WEEK IN REVIEW
The original plan for this column was to take an advanced look at some of the titles arriving in comic shops this week. Unfortunately, the second snow storm in a week prevented me from getting that done, so you'll have to settle for reviews of things already on the shelves. Perhaps this will give you something else to look for on your next trip to the shop.
The Energizer Rabbit of comics writing, Robert Kirkman, had two books published last week, both from Image Comics.
You know Image Comics, of course, as that company whose critics have been declaring to be in a state of constant implosion for the past 12 years and who say that it won't last another six months as creator after creator defects. Life sure works in mysterious ways, doesn't it? In any case:
The first book is THE WALKING DEAD #3, which is gathering many votes from people for favorite new series of the year. The third introduces us to what the world is like for a group of humans relying on one another in the face of the Zombie Threat. Kirkman creates a believable reality here, as bands of humans are forced to gather together for comfort in numbers. We're introduced to new characters here, and conflicts arise. While Rick is reunited miraculously with his loved ones, more problems face him at the basecamp. It's a great issue in which every page seems to be leading to some new conflict. Only a couple of them come to fruition in this issue, but it gives you something to look forward to.
Tony Moore's art is almost too good for the title. I'm surprised there isn't an offer out to him from Marvel or DC. Perhaps there is, and we just haven't heard about it. Let's hope it isn't too tempting, if it comes. I want to see more of this series before I see him drawing Yet Another Wolverine Mini-Series.
CLOUDFALL #1 is the first in a series of "prestige format" books that tells the story of a tough-as-nails female cop, Allison Andrews, and the hell her life becomes when some strange supernatureal threat rips apart her world. Kirkman's pacing is dead-on, leaving enough room for the art to breath while giving the reader the feeling that something is definitely happening and that the book isn't merely treading water.
Again, Kirkman is paired up with an artist who you'd expect to be a bigger fan favorite than he is thus far. E.J. Su is a remarkable artist, capable of delivering on the kind of talking heads/high velocity stories that Kirkman tells with such ease. How many people today can use the speedlines and duotone as well as Su can? It looks like the practice he had on the TECH JACKET trade paperback is paying off.
This is definitely a mature readers book for violence, language, and an opening sex scene. Some might be disappointed in it for being more of a table setting than a five course meal for $4.95. There's a logical end point to this first story, though, that caps off the first act of the CLOUDFALL saga nicely. It teases at enough things to keep you thinking until the next one.
There is more CLOUDFALL coming in February, in which Allison has to come to terms with what she's learned and where that puts he with the people in her life, such as her husband. I can't wait to see what's going to happen next. I'm hoping the book maintains its more solid grounding and doesn't become too obsessed with the supernatural elements. I like it as a book that considers the human costs of the conflict more than the conflict of Cloudfall, itself. I'm sure we'll see that, too, though.
Mark Millar's WANTED #1 is a fun yet cynical look at the world of supervillains. In it, Millar tells the story of an average schlub whose grandfather – a major supervillain – is killed. He's then recruited against his will to take his grandfather's place. Along the way, we're introduced into an interesting world of corny superhero names attached to more modern aggressive characters with a range of interesting powers. This book is as much about attitude as it is the superpowers and their applications.
J.G. Jones' art is nice to look at, with a few panels that are really well composed. The early action scene is perhaps his best work of the issue. The biggest problem with the book is its attempt to cast Hollywood types into the art. The lead is an Eminem clone, which proves annoying pretty quickly. The lead female is a Halle Berry wannabe, and a few other characters here and there have that photoreferenced look to them.
Paul Mounts does the coloring. Like most Top Cow books, it looks entirely too dark and muddy for the title. This isn't a book that demands a bright color scheme, but the colors here all too often look like they blend together into one mushy whole. You really have to squint your eyes and look hard to see the art on some pages. Since this happens nearly across-the-board at Top Cow, I have to assume it's a post-production issue.
If you like that dry British dialogue laced with an acid tongue, this book should be for you.
