TWO MORE MARVEL HARDCOVERS
The RUNAWAYS hardcover collects all eighteen issues of the series' original incarnation, before low sales led to an ever-increasing number of publishing stunts and gimmicks designed to give the book a slightly longer lease on life. (i.e., a new first issue, a FCBD original story, and now a CIVIL WAR tie-in mini-series team-up with YOUNG AVENGERS.) Forget all about the life this book has led after the original series. Sit down and read this book for the 18 issues it collects and enjoy it for what it is - a fun, yet deadly serious, coming of age story for the superpowered set. Brian K. Vaughan writes it and relatively new talent, Adrian Alphona, draws it.
The series breaks down into three trade-friendly six-issue storylines. The first storyline gets our players introduced and puts them in danger. In case you hadn't heard, the high concept of this book is that a group of roughly-teenaged children discover together that their parents are villains, causing them to run for their lives and try to figure out who and what they are. It's hammered home throughout the book that teenagers barely know who they are and don't trust authority to begin with. Imagine all of that on top of discovering your own super powers and that your parents are out to destroy the universe, more or less. Pretty heady, eh?
The second storyline pits the kids against each other while they figure out what direction they're going in. An outside influence sparks jealousies amongst the group, while an outside influence forces them to survive in the underground. As "undergrounds" go, though, the kids have it pretty good in an abandoned underground mansion they call "the hostel." The last two issues of the storyline are drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa, guest-starring Cloak and Dagger. To me, it's that two-parter that really defined the series for me. It sucked me in completely, driving home the series' point and making the kids truly sympathetic. What do you do when the world is that stacked against you? When there's no place to hide, you have to reverse the battle.
The third storyline begins by setting up the history behind the parents and what their "evil" really is. After that, events are set into motion to bring everything in the series thus far crashing together in time for the big 17 issue finale.
Yes, that's right. You heard me. The story ends in the penultimate issue. The last issue is there to restart things. Honestly, I would have been fine with cutting the series off before issue #18. At the very least, I would have thought better of the series if the last issue didn't just set things back up again for the kids to come together for more adventures. It feels almost a little forced, although it's handled about as well as it could be. It's true that it would be a bit of a waste to say good-bye to the characters after the first mega-series here. On the other hand, bringing them back together after the stunning climax of issue 17 almost undercuts that issue, in a couple of ways.
That said, don't listen to me - I'll be picking up whatever form the next collection takes. I hope there's a second hardcover coming at some point. I don't want to read any more digest-sized trades, thanks. In case you didn't notice, these same 18 issues were already collected once into three digest-sized full-color trades. I compared the printing in both formats, and the hardcover won by a mile. The digest is way too muddy and dark. The plain white paper doesn't handle the fine ink lines and the darker colors of certain issues of the series. It's a mess to read. If it's all you can afford, then it's worth reading. However, if you have the extra few bucks to spend, do your eyes the favor and don't strain them; stick with the hardcover.
I have to make special note of Alphona's art, before moving on to the next review. RUNAWAYS is his first comic assignment (C.B. Cebluski found him at a convention), but you'd never know that unless you read about it somewhere. His style is fresh and energetic, with characters filling the frame and acting natural. To my eye, these characters look like teenagers, which is half the battle in a book like this. While Alphona isn't Kevin Maguire yet, I can see him going down a very similar path. The faces throughout the book are expressive, and you can tell that extra care and attention were paid to them. They're not an afterthought -- they are the focus of the book.
You can also see his art growing stronger as he gains confidence through the course of the book. While the characters might sometimes look a little lumpy at the start, they're all very well defined and structured by the end. Even the backgrounds are more prevalent and detailed. When I picked the book back up again after finishing it a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised by looking at the first and last issues at just how much the art had improved. When you read all the issues through in one or two sittings, you don't notice the slow changes and improvements. Looking at them in hindsight brings something else to the eye completely.
