Pipeline, Issue #414


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Sometimes, all you want to read is a big dumb superhero fight comic. I don't read too many of those anymore. I've been reading comics for 16 years now, and have read enough to know the gist of all the standard stories now. I've seen all the clichés at work and the cycles in play. Every now and then, though, it's good to have that sense of wonder restored. Remember how you felt when you first read a story that involved Spider-Man, some colorful villain, and a massive amount of destruction in one of those abandoned warehouses that so litter the Marvel Universe's New York City? It's not high literature, but it can be fun and just a wee bit cathartic.

Clearly, this is the feeling that Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. were trying to put forward in WOLVERINE: ENEMY OF THE STATE (Marvel, $19.99). It's a bit updated, though, as plenty of people die and the book gets a PSR rating. It's not completely "safe." At its core, though, it's two creators making cool things happen to cool people: Wolverine, Elektra, all the X-Men, SHIELD, ninjas, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, you name it. They're all here. When Hydra corrupts Wolverine, he goes out and has a lot of fights. A lot of superheroes come together to protect one another, or to take Wolverine down. The results have a lot of bloodshed, a lot of violence, and a lot of action. Behind it all, thankfully, there is some reasoning and theory. Millar doesn't cheat and turn this into a videogame where random people engage in fisticuffs just for the sake of being cool. There is an attempt to rationalize all of this. While it might occasionally seem random to focus on one character over another, it's not insulting and doesn't stretch itself too thin.

I only wish that Mark Millar would get over his habit of ending every comic he writes with a big splash page of a character saying something glib or threatening. He's not alone in this. Many writers do it these days. Just from the comics I've read this past week, I can point to comics written by Joss Whedon, Warren Ellis, and Allen Heinberg as examples of those that do. On the other hand, books from Dan Slott, Chuck Dixon, and Devin Grayson do not. It's not strictly a generational thing, but I do think we'd see it more in newer writers if we really polled today's comics more thoroughly. Millar's endings grate on me because they're so often anti-climactic on the last page. It's the big reveal of something you saw coming for pages, or it's just a character finishing a conversation from the previous page with something that almost deserves an exclamation point.

"Enemy of the State" has a full-page reveal of a character that's completely unrecognizable and not at all set up previously. If it's supposed to be shocking, then you're going to have to be an extreme Marvel fanboy to "get it." The final story page of the collection isn't confusing, but it is a waste of a full page splash. It's two characters standing around staring off into space, while one reiterates the obvious. Ugh.

John Romita Jr.'s art is, well, Romita Jr.'s art. If you like it, you'll find a lot more to like in this book. I think his stronger pages are in the beginning with the moody talking heads material, and in the latter part of the book with Elektra and all the ninjas. I'm a big fan of his Daredevil graphic novel with Frank Miller, MAN WITHOUT FEAR. Maybe that shows through too much here.

For Romita fans, there's a small wealth of material in the back that you'll find interesting. That includes comparisons of pages and covers before and after inks, along with plenty of cover designs.

This is also the debut of Marvel's new "premiere edition" format. These are hardcover volumes at the same page size as the regular comics, collecting six issues per volume. The hard covers we've been getting before this were oversized and collected (usually) 12 issues of a series. (The exceptions to that are LOKI and AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST. They were oversized, but not as thick.) The book looks fine. The pages are a nice glossy stock, and everything holds together well. There aren't any problems with lettering getting lost in the binding, although that might be due to smart lettering as much as proper reprinting. Even in panels that cross pages, the letterers (Chris Eliopoulos, Rus Wooton, and Randy Gentile) are careful to shift the lettering to one page or the other, not both. The $20 price tag is fitting for the format, but I'd still rather pay the extra $5 or $10 for the larger books. If it's between this and nothing, though, I'll gladly take this over a trade paperback whose cover inevitably warps and rolls.

ENEMY OF THE STATE won't be for everyone. Most will find it a mindless bore. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a bit of a throwback to that golden age of your youth, you might find something to like in here.


Warren Ellis' latest, DESOLATION JONES #1, is just as weird, cynical, and fantastic a read as you would expect from the man these days. Ellis' fascination with futurism and postmodernism come out in this book, as high concept meets old-fashioned spy story with an extra twist or two. I enjoyed the first issue enough to keep it on my pull list for the remainder of the series, but I do have a reservation. The bi-monthly publishing schedule might slow this book down to a cruel pace. That might be the real killer. Waiting for a trade -- even if it does take more than a year and a half -- might not be such a bad idea.

