THE MOVIE HOLLYWOOD NEVER MADE
Avatar releases the first issue of its adaptation of Frank Miller's ROBOCOP 2 movie script to stores this week. Retitled FRANK MILLER'S ROBOCOP, CBR's own Steven Grant adapts the script to comics form, with insanely detailed art from Juan Jose Ryp. The first issue provides the visual spectacle that a script like this would call for, complete with the kind of pacing and plotting you might also expect in such a straight adaptation. That has both its good points and bad, as I'll explain here.
I'm not sure how much credit to give to Steven Grant, first of all. He's described the process of writing this issue in his column already. His main job was in focusing the storyline into something the artist can handle while creating a story with a narrative flow that could hopefully work in a comic book. All I can say is that the pacing is on-target (with one exception that I'll handle later) and the book was easy to read. It didn't feel too cluttered. I think one is the product of the other, and so Grant did his job well. Miller's ideas are just as sarcastic and as cynical as you can get, but that all fits into the terrible future that Robocop portends.
The opening riff off the Morton Downey Jr. show feels a bit dated, but the concept of an outrageous talk show host still plays well a decade later. Things haven't gotten much better in that regard in the real world. It's always fun to look at how a story envisioning the future can so accurately predict it. At the very least, the reality has become such that the prediction isn't so shocking anymore.
I should mention at this point that I've never seen any of the ROBOCOP movies or television shows. I know it's about a somewhat futuristic rundown Detroit where there's a robot cop, but that's it. The book had to stand on its own for me. There are enough examples of life in this near-dystopia in the first issue that I easily fell into the environment being created. In other words, I think I know enough about this world already to follow its drama, and don't need to worry about any continuity problems from not seeing the first movie. Credit Miller for writing a movie script without expecting too much from the audience as far as continuity goes.
Juan Jose Ryp's art is undeniably gorgeous, as horrific and bloody as it has to be at times. He puts an insane amount of detail onto every page. He's not afraid of drawing the rubble and the rundown cities in the backgrounds. Some of his lines remind me of Geoff Darrow's art. Like Darrow, Ryp is gifted at drawing cities with complicated and detailed backgrounds.
Ryp's people remain consistent and active throughout the story. Storytelling is mostly not a problem, although there are a couple of exceptions to this. The story starts off with nearly five pages of pseudo-television screen storytelling. This makes storytelling much easier, with a simple three tier grid formation. When it expands past that, his artwork flows across and down the page more fluidly, without a grid. Unfortunately, panel size is sometimes dictated by the space needed to finish off an image, and not what's best for the storytelling. It's not the best way to handle things, but there aren't many storytelling problems because of it.
I think space is more a concern. There's a big cliffhanger on the last page that occurs on the last panel without being properly set-up. I think the issue could have used an extra page to make the moment seem more important and dramatic. As it is, it doesn't seem like Robocop will have a major problem dealing with it, but it serves the purpose to entice readers to come back for more.
Ryp also has a thing for hiding Simpsons characters in his artwork. They tend to be colored blue to prevent lawsuits, but there are a couple here in the first issue.
Colors are by a group calling itself Nimbus Studios. They had a massive project with this series. Ryp's art has so much going on in it that the coloring duties had to be a nightmare. While I would have liked to see more consistent tonal colors being used, Nimbus does an excellent job in keeping the artwork legible and adding depth in a couple of spots. I know there will be crazier stunts and action sequences coming up in this script. Budget difficulties is one of the reasons the movie never got made. I can't wait to see what Nimbus does with those louder pages as they progress through the series.
There are two shortcomings of the book. The first is a hazard of formatting. This script is being translated directly from a movie script. The first issue contains 22 pages of art, and that probably covers the first five to ten minutes of the movie. That's the time the movie would use to introduce you to the new world and perhaps highlight its main character. You're not going to get the major turning point fast enough to run it in the first issue. It's a nicely-scripted action sequence that carries the second half of this first issue, but it's not meant to be the draw of the series. We'll see that somewhere in the next two issues, I would imagine.
