Pipeline Commentary and Review #382by Augie De Blieck Jr.05 October 2004
MARVEL 2099 signals Robert Kirkman's arrival to Marvel Comics. While I've had my quibbles with his other writings at Marvel, I'm in love with the work he's done here. It's imaginative, thoughtful, gut-wrenching, double-crossing, and highly entertaining. It looks to me like Kirkman is at his best when he gets to start books virtually from scratch. While these titles are based on the characters of today, he has the chance to interpret them in any way plausible, plus create new characters in the process. Plotwise, Marvel 2099 is the Twilight Zone of Marvel Comics, looking at possible futures for the fictional universe. Robert Kirkman is Rod Serling, in this case.
One of the nicest parts about it is that not every one shot is a clear "pilot" for an on-going series. In fact, I think MUTANT 2099 is the only one that would hold up well as a series. It has the most optimistic look at the future, as well as some colorful characters, strong connections to the past and its own timeline, and a lead character worth rooting for.
Khary Randolph's art puts the title right in line with Kirkman's Image series like TECH JACKET and INVINCIBLE. It's lively and colorful, more cartoony than illustrative. Its stylish looks fit the situation well.
PUNISHER 2099 has the daughter of Frank Castle and Elektra trying to pass along the family mantle as crazed urban psycho shooter to her reluctant son. What will it take to convince him that she's right?
Pop Mhan provides the art for the issue, which reminds me of some of Becky Cloonan's work on DEMO. Must be the ink line.
INHUMANS 2099 is the least of the stories. It's not that nothing happens in it, but that there is no single core plot through the book to carry it. It's a series of vignettes, almost, with a strong ending that introduces a lot of characters and leaves a lot of questions open. This is more a peak through the window at an opportune time than it is a full story. It's part of the structure of the short story, though, that often you don't get everything wrapped up in a pretty bow. The write creates a universe for the sole purpose of getting across one idea, then fleshes things out to seem believable. So while there are many stories in this book, there's only one that counts in the long run.
There's also not a lot of explanation in the book. If you haven't read Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee's INHUMANS mini-series from a few years back, this might be a good time. It'll help you know the world of the Inhumans enough to follow along with everything that's happening.
Cliff Rathburn is the artist here, and is the least satisfying of the artistic choices in the week. I think he works great with gray tones in Kirkman's other books. Coloring his stark black and white images points up some of the weaknesses, like the blah camera angles and uneven inking. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination. There are moments of Dave Johnson-like brilliance to the design work, as a matter of fact. I just think it's the least of the 2099 books.
DAREDEVIL 2099 is perhaps the most diabolical, as it's Kingpin's descendant (you can tell because he's young and bald) taking on the mantle of Daredevil to cleanse himself of the guilt. But there's more going on in the city than first meets the eye.
Karl Moline provides the art. As always, the action scenes are his strongest parts. The talking heads bits look terribly tame by comparison. The drawings of Daredevil racing through New York make me think that Moline would be a great choice for FLASH artist, if he were ever interested in DC work.
BLACK PANTHER 2099 gives us Doom's Latveria versus Panther's Wakanda. Kirkman nicely parallels the two nations and their inherited leader roles. Doom has a very strong introduction, in particular. Nobody's ever handled Doom as strongly as Chuck Dixon did in two mini-series not too long ago, but Kirkman's is one version I wouldn't mind seeing more of.
Kyle Hotz provides the art, in his familiar cartoonish way. It reminds me of parts of early Sam Kieth work mixed in with Kelly Jones and perhaps a smudge of Norm Breyfogle. Getting Jose Villarubia to provide the colors over Hotz's art is a nice move. He keeps the art lively and colorful, as opposed to the cover. Speaking of which:
Pat Lee provides the covers for all the issues in this fifth week stunt-- er, "event." While they might be perfectly acceptable pin-ups, they stink as covers. I think it's the coloring. None of them pop out at you on the stands, with the possible exception of some of the red areas of the PUNISHER 2099 cover. The BLACK PANTHER 2099 cover is particularly monotonous. I brightened up some of the images that you see accompanying this article, just so you could see the detail. I think MUTANT 2099 is the best of them, though INHUMANS 2099 gets points for aping Jae Lee's style and keeping the design simple enough to pick out Black Bolt in the front.
If it wasn't for the MARVEL 2099 banner across the top of all these issues, there would have been no chance to pick them out amidst the sea of other Marvel books this month.
In the end, MARVEL 2099 is a worthy experiment for Marvel. I'd hate to see it expanded out too far, but a return visit to this universe -- if not all of these specific characters -- would be welcome at some point next year. Perhaps another fifth week event should be considered? I'd buy into it, so long as Kirkman doesn't create sequels where there clearly shouldn't be any.
It feels like old times again. Here I am to review a new issue of X-FACTOR by Peter David. Of course, I think the original series might have already been dead by the time I started this column. Nevermind. . .
