PIPELINE KILLS BILL
Just like Quentin Tarantino's forthcoming movie, this edition of Pipeline went through a first draft that was entirely too long. Rather than rushing through the proofreading, I'm going to split it up into two parts. The second part of this column will see virtual print on Friday, where Pipeline2 used to reside.While you're at it, keep an eye out next Friday for the monthly Pipeline Previews column, where I'll be looking at November-shipping products.
I've read so many X-MEN comics at this point that it often feels like there's nothing new there. Once in a while, you'll come across a new creator or direction that's exciting, but eventually it all seems to coalesce into the same iteration of Magneto/Sentinels/Savage Land that we've all seen before. Morrison's highly touted run began with the Sentinels followed by Magneto. Millar's ULTIMATE X-MEN had all three in its first issue. It's almost a running gag. Blame it on Neal Adams or Chris Claremont.
There are enough X-Men characters, though, that any gifted writer should be able to put together a unique combination to explore various character relationships, power combinations, and quirks. At this point, I read an X-Men book looking for the character moments. I've seen all the big fights and all the clever combinations of powers that I really need to see. I don't think Claremont exhausted them all, by any means, but I've had that style of comic and I'm done with it. I want something more.
Chuck Austen's UNCANNY X-MEN provides something different. The super-powered fights happen as an afterthought in the background. The second collected volume of Austen's work, titled DOMINANT SPECIES, leans heavily on the soap opera nature of the series. Austen focuses more on the relationships between the characters than he does the overall story arc of corporate power and responsibility. When the two meet, the plot arc is there to balance and complement the character arcs. In fact, I'd like to see him go all the way with this and write the book like a straight-up soap opera, a la NOBLE CAUSES.
While it's an approach I strongly favor right now, it has one speed bump. With so many characters floating through the book, Austen has to give each character their moment in the spotlight. Often, this leads to moments being too abrupt or conclusions being reached far too easily. It's more than just the reader being used to decompressed storytelling. Big character moments don't need to take place on three pages. They can happen in a single panel. But Austen's work sometimes suffers for trying to pack so much stuff in, and taking verbal shortcuts to get there.
At the center of everything Austen does in this series is Annie, the nurse who kept a comatose Havok company and followed him to the X Mansion. While she suffers from the Claremontian cliché of being the mutant-hater whose closest relative is a mutant, she's also an admirable character for her loyalty and level-headedness in a house filled with craziness. The high point of the tension in the book is when Polaris returns to see her man, Havok. Thus, a very odd love triangle is formed. Annie's not letting him go so easily, but there's nothing she can do against a mistress of magnetism who is a little off her rocker.
Austen also toys with the much beloved characters. Everyone has their favorite X-Men character, and often feel protective of them. These characters have been around, in most cases, for decades. There's a bit of an ownership felt by the fans, who usually stick around much longer than a single creator does. Making even the tiniest little change can really screw with some people. Angel, in this book, suddenly develops a mutant healing factor. I could hear the Fanboy screams from here when I read that. I also remember the outrage expressed by those who were upset with Paige Guthrie's new outfit on a cover of one of the issues. The ultimate irony is that she barely appears in that outfit for a page in the comic.
Kia Asamiya is the artist for the entirety of the book, which is something of an oddity on the Big Two X-Men books these days. He lasted five issues straight, and thus deserves an award. Asamiya mixes his natural Japanese style of art with a the American superhero feel nicely. It stays loose and free, keeping that initial energy that so often gets lost by an artist in the time it takes to finish tweaking the art. The style gets a bit looser as the book goes on, and I wonder if that's not a result of deadline pressures sneaking up as the book went along. The first issue looks a lot tighter than the last one. And aside from characters losing an eye in the three-quarters head shots, I didn't have any problem with the stylistic choices that Asamiya made for the book. It looks great, with a nice coloring job by JD Smith.
UNCANNY X-MEN trades are something worth looking into, then, if you're more interested in the character relationships and personal dynamics than the Big Villain of the Month plots. You'll get both, but the book's strength clearly lies in the former. Rotating creative teams make artistic tastes a bit of a crapshoot, but I think manga fans won't be disappointed in this volume, and die-hard X-Men fans will buy it, anyway.
IN THE PIPELINE FOR THIS WEEK
The Warren Ellis-penned PLANETARY starts up again this week, with another gorgeous issue drawn by John Cassaday and colored by Laura Martin. This one has a bit of kung fun/karate/CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON to it. The first half of the book is a lushly illustrated fight scene in the style of Asian cinema. The second half ties it into the overall mythology of the series so far. The trick is in remembering the mythology. I'd suggest reading the first collection of the series before picking back up here. You'll understand the story that much better for it.
