BY WAY OF AN INTRODUCTION. . .
Deep in the bowels of CBR World Headquarters, we scurry to make preparations for five days of convention mayhem. It's the week leading up to San Diego, and we're getting all our ducks in a row. E-mail flies like mosquitoes in Florida. Cell phone numbers are exchanged, hotel reservations are confirmed, rides to the airport triple-checked, money withdrawn from the home ATM, and programming schedules cross-referenced.
And you people want a column out of me, too?
OK, here you go. And be sure to stick around for the end of the column, where I'll lay out Pipeline's plans for the convention weekend and beyond.
QUICK THOUGHTS ON RECENT BOOKS
I saw the first few pages of SUPREME POWER in the latest WIZARD. Am I the only one having flashbacks to the opening of RISING STARS?
Alan Moore's ANOTHER SUBURBAN ROMANCE has very pretty art.
WILDCATS Volume 3 #9 is one of the best takes on the "how to train a superhero" type of story that I've ever read. Joe Casey turns it all on its ear. Remember all those hideously "cool" things superheroes did in the early 90s that made no sense? Casey makes sense out of them here. It's not on the same level as Alan Moore's explanation in JUDGMENT DAY, but it's still a lot of fun.
I've been told that the final printing job on Oni's MARIA'S WEDDING OGN looks better than the photocopies I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Don't let my initial impressions on that turn you off from the book. Flip through it to see for yourself, first.
Is anyone else disturbed that Vertigo's current run of ads seems so desperate to capture the WIZARD-reading audience? All of them feature a slate of quotes in praise of their titles, but the first one in each case is also the only one to feature a logo of the quote's point of origin, rather than just a type-set reference. That's WIZARD. The magazine is notorious for its main demographic of immature teenage boys. Is that who they want reading Y: THE LAST MAN and FABLES and HELLBLAZER? Weird.
On the other hand, the brilliant movie marketing minds did market HULK to little kids while it got slapped with a PG-13 rating.
FANTASTIC FOUR #500 is a satisfying conclusion to the storyline, complete with another "change the status quo" moment that long-time F4 readers should be used to by now. It seems that every writer who takes over the book makes a big change to the family in same way. Claremont adds a new child. Byrne adds She-Hulk. DeFalco turns Invisible Woman into Psycho Poster Child for Early 90s Comics. Waid now does something on the last page which I'm sure will be overturned by the next writer on the series, unless Waid hits the reset button first. Wieringo's art looks great in this issue, with some panels reminding me strongly of Art Adams' style, particularly in the handling of the shadows and fine line work.
People have claimed that Peter David ripped off BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER with elements of SUPERGIRL. Simple chronological checks disproved those claims quickly to those who cared to listen. But with FALLEN ANGEL, he sure looks likely to best approximate the style and tone of the TV series for a comic book. From the humorous jabs to the genre elements and over-the-top name for the town, it's all there. (OK, Bludhaven still gets the award for silliest town name in the history of comics, but I've gotten used to it by now.) The first issue does the job of telling a complete story, but also introduces us to many characters in the supporting staff who will be rounded out in the future, I'm sure. I'm going to give it a chance.
Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos pick up right where they left off with THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1. If you liked their last collaboration, you'll probably like this one. If not, skip it. It's a far different book from Jenkins' collaboration with Mark Buckingham, which I thought was some of the strongest character work for the Spider-Man family in years. While Jenkins still infuses the story with thoughtful characterization, this comic leans more toward the usual superhero comic book style.
Marvel's best-looking book continues to be DOMINO, now up to the third of its four issues. Brian Stelfreeze handles everything but the lettering on the visual side of the comic, and it's magnificent stuff. The only weakness so far is that the story has done very little to change my ennui for the character.
Two magazine recommendations: DRAW #6 has a great interview with Celia Calle, whose work graced the covers of Marvel's MEKANIX mini-series. Those of you looking for tips on coloring in Photoshop might want to take a look at this. Calle describes her own style in detail, with plenty of full-color screen grabs to illustrate it.