The back of the hardcover includes a dozen pages of sketchbook material from Alphona, too. It's interesting to see his art in its more raw form. The energy is all there -- I just think it took a few issues to get it to come forward on the page at all times. It's also a neat curiosity for RUNAWAYS fans to see how the characters were originally designed at first. Vaughn's initial series proposal is included, also, for those looking for more depth at the process of creating the series.
I'm not a big anti-decompression guy. I think everything has its place, and that modern storytelling styles need to include decompression for a variety of reasons. (Trends, attention spans, artistic choices, maybe even deadline pressures, etc.) I cringe at some reviewers and bloggers who want to say that just about any comic made in the last five years is inherently inferior to something made 20 years ago, just because it's "decompressed" and so "nothing happens" for pages on end.
That's not a bandwagon I want to jump on. While I can enjoy more densely written comics, I enjoy many of the more "open" storytelling styles you see in modern comics. If I thought about it, I might come to resent how quickly the average comic reads given the inflated prices we pay for them today. Overall, however, I'm happy.
WOLVERINE: ORIGINS AND ENDINGS, however, is the poster child for the movement against decompressed storytelling. It is so badly decompressed that even I noticed it and resented it. The premiere edition hardcover costs $20, collects five issues, and took me about ten minutes to read. Ten minutes. For $20.
It's almost a parody of the storytelling style. Take the seventh page of chapter three (WOLVERINE #38), for example. Panel one: Wolverine in silhouette at the top of the stairs. Panel two: Wolverine's feet, walking down the stairs. Panel three: Wolverine's feet walking down the stairs, just slightly closer to the reader. Panel four: Close up on Wolverine's head, at the bottom of the stairs, just around the corner. Panel five: Even closer up on Wolverine's face, looking up.
There are four caption boxes on the page: "Keep goin'." "Down." "Down." "Down."
That's one action -- Wolverine walks into a basement of a creepy place -- taking five wide panels down one page. There's nothing that furthers that mood or tension in the art. There aren't dramatic angles, angular shadows, or sequential storytelling tricks used to make the piece any moodier. It's just a full page used to show one character silently walking down a set of stairs. If it weren't for the shocked look on his face at the bottom of the page and the nicely silhouetted figure at the top, there'd be nothing on the page to suggest anything of the mood. There's nothing in the script overlaying the art to make the reader feel or think anything. It's a five second page.
On its own, that wouldn't be too bad. Sadly, that's what MOST of the pages are like. There are pages of dialogue, though, which often end just as the interesting things are being said, replaced by caption boxes telling us that Wolverine is learning something shocking, but we're not meant to know yet. There's "teasing," and then there's "cheating."
While I was excited before reading this book to see what Daniel Way was going to do with all the doors open to him for Wolvie's history, right now I'm afraid to look at the next installment of the series. Why bother? I can flip through the trade in the story in less time than it takes for anyone to catch me doing so.
On the bright side, the art in the book is from Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira. They're working just as well together today as they did on GHOST RIDER back in the day. The pairing results in some beautiful pages. Tex handles the "finishing inks" over Saltares' breakdowns.
I met Texeira at the Hawthorne High School Comic Show this past weekend. I watched him do mini-head sketches for people, and I think I saw what he sees in the art page for the first time. He doesn't look at the art as a series of shapes. No, he looks at the page in terms of light and dark. He blocks in the shadows and defines the shapes by the way light casts onto them. It's a very painterly style of looking at art, which makes sense given some of the nice painted pieces he's also done in the past.
I'm a sucker and a minor Marvel zombie. I'll likely buy the next premiere edition hardcover in this series when it comes out later this year. Unless Way's storytelling improves in a major way, though, that'll be the end of it for me.
