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Pipeline, Issue #278

REVIEWS REVIEWS AND ONE PREVIEW

It's been awhile since I did a rundown of recent books. Since not every book gets featured in Pipeline every week, this is a good chance to talk a little about a variety of titles.

[Mekanix #1]MEKANIX #1 comes out this week, the first in a six part Kitty Pryde mini-series from Chris Claremont. Somehow, I still have a tough time accepting her dressing up like a prostitute to tend bar at some fancy place in Chicago. Putting that aside, though, the issue strikes me as Claremont at his best. Those of you who would avoid the series for fear of being forced to read too much should not fear that here. Claremont is restrained in his prose, leaving most of the action to the dialogue. The only thing that might trip you up is Tom Orzechowski lettering the title in mixed case font. What's the point in keeping Claremont and Orzechowski together if you're so busy neutering the power of Orzechowski's lettering in this way? The same thing is happening in X-TREME X-MEN this week and it's just painful to watch.

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The only thing that struck me as funny in the story is Claremont's insertion of a couple subplots about three-quarters of the way through the book. What started so strongly as a story with a focus on Kitty Pryde becomes side-tracked with what seems like a last-minute dash to tease the audience with something.

Juan Bobillo's art is OK, but pushes it just a tad, I think, when he dresses Pryde in a mid-riff baring lab suit. It's very odd to see a serious scientist working on a project in khaki coveralls that don't cover it all.

Moving back to issues that are already available on store shelves:

[Alias #15]ALIAS #15 is another great complete story inside of one issue for Brian Bendis. It also ties into Jessica Jones' brief appearance in DAREDEVIL recently, as we listen in on the conversation between her and Luke Cage while on the job. It's a tense meeting, and Bendis' ear for dialogue shines throughout it. After that, it's time for a date with Ant Man and a funny ending that serves to remind us all of the insanity of living in the Marvel Universe.

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GREEN ARROW #17 is another hit for Brad Meltzer. He accomplishes two big things in this issue. First, he explains Shade's appearance at the end of last issue in a convincing way with an interesting superhero conundrum that's not often explored. Secondly, he gives us one of those killer character moments that only comic book superheroes can have, when Arsenal and Green Arrow face off with weapons drawn. It's a great moment in a book filled with character and energy.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #45 is, perhaps, J. Michael Straczynski's most talkative and wordy issue. Look, he writes lots of words in a comic, second only to Chris Claremont. (More on him in a bit, though.) It's Straczynski's style and I can deal with it. Something about this month's issue, though, felt weighed down by the words in the earliest and last set of pages. It's an odd complaint to have about a book that features a couple of two-page layouts with very little lettering on them, but there you have it. Of course, it might just be the atrocious mixed-case lettering that's catching my eye so much. It's too small and too ornate for the title. Supposedly, big blocks of all-caps text blends together into an unreadable clump. That's one of the stated reasons for the mixed case lettering. In this issue, though, there are plenty of unreadable mixed case clumps.

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JMS and John Romita Jr. do their version of the classic Spidey-Breaking-Out-From-A-Pile-Of-Rubble sequence here, to good effect. Doctors Octopi fight it out, and the Mary Jane subplot reaches a mostly satisfying conclusion, given the jerky and unbelievable nature of that whole relationship these days.

STUFF NOT PUT OUT BY THE BIG TWO

RUSE #12 wraps up the storyline of the past year in dramatic style, as Archard and Lightbourne duke it out once and for all. Or do they? Butch Guice is back on art duties and every page is lovingly rendered, as usual. Not every question is answered here, most notably the one most dramatically asked at the end of last issue. We do, however, see the consequences above ground from the grand adventure in the water system below Partington last month. Scott Beatty is settling into the title nicely, with less reliance on the large words in this issue.

For some reason, matching CGI-modeled backgrounds to hand drawn foregrounds and characters hasn't ever worked. It's too obvious and tries too hard. On the other hand, matching those hand drawn characters with painted backgrounds can still be done (ironically, with the computer marrying the two together). So it is with Oni Press' one shot (with AAA Pop Comics) SPACEMAN. This came out a while ago from the small northwestern publisher, but it's interesting enough to merit a look at, even at this late a date. If you can find one on your store shelves somewhere, give it a look. Mike Allred draws the eponymous character, while Lawrence Marvit (SPARKS) paints all the backgrounds and draws all the alien characters. What results is a simple story with lush art that's a joy to look at. As intended, it mimics the look of a cartoon from the days when they weren't all imported from Japan for Saturday morning.