It's not really X-FACTOR. This time, it's called MADROX, and it's a new six-issue mini-series featuring The Multiple Man. Talk about your high concept: The lead character has the ability to split off copies of himself to let loose into the world, only to absorb them and their memories back at some later date. Generally speaking, there are two ways you can go with this. You could create a comedic romp and give him to Keith Giffen's not-so-tender mercies. Or, you can use the physical manifestation of Madrox's powers as a mirror to a character's own inner demons. This, obviously, would be creating a far more dramatic story. It's also the direction Peter David is going for the book, although it's not without its touches of humor.
What happens when his duplicates merge back in? What happens to their memories, their physical ailments, and their experiences? Peter David asks all of those questions, and begins answering them in a way that's profound for a mutant title.
This doesn't mean that MADROX #1 is a quaint existential exercise in mutant angst. Nope, there's a mystery going on here, spiced up with a bit of noir flair and some of David's trademark humor. Strong Guy even gets in a reference to David's earliest X-FACTOR issues that fans from the day should recognize and smirk at.
With just this first issue, David proves he has a strong vision for this character. This is a story about the man who is affected by his powers, and now vice versa. It's not just a gimmick. It's a life-changing trait. I'm sold.
Pablo Raimondi's art works for the story, not being dramatically stylized to draw attention to itself, nor ruin the attempt to create a world which looks like a real one. It reminds me of an artistic mix between Mike S. Miller and Michael Gaydos. It doesn't follow the same rigorous grid pattern as David Yardin uses on DISTRICT X, but it does feel some of that restraint.
Speaking of that series, DISTRICT X #5 is another great series from the word processor of David Hine. We're too far into the story at this point for me not to ruin it with a spoiler in a review. So I won't.
The final sequence in this issue is handled particularly well. It's heart-breaking, nerve-rattling, and everything it needs to be, thanks in part to a well-time 16 panel grid per page. It slows the action up to give the reader enough time to anticipate the horror that the story is leading up to.
If Marvel puts out a trade of this series, do yourself a favor and pick it up. If you can find the first four issues to go along with this one, give them all a chance. DISTRICT X is a worthy comic book: Marvel, mutant, or otherwise. Don't pigeon hold this one to ignore it. It's better than that.
UNCANNY X-MEN #449 needs Alan Davis. Without him, I just don't care. I don't necessarily blame this on Claremont. He's doing what it is he does. The problem is that we've seen most, if not all, of it before. It's just slightly reconfigured.
I was also confused by the big ending gambit used to defeat the bad guy. They somehow worked together as a team. I get that. But what they did wasn't too clearly spelled out. It's just seven panels and four sound effects and presto! Bad guy vanquished!
I also don't see what the big deal is with artist Oliver Coipel. I didn't read his LEGION stuff, though I thought some of the covers were decent looking enough. His interior work doesn't do anything for me. There's a lot of cheating going on with as few backgrounds as possible to still tell the story. One dramatic shot from a high angle overlooking the city barely shows the outline of the skyline. Wasted opportunity.
On the bright side, we have more EXCALIBUR characters returning for Alan Davis to draw when he returns to the title this month. Skip this one and hold out for that.
NIGHTCRAWLER #1 is the start of a locked door mystery. I like the mental exercise in this kind of story, and writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa lays it all out very well. We'll have to see how it pays off in upcoming issues before declaring a final verdict.
Still, this is a mystery that takes place in a city mental hospital. It's dark, ominous, and just a tad scary. I was hoping for more of the lighter sword-wielding adventurous and swashbuckling Nightcrawler. I'll hold out hope that we'll see him in the next storyline.
Darick Robertson's art has been the focal point to selling this series. Like the story itself, it might not be exactly what you're looking for. It looks very different under the inks of Wayne Faucher. It's much cleaner and tighter. Faucher spots large areas of black carefully and doesn't sketch around the pencil line. Each ink line is laid precisely. Robertson's scratchier pencil line is vanquished completely.
While I don't have too big a problem with this, I generally prefer the looser look, complete with charcoal rubbings in spots. I think back to the PUNISHER: BORN mini-series, in particular, which will be the yardstick by which I'll forever compare his art.
NIGHTCRAWLER #1 isn't what I was expecting, nor was it what I was hoping for. I can't hold that against the book, though. What I did read was entertaining, internally consistent, and respectful of what's gone on before. For those reasons, I'm sticking around for the rest of the story.
By the way, is it just me or did Robertson cast John C. Reilly as the overwrought night guard at the mental hospital? I'm having flashbacks to MAGNOLIA now. . .
PIPELINE WITHOUT FEAR
DAREDEVIL #65 fills in the blanks of moments we didn't realize we missed. Using an array of guest artists, Bendis brings us back to key moments of the past year or two in the Murdock Exposed storyline, filling them in with appearances by marvel's heaviest hitters -- Doctor Strange, Punisher, Captain America, Spider-Man.
You'll want to pick up this issue for one of two reasons: You might be a big completist fan of one of the guest artists in the issue, including P. Craig Russell, Chris Bachalo, Greg Horn, Michael Golden, and Phil Hester. Or, you've been reading this title since Bendis jumped on and want to see those missing scenes now. They do flesh out certain points of the storyline that might have given away too much at the time.
