www.cbr.com

Pipeline, Issue #247

PIPELINE PREVIEW: DEADLINE

[Deadline #1]In just one month, writer Bill Rosemann and artist Guy Davis give us DEADLINE, a new four-issue mini-series from Marvel Comics focusing on a low-level newspaper reporter on the "capes" beat. Kat Farrell is a college graduate with a journalism degree who's slowly working her way up the ladder. This is the story of her attempt to quickly graduate to the crime beat by getting that one big story to prove she has the chops to handle the big stuff. The truth of the matter is that she doesn't like dealing with hot heads like Johnny Storm, whose actions in the beginning of the issue set a large swath of Central Park on fire. It's a world that makes little sense to her, and drives her to not terribly reputable web sites in the hopes of finding a lead to the next big story.

It's a different look at superheroes from a company that has spent a lot of time lately rethinking its superheroes and looking at them through different filters. In this case, it's a look at how a major newspaper - The Daily Bugle - would handle the superhero beat. How is it viewed from within? How does it affect a reporter's views of superheroes? How does a "normal" person handle a relationship with a superhero, in a media savvy city like New York?

It's more than just a new look at superheroes, though. It's a story about one character trying to climb the ladder of journalism, get a better job, and live a better life.

The entire issue is told from Kat's point of view. There isn't a page that flashes us to another location to set up a subplot, or to give us others' reactions to Kat. I think this is a great thing, as it maintains the focus throughout the story on the one character. It's a challenge to any writer to stay focused like that for a full 23 pages. Rosemann hasn't written all that many comics previous to this one, so it's an even more impressive feat for him.

The important thing is that Kat comes off as more than just a whiny crybaby loser stuck in a city that hates her while she battles desperately to keep her head above water. For starters, she's got attitude and a certain sly wit. She's not a bland character. Working the capes beat long enough has given her a certain amount of street credit. At the same time, she's not another clichéd kick butt and take-names veteran of the streets. While some may complain that it makes her wishy washy, I think it makes the character seem more real and less like a convention created for the story. Her uneasiness is the reader's uneasiness, which works for the story.

When she confronts a super-powered villain near the end of the issue, it's almost a letdown from the slightly lighter tone of the rest of the issue. It's melodramatic, but on further consideration would have to be a necessary part of the Capes beat writer's life. How can you cover superheroes and their fights without eventually being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or snooping in the wrong place and paying the price?

The preview I have is a black and white proof photocopy. It looks like it was used to go over the lettering for the issue, as a few changes are indicated to tone down some minor bits of language. (Who'da thunk that using the phrase "he's pissed" is a no-no in the new Marvel Comics that drops the code, publishes a MAX line, and has teenagers swearing in ULTIMATE titles?) The art isn't terribly clear on the copies, as many of the lines get broken up. But it's still easily readable and Guy Davis' art is impressive. Davis is an artist whose work I've always respected. He's just never worked on a book that I was interested in. He does a great job here, paying careful attention to all the New York City background art and placing all characters firmly in their environment. He doesn't just do the establishing shot and then move to close-ups and panels with minimal or absent backgrounds. The work compares favorable to Gene Ha's work on TOP TEN, minus the over-the-top in-jokes and Spot The Gag style.

[Deadline]I'm not taken with Greg Horn's cover, but it's not my style, anyway. It just looks like Elektra got a haircut, put on a bad jacket and a I LOVE NY t-shirt, and stood around waiting for her picture to get taken. I think Kaare Andrews is doing a better job with the CGI cover work.

The colored pages that Marvel have passed around the internet are impressive. Let's hope they print out to the comic as nicely as they show up on the screen.

The lettering is lowercase. That works for me in the caption boxes that are meant to replicate a reporter's ruled notebook. I still don't buy it coming out of characters' mouths in casual conversation.

To make a long story short, I'd recommend DEADLINE. It's got a charismatic and likable lead character, with a strong enough mystery hook to bring you back for more. Rosemann's script is surprisingly accomplished for such a relative rookie, while Guy Davis' art is much more detailed and polished than you might expect in a comic today.

ASSORTED MARVEL REVIEWS

Let's get a theme going this week, with some more Marvel reviews.