MEANWHILE, IN A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY
Read the STAR WARS: GENERAL GRIEVOUS trade paperback this weekend. I don't follow much of the STAR WARS line of comics. Every now and then, though, a creative team appears on one that I have to pay attention to. When Chuck Dixon and Rick Leonardi paired up for this one, it was a must-read. It's about what you'd expect for a Star Wars comic, in that it maintained the status quo, while creating a new batch of characters to form a story around so as not to disrupt the major stories you saw in the movies. Since it's a Dixon book, there's a lot of action and characters planning and actually doing things, rather than agonizing about it. There are moments of great character decisions in the book, but Dixon keeps the book from dragging down on those things. Instead, he uses those moments to define the characters. It's a subtle difference, but it's a breath of fresh air after reading one too many angst-ridden books.
Leonardi's art is great in this book, with lots of action-packed sequences flowing smoothly, featuring characters that act more human than extra-human. Even Jedis have weight, and Leonardi makes me believe that with his art. Grievous gets to pull off a couple more supernormal moves, but that's OK -- that's what he is. I've always enjoyed Leonardi's art for the way it keeps the characters grounded. He can create the drama through camera angles and lighting. The characters, themselves, are well grounded. They have gestures instead of wild acting techniques. It's nice to see.
DC is foolish for not doing everything they could do to keep him around. Right now, they have a couple of titles that would benefit from his art. NIGHTWING, for starters, could use some help, though its problems are more with the writer than the artist. Besides, I'm just being selfish. I want to see more of Leonardi's art on a regular basis, and I can't believe we live in an industry that can't put stylistic art like his on the shelves every month.
In any case, STAR WARS: GENERAL GRIEVOUS follows everyone's favorite light saber-collecting bad boy through another romp through the Star Wars universe, putting young jedis in mortal danger, throwing reckless padawans into the situation, and stirring liberally. It's a fun book for what it is, with nice flourishes courtesy of Leonardi.
NEWS AND NOTES
- Two corrections from last week's column:
First, Vertigo's THE EXTERMINATORS is not a mini-series. It's an on-going series. So, please, purchase the trade if you'd like and be aware that there's more coming up after that.
Second, the STRANGE EGGS book I mentioned from Slave Labor Graphics is not the sequel to last year's EGG STORY. They are two completely different books, though there is a one-pager in STRANGE EGGS coming from the guy who did EGG STORY.
- While I did chuckle at the phrase, "the predominantly right-leaning media," the rest of Erik Larsen's "One Fan's Opinion" column last week is well worth a read. Pay particular attention to this part of it:
...it is nearly impossible to stick in enough qualifiers to make any statement bulletproof and that even with said qualifiers in place to deflect any argument, those determined to take offence will find a way, be it taking isolated sentences out of context, misquoting or deliberately ignoring a person's intent in order to start a fight. And that sucks.
Writing a review/opinion column is a constant battle against this. Do you weigh down every opinion you express with enough qualifiers and preposition-led phrases to make your every argument bulletproof? Or do you just summarize the gist of it and expect that your readers will know what you're getting at?
I'm lucky -- I don't have to deal with the comments showing up right underneath my column. Those people are the ultimate nit-pickers, looking for new sparks to blow on and turn into flames.
Hey, it's writing. It's three-quarters art, and a quarter science. The question of how heavily you weigh down your column with prepositional phrases is one that only experience can teach you.
In other words: If you're thinking of writing your own column, beware of the trolls, the nay-sayers, and the nit-pickers. You might think that because you've repeated an opinion on something repeatedly over the years that your readership will understand where you're coming from. But just as every comic book is someone's first, so is every review column.
Be as precise as you can be without sacrificing readability. Choose your words carefully. Proofread everything thrice. After that, throw caution to the wind, upload it to the web site, and move on with your life. There's always the next column.
This column will return next Tuesday with another look into the world of comics. The following week should include a look at the Marvel corner of PREVIEWS for August 2006.
Don't forget to listen to The Pipeline Podcast on its own homepage now. It's updated every Tuesday night with a fresh look at the top ten comic releases of the week. I expect the new printing of the SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS trade paperback will make the list.
My blog, Various and Sundry, continues its Nintendo Wii watch, American Idol run downs, link dumps, DVD talk, and more.
More than 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.