HALO AND SPROCKET RETURNS
Somewhere between Lawrence Marvit's SPARKS and NBC's THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN lies an entertaining comic book that deserves a lot more exposure.
Kerry Callen's HALO AND SPROCKET published its second issue last week, from your friends at Slave Labor Graphics. For $2.95, you get 24 pages of some of the best light entertainment you could ask for. Callen has paired the "girl next door" archetype with an angel and a robot to hilarious and mind-bending results. You know all those comedic set-ups where they put together a human with someone who isn't, and hilarity ensues from the misunderstandings of the peculiarities of the human condition? That's pretty much the set up. What it isn't, however, is a rehashing of the same gags and worn-out puns. Yes, it does have silly word play, but Callen's charm is in storytelling that's paced well and builds upon itself nicely.
The art is cartoony, clear, and perfectly fits the story. It's not too serious, and it's not too animated. That helps place the stories in the real world without drawing attention to itself. Yes, it would be cool to see the stories here illustrated in a more animated style closer to Mike Kunkel's, but I don't think that would enhance the story, as nice as it might look. For one thing, there's not that much action in the story. The characters don't need to be that bouncy. Their relative stiffness works in their favor. The gray tones used in the book work in its favor, also, helping to nicely differentiate between characters and establish a better depth of field than a straight inking line change. Plus, it looks stylish. It reminds me a bit of the artwork found in SHADES OF BLUE by Cal Slayton.
There are two major stories in the second issue. The first is the longer of the two and deals with the next-door neighbor/handyman. By Callen's own admission in the letters page, it's the crudest that the H&S tales will ever be. That probably means that the kids will eat it up. I mean, even Disney movies get away with certain bodily emissions... While there's some bodily function humor in the story, it's handled deftly and put into proper context of the disgusting neighbor. It's not glorified at all. At worst, this is a PG-rated comic book.
The second story revolves around the silly human activity of an automated lollipop. Why do you need a lollipop that spins in your mouth for you, anyway? Katie, Halo, and Sprocket run around that one for eight pages. Halo comes across as naïve about the human condition, while Sprocket is geared towards analyzing it from a purely technical and logical standpoint. It keeps Katie pulled at from two different directions with a common theme -- people are a strange lot.
The final story is a short two-pager from "Katie's Diary" that ponders what a driver should do to acknowledge a mistake she's just made. Callen uses a nice reversal in the end for a punchline. I also get the idea that this story is very autobiographical for him.
Give HALO AND SPROCKET a shot if you're looking for a lighter comic book. It's a great read that's oddly addicting. The characters will win you over quickly. It's a new series, but it feels comfortable, like Callen has been doing it for much longer than just the past few months.
The web site, HaloAndSprocket.com has a wealth of information on it. In addition to Callen's biography and a link to an interview with him, you can see additional pin-ups (by the likes of Mike Huddleston and Jim Mahfood), sample an eight-page HALO AND SPROCKET story, and read an overview of the series.
The third issue should be solicited in the next PREVIEWS. Keep an eye out for it in the Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics section and preorder it.
A PAIR OF PREVIEWS
(Of course, they're only previews if you read them before going to the comics shop this week...)
Marvel's DEADLINE mini-series wraps up this week with its fourth issue, from the creative team of writer Bill Rosemann and artist Guy Davis. It's a solid ending to a solid series that will hopefully prompt a follow-up mini-series or more.
Over the course of four issues, Rosemann has convincingly sketched out the character of Kat Farrell. She's spunky. She's likable. She's smart. Rosemann made the right move in using first person narration from her point of view for the series. Even when the series took a slight left turn into the supernatural last issue, her monologue kept the book grounded. It works its charms in this issue, as well, as we get back to the real world and all the problems of the first three issues get solved in rapid succession.
Guy Davis, meanwhile, is a revelation for me. Before DEADLINE, I don't think I've ever read anything he's drawn. I might have to do some digging in the bins in San Diego. He draws some amazing stuff. His eye for detail is something more comics artists today should strive for. There's not a background element not painstakingly drawn time and time again. Even when successive panels merely zoom in on a character, Davis draws the backgrounds, in proper perspective and with all the bells and whistles. His people look and act naturally, which is a big help in a book such as this, which hinges on the reader accepting the mundane over the extraordinary. You need to buy this single girl in the city act more than you necessarily need to believe that a man can fly while on fire. Davis pulls that off effortlessly.
Dave Stewart's colors are a big help, as well. I never took notice of his name before, until I read the WONDER WOMAN: HIKETEIA graphic novel. He also has a great attention for detail and doesn't let anything slip by him. Stewart has a tireless ability to shade and sculpt the art with his colors. It's often subtle, but never forgotten.
The DEADLINE trade paperback will collect these four issues soon enough. If you didn't keep up with this book during its monthly grind, I'd suggest giving the trade a chance. I think you'll like it. It's a remarkable series that balances the elements of the Marvel Universe with one character's singular journey.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #43 is a good jumping-on point for new readers, but not because it's a perfect single-issue story. It's not. It's actually the start of a new story arc with the return of Doctor Octopus. The "subplots" carry straight on through from the last storyline, but you really have to separate story arcs by villainous presence. That's the way the trades are collected, and that's the way the creators are thinking.
The baggage carried from previous issues is recapped quickly and unobtrusively. The rest of the issue is a mix of exposition to set-up the next storyline and some nice personal moments to break it up. (The scene with Peter and Aunt May at the airport is classic Straczynski humor.) All of the action happens in the last few pages, and the story ends on the mother of all Peter/Mary Jane cliffhangers.
John Romita Jr.'s art needs nothing new said about it. I'm afraid I couldn't manage that if I tried. If you liked his art before, this issue will give you more reasons to like it. He shows in this issue that he can draw a superhero or supervillain moment just as well as a talking heads scene or a more mundane scene, such as two people going through airport security.
On the bad side, however, this issue uses a new more needlessly ornate font for the lower case lettering that's sure to annoy even those who profess not to ever notice the lettering that they focus on and read for 22 pages at a clip. The funny thing is that I'm almost to the point where I can buy the mixed-case lettering on a book like DEADLINE. It lends a more personable, down-to-earth charm to the book. This font on this book, however, isn't working.
Friday in Pipeline2: A look at the San Diego convention programming schedule. It's out now, and I've had some fun this weekend narrowing it all down and finding some surprising new things in it. Come back here Friday for that.
Special thanks to John The Librarian at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the First Look support on the column again this week.
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.
Right now, San Diego is the only convention I've committed to attending for the rest of the year. The Small Press Expo in September is a possibility, though, as is the Baltimore convention in October.