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Pipeline, Issue #240

X-BOOKS

It's conventional wisdom that if a story changes nothing, it's not worth reading.

While I think it's vastly preferably to have a story that does change something or someone in it, there's still room for stories that are just meant to entertain. Just because it's a fill-in issue, for example, in which an outside writer isn't allowed to continue any of the major subplots, it doesn't mean the story is a waste. A story can highlight a certain character trait in the context of a conflict that won't dramatically alter the character's life. It'll just help to enforce something.

And there are those stories that are just wacky and nutty enough to read just for the pure thrill of it. Such is the case with this week's X-FORCE #123. It's not another piece of the puzzle in Peter Milligan's storyline. It's not a costume-changing issue for Mike Allred to design. No. This issue is Doop-centric. The whole thing plays out like a Salvador Dali painting, which should come as no surprise given Doop's rather surreal look. On top of that, it's completely silent. There's not big bad gimmick forcing the silence, and there's no cheating with handwritten notes and major signage to carry the plot. It's a five-minute read, though, at best, that will only satisfy the curious amongst you who enjoy experimental storytelling.

The thing about the issue is that, in the end, nothing has really happened. Doop had a curious little series of events, but nobody did anything they'll remember or build upon. If you skip this issue, it won't affect your overall enjoyment of the series. But if you like the series and the characters in it, this issue will be something you'll want to have.

[Xtreme Annual #1]X-TREME X-MEN ANNUAL 2001 snuck out onto the stand a few weeks ago. It's the second Marvelscope annual, and features a new cardstock cover and an increased price of $4.95. (The NEW X-MEN Annual ran only $3.50.) The book features the regular creative team of Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca. Unlike the monthly series, though, this one has an inker with Sandu Florea. Tom Orzechowski provides lettering and Liquid! is still on board with colors, which helps maintain a certain consistency in artistic look between this and the monthly. I didn't even realize at first that there was an inker because of that. The book features an awful lot of splash pages. In a month with Marvel filling its issues with silent stories, I find it interesting that Larroca takes a stab at trying an all splash page issue. At least half of the pages are comprised of a single panel, but it does help give a more widescreen feel to the issue. He also includes a smaller number of two-page spreads. Most effective is the use of one in the sequence where Rogue is fighting the Shadow King. The motion flows naturally across the two pages simply from left to right. Larroca also uses a couple of pages with page-wide horizontal panels stacked on top of each other. It's a good use of the layout and is done nicely.

The story itself is one mired in X-Men continuity. It's all easily explained in the course of the story, but it's really one written for the current fans who had questions about the death of Psylocke and her relationship with the Shadow King. It also helps to have a memory long enough to cue up the X-Men's time spent in Australia.

Could the story have been told in the standard format? Sure. Would it have been told better? I can't say that for certain. I like the look and feel of this format and think Claremont and Larroca did a good job in staging some things to take advantage of it. I just don't think they went far enough with it. Larroca's art is as pretty as ever, though.

Tom Orzechowski gets a mention for his overabundance of fonts in a fight scene. The Reavers attack the X-Treme X-Men in this issue. They all have guns. They all fire. And the result is at least one page with more Comicraft fonts used that any other time in the history of comics. It's like the entire catalog opened up and spewed out onto the art.

This one gets recommended to fans of the Marvelscope format, long-time X-Men readers, continuity completists, and regular X-TREME X-MEN readers.

ULTIMATE X-MEN #13 is the first of a two-parter introducing Gambit. In the Ultimate universe, he's a bit of the streetwise magician, milking tourists for all they're worth on the magical streets of New Orleans. He's a con man with a heart of gold, though, when he runs across an orphaned child and helps her out. Trouble follows, of course, since this is an X-Men comic. Chuck Austen does a good job in writing this, spicing up Gambit's language with more local lingo than you might be used to. Essad Ribic handles the art chores, keeping the characters expressive and easy to follow. It's part one of two, so we'll have to see how it finishes later this month to pass final judgment. It's a good start, though.

IMAGE PRESENTS...

RADIX #1 is the new title from Image Comics produced by Ben and Ray Lai, best known for their early CrossGen work on SIGIL. Their art on that title had its moments, but got me most confused on its character work. Too many of them looked alike, and the main character looked to be about half the age he was supposed to be.

RADIX has some pretty art in it, some forced T&A, and a confusing go-nowhere storyline in its first issue. I hate banging my head against the wall repeatedly, but I'll say it again: A first issue should entertain the reader and make them want more. It's not there to lay out the beginnings of every idea you have for the series without explanation in the hopes that the readers will come back for the next few issues to figure them out. I have no interest in this title past its debut. There's too much going on that makes no sense. I'll pass.

