WHAT'S COMING OUT THIS WEEK
It's a pretty good stack of books hitting the shelves this week, considering the unbelievable output of the past couple of weeks from all the companies. Here's a quick look at four comics shipping this week. Right after that, I'll look at three more books from the past couple of weeks.
TRANSMETROPOLITAN #59 is the big showdown you've all been waiting for, which is appropriate since this is the penultimate issue of the series. Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (with Rodney Ramos on inks) bring it home in a most dramatic narrative. My only problem had to do with the clichéd twist at the end that proves one character's undoing. I saw it coming from the moment the scene began, and hoped it wasn't going in the obvious direction. It did. Ah, well. Still, if you've been with the series since the beginning, this is a must read. If you haven't been, then I'd recommend starting with the trades and working your way up to this moment. Robertson's art is stronger in this issue than it's been in quite some time, so you're in for a real treat.
STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES #2 will probably evoke all the same reactions from people that the first issue did. Micah Ian Wright is still writing it. Whilce Portacio and Scott Williams are still drawing it. The big difference is that Portacio's coloring starts to give way in this issue to three other colorists, including Jeromy Cox. (I saw Cox at the convention last week. Is red hair a necessity to get a coloring job in this industry? I have this mental lineup now of Laura DePuy, Paul Mounts, and Jeromy Cox being separated at birth and all finding their way home thanks to the glory of Photoshop.)
In any case, the coloring does get greatly simplified with the new colorists, and those who were disappointed in it last issue will greatly enjoy the difference. The color scheme gets much clearer, with a better and more natural palette put to use.
The story, on the other hand, introduces at least a half dozen new characters from around the world, many of whom quickly don StormWatch apparel and start blending together too easily. I managed to keep it all straight, but it felt a little harder than perhaps it should have been.
Wright's gift for dialogue shows through here, despite all of that. Even the most pedestrian scenes are interesting for the interplay between characters.
This new STORMWATCH title may not be getting off to the smoothest possible start, judging by critical reactions, but it's providing some great moments so far and has great potential to climb quickly in many eyes.
THE ULTIMATES #6 is a shocking issue. The Hulk has finished his rampage through NYC, and the team is left to clean things up and see where they stand in its wake. Mark Millar's story flows naturally from the mega-story that just finished, and sets up some wonderful things for the next story arc. The most shocking and surprising, to me, is the plot between Hank and Janet Pym. I couldn't believe it when I read it, and I'm sure there are some who will be just a trifle bit upset with it. (Really. The Friends of Lulu probably won't be adding this series to their required reading list after this issue.)
Bryan Hitch draws straight out of Architectural Digest for this issue. The attention to detail he lavishes on every living space and office area in this issue is wonderful. Not only does he draw backgrounds, but he works hard to make them clear and consistent. It truly feels like you're a fly in these rooms, getting a good look at everything around them. After the mayhem of the last issue, things look a little cartoonier in this issue, but I think that's just because of the contrast between settings. A rampage through the skyscrapers of New York will naturally need more details than a quaint dinner at Tony Stark's penthouse apartment.
It's hardly a secret that there is a hardcover planned for this series after its first year. As great as Millar's stories have been through these first six issues, I'm looking forward to the day when I can crack open a nice large collection of them and see all the threads fall into place. In the meantime, I'll settle for the monthly installments of what is arguably the best team superhero comic being published today.
POINT BLANK #1 is the newest entry in WildStorm's mature line of comics. This one focuses on Grifter, and is written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Colin Wilson. Brubaker is a natural fit to this kind of gritty nearly noir crime thriller, and he effortlessly gets into the character's head here and starts the story off with a bang. Grifter is working with the former head of I.O. (think nasty CIA stuff), Jack Lynch, on a case that even Lynch won't tell him everything about. Along the way, there's gunfire, killings, drinking, and plenty of internal monologue.
The book is firmly set inside the WildStorm Universe. Long time fans of the continuity will recognize all the winks and nods in that general direction, from Clark's Bar to Team 7 and more. It's not anything that proves a hindrance to the new reader, though. If you're a Brubaker fan and are worried that he's going to get mired down in obscure WildStorm trivia, don't be. There are references here, but they'll slide neatly over your head and not interfere with the story at all. This is by design. This is intended to be a new book for new readers.
Wilson's art has a very European feel to it, which comes as no surprise once you read the text page and find out he was Moebius' hand-picked successor on LT. BLUEBERRY. It all makes sense now. It's easy to follow and has a dirty style that fits the tone of the story.
