ON MODELS AND ART AND X-MEN
I wanted to like X-MEN: PHOENIX ENDSONG. Really, I did. I like a good X-Men extravaganza as much as the next guy. I like to see professional writers dodge bullets to explain how Jean Grey can come back from the dead yet again without it being laughable. Given the serial nature of her resurrections, there's no emotion left in it. You want to feel bad for Scott Summers or hope for Jean Grey, but it's tough.
Greg Pak's story ties directly in with characters and storylines set up from Grant Morrison's run on NEW X-MEN. If you didn't follow those stories, you'll need to catch up fast. Most of that is handled in dialogue, but not quite all of it. The rest of it involves aliens, spaceships, team-ups, rampant deaths, dual identities, and the proper alignment of powers at the proper time to defeat the bad guy or save the world or prevent humanity from killing itself. Or something. There's a certain amount of magic and hand waving that I just didn't follow. I read this book just a couple of days ago and I couldn't tell you what happened anymore, if I even followed it the first time. I don't think I'm the right audience for this anymore.
It's Greg Land's art, though, that disappointed me the most. I loved his BIRDS OF PREY stuff and enjoyed NIGHTWING. When he transferred over to CrossGen, though, the photo referencing got out of hand. It gets to the point now where I don't see Jean Grey and Emma Frost having a conversation anymore -- I see two porn stars staring each other down. That's not fair of me, I know. They're more likely swimsuit models or stars of lingerie ads. Given the outfits worn by superheroes, that's not a bad choice. In the end, the art looks like high tech fumetti, populated by models redrawn on to images of sets in the background. Look at the first panel inside the spaceship in the first issue. It's page two, panel one. It looks like something out of a bad STAR TREK fan film.
There was talk not too long ago about the divide in our minds when it comes to accepting something fake as being real. It's the concept that sunk the movie FINAL FANTASY. It was so very real looking, but off just by a percent or two that made it awkward. That's my problem with Land's work right now. It looks nice, but it is so realistic that it lacks the imagination and occasional creative license that comic book artists rely on. Those big powerful shots are often staged models with spines made of jelly. Caught up in the moment, the reader doesn't notice it. Land's stuff right now is so anatomically correct and so "real to life" that it doesn't spark my imagination anymore to fill in the gap and work its magic.
Justin Ponsor's coloring is perfect for the look Land is trying to achieve. It's well sculpted to make everything look appropriate to the real world. It doesn't help the affect I'm looking for in the book, though. I wonder if a flatter color scheme would help.
If you'd like an example of an artist whose work is clearly photoreferenced, but without pushing it too far, look no further than Land's old CrossGen studio mate, Butch Guice. Check out his OLYMPUS graphic novel that came out a few weeks ago for how to mesh photo references with creative license.
Greg Land is no doubt a gifted artist. He clearly has his fans and is doing well for Marvel. I hate to be one of those fans who says, "I like his older stuff better," but I guess I have to be here. At least I can explain why it is, though.
The other thing that I'm probably alone in noticing is the lettering. Clem Robins' computer lettering is laid out well, but has some technical issues wrong with it. Lots of tails look misshapen, or completely straight. On the second page of the first issue, there's even a tail shooting out the side of a balloon that looks very awkward.
X-MEN: PHOENIX ENDSONG is a misfire for me. If you're still enjoying the various machinations of the X Universe, you'll probably want to read this. There is a major character change for Phoenix/Jean Grey in here that will eventually echo in the regular titles. The various combinations of powers and characters in the book will be comfortable and enjoyable. Pak even channels a little Whedon, I thought, for a couple of bits of dialogue between Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost.
If you're not already into the X Universe, don't look at this as your entry into it, or a shining example of all it could be.
The release of the past week is, without a doubt, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE McDUCK. This is the fourth time I've purchased the same story, but I'm not disappointed with Gemstone's treatment of it this time around. It's a collection of 12 complete Don Rosa adventure tales for the remarkably puny price of $16.99. I know indy black and white trades that couldn't get that price point for a book this size. Gemstone managed it with a full color 264 page book.
It's more than just the price point, though. Gemstone didn't cheap out. The book is packed to the gills. All of Don Rosa's notes on the series are present in the book. After each chapter is his writeup with continuity explanations, plus "insane details" you can look for. This is all "expanded and revised" from earlier bits included in the comics and collections. Bonus bits include looks at early cover designs, foreign covers, script changes, and more. Rosa's double page spread look at the Duck family tree is also included.
It's a fabulous presentation for a worthy series. It's also amazingly affordable for everything it contains.
For those who might have lost track: Gladstone originally printed this series across 12 straight issues of UNCLE SCROOGE. They also had a limited edition hardcover book and a four album series to collect it all. The latter two presentations were on slightly oversized pages, but you did pay a slight premium for them. Numerous other editions were offered first in Europe, where the license holder originally commissioned the stories.
For more information and stuff of interest: The Golden Age of Comics podcast had a short interview with Don Rosa last week, in which Rosa hints at a future Gemstone trade to collect all the inbetween stories he's done so far in the series.