In any case, this is likely not the issue you want to start reading the series with.
Frank Quitely, Jae Lee, and David Finch merely contribute pin-ups near the back of the book. Don't look for anything else from them. In fact, that section of the story is the one big hiccup of the issue. It's a jarring pin-up section that doesn't fit in too well with the rest of the issue.
The last two pages bring Alex Maleev back to start up the new storyline.
Chris Bachalo's artwork fits the Doctor Strange story perfectly. While I've had issues with much of his art in recent years, I think his selection on this story was key. It's always good to see new P. Craig Russell artwork, and his four page story with Captain America is just as lovely to look at as anything else he's doing today. It is, however, much simpler and more, er, "mainstreamed." I don't see an opus number on this, nor any ornate border decorations. Greg Horn's art is used as pin-ups to illustrate Peter Parker's thoughts along a right hand border. That's a smart bit of design from the writer. When is the last time Horn did panel-to-panel work? It was that Image series a few years ago that died fairly quickly, wasn't it?
PIPELINE LOOKS AT FEET
I asked in Friday's column why artists have such a tough time drawing feet. I received an e-mail from Jared Moraitis, who's currently attending the Ringling School of Art and Design in Florida. Take it away, Jared:
Mr. Forgard, my figure drawing instructor had a couple of models come in for the express purpose of letting us bone up on our foot structure and anatomy. The entire human body is tricky to get the hang of drawing with all its moving parts and interlaced muscle and bone structure that reacts differently depending on motion and effort, but some areas, like feet, hands and faces with a more complex construction, are trickier than others.
Feet are difficult to draw without proper reference, but it was rather surprising that no matter the level of skill, every student in the class seemed to do a fine job drawing these feet when they concentrated on that area and had proper reference in front of them. The reason many of these comic artists ignore or hide their characters' feet, I'd guess is purely out of laziness or an unwillingness to gather reference and properly memorize foot (and shoe/boot) construction.
And let's face it - "foot reference?" Not terribly sexy.
Still, it seems to me that with generic boots, costume crime-fighter feet shouldn't be too tough to get a hang of. This, of course, comes from a guy who can't draw a head connecting to a body in a convincing way.
Another theory on this comes from Michael O'Sullivan:
I don't think that it comes down to the anatomy issues that most people claim. Instead, I believe that it's a perspective issue. While the majority of the body is pretty easy to place within perspective, the feet can be a bit of a pain in the ass. What makes a difference is that the feet, unlike most other parts of the body, interacts with other things within the field regularly, like flooring, ground, rocks, all of that stuff. It can be hard to draw the feet just right so that they do not appear to be floating above the ground or imbedded deep within it, especailly if you don't have much experience in drawing from life. Not to point fingers at other artists, but I have noticed it as a truth.
That makes a lot of sense, too. I can point to plenty of comic book panels where it looks like people are standing six inches above the ground. Sometimes, you can save it with the right coloring job. Usually, though, it's lost in the penciling stage.
Thanks to both Jared and Michael for their thoughts this week.
ONE-LINERS, UPDATES, CORRECTIONS, AFTERTHOUGHTS
- I heard from one former CrossGen employee who pointed out that all of the Traveler books listed by Diamond as being "sold out" never shipped. I'll chalk it up to a typographical error for now.
- The TELLOS book due out in December is the third and final issue of the mini-series, not the second as I wrote on Friday.
- I also should have included THE AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS in Pipeline Previews last week. Coming to you in December from Image Comics, the press release name-checks Tintin, which is just enough to get over the buzz kill of including a Mexican wrestler character in the series. (I don't get the humor associated with Mexican Wrestlers. Or midgets, for that matter.) It's the story of a rock band battling witch doctors, giant robots, and more. Newbie Mark Smith writes it, and Dan Hipp takes credit as artist.
- Artist of the week: John Martz's web site goes by the name Robot Johnny, and includes a small doodle and (right now) a bunch of his self-proclaimed "unfunny" comic strips from high school. I giggled at the word play in those strips, though. Call me a word nut if you must.
He's also a comics reader, a They Might Be Giants listener, and a Canadian. Pretty cool.
- This one's for Dan: Retailers are kind and loving people. Have you hugged your retailer today?
Pipeline Commentary and Review returns, of course, next Tuesday. Harper Collins was kind enough to send me a copy of their upcoming STRANGERS IN PARADISE: TREASURY EDITION book. I'll review it then, but I'll tell you now that it's a very pretty book that fans of the series should go ga-ga over.
Over at Various and Sundry this week: More Hybrid cars! The new Meat Loaf live album reviewed. RC Helicopter Sim program. The return of Celebrity Poker Showdown. Apprentice 2 tries to turn Survivor. CSI: NY too starry?!? TiVo for the radio? How to play GO super-seriously. And more!
More than 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 also still available at the Original Pipeline page.