HITTING STORES THIS WEEK
SPIDER-MAN'S TANGLED WEB #19 is a bittersweet tale of two villains that is as sadly predictable as the humor is cliche. In Robbie Morrison's script, The Rhino and Grizzly (an ex-villain in a big bear suit) are the odd couple. They live across the hall from each other, they go after the same jobs, and generally keep getting in each other's way. While there are some cute moments in the script, most of it reads like a paint-by-numbers sit-com. If that's your thing, you'll love this.
Another problem with the script is that it relies a bit on some more adult humor, yet only merits a Marvel-PG rating. This book should be rated whatever is next up on the ladder of Marvel's system, as there's a lot of talk about giving a donation to the local bank of your male DNA, if you know what I mean. The second half of the book concentrates on the wild and wooly world of internet dating. How's an ex-villain supposed to get a date in NYC? Find someone on the internet who will agree to meet you in your bear costume at the Bronx Zoo. Hijinks follow.
Jim Mahfood's art doesn't do much for me here, either. It's far too 'open.' His own comics are densely packed. There's not an inch of breathing space left by the time he's done choking a page with black ink. It's part of his style and I like it. Here, though, his art becomes something different. It's a cartoon version of a Marvel comic, which I'm afraid doesn't suit his style for me.
Humor is the most subjective style of entertainment, though. Flip through it for yourself before passing on it.
The long-awaited (and somewhat delayed) SAVAGE DRAGON #101 comes out this week from Image. It starts with the funniest comic cover of the year ("Lo there shall come… A Boot To The Head") and moves on to two stories split across the two Dragon worlds. The first half deals with Dragon Jr. on his world, while the second half has Dragon trying to explain himself to Jennifer and Angel on the world previously referred to as "The Savage World." Someday, someone will have to properly dub these two worlds as Earth-1 and Earth-2 or something.
These stories don't include a large number of characters. They're amazingly straightforward, as far as stories go in this series. Yes, the second half is all talking heads, but it's not annoying. Larsen's art keeps things interesting to look at, while the conversation never sags into the repetition it could easily devolve into. After all, how many more times are we going to hear Dragon explain his split-world syndrome? Larsen makes light of that in this issue and pushes things along.
If that doesn't sell you on it, might I suggest the three pages printed at the end of the issue? They're the original pages done by Sam Kieth for the 100th issue before he had to pull out. It's only three panels' worth of stuff, but they look very cool, and you'll get a peek at Larsen's work process for that issue.
MARVEL DOUBLE SHOT #1 features a story by Marlan Harris and Kia Asamiya that felt terribly familiar to me. That's when I realized that the story format and predictable plot was done much better a decade ago when Bob Foster wrote it as an Uncle Scrooge story, with some beautifully painted full page images by someone whose name I've long forgot.
Of course, I doubt there are many others like me who will remember that story before reading this one. Ah, well.
(This issue isn't out this week. It's due out in the near future. I don't know which week.)
ALREADY ON SHELVES
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: TALES OF THE SLAYERS #1 is a special one shot issue that will work just as well with comics fans as it does for Buffy fans. I haven't even watched the series since the second season, but I enjoyed this 26 page special more than I thought I would. For starters, it's set during the second season of the show. I think that's the Armin Shimmerman principal character at Sunnydale High, but don't quote me on it. The story is written by television series writers Jane Espenson and Douglas Petrie and has an easy to follow story. It's nothing groundbreaking. It's the art that's the star of the book.
The issue starts off at the modern high school for 8 pages by Jeff Matsuda. His angular cartoony approach suits the story and looks great. After that, the story shifts back to the 1930s and Gene Colan takes over on the art for the last 18 pages. Colan is an amazing artist who seems to get better with age. His art is also the perfect example of the type of art that should be shot directly from pencils. No inker in the world could improve on these pencils. Colan's intricate line work and sketchy approach make an inker not just unnecessary, but harmful.
Dave Stewart does a wonderful job in coloring the pencils and adding enough details to the "plain" areas to make the color scheme look like part of the art. It's worth the $3.50 for the book for those 18 pages alone.
ROUTE 666 is the newest CrossGen book, done in the style of 1950s horror/monster movies. It's subtle enough that I didn't even pick up on it until the third issue. Your passion for that material will color your opinion of this book one way or the other. Since I'm rarely taken in by such material, or material that deals with the battles between heaven and hell, I'm afraid it doesn't compel me enough to come in here with the usual glowing recommendation. It does, however, have enough positive qualities to it that I'd say it's worth a look. If nothing else, the art is sure pretty, and the story doesn't insult my intelligence.
