SUPERMAN, SPIDEY, AND CHARLES DARWIN?!?
If someone wanted to tell you the story of a follicle mite living in the left eyebrow of Charles Darwin, would you listen? Jay Hosler (CLAN APIS) wants to tell you that insane story and I suggest you listen to him. THE SANDWALK ADVENTURES debuted last week with its first of five bi-monthly issues. In chapter 1, "God's Follicle" we're introduced to an older Charles Darwin, who's convinced he's going crazy because he hears the voice of a follicle mite talking to him. He's not crazy, though. And Hosler uses this as his set up to explain Darwin's concepts of evolution ("transmutation") and natural selection. This promises to be the kind of entry-level guide to the concept that I wish I had 15 years ago. It's inviting to the eye, it's easy to read, and it's got a sense of humor.
This first chapter is the introduction to the story and doesn't really get into the details of science that Darwin explained so memorably. It is, however, filled with plenty of factoids and oddities that Hosler annotates at the end. It's not quite the detailed and rambling annotation that Alan Moore did for FROM HELL, but it is entertaining and informative. As much as I look forward to seeing a letters column in future issues, I hope it doesn't encroach at all into these wonderful annotations. (Hosler, in his self-deprecated style, points out how much it bugs him to have to draw the mites with eyeballs. The real world mites don't have those. But, really, who amongst us would have called him on that?)
Hosler has created his own corner for comics at his Active Synapse label. CLAN APIS was the amazing explanation of the life cycle of bees. THE SANDWALK ADVENTURES promises to be an explanation of natural selection.
Hosler's artistry in SANDWALK goes far beyond the flora and fauna he showed in CLAN APIS. Here he gets to draw human beings for a change. Darwin is incredibly easy to look at, complete with long gray beard, bald head, and period clothing. (For a moment or two I wanted to picture him with a big white floppy hat and call him Papa Smurf…) His storytelling is dead on, too. He keeps the book from becoming a droning talking heads book with some nice slapstick, a sympathetic Darwin, a pair of curious mites, and some good camera placement choices. The lead up to the big splash page at the end works nicely in its simplicity.
The first issue of THE SANDWALK ADVENTURES is available at your local comics shops now courtesy of Active Synapse Comics. The 24 black and white pages (on really lightweight paper stock, reminiscent of DESPERATE TIMES) will run you $2.95. If you're still undecided on picking this one up, go find the CLAN APIS trade. Read my column on it here. After that, I bet you'll want to read this one, too.
Marvel has found a worthy successor to Fred Hembeck in Chris Giarrusso. And now, thanks to GIANT SIZE MINI MARVELS STARRING SPIDEY #1, he's not confined to the Bullpen Bulletins pages anymore.
For a few months, Giarrusso's little comic strip, MINI MARVELS, ran at the bottom of every Bullpen Bulletins page. Featuring cute large-headed caricatures of classic Marvel characters, the strips were filled with gags about everything from current continuity, to costumes, to accents, to ridiculously common situations that get messed up thanks to Marvel superpowers. They were both funny to read and easy to look at.
MINI MARVELS #1 collects all of those strips that Giarrusso did, plus some pages of strips that were produced but never shown. The real highlight of the issue, though, is the lead 28-page story featuring Mini-Spidey and his friends. Here Spidey is a newspaper carrier for the Daily Bugle who is tasked by his boss, J. Jonah Jameson, with collecting the moneys owed to him from his paper route. While traditionally not a difficult task, Spidey's route includes the Avengers Mansion, the X-Men's school (led by a Charlie Brown-esque Professor Xavier), and the Green Goblin's home. Hilarity and adventure ensue at every step, with loving and playful parodies of the characters Giarrusso skewers. A climactic fight scene involving the Green Goblin, a bridge, and Gwen Stacy is sure to cause chuckling from those who know the scene those three are famous for.
Really, the plot is just a set up to get Giarrusso to draw as many of the Marvel characters as possible in his distinctive style, and thank heavens for that. I like them all. They're cute. I can't help it.
I know Giarrusso has fans in the Marvel offices. When I visited there last December, there were plenty of his drawings hanging up here and there. Let's all hope that sales on this one shot are enough to warrant more such comics being made, even if it's not all that often. Marvel needs a silly humor title right now. I really believe that. It's one thing sorely lacking. Short of a return of WHAT THE --?!?, this is the best thing to plug that gap.
Then we can talk about a trade collecting Hembeck's PETER PORKER, SPIDER-HAM, even if the villains used there seem forgotten today…
SUPERMAN ADVENTURES #64 features the World's Finest team-up between the Man of Steel and Batman Beyond. That's right – it's Terry McGinnis from the future who is helping Superman in defeating Brainiac. Unfortunately, Jordan Gorfinkel's story is a safe by-the-numbers piece that fails to impress me. The time travel aspect is set up quickly and comes off way too convenient for me. I could forgive that if the meeting between the two characters was exciting. Sadly, save for one funny bit of business about Batman's sense of humor, there's none of the strong character conflict between Terry and Clark that there is for Bruce and Clark. Yes, they're different Batman and will react differently, but the tension and resolution that happens here is so bland that I'm disappointed by it.
