FROM CLASSIC COMICS TO, UHM, VIDEO GAMES
Last week I reviewed hardcover reprints of DICK TRACY and EC COMICS: WEIRD SCIENCE - pure comics classics all the way. What better way to follow that up than with UDON's STREET FIGHTER: THE ULTIMATE EDITION? Sit right back as we shift gears hard.
Wait -- it gets even weirder. The reason why I'm about to give this book a good review is another book I recently read: Scott McCloud's MAKING COMICS. That book was a real eye-opener for me. While I still prefer comics with linear narratives in classic panel-to-panel storytelling, McCloud's book opened my mind to different approaches. It's a classic case of McCloud putting into words things you might have noticed in a comic before, but never articulated. For example, it isn't always about showing a sequence of events in linear order, each panel depicting one action. Sometimes it's about conveying a feeling with an explosion of images that don't necessarily connect in that way. A montage, for example, can be as effective a storytelling tool as a nine-panel grid. You see this most in manga today.
STREET FIGHTER sticks with the sequential narrative for the duration of its 440 pages. But any of the faults in that storytelling are more than made up for with the energy conveyed on the page. This is a comic book based on a video game in which people endlessly beat each other up. They tried making it into a movie, but even Raul Julia couldn't save that. It's tough to translate the shallow video game setup into a story, honestly, while maintaining the frenetic pacing and the tone that its biggest fans have become used to.
I think UDON does a good job in this book of having their cake and eating it, too. The plots are not anything world-changing or award-winning. They serve a purpose to put familiar characters into a story that allows them to fight fairly frequently with a sense of purpose. When it comes time for those altercations, the artists shine. Some will dismiss the fights for incoherency, poor anatomy, pandering upskirt shots, and more. I look at it differently, for the sake of this book. It's an attempt to capture the raw energy of the video game onto paper. It's about catering to the built-in audience of the property. It's not about staging everything properly with solid panel-to-panel continuity. This is about the motion, the attacks, the speed, the extreme angles, and more. Clearly, some of this style has been inspired by manga titles, but there's nothing wrong with that. It's a point of view the book is based on, and it flows easily.
You also have to forgive the attempts to force these characters into their costumes for as much of the series as possible, even at the most inopportune times. If you're not ready to compromise on that for the sake of the property, then you're never going to be in the right mindset to get this comic.
Not that there isn't anything in here for those looking for a more "mainstream" feel. The book is occasionally broken up with short stories that were likely back-ups in the original issues. Those are done by non-UDON comics artists. It's an impressive and diverse list, including Joe Madureira, Adam Warren, Adrian Alphona, Salvador Larocca, Kaare Andrews, Carlo Barberi, Ale Garza, Andy Seto, and more. It's a nice break in the on-going story to see short bits set in the past drawn in different styles. These are chances for the artists to stretch their legs in a style other than the straight-ahead superhero titles we're used to seeing them in, for the most part. Heck, it's a chance to see Madureira draw a comic again for the first time in years!
The presentation of all this material has its good points and its bad points. The biggest problem is that the main story reprinted in it has no credits. Individual cover artists are named alongside each cover image -- reprinted nearly at full size -- but that's it. You have to go to a page all the way at the end of the book to find out that it's written by Ken Siu-Chong, with line art by a dozen different people, and colors in the UDON style from another dozen. Who worked on which issues? That's up to you to guess. The good news is that the credits are included on the individual short stories done by people outside of UDON. Not that you'd need help figuring out the stories that Madureira or Warren drew, but it's nice to see some individual credits in the book somewhere.
And shame on UDON for not including a single credit for lettering in the entire book.
More substantially, the material shines in this format. The pages are oversized, about the same size as Marvel's standard hardcovers are. The book is only 440 pages, but it looks much thicker, which means they didn't skimp on paperstock. The pages are shiny, holding UDON's intricate color schemes well. Since all the pages have black borders, the outside edges of the book have a nice uniform look to them. All of the covers are reprinted at full size. And I can only remember one instance where it seemed like we lost part of the art in the binding, and that was in a rare double-page spread near the middle of the book. Other than that, all is clear.
The bonus material in the back is top notch. We can start with the beautiful pin-ups/alternate covers from Jo Chen that are reproduced at full-page/full-bleed size in the back. There are 13 of those, in total, featuring single characters in action. Corey (REY) Lewis contributes 22 pages of short humorous stories featuring all the characters. And, of course, there are actual credits at the end there.
