REVIEWS A PLENTY
KILLER PRINCESSES #1 debuted last week from Oni Press. It's the warped brainchild of CBR's own Gail Simone and Lea Hernandez. It's also 26 pages long, and you'll feel it. I mean that in a very good way, though. This industry can pummel you with comics stories that are stretched out over six issues, quite often with bold splashy pages or "widescreen storytelling." With TKP #1, you get 26 solid pages of multiple panel storytelling. You get jokes galore. They're not the kind of jokes like you'd find on Saturday Night Live, where it's funny for the first two minutes but goes on to be a 6 minute skit. Simone and Hernandez worked their butts off to pack in a lot of stuff to this first issue. There's a definite short story in this issue, surrounded by a lot of little teases and hints of what's to come.
The bulk of the issue focuses on the three Killer Princesses (Faith, Hope, and Charity) attempting to infiltrate a bad guy's mansion and blow away its goon squad and its evil owner. Along the way, you get PMS jokes, slapstick, and a little kung fu genius. It's so warped that I can't possibly describe it properly. Picture SKY APE with a less free-wheeling plot line and less pop culture references.
Hernandez's art fits the mood of the story, giving us enough detail to picture the setting in our heads and enough emotion in the faces of the characters to help us learn where the characters are coming from. The only problem I have sometimes is that the art seems a little small. It's drawn in a 3-tier for the most part, but it seems a lot of time that detail gets lost when the characters get smaller. In some of the busier panels, it might take your eyes an extra second to adjust to tell everything that's going on. Or it could just be that I'm not hip to Ameri-manga art. I've got another couple of issues left in this mini-series to figure that out.
The only other storytelling problem I have with this first issue is that after the main conflict is done, the issue goes on for another eight pages. There's something of a mini-story in it that helps to set up the girls' background and surroundings. But there's also a page that serves as a teaser for a future plot that just seems so horribly forced into place. In literary terms, the denouement stretches out too far and suffers in comparison to the wacky zaniness of the main plot. It's funny, but it just seems ill-timed. I know comic books are supposed to "open on action," but I think I'd almost rather have seen those last eight pages be the beginning of the next issue.
In the meantime, KILLER PRINCESSES #1 definitely gets a smile and a high recommendation for those readers looking for some silly – and sometimes adult – humor. (Beware that this one ain't for the kiddies...)
On the off chance you didn't hear about it, there was a printing goof. Page 5 was printed twice in place of page 6. That missing page can be found over on Oni Press' website. It's funny on its own, but skipping it won't cause much pain past a slightly jarring transition from one scene to the next.
Erik Larsen is walking a very fine line with THE SAVAGE DRAGON these days. The current storyline with Dragon lost in the Savage World was set into motion, in part, as a way to refocus the title. It allowed the Dragon to star in his own comic again. Get back to single issue stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. Let new readers come in and get slowly introduced to various characters, while not boring old readers with rehashes of old continuity.
Issue #91 presents a strange paradox for the title. It's packed with exposition. You've never seen pages as crammed with word balloons as you'll see in this issue. The exposition serves two purposes. The first is that it quickly recaps things for a potential new reader. The second is that it explains a lot more of the until-now hidden back story for the old-time reader. It invokes a lot of names from Dragon's past and sets up some interesting stories. The problem is that a first-time reader will come to this story and read 22 of the longest pages he'll have ever read in comics. Plus, he'll get a ton of exposition of events that mean next to nothing to him or her since he or she hasn't been around since the "Old World" Dragon stories.
At the same rate, this exposition is necessary to move the story to the point it needs to be at so that Larsen can move towards a conclusion of the Savage World storyline and the free-for-all that is no doubt coming.
And let's be honest, not every issue has to be someone's first. Even if it is, maybe the wondrous ideas will spark a new reader's imagination enough to get him to track down the previous stories. Maybe.
For now, THE SAVAGE DRAGON #91 comes off as a necessary evil in the evolution of the comic. It's not a stellar issue, but it gets the job done for what it needs to do. For the first time, though, I'm missing the old world a lot.
A series I've been looking forward to for a while hit the stands last week. THE HAUNTED #1 is the first Chaos book I think I've ever read. Peter David created it, which is why I picked it up. It's a supernatural teen angst story, starring teenagers with various and indecipherable horrific powers.
There are, however, two problems with it. The first is that the characters are all textbook clichés. You've got the principle involved in an illicit relationship. You have the shunned goth girl, the virginal cheerleader, and the mysterious cloaked figure with all the answers. On their own, the characters aren't so bad. It's just that when you stop to think about it and you add them all up, it's a cause for concern. It's early yet, though. This is just the first part of a four part storyline, and it's done deftly enough that I'll be back for the rest, in hopes that this clichés will be turned on their ear.
The second problem is with the art. Nat Jones is the penciller. The best comparison I can make with his art style is to John Cleary's or Tony Daniels'. It's the same sort of malnourished lanky look, done completely in thin lines and with a maximum of needless lines to indicate wrinkles and textures. The storytelling is adequate, but it's not anything you're going to bring with you to the Joe Kubert School to show off in class one day. There are a lot of odd angles used that give the appearance of an artist looking to draw less by covering up a panel with an object in the foreground of a forced perspective shot. You never get comfortable in any of the scenes. The establishing shots aren't completely informative, and then the rest of the scene takes place in talking heads and layouts with odd angles.
Two last notes: The lettering is annoying. Everyone speaks in white characters on black backgrounds. This can work for a single character or in a single setting maybe. But to have everyone using it is a bit much. Secondly, the coloring reminds me a lot of the type of coloring you might have seen in SAM AND TWITCH. Maybe they should have used that lettering style for this book, instead.
