I MUST BE CRANKY THIS WEEK
ROBIN #124 (DC, $2.25) is titled "Unmasked," which is a pretty good way to spoil the 'shocking' plot twist. Bill Willingham does well in revealing Robin's identity in a different way from all the other reveals in recent memory, but the issue still didn't do much for me. Part of it is that I can't get over the feeling that this is a temporary plot line. I don't think we're truly seeing the dawn of a new Robin here. The new one might last as long as a year, but I doubt it'll go past that. The second thing is that I think Batman can handle the situation that's set up at the end of this issue. It's tough to think that he hasn't seen this one coming and doesn't have a plan for it. After all, this is the guy who has files on how to take out the JLA.
Perhaps worst of all, though, is the painful art. Francisco Rodriguez de la Fuente isn't very polished. He's nowhere near the level of Pete Woods or even Rick Mays, as imperfect as his two part storyline might have been. The art is awkward and inconsistent. The storytelling does not impress me, although it's not fundamentally wrong. The use of geometric shapes near characters' heads when they're in a highly emotional state doesn't work for me, either. If this were truly an important and historic event, I should hope DC would be able to find a better artist for it. (Didn't George Perez draw part of Tim Drake's original storyline?)
DC is quickly putting together a trade paperback for the storyline that leads up to this event, but I can't recommend it. It's just not all that exciting. If you're a Willingham fan, stick to FABLES.
There's something wrong with BLACKSAD: ARCTIC NATION (iBooks, $12.95). It's the story. The first volume was a fairly by-the-numbers noir detective story. That worked. This volume tries to be socially relevant by telling a tale of a racist town ruled by white-hooded demons who won't let black-furred characters sit at the lunch counter. The twist here is that Blacksad is a black cat with a white maw. So it should be interesting to see how he is accepted (or not) in this backwards town. Even that is glossed over quickly, although in a manner which is consistent with American history.
But the writer, Juan Diaz Canales, doesn't stop there. Everything is too much in this book. Everything is over the top, stereotypical, and lazy. There's no thought to being original. It's a two dimensional representation of the complex issue of race relations. There's even an unnecessary shot at Republicans hidden in the art in the first scene, if you look closely enough.
It's impossible for me to tell how much of that was in the original story, and how much was added by the English translators, Anthya Flores and Patricia Rivera. It's been rumored that DC was originally interested in this series, but wanted to rewrite it to make a more interesting story. I wonder if it's possible that that was done for this volume, and that the rewriting went overboard into the hysterical and the cliché.
The story also relies on the shock value. Like most mystery television shows today, it's not a story about a character, but a story about delivering the big gotcha moment at the end. I'm getting sick of that formula. I miss Columbo and Jessica Fletcher and, heck, even Matlock. I'm getting sick of today's tendencies to create shows specifically for the commercial catchphrase, "And you won't believe the last 15 seconds!"
For more on this concept, check out this article that quotes former comic writer and current television mystery writer, Gerry Conway. He outlines the concept really well.
I don't know much about Blacksad after two volumes. He's a hard-nosed detective who was involved in a war at one point and has something of a soft heart. Past that? No clue. He's a cipher following where the plots need him to be.
It doesn't matter. You're only buying BLACKSAD for the gorgeous art. That does not falter a bit from the first volume. This one is just as beautiful with just as much lush detail given to the backgrounds and the set design as the previous volume. The emotions are written all over these characters' faces, and their expressions and body language tell the whole story. The ability to go a little cartoony in certain panels is freely given, because you're reading a story populated with talking animals. It doesn't seem out of place for someone to suddenly have a mouth open wider than his head, or a rat's eyes bugging out past his skull. Guarnido is very restrained, though. Those exaggerated shots are few and far between. For the most part, this is a brilliantly executed piece of storytelling without an inch of page space wasted. That's worth your $12.95 alone.
Just don't let the cover fool you into thinking this is a retelling of SIN CITY: SILENT NIGHT.
Back in high school, I took a creative writing class. We did writing of all different types, from poems to short stories to things that approximated movie scripts. When the time came to write a script and film it for a class presentation, I jumped at the chance to handle the main writing duties for my group. What resulted was a short piece obviously influenced by the humor of AIRPLANE! and THE NAKED GUN movies. It had a courtroom scene, a reporter live on location, and one other scene I've long since forgotten. How advanced was the humor? When a lawyer talked about "passing the bar," she threw a bar of soap to the judge.
Yeah, real high falutin'. Groan-inducing. Hey, if you want high humor you can go buy the POLICE ACADEMY DVD boxed set now.
But we had a heck of a time filming it, giggling to ourselves throughout the process. This was at a time when Apple wasn't touting itself as a home video editor. Everything was done in camera on a VHS tape. You got it right on the first take, or you did the whole thing over again.