The only trip up in the issue is a flashback that's inserted in far too clever a manner. Brubaker uses subtle dialogue cues in one bar scene to indicate that the last two or three pages were all a flashback and you're right back where you started. It's really jarring, and it would have been nice if the coloring had changed at all to go along with the time shift. That's my only substantial complaint about the issue, however.
The book has something in it for crime comic fans as well as WILDCATS fans. At this point, it's too early to call it a must read, but I found it to be an enjoyable one that leaves me wanting more of the story.
AGENT X is the new series from the creative team DEADPOOL, Gail Simone and UDON. The first issue is now out and is easily accessible to any first time reader. Yes, there are leftover bits from the DEADPOOL series, and characters are brought in from there and the TASKMASTER mini-series, but Simone quickly dispenses with their introductions to put the reader right into the story. You shouldn't get too lost. Everything is kept simple and shown clearly.
The humor is pared down from the pure zaniness of DEADPOOL. I think that's for the best. With the humor being more situational and less mile-a-minute, it keeps the story moving along and the humor more an outgrowth of character. There's one bit about a catchphrase for Agent X that dragged on a bit too far for me, but otherwise everything hit the spot. I think this new series is an improvement for the creative team from their excellent work on DEADPOOL. It probably helps that they got to structure the book themselves around their own character. Starting fresh lets them build a strong foundation.
UDON picks right up where they left off. There's plenty of detail in the art and easy-to-follow storytelling. (I might have gone with a slightly different example of a mullet on the one character, though. At first, I thought jokes were being made at the expense of his hair because it looked like something out of a Japanese animated movie.) The coloring fits right in as some of the best at Marvel. It's muted, but conveys an atmosphere and depth quickly.
Overall, it's an attractive package. If you thought the humor of DEADPOOL was a little over the top, but liked the basic setup, this book should suit you perfectly. If you were a DEADPOOL fan, you'll enjoy seeing the characters carry through and you'll be most interested in the mystery of who Agent X really is.
HIP FLASK: UNNATURAL SELECTION #1 features the origin of HIP FLASK, by Comicraft's Richard Starkings, Joe Casey, and Ladronn. The story covers the complete origin of Hip Flask, from his parents to his birth to his development and up to adulthood. It's like nothing else in comics today. It's a fantasy tale with a science fiction bent, part MAD MAX and part GATTACA. Joe Casey's story is easy enough to follow so long as you pay attention to the details, and Ladronn's art is a beauty to behold. You could just forget the story and lose yourself in the glorious artwork and not feel cheated. Ladronn drew and colored the book himself using a variety of tools. His hard work pays off to stunning effect in the printed book. Starkings evidently felt the same way, and chose a transparent word balloon style so as not to hide any of it. Sadly, it makes the lettering a little harder to read. (I thinkw e just found a casebook study of irony, boys and girls.)
There's not all that much to talk about here. I'd love to see the character in action as a private detective, but we never get to that point with this story. It looks like that might happen in the next issue, due out in the spring. The preview images for that one put this issue to shame. Still, it's an entertaining, if lightweight, read that's a nice change of pace from the rest of comics today.
RUSE #10 is dialogued by Scott Beatty and it shows. Mark Waid is credited with the plot, which seems to perfectly fall in line with everything the title has been leading up to since its inception nearly a year ago. The dialogue, however, is trying too hard to be clever, witty, and intellectual. Waid did a great job in inserting the occasional $10 word that would send people scrambling to their dictionaries, while maintaining a slightly upper crust accent for Simon and Emma. Beatty has everyone speaking like the equivalent of turn of the century DAWSON'S CREEK cast members. They're talking too smart for their own good, like they're showing off.
This is Beatty's first issue, though, so I'm sure he'll ease into it a bit more in the next couple of issues. I'm just happy he didn't go in the opposite direction and dumb the book down with "safer" dialogue.
The whole issue is a massive set piece beneath the city, the logistics of which are a bit mind-numbing. Don't try to make sense of everything that's going on. Don't rebuild the set in your mind. You'll only drive yourself nuts. Read the dialogue. Pay attention to what it says. Enjoy the eye candy that is Butch Guice and Mike Perkins' art (with Laura DePuy's coloring), and go with the flow.
Next issue looks to be the big revelations of the prism and Lightbourne and all the rest. Paul Ryan is the fill-in artist that month, which is actually a bit of bad timing. For an issue that seems to be as important as next month's will be, I'd hope the regular art team would be there. Nevertheless, Ryan is an amazing artist. He deserves to have more work today. It's just too bad that the flow of the story doesn't always allow fill-in artists to do "fill-in" stories.
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.
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