The second shortcoming is the lettering. It's competent, but not skilled. I cringed at the balloons that overlapped panels going in a direction other than the one the eye is supposed to be reading in. There are a number of balloons that could have easily fit into the panel by just butting it up against the black border. Some exaggerating lettering is just laid over top of the balloon, rather than worked within in, including the outlines of the balloon around the letters. But the font is fine and the balloons mostly allow the words space to breathe in. Its worst sin is the storytelling flow problem. That's hindered slightly by a lack of advanced knowledge of certain lettering skills.
Ryp's art has a couple of similar storytelling problems. Page 15 is a great example. The panels appear on the page in a way that your natural inclination would be to read the panels backwards on the second tier. This is not helped by a word balloon straddling the two tiers at the end in the wrong place.
Despite these problems, the book is a strong effort. It has attitude and isn't afraid to offend or be sarcastic. This would not have been a "safe" movie and the edge hasn't been taken off it for comics. Avatar had a great idea with this book, and put some fine people in charge of it. If you're at all a fan of the movies, this book is a must have. If you're someone like me who has no opinion on the movies, give this one a try, anyway. It's highly entertaining.
LIGHT AS A. . .
FEATHER #1 should be a big hit. I think it's one of Image's better releases of the year, for several reasons which will no doubt turn off many people who normally read comics. Because of that, FEATHER might have to wait for the trade to find its audience, which is a shame. The book should appeal strongly to the kind of younger and female demographic that drives sales in the bookstores of manga trades. It has a lot in common with that style, without being slavishly imitative.
FEATHER is a fantasy book created completely by Steve Uy. He uses a manga-like art and coloring style in service to his story, a fantasy set on a rural world where dragons exist and humans stay away from them.
The thing that impresses me most is that Uy keeps the cast small and completely likable. This is a fantasy world that should be filled with hatred between humans, half-breeds, and dragons. Uy could have chosen to go the route of a large LORD OF THE RINGS type storyline. Instead, it's a story of friends and family with all the bloodshed and dark history in the far background. It reminds me, in many ways, of the early days of BONE.
None of the characters act like brats. Sehv is the star of the book, perhaps a bit immature, but definitely a dreamer. He lives with his older brother in a carved out tree. Unlike every other comic book cliché, the brother is not overbearing and demeaning. He's the kind of loving and supportive brother you'd wish for, but one who's not afraid to speak his mind on occasion and throw a splash of reality on his younger brother. Sehv's relationship with the young dragon, Leeka, is the focus of the book. Dragons and the half-breeds (who sided with the humans in the war) don't get along. That's why this friendship is a little odd. In addition, at a stage in their lives where emerging hormones are supposed to be complicating things a lot, they're not in this book. Sehv is still blissfully unaware of that, and caught in a form of suspended pre-adolescence. Leeka is growing up a bit faster than he is, it would seem. Sehv dreams of being a Dragon Slayer and of building amazing machines that can fly. He disappears for months at a time, but comes back in one piece. His brother anchors him and Leeka is always there to support him.
As you can tell, it's not a very dramatic book thus far. There are no harsh conflicts that cause people to rant and argue back and forth. I find that refreshing in a day and age where everything is played up for the sake of conflict. Reality TV is so unreal because it is edited to show only the high points of conflict. With FEATHER, creator Steve Uy concentrates on the friendships in the book and takes his time introducing us to their desires and dreams.
I was charmed by Leeka's conversation with her mother, and impressed by her chat with Sehv's brother, who should by all accounts hate her openly. I'm sure this is all setting things up for greater conflict down the road, but for now this is a great way to start a story slow without boring the readers. Uy has formed three perfectly likable characters here that you'll be rooting for for the rest of the book's run.
Uy's art is remarkable. If you remember his earlier Marvel title, EDEN'S TRAIL, you'll know what to expect from this one. It looks much the same, right down to the strong yellow streak of coloring. There's some CGI included in the book that occasionally sticks out a bit too much if you know to look for it, but that shouldn't be a big problem. The overall look to this book is fantastic, providing a strong sense of depth to the world and a cohesive feel to every panel.
THE QUACK DIGEST
Last week, I recommended the new DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES digest-sized trade paperback, but ran out of time and space to talk about why I feel slightly negatively towards it, as a reader of the classic stories. This book feels like it is directly aimed at a younger readership. That's not necessarily a big problem. We want to get these books into the hands of the younger readers. The price point and size seems to indicate that that's who these books are for. The problem is that the material is aimed so far in that direction that it risks turning off the slightly older readers who are holding the Duck tent up. Besides, shouldn't the very best stories appeal to people of all ages at different levels.