J.H. Williams further cements his reputation with this book of being the artist's artist. Nobody is more creative and more diverse in his or her art styles than Williams is right now. Check out any three issues of PROMETHEA for proof of that. DESOLATION JONES doesn't look like a rehash of any of that, nor of CHASE, for that matter. This is something new, including regular pen and ink drawings alongside gray washed flashbacks, Steranko-esque action sequences, and double page layouts. It's all impressive.

There's one thing that really jumped out at me in this book that made me write this review, though, and it's nothing I've talked about so far.

All comic book lettering looks alike today. Sure, there are slightly different varieties, but it all starts blending together pretty quickly. There are a few reasons for this. First, computer lettering is still relatively new. It's only been around for a little more than ten years, and didn't really take over in the production of comics until just a few short years ago. Everyone is learning it together. Second, all the comics at Marvel and DC are being done by in-house groups. There is a house style. Third, the work of everyone else who's just learning and getting gigs on smaller books (indie, self-published, whatever) look alike, too. It's almost a third house style. The balloons are a shade too big, or the lettering is a font size off. I can't always explain it, but it's there.

When I read DESOLATION JONES this week, the very first thing that jumped out at me was Todd Klein's lettering. It looks like nothing else being done in comics today. Yes, the letterforms are fairly standard and computer-generated, but check out those balloon shapes. Nobody does those anymore today. Lettering today is done with ovals that might be squared off a bit to eliminate excess white space on the inside. That's it. Klein is going for an old-fashioned lettering feel here, creating balloons that looks like multiple balloons mashed together needlessly to hold one balloon's worth of material.

Absolutely nobody would attempt to get a job lettering with a balloon that expands out for the sake of including the word "it" at the end of a sentence. (See sample 2, second balloon.)

The whole thing has the look of a 60s comic, perhaps even something before that out of EC Comics. (Someone with a better knowledge of '50s and '60s comics will no doubt correct me soon. Please let me know.) This style allows the lettering to be a bit larger than usual. It also gives the letterer more "outs" to lay out the dialogue in different ways to get around sensitive areas of art that shouldn't be blocked. There are a lot of balloons being drawn and united in Illustrator to achieve this effect. I doubt we'll see it too much anywhere else in comics. Most of the innovations being done with balloon and caption box forms are in the realm of slight tweaks, or filters that come naturally with the software. This is, instead, a letterer reaching for a different feel and working overtime to get to it. Impressive.


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You can listen directly to the Podcast through the MP3 file (7:22, ~4 MB)

The New Comics Release List is over here.

If you're desperate enough to hurt your eyes on a list, try the one over at Diamond Comics.

Contact information:

  • AUGIE *AT* GMAIL *DOT* COM for MP3 file audio e-mails.
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The new one will be up by Tuesday night with the RSS feed.


THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #27 ends the series with Paul Jenkins' final Spider-Man story with Mark Buckingham. When these two paired up for a run on the series, it was a must-read. When Buckingham left and Humberto Ramos came in, the more cerebral and occasionally light-hearted stories were pushed aside in favor of Big Superhero stories. The title lost its warmth and became Yet Another Superhero Series. Seeing these two creators back together, however, was a welcome sight. I didn't think twice to pick it up, and I wasn't disappointed.

Jenkins story is another conversation between Peter and his dead Uncle Ben. This type of story has been done to death by now. Peter has troubles, goes to Ben's grave, and an imaginary conversation solves all his problems. The problem is, I'm a sucker for those stories. Call me a Daddy's boy. Call me a sentimentalist. It all works for me. On the inside, I'm a mushy ball of goo.

Jenkins and Buckingham separate this story from the rest by using a series of CALVIN & HOBBES homages. Peter, as it turns out, liked to create mischievous snowmen, much like Calvin. Buckingham simplifies his art style to something very cartoony for those sequences set in Peter's past, while maintaining his "normal" style for the present day. It's simple, but effective.

Coloring the issue is D'Israeli, who gives the book a look completely different from all the other Marvel comics on the stands, and likely 99% of all the DC books out there, too. This looks like water-colored comics, not Photoshopped color separations. For all I know, he's just using Painter on the computer to achieve the affect, but it is effective. I'd love to see more of this look on these types of stories. I remember a time when the important books got special coloring jobs that resembled watercolor paintings. That look should be so easy to create in the computer these days, but the only style everyone goes for is the slicker one, with bright glossy colors adding dimension where possible. The only other people I can think of who have used this style of coloring in the recent past is Jose Villarubia on Jae Lee's work, or Bjarne Hansen on SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS. Again, these are special projects and specific artists. Wouldn't it be interesting to see it used more, in general?

Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty's NIGHTWING: YEAR ONE didn't live up to the high bar they set with their BATGIRL and ROBIN "Year One" mini-series. I'm not entirely sure I can explain why it didn't work for me. It just didn't feel as special as those other two. Whereas the Batgirl and Robin series stitched together bits of continuity in a neat package, I thought the Nightwing edition tried too hard to fit between continuity, and ended up coming off cold. Where was the fun in the book? It disappeared very quickly after the first issue, while the other two series maintained it much longer.

With that story told, however, Devin Grayson moves back into the house and has given us two issues (NIGHTWING #107-108) of Dick Grayson joining the mob. Her reasons for it are almost believable. Dick is a gypsy looking to join a family. By setting the right ground rules, Dick rationalizes his latest move with the best of motivations as found in alcoholics and drug abusers. It's for that reason that there's something ringing hollow in this story. Perhaps I just prefer a slightly less tortured Nightwing, but this whole story isn't something I want to buy. If it turns out later that Dick has infiltrated the mob to break it up from within, then I might be more amenable to it. Right now, there's still something sticking in my craw that prevents me from buying into this completely.

Plus, the last thing the world needs is another SOPRANOS riff.

The art from Phil Hester and Ande Parks is great, though. They really convey Dick's motion on his crutches as he goes around knocking out the bad guys and defending his turf. It's impressive stuff.


  • The ad on the back cover of EASY WAY #1 is for IDW's upcoming book, KARNEY. It proudly boasts, "This first issue offers a full 31 pages of story and art at no additional cost." That book costs $3.99. You can make your own crack here about "additional cost" when a 32 page comic is $4.
  • We live in a society today that demands transparency. We don't trust anyone or anything until we see it for ourselves. In fact, it's not even enough to hear it for ourselves anymore. We need to see it. We live in a visual age. It's one of the reasons for the rise of the general blogosphere, and specifically the political blogs. They are filled with people who look beyond the soundbites and often are able to break stories that, for whatever reason, the "mainstream media" didn't cover.

    In the world of on-line comics fandom, we demand transparency. We demand to know why our favorite -- or even least favorite -- book is late. We call out an artist until he is forced to admit his personal illness that set him back, whether it be a poke in the eye, or a rare viral infection, or whatnot.

    At what point are we demanding too much, though? Why do we so demand that these creators give up their privacy? While it does them no good to come out and be wishy washy about it -- that only stirs up the bees in the hive -- why is it that we demand they step forward and talk about everything in public?

    Just a thought.

  • DC seems to have a hit on their hand with their Rann/Thanagar war. Just from a P.R. standpoint, it's given fans a chance to take sides and argue their points, even if it is often tongue in cheek. There's nothing better for a publisher to have people take up sides without casting the publisher in the negative light.

    For what little it's worth, I have no interest in it. I'll likely pick up any ADAM STRANGE trade paperback that might come out. Yes, it's naught but a lead-in for this war series, but I liked the art I saw upon early flip-tests enough to give the book a chance.

  • That said, shelf space is precious at Casa Pipeline right now. My "massive" bookcase is full and I am having a hard time choosing books to send to storage to make room for new books. I can't send WATCHMEN off to make room for the latest Marvel hardcover, can I? That would be sacrilegious, right? If only I had room for another book shelf. . .

  • I know this has nothing to do with comics, but I keep hearing it again all of a sudden and it bothers me. Can we please stop using "24/7"? Might we, perhaps, go back to "around the clock" or "all the time" or "never closes?" Please? While we're at it, let's go with the simpler "info" or "information" over "the 4-1-1." I heard one of the contestants using that one on THE APPRENTICE this week and had to laugh at them. Next week: On the outright banning of the word "like" and the phrase "know what I'm sayin'?" William Safire will be the special guest columnist for that one.

Don't forget to check back for the Pipeline Podcast this week (subscribe to the feed), and I'll be back next Tuesday with an all new Pipeline Commentary and Review.

This past week had to be the busiest ever at Various and Sundry. I posted 11 new entries alone on Friday, and a half dozen more over the weekend. With the end of the TV season upon us, that includes a lot of TV talk, including thoughts on SURVIVOR, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, the next 24 DVD release, and AMERICAN IDOL. If that's not enough, I added a new "Driving" category to help segregate all those stories, plus thoughts on the new prescription bottle design, all the new video games (DONKE KONGA 2) and video game systems (X-Box 360), and even some new music releases. That's just the beginning of it all. I haven't mentioned the DVD news, hybrid car articles, and more more more. I'm exhausted. Click on over and peruse. There's something for everyone this week.

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. Shownotes are posted each week on Sunday afternoon.

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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