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Pipeline, Issue #233

IN STORES THIS WEEK

[Catwoman #1]CATWOMAN #1 is coming to a store near you this Wednesday. I've been looking forward to seeing this since I saw the first penciled pages back at the Pittsburgh Comicon back in April.

Ed Brubaker's story is a Back To Basics approach, but not in the traditional way. That's a phrase that usually means the book looks and acts a lot like the way it did when the character was first introduced. Given the somewhat confused chronology of Catwoman in recent years, Brubaker has elected to start rebuilding Selina Kyle from scratch without forgetting everything she's been through. In this issue, she's portrayed as a somewhat confused person trying to figure out where the Catwoman aspect of her life fits in. It includes visits with Batman and a psychiatrist (whose not really a psychiatrist, but let's not get bogged down in details just yet) where Kyle tries to hash out what her life has become. Brubaker does this convincingly. Kyle isn't portrayed as a twit or as someone who's weak. She remains sympathetic and not at all annoying.

Darwyn Cooke threatens to steal the show with his art. If you read the backup stories that Brubaker and Cooke put together in DETECTIVE COMICS this summer, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Here, though, Michael Allred, whose artistic style is not that dissimilar from Cooke's, provides inks. The styles complement one another, although I seem to recall the pencils alone having more zip to them.

Cooke's style is very open, evoking the works of Michael Avon Oeming, Dan DeCarlo, and even Chris Ware. It doesn't come across as cartoony, though. He knows just how much to put in each panels, so the storytelling flows smoothly without getting cluttered up with extraneous details, or having plot points lost due to lost art.

Matt Hollingsworth does an excellent job on the coloring. Combined with the art, the book has the appeal of commercial art. At first glance, it doesn't look like a four-color funny book. It looks like advertising art, or highly detailed storyboard art. It's a nice look, and very underused in comics today.

If you couldn't stand Jim Balent's compass approach to anatomy, you'll have no problems here. This is a different comic, so different that DC is justified in restarting it from issue #1 again. Let's hope for a long run for this creative team.

This week's JLA #60 is Mark Waid's JLA Christmas story, in addition to being his final issue. In it, Plastic Man tells a child the story of how Santa Claus came to be a member of the JLA. It's a nice self-contained story that comes off cute without being cloyingly so. It's not going to reinvent the medium or set the standard for all Christmas stories to come.

The art is from Cliff Rathburn, whose work I've never seen before. It reminds me a lot of Doug Mahnke's. It's passable, if not memorable. Having Paul Neary for an inker seems like a mismatch. Their styles are completely different.

If you're not already a JLA reader, you can safely pass on this one. If you're a fan of Christmas stories, go ahead and pick this up. Just don't be expecting the kind of story you'll want to read every year to warm the cockles of your heart.

NIGHTCRAWLER #1 is the start of the latest "Icons" mini-series from Marvel's mutant division. New comics writer Chris Kipiniak, who was plucked from the stage as a writer, scripts the issue. I think his dialogue shows his training. He keeps things moving without wasting any precious words. The high-minded ideas of the piece are told in dialogue, although there is a fair amount of narrative caption work to keep things moving. His story involves human slavery and delves into a couple of moral gray areas, such as the troubles of dealing with illegal immigrants who were brought here under false pretenses. It's a weighty issue for a four-part mini-series meant to get us into the character of Nightcrawler better, but it has potential. Kipiniak does a good job in showing us the intersection between Kurt Wagner and Nightcrawler, going back and forth throughout the issue from super-powered crime fighter to mild-mannered man of religion. Nothing is glorified in here.

Matthew Smith ("Astronauts in Trouble," amongst others) does the line work. It works for a talking heads book. He's got minimal action to draw here. His shady art highlights the plight of some of the unfortunates that Nightcrawler is out to save, particularly in the ending. The characters are easy to tell apart, and there's nothing jarring that disrupts the flow of things.

Letterer Jon Babcock is brought on board to do his best Tom Orzechowski lettering job. It works in that the book looks like what I picture an X-Book to look like. Those smooth letters cast the mutant shine across the pages. He has some problems, though, in doing the open lettering. You know how John Workman works it so that word balloons take the place of segments of panel borders that they come into contact with? Babcock does it here with the computer. (This isn't new. Chris Eliopoulos, for one, has been doing it from the start of THE DEFENDERS.) The problem he has is that the backgrounds and gutters areas of the pages aren't white. They're slightly colored. The white background of the work balloons leaks over into those gutters and makes the whole thing look sloppy.

Overall, the book is nothing revolutionary. It's strongly crafted, but there isn't a distinct personal flavor added to it that will bring me back strongly for more. I think Kipinian shows great promise as a comics writer, though, and hope that this mini-series isn't the last we see of him.