Also, the final TwoMorrows edition of COMIC BOOK ARTIST (#25) features a lengthy interview with Alan Moore. On the flip side is a 20 page Kevin Nowlan interview that looks paltry by comparison. Todd Klein contributes a piece on lettering and design in the ABC universe, while Scott Dunbier, Chris Sprouse, Kevin O'Neill, and J.H. Williams III also have short interviews. Impressive issue, and well worth the $7.
NINJA BOY: FADED DREAMS
Ale Garza's NINJA BOY was a series from WildStorm's Pacific Rim lineup of comics, meant to evoke Asian comics in the post-CROUCHING TIGER world, but just yet before manga came to dominate the bookstore shelves. It only lasted six issues before it ended, but the whole shebang has been collected in a single trade paperback titled "Faded Dreams." It's a very energetic book with a great look to it that's let down only by the ending.
Nakio is the youngest of three brothers, training with them at the feet of their esteemed grandfather, the grand master. On his first mission alone as a ninja, things get complicated and Nakio is left alone to exact revenge for the horrible wrong that's happened to him to and his family. The book becomes a tale of revenge by a half-pint who's not nearly as good as his adversary. It's a lost cause, but he fights well. The odd thing about the book is that he doesn't really fight at all until the fifth issue, but the story flows so freely that you're carried along from page to page without realizing it.
Writer Allen Warner doesn't overload the pages with dialogue or exposition, and the series maintains a pleasant sense of humor even in its most violent moments near the end. Nakio's sidekick is a creature named Sake, who drinks heavily. (Get it? "Sake"? Drinker? Not terribly subtle, but clearly descriptive.) The humor gets fairly broad and needlessly over-the-top at one point where the pair stumbles upon a small enclave of hip hop creatures. Otherwise, it keeps the story from being all death and dismemberment.
Garza emulates the feel of J. Scott Campbell's art in this book. It's not that he's a clone of that style, but he carries over the flair and the storytelling abilities of Campbell. He does for ninja stories what Campbell did for spy stories in DANGER GIRL. It's a surprisingly energetic book. Characters dance across the pages as animated as any I've seen in recent years by the more mainstream artists who don't come from animation backgrounds. While his art does have its stylistic choices that not all will agree with -- those high and small calves, for starters -- it doesn't become an issue in reading the book. You're not going to wonder if Garza's ever seen an anatomy book so much as you'll enjoy his style.
Garza doesn't tire out over the course of the six issues this book collects, either. You often see in books like this that the artist lavishes all his time on the first issue before getting caught up in deadline crunches. That's when he starts to take shortcuts. Backgrounds drop out. More extreme close-up panels appear. These days, pages even get shot directly from pencils and skip the inking stage. Garza doesn't have any of those problems at all. As the book progresses through different locations, Garza draws the new surroundings with flair at every beat. He has large forests, gangs of monkeys, crowds of people, and massive fight scenes. It's impressive at every turn.
One other thing this book does well is the use of the blur technique. At the coloring stage in Photoshop, you can make backgrounds look a bit blurred out, enhancing the sense of depth on the page. When the background is just a bit out of focus, the foreground pops out at you. It's been done a lot in comics in the years since computers came to be used for coloring them, but never as well as I saw in this book. It doesn't look like one of those tricks done by a colorist who just figured out how to do it. It serves a storytelling purpose, and is done sparingly.
The big problem with the book is the ending. It feels anti-climactic and renders much of the book moot. The entire series leads up to a grand finale showdown that, sadly, doesn't give the reader at all what he or she wants. It's not a surprise, but a disappointment. Part of this may be because the creators had intended this to merely be the first arc of an on-going series before sales killed that idea. As a complete series now, though, it seems woefully lacking with its ending. It's a shame, but it doesn't nullify the good that the first 125+ pages do.
NINJA BOY: FADED DREAMS is a rip-roaring read, packed with action, excitement, and imagination. It's available now as a trade paperback through WildStorm/DC for $15.