STREET FIGHTER: THE ULTIMATE EDITION made its splashy debut at the UDON booth in San Diego this summer before arriving in comic shops last month. If this is your kind of thing, check out your local shop's bookshelves. Failing that, UDON has their own book-selling website now where you can order the book. You can pick up the book -- and many others -- at ClubUdonComics.com.
WAITING FOR THE HARDCOVER
There's a pleasant side-effect to waiting for the trade. You have a distance of time removing you from the immediate uproar that a given run on a title may provoke. You're able to come to a storyline slightly fresher, and not be pre-disposed to hating it because of some "massive" continuity shift. It's a liberating feeling.
It's also nice to finally read what it is people were talking about in the last six months or year or so. Such is the case with THE NEW AVENGERS, Volume 4: THE COLLECTIVE. A string of discussions followed this book every step of the way, from the storytelling choices of the first issue in the collection to the ret-con involving Magneto at the end, and a few things inbetween. It was, for some across the internet, a very tough time to be an Avengers fan. I stayed on the periphery of that uproar and patiently waited for the collection to read it for myself. While I can see where the outrage stems from, I'm not sure it impacts me that greatly. Maybe I'm an easy mark. Maybe I just want to like the comics I choose to pay money for. Maybe I prefer a good story to a false sense of entitlement towards fictional characters. Maybe I enjoy it when creators take a chance on a different storytelling method, even when it turns out not to be the absolute best one.
Or maybe it's just another fun AVENGERS romp that involves rampant death, destruction, and Spider-Man one-liners. Yeah, I'll go with that.
Steve McNiven draws the first issue collected here, and Bendis' story calls for a lot of full-page splashes to relate the enormity of the event. From the very start of the comic, Bendis and Company were threw themselves into the firing line and asked for trouble. If Walt Simonson did his famous all-splash pages issue of THOR today, he'd be booed across the internet for being lazy. Ditto for Erik Larsen's early issue of THE SAVAGE DRAGON with the same device. (The internet was much smaller then. Of course, it likely would all balance out given DRAGON's lower sales today.) The funny thing is, the controversial sequence only lasts eight pages. In a larger collection, it doesn't seem like a big deal. Would the volume of the complaint have been less had they gotten Chris Claremont to slather some caption boxes across the splash pages to explain what was happening in flowery prose? No, then they'd complain that McNiven's art was being covered up or something. There's no winning. (For the record: I enjoy Claremont's writing style. I'm not brushing it off here. I just used the best counter-example I could find.)
The deaths after that sequence and the aforementioned ret-con didn't bother me, either. The former because those characters aren't favorite of mine. The latter because, well, that character and the storyline referenced wasn't a favorite of mine. It all relates back to the X-Men, after all, and whose continuity is more flexible and rubbery than theirs? There's 30 years of constantly evolving history with that group. Nothing that happens can't be undone. Some of it got undone in AVENGERS. You don't think that it won't be undone again in the next decade by some other creative team? Sure, you can read some anti-Grant Morrison internal politics into the situation if you'd like to. It's a fun exercise, but I don't know -- nor do you -- how much reality there is to it.
The only thing I'm not entirely sure I buy in the book is its central conceit -- that mutant energy is a zero sum game, similar to the levels of energy in the universe, wherein any energy lost must be gained somewhere else. But for the sake of the story, I let that one slide by, accepted it, and moved on with my life. Is it silly? Perhaps, but this is also a superhero comic book. Bringing a solid scientific principal to bear in this fantasy world ain't such a bad thing.
Look, Mike Deodato's art is nice and Bendis does another Bendis Avengers story in this book. By now, you've decided if that's your thing. I enjoy it enough to keep buying it. I enjoyed this volume, though perhaps not as much as the first two, but definitely more than the third. Now we can move on.
No creator interview in this week's podcast. However, I have one lined up that should hopefully hit next Tuesday, if all goes according to plan/schedule. Check the RSS feeds over the weekend for a preview. . . It'll be like no other comic creator interview you've ever read. I can promise you that much.
Next week: PREVIEWS is out this week, so I'll likely start mixing that into the column next week, but I also would like to do some short reviews of comics I've read in the past couple of weeks. I've fallen behind on those, I'm afraid.The Pipeline Podcast will update this evening with the week's Top Ten Most Anticipated New Releases. Last week's podcast featured an interview with Erik Larsen that more of you really should listen to. I've seen the numbers on that. I know there are more of you reading this than listening to that. That makes me sad.
My blog, Various and Sundry is still updating daily, with plenty of link dumps and TV talk.
More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.