[Last Shot #3]LAST SHOT #3 is another title produced by Marvel's golden boys, UDON Studios. It's published by Image Comics and gets major points for style, but loses points on a story that jumps around a little too much. There are on-going subplots, it would appear, that would completely lose a new reader such as myself. It seems that at least one of the characters seen occasionally in the background is actually a regular character. While the coloring seems perfectly logical and is internally consistent, it's way too dark. Yes, the story takes place in an underground mining town. Yes, there should be lots of browns in there. And there are. The problem arises when characters and backgrounds start blending together and textures used in the background just serve to clutter the art.

There's a summary of the story so far on the back cover that's printed in incredibly dark purple on a black background. It's completely illegible.

DC's THE POWER COMPANY

… begins this month from DC with a series of one shots.

The thing about Kurt Busiek's storytelling is that it's not splashy. It's just good old-fashioned measured storytelling. There's not a real quirky manner to it. His nose is firmly to the grindstone and the stories rely on solid construction and interesting characters to hold your interest.

JOSIAH POWER, STRIKER Z, and WITCHFIRE are three examples of this.

With JOSIAH POWER, Busiek's matched up with artist Keith Giffen, who's long held that for the price a reader is paying for a comic, he or she should get some good quality time with it. Not a five minute breeze.

Giffen's style meshes perfectly with Busiek's. In this first one-shot, you get a strong panel to panel story told with attention paid to telling the story and not showing off the art or using any flamboyant tricks. Some might suggest that Giffen's art style is a flamboyant trick itself. I like it, though. It's an interesting mix of things with a definite Kirby appeal. Must be those square fingertips. While the art sticks to a most-often three-tier grid, the art doesn't get cramped for it. Giffen mixes in splash pages and open-border panels to keep things open. He knows just how much is essential to put into a panel to keep your interest without taking shortcuts. There aren't that many backgrounds in the issue, but the establishing shots get you started and the characters and dialogue carries the rest.

What I'm trying to get at here is that the story is worth your $2.50, for both the production and artistic qualities of it as well as the amount of detail put into it to keep you reading it for longer than ten minutes.

STRIKER Z comes across a little hokier, however. It's the story of a stunt man turned superhero. I can't help but feel like I've been down this road before. The big difference this time is that it's modernized to make it a Hong Kong stunt man.

This one's a little more open than JOSIAH POWER. Artist Roman F. Bachs (with inks by Raul Fernandez) keeps things a little more visually splashy, with larger panels and more action. There's also more large scale fighting going on in this story, so the art is probably appropriate. Still, there's less room left for Busiek's trademark string of caption boxes. Superboy ends up with a bit of a baby face in the story, but otherwise the figure work is fine and the storytelling is clear enough to get the story across to the reader.

There's a good hint of what this character is going to be like in the series, and it's pounded home on the final page where Busiek gives a little "personnel file" on Striker Z with Tom Grummett's original character design.

The last one shot to review thus far is WITCHFIRE, guest-starring Wonder Woman. The story alternates points of view between Wonder Woman and Witchfire. The latter is a pop superstar – think Britney Spears – whose obsession with magic and the dark arts tests her adventurous streak. When things get out of her control, it's only the timely intervention of Wonder Woman to rescue her. Like the other one shots, this story is set in the past of six years.

Matt Haley's art is as beautiful as ever, ably abetted by Karl Kesel's inks. There are a couple of panels that remind me very strongly of Dale Keown's work, which is a good thing. Getting Haley to draw a book featuring a female character from Power Company is a no-brainer. The storytelling is a middle-point between the previous two books. It uses a lot of grid work like Giffen's art, but doesn't stick so rigidly to straight gutters and enclosed panels. The characters are slightly splashier here and are more prone to break out of their panels.

The character is interesting. There's an air of mystery around her, heightened only by the Personnel File on the last page. The character traits may not be the most original in the world, but I know I'm curious to see what separates her from the Dazzlers of the world. A superstar superhero? It's road Busiek has tread on before. Stories of magic tend to lose me since it's more-or-less anything goes with it. Things are simple enough here, though, and easily accessible to new readers.

THE POWER COMPANY is looking very interesting. The characters that Busiek is populating the book with are all well thought out. They're all different, but you can almost see the tension between some members circulating already. By the time the team is all introduced and appearing on the page together, Busiek should have a wide array of directions to go with the book. There's a lot of clay there to be sculpt.

This series of one shots is a nice way to promote the upcoming series. It also prevents Busiek from having to satisfy some of the more uptight fanboys who will demand instant origins of all the characters right off the bat. We're getting them here. It'll serve nicely to clear the decks for the on-going stories. Let's just hope the stories aren't all briefly recapped in the course of the first issue of the on-going series. That would be dreadful. I imagine there will be some sort of brief character definitions for each character when the series starts. It's only fair to new readers who didn't want to spend the $12.50 to be pre-briefed on the series.

One thing's for sure – each of these one shots is already ten times more informative than the JLA backup story from last month.

Coming up on Friday: A look back on Marvel's Nuff Said month. What worked and didn't? And why? It's more than just an analysis of a company-wide event. It's a discussion of the art form of silent storytelling. I have some theories on it.

And at some point next week: A look back at some of the best single issues of comics from 2001.

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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