more work and experience. The character of Connie Ferrari appears off model to me, for starters, both in appearance as well as dress. A bigger problem, though, is that he forces perspective too often. There's no need for such extreme angles in depicting two friends out fishing. He also uses the trick of showing two characters in negative space (sans backgrounds) once too often. It's odd because he does spend time on backgrounds and does a pretty good job with them. It helps to highlight the panels without them all the more, but I think the technique loses interest when it gets used too much.

Next issue is Jurgens' last. While I know it's terribly trendy to disdain the more classical and traditional work that he has given us in the pages of CAPTAIN AMERICA in the past couple of years, I'm not ashamed to say that I've enjoyed it on its own merits. While there have been one or two misfires, I'm not going to dismiss the whole of his run for those. I hope he lands comfortably on his feet somewhere soon.

[Crossgen Illustrated]CROSSGEN ILLUSTRATED is the oversized bible for the CrossGen Universe, designed to show off the company's wide range of art styles and unvierse design. It's due out at a comic shop near you this week.

Each CrossGen series gets its own section on different colored paper. MYSTIC leads off on paper with a faint purple background color, for example. This makes it easy to distinguish between sections of the book for whichever title you're looking for. Inside each chapter is a chronology of events in the book thus far, intermixed with looks at original art -- both black and white and colored. The text does a good job of simply and quickly bringing a prospective new reader up to speed, and will reward long-time fans with some interesting nuggets of information and leading questions as to what's going on behind the scenes you see in the book. It becomes apparent after reading this book that The First have a lot more to do with the Universe than you might have thought. And while the titles read just fine on their own, I am curious enough now to want to slog my way through THE FIRST just to see if I can put together any more of the pieces in the puzzle which is the CrossGen Universe.

The text continues through for every title currently being made by CrossGen, including shorter peeks at NEGATION and RUSE, and a sneak peek at THE PATH. It has a couple of sample pages from Bart Sears and Andy Smith, with Michael Atiyeh colors. The book will come directly out of the story started in THE FIRST #1, which I thought was a pretty strong story with strong visuals. (Alas, the series quickly went astray, but that's a rant for another time.)

CrossGen is proud of the work of their colorists and it manifests itself in many ways. When they announce their monthly solicitations, there's usually a notice asking reviewers and news sites to include each book's colorist in the credited art teams. Over the course of the 192 pages of this book, much of the art is shown both before and after coloring. It makes for an interesting look at the difference between original art and printed page. There's even an example at the beginning of the book of a sample page colored by four different CrossGen colorists. I wasn't surprised when I noticed that the coloring samples I preferred the most were done by colorists whose work on the monthly titles has impressed me the most. Frank D'Armata (CRUX) brings a bright and clear look to his sample, while Rob Schwager brings a multidimensional look to the art without overpowering the line work. Justin Ponsor - whose work I've been critical of recently in SCION - is too dark and monotone here. Morry Hollowell (MERIDIAN) falls into the same trap of overpowering the art with too strong and dark a palette. My favorite original CrossGen colorist - Caesar Rodriguez - does not have a sample on the page. I'd love to see what he would do with the design.

The one thing I would like to have seen in this book is more pencil work. While there is plenty of black and white art samples to be had throughout the pages, there's not a single example of pure pencil work in the book. I imagine this is so because there are no such art samples in the CrossGen computer system. That's a shame. I love to see original art just as much as Mark Alessi proclaims his love to collect it in the book's forward. But I love just as much to see the pure undiluted pencils of the various artists. I imagine the studio system used at CrossGen means a lot looser pencils and more give and take between penciller and inker, thus making the penciled pages an incomplete record of the story.

The big question is, "For $25, is this book really worth it?" If you've read all the CrossGen books and have had no problem following the stories, you're not going to learn all that much here. While there are some interesting nuggets here and there, I don't think they're worth $25. If you've never read a CrossGen book before, this is a handy and attractive introduction to them all, although you'll lose lots of the surprises and twists of the initial storylines. And with all the original series being available in trades already, what's the point?

In the end, this is an art book. It is called CROSSGEN ILLUSTRATED, after all. You have to want to see some pretty art on some nice heavy paper. If you're a process junkie for art, or a colorist looking to pick up some ideas, the book will probably work for you. All of the art in the book is stuff that's seen print before, with a few spare exceptions. It's just printed without the lettering on top of it and often side-by-side with the black and white art.

If you're a die-hard CrossGen fan, this book is definitely for you. It's very pretty. But it's not much that you haven't seen before, which is the part that's got me all confused in writing this review. I like the book, but I sometimes see the problem in justifying its existence. Do you really think you'll attract new readers to your comic books by asking them to shell out $25 for a book? Why would long-time readers who have all the color art printed in this book want to buy it again? It's all a bit confusing, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the book is well designed and a nice companion piece to the trades.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Americans. For everyone else in the world, have a nice Thursday. I'll be back here on Friday in any case with the regularly scheduled Friday edition of this column. See you then!

Special thanks, as always, to Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the assistance with this column.

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 300 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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