Alan Moore had a great advantage in writing LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN 2 that he didn't have on the first one: His characters came pre-defined. He didn't need to spend pages introducing us to Mina Murray, the Invisible Man, Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, and Alan Quartermain. Some of that works to his disadvantage, of course, as discovering these characters for the first time was a point of interest in the original series. With the character concepts out of the way, though, Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill were free to start this story running. That they do, plunging the reader into a world populated by John Carter of Mars and Gulliver, whose travels also brought him to the red planet. The adventure back on earth relies more on the character relationships between the team than in the first volume. Quartermain and Murray's relationship grows. Hyde's brutality shows through all the more. The Invisible Man's depravity reaches new lows. And Captain Nemo -- well, he's there to be grouchy and pilot a ship again.
While this book isn't packed quite so much with the surprise literary references and some of the more clever plot points that sold the first book so strongly, it's still one of the most enjoyable reads of 2003. Alan Moore's writing is very smooth here. Your eye glides through the panels quickly. It's not that they're wanting for dialogue and captions, but that Moore constructs the scenes so strongly that you can't help but read through each one without losing interest. You want to know what happens next. It's something I never really appreciated about Moore's writing on this level before. Beneath all the fantastic storytelling approaches and the clever word play is a storyteller with a strong grasp of the fundamentals of drama. LOEG2 captured and held my attention through six issues without fail. One page segued into the next, and the characters never seemed to be at a loss for words, nor did they pontificate for no reason. Every story beat counts for something.
While I'm not generally a fan of O'Neill's art, it works perfectly for a period British drama like this one. The awkwardness of his line (if only to my eyes) doesn't obscure the careful design of the series nor the strong sequential art storytelling that is needed to keep up with a Moore script. He keeps things relatively simple, using a grid pattern to each page and moving the characters around in it to keep things moving. There are no cheesy comic book tricks here. No characters bursting out of panels or forced perspectives to emphasize action. It's not needed, and O'Neill delivers a more straight forward reading of the material, despite the fantastic nature of the alien invasion and some of the more odd adventures contained within.
While Moore's solution to the problem at the end of the story is slightly disappointing, it doesn't ruin the book, nor does it take away from the positions the characters have put themselves in over the course of the six issues collected here. I'd love to see one more volume to the series, too.
The book is lettered by Bill Oakley, who we just lost a few weeks ago. With a book like this that's so beholden to a certain time period 100 years ago, it would be a great disserve to letter it on a computer and introduce that sterile slick feel to the book. Oakley's letters were gloriously imperfect, contributing to the turn of the century feel of the book as a whole.
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN 2 may have a flaw or two, but it's still an intelligent and exciting read, a rare combination in any medium today.
And now for something completely strange. I leant my copy of BLOOD STREAM #1 to a friend who reads the occasional comic book I loan him. He's better versed in the world of strippers than I am. He tends to enjoy books like Jim Lee's X-MEN and Frank Miller's SIN CITY for purely hormonal reasons, to boot.
In Image Comics' BLOOD STREAM #1, though, he found a rather tough nut to crack. Here's his response to the book. I've made only very minor changes, for a couple of typos and one not-family-friendly joke.
I can not begin to tell you about the absolute blood letting that "Blood Stream" was this weekend. What the heck was up with this comic? I am all for a comic whose cover is a hot chick with two pistols...but [not this]. I will admit, maybe, that I just don't appreciate "Blurred Photo" art, but the last fifteen pages of comic advert art were a welcomed relief to the first 15 pages of this eyesore.
There are only a couple things I can comment on...one because there were only a couple pages of comic...and two, I couldn't even follow those couple pages. First off, there was no apparent realism in this comic at all. The way the guy draws, our main character went from mid-thirties, to high teens, back to mid-twenties, to almost looking forty something in one print. Don't even get me started on how a stripper/prostitute girl can be jabbed in the leg with a cocktail - all be it not even injected - and pass out almost immediately. She would have had the frigg'n resistance of an elephant in all likelihood, and I am just guessing here, but would have bled a whole lot more too. Let's talk story. Did anyone find one? MIT geeks kidnap and kill strippers for a test that has no sex involved? Who the heck are we kidding here?
And like most strippers I've happened upon, the same applies here - "...what was her name again?"
The funny thing is, he's not British but he still uses the word "advert."
