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Pipeline, Issue #234

THREE BOOKS AND NO WORDS

Marvel's first wave of silent books under the 'Nuff Said banner hit the comic shops this week. Three of them were included in last week's First Look program for retailers. They're not bad at all.

SPIDER-GIRL #44 is the first that I read. Written by Tom De Falco and drawn by Pat Oliffe and Al Williamson, the story is set shortly after the death of a costumed character. Spider-Girl is taking it extremely hard, and her reaction to the event is portrayed vividly by Oliffe, who really gets to let loose here – not just with the emotion painted in pantomime, but also in some deft bits of storytelling to convey points that would otherwise need to be hammered home with some spare caption boxes.

The down side to this, of course, is that if you're new to the title, much of the issue may not hold any meaning for you. It was only in reading excerpts from De Falco's script reprinted in the back of the issue (the first 18 pages are there) that I learned exactly who many of the characters were. The good news is that I could sense the connections between them with just the art, but obviously a lot of the subtlety was lost on me. That's not the point of 'Nuff Said month, so I won't hold it against the creative team here.

It's a good silent story. It's not going to redefine the art of storytelling or wow you, necessarily, but I think regular fans of the title will find something to enjoy here. I know I enjoyed seeing Oliffe drawing a Spider-Man book. I don't read this series normally, so my last exposure came from the late lamented UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN.

A couple of odd comments on the book: I love how often De Falco refers to "props" in his script. He leaves the plot open enough for artistic interpretation, and then throws the word "props" around to cover everything else. One of his favorite lines is "destroying some nearby props." It works in different ways for different scenes, but I think the next time I read a De Falco title I'll have the word "props" stuck in my head.

Also, there's an interesting post-mortem performed on the costumed criminal in the issue. He looks dark and mysterious and supernatural at first. But as the doctor goes through the processes, you see her remove his costume and his makeup until he's just another ordinary looking boy. (The script calls for him to look twenty-something, but I pegged him just slightly younger. No big deal.) It's a small thing, but it really brought the death of the character back down to human level, and not just another casualty of the war on crime that Spider-Girl wages.

De Falco and Oliffe do a good job with their silent story. Regular fans of the title should find much to enjoy here.

EXILES #7 is written by Judd Winick with art by the regular team of Mike McKone and Mark McKenna. As such, it's worth the price of admission for the visual feast alone.

The trick of this story is that the team is sleeping for the night and we're looking at their dreams. You can safely tell which dreams are made of the hopes of characters and which ones are nightmares. Along the way, some elements are introduced in the "real world" between dreams. I had to read a couple of sequences twice to tell where dreams ended and where reality began, but it's a good bit of storytelling.

Winick breaks his script down much further than the other writers' in this first week. As such, only the first eight pages of the script is shown in the back. All of the scripts will be made available at Marvel's web site, however. Students of the form are pointed in that direction for what promises to be one of the most extensive script collections available on-line, when complete.

Of the three books this week, this is the only one to use such an obvious trick to make it a silent story. The SPIDER-GIRL issue is a regular story that just happens to be told without words. The THOR issue I'll be looking at next is a nice somber story that doesn't need a trick to justify its storytelling. EXILES, however, goes with the silent sleepers, with even a cover image of Morph dreaming.

Like SPIDER-GIRL, this is best understood by regular readers of the book, but the craft is nice.

[Thor #44]THOR #44 is the highlight of the week. Dan Jurgens writes a story of Thor and friends mourning the dead Odin. One by one they come into the "museum of war", reflect on Odin's image, and tell a story. It's all done without words, and each story is, as suggested in Jurgens' script, drawn without borders. Stuart Immonen does a remarkable job with his art this month. (Scott Koblish provides the inks.) It isn't all Immonen's usual soft line. During the flashback sequences, his style morphs into something just a bit sketchier, aided by the hazy panel definitions afforded by the lack of solid black borders. He seems to be channeling Neal Adams or Mike Grell or Gene Colan in parts of the issue. It's a nice look that works (most importantly) for storytelling purposes here, but I still prefer his smoother line in general.

It's a very touching issue that should be accessible to non-THOR regulars. I know I couldn't give you the name of three Norse gods in Marvel mythology past Thor and Loki. But I had no problem following the story. Knowing who Loki is will definitely help you near the end, but this isn't the kind of issue that requires a solid knowledge of the current storyline to understand completely. It also doesn't rely on a gimmick to justify its silence. In fact, I think the silence adds to the mournful tone of the issue.

