Pipeline, Issue #242


[The Ultimates #1]THE ULTIMATES #1 is probably the biggest release of the week. It's the Avengers-like team for Marvel's Ultimate lineup, as written by Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie. The first issue focuses completely on Captain America, save for a couple of pages at the end. If you're looking for the big team formation issue, this ain't it. What it is, however, is a great introduction to the character of Captain America and how his origin has been reworked and tweaked by Millar.

The issue tells the tale of an invasion not unlike that of D-Day. It's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN done as a comic book. The action sequences owe something to the movie, for sure. It is not, however, a clone of the movie devoid of soul. Hitch's artwork is detailed and widescreen at its best.

We are introduced to America's super soldier, Captain America, through the eyes of some disbelieving soldiers. They're pressing Cap's press reporter on the issue. That reporter is Cap's sidekick, Bucky. It's a nice rethinking of the classic Marvel Universe origin story. The rest of the story has parallels to the original, but takes it in some interesting and perverse (for the classic MU fans) directions.

Millar has a lot of exposition to get through to help establish Cap, and he does a good job of it. There's good reason for characters to be telling each other things. They're not repeating things that they know the other person knows. That's when you know you've got a writer forcing a script. One side of the conversation in this book is always learning something, or having new information imparted to him.

Millar also knows when to step back and let the visuals take over. If you have an invasion force parachuting into a war zone, you don't need lots of mindless catch phrases and nervous jokes being cracked. Letting the artist tell the story is a good path to take, if you're paired with a good artist. That's one thing that Bryan Hitch is in spades.

Hitch's art looks as amazing as ever. His new inker, Andrew Currie, doesn't hide the pencils at all. He doesn't have the same exact smooth like that Paul Neary had for Hitch's art on THE AUTHORITY, but it still works. Hitch is a great visual storytelling. You'll have no doubt about that after you read the issue. Most impressive is his use of splash pages. He's got a couple of gorgeous double-page splashes that you'll want to linger on to capture everything in your mind. The one of the fortress that is the subject of the invasion, in particular, sticks with me. It's large and ominous and oppressive all at once. It dwarfs the torrent of troops raining down in front of it. There are also a couple splash pages to emphasize important moments, such as the full-page reveal of Captain America in his costume.

Paul Mounts is the colorist aboard the project, and does a wonderful job with the colors. The paper is the slightly glossy stock that the Ultimate books are all using these days, which helps to keep the colors pushed forward on the page. What it doesn't do, however, is pop out the brighter colors that highlight the art.

The book is set in a war zone at night in the rain. Of course the book is going to be dark. It's just that it didn't print nearly as brightly as it could have, I'm sorry to say. Still, it's nice to look at and hopefully the inevitable trade will correct for that.

One thing did bother me, if I may nit-pick for a second: On pages 8 and 9, the rain falls through all of the panels in a straight line. It's easy for the eye to pick up where the same line is falling down three panels in a row to constitute rain, only breaking for the gutters. (No pun intended.) It's a bit distracting. I wish the lines had been more carefully constructed to keep away from seeing those same lines throughout the page. There's also a panel or two where the rain falls just under the panel. It doesn't end at the panel border, but just afterwards. You really have to look hard to see that, though.

Chris Eliopoulos gets stuck using a lower case font for this font, as is policy across the Ultimate line. Thankfully, he finds a different font to use for the title than the one ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN does. Thank goodness for small favors and all that. He even mixes in some all-CAPS for emphasis here and there. It's mostly used when characters are yelling.

THE ULTIMATES #1 shouldn't disappoint you, unless you're looking to see more of the team. It's a good story told well.

[Tangled Web #10]SPIDER-MAN'S TANGLED WEB #10 is "Ray of Light" by Kaare Andrews. It's the story of two brothers fighting over heroes real and imagines. Andrews adopts a photorealistic art style for the issue to help emphasize the difference between the cartoon the younger brother is watching and the real world the slightly older kid is focused on.

While the art style is fitting for the story, I don't like it. It comes off as a heavily-Photoshopped fumetti. There's nothing worse than actors in a comic book. Alex Ross' style is one of the few things that work in comics despite being so realistic looking. His characters just don't have that same uncomfortable feeling that you find here or in the one issue of PROMETHEA that features live action models in place of the characters. Andrews' characters, sadly, do look uncomfortable to me.

