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Pipeline, Issue #261

PIPELINE CELEBRATES FIVE YEARS

Tom Beland made his first appearance in Pipeline back in September of 2000. We met at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD that year, and I took the opportunity to pick up his autobiographical mini-comic, TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD. I had already been introduced to a few of his strips at his web site and liked what I saw. His distinctive artistic style (think Al Hirschfeld meets Chuck Jones) captures the eye, and his stories warm your heart and tickle your funny bone. It helps that he has an interesting life working as a cartoonist and moving to Puerto Rico to chase after his life's love, the lovely and incomparable Lily Garcia.

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TRUE STORY has since branched out into a full-sized comic book, self-published under the name "Clib's Boy Comics," while the weekly strip continues to be seen each week at GrayhavenMagazine.com.

That's Tom and Lily atop the pipeline that yours truly is carrying in the graphic above. The third issue of Beland's comic is due out sometime in the near future. The second issue, "Magic," will be included in a Pipeline Comics Giveaway later this week.

DUE OUT THIS WEEK...

Welcome back to Day Two of the five day celebration of Pipeline's fifth anniversary as a column. Thanks to Tom Beland for so graciously doing the art you see atop this page today. I'll have more such art from John "Buzzboy" Gallagher tomorrow.

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Tomorrow's column will start a look back at the columns that made Pipeline last for five years. Think of this as the director's commentary for those articles. It'll be fun to look back on some of the craziness that kept this column going for five years, including the conventions, the trade paperbacks, the series, and the industry politics. It's going to take two or three days to run through it all.

But first, we've got new comics coming out this week, so let's take a look at three of them.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN is nearly at an end. Its 57th issue comes out this week, and it blows the barn doors off the set-up from the previous issue. When last we left the title, a series of armed police had dropped in to deal with a student demonstration against the president. What happens next in this week's issue marks the beginning of the end for Spider Jerusalum's struggle against the president. It's been inevitable that this is the storyline we'd be leading up to since the president became Spider's antagonist more than 40 issues ago. Warren Ellis keeps the script moving, with sparse dialogue, witty banter, and the usual in-your-face over-the-top proclamations. The last page of this issue, in particular, should have you laughing out loud if you've enjoyed the sense of humor about the book thus far.

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Darick Robertson's art is a point of interest for me this month. I just got done flipping through his FURY mini-series, that Jimmy Palmiotti inked. That series seemed so much more vibrant and filled with detail compared to TRANSMETROPOLITAN. It's almost like the artwork on this series has become cartoonish, a rote rehashing of everything that's gone on for the past 50-some issues. Part of it is just that the script for this issue never calls for the kind of dense cityscapes that the title became known for, and that Robertson so expertly contributed. The bulk of the issue takes place on a grassy field and in a plain white house. At the same rate, it doesn't seem like the extra time that would be afforded the artist because of that simple fact got transferred elsewhere in the art. There's no experimentation here. There's no attempt to bring in new influences to the series. The storytelling is fine. The art is fine. But there's very little new left here, and I'm afraid there might be a bit of coasting happening. It's only human, I suppose.

In any case, it's still a satisfying read, and easily available in trade paperback format if you wanted to check it out for yourself. Just do yourself a favor and start at the beginning, with BACK ON THE STREET.

THE PUNISHER #13 welcomes back the creative team of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Their particular brand of violent mayhem is immediately in evidence, as the Punisher swoops into a South American camp filled with armed guards to extract a single hostage. If you've seen the end of the movie, THE ROCK, the opening gambit should strike a familiar chord to you. It's a great example of the extreme lengths that The Punisher is willing to go to for the sake of a single mission. Ennis doesn't stop there, either, as he returns us to New York City for the hard-luck love life of Detective Soap, which takes an even weirder and more disgusting turn in this month's issue. OK, maybe it's not as bad as sleeping with his mother, but this one is pretty bad.

Ennis and Dillon have defined the modern PUNISHER. Everything else is hit and miss, mostly miss. Enjoy their work when they're together now.

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN SPECIAL #1 is the ultimate swan song for ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP. This one's written by Brian Michael Bendis and features a vast array of comic book art stars. The story is that Peter Parker is feeling a bit lost and unappreciated in his role as Spider-Man and goes looking to other Ultimate Marvel Universe stars for help. After that, Peter Parker is assigned a school project to present his favorite hero to the class. Does that sound like two different stories smashed together? The weakness of the book is that it is exactly how it reads. Both parts are well-presented and thematic elements do tie them together, but I was distracted by playing the "guess the artist" game. Granted, that's my own darn fault. I couldn't just leave well enough alone, enjoy the story, and go looking at the credits afterwards. I had to keep flipping to the back page to see who drew what.