Peter David's script carries the day, though, giving us a real possibility for some shocking teen horror comics, and not just blood and gore. There'll still be some sex talk, though. It's a book about high school kids. It's by definition littered with the topic.
AN IMAGE PREVIEW
The second issue of IMAGE INTRODUCES gives us THE BELIEVER, by Rob Schamberger, Thom Thurman and Chad Molder. It's a solid debut, if not spectacular. In part, it's tough to get completely hooked on a character from one appearance. It's also a little bit rougher than a lot of the comics I'm used to reading. Still, it's a good one issue story that might leave you wanting more.
The story is straightforward, with excellent plot construction. There's a nice opening gambit and the suspense builds evenly from there. There's a twist at the end and a satisfactory conclusion. It's part urban crime drama and part Twilight Zone. The Believer is not a character imbued with superpowers of any sort, saving him from the classification of Yet Another Comic Book Hero. He does come across a bit spirit-like, though. One minute he's there; the next he's not. And the people he leaves behind are left alone with some crazy delusions and nightmares. In the end, it's a nice standalone story, simply told with a minimum of fuss and ornamentation.
The review copy of the book I have is a low-res PDF file, so I have to give the art a little leeway. The art is better than amateur, but I'm not entirely sure that it's ready for prime time. It works as an indy book, though. The characters are a bit stiff throughout the issue, but the story is told convincingly and consistently. The art style doesn't morph halfway through or anything as startling as that. Occasionally, it's a bit crowded and shown too close up, but it doesn't ruin the story at all, as the characters are easily distinguishable, even at the resolution I looked at them in.
The book is also scheduled to be in color, so we'll have to wait to see how that works out. The preview I had was black and white.
IMAGE INTRODUCES… THE BELIEVER is a nice debut from this creative team. It's also a great idea for an on-going series if the sales (and ideas for future plot lines) warrant it. You can look for it on a shelf near you sometime in the coming weeks. I'll let you know when a firm date can be announced. It's slated for December, so next week might be a good guess.
A PAIR OF MARVEL PREVIEWS
I don't need to add another title to my monthly pull list. I really don't. Bruce Jones, however, has other plans. He's dragging me kicking and screaming back to THE INCREDIBLE HULK, thanks in large part to his stories. This week's HULK #35 is a 'Nuff Said issue, and it's quite possibly the best one of the 'Nuff Said books yet. It's a simple story with plenty of work put into it to make it work as a silent story. John Romita Jr. shines here with his approach to his art. (Tom Palmer inks him.) While Romita does get in one splash page, the rest of the issue is devoted to sequential storytelling.
Jones' story is easily understood. It's another simple episode of Banner on the run from Men in Black. This one has its own twist or two and a couple of parts that tie into events from the previous couple of issues. Still, though, the book can be enjoyed on its own. He does cheat once, which is really sad given how useless it is. His HULK has Banner running around the country from some Men In Black, assisted only by a partner who he types back and forth with in code on his computer. There is one scene in this issue where we get to read what's on his screen. While there's still nobody talking, this is still a cheat in my book for a silent comic. The really sad thing is that the warning Banner receives via the laptop is useless. It tells him that trouble's coming one panel after we clearly see the trouble arriving outside his window. It's a useless cheat.
The entire script for this issue fits in the few pages remaining at the back of the issue. It's a great learning tool to show you process junkies how much work goes on behind the scenes of a comic. It includes notes written by editor Axel Alonso on the original plot to help guide Romita Jr. through a couple of scenes.
Aside from that, Bruce Jones and John Romita Jr. are making this book exciting again. This is a worthy effort to revitalize the book in the hopes that the eventual Hulk movie is successful. The comic has all the elements it needs now to succeed.
FANTASTIC FOUR #50 is the big anniversary special. Sadly, its 'Nuff Said story is confusing. I have no idea what writers Carlos Pacheco and Rafael Marin were going for here. There seems to be some sort of updated F4 origin story plucked uncomfortably into the middle of the story. As one who hasn't been reading the series regularly, there were a few things I had to take for granted. For example, Sue Storm is pregnant and artist Tom Grummett (with Scott Koblish's inks) wasn't just drawing an awkward Sue Storm. Sue pulls off a trick during a sonogram that I'm torn on. I'm not sure if it's delightfully Marvel, or just creepy and weird. It also seems that Ben Grimm can change to a human form now, too. In the end, though, there wasn't a solid single-issue story here that I could follow. We followed the different characters in different directions, got interrupted in an awkward way to do an origin flashback of some sort, and then came back to tease a future plot. I don't get it.
It's the backup stories in the double-sized issue that really shine. The first is a light-hearted look at how the comic is created, written by Jeph Loeb and Carlos Pacheco, with Pacheco providing the beautiful and cartoony art. There are plenty of jokes that would fly over the common comic reader's head. For anyone who knows some of the background of the industry – which really is anyone that follows the comic news cycles on-line, really – you shouldn't have any problems getting the gags. It's also proof that Marvel has all the talent it needs right now to produce some sort of WHAT THE -- !?! special. Even if it's not a regular series, I'd like to see Marvel let their figurative hair down and give their serious artists a chance to work their funny bone a bit and draw in a different style for a change.
The Udon clan provides one short story that's sweet and mild with some lovely art. (Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm go shopping at the mall. Mayhem ensues.) Fabian Nicieza and Steve Rude provide another that's easy on the eyes and simple to follow. (Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm do a charity bachelor auction. Mayhem ensues.)
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.