We had a blast.
The day came to show it to the rest of the class, and we giggled through it once more. The teacher gave us an A, as it was the most ambitious project in the class. Nobody else laughed, save the occasional sympathy laugh. I remember the first words out of our teacher's mouth was, "I can tell you guys had fun making this."
Sure, but it didn't translate too well.
I relived that experience this weekend in watching Mark Hamill's COMIC BOOK: THE MOVIE DVD. Here is Hamill and a group of his voice actor buddies running around the San Diego Comic Con and ad libbing most of a mockumentary on a made-up Golden Age comic character, Commander Courage. It's just over an hour and a half, and the only joy comes from looking at the people and places I've seen before. It's fun to play Spot The Comic Company In The Background. Most of the stuff going on in the foreground, however, is blah. I have a funny feeling that if I sat through the movie again with the commentary track turned on, I'll hear a lot of people laughing out loud and having a great time talking about the movie. I just wish it had translated.
That said, the second disc is worth the cost of the entire set, just for the film of the voice actor's panel that Hamill put on for the crowd that had gathered one night to help film scenes for the movie. It's so cool to see the likes of Jess Harnell and Gary Owens and Jim Cummings on the podium doing their famous voices.
The movie, on the other hand, is an empty diversion.
DC announced this week the first Humanoids publications under their watch. I'm very disappointed to see that they're shrinking the books, but not terribly surprised. Paul Levitz made it plain that this was his plan when he announced the deal in the first place. Of course, the albums' size and format was what made Humanoids stand out on the shelf and made their presence known. It's what attracted so many people to their booth in San Diego a couple of years ago.
Now, they're Just Another DC Imprint.
That said, there's one book I am looking forward to.
THE HOLLOW GROUNDS TP
- A 7 3/8" x 10 1/5" 192-page trade paperback
- Written by Luc Schuiten with art and cover by François Schuiten
- Scheduled to arrive in stores in August with a cover price of $19.95 U.S.
This is the last book by Schuiten that has been published previously in America that I don't have. It's a danged shame it won't match all the other volumes and won't show all the great detail in the art. Each page will be smaller than a piece of notebook paper. But that doesn't matter, because it will fit alongside all the other books on my bookshelf, right? ::sigh::
I know it's the content of the book that counts for everything and not the mere format, but I really liked those oversized albums. They held the art very well, and you can tell the books were drawn with that size in mind. The amount of detail included in some of these books is breathtaking. We don't get that from Humanoids anymore, which loses a large part of its luster and is now just another translation factory.
* Last Friday saw the return of Pipeline Previews, with a new section called "Previews No More," looking at books that have been cancelled before they hit the shelves, and why. If you missed it last week, here's your second chance to read it now.
* 100 bags. 100 boards. Such a simple concept, right? Has anyone ever bought one pack of each and ended up with no extras? This past week, I ended up with 115 boards and 100 bags. That's not a bad deal, but it does strike me as wasteful on the production side of things. That's not the first time it's happened, either. I can't remember ever getting the count on both items to match up.
* Funniest part of last week's new WIZARD issue is the Joss Whedon interview's reference to the "highly rated" ANGEL. If only that were so, many fans would be spending a lot less money on billboards and VARIETY ads and the like.
* If you missed it the first time, you can finally read the superb SHOCKROCKETS mini-series in one trade paperback through Dark Horse in August. I'm sure I'll cover this again in Pipeline Previews next month, but wanted to give you the heads up now. I'm excited about this one. Busiek and Immonen did a fabulous job on the series, creating an inventive and inviting world over six self-contained issues that link into one larger arc.
* "The Hurting" blog gets bonus credits for the funniest and most insightful bit of comics journalism this year. Go look at the only SECRET WARS II wrap-up you'll ever need.
* Last Friday, basically out of nowhere, I asked about the fate of the ALIAS (ABC TV show) comic book announced at San Diego. Within hours of that column going up, Newsarama published an interview with ALIAS artist Andy Park that answers the question as best as possible. Synchronicity rules!
* Aren't these just the cutest things in the world?
* Bill Rosemann has always been a friend to Pipeline, and I wish him well in whatever his next pursuit may be. One quick bit of career advice for him, though: Avoid Future Comics.
* Watch me comment on another hysterical retailer.
Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday. It has for nearly five years here now. Just. Like. Clockwork.
Various and Sundry asks, "Have you truly seen PANIC ROOM yet?" The new special edition DVD is out and it's a beauty. Check out VandS for an extended review of the new 3 disc special edition. It's a keeper. Plus, all the usual AMERICAN IDOLS in-depth analyses, stupid lottery winner stories, the death of the Gateway stores, 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.