To phrase the review in a more Pipeline-like manner: BLOOD STREAM is a book that's lost its direction in an attempt to be everything to all people. It's a bit of superhero. It's a bit of conspiracy. It's a bit of half-naked chick designed to appeal to the masses. The story misses some small details that might help sell the work overall. The devil is, after all, in the details. While Adam Shaw's painted art has its strong points, he lacks the focus to maintain a consistent sequential narrative. With a stronger story, a tighter focus on the art, and some time, I think he has the ability to be a much stronger and more popular artist.
For more detail on the series' shortcomings, check out John Jakala's Grotesque Anatomy blog, starting with this entry. Then try here and here. I haven't seen a book this well received (that's sarcasm, son) since CYBERFROG, which quickly became one of the favorite whipping boys of rec.arts.comics.*.
EVERYTHING ELSE THAT WOULDN'T FIT IN
* Nabiel Kanan is the creator of NBM books like BIRTHDAY RIOTS and LOST GIRL. NOW & THEN, on the other hand, is a 32 page single issue featuring an assortment of his works. The first is a 12-page coming of age love story of sorts. The second section is a series of rock and roll gags he did for a magazine. Your enjoyment of them will probably come from your familiarity with the targets of the humor, most of whom I'm not familiar with. The final section is a series of one-page gags, which I thought was the highlight of the book. There's a particularly funny visual gag on the final page, that looks like something Will Eisner would do if he did gag pages. The book shows a lot of Kanan's artistic range. No two sections look alike, and the book as a whole differs from the style he uses for his graphic novels. For $2.95, it's light reading, but a nice change of pace.
* Three quick updates to Friday's Pipeline Previews column. First, there are no page numbers in Oni Press' HYSTERIA book due to a mix-up regarding page templates and the printer. The decision was made to go without them rather than delaying the book by a week. It doesn't impact the readability of the book, so I don't blame the fine folks at Oni for that decision.
Second, I pointed out that AiT/PlanetLar's 100 STORIES collects 100 pages in 136 pages. That's not an error. That's my subtle sense of humor. Obviously, the math doesn't add up. I checked with the fine folks over at the book's publisher and was told that there are more than 100 stories collected in the book. "100" just sounds better in the title. You'll be getting something like 17 "bonus" strips this way at the same price. Good deal.
Finally, About Comics' COMICS PROSE book is 180 pages, not 18. Stupid, stupid typo. (Thanks to tyg for pointing that one out.)
* What a boring week it was for new comics last week. It's Sunday night as I type this, and I haven't read a single book I picked up at the shop on Wednesday that I hadn't already read for the previews in this column last week. This also explains the lack of recent book reviews in this week's column.
* I finally gave in this past weekend and rented a storage locker. It's one of those self-storage facilities that have been popping up across our country's landscape like zits on a chocolate-addicted teenager. I plunked down my first month's payment for a 10 x 5 closet with garage door-like portal, and began loading in the comics the next day. The good news is that this has forced me to take a bit of inventory of my collection as I load it in. If I decide I need to read that BILLI 99 trade paperback next weekend, I know exactly which box it's in. The other nice feature -- besides climate control -- is that the place is five minutes away from me at home, and a two minute detour from work.
I just couldn't handle having all these comics books encroaching on my space anymore. I couldn't move around anymore. I like seeing more of the carpet, too. That's a nice touch. I've moved in a half dozen long boxes so far and four boxes filled with trades. My bookcase is quickly becoming the simple showcase I've always wanted it to be, displaying the hardcovers that I'm proudest to own. If the entire collection had to be tossed out the window someday, it's the books sitting on those shelves that would be the last to go.
* I'm once again flirting with experiences not unlike that of top comics creators. I'm becoming a game hound. Between the imminent release of UNREAL TOURNAMENT 2004 and a recent Game Cube addition to my technological bounty, I just find myself with less and less time. This is getting ugly. On the other hand, the other things sucking up my time are prose books. Those are not unlike comics; they just have less pictures and more lettering. It's not completely foreign to the world of comics, though. The next book on the reading pile is a Brad Meltzer novel.
Pipeline Previews returned last Friday with a quick buzz through PREVIEWS and some highlights for comics due out in May 2004. Click here if you missed it. It's not too late for your retailer to adjust his or her orders. Pre-ordering is your friend.
Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next week. I'll run on the assumption that some interesting books will come out this week that I'll want to comment on for then. Heck, I'm even working on an interview for this column right now. Haven't done one of those in a couple of years, so we'll see how that turns out.
Special thanks to Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for being themselves again this week.
Various and Sundry has more AMERICAN IDOL dissection, good news on X-FILES DVD price reductions, some web crack that requires an answer key, how it feels to be another year older, a bizarre music video to a classic Jim Steinman hit, and much much 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.