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Pipeline, Issue #384

FIVE COMICS. THIRTY MINUTES.

Last Wednesday night, I sat down with my new weekly stack of comics. I had a half hour, and what better way to spend that time than with newly acquired treasures? I watch lots of TV. I know the joys of mindless entertainment.

I finished five single issues in a half hour.

I've been reading comics for 15 years, so I imagine that I read through them fairly quickly by now. I know the rhythms and the patterns to it all. My mind has been fine-tuned to take in dialogue at a rate of up to 32 words per panel or some similar figure.

But still. Is six minutes a comic too little? As much as I hate to admit it, I almost hate getting stuck on the same comic for much longer anymore. The last comics I'm likely to read each week are the ones that require the most reading. Books like UNCLE SCROOGE or QUEEN AND COUNTRY are likely to get placed in the back of the line, just because I don't want to get bogged down in them. When I read them, of course, I enjoy the heck out of them and have a more satisfying experience. Getting there, though, can be a grueling process.

Am I turning into an MTV generation slacker demanding instant gratification without any work put into it at all? No, that can't be it. I still read the occasional novel.

Obviously, part of the problem lies with the trend of decompression, but aren't we all sick to death of talking about that by now? Decompression almost inevitably leads to trades, which are more satisfying than the bite-sized monthly installments. So why read the monthly books? Instant gratification? The desire to be teased and strung along from month to month?

In the end, I'm not dropping any of the titles, so I must be happy with them somehow. Have my expectations lowered that much? Or am I just rolling with the industry's punches?

I don't have any answers this week. The questions are much too bothersome.

REVIEWS, ETC.

Nelson DeCastro (nee "Nelson," and working with Tom Palmer) does a great job with his inks, which I think are far too often overlooked. It was in the pages of Chuck Dixon's MARVEL KNIGHTS that I first recognized his line for its attention to detail and smooth flow. It follows here, with some great texturing patterns.

This issue, like the last, specializes in tension. Warren Ellis is creating a tense adventure in a dark underground military lair. For two issues, it works. Things start to happen at the end of this issue, so hopefully we're about to enter towards a more action-oriented part of the storyline. It's about time for that shift. Plus, he's running out of issues to create a storyline here. Cap and Company are bound to run into Wolvie and Friends soon.

On second thought, it would be pretty cool if the two teams have storylines in the same location, reach different conclusions, affect change in different ways, and never spot each other. I'm rooting for that now. The trick is in pulling it off in a way that doesn't smack of bad sit-com hackery.

Steve Dillon's unexciting art does the job in telling the story. I know there are plenty of people in love with it. It's grown on me since his first PUNISHER issues, but I still don't get the fascination with it. I just see the short cuts and the flat renderings and bored-looking characters.

Bendis gets extra points this month for dragging his reader through the mud by proving to the reader how much he or she really cares for this cast of characters. They're not just wisecracking superhero cops. They mean something after all this time spent we've spent with them. That's a very good sign.

Joss Whedon provides an introductory page. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch have a nine page back-and-forth rundown of what happened with each issue. Some of it is very interesting in a behind the scenes kind of way. The original covers to the series are presented at full-size after the 13 issues. It makes for a complete package. The book ends with character designs and unused covers.

The only glitch I see in the packaging is the kind of thing that I'm sure I'm the only one to notice. The front cover uses a letterboxed image, which means there are black strips across the top and the bottom of the dust jacket. Across the top, that space is also filled in with the logo and Captain America's shield. Across the bottom half inch of the cover, though, it's just a solid black stripe. Every time I see it, I think the dust jacket got cut too short and I'm looking at the hardcover underneath it. Marvel did, I guess, too good a job at fooling my eye with the widescreen cover approach.

Brian Bendis' introduction tries its best to make this all look like a well-designed plan on Marvel's part to spotlight the hard working "every man" stab at writing the character. Even those stories that aren't considered classics are good because Spider-Man is such a strong character. So goes the theory.

The good news is that the presentation of these stories is top notch. There has been a lot of sub par work done in the area of scanning in older stories lately, resulting in colors that look blotchy and art that looks pixelized (is that a word?) or grainy. These stories, however, appear fresh, with only a small number of problem pages. There's some pixellization (is that a word?) problems with the penultimate page of the "Kid" story, for starters, and some of the buildings in the background on some pages in the first Juggernaut issue look scattered. The vast majority of it, though, looks top notch.

Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday. I'm working on something with a bit more of a theme. We'll see how much time the World Series grabs away from me first, though.

Over at Various and Sundry this week: Not one but two Segway stories. A hybrid diesel car. A really cool new TiVo with DVD burner. Thoughts on SURVIVOR and THE APPRENTICE. LOST, meanwhile, is the best drama on TV today. Plus, a whole lot more.

For those interested in politics from a different side of the aisle, I also opened up VandS Politics last week. It's shameless conservatism, updated daily.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

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.

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