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Pipeline, Issue #464

OF COURSE, YOU REALIZE -- THIS MEANS CIVIL WAR!

Like CBR's own Hannibal Tabu, I read CIVIL WAR #1 this weekend. I put on as cynical a reading hat as I can get when it comes to crossover events like this, but I enjoyed this new first issue more than I thought I would. And unlike events like DC's INFINITE titles, I didn't think an in-depth knowledge of the Marvel Universe and all its strange historical trappings were needed to follow it. Don't get me wrong: It'll help to know ahead of time that Tony Stark is an alcoholic and that SHIELD is currently sans Nick Fury or that Luke Cage is no longer a mere punch line to Marvel continuity jokes. The important things and the logical reasons behind them are laid out for you on the page here. And, most surprisingly, there's an insanely good action scene in the middle of the book that will make you stand up and cheer for Captain America like you probably haven't since his title's Mark Waid days. It's the best action bit Mark Millar has ever written outside of THE ULTIMATES, and worth the price of the book, itself.

Steve McNiven is a revelation in this book. While I enjoyed his work during the CrossGen days, it still felt too raw to me. Even at Marvel, his work has looked just a little off to me, but very much more polished. With CIVIL WAR #1, though, it looks to me like his artwork has taken a quantum leap. Everything is very clean and clear. It's not flashy and shiny, but it is attractive, with strong storytelling, and ample room left on the page for the colorist to add his touch. In this case, that's Morry Hollowell, another former CrossGen denizen. While his technique to make every male character look like he's sporting a five o'clock shadow will grate some readers, the overall effect of his coloring on each page is to make it a stronger image. For such a dark book, thematically, Hollowell uses a bright selection of colors, making the art much easier to read and more enjoyable to look at than so many other colorists today who rely on increasingly darker shades of the same color to give a page a "realistic" tone.

There's been a bit of a political bent to this series in the months leading up to it. The question is whether this storyline is paralleling any specific real world events, or tapping into a general distrust of the federal government. Given that so many of the writers working on the book are avowed, well, leftists, the concerns are not unwarranted. So far, though, this first issue is very strong in letting the characters lay out their opinions and -- more importantly -- the reasons for them. There's no political whitewashing going on in this book, nor does the political bent of the author overwhelm the book. If you want that, feel free to check out recent issues of THE ULTIMATES. That's not to say that it won't turn into such a beast. The depiction of the cabinet meeting near the end treads a very fine line, and I can't help but feel the side of "superheroes shouldn't be controlled by their government" is the side meant to be embraced by the series' readership. We'll see how it all plays out in the months ahead. I'm looking forward to that.

Now, if someone could please tell Millar that there's more than one way to end an issue of a comic book, I think the world would be a better place. Big splashy pages of characters' heads filling up all the available space as they deliver a pithy one-liner get old after a while.

CIVIL WAR #1 is on sale at your local comics shop this week. Ironically enough, the final issue of DC's INFINITE CRISIS will also be available that day. I imagine there are many retailers looking to make large deposits at their banks this week.

MARVEL IN JULY

The latest PREVIEWS came out last week, giving us a look into the murky world of comics retailing for July 2006. These are the books that will be leading into the heart of convention season, though I'm not sure it will impact too many of the release schedules seen here.

In any case, I heartily recommend checking out the entire catalog to see what might interest you. Pre-order away. This week, I'm looking at the Marvel portion of the catalog. I'll continue with more publishers in next week's column.

Marvel has a lot going on, but I'm only going to cover the collected editions this month. Trust me - any Marvel fan will want to give their solicitations a thorough going-over. There's plenty of grist for the mill.

For me, it's enough to look at all the new trade paperbacks and premiere edition hardcovers to know that the company is trying to bankrupt me this summer. Most of it can be blamed on the Waiting For The Trade mentality. It's a brilliant idea that saves a lot of money from week to week, but eventually the bill comes due. Some series and mini-series I held off on are all showing up together in July. I might have to prune my reading list further by skipping these books again this summer. Decisions, decisions. On the bright side, at least we have these decisions to make. It's not like there's nothing coming out and there won't be anything to read.

We can begin with MARVEL MASTERWORKS: CAPTAIN AMERICA Volume 3. I've never mentioned this series here before, I don't think, but I bring it up this time for one reason: Jim Steranko. This book collects issues #101-#113 of the series, featuring stories by Stan Lee and art by Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko. At $50, though, this is a likely candidate to go by the wayside.