There are three stories in the book. The first has Daisy Duck falling for a blindingly gorgeous hunk of television star, and landing a role on his TV show. This drags Donald and the three nephews out to an oil rig where the show is being filled. Did I mention there's a monster loose? And the boys are incessantly going on about their comics and how much this reminds them of one of their comics?
The second story would make for a cute one-page gag with an elephant being scared by a mouse. Instead, the story stretches on for nearly 40 pages, and ends with a juvenile punchline that mirrors one of the problems I had with the first story.
The third story pits Uncle Scrooge against a video game. It's not all together bad, but if you've been weened on Carl Barks stories and the descendants who keep their stories set in the Barks era (such as Don Rosa does), this might jump out at you as being misplaced. In reality, there's nothing wrong with setting a Scrooge story in any time period, but your enjoyment of this story will depend on your own mental version of who and what Uncle Scrooge is. For a younger new reader of the Duck comics, it shouldn't be a problem.
While I might complain that the subject matters handled in the book aren't for my tastes, the differing art styles in the book are definitely welcomed. The cartoonists for this book all do an excellent job in creating attractive and lively pages. It's nice to see some new styles in these books.
The production values are great, too. The paper is a nice white stock that doesn't bleed through. On books like this, you'd expect the paper quality to be sacrificed for a low price point. It's not. The colors appear bright and bold on the page.DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES is an attempt to reach out to the younger readers, and aims itself squarely at that. Let's hope that so narrowly focusing its stories won't result in a book that's impossible to sell to even the die-hards.
I don't know that I've ever played a STREET FIGHTER game. Wasn't ever my thing. I know I never owned a version of it for a gaming station or my computer. I had friends in college who were really into playing Mortal Kombat, though. Does that count? Nah, probably not.
That's why I can come to STREET FIGHTER #0 clean. I don't have any prejudices about who the characters are or how they're supposed to react. It's a rather silly notion, anyway, since the characters act only in ways that game players tell them to via a couple of buttons and a joystick. STREET FIGHTER is, to me, a fight game. The comic, thus, should be a fight comic. Throw in some plot, perhaps, but I'm not looking for Shakespeare or Alan Moore with this book. I'm looking for an entertaining distraction.
Thankfully, that's what this preview issue is. It promises a beautiful-looking fight comic, and it even throws in some characterization and the barest hint of a plot near the end. The comic contains six pages of internal monologue to narrate a mental fight, followed by a three page hook to get you interested in the upcoming series. It worked on me. I'll be hanging around for more.
The story is nothing fancy, but the pictures sure are nice. This book is coming from UDON, so you pretty much know what to expect. The art will have that Japanese feel, and the coloring will have a high glossy sheen to it, complete with every Photoshop trick in the book. It's gorgeous.
I know nothing about STREET FIGHTER, but I was never lost in this comic. The graphics are pretty and the story, while not groundbreaking, is enough to spur interest in the series. I look forward to the upcoming first issue, complete with Joe Madureira-drawn backup story.
THE NEW PACKAGING CLICHE
I'm getting tired of any "bonus material" in a trade or a comic being referred to as "DVD Extras." It's a modern cliché worthy of "widescreen storytelling." The package Marvel has put together for the "Director's Cut Edition" of FANTASTIC FOUR #500 stays true to the cliche. It completely misses the point of a "Director's Cut" of a movie, which usually adds or deletes scenes that the movie management made, complete with a new edit job, possible added soundtrack bits, and more. FANTASTIC FOUR #500 is just an improved packaging of the same story, with sixteen bonus pages of extras. Heck, you still have the advertisements on every right hand page eight out of nine spreads at one point. The story is still broken up by those distracting pages, including one ad for a DVD based on DC characters. What a wacky world this is!