The first four trade paperbacks from Raijin Comics' serials are now available on store shelves. FIRST PRESIDENT OF JAPAN, SLAM DUNK, CITY HUNTER, and FIST OF THE BLUE SKY can now be read from the beginning for $10 per trade. While I looked at some preview samples I had on hand a couple of months ago, I wanted to review one of these books now from the beginning. Unlike the previews, I have the whole trade on hand here to review now.
I think reading LUPIN III has numbed me to some of the bigger character weaknesses of the lead in CITY HUNTER. One of my earliest problems with the serial was that the protagonist, Saebo Ryo, was a complete letch. His actions towards every woman in the series were not quite up to those of "modern enlightened man." I'm not joining the National Organization for Woman anytime soon, but even I thought some of the bits were uncomfortable. Could the series overcome that initial reaction to become something greater?
Saebo is a professional killer with superior weapons skills, but it's hard to like a guy who groped everyone that had breasts and was breathing. Re-reading the earliest chapters now in the first CITY HUNTER trade paperback, it doesn't bother me so much. It might be that I've become used to it. But I think it has more to do with acclimating myself to the tone of the book. Some of the more comedic elements remind me of Monkey Punch's LUPIN III, the lecherous thief and con man. That's one's played completely for laughs, though, so it doesn't bother me so much that the lead character has those predelictions. CITY HUNTER is far more serious.
Ryo is a mercenary who will kill if the price is right. With the aid of his assistant (think Microchip to Punisher), he tackles cases that amuse him or that are personal to him. Mostly, he likes those cases that involve thin 20-something women with long curly hair and perky chests. In fact, they all look alike after the first couple of stories, which originally hindered my reading of them. Now that I know that it isn't always the same woman in different stories, I know not to look for the connections between the woman he's sleeping with in story A and the one he wakes up with in story B.
There's more to these stories than just the women, though. I hate to harp on it, because there's plenty in this trade paperback to recommend it. Ryo is shown as both an expert marksman and an independent thinker. He can be completely unpredictable. His loyalty to his friends and their family is strong, and his attitude toward the job is realistic and smart. He doesn't get emotional; He gets even.
Hojo Tsukasa's art is not of the big-eyed manga style. It's a blend of cartoony and "realistic," but I like it for its use of grey tones, dot patterns, and its overall retro 80s feel.
The translations make the story easy to follow, keeping new readers clued in to characters' names and important locations. For a westerner, it can be difficult to keep track of all the different Japanese names and customs, particularly when they show up in multiple manga. I know my eyes tend to roll over words without reading them when they're in the original tongue. It's something I've had to teach myself to be more cognizant of.
I did a quick flip back to the original printing of the first story in the volume. The lettering has been redone, at a smaller yet readable size. The minor rewrites on the dialogue work much better. Some of the dialogue sounds more natural now and less "translated," while the minor variations make the story slightly easier to follow.
CITY HUNTER gets serious in the second half as the fight gets personal, but is otherwise a fairly fun and adventurous romp through the seedier section of Tokyo. For only $10, it's a great package for the story. It doesn't end in a cliffhanger, so it won't tease you for volume two, which should be out in a couple of months already. It does, however, lead the way to the next phase of the story. I'm looking forward to it.
Like I said at the top, Team CBR will be present in full force at the convention in San Diego this week. Along with that come all the daily updates. Look for special Pipeline editions on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I'll be wandering the floor, talking to whoever I can find, giving quick reports on panels I attended, and more. Pictures from the con will have to wait until after it's all over.
Next Tuesday's column is already in the can, since I'll be flying home when I would normally be writing it. It will be the 2003 Pipeline Index. If you missed any reviews of comics that I've done so far this year, I'll give you a link to it there.
Diamond will most likely mock me the week after that and put out a PREVIEWS, just to squeeze an additional column out of me in August, as I head off to Chicago for WizardWorld.
Various and Sundry is chugging right along and will be magically updated by me while I'm away in San Diego. Don't ask how -- it's magic and smart programming. For now, you can see what went up there last week, including a review of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, Britney Spears Quote of the Day, early thoughts on Big Brother 4, and much more.
Somewhere around 500 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.