Also due out this week is the latest installment of NOBLE CAUSES, this time titled DISTANT RELATIVES. It's relatively new reader friendly, as the main story gives us an update on the goings-on at House Noble as seen through Liz's eyes. The conceit is that she's having lunch with her sister and updating her on the family happenings. But it works so well because Jay Faerber does more than just give us large chunks of exposition and repetition of everything we already know. It segues into other scenes to show us what's going on. The transitions are seamless, and the whole 15 pages goes by far too quickly. I want to know more now. That's always been my problem with the series, and that's probably to Faerber's credit. He's created an interesting dynamic in this book.
The art on the main story is from Ian Richardson and Andres Ponce, who do great jobs on artwork that's reprinted in black and white. Greyscales are by Ken Wolak (with Dawn Groszewaki) and are kept light and purposeful. There's no high tech trickery here, but good solid use of the greys to differentiate foregrounds from backgrounds, and add texture and contours to characters.
The backup story has a bigger problem with the greytones. I thought, at first, that it was printed in black and white from a color copy, but it wasn't. The greytones by Sebastien Lamirand are too dark for the story. While it doesn't make the art unreadable, it does affect its legibility. It would be nice for things to pop off the page a little more, but the uniformly dark toning doesn't allow that to happen. Artists Andie Tong and Lebeau Underwood don't have the more open style that I saw in the first half of the book. I'm sure that influenced the choice of grey tones, but I still think it could have worked better. The story, itself, is a great look back at an earlier adventure for Race, Krennick, and Rusty. As always, it ties into events mentioned in the lead story.
While it's unfortunate that low sales meant the book had to printed in black and white for $2.95, it doesn't ruin my enjoyment of the stories. Faerber has something going here with his all-out soap opera superhero series. Chuck Austen might do well to push UNCANNY X-MEN even further in this direction.For more on the series, check out Arune Singh's interview with its creator right here.
IN THE PIPELINE FROM IN RECENT WEEKS
B.P.R.D. DARK WATERS is the latest in the series of one-shots with rotating creative teams handling Mike Mignola's paranormal team of investigators. This time, Abe Sapien takes the lead as three members of the B.P.R.D. head off to New England to handle a case that has similarities to the Salem Witch Trials. Brian Augustyn works the story, giving us a horror tale that's both mysterious and scary.
Guy Davis handles art duties, which is what attracted me to this issue in the first place. Along with colors by the incomparable Dave Stewart and letters from Michelle Madsen, Davis defines the look of the issue with a strong attention to detail most evident in the early establishing scenes. Davis is a man who's not afraid to draw backgrounds. He uses them to create extra depth in the panel and not just fill the negative space around characters. In this case, he has a quaint fictional New England town to realize for us, and it's very easy to put yourself inside what he's created, even with the slightly weird town residents.
This one shot story is easily accessible to everyone, even if they're not a die-hard HELLBOY fan already. It's an engaging story that's easy to read and nice to look at. What more do you want from a comic?
OUTSIDERS #3 is another strong outing for Judd Winick's new series. As with the first two issues, Winick concentrates on bringing out humor and drama from the characters and their interactions more than the outside influence of a city filled with apes. Even though I didn't know half of the characters on the team going into this series, I'm hooked on them all from the way Winick has handled them. While not exactly Giffen-level hilarity, Winick's sense of humor comes through very strongly on the series. Yes, the plot is absurd, and Winick isn't afraid to acknowledge it, perhaps to take some of the sting away from it. Take Arsenal's quip, "You assume that logic plays into the scenario of 'talking apes attacking a major city.'"
Tom Raney's art has never been a favorite of mine, though it worked for what was needed on STORMWATCH back in the day. It is, however, much stronger here than what I remembered there. Whether this is due to his growth as an artist over the years or just a more colorful story and characters, I don't know. I also don't care. It's a lot of fun to see.OUTSIDERS is a superhero comics for superhero fans, but also a serious DC Universe Who's Who with a nice light-hearted touch.
COMIC BOOK IDOL
This is your chance to help create the next comics superstar. OK, this is your chance to at least help one or two decent artists get some top-notch exposure. This is the time of the week that the madness of J. Torres' creation really kicks in. The QUEEN AND COUNTRY-themed assignments have been posted on the message board; the commentary thread is all a'buzzing. It's time to consider your choices, because the voting begins tomorrow! (It does, that is, if you're reading this on Tuesday.)
The results of the contest have been exciting so far. New faces are showing up all the time. The message boards have never been this busy. Lots of people are participating, even submitting their own entries on the Never Ending Board. The buzz is getting out there. And, above all, it's a lot of fun and a chance to discover tomorrow's new talent today.
Be sure to check out J's "Open Your Mouth" column every Thursday for results and the next assignments. Then join in the fun. Your vote counts in a major way on this one.
Pipeline returns on Friday with a look at two new trade paperbacks written by Robert Kirkman. There's also a flashback to a Marvel crossover from the beginning of the year that I finally got around to reading this week, and miscellaneous other reviews.
Various and Sundry continues with thoughts on PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, BIG BROTHER 4, THE AMAZING RACE, what's wrong with videogames, SHANGHAI KNIGHTS, JUST SHOOT ME, National Slacker Day 2003, and more. It was a very busy week, indeed.
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.