Oddly enough, for the book I liked the most I have the least to say.

Each issue has credits for a letterer. At first, I wondered why. Then I realized how stupid a question that was – even the credit box needs a letterer to letter it! There are also incidental letterings of signs and labels throughout each issue. SPIDER-GIRL uses a bunch of them. THOR is absent from it, but EXILES does have a couple of spare examples. But in no case here is it as bad as the silent DEADPOOL issue from last year that had constant signage in a vain attempt to force the story into silence.

There are other silent books out this week, I'm sure, and some very exciting ones coming in the next three weeks. I'm looking forward to it.

TWO BOOKS WITH WORDS

DC is also publishing books this week. Two in particular interested me.

[The Authority #27]The first is the long-delayed and much-awaited THE AUTHORITY #27. Finally, we pick up where we left off before Frank Quitely bolted for Marvel and Mark Millar waited for the deadline pressure to finish writing the story. The good news is that it's a great read with some very good art from Arthur Adams.

Adams' artwork is not as detailed as the work in the new TOM STRONG anthology series, but it's still pleasant in the classic Adams way. The characters have big jaws and look uniformly short. There are lots of little lines, plenty of background detail, and attractive characters populating the foreground. There's also a fair bit of Quitely influence to the art. Some of the pages look like Adams was inking over Quitely's pencils, particularly in the characters' faces. (Tim Townsend is the inker on the issue, it should be noted.) I can't be sure if Adams was working from Quitely layouts, though, or if it's just the influence of the previous artist's style on the characters. Nonetheless, it's not distracting and seems to work its way out through the course of the issue.

Mark Millar's story picks right up where it left off, with the new Authority in control and several major changes in place. We do learn a few things about the presumed-deceased Authority members throughout the course of the book, along with a shimmering beacon of hope. In fact, the issue does an excellent job in providing hope to the reader, after a mostly depressing first 20 pages. Millar does a great job in making the reader hate the appropriate characters in a most violent way.

If you didn't read the four issues from Tom Peyer and Dustin Nguyen, you can safely jump right back in. There's no continuity carryover. These are the last three issues of THE AUTHORITY as we knew it. Go back and reread Millar's and Ellis' run now. It might be just about all you ever get, aside from the occasional special.

The second title that jumped out at me was BATGIRL #23. It's only two months now until Batgirl's planned confrontation with Lady Shiva. The repercussions are already being felt. The psychoanalysis has begun. And the worry is starting to take over.

Kelley Puckett's story is titled "Little Talk," which is exactly what this issue is. Oracle and Batman discuss Cassandra's need for this impending fight, which they both believe she is destined to lose. As a counterpoint, Batgirl is in the Holo-room fighting a Shiva simulation.

For long-time readers of the title, this is a nice character piece. It's a slower issue without any real action passed the opening tense set piece. The good news is that it gives artists Damion Scott and Robert Campanella a chance to show off their stuff without resorting to too many confusing fight scenes. The story is straightforward. You don't need to rely too heavily on the art to carry it. It's all in the dialogue. This also gives them a chance to show their artistry in capturing a character's emotions and body language in more normal day-to-day situations.

The down side is that this isn't a new reader friendly issue. While it is a great dissection of the character, it relies too much on prior knowledge. The duel between Batgirl and Lady Shiva, for example, is never explained. The story keeps trucking along without worry for whether the reader is new or not.

This is also part of the first week of DC's attempt to counter-program Marvel's silent month. The cover is an excellent composition of Batgirl standing above some wisps of smoke that spell out the title. The second half of the stylistic choice for the month is that the books would stand on their own and be new-reader friendly. While this one does stand on its own, I'd hate for this to be the first issue of BATGIRL for a new reader. Thankfully, there is a pair of trades now available to introduce the character to new readers.

Go read them. You can thank me later.

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

Friday's column will be a look at PREVIEW for product shipping in the month of February 2002. 2002. A palindromic year. It's going to be tough getting used to that. It still feels like I'm living in the future, every time I type out one of those years.

Also, Pipeline Commentary and Review will be published on Christmas and New Years weeks. They'll be up on Wednesday, though, instead of Tuesday.

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 350 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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