PIPELINE AT 300This column marks the 300th consecutive week of Pipeline Commentary and Review. I'm not sure what more there is to say than that. After awhile, the realization that it's "another anniversary" starts to dull one's senses. It'd be tough topping last year's fifth anniversary spectacular, anyway.
I should thank a few people, though, who helped get Pipeline here. Thanks firstly to Jonah Weiland for giving me this platform in front of a much broader audience than the column ever had on its own rinky-dink website and on USENET. Thanks to Beau Yarbrough for recommending me to Jonah.
Thanks to the USENETters who supported and read the column at the beginning. I wouldn't have made it through that first column, let along those first two years, without you.
Thanks to all the creators and companies who've been so kind in these past 4 years at conventions and through e-mail. That goes doubly so for those who showed such support in the first two years.
Thanks, most of all, to all of you out there reading this right now. Your numbers have grown over the nearly four years I've been with CBR, so it would appear that some of you have told your friends about this column over the course of time. And you've stuck with it for just as long. Thanks a million times over for that.
Rather than have some big giveaway or look back in honor of this occasion, I'm just going to write up some reviews. The theme this week is trade paperbacks. We're all buying them more than ever. I've dropped at least a half dozen titles this year to pick up later in trade format, for starters. These reviews are becoming more important all the time.
THE HUNT FOR ORACLENear the end of his run at DC Comics, Chuck Dixon was writing three Bat-related titles in ROBIN, NIGHTWING (a.k.a. Robin Sr.), and BIRDS OF PREY. While they stood well on their own, they also had limited ties. None of those ties were stronger than the relationship between Dick Grayson (Nightwing) and Barbara Gordon (Oracle, BIRDS OF PREY). So when the time came to cross two of those titles together, what did Dixon do? "The Hunt For Oracle." In one four issue crossover storyline, he threw Oracle into the deep end of the pool and brought all the characters together to help. It's not that she's ever been a helpless character, but that some things are bigger than any one person. With an air of desperation and a feeling of importance about it, the storyline zipped along in one breathless adventure that's sure to please the fans.
It's the most heroic of the stories told in NIGHTWING and BIRDS OF PREY as they crossed over, involving self-sacrifice, romance, action, and adventure. Being a Dixon storyline, there's not much breathing room. Dixon's dialogue pushes the action along every step of the way, without ever forgetting who the characters are and what their natural reactions to the situations they're in would dictate. It's a high-octane summer blockbuster spectacular -- including sinking ships, blown-up cars, and firefights -- but with heart and brain still left intact.
Regular fans of the titles will recognize elements dropped in from on-going subplots that might be lost on the more casual fan, but none of them interrupt the story. They're little question marks for new readers to discover answers to in the form of the other trades collecting the two series. (Hopefully, DC won't stop producing BIRDS OF PREY trades now that the television series has tanked.)
To top it off, it's drawn by two of the best artists in comics today, Greg Land and Butch Guice. Yes, you could think of this trade as being the precursor to CrossGen: Generation Two. Patrick Zircher does some fill-in work on the issues leading up to the storyline that are also included in the trade, but at the rate CrossGen is going they'll probably buy him up fairly soon.
Guice's art has never looked better to me than it did during his run on BIRDS OF PREY, where he inked himself. His often dirty line added texture to all the beautiful people and exotic landscapes he was called on to illustrate. Land's smooth line, in the meantime, was a bit of an odd match for NIGHTWING, but he made it work with some help from Dixon, who quickly adapted the scripts to Land's style. Both styles work well in this story.
The trade starts off with the four issues of NIGHTWING leading into the adventures, then includes two issues of that series and two from BIRDS OF PREY. It's a 192 trade paperback collecting eight issues. For $14.95, you couldn't ask for much better.
ONE SMART KIDZACHARY HOLMES: CASE ONE: THE MONSTER is a mish-mash of influences and homages that comes together fairly well. Its execution makes for a fun light read, but there's one lingering question left at the end of it. Is it appropriate for children?
This original graphic novel was originally published in hardcover album format by Dark Horse's Venture line at the end of 2001. In it, Zachary Holmes is the substitute for Sherlock Holmes. He's a young boy with a knack for solving mysteries. Watson is his pet mouse, who sits perched on his shoulder and speaks only in squeaks for Holmes to translate. Their case is that of Frankenstein's monster, who is accused of violent crimes, but turns out to resemble something closer to The Iron Giant of flesh and bone.
