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Pipeline, Issue #473

SUPERMAN RETURNS

. . .and you just don't care anymore, do you? PIRATES II is out and we're all back on the pirate bandwagon.

Thanks to the immediacy of the blogosphere, it feels like everyone's said about all that could be said about the movie. But I like to think that not everyone saw SUPERMAN RETURNS on its opening night or even its opening weekend. I'm counting on those people to be interested in the next few paragraphs.

::taps on microphone::

Anyone there?

I have mixed feelings about the movie. While parts of it are absolutely beautiful to look at, the thing as a whole breaks down for me in its slavish devotion to the original Richard Donner movies.

I thought the overall look and feel of the film worked. I loved the look of Metropolis. It's not quite as bold or as daring as Anton Furst's initial Gotham City designs for BATMAN, but it has a character all its own that balances nicely between modern and retro. I really like that. I thought the cinematography was nice. The color scheme worked well. The film just looked like it had a ton of money poured into it. (And, with rumors of a $300 million budget, I suppose it did.)

My problem with the movie is Brian Singer's efforts to mimic Richard Donner's two films. It's that desperate effort to be Donner's third Superman movie that causes the whole thing to suffer. It's not that I want another movie that needs a superhero origin sequence in it, but that I want a new generation of viewers to see a new generation of Superman movie. The best thing about this movie is that it doesn't have to reintroduce all the major players again. It's just assumed that we know Jimmy Olsen and Perry White and Lois Lane and Ma Kent. I liked that, and it's almost worth making this the sequel to a movie series dormant for twenty years just for that. However, that angle carries with it some faults.

Kevin Spacey plays Lex Luthor with a slight glint of reckless glee, but I'd much prefer a more serious villain these days. At a time when so many superhero movies make such an effort to ground their heroes and villains in the trappings of modern day realism, Singer chose to go with the goofy caricature of Lex Luthor as an over-the-top "comic book villain." Lex isn't a serious threat here. He's a goofy -- albeit dangerous -- antagonist for Superman. His girlfriend in the movie gets a couple of laughs, but is otherwise two-dimensional arm candy. His henchmen are your typical 60s-era Batman TV series henchmen. You might as well dress them all up in black t-shirts with "LEX" lettered across the chest.

That said, I wonder if some of the motivation and context might have been lost in the final edit of the movie. Depending on which story you listen to, the original cut of this movie was anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes longer than what ended up on the screen. If that explains why Lex kept a camera man with him at all times, for one slight example, then I'm interested in what it has to say. Unfortunately, the thought of sitting through a three hour version of this movie makes me cringe.

The one part of the homage to the 70s movies that did work for me, though, was the musical score, which quoted John Williams' original work nicely. The original parts were never a distraction to me, and the borrowed bits set off their respective scenes nicely.

I thought Brendan Routh did a great job as Superman. I was surprised by how much I believed him, and how little the whole "He's a grown man in a spandex costume" bothered me. The special effects really worked in his flying scenes and various stunt bits.

That said, you have to completely suspend your beliefs in the laws of physics to make it through this movie. All the typical bits fail upon a second look -- little things like catching a man who's falling to his death at the last possible minute without breaking all the bones in his body. Lois got tossed around an airplane at one point in a goofy cartoonish way that completely broke the realism of the scene for me, though Singer did have a couple of very nice mise en scenes in that sequence.

Routh's job as Clark Kent is a little tougher to define. He didn't have a whole lot to do as Clark, so it's tough to give him a hard time for not being as buffoonish or clumsy as Reeves was in the original films. I just wish they hadn't tried so hard to make Routh look like a cheap Christopher Reeves impersonator as Clark.

I thought Kate Bosworth was fine as Lois Lane. Perhaps she was a little too young or a little too pretty, but the hate campaign that started against her from the second her casting was announced never made sense to me. She wasn't the whining ninny that most reviewers have made her out to be. There's only one scene where she crosses that line, and it goes by quickly. This isn't the Margot Kidder Lois Lane -- this is Lois Lane, the mother who has to choose romantically between Superman and the X-Men's Cyclops. (And if you want to discuss whiney comic book characters, look no further than Cyclops!)