ULTIMATE X-MEN #40 is the first story in Brian Bendis' series of single-issue mutant introductions called "The New Mutants." This go-around, we're introduced to Warren Worthington as he rockily enters Professor Xavier's School for the Gifted. Bendis pounds hard on the religious angle of Angel's appearance, but the real show-stopper is the discussion between Angel and Storm about the problems of being a mutant, and the gifts it brings. Ororo even utters the phrase "tough noogies" over the course of that dialogue.
I'm really warming up to David Finch's art on this book. At first, it struck me a bit as too 90s mutant kewl. It was almost a book out of place and time. The Top Cow influence still gripped hard on his art. The more I read of it, though, the more I see a gifted storyteller who can handle the kinds of stories Bendis throws at him on this title, and create layouts that allow for the enormous number of word balloons that each issue requires. It's aided greatly by a bright color scheme from CrossGen's Frank D'Armata and Morry Hollowell. I hope they stick around for this book. It looks great.
DID YOU KNOW?
* Both Brian Bendis and Nick Lowe have painfully short memories? They're celebrating the "first ever letters columns" this month in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and ULTIMATE X-MEN. The problem is that both titles started their existance with letters columns attached to the back of each issue. I suppose someday they'll switch back to all-CAPS lettering and proclaim their bold new innovative style? ::sigh::
* The previous paragraph is the outrage ranting of a shut-in fanboy who obviously doesn't get out much.
* Brad Meltzer's run on GREEN ARROW is based on a concept from the British television series COUPLING? In his afterword to the hardcover reprinting of the story, Meltzer tells the story of his friend relaying the notion of a "porn buddy" to him. Fans of the Brit-Com recognize this from a first season episode of the series in which the crazy ideas man Jeff recounts the concept of a friend who hides all the porn after his friend's death, to keep his legacy is intact. And that's more or less exactly the storyline that Meltzer runs through in GREEN ARROW: THE ARCHER'S QUEST. I can't wait to read Meltzer's take on the X-Men built around the "Giggle Loop."
THE COMICS CARD CATALOG
In his column last week, Steven Grant outlined an idea for a comic book card catalog that could be installed in comic shops throughout the country. All it would need, he said, is a computer in every store with an internet connection.
I think it's a great idea, and there are plenty of ways to do it. I would have a few suggestions, though:
First, don't centralize it, even with Diamond. Keep it de-centralized so that there's no barrier to entry. Diamond could always say, "We won't support your company unless you sell comics through us." De-centralization prevents that, and also eliminates the additional costs of a central agency.
Second, use an open standard. Use something like XML for formatting data. ("Comic Book Markup Language," anyone?) Let every company provide its own data feed. Some smart person out there will develop an application or a web site to create a central hub that retailers can go to in order to aggregate the information.
Be sure to come up with some art size standards. We don't want retailers bogging down their dial-up connections to download multi-megabyte TIFF files, when smaller JPG files will do, for example.
Third, use Linux. It automatically saves $100 or more in licensing costs to MicroSoft. The $199 machines that Steven references in his column are Linux machines. You can run it on lesser hardware just as effectively. You'll still have full networking and dial-up capabilities, plus included software without cost like MySQL for a database backend and the free Mozilla-based web browser to display the information on. That's all you should need to create a card catalog system.
This is just the beginnings of what could be a strong movement through the comics landscape. It would be relatively simple to include software to create pull lists for retailers. It would be easy to pull together internet resources to create biographical information on creators, or bibliographies for them, or indices of major characters or titles. This is all information that could be pulled down into the local comic book card catalog. And the information could be freely shared to fans for their own websites (with proper attribution) or their own use.
Who knows what other ideas might come to people as this software shows itself? But if the standards for the data exchanges are kept open, the sky's the limit for applications potential. Using Linux computers keeps the costs lower and the hardware/software need minimal.
I think it's a great idea, and hope more people ponder it. Maybe it's a worthy project for the new year for some industrious programmers with itches to scratch.
More Pipeline next Tuesday. The Best Of and Pipeline 2003 Index is also coming. . .
Various and Sundry looks at the movie trailers of the week, the problem with JUNKYARD WARS, a PUNCH DRUNK LOVE review, the open sourced OpenOffice suite of applications, new DVDs, and more.
Nearly 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.