[Ultimate Spider-Man #19]One of the unfortunate side effects of a comic going on a twice monthly schedule - if only for a month - is that it becomes that much easier to fall behind on it. This is, sadly, what happened to me with ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #17-#19. This weekend, I sat down with the last three issues and had a fun time reading through them in one sitting. One thing I noticed is that the pacing works better this way. You can see things escalating better when you read the issues straight through. The threat of Doctor Octopus piles on faster and your retention for those events really drives it home. Since the story of Doc Oc is running at the same time as Kraven The Hunter's, you can see the two lines slowly starting to approach an intersection. It looks likely that it will happen in the next issue. Of course, the on-going relationship between Peter and Mary Jane may be the most interesting part of the book, despite getting the fewest pages.

The amazing thing, though, is how consistent the quality of the work remains. Mark Bagley's art doesn't take a nosedive due to the faster output. He's obviously capable of doing this once in a while. I imagine it would be a strain to do two issues every month, but with the other fill-in jobs he's done in the past couple of months (such as the THUNDERBOLTS 'Nuff Said issue), he's shown that he can keep pace. Likewise, Art Thibert's inks remain consistent, Transparency Digital's colors don't waver or get flatter under the crunch, and the lettering - well, it's all uniformly ugly to me. (This mixed case font can't go away soon enough for me.)

Speaking of Bendis, he's turned DAREDEVIL into an organized crime comic instead of a superhero comic. DAREDEVIL #30 doesn't include a single thrown punch, although there's a knifing, a strangling, and a lot of generally aggressive behavior by members of organized crime. DD, himself, appears in costume on a few pages, but mostly serves there as a vehicle for Ben Urich's explanation of how organize crime works. It's an interesting angle. Bendis doesn't advance the plot a whole lot in this issue. Part of the problem in a story that jumps around so much like this one does, is that it ends up repeating itself as events double back on themselves and things once only implied show up on the page. Despite the fact that there are at least three different time periods included in this story, Bendis keeps it from ever getting confusing. I had no problem following the story and keeping track of who knew what when. Alex Maleev, likewise, is drawing a book with a bunch of non-costumed characters and does a great job in providing subtle enough clues to help keep the characters easily identifiable.

In the end, though, this is a story that will be best served by sitting with all the issues - or the inevitable trade paperback collection - and reading through them at one, even more so than ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN.

The title gets bonus points for using all-caps lettering by Comicraft's Wes Abbot. If they switch styles in the middle of this story, it would be a real disservice.

THE ULTIMATES #2 should satisfy more people who were looking for a team dynamic, as opposed to the first issue's exclusive Captain America story. This one gives us Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, Henry Pym, and Janet Van Dyne. It works towards setting up the actual Ultimates team, including a reason for being, a headquarters, and a political motivation for everything else. There's nothing here in the way of massive team on team violence and action, but that's fine by me. The dialogue and actions keep the story moving right along.

You're being introduced to these characters in such a way as to be comfortable with them and "get" them at first glance. Mark Millar is very smooth with his word processor in this issue. Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie do everything you expect them to do in an issue that's set mostly in a restaurant and an office building. They don't get a chance to do a massively action-packed comic. It's mostly talking heads, but it's still interesting to look at.

[Howard the Duck #2HOWARD THE DUCK #2 is even funnier than the first issue, although it's less satirical. Steve Gerber hasn't really lost a step writing the character since the original series ended more than two decades ago. Phil Winslade is the perfect artist for this book. He keeps a style that's similar to the way the book was drawn in its original incarnation, without being slavishly dedicated to it. He's his own artist, with a slightly dirtier line than you're probably used to seeing in most slickly produced comics today. He also manages to blend the anthropomorphic Howard into the "real world" setting of the issue without a seam.

This is a MAX title, though, so expect some nudity (and some language) in the book, far ahead of what Marvel's typically ever produced. It fits the story and is hilarious, but definitely not for the kiddies.

Coming up on Friday, it's a look through PREVIEWS, with a couple of reviews no doubt thrown in along the way. Or maybe I'll just do the reviews and save PREVIEWS for next week. Hah! Just you wait and see. It'll be glorious, whatever it is!

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.

Pennyworth Pays Homage to An Iconic Batman Scene

More in CBR Exclusives