Metropolis is the City of Future in the animated Superman series. So is Batman Beyond's Gotham. Terry is a little less of the brooding loner than Bruce Wayne is. Maybe the problem is just that the dynamic is lost between Superman and Batman Beyond because they're too much alike.
The dialogue doesn't help. In spots where it could save the moment with a witty one-liner or a clever rejoinder, Gorfinkel delivers ham-handed clichés and flat quips. When Superman asks how he knows a relevant detail, Terry's answer is, "Because I'm the Batman from… beyond."
Or how about Batman Beyond's scalding of the attacking Brainiac with "Buddy – hands off planet earth!" The sound you hear now is everyone reading this column groaning in unison. Superman's final line at the end of the issue is just as bad, but I'll save you.
Aluir Amancio's art is lovely, as usual. With Terry Austin's inks, it really shines. Literally, all the characters this month look super-shiny. It's almost strange. Amancio is in a bit of a tough spot with the death of this title. It was his big regular gig at DC and a darn good one for him. His standard superhero art style doesn't come off nearly as well as this animated style. I hope he finds some work approximating this style, soon. He's really under-appreciated, but I don't want to see him misused just to keep him busy.
I'd say you'd be safe in skipping this issue and waiting for the next when newlyweds Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer step in to handle the writing chores for the series finale.
It seems that the animated Superman never really took off. The animated Batman show started this amazing stylistic craze for animated superheroes. You know it's popular when even Disney apes it. (See "Gargoyles.") Superman seems to have come off as the bastard son of Batman. The show got through its minimal 65 episodes and stopped. There were no additional seasons. There were no character redesigns or second comic book series. (I think the Batman Animated comic is in its third incarnation by this time.)
It's sad. The show wasn't bad. It suffered a bit from being more bright, I think, than Batman Animated. As well designed as it was, it lacked a certain amount of artistic awe that Batman gave us. The backgrounds and wacky characters and moody adult drama made the Batman series great. Superman never got there. It wasn't a bad show. It was just overshadowed, I think.
And who'd have thought that Tim Daly would be the mean we'd come to associate the animated Superman's voice with? We do now.
I didn't get the chance to read all the Marvel silent books being published this week. Two things did strike me on flip tests of them, though: BLACK PANTHER includes an awful lot of cheating, a la the unfortunate DEADPOOL silent issue of a year or more back. Second, Chris Claremont's silent book contains fewer words. But I'm still waiting for some ne'er do well to say Claremont cheated because there are plenty of sound effects in the issue. ::sigh::
DARK KNIGHT 2 ON FRIDAY
I had a good time recently looking back through groups.google.com at some of Pipeline's earliest adventures. You can still run a search through there and find the "Augie's Reviews" columns that predated Pipeline. It's amazing how far this column has come in the past five years or so. (If nothing else, it's certainly swelled up from a paltry 500 word column to something averaging closer to 2000 words.)
One thing that I prided myself on back then was that I was reviewing a better assortment of books than anyone else. For the most part, that was true. Nobody else reviewed the Gladstone Duck books, for one example. But there were also less columns in existence on the USENET, the only major thoroughfare for such discussions. There might have been a half dozen columnists reviewing books back then.
It's just not possible anymore to be the only one to review any single book. The proliferation of the world wide web and all the web sites therein have meant that just about everything gets covered somewhere. Some can complain that the more far-off indy stuff doesn't get as much attention as it should, but there will be attention paid to it somewhere. Fear not.
I mention all this now because I want you to notice that I didn't review DARK KNIGHT 2 in this space.
It was my intention to not even bother with it. Everyone else – and I mean everyone – has discussed it by now. Reviews were pouring in the morning it came out on the streets last week. Anything I could say would just be redundant, wouldn't it?
Well, not necessarily.
Besides, I know that the demographic that reads this column is the demographic most likely to buy DK2 and to want to discuss it. If it's not too egotistical of me to say, they want to know what I thought of it.
Once I started writing about the book, the review got out of hand. So on Friday I'll devote the entire column to the book, focusing on such sore points as Miller's art and Varley's coloring. What comparisons can be made between DK1 and DK2? Where does this book fit into the grand scheme of the comics industry in the year 2001?
All of that and more is coming up on Friday.
The previously scheduled look at the sad state of comic strips will be bumped back to next week. Thanks for your patience.
Special thanks, as always, to Librarian John at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the assistance with this column.
Don't forget -- Pipeline Commentary and Review will be published during the weeks of Christmas and New Years. They'll be up on Wednesday, though, instead of Tuesday. Friday's Pipeline2 will continue as usual, also.
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.