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Pipeline, Issue #470

REVIEW: CIVIL WAR #2

I've come to grips with my newly-realized Marvel Zombie status. But every now and then, I question myself. Do I allow my favoritism for Marvel and its characters to affect my enjoyment and ultimate review of their stories? Does it even matter? So long as I'm honest about where I'm coming from, you all have enough information to make that decision for yourself. It should sound obvious, but take every review you read with a grain of salt. Welcome to the internet.

I loved CIVIL WAR #2, which is due out this Wednesday. Like the first issue, there's another kick-butt centerpiece of an action scene in here, with some absolutely beautiful and detailed drawings by Steve McNiven to accompany it. Actually, there are two big set pieces, and they're the kind of things you would half expect to find in another Mark Millar-penned title, THE ULTIMATES. The whole book feels like an action movie. From the coloring on down to the wide panels throughout the book, I can practically hear the music swelling in the background, and the CGI artists goings nuts erasing the wires from each frame and adding in extra flames and sparks. It's not cosmic, though it is over the top. As befits the traditional Marvel styles, this is all street level New York City action, complete with SHIELD, heroes, cops, and artillery galore. It feels like a Marvel book, even when events are spiraling out of control and threatening to upset the entire Marvel apple cart. Unless there's some giant reset button at an almost cosmic level, the events of this mini-series really can't simply and quickly be undone. That's sure to scare a lot of people, but it excites me. It also sets me up for great disappointment if the creators fail to pull it off. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .

Millar gives about equal time to both sides of the registration war here, giving us an update on Captain America's status and his long-term plans, while still showing us Tony Stark's continued campaign with just a hint of self-doubt. Really, politicians claiming something is "for the children" is almost too clichéd these days, but it helps make it feel more real. The Fantastic Four grab a scene that shows both the inner conflict in there as well as a bit of foreshadowing. The number "42" figures prominently in that scene. Is Millar a HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY fan, or is that just a coincidence?

We also, most importantly, see the continuation of one of the plot threads dangled at the end of another CIVIL WAR tie-in book from a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully, Millar picks up the thread from the previous page of continuity, so that those who didn't read that book would know what's going on. That's the only thing that worries me: We might see things happen in this main mini-series nearly without explanation. Without the context, this big event at the end of issue #2 is the kind of thing that might split the internet in half all over again. I like the idea of having a main mini-series with tie-in issues of the regular series, but I'd hate to not get the full story from that main mini-series. There needs to be a long talking-heads scene at the beginning of CIVIL WAR #3 to explain this one, and I somehow doubt we'll get it. This book has been too action-packed to slow down that long. I fear the details will be left to the other titles. It might not be a huge event on the scale of all the changes in this mini-series, but it is one that the creators would be wise to realize will impact an awful lot of readers.

Millar even sneaks in a laugh-out-loud funny moment in the midst of all the drama. It's a scene all Marvelites are sure to appreciate, even if the rest of the story isn't their thing.

That's all I can say without spoiling anything. Check the message boards across the comics side of the internet on Wednesday afternoon -- I'm sure they'll all be lit up by then.

I enjoyed CIVIL WAR #2 in part for the creepiness of seeing heroes turn on other heroes, but also for the sheer spectacle of how they do it. The big revelation of the book -- and there's actually more than one, but there's one big "mythos" moment that everyone will focus on -- is incomplete as of yet. I don't know if I buy it just yet, standing on its own as the big startling moment of the book. I want to know what's going on behind it -- not from a writer's standpoint, but from the character's point of view. Once I get that, I can judge whether this is a believable thing or not.

Oh, and to the political point of the story? It seems to be that the reader is not meant to side with Tony Stark and the registrants. Maybe it's handled more deftly in the tie-in titles I haven't read, but right now the registration side is clearly the more villainous of the two.

Related: My preview of CIVIL WAR #1 on May 2.

COMICS TO DVDS

Recently, the Home Theater Forum held a chat with representatives from Warner Bros.' TV and animation DVD division. They had a couple of announcements, some clarifications, some new hopes, and some dashed hopes. You can read the full transcript at TheDigitalBits.com today, but here are some highlights:

  • BIRDS OF PREY is still dead. They're indicating issues with music rights clearances. Typical.
  • When discussing the JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED DVDs, the confusion still reigns over the proper aspect ratio for the episodes of the first two seasons to be seen in. Here's the latest word direct from Warner Bros:

    "The director requested the 4x3 letterbox for Justice League season 2. We have revisted [sic] this issue and will be releasing Justice League Unlimited Season 1 in 16x9"