The series, written by NEGATION's Tony Bedard, follows a college girl, Cassandra, on a CrossGen planet not unlike our own from the 1950s, including communism and cars with fins. When Cassie's best friend is killed in a tragic accident, her ghost returns to ask Cassie for help, and then all hell breaks loose. (I think I mean that figuratively, but don't quote me on it.) Cassie is quickly and quietly taken in for psychiatric counseling, but things only gets worse and before you know it, she's on the run from everyone.
My initial problem with the series is that Cassie spends the first two issues reacting to events around her and doing nothing about them. It makes for a dull series when your protagonist doesn't do anything. By the third issue, though, she's firmly in control of her actions, and she's getting vague ideas about the madness going on around here. The spirits and ghosts that surround her are still a mystery, but we're getting there.
I'm not naturally inclined to enjoy ghost stories. MIDNIGHT NATION is about as close as I've ever come to it. When you're dealing with the worlds of mysticism and ghosts, you're getting close to the point where the writer can make anything seem plausible, should he wish. It's almost not playing fair with the reader. Even in superhero comics, you have real world physics to keep things mostly grounded, past the elements of the fantastic that are incorporated.
After reading four issues of this series, I don't understand what's going on, or who Cassie is fighting, or what the overall mission is. She's still running around, trying to stay one step ahead, and looking to have a heck of a road trip along the way. Sometimes, that can work in the book's favor and make you turn the page in the hopes of finding an answer soon. For me, it just causes the book to drag. The supernatural elements of the book are the parts that drag the book to a standstill for me.
Karl Moline is drawing the book, with John Dell on inks. Moline is best known for his stint on Dark Horse's FRAY. (Come to think of it -- he never finished that before leaving, did he?) His art here is just as good. It maintains the same energetic and detail-oriented qualities it did on FRAY, but also experiments a little. There's a car crash at the end of the third issue that looks like something Geoff Darrow might have drawn. Moline's art is saving this book for me. While the story hasn't entirely gripped me yet, Moline's art is enough to keep me hanging on. Any lesser of an artist, and I would have dropped the book by now.
ROUTE 666 is part of CrossGen's attempt to put out books in different genres. Not everyone is a fan of all genres. While other titles have gotten me interested in genres I might not otherwise care about (the original sword and sandals feel of SCION), I'm afraid ROUTE 666 has yet to hook me on horror.
Chuck Dixon's final BIRDS OF PREY storyline (in issues #44-46) proved to me how important the artist is to the series. The series has always relied on a quick pace and an action-filled story. The artist's job is to keep it moving and present the varied landscapes that the series presents in exciting ways. Dave Ross, sadly, just wasn't up to the task. His storytelling is fine, and several of his pages featured layouts that look like they came straight out of Butch Guice's handbook. (The opening three pages of issue #46 show that best.) But his art lacks the finesse and polish that Greg Land and Guice showed in their tenures. Several times, the characters looked stiff or cross-eyed. The jungle environments and dinosaurs look fine, but don't excite me the way Land's dragon looked in SOJOURN or Guice's lush jungle landscapes looked in earlier stories.
Make no mistake, though: The storyline is pure Dixon, with World War II-era soldiers, dinosaurs, submarines, gunfights, and a wooden fort. It's got all those elements you'd associate with classic adventure tales. It's slightly pulpish, but tinged with a modern flair.
Terry Moore steps in for issues #47-49. The first two parts are out now, and he's doing an excellent job maintaining the feel and style of the series. There are plenty of action beats, and a good relationship between Oracle and Black Canary. The banter and camaraderie are all there, with a deft touch provided by Amanda Conner's art (as inked by Jimmy Palmiotti). It is far more cartoonish than the series has ever looked, and is only helped to look that way by the oversized lettering by Albert T. De Guzman. Since he's the usual letterer on the series, I wonder if Conner used a smaller size paper in drawing the issue, making De Guzman's letters look larger than usual.
And just for you purists: Conner incorporates Black Canary's fishnets into her uniform. I hope you're happy. ;-)
The storyline has Barbara Gordon temporarily cured of her paralysis -- but at what price? It's easily debated whether or not Barbara would take to the cure this easily or quickly. I'm of the opinion that she'd have been much more hesitant towards relying on it and taking advantage of it. Moore, judging by the storyline, would disagree. That nagging part of me thinks he's forcing the plot with it, but the second issue ends on such a good cliffhanger that I'll reserve final judgment until I read the third part.
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 that's soon going away.