IRON MAN: EXTREMIS is the premiere edition hardcover of the recently concluded IRON MAN storyline from Warren Ellis and Adi Granov. I read the first issue and then decided to wait for a trade. Given all the delays the books had, that looks like a brilliant idea now. I wonder if it won't be worth waiting another six months for the trade paperback? Who am I kidding, though? I love these hardcovers too much.

The X-FACTOR: THE LONGEST NIGHT premiere edition hardcover is an easy buy for me. This collects the first six issues of Peter David's return to the X-title, fresh off his stint doing the MADROX mini-series. The on-line reviews have been generally good, so I'm definitely sticking with this title.

FANTASTIC FOUR: BOOKS OF DOOM is the last premiere edition hardcover book for the month. This one collects Ed Brubaker's six-issue mini-series that appears to give us DOOM: YEAR ONE. That's enough for me. The art is by Pablo Raimondi, who also did the aforementioned MADROX mini-series, which came out in trade format a month ago.

All three of these books are $20. The IRON MAN book has 168 pages. The others are at 144.

The solicitation for ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR Volume 2 reminds me that it's time to finish reading the first hardcover. I recently re-read the first six issues, and enjoyed them. They don't yet have the spark that lights up the other Ultimate books for me, but there's plenty of potential in there. Getting to the Warren Ellis-penned issues next, I hope to see his strong influence push the book in a definite direction past just the origin story. Issues #13-20 are in the second volume, along with the first Annual. Warren Ellis writes most of it, with Mike Carey and Mark Millar joining the party as it goes along. Adam Kubert and Jae Lee are the artists. With a lineup that strong, it'll be worth catching up to this title. It is $30, as usual.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE Volume 3 brings us more Avengers goodness from Kurt Busiek and George Perez. It collects issues #23-34, along with #1 1/2 issue and THUNDERBOLTS #42-44 (crossover time). The Busiek/Perez era of this title is the finest for my money. It's a team I never really got into, much like the JLA or even the Fantastic Four. But with the right creative teams, any of those can flourish - for F4 it's Waid/Wieringo, for example. For the Avengers, it's all about this era for me, then skipping ahead to the great JLA/AVENGERS crossover. The hardcover is 432 pages for $35.

SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE Volume 1 picks up where I left off on reading the fun series from Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa. It has the first five issues of the series for just $8 in digest size.

EXCALIBUR CLASSIC Volume 2: TWO-EDGED SWORD is a trade paperback continuing the classic late-80s/early-90s series from Chris Claremont and Alan Davis. Collecting issues #6-11 plus the one-shot EXCALIBUR: MOJO MAYHEM drawn by Art Adams, there's a ton of great material in here. Ron Lim provides art for a fill-in issue or two, as well.

That's still not enough, as Dan Slott's popular THE THING series gets its first paperback collection in THE THING: IDOL OF MILLIONS. It pieces together the first batch of issues of the series for just $16. The page count says 144 pages, but the write-up indicates issues #1-8. Those numbers don't match up. Given the price, I'd guess the 144 pages part is right. That means it'll collect only the first six issues. Still, it's worth a read. I reviewed the series in Pipeline just a couple of weeks ago.

SUPREME POWER: HYPERION is a trade paperback collection of J. Michael Straczynski's spin-off mini-series, with art by Dan Jurgens. It's a five-parter for $15. Once again, I have to complain that we haven't had a hardcover collection of anything past the first year of the main series. I'm in a holding pattern with this series until I can read those issues.

There you have it. One month: five hardcover books. Ouchie. I'll return to PREVIEWS next week to continue the pain. First, some random reviews.

RANDOM REVIEWS

I read a lot that never gets covered in this column. Here's a small attempt to discuss some books that I've read in recent weeks, but haven't been able to devote a full-scale review to.