  • FREAKAZOID is under consideration, as are widescreen complete season releases of THE BATMAN and TEEN TITANS. Ditto a special edition version of BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM, still the best Batman movie of the lot.
  • They're working on THE SMURFS for 2007. Your reaction to that news will strictly be guided by your age range. Children of the 80s rejoice!
  • Still no plans for FISH POLICE. I don't know who owns CAPITAL CRITTERS. To the both of you out there who got that reference: Thanks.
  • X-MEN EVOLUTION season sets are under consideration.
  • No plans for THE ZETA PROJECT, the spin-off of BATMAN BEYOND. The second season of BATMAN BEYOND comes to disc this fall, however.
  • The original Fleischer Superman cartoons will show up in the ULTIMATE SUPERMAN COLLECTION, fully restored.
  • "Mastering issues" are blamed for the lack of plans to release SHAZAM animated and live action.

  • Some San Diego planning: "We're having the world premiere of the new TEEN TITANS Original Animated Movie TEEN TITANS: TROUBLE IN TOKYO at Comic Con next month. It will be on Sat. night 7/22 at 7pm. We will also be hosting panels for Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain (Thurs 7/20), the aforementioned Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and some Superman surprises..."

REVIEWS

CASANOVA #1 is a dense read, and a wonderful one. It is the second book from Image Comics produced in what most are now calling the "FELL Format," after Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's current series. It's meant to be 16 story pages for $1.99, but CASANOVA's premiere issue runs 28 pages for the same price, with the text page pushed to the inside back cover.

Matt Fraction's story is all over the place, but I mean that in a very good way. Every page takes the story in a new direction, and he's not shy about packing as much business as he can into every panel on every page. It works to wonderful results. You, as the reader, must pay attention to this book to fully understand it. When you're done, you're likely to flip back through it to see how it all reads now that everything's been laid out to you. Normally, that would tick me off, but this book reads so well that I think it's a credit to its author. I can't even begin to describe the book, save that it has a debonair lead doing nasty things with almost campy secret organizations at war with one another in clandestined ways. It's all the sexy spy action you could ask for, with great big helpings of sci-fi and DICK TRACY-esque villains. It's a modern comics mash-up of styles and influences.

The artist is Gabriel Ba, who also colors the book with one shade of greenish-grey. It sounds easy, but it's not. He uses the colors to create shadows, add depth, and sometimes just to create a pop art or decorative look. The book gives him plenty of chances as an artist to create wacky things and showcase fast-paced action. There are even character beats that call for a certain visual flair that Ba pulls off.

In the end, this is a book that truly is greater than the sum of its parts. It needs each half equally, and the two mesh very well. This first issue comes highly recommended, with the recommendation that you set aside a quiet half-hour to seriously read it and study it. That won't take the full half hour, but it'll give you enough time for the second reading you'll want to do. Very nicely done.

CASANOVA #1 is due out this week.

THE PUNISHER: THE TYGER is a special 48-page story featuring art from the great John Severin. Garth Ennis' story tracks Frank Castle down to his tweenie years, as a slightly naive boy who grows up quickly when some kids in his neighborhood meet strange ends. It's a love story, it's a tragedy, it's an origin story that you never saw before for The Punisher. In the end, it's a haunting tale told with style and a certain old world charm by Severin, who keeps surprising people by showing up in the oddest places (DESPERADOES, RAWHIDE KID, etc.) and showing the young punks today what it's really like to be an ink slinger. To be sure, he has a heap of help from colorist Paul mounts on this book. Not only does Mounts give the stories of the past an almost GODFATHER II-esque color scheme, but he adds textures to complement Severin's crosshatched art. It makes the book more beautiful, not busier. It's a fine line he walks.

The book is available on stands today, and deserves a look.

COBB #1 is everything Beau Smith promised it would be -- a rootin' tootin' Real Man's adventure comic. There's the Russian mafia, the government spook, the beautiful women, and the cool and inventive action scenes. That's enough for me, and that's just the first part of the storyline. Eduardo Barretto's art is as beautiful as ever. Like Severin, he's a bit more old school than today's artists, but the man was born to draw black and white comics. This and Oni's UNION STATION prove that. He knows when the place figures at awkward angles in the foreground for maximum dramatic effect. He uses lighting and shadows well. His ink line is steady and not wasted. All around, it's a good-looking and fine-reading book.

For your $3.99, you're getting a nice cardstock cover and some heavy-weight white paper for the artwork to shine on. There are enough independent books getting $3.50 these days for me to accept the $3.99 price tag on this. Part of me wonders if the book might not have been cheaper without the 10-page color preview in the back of the book, though. Maybe the Korean printers are able to work a good deal on that, though. What do I know?