The story itself is nicely done, with an uncertain ending that is a bit of a downer, but appropriate to the story. I guess I just wish it was done in something closer to a pen and ink style. It works better for storytelling. The computer coloring works much better in small doses, such as Andrews' cover work.

[Batman #599]BATMAN #599 continues the winning streak the Batman family of titles is on this month. I've railed against the need for Yet Another Crossover here in the past. I have to separate the package from the content, though. The important thing to consider is the story being told. With "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?", The Batman office has much to be proud of in the story department.

This issue is part seven of the on-going story and exemplifies everything that's great about the story. It's the story of a man fighting against his own nature. It's the story of a man put up against completely beatable odds, but unable to act for the greater good. Bruce Wayne is in jail. In this issue, he contemplates the number of ways he could break out of prison to find the true murderer of Vespa Fairchild. But he can't. The secret of Batman must take first priority. The rest of the issue expands on the theme of his helplessness and adds in enough gut-torturing complications to make things interesting.

The level of conflict in this book is extremely high right now, and that makes for good drama. Ed Brubaker gets high marks on the issue for showing us all the complications in the case for both Bruce and his bodyguard, Sasha. Brubaker also gets points for keeping Bruce Wayne in character (as he's been shown in recent months) without giving away all the inner thoughts that would suck the suspense out of the story.

Scott McDaniel is terrific on art, as always, but is to be doubly complimented for the fact that the issue doesn't require his talent for vertigo-inducing action scenes. This is a mostly-talking heads issue. He keeps it easy to read and interesting to look at. What more can you ask for?

I wouldn't blame you if you waited for the inevitable trade of this storyline, but I would recommend such a book. While there has been a miss or two so far, it's a very good story overall.

THE PUNISHER #8 is an atrocious waste of paper. It's one of the worst comics books I've read in recent memory. If it were a movie, I would have walked out at the end of the first act and asked for my money back. I did the closest thing I could do. I stopped reading after the first five pages.

I had such high hopes for the issue's writer, Ron Zimmerman. He worked on Jay Mohr's ACTION, which is easily the funniest single season sit-com I've ever seen. It seems, however, that the side of him that writes the higher art of "V.I.P" and "7th Heaven" came out to play here, instead.

In the first panel of the issue, Zimmerman gives a mobster the last name of "Baritone." Pure comedy gold. There's nothing better than a cheesy Sopranos riff. Oh, wait, there is. ANYTHING ELSE.

It gets better. The Punisher calls on his good friend Nick Fury, after threatening Dum Dum Dugan. He asks Fury for a favor. Together, they go to Mr. Fantastic. Mr. Fantastic assists Frank Castle in using his time travel machine to travel back to Prohibition Chicago to kill Al Capone, who he feels is responsible for the death of his family.

Yeah, I had a hard time swallowing that, too. Maybe Nick Fury would be friendly towards the Punisher. Maybe. I never read that graphic novel the two starred in some ten years ago. That might explain it. But would Mr. Fantastic willingly ally himself with the murderous Punisher to go back in time to murder a man and change the course of human events? (We're not even talking Hitler here. Capone was bad, but he's not ever going to be the subject of a question in a college Philosophy class.)

There's suspension of disbelief, and then there's "check your mind at the door because you won't need it."

This comic is firmly in the latter category.

Oh, but it's OK, because the last page explains it all. Consider this a massive spoiler warning for the issue, if you even care. It's all a dream. Oh, the wit and intelligence and creativity that must have taken to write. The only chance this story had was if the writer was upfront with the reader from the start and explained that the story was a dream sequence. Only then could the reader have taken the story with a grain of salt. The writer would also have had to add a couple of winks and nudges into the script to indicate to the reader that the story makes no sense because it's a dream. End massive spoiler warning.

To ask a reader to plod through those first 21 pages to arrive at an alleged "twist" ending is asking a bit too much.

Save your money. Stay away from this trash. Thank me later.

On Friday, I'll review some of the books that have already come out, including one or two you may not have heard of before. Isn't it always fun to discover something new?

Don't forget to visit the new message boards (see link below) for further Pipeline discussion and good old-fashioned comic book fun.

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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