Pipeline, Issue #401


This week, I take a look at the comics being released on Wednesday, February 16, 2005. There are no real big show notes this week.

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The city of Cynosure is a dimensional nexus. The limits of its laws and of its people are only that of the writer's imagination. In that city there's a bar called Munden's. Its famous patron is one John Gaunt, a middle-aged man with a scarred face and a sword/gun for hire. He's deep, he's dark, and he's relentless. If you can pay, he can do it.

This is the world of GRIMJACK, which is enjoying a rebirth in 2005 at the hands of IDW. John Ostrander and Tim Truman's creation joins such luminous 80s counterparts as AMERICAN FLAGG, NEXUS, and JON SABLE in this year of the rebirth. But unlike previous 80s favorites come back to life -- G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, HE-MAN, etc. -- this is one driven by creator-owned and controlled characters. This is not about reviving a childhood favorite cartoon series. This is about comics once appreciated by teenagers and adults returning at the hands of their creators, now with a decade or two of additional storytelling under their belts. It's an exciting time.

GRIMJACK is leading the charge with a new mini-series, "Killer Instinct," and a trade paperback reprinting the very first tales, THE LEGEND OF GRIMJACK, Volume One. The new mini-series is set in a time before the events of even the first collection of stories, and promises to fill in story gaps long-time fans will be happy to see, while remaining accessible to new readers. It worked for me. But I want to stick with the trade paperback for review here.

I am new to GRIMJACK. I've sampled issues of the other titles I mentioned before. GRIMJACK, though, is one I've never seen a single page from. Based on SUICIDE SQUAD, THE SPECTRE, and THE KENTS, I eagerly gave Ostrander a chance with his own character. Happily, it didn't take long to be drawn into the world and made an instant fan. There's something about the book that reminds me a lot of the independent comics scene of the 1980s. It was comprised of a lot of amateurs getting their toes in the water on characters they created and often drove into the ground quickly. Some prospered, though, and they set a new zeitgeist for the time. All that's missing from this reprint to complete the "feel" are the house ads and yellowing newsprint paper.

The stories collected in this first volume are the eight short stories that were originally back-up tales to Mike Grell's STARSLAYER series. The final story is the STARSLAYER/GRIMJACK crossover done by Ostrander/Truman in the pages of Grell's title. Sadly, that one doesn't hold up as well as the other stories. I don't think I've ever seen a page of the STARSLAYER stuff, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage, being thrown into the middle of a large cast of characters with no clue what any of their relations were.

The short stories, though, give Ostrander a chance to flex some creative muscles. The first story is one of a religious war. The second is far ranging, including sorcery, vampirism, family conflicts, and more. The last story is a bit more science fiction/fantasy. It's the third, though, that is my favorite, just for being the quirkiest. "Night of the Killer Bunnies" sends Grimjack into an anthropomorphic world, in which he promises to train one set of animals to withstand an attack by a particular vicious squad of invading bunny rabbits. The young playwright in Ostrander gets to play with language a lot in that story, featuring a character with a peculiar gift for English. He pleads to Grimjack, "in desperadotation, we turn to you, Mr. Gauntjack. Only your excellentpertise can save us now!"

The book that the movie WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? is based on came out the year before this story originally saw print. I don't know if one had an affect on the other, but it is interesting to note.

Aside from that one light-hearted tale, the rest of the book is appreciably more grim and gritty. As Ostrander points out in his introduction, they were years ahead of the craze ushered in by DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN. The stories are narrated by Grimjack, himself, giving the book a touch of noir. You might be reminded of SIN CITY in a couple of spots, because of that. Grimjack is more likely to talk directly to the reader than Dwight or Marv, though.

Tim Truman is a beginning artist in this book. The stories represent his first comics work. Like much of the stuff of the time, the art is stiff most of the time, but there's a certain storytelling knack behind that which gives you hope for the future. You can see Truman experiment with his style throughout the book, even including Zip-a-Tone or DuoTone in a few spots. The page layouts are generally straightforward grids, but he does play with those in a few spots, too.

John Workman was the letterer of the book, and returns to work on the new series. It's interesting to look at the evolution in his lettering style. Bob Pinaha is credited as co-letterer for the pages in the trade paperback. It looks like Pinaha's font is used by Workman in his own layouts and balloons.