COBB #1 is a pretty book for such a manly title. I wouldn't blame you for waiting on a trade, but give it a look in any case.

MORE FROM PREVIEWS

I looked at the first half of the catalog in last week's column, and Marvel's stuff three weeks back. This, then, is a look at the second half of the latest PREVIEWS for all titles under consideration in August.

Fantagraphics gives us another great (I hope) issue of THE COMICS JOURNAL featuring an interview with FABLES' Bill Willingham. There's a man who's been around comics in a variety of capacities, from self-publisher to hired hand to creator-owned, writer to artist, and everything in between. The cover is a beautiful design from James Jean.

If you haven't been reading TCJ lately, you've been missing some of the best interviews and critical pieces in comics today. Under Dirk Deppey's reign as editor, the magazine has really broadened its horizons past just the alt/indy/art comix stuff that once isolated it. There's more interesting material in one issue of TCJ than there is in a year's worth of WIZARD. I devoured the most recent interview with STRANGERS IN PARADISE's Terry Moore last weekend. Deppey did a great job in the interview, coming at him from both the artistic and the business sides. Moore is very open, and has lots of interesting things to say. Now, I'm working back to the Mike Ploog interview I missed the issue before.

Slave Labor Graphics is being so kind as to bestow upon us DORK #11. Evan Dorkin returns for 24 more pages of craziness, insanity, and hilarity. WHOO-HOO! I know some of you kids might not have ever seen an issue of this series, but give it a try to tickle your deranged sense of humor sometime.

Antarctic Press is releasing KILLBOX Pocket Manga Volume 1. It's a 128 page manga-sized collection of Brian Denham's series, for only $15. This is what I wrote about the first issue back in January 2003:

Brian Denham's KILL BOX #1 (from Antarctic Press) is a book that deserves to be printed in the manga trade paperback format. It's a black and white book with similar pacing to a lot of what you read coming from TokyoPop, Viz, and the like. The problem is that 23 black and white pages of story for $5 isn't very satisfying. I'm mildly intrigued by the story, but there's not enough of it yet to keep me hanging around. If there were a trade available down the line somewhere, though, I would definitely pick it up.

I'm glad they're listening to me.

That column, for what it's worth, also has my review of INVINCIBLE #1 in it. Time sure does fly. . .

Archaia Studios Press is giving us MOUSE GUARD #4 in August. Just read the first two issues and picked up the third recently. It's better than the lettering would suggest. It's a very breezy read, but the art is captivating and the overall feel of the book is warm. It feels like authentic fantasy stuff.

Dynamite Entertainment is re-soliciting the trade paperback collection of Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso's BORDERLINE series. It's still $20, but I did get a laugh out of the solicitation, which credited the author as "Chris Truillo." Sounds like someone's spellchecker went nuts.

NBM sets aside its usual slate of political books for some original fiction work this month. Highlights include the trade paperback edition of Neil Kleid's BROWNSVILLE, and the fifth collection of Richard Moore's BONEYARD.

Devil's Due is collecting Josh Blaylock's HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH COMICS. . . NOT JUST CREATE them four book series into one trade paperback. Just to prove what a canny businessman he is, Blaylock is adding new material to the book. If you already paid $20 for the four issues of the series, you'll now need to pay $15 to buy them all over again to get the new advice and "exclusive extras."

Octopus (Jeff Parker's publishing concern) will be printing DEAR JOHN: THE ALEX TOTH DOODLEBOOK trade paperback, 256 black and white pages' worth of correspondence and sketches from the late master himself. It's $20 for this one. In the meantime, I'll point you all to a website I've mentioned here before: TothFans.com. It's an amazing resource, particularly for the commentaries Toth wrote for his older stories.

Renaissance Press is soliciting new editions of AMELIA RULES!, Jimmy Gownley's charming story of a little girl and her group of friends that do what kids do best - play, get into trouble, learn lessons, etc. It's funny, heartwarming, and cute without being too saccharine. I lost track of the series about half way through its run when the regular series got replaced with (I think) a series of mini-series. It's hard to remember now. But I loved those early color issues enough to know that someday I'd get back to them. This is the time.

Each of the three books run 6 x 9 inches at 176 pages, presenting the first 16 issues in total of the series. The books are $15 a pop if you want the softcover editions, or $25 each for the hardcover. I still haven't figured out which configuration I want them in, but will likely save the money and go with the trades.