QUICKEST REVIEWS IN THE WEST

DOUBLE TAKE #6 includes the debut of "Rex Mantooth: Kung Fu Gorilla" from Matt Fraction and Andy Kuhn. It's a wild opening story. Just nuts. Throw everything out the window and have a laugh. Reminds me a bit that way of SKY APE or ANGEL AND THE APE. The trick is in getting it to remain interesting after the first couple of stories.

ANGEL AND THE APE #4 comes out tomorrow, but I just read #3 last night. Like "Rex Mantooth," it's a plot wrapped very tightly under a bundle of comedy. Chaykin and Tischman are writing a laugh out loud funny book where the plot isn't the most important thing. Just enjoy it for the double entendres and occasional SOUTH PARK-esque humor. Art Adams' covers are also beautiful.

[Tom Strong's Terrific Tales #1]TOM STRONG'S TERRIFIC TALES #1 features the best-looking Art Adams artwork that I've ever seen. He inks himself here and it's the kind of thing that should bring his fans back in from the cold. The level of detail in these pages is mind-blowing. Beautiful stuff.

ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP #9 is proof that Brian Bendis recently went on some sort of Monty Python bender. We should all just be glad that Jim Mahfood was able to keep up with him. Or should that be vice versa? Ah, who knows? It's a lighter issue than usual which will leave you saying something along the lines of "What the -- ?!?"

(That's another title neither Quesada nor Jemas have shown signs of bringing back yet. You'd think with some of the writers they have there, it would be a natural. Peter David, Gail Simone, JMS, Brian Bendis. All of these people are capable of writing laugh-out-loud funny stories.)

JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES #1 is a nice companion to the new Cartoon Network series. The art by Min S. Ku is a little stiff, but everything's on model and the storytelling is easy to follow. Ty Templeton's story is simple enough for anyone to follow, with a nice twist or two to keep it interesting.

I have hesitations about the television series, but I like it so far. Superman looks too old, and his voice isn't Tim Daly's. The new voice artist is trying to do a Daly impression, but often comes across too flat.

CRUX #8 is one pretty book. Frank D'Armata's colors really shine here, in large part because Steve Epting leaves his art open enough to let them.

ROBIN #96 and BIRDS OF PREY #37 are both out and the storylines are interchangeable. I have no idea which story came form which book. Both feature Oracle and Robin and Nightwing and Blue Beetle. It seems like the Joker: Last Laugh storyline took some of the wind out of these books, both of which employ guest artists to boot. When will Rick Leonardi begin his run on BIRDS OF PREY? It's not next month. James Fry is scheduled to draw Black Canary's heaving bosoms again that month.

THE PUNISHER #6 is a nice stand-alone story focusing on the character of Frank Castle as the Punisher. It's a bittersweet tale and a good way for Ennis and Dillon to go out on a high note until their return in a few months.

SCION #18 is another pretty CrossGen book. The story brings into focus a number of character conflicts. It will be interesting to see how Ron Marz plays this out in the coming months.

X-FORCE is just a great book. Issue #121 is the latest and is worth reading, as it is every month. If you haven't been reading it since the relaunch, do yourself a favor and pick up the trade paperback collection of the first few issues of Peter Milligan/Michael Allred's run.

[Suicide Squad #3]SUICIDE SQUAD #3 is another issue where Keith Giffen can write dialogue for 9 different people at the same time and keep it interesting. That's a pretty nifty trick. Paco Medina's art is very easy to look at, as well. It's definitely not the same as the original more politically-oriented John Ostrander series, but it's entertaining in its own superheroic right.

GEN13 #71 is the first part of "Think Like a Gun" and it's the first time I think that I actually care about the characters. Judging by everything Adam Warren has said about the storyline, I don't know entirely what to expect. For the first time, I'm afraid the characters' decisions may actually change them without a Big Giant Reset Button being pushed. And it only took 70 issues. ::sigh::

[Magic Pickle #2]X-TREME X-MEN #7 is as good as the previous couple of issues, which I responded to favorably here previously. Salvador Larroca seems to be adjusting his line work to fit in better with the coloring, while Liquid! seems to be doing the same with their tints. The only real hiccup here is how hokey it came across when the newly revealed mutant chose "Lifeguard" for her nickname. Ick.

The Blue Beetle comes off looking like the tick in NIGHTWING #63, and that's the least of Trevor McCarthy's artistic faults. I gave him a couple of issues, but it's just not working for me. The forced perspective and rubbery heads are slowly driving me mad.

If you liked MONSTERS INC. I think you'll like Scott Morse's latest from Oni, MAGIC PICKLE. The third issue is due out this week and it's really cute. I would love to see it in color, but I'm a dreamer. Great stuff for both the kids and grown-ups.

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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