That said, it is a nice book for the five dollars. The pages are glossier. The cover uses the classic F4 logo and has a metallic sheen to it that really does look nice. The extras range from silly to informative to historical. Mark Waid does most of the narration for the first seven pages of extras, which show aborted script pages, character designs, and sketchbook material. Many of the script portions shown are for earlier issues, and not even #500, making the idea of a Director's Cut for the issue an even longer long shot. Mike Wieringo contributes his thoughts (and an older picture of himself with a beard) and plenty of character design materials. There's a page devoted to "process," showing how a book is put together from step to step. You've seen these kinds of articles a million times by now if you've been reading comics longer than a couple of years. You can even giggle when the text describes the pages as being sent to Chris Eliopoulos "to create all of the word balloons, sound effects, and captions," when the credits page clearly lists Rus Wooton as the letterer. The "Outtakes" page is three gag strips, followed by a text page with Stan Lee's original plot for FANTASTIC FOUR #1. The book is rounded out by a two page Fred Hembeck F4 appreciation and three pages showing off all of the covers to the series thus far.
SHORTER COMMENTS AND REVIEWS
Due out this week is POWERS #33, which explains the larger picture behind the previous two issues' worth of shenanigans. You remember that monkey issue a couple of months ago? You'll "get it" now. Not only is Bendis' explanation logical, but Michael Avon Oeming does the best artwork of his career in this issue. This is POWERS meets HIDDEN TIGER, CROUCHING DRAGON, complete with some of the best visual spectacles of the series so far. If you're a POWERS fan, you'll want this one. If you're an ex-fan of POWERS, this one might be worth giving the book a second try for.
Plus, you get two full pages of a letters column devoted to the monkey antics from issue #31.
In ALIAS #25, Brian Bendis lets loose with the shocking events of Jessica Jones' life that turned her from superhero Jewel to disgruntled private eye. It's a rough issue for her, but some of Bendis' best dialogue work and most well thought-out characterization.
My problem with SCURVY DOGS #1 was that the second longer story dragged on a bit too long. When I saw that SCURVY DOGS #2 was one long story, I was a bit worried about it. Thankfully, Ryan Yount and Andrew Boyd manage to keep up the energy and the pacing throughout the entire 22 page story offered in the issue. Your enjoyment of this book will depend entirely on your sense of humor, but I chuckled throughout the book, and had at least one laugh-out-loud moment. That's all I was looking for, so I'm happy with it.
Jeph Loeb nails the big differences between Batman and Superman in the opening few pages of the new SUPERMAN/BATMAN #1. Just as importantly, he keeps up the character-defined pace of the plot throughout the rest of the book, right down to the bickering dialogue between the two. It's an entertaining book, and one well worth picking up. It's already sold out and selling at inflated prices at conventions, but if you missed it you should just be patient. DC will reprint it in one form or another, I'm sure.
John Layman's new mini-series, PUFFED, is another book that had me chuckling through it, as a hapless part time theme park employee gets stuck in an obnoxiously large funny animal costume and deposited in the middle of a tough urban area. Hilarity ensues from his attempt to solicit a prostitute to help him get out of his costume and drama cuts in when he witnesses something I bet he wishes he hadn't. This is the classic case of a Bad Luck Day gone spectacularly awful, and it's a lot of fun for the reader. Artist Dave Crosland's work bears a similar feel to what Jim Mahfood produces, with lots of chunky thick black lines and a self-aware independent feel to the art. Special guest covers by Frank Quitely (issue #1) and John Cassaday (issue #2, due out this week) cap off an entertaining book with great art. Mark this one down as Mature Readers, though.
I spoke to Layman about the series in Chicago this past weekend. He's happy with the great response the book has received so far, and has some stuff lined up for next issue that sounds even funnier. Just remember this now: It ain't over 'til it's over.
EMPIRE #1 is the re-start to Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's mini-series. It's a departure from the first two issues in its story structure, though. The first two had very focused stories with twist endings to drive home the message that this is a world gone mad in which the Bad Guy won. This new #1 issue is much more scattershot. With the main characters already established, Waid spreads things out a bit more without having a definitive conclusion to the issue. Yes, there is a subplot running through the issue that has a conclusion, but for the most part we're just dipping into all of these people's lives to see where things are going from where we last left off. I liked the earlier structure more with its smaller and better defined stories, but I'm willing to give this one a try.
Don't forget to check the Pipeline Archives from this past weekend for updates from the WizardWorld: Chicago comic book convention. I'll be back next week to wrap up anything I left out of those.
Various and Sundry continues with bad news about how spam works, piracy in the arts and crafts arena, LAST COMIC STANDING, Tiger's bad golf day, and my bold new driving plan. All that, 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.