I wish the AmeliaRules.com website had more interesting stuff on it, but there is at least an eight page preview of the series. I hope Gownley makes some of the convention circuit this summer so you can all get the chance to grab copies from him when your comic shop fails to order them.

Rosen Publishing Group unleashes a series of books called THE CREATION OF Character X. Each book is a $22 hardcover in full color, with 48 pages. It sounds a little expensive, but the books look like they're being tailor-made with libraries in mind, not necessarily comic geeks. They're written for a younger reader, telling the history and creation of various Marvel characters -- Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and the X-Men.

Full disclosure: I've already read some of these books because I helped with a little fact-checking on them. It wasn't hard work, though: You'll recognize some of the authors' names: Eric Fein, Danny Fingeroth, and Alan Kupperburg. These gentlemen have been around comics for long enough to have an idea of where they came from. While I'm sure there are some devout comic geeks who will question the weight given to some parts of the overall mythologies over others, it's all a function of a limited page count. You can't cover everything, and each author that I read did a good job summarizing 40+ years of history in a limited space

TokyoPop gives us what the world has been begging for since the late 1960s: STAR TREK manga. It may very well be great stuff, but my Weirdness Meter just pinned in the red zone.

Alex DeCampi's AGENT BOO looks cute, though. Just a warning: It's a "chapter book," not manga. In other words: There are spot illustrations, but this is a novel for the kiddies.

TokyoPop is also doing a cine-manga based on the awful-looking OPEN SEASON CGI movie that's sure to rake in the kiddy bucks this summer. The character designs don't inspire me, and the squirrel in the solicitation just makes me think of how good a movie the original ICE AGE was. But none of that matters: Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence are the stars of the film, so it'll do fine. UGH. I suppose Chris Tucker was too busy to be the ultimate in annoying voices? Was Gilbert Gottfried under contract to someone else?

Top Shelf is soliciting LOST GIRLS this month. For full coverage, just go ahead and check out any recent Lying In The Gutters column. Rich has all the scoops on it. Don't be looking for a review here, as I won't be buying it. That's not for moral reasons or fear of the law or anything like that. It just doesn't interest me. Not even Alan Moore can pull off yet another Alice or Dorothy book that could interest me.

We turn now to the book section in the back of PREVIEWS, to speak further of niche markets: The solicitation text for STAR TREK: VOYAGES OF IMAGINATION breathlessly lets us know that the 304 page book is "filled with stunning black-and-white photographs of book covers," amongst other things. Stunning pictures of book covers. In black and white. It's the ultimate Trek geek fan book, isn't it?

Seriously, though, it amazes me just how many TREK novels they still publish every month out there. In this PREVIEWS alone, you can choose from at least ten. In the publisher's defense, though, it looks like a few of them are reissues of "classic" novels from 15 or 20 years ago. I hate to admit it, but I read one or two of those back in my high school days. I recognize the titles, if not the new cover art.

"William Shatner" has a new hardcover book, CAPTAIN'S GLORY. Of course it's about the captain's glory. I can't wait to Google for the fan-fic where Kirk meets Denny Crane. Bonus points if T.J. Hooker shows up on the stand in a courtroom scene.

And with that, I slam closed the book of PREVIEWS for this month. I apologize in advance if I caused you to spend any additional money this summer.

NEWS AND NOTES

  • Last week's column was on 06-06-06. This week's column is on the 13th of the month. I'm cursed, I tell you.
  • Looking for new Travis Charest art? He's doing a webstrip of sorts, one panel at a time.
  • Yours truly was recently interviewed for an L.A. Times article about superhero movies and why they do and don't work. As a bonus, I didn't wind up sounding like a geek nutball.
  • The first image displayed on an Apple Macintosh? Uncle Scrooge. Click through to hear the story.
  • The Pipeline Podcast is expanding. In the last couple of weeks, I've added a new segment to look back at the previous week's Top 10 list, running down some quick reviews, odd quirks of comics publishing, and some of the decisions I make at the comic shop each and every week. I don't pretend that this is high drama or anything, but perhaps you'll see some of your own decisions reflected in mine. If this proves popular enough, there are some other segments I'd like to add in the future. Let me know what you think.

Next week: NEW X-MEN Volume 3 and Marvel's COMBAT ZONE trade paperback. That one's sure to get me some hate mail. . .

The Pipeline Podcast has its own homepage now. It's updated every Tuesday night with a fresh look at the top ten comic releases of the week.

My blog, Various and Sundry, continues to pump out the Nintendo Wii links, tech and geek link dumps, funny YouTube videos, and more reality TV news. It's quite the curious mix.

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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