In the end, though, all the little parts don't add up together to make a greater whole. Again, it's the attempt to make SUPERMAN III here that fails for me. It seems to me that all the positive reactions I've seen to the film so far have been from people who felt like they were whisked back to being five years old and seeing the original film in the theaters for the first time. I can understand and appreciate that sentiment, but I don't share it. I can remember watching the first movies on WPIX on weekend afternoons as a kid, but that's about it. Taking this film on its own merits, though, it falls apart. In fact, the more I think of it, the more I think of the parts that bothered me and not the parts that worked for me. There are even internally inconsistent bits of logic that fail miserably, that can't be revealed without major spoiler warnings, but have to do with Superman's well known healing powers and the failure to use them, or with the ability of people in weakened states to survive an unbroken fall into the ocean, whose surface tension we know is not unlike an unbroken sheet of concrete or --

Well, you get the point. I wanted to like this movie more, but it winds up being a pretty misfire for me.

THE REST OF PREVIEWS

I covered all the Diamond Exclusive publishers in last week's column, so I'll be taking a look at the "back half" of the catalog this week.

We start with AAA Pop Comics, which releases the first of a four volume series, THE VAULT OF MICHAEL ALLRED. This is a new 64-page book in full color dedicated to the art work of Allred. Honestly, he's never been an artist whose style has done much for me, but his fans should get a big kick out of seeing this book. It promises commentary, sketchbooks, scrap books, hints, tips, and more. It's only $6.99.

ACTOR (A Commitment To Our Roots) has an anthology called ACTOR COMICS PRESENTS VOLUME 1. This new trade paperback collects original short stories from the likes of Stan Lee, Paul Dini, Mark Waid, William Messner-Loebs, Dan Jurgens, and many more. All proceeds from the 152-page book go to the ACTOR fund. It's $10.

AiT/PlanetLar is coming out with Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard's ROCK BOTTOM in September. It's a new 112 page black and white graphic novel telling the story of a man turned to stone. I had a preview page or two from this to show off after San Diego last summer, and the pages look unbelievable. The full-page ad in support of the book takes a page from the book that looks like something Geoff Darrow might have turned out.

Page 222 of PREVIEWS is one of my favorites of all time -- there's a layout glitch there which superimposes a cover of ROBOTIKA over a cover from ARCHIE DIGEST. At least it wasn't a Jim Balent book.

Bongo's annual BART SIMPSON'S TREEHOUSE OF HORROR gives us new work from Kyle Baker, Terry Moore, and Eric Powell. How can you pass that one up? Just $4.99. There's also a fourth TPB collection of previous TREEHOUSE issues available for $15.

If you're like me and didn't pick up the BONE ONE VOLUME EDITION book on its first printing a couple of years ago, Cartoon Books is giving you a second chance in September. The full 1344 page tome can be yours in all its black and white glory for just $40. It's the most essential Essential volume of all time, isn't it?

Devil's Due Publishing is celebrating its fifth year of comics, so congratulations to them. While most of their stuff doesn't interest me anymore, there are always a few highlights. This month, it's the trade paperback collection of LOST SQUAD, a black and white World War II story involving Nazis, "mechanized Spider-tanks," demon soldiers, and more. The art from Alan Robinson has an appealing cartoonishness to it that I really liked in single issues. Now I look forward to reading the story from Chris Kirby.

Fantagraphics is beginning its latest historical archive collection with POPEYE Volume 1, promising to reprint all of Segar's classic comic strips in chronological order, including full color Sunday strips. It's $30 for the first book, which has 200 pages at 11 x 17 format. While I'm not sure my modern tastes would fully appreciate the older art, the format makes it exciting to me. I love those oversized books, and maybe that's all the excuse I need to give this one a shot.

IDW Entertainment reminds me a lot of Devil's Due: It's a company that's proven its resourcefulness and ability to produce a line of comics with a strong identity, but also one that produces a lot of stuff I'm not interested in. Again, there are always exceptions to that rule. This month, I have to point out CHICANOS, Volume 1. This is the series from frequent collaborators Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso that IDW has been publishing monthly installments of for a while now. This first collection gives us the first eight issues from the series featuring a private detective. I don't care what the story is about -- with Risso drawing it, it's worth checking out. Trillo's track record isn't perfect, but it's always worth a look. The book is $20 for 192 black and white pages.

Oni Press offers up SIDE SCROLLERS, a new 200 page book which is probably an original graphic novel, but which is solicited as a prose book in Oni's two page ad spread. If it's a comic book, count me in. It's from artist Matthew Loux, who did such a great job last year on Antony Johnston's F-STOP OGN that I reviewed back in October. SIDE SCROLLERS, as the title hints at, is about high school video game junky slackers. Stuff happens. $12.