The storyline is simple, but has enough quirky elements and cute moments in it to make it a worthwhile read. Bobillo's art looks like something out of a modern Disney cartoon. All of the black lines, save the eyeballs and occasional foreground bits, are colored out. The book has a wonderfully subdued look to it, with all the images pushed back onto the page a bit because of this. Bobillo also shows some versatility with paintings on both the front and back covers. They're striking images that invite the reader in.
While the book feels like a natural for some sort of animated special, there are a couple of curse words sprinkled into the book that would put me off from recommending it to a child. If it's the kind of book you would be reading to a child, though, you can gloss over those and have a good time.
The story itself is a thin 46 pages, but anything longer than that would felt like a stretch. You'll have to decide for yourself is the $15 price tag is too high for such a package.
One last thought: Sherlock Holmes is growing in popularity again, isn't he? Besides the likes of this book and CrossGen's RUSE, I ran across a Sherlock Holmes Of The Future cartoon on FOX this weekend, and reports are coming in now of another Sherlock Holmes movie or two being worked on in Hollywood. (One has the "sexy Dr. Watson" as a sidekick. Ugh) Do yourself a favor and pick up a book collecting some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories about the manic detective. You'll be introduced to a completely different kind of detective than you thought you knew, and you'll find yourself absorbed in the elegant British prose.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS AT ONIIn QUEEN AND COUNTRY, OPERATION: CRYSTAL BALL, Tara Chace and her two fellow minders are tracking down a terrorist's stash of sarin gas before they can use it at an unspecified location. As is the usual for Q&C, the story is as much about the international politics of the situation as it is the spy games, espionage, and action sequences. Don't worry -- you'll get those, too. But you'll be glued to the page to see how internal politics clash with the international politics, and how personal feelings can foul up the situation along the way. Greg Rucka's stories in this series never fail to capture the imagination in an intelligent way. There's such a complex web of relationships going on here, but it never overwhelms the story, and it's never difficult to keep track of. Rucka knows how to balance out the trickery with the information and keep the reader up to speed as he goes along. I have to think that's a skill best learned in writing novels, where you have to string along a reader for 300 pages. You need a more complex plot to do that, but you risk losing a reader who doesn't read the book in less than two sittings.
Yes, this is the storyline in which Tara Chace has ample bosoms perched atop a waspish waist on a tiny torso that threatens to snap like a spent twig at the next gust of wind. To get past this, all you need to do is the same thing you'd do in real life should you meet a woman as similarly proportioned as Leandro Fernandez's Tara Chace. Keep looking at her face. Don't get caught stealing glances down. Look at her face and all will be well. Ignore the scene where she's involved in a raid on a building while wearing a mesh top when she should clearly be wearing something closer to a Kevlar jacket protecting a bullet-proof vest.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, don't complain about it. Yes, it might take a few panels to get used to, but once you're there you have no right to complain. The letters columns of QUEEN AND COUNTRY were filled with this topic for months. It's spent and it's over, and I just rang the last bloody drop of juice from it. Move on.
Marvel, instead, at Fernandez's storytelling and sense of caricature. Crocker's chin is as large as Chace's right breast, but nobody complained. Notice how many scenes were talking heads in offices. I bet you didn't notice it the first time around? That's because Fernandez told the story well, making it visually interesting and keeping the story front and center, to the point where you never had a problem following a conversation, thinking a balloon tail might be pointed in the wrong direction, or wondering which of the five off-panel characters spoke at a given moment. Fernandez is better than that.
Picture Eduardo Risso's sense of page design and balance of black and white areas, with Humberto Ramos' or Carlos Meglia's facial cartooniness. That's Leandro Fernandez' art style. It's a bit disarming at first, but you'll adapt to it fairly quickly and only notice it in one or two stray panels after that.
This hardcover collects issues #8-12 of the series, complete with a cover gallery, some Fernandez layout pages, and sketchbook material. Final price is $30 for the simple red cover with inlaid lettering for the title. There is also a trade paperback available collecting all the same stuff for a few bucks less. I usually prefer hardcovers with dust jackets, but for some reason this style really fits the series. It's like your reading dossiers for each storyline. And, yes, Oni is thoughtful enough to put the volume number on the bottom of the spine.