Janice Cohen colored the original stories, now reprinted from newsprint pages onto glossy color pages. That can be a chore, and never looks right afterwards. It goes beyond looking merely flatter. It often comes across as artificially shiny and too perfect. Sometimes, a rougher look is preferable. Marvel's recent reprints often have the same problems, even after extensive recoloring efforts.

Lovern Kindzierski is the colorist on the new material, and perfectly uses an earthy set of tones for his colors to complement Truman's rugged dirty artwork.

The first eight pages of the book welcome the reader back to Cynosure. No, seriously, the conceit of the new pages is that the characters are welcoming you, the reader, back into their world. It's a nifty trick. The art on the pages is like night and day from Tim Truman. In comparing the two, you can see why Truman was initially hesitant towards reprinting his original artwork. It's garish, in comparison. At the time, though, it did more than serve the story. Let's just be thankful that he's learned to draw backgrounds since then.

Introduction texts are given by Ostrander, Truman, and editor Mike Gold. They tell the story of the series' creation, early history, and return to print. It's not at all necessary to read these ahead of time, but it will help to place the work into its proper historical context for you.

Sadly, there's no letters column in the trade. That's not surprising, but Gold understands letters columns like few other editors. The promise of such a page is a draw for the monthly issues of the new mini-series.

THE LEGEND OF GRIMJACK, Volume 1 is available today for only $20 from IDW Publishing. If you wanted to wait for the second volume, I wouldn't hold it against you. That book begins the collection of the original GRIMJACK series, not just the short back-up tales. Still, I think there's a lot to offer a new reader in the short stories collected here.

The newly opened Grimjack.com has a ton of information on it, as well.


  • Top Cow and all involved have denied the rumor that Marc Silvestri is off HUNTER/KILLER. Of course, it's a silly rumor. Look at the breakneck pace the series has been off to so far:

    December 2004 saw HUNTER/KILLER #0, which had 16 story pages.

    February 2005 gives us issue #1.

    March 2005 promises issue #2.

    April 2005 sees a script book for the first issue.

    The trade paperback of the first six issues of the series is due out in December. At this rate, the series may have reached its ninth issue by then. I wouldn't worry about Silvestri not finishing the books at this rate.

  • The French comic I want to see translated this week is called LINCOLN. It's a Western, featuring an orphan raised by prostitutes. He's eventually kicked out for being a troublemaker and hits the road, only to make a deal with God, become a super cowboy and -- er, well, my French isn't too strong on this one. The Babelfish translation of the first volume's description is a bit iffy, too. But it sounds cool.

    Click on the title above to go to the web site for the series, which includes plenty of sample pages.

    A gallery of artwork from the series, including lots of pages at the pencils stage, can be found over here. I think the pencils show a more fluid and animated line than the final work.

  • Nobody asked me while the meme spread this past week, but I'll tell you anyway: I have about 18 GB of music sitting on my computer and on my iPod. Of course, a couple GBs of that are Podcasts, which aren't technically music.

    The last CD I probably purchased was a download through iTunes: the AVENUE Q soundtrack. Hilarious.

    The last physical CD I bought was the best holiday album of 2005, Barenaked Ladies' quirky "Barenaked for the Holidays."

  • One other meme: I'm not nearly proficient enough with Photoshop to try my hand at the 100 Things I Love About Comics. In the meantime, go check out Alan David Doane's or Fred Hembeck's, or any of the half dozen others sprouting up. Mike Sterling didn't do the Photoshop thing, but just creating that many HTML links makes my hand hurt.
  • For a nice look back, check out Beau Smith's column on the heady topic of 1995. Hard to believe it's been a decade already. I'm sure that's only the first of many times I'll say that over the upcoming years.

  • This week's Pipeline Podcast likely will not be available on Wednesday this week. Keep an eye on this space for details, but I think it's likely to arrive on Friday for you. Of course, if you're subscribed to the RSS feed, then you needn't worry. The program will see it just as soon as it's available.

Next week: Pipeline Commentary and Review #402: The taste of a new generation.

Over at Various and Sundry this week: Complete AMERICAN IDOL commentary. CELEBRITY POKER SHOWDOWN: best poker learning tool? LOST DVD rumors and crossover dialogue. JEOPARDY! begins its ultimate tournament. And more.

The Various and Sundry DVD Podcast continues to look at the week's DVD releases, every Sunday afternoon. Those of you with a podcasting program can subscribe to it right here.

All political discussions have been pushed off to one neat side at VandS Politics.

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. I haven't had that account in years, but they've yet to delete the page space. Go fig.

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