I think Santa Claus is the new Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland. This time around, a company by the name of "Razorbill" is publishing MANGA CLAUS: THE BLADE OF KRINGLE. It's an 80 page one shot (sorry, "graphic novel") in which a frustrated elf enchants some ninja teddy bears to destroy Santa's center of operations. It could either be fantastic fun or clichéd crap. But it sure sounds funny. It's $12.99, hardcover, and "partial color."

If you're looking for Dawn Brown's RAVENOUS, late of the Speakeasy publishing concern, you can now order it through Rumble City Graphics on page 314.

Out of left field comes Vanguard Productions with BUCKY O'HARE AND THE TOAD MENACE, reprinting the graphic novel from Larry Hama and Michael Golden. I think it's a reprint. It's tough to find too much info on the series on the web, but it appears that this book collects the stories originally serialized in an anthology book in the 1980s before being collected at Neal Adams' Continuity Comics. That's where I first heard of it, in my earliest days collecting comics. (I own a copy of CYBER-RAD, so help me.) Golden's art always looked cool for the series, but I was short on funds in those days and so never picked it up. Now, for $10, you can get 196 pages in black and white. Unfortunately, it's also at the smaller 5 x 7 inch manga format. It looks like they might be trying to stoke interest in another animated series, maybe?

W.W. Norton continues its collections of the Will Eisner Library with WILL EISNER'S NEW YORK LIFE IN THE BIG CITY. This hardcover will run 448 pages for $30, collecting NEW YORK, THE BUILDING, CITY PEOPLE NOTEBOOK, and INVISIBLE PEOPLE. There's some wonderful stuff in those volumes, and I can't think of a better format to add them all to your library in. Even though I already own all these books, I'm such a fan of this work, in particular, that I'll likely add this to my shopping list.

OK, one last oddball 80s reprint this month for you: Wildcard Ink is hoping to cash in on a little of that sweet movie tie-in money. They're reprinting 80s "classic" MIAMI MICE. It's $17 for a reprint of the four issue mini-series by Mark Bode, along with a new ten page story to poke fun at the new movie. If the movie bombs (as it is expected to), will the comic be canceled, too? Stay tuned!

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!

Hidden in the back of PREVIEWS in the "Books" section comes MAKING COMICS: STORYTELLING SECRETS OF COMICS, MANGA, AND GRAPHIC NOVELS. This is the third book in McCloud's thoughts on comics creation, and definitely the most-awaited book of the year. It's just $23 for the 272 page tome. In the meantime, I think I'll pull out the first two books for a re-read. The first book, UNDERSTANDING COMICS, has become must-reading for any serious comics fan. I use some of the terminology I learned in that book in my reviews here every week.

Also, all of you IDENTITY CRISIS fans who want to read more from Brad Meltzer should check out his next novel, THE BOOK OF FATE. It sounds vaguely like a DaVinci Code type of plot, but involving "a presidential crossword puzzle, disturbing secrets buried in Masonic history, and a 200-year-old secret code invented by Thomas Jefferson." This is the hardcover edition of the prose novel, and thus will run $26. I'm sure most of the major book chains will offer it at a decent discount when they get it first in the next couple of months.

For those keeping track: Graphitti Designs this month offers no products headlined "White Power!" like they did last month. The world today is a safer place. . .

LOTSA LITTLE LINKS

  • A couple of weeks, I reviewed the third collection of Grant Morrison's NEW X-MEN. Judging by some of my e-mail in response, it seems I missed the entire point of Morrison's last story, mostly because I hadn't read the first two volumes in recent memory and didn't have the details fresh in memory. That's the theory I'm going with, at least. For one explanation of the events in that story, check out this post at the Pipeline message board.
  • I can't believe I haven't seen this particular video linked at any of the comics blogs yet: Batman Hullaballoo. George Hamilton introduces a dancing troupe that performs a number based on the 1960s BATMAN TV series theme song. Weird.
  • I've been hard on Greg Land's artwork recently, mostly for its reliance on photo referencing. This blog is even harder. I think the evidence speaks for itself.
  • Chris Arrant put together a nice little piece on the origins of computer lettering in comics.

  • Gone With the Blast Wave is a pretty funny web comic.

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 700 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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