Pipeline, Issue #244


It's that time again. Wednesday is just a day away as this first sees digital print. And I'm here to look at a couple of titles that are coming up, so you have a better idea of what to look for at the comics shop tomorrow.

After giving THE PUNISHER #8 such a going-over a couple of weeks ago, I thought I should give the ninth issue a chance to woo me back. After all, the creative team is different. This time around, we have Tom Peyer providing the words and Manuel Gutierrez providing the pictures. It works a lot better than the Zimmerman/Lilly dross we got last time around.

This is the first part of a new multipart storyline where Frank Castle takes on the Taxi Godfather, The Medallion. Peyer is channeling much more of the feel of Garth Ennis' stories from this title than Zimmerman did in the last issue. It results in a much smoother and more pleasant read. What you get is what you want from the Punisher these days: A slightly loony villain, a deformed bad guy or two, a Punisher with a deeply dark sense of humor, some gun-rattling, and a lot of ugly New York City. Peyer hasn't gotten to the same comfort level Ennis did in his first couple of issues. There's still an uncomfortable distinction between playing up the deformed stuff for laughs and keeping the serious near-gang war believable.

Gutierrez has a very realistic art style. Combined with Steve Oliff's dark coloring here -- which looks a lot like a 1980s Marvel graphic novel style -- the overall design of the book is gritty street level. That makes sense, given a story about taxi drivers in the city. There's not much glamour to be had here. The storytelling is easy to follow and there aren't any real glaring anatomical or perspective errors to distract your eye. Gutierrez is a solid artist for the title.

Once again, I'm looking forward to what's coming next. It seems that the previous issue is a mere hiccup.

TASKMASTER #1 is the latest creation of UDON Studios, updating the Marvel Universe villain for "today's audience." He's now sporting a sleeker suit, with a slick double identity and a mercenary attitude to match. It's a good take on the lifestyle of a bounty hunter, showing his freelance efforts from both the high crime and lower level perspectives. The same issue that finds Taskmaster fighting against Iron Man also finds him snuffing out cardsharps in Vegas casinos.

The art is as slick as you'd expect from UDON, without nearly as many of the distracting computer effects and digital picture inserts as I've seen them use in the past. The coloring is effective and bright. The artists have also come across a smart idea in having Taskmaster change appearance (to the reader) to better show whose moves he's emulating as he makes them.

The biggest problem in the book I have right now is that the dialogue is flat. It all sounds like the same person talking, often in overly expository tones. After reading a book like ALIAS this past week where the characters shine due to their dialogue, a book like TASKMASTER seems woefully flat. There's no rhythm in the speech, nor is there any sense of style. I'm not a huge believe in dropping loads of style into a work to make it stand out. You can get away with something relatively spare. (See Isaac Asimov, for starters.) Something like this, though, just has no spark. There are some good ideas in here, and the plotting is done really well. I would just like to see some attention paid to dialogue.

I'm interested, but not enough right now to count the weeks between issues. I may put this one aside for a possible trade down the road. If it comes out on a slow week, I might give it a shot then.

Finally, DETECTIVE COMICS #767 is the next part of the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" storyline and the first issue of Steve Lieber's run as the title's new artist. As with last issue, the specialized coloring is dropped in favor of a more traditional coloring for this issue.

The story is told from Sasha's point of view. It's the counterpoint to BATMAN #599, which was Bruce Wayne's tale of life in prison. Here, instead, we get to see the turmoil Sasha is going through, not just from the other prisoners, but also from the doubts that she's starting to have about the whole case. It's a powerful story that paints a very human face on Sasha, as not just another swashbuckling all-believing member of the Bat family.

Steve Lieber's art is unmistakable here, and Mick Gray joins him as inker. The effect is to clean up Lieber's line. For those of us who know Lieber's artistry from WHITEOUT and not HAWKMAN, it's a bit of a departure. Gone are all the fancy artsy tricks, with razors and toothbrushes and ink splatters. Gray polishes up Lieber's art as best he can, filling in lines and smoothing out faces and characters. It's a different look that will take some getting used to. I like the down-and-dirty stuff, but can understand the difficulties of making that work in a monthly grind.

The overall story arc is progressing nicely. The new issue of NIGHTWING is out this week, too, and picks up where DETECTIVE left off. I haven't read it yet, so I can't tell you what to expect just yet. I only know that I'm really looking forward to reading it.


Without a doubt, my favorite series at the moment is CrossGen's RUSE. What Mark Waid and Butch Guice have done in the first four issues of this series is amazing. Thee issues are packed with story, character, plot, and absolutely stunning art. I'm in awe every month. There are comics that are popular favorites and there are comics that are critical darlings. This is one of the rare examples of both.

X-MEN VISIONARIES: JOE MADUREIRA might be worth the paper it's printed on, but I have to first gather all the pages back together. Most of them ripped themselves from the binding as I attempted to read the darned thing. Feh.

Last month's YOUNG JUSTICE #41 gets many good geek points for draping Wonder Girl in a Barenaked Ladies t-shirt.

Comedy Central gets beaucoup geek points for airing the greatest game show in the history of man, BEAT THE GEEKS. I haven't been this addicted to a game show since the glory that was GREED, or SCRABBLE before that. (Hmmm, maybe I'm just a Chuck Woolery fan? Nah, LOVE CONNECTION never did anything for me.)

[Comic-Con Program]The first booklet for the 2002 Comic-Con International arrived in the mail this past week. It's time to get excited about San Diego already. Only 6 months to go!

Next time you're in your local comic shop, take a look at the back cover of THE HAUNTED #2 from Chaos! (This is assuming you haven't already bought the issue, in which case you may have noticed this already.) Isn't that cool?

Took me nearly five days and three stores to find it, but I finally landed a copy of the GHOST WORLD DVD. With any luck, you'll see a review of the disc here in the next couple of weeks. Without any luck, you won't.

As much fun as spam e-mail can be, the old-fashioned junk snail mail can be just as much fun. Here's one recent ad I received:

Even better, the sheet on the inside wished to welcome me as "Aigoe Deboeck." That's one expensive round of Wheel of Fortune...

Jason Little's comic-that-could, BEE, has been updated with three new pages of the story. It's a great-looking strip that's also easy to read and enjoy. It'll eventually see print as a book later this year. Can't wait to see that.

I miss the magazine COMICS INTERVIEW. It had something that I just don't see anywhere anymore. The selling point of the magazine was that it was comics professionals interviewing other comics professionals. It led to many different kinds of interviews other than that plug-in-your-answers-here kind of thing that too often dominates the interview world today. (This isn't a slam at anyone in particular, honestly. It's just that after seeing the same person interviewed by five or six different web sites, I can begin answering the questions from memory.) Wouldn't it be interesting to see a web site devoted to such interviews, no matter how short they may be?

Special thanks to Jolly John N. at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ.

Coming up Friday: A couple of trade reviews, and more.

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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