DUE IN SHOPS THIS WEEK
STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES combines BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID with STAR TREK IV with the first JUSTICE LEAGUE issue of the Giffen era, and a side dose of DIE HARD.
With a hook like that, nobody would ever buy the series. So let me just call it a buddy comic book set in a U.N. building under siege, with a couple of cynical yet sly bastards running the show. The two agents that we're immediately introduced to, Santini and Blake, are paired-up fish out of water in New York City, working for the new StormWatch team, under the control of the United Nations. On a jog through the city one afternoon, they notice a series of emergency vehicles heading back to the U.N. and follow them back to find the building under assault. In they go.
I like it. It's filled with energy, personality, and drama. You don't see much at all of the menace in the first issue, and that actually works to the book's advantage.
Micah Ian Wright's story works on a number of levels. The first is that it's a great buddy drama/comedy. While nothing is played outright for laughs, the two lead characters have great chemistry and show it in their banter. The drama he sets up rises throughout the issue with each new revelation. While the story doesn't end in this issue, it leaves you off at a point that will make you want to come back for more. The concept of a new StormWatch set up against superpowered characters as opposed to being made up of them, is interesting. It even leads to something of a running gag along the lines of "Who are those guys?" from the aforementioned BUTCH CASSIDY movie.
(For what it's worth, the STAR TREK IV reference comes from the series of set-backs the characters are dealt by a newly reformed headquarters and its malfunctions. The first Giffen-era JUSTICE LEAGUE was also a set-up at the United Nations with a greater purpose, as I believe this story might be. And DIE HARD is an apt comparison because the story looks to be a battle from within the building, using all the tricks at either side's disposal.)
Whilce Portacio does a fantastic job on art chores in the issue, with Scott Williams' inks. While he still has some issues with necks craning out of control, you can easily adapt to that as being a "stylistic choice" and learn to live with it. Most impressively, Portacio both pencils and colors the issue. The coloring is creatively done, showing some new techniques to lend it more of that anime flavor, similar to some of what UDON and DreamWave produce. It's not the same, though. It's mentioned in the letters page that Portacio will not be coloring future issues, but instead acting as "art director." I'm happy to hear that. The coloring in this book will be important.
In today's age of comics, the colorist is almost more important than the inker. In some cases, he or she even replaces them. (Take a look at X-TREME X-MEN or the cover to the RUSE TPB for examples.) It seems logical that an artist might take on the added responsibility of coloring just to ensure his own vision for the book. I think we might see more examples of this in the future.
In the meantime, STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES gets points on both concept and execution. If Wright's scripts continue to be this sharp, this series will be one to look forward to month after month.
The other big release for the week is Marvel's ULTIMATES #5, the long awaited climax of the current storyline, in which the "Hulk Takes Manhattan." It's a strong outing for Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, and Paul Mounts, as the Hulk obliterates several square blocks of the city and outright mayhem ensues with the rest of his team fighting against him. Bruce Banner does not come off at all sympathetically in the story, which makes it much easier to root for the rest of the team against him, even in his Hulk guise.
Mark Millar pulls out all of the stops in this issue, which is hardly one aimed at the same younger crowd as ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. You can safely drop this one in the same age group as ULTIMATE X-MEN, if not slightly older. Like the X-Men title, this storyline has been carefully building throughout the series, and offers a bombastic finale to the art so far. With all the pieces in pace, Millar lets the action itself move them to where they need to be, and offer a large pyrotechnic fight scene with real consequences that the book doesn't shy away from. That goes for both the architectural damage, as well as the personal damage. Captain America has never looked more kick-ass than he does in this issue.
Hitch's art is meticulous throughout the issue, as the team fights across several locations in midtown Manhattan. The pages are photo-referenced to get the lay of the land correct, with details of piles of rubble and lots of perspective shots. When this book shows up in the Marvel oversized hardcover format (as I'm really hoping it will), it'll pop right off the shelf.
Paul Mounts' coloring looks to be printed a little too darkly, but it's keyed up well enough to tell what's going on. It's nighttime in a rainy Manhattan. It's not exactly the easiest thing to look at. There's a good usage of monochromatic blue tons to indicate the characters fighting in some pages, which pops them off of the background and makes things easy to judge.
ULTIMATES #5 is another high mark in the short life span of the series so far. I thought it would be tough to top the first issue, with its revisionist Captain America origin story. This issue did just that.
MARK EVANIER ON LETTERING
Those of you who have read Pipeline for longer than, say, three columns will know that I have an affinity for the overlooked art of lettering. That's why I'm gleefully pointing to Mark Evanier's web site today, where he recently reprinted his two-part series on the topic from his Point Of View column at Comics Buyer's Guide. The second part suffers a bit from age, but it's prescient at the same time. In any case, they're well worth reading.
CORRECTIONS AND UPDATES
If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times: Never mention a quirk of grammar in common parlance in your column. If you do, you're bound to make two errors of your own in that same column.
If only I'd listen to myself every now and then...
This is the damage from last Tuesday's column:
1. The title of the Zimmerman/Robertson Spider-Man one shot is SWEET CHARITY. There are only two 'T's in that title, not three.
2. The phrase is "cut off your nose to spite your face," not "despite."
Friday's column has a couple of informational updates attached to it:
1. FADE 2 BLUE is not a mini-series, but an on-going series. It's worth reading, either way. And it's so dang cheap (issue #1 is a dollar), you shouldn't bother "waiting for the trade."
2. It is, indeed, Paul Ryan drawing RUSE in September.
That second point brings up an interesting topic for discussion, and one that we had once a long time ago on the Pipeline message board. What artists would be perfect to fill in for the regular art teams on CrossGen titles? Ryan's a great choice for RUSE. Stuart Immonen is the perfect choice for SOJOURN. I would nominate Dale Keown, if he wasn't already busy, to pick up an issue of THE NEGATION. Frank Miller might do well on THE PATH, but I doubt he's available. I'm thinking of his RONIN-era art style, and that might not be available at the moment, either. How about Alan Davis on CRUX? I think back to his EXCALIBUR run and see something there that would match up well with this team book. Have UDON pick up the reins for an issue of WAY OF THE RAT. Steve Lieber drawing SCION? Art Adams on SIGIL?
Let me know what you think, either through the message board or e-mail. Links for both are below.
Pipeline returns on Friday with some trade paperback reviews.
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.