Of all the books Rucka is writing currently, this is the best. It utilizes his flair for real world technical details and politics. Not since WHITEOUT has Rucka written so much to his strengths
BOUNCERI'm not sure if my tolerance level for such things has expanded, or if my mind has gotten progressively sicker from continued exposure to today's mass media. There was a time I'd have avoided horror altogether, and skipped over anything that was excessively violent or bloody. Nowadays, I don't blink at a Chow Yun Fat movie imported from Hong Kong. 24's constant torture scenes cause evil giggles. I root on Vic Mackey during episodes of THE SHIELD when he burns the bad guys' faces or drags them through barbed wire fences.
And I was equally surprised by how early I called the big twist ending for the two-volume BOUNCER series from Humanoids Publishing. I saw it from the first page on which the plotline was introduced. Where was the diamond hidden? I can't be the only one who guessed it right away, can I? Or has mass media driven me to this sickening ability to guess these things?
We'll get back to that in a second. The thing that most impressed me about BOUNCER: CAIN'S EYE and BOUNCER: THE EXECUTIONERS' MERCY is the art. There are different types of art in the comics world. If you tend to read mostly super-hero comics, the so-called "mainstream" comics, and the edgy independent stuff, you're really only seeing one kind. For the most part, they're very iconic. They're cartoony representations of real life, often drawn on a budgeted time frame. That time frame almost mandates the shortcuts those artists take. I'm not saying that they're inferior artists or that their motives aren't pure. It's the way comics are done, and it's the way they look, for the most part. They're just as entertaining as any other media, in my opinion, and I enjoy reading them every month.
Every now and then, though, it's good to try something different to cleanse the palate. I don't mean this to sound like an admonishment, or that I'm about to preach about the second-coming of comic art's Savior. No, this is a review of a pair of Humanoids Publishing albums under the BOUNCER title. The art is by Francois Boucq, and what he creates is an engaging and realistic looking piece of western storytelling.
His sense of storytelling and dimension is like very few things I see in reading X-MEN or SPIDER-MAN every month. His characters look like natural human beings, driving average horse and buggies through dusty and dirty towns. There's no attempt to glorify any of it. It just looks the way I can imagine the Old West looking in my head, and not some movie adaptation of it.
As the book is a western, Boucq draws a lot of broad landscapes, but he makes them look even more expansive and detailed with his choices of angle and his ability to draw it all, without leaving anything out or taking shortcuts. Add in the fine painted color by Nicolas Fructus, and you have a very realistic portrayal of everything from human anatomy to animals to the great outdoors. At the same time, his art has a distinctive style and his faces are slightly cartoony, like something you might recognize from Frank Quitely's pen.
This isn't to overlook Alexandro Jodorowsky's story, which is how I started this meandering and rambling review. This is a western set in post-Civil War America. It's a tale of three brothers separated by their own internal feud and landing in three different places. Eventually, the cause of that separation brings them all back together again, and a fourth character, Seth, is taken for the ride to act as the reader's eyes and ears. This is as much a revenge story for Seth as much as it is an explanation for the cause of the brothers' separation.
My only problem with the story as a whole is that Seth's big romantic moment in the second album is far too rushed. I never believe it. He goes from being self-reliant and driven by his revenge quest to being head-over-heels in love at first site. Events occur far too quickly after that to facilitate the affair. It's a necessary romance to explain the character's motivations to get us to the end of the story, but it's almost cheating. Jodorowsky winks at us and asks us to believe this one plot bit so he can finish the story before the end of the album. If you can buy it, though, the rest of the storyline comes easily.
The story is very much a mature readers tale, with plenty of violence, language, and sex to be had. The mother runs a brothel, and there are a rape scenes with almost alarming regularity. They're not grotesque and, all things considered, are fairly muted, but they are there. These aren't books for the little ones. This is a different kind of western.
One final thing that they did do right with these books: They switched from the mechanical Whizbang lettering of the first album to a more natural looking computer font in the second book. A lot of companies would have preferred to keep the look similar across both volumes and stuck with the far inferior design. Thankfully, Humanoids didn't. (Of course, with the number of people who tell me they don't notice lettering at all, this shouldn't even be an issue.)
BOUNCER is a beautifully drawn western that takes advantage of the oversized format to bring the reader into its world. The story has its harsh moments, but is enjoyable on its own merits from start to finish. It's printed in two hardcover albums from Humanoids Publishing. It isn't recommended to read one volume without the other. They should be read together. At $16 each, I think they're worth the price. The large format helps to show off Boucq's art in a way that no American publisher could hope to achieve.
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.