I'm extremely disappointed in ZOOM'S ACADEMY FOR THE SUPER GIFTED #3. Creator Jason Lethcoe has moved away from Astonish Comics and begun to publish on his own. Good for him. The problem is that he's made some changes at the same time that have destroyed everything enjoyable about the book. It's no longer done black and white in pencil with some guidelines included. This is a full color book now that looks shot directly from pencils, giving it a muddy and lifeless look. The coloring is harsh, the layouts are clunky, and the lettering is atrocious on the scale of a local creator's mini-comic produced in high school with a typewriter and some sticky paper.

The good news is that this issue is the last in this format for the series. Starting next year, the book will be published as 200 page books with text on one page and a graphic on the facing page. It's an effort to get into the mainstream bookstores, and good for Lethcoe on that. I probably won't follow, though. I'm not all that interested in that format.

[Snapdragons #1]On the other hand, SNAPDRAGONS is the new comics from John Kovalic and Liz Rathke. This is a charming addition to the Dork Storm lineup. It's the all-ages story of kids who play games and live life. It's like crossing AMELIA RULES with DORK TOWER. The kids are just as easy to love. The first issue contains a great slapstick story in the vein of a classic Warner Bros. cartoon, as Jody feigns illness to spend the day at home to play with the new videogame system. Her near-perfect plan falls apart, however, in spectacular fashion.

Rathke's art is dynamic, filled with energy and life. The characters don't look like they were copied from anyone else's model sheet. This is just a fun book for all ages. I can't recommend this one highly enough. The second issue is due out later this month.

HALO AND SPROCKET #3 is one of those books that's tough to review. If you've read either of my reviews of the first two issues, then just put a mental "See what I wrote last issue" notice here and move on. The book is just as good with its third issue as it was in the first two. Kerry Callen has a winning premise of a single woman sharing an apartment with a robot and an angel. It's a humorous look at humanity from two naïve and innocent points of view. The two stories in this issue focus on Sprocket resolving to show anger and Halo trying to figure out the humans' love of small things. (Warning: the second story contains toilet humor. Read at your own risk. Heck, knowing some of you, I probably just sold a couple extra copies. Shame on you people. ;-)

CALENDARS

How does one review a calendar? I have no idea, but when Tide-Mark offered to pass along a few to look at, I couldn't resist. A brief look at their website showed some great offerings and a decent price point.

They passed along 2003 calendars for HELLBOY, USAGI YOJIMBO, Dave Dorman's THE WASTEDLANDS, and Masamune Shirow. The calendars are all large and colorful. The art for each month is 13.5 inches tall and nearly 11 inches across, and is printed on nice bright white glossy paper. The images look beautiful, with great reproduction values. (The only exception I saw was the December HELLBOY image, which looked like a slightly blurry scan of the Dark Horse Christmas card from 1998.) The calendars have large enough boxes for each day to keep track of your schedule, and should hold a ball point pen's ink pretty well. I wouldn't suggest using a fountain pen on these things, though.

There are more than just pretty pictures and rectangles for each of the 365 days of next year. Shirow's calendar has notes from the artist on each of his pieces, with interesting information on his creation process. HELLBOY's months each end with a panel or two from a story. Dorman's calendar has notes on the characters pictured, last seen in the Image Comics one shot THE RAIL.

I know I'll be making good use out of the USAGI and HELLBOY calendars this coming year. Shirow's not my thing. If you're not familiar with his work, he draws pin-up manga girls with lots of computerized coloring and backgrounds. There's nothing exposed on the characters, mind you, but it's not exactly aimed at the kiddies, either. Either way, it's not my thing.

The calendars are available through Diamond and will most likely pop up at book stores, as well. Check out the Tide-Mark web site for all that information, including how to order direct from the manufacturer. (Diamond tends to list 2003 calendars ludicrously early in the year in PREVIEWS, so I don't blame you if you forgot to order some.)

Special thanks to John the Librarians at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the First Look support on the column again this week.

Coming up on Friday: More reviews. And monkeys! I kid you not.

VariousAndSundry.com was updated this weekend with updates about the site itself, blue politicians, stupid drivers, Disney DVDs, and more.

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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