Rosa also appeared at the Heroes Con the weekend before. He had a piece in the charity art auction, which you can see here. (Congrats to the lucky devil who walked away with that one.) Looking around at the rest of the gallery, you can see him sketching for a fan. (Special thanks to Jeff Parker for pointing it out in his blog first.)
I should also point out a correction to last week's correction regarding the previous week's mention of Carl Barks' last story. While it was reprinted in 1977 last, it was first printed a decade earlier.
THE BLACK FOREST
Neil Vokes is quietly staking out his little portion of the Image backlist for himself. I think he'll be giving Doug TenNapel a run for his money in the future, and I don't see anything wrong with that. THE BLACK FOREST came out last year. It's a black and white original graphic novel with plenty of genre-mashing going on. It's a war story with vampires and werewolves and Nazis and gypsies and mad scientists and more. Exhausting, isn't it? It is a highly entertaining read with enough jam-packed into it to keep anyone satisfied that they didn't waste their $10.
The story from Todd Livingston and Robert Tinnell focuses us on a young American flyboy, Jack Shannon. He so desperately wanted to fly in World War II that he went to Britain to work in their armed forces. After a splashy gambit, he's rewarded with a new assignment. Along with ace British prestidigitator, Archie Caldwell, Jack is sent deep into Germany's Black Forrest. There strange things reside. This is where all the genres I mentioned above collide.
It's a slow read. The plot is fairly episodic, giving each new genre and character a chance to shine before being merged back in with the main story. By the end, it all comes crashing together in magnificent fashion. Livingston and Tinnell generally keeps things focused enough, though, that the reader never feels lost. That's a very smart thing. I wish more writers would learn that, rather than fooling themselves into thinking that a reader will be anxious to read another page if they have no idea what's going on.
There's lots of talking throughout the book, and not much of it stands out as memorable. It's just not stylized enough to be catchy. While Shannon has some good lines in the book, it's not enough. It gets the job done, but it doesn't add anything to the story.
Neil Vokes has a great style that combines the best of the Toth school of art with some of Kirby's energy, Timm's style, and a storyboard artist's eye for movement. Characters appear cartoony at first blush, but their movement is believable and the proportions all fit in. This work is a little more serious than, for example, his NINJAK work, which is where I first saw it. The most obvious change in styles is his use of gray washing techniques here. It's unrelenting. Every panel of every page is filled with various shades of gray. It gives the whole book something of a monster B movie look, but it can get tiring on the eyes at times. You want to scream at the book to just lighten up and stop hiding the art, even though it's effective at capturing mood and adding dimensionality to the art.
Vokes also sticks to a six-panel page format for the whole book. The story is dense enough that the art needs it to carry the whole story. There are times, though, where it interrupts the flow. There are a couple of big reveals that wind up as moderate "ah-ha"s because Vokes doesn't have the room for so much as a half page panel.
There's also some production quality issues with the book. Some of the pages look a little blurry, and those really jump out with the sharp black and white computer lettering laying on top of them. There's something about the lettering, in general, that bugs me but I can't quite place a finger on. I give letterers Anthony Schiavino and Adam Levine credit for using a font with a little style to it. I'm not sure it's the best style to have chosen, but at least it looks less formal and looser than your usual popular fonts.
THE BLACK FOREST is an entertaining read for your ten bucks. It's not perfect, but there's a lot of stuff in it for any genre fan. Vokes' art is sure to keep your attention if you can just overlook the occasional blurry line. It's available now from Image and at deeper-stocked comics shops everywhere. You can see a gallery of selected pages from the book on the BLACK FOREST website.
I read through the first two issues of the new J. Michael Straczynski/Mike McKone/Andy Lanning FANTASTIC FOUR this weekend. While I like the story so far and Straczynski's measured prose, there's a big production problem that plagues this book. The fine line work McKone uses is being lost. I can't scan anything in to show you, for fear of further losing the line. Take a careful look at the pages, looking particularly at the thin lines used to draw characters in the background or those that are just smaller on the panel. The lines break up. It's not digitized, but it does break up, the way animated cartoons do when put through the computer-controlled process to clean up scratches and dirt.
I hope this can be cleaned up before the eventual hardcover release next year for this story. McKone's artwork is too pretty to lose any of it this way.
Next week starts the big San Diego comics convention, affectionately known as "Comic-Con International: San Diego." It's five days of brutal overkill, with little in the way of available hotel rooms, restaurants without an hour wait, or places to park.
I wouldn't miss it for the world.
As always, Pipeline will be there to cover the whole affair, including daily updates from the con on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I'm trying to work out some technical details to do even more than that, but I can't promise anything just yet. With any luck, I'll find the time to sneak in a travelogue on Thursday of the flight out there and whatever time I have for preview night. My flight has already been rescheduled to the point where it looks like I'll just make it to Preview Night with no time to spare.
Next Tuesday's column will look at the programming schedule for the convention. The Tuesday after that will be Pipeline Previews, since that's a column I can prepare in advance before I head out. I'll bring you a con wrap-up and photo parade of some sort the following week.
The Pipeline Comic Book Podcast should continue without interruption.
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You can still hear last week's podcast through the MP3 file.
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.