THE PUNISHER: RIVER OF BLOOD is a new trade paperback collecting PUNISHER: WAR JOURNAL #31-36, written by Chuck Dixon with art from the legendary Joe Kubert. It takes Punisher across the sea and into Russia and, ultimately, Sarajevo. I'm not sure about the timeline here -- if Kubert's FAX FROM SARAJEVO came after this, or concurrently. To his credit, Dixon doesn't sacrifice an action-packed story for a political polemic. This isn't a story meant to tug your heartstrings in a specific direction regarding the troubles in Eastern Europe or even the former Soviet Union. The characters show us the strife and the anguish in the regions highlighted. It's up to the reader to make his or her own conclusions, or to seek out further information. There aren't any speeches or odes to one side or another in this story. At its heart, this is still a Punisher story, just one set overseas. This book is more like '24' before '24' even existed, complete with nukes going rogue, people being tortured for information, and stealth maneuvering ending in a hail of bullets.

It's an easy Punisher story to get through, with a good sense of pace and flow. The art is not Kubert's greatest, but it's pretty great for a Punisher story of that era.

Reproduction values are mixed. It's great, for the most part, but the second issue looks like it's reproduced from a photocopy of the original comic, rather than directly from the original film. All the covers are shown in the back of the book at full size. They look fine, although Kubert's experimentation with photographic backgrounds isn't all that successful to my eyes.

The book is available today for $15.99. It's worth buying just to thank Marvel for remembering that Chuck Dixon did work for them at one point. I guess the war of words over MARVEL KNIGHTS is ended now. . .

DESOLATION JONES is not my kind of book. I accept that and I move on.

I know J.H. Williams III is a brilliant artist, capable of mixing up his styles to suit any story's mood. I saw that in PROMETHEA already. In DESOLATION JONES, the frequent artistic shifts within each issue just grew to be too fragmenting, too schizophrenic. Put that on top of a story without too much in the way of redeeming values or characters, and I can walk away without regret.

Some of you may like this book. It's harsh, unforgiving, and adult. Any book predicated on the existence of Hitler's porn and secret government experimentation on its spooks is sure to light someone's fire. It's just not mine.

INVINCIBLE #28 - 31 is more my cup of tea. Yeah, I can just see the sneers on the faces of all the DESOLATION JONES fans right now. "He's just a capes fan, who is afraid of looking into grim realities and futures bereft of hope." No, sometimes I just like fun in my comics. I can feel my comics reading mood shifting back towards light-hearted books and superheroes again. I did the black and white independent shift for a while there, even going to the foreign reprints for my comics fixes. Right now, it's shifting back to colorful superheroes in all their many forms.

INVINCIBLE is a great example of what I'm enjoying the most these days. The past four issues have been colorful fun. It's a pleasant read every month. The protagonist is easily approachable, sympathetic, and the kind of character you want to root for. Robert Kirkman's title has a large scope, stretching across the planet and into outer space. At the heart of it, though, it's the coming-of-age story of a college kid with superpowers and a large governmental support structure behind him. Add in a large cast of super powered teams and villains, and you have some good light-hearted fun.

Ryan Ottley's art is easy to read and enjoyable. He has a specific style that's not too easily associated with any past masters, though obviously influenced by one or two. He keeps his art wide open for colorist Bill Crabtree to come in with a brighter palette that sets the book apart from the rest. At a time when so many colorists want to make everything look realistic and gritty, Crabtree floats the other way. He uses a lot of gradients, but in a much brighter variety of colors to light the way. It's the kind of work you don't see much of in comics these days.

This book is the logical successor to THE SAVAGE DRAGON. Kirkman has made no apologies for being a Dragon fan, and you can see many of the lessons learned from that title put into place here. The lead character is enjoyable, surrounded by a large and fluctuating cast, but not bulletproof. Bad things happen to him and those around him. While some subplots might drag on a bit too long (maybe Chris Claremont is an influence, too), the overall structure lends a nice feel of a cohesive universe to the book. It'll be interesting to look back on everything in another 20 or 30 issues to see if Kirkman falls into the same trap as Larsen -- creating a large and cumbersome cast with a continuity growing increasingly complex, necessitating radical shifts in the status quo.

INVINCIBLE is just plain fun. A second hardcover collecting the second batch of twelve issues is due out soon.

I'll be back next week with much more from PREVIEWS, plus a review or two.

The Pipeline message board is your source for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes, too.

This week's podcast will show up over here this week. Last week's is forever posted over here.

Don't forget about the VandS DVD podcast, while you're at it, looking at each week's new DVD releases.

Various and Sundry continues its American Idol watch, link dumps, DVD talk, and more.

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 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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