Personal hang-ups aside, it's a nice story with a sweet ending and some gorgeous art. There's every classic Marvel match-up you'd want in this book. Spider-Man pals around with the Human Torch and has a quick meet and greet with Daredevil (drawn by a bubbly Scott Morse), who treats him quite differently than in the traditional Marvel Universe. A couple of scenes between Mary Jane and Peter are as nice as can be. One is drawn by Jim Mahfood, and the other by John Romita Sr. I can only imagine the thrill Bendis took at having JR Sr. drawing that scene for him.

Frank Cho draws a sequence with Elektra in it. Michael Avon Oeming draws the Captain America sequence. Alex Maleev contributes a beautiful opening page splash, contrasting Spider-Man's blue and red costume against the city's darkness. Jason Pearson draws an expanded Fantastic Four sequence, which is even more enlightening and entertaining than the TEAM-UP issue they starred in some months back. Besides Pearson's great art, we learn a lot about the F4 family and even a little nugget about Peter Parker's family. Leonard Kirk's two page spread is beautiful until you look at it long enough to realize that the Black Widow's head is far too small for her body. General rule of thumb: If a single breast on a female character is larger than her head, it's time to change the proportions in one place or another. I don't think it's Kirk's intention to draw her quite that busty. Black Widow's head is too small. It's easy to miss it with all that hair making her skull look bigger, but shows up on further examination.

In any case, it's also a fun book that will keep you busy for a good long time reading. You'll want to linger over the art, particularly the double page splashes that barely have a a half dozen words on them. It's OK. Go ahead. Might I suggest, though, that you read through it for the story first, and then worry about who drew what.

There are some other interesting books due out this week, also. Dark Horse releases the latest BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL trade paperback, "Secrets," for a mere $17. It's a beautiful book with an engaging storyline. If you like LONE WOLF AND CUB, this is a nice companion volume for you. Different storyline, different direction, very different art. You'll recognize a few of the same themes and settings, though. The pencil artwork in the book, though, will blow you away.

DC is releasing the second issue of its new Vertigo series, FABLES. I read the first issue a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it a lot. It isn't stretching to make the characters of fables into real people. It's not getting too cutesy for its own good. It's an engaging and entertaining read.

SUICIDE SQUAD hits the home stretch with its tenth issue. Pick up an issue to take in Keith Giffen's dialogue. It's the stylistic high point of his career. He makes the entire book work with just dialogue. I'm afraid the book didn't get the chance it deserved because the shadow loomed large over it from the last series starring the team.

Top Cow finally finishes up MIDNIGHT NATION with that mini-series' twelfth issue. (Do twelve issues make it a "maxi-series"?) That sound you hear is everyone popping open their long boxes looking for the last 11 issues. With the erratic scheduling of the book in recent months, I know I can't possibly be alone in needing to reread the book from scratch to fully understand the last issue. I want the refresher course.

Marvel opens up with Jim Starlin's INFINITY ABYSS #1, the first of a six-part mini-series. I remember being at the height of my Marvel Zombie phase when Starlin and Ron Lim (with George Perez) were churning out these series. I flipped through this first issue, though, and just couldn't be bothered with it. Times change, people change. I still get a certain fanboy thrill out of the original INFINITY GAUNTLET, though. There's something really cool about Captain America standing up against Thanos in outer space. It's so bizarre and out of place that it becomes ultimately cool.

Finally, Oni begins the MUTANT TEXAS: TALES OF SHERIFF IDA RED four-parter with story by Paul Dini and art by J. Bone.

THE GREAT PIPELINE COMICS GIVEAWAY: DAY TWO

I have a large stack of comics to give away this week. They run the gamut from CrossGen to Marvel to Image and everything inbetween.

Today's batch will be all-ages friendly. It starts off with Free Comic Book Day versions of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1, JLA #1, and STAR WARS TALES: A JEDI'S WEAPON. Add to that a copy of SIMPSONS COMICS A GO-GO, a 128 page trade paperback collecting stories from various Simpsons comics, and two Groo trades: GROO: THE MOST INTELLIGENT MAN IN THE WORLD and THE GROO HOUNDBOOK.

If you'd like a chance to take home this care package, send me an e-mail with a subject header of "Tuesday Giveaway". Include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. I'll be picking one e-mail at random later this week at a random time. Goody bags will hit the post office in the next couple of weeks. One entry per person per giveaway, please. Entrants are not limited to North America. If you're overseas and would like a chance at this package, you're more than welcome to enter.

Good luck! Tomorrow: CrossGen comics enter the fray.

Speaking of tomorrow's column: Join me for the first part of a look back at five years of Pipeline. It's that oh-so-popular DVD commentary track to many of the columns of the past five years.

Special thanks to Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the assistance on the comic previews this week.

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 400 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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