LATE BREAKING PREVIEW: CIVIL WAR #5
. . . is out this week. I think if you've bitten on everything Mark Millar has tossed your way so far in the first four issues, you won't find much to quibble with this time. If you had problems in the past, you might only find one or two little things to have problems with here. Say what you want, but the tone and the characterization is internally consistent. And for the first time, Millar is really trying to put across the pro-registration side of the story in this issue, with plenty of Iron Man's supporters making cogent arguments. Sadly, they keep talking past the point they need to make and they become less agreeable. Ah, well, it's a step in the right direction, at least.
Put simply, CIVIL WAR #5 is Spider-Man's Very Very Bad Day, with events picking up directly after the last issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. That's all you need to know at this point, and that's all I can say without spoilers. Other characters pop up, some coming out of the shadows, andothers appearing in them. There's a nice big slam-bang action sequence in the middle, and a lot of plotting and pawn-maneuvering all around that.
Steve McNiven's art is beautiful here, topping what we saw in the last issue. I know some people thought that some pages looked "rush" in the fourth part, but this issue looks solid clear through from beginning to end. There's a lot of colorful characters in the book, and McNiven draws them all well. Heck, even Ultra Girl gets a line of dialogue in this book, and the obscure Marvel fanboy inside of me squealed in delight at that. (I think that mini-series is where I first saw and enjoyed Leonard Kirk's artwork.) The only gotcha I thought I made was in one full page splash when I immediately spotted a Dale Keown swipe. Anyone who was reading Marvel in the early- to mid-90s will recognize the pose and the character. You might have to look closely on the printed page, but thereis a little "after Keown" sign in the background of the page, so all is forgiven for that transparency.
CIVIL WAR #5 is sure to ignite a few more fires on the internet, and is also bound to explain why a couple titles were delayed until after its release. I know there are a couple of them I'm really looking forward to now.
BUSY PODCASTING DAYS
If you haven't been paying attention to the podcast feed, this would be an excellent time to do so. In addition to last week's marathon 24 minute solo outing, I was joined by Jamie Tarquini later in the week for the first of a two-part podcast dedicated to the most recent PREVIEWS catalog. The second part of that discussion will be posted at the end of this week.
My guest on this week's podcast is Todd Dezago, co-creator on TELLOS and THE PERHAPANAUTS. It'll be up later tonight, and you'll want to stick around for it. There's some great stuff in there, including an exciting announcement or two.
If that's still not enough for you, hang around. Chris Eliopoulos drops by next week for another interview just in time for Thanksgiving. Not coincidentally, that's the holiday featured in his latest FRANKLIN RICHARDS outing.
I also plow through this little column every week, which is in its 492nd consecutive week. Time flies, doesn't it?
A LITTLE TASTE OF EUROPE
While manga is still dominant, I think we're slowly starting to see Euro-comics rise up again here in the States. No, it's not an avalanche by any stretch of the imagination, but there's hope on the horizon for the first time since DC let Humanoids go. The fine folks at Cinebook are releasing a steady stream of translating bandes dessinees, including LUCKY LUKE and others. TIN TIN is on a comeback, with fresh printings of his earliest adventures arriving in comic shops just last week. And if you keep your eyes open, you might just see two more entrants in the race in the last couple of weeks. They're baby steps, but every step counts.
First, Jordi Bernet has crossed the Atlantic to begin work on JONAH HEX for three issues. Before this, you'd likely only know him from his DC SPOTLIGHT issue, or a pair of hardcover books collecting his art from Auad Publishing, a small vanity press. Bernet's art is fine cartooning, with a style that would appeal to fans of Darwyn Cooke, Bruce Timm, Alex Toth, or Cameron Stewart. He captures scenes with brilliant bits of staging and lighting. This one issue of JONAH HEX is a class unto its own of how to light scenes for drama, and how to construct panels to convey emotion, meaning, and depth. I could look at them all day to see the way he draws rain, or silhouette things to draw the eye into a panel. It's a deceptively cartoony style of art, which I know won't appeal to all people, but is remarkably skilled. Don't look at it for the surface sheen. Look at it for the storytelling mastery, and you'll appreciate the book all that much more.
This issue is the first part of the origin of Jonah Hex, and by the time you're done you'll know why his face is as messed up as it is. Vengeance will be his later in the storyline, I imagine. Gray and Palmiotti's script is tight enough to not let a moment go to waste, but open enough to give Bernet a chance to shine. Some simple moments feel so much more important, given the lack of overwriting.
Final judos to letterer Rob Leigh, who appears to have chosen BlamBot's Euro Comic font for this issue. It complements Bernet's art nicely.
Indulge me in pure lettering geekery for a moment, please: Leigh failed to use both sets of characters throughout the issue. I can only see one "E" style used throughout the book, even on words with a double-"E" in the middle of a word. It's a better idea to intermix the two sets of characters to give the lettering a slightly more random/hand-drawn feel. End of indulgence. Thanks for your patience.
I need to go back and read the first trade paperback collecting this series, because I've only heard good things about it. But for now, I'm very comfortable jumping on with the thirteenth issue. It doesn't require any continuity knowledge to get started, and it's well worth the read.
The second book I want to mention here is THE KILLER, the latest comic series from Archaia Studios Press, the people that give you MOUSE GUARD. THE KILLER is a direct import of a Casterman BD book, translated by its original author, Matz, and broken down into ten comic books, as opposed to the original five albums. It's the story of a lonely hit man. The first issue takes place entirely in his head, with very few word balloons appearing on the page. It's a nice meditation on what it means to follow this life, interspersed with brief moments of action and violence.
While the art from Luc Jacamon is shrunk down to fit standard comic book size, it doesn't suffer for it at all. The panels are large enough that you'd almost think they were designed for this smaller format and not the typical Euro-album oversized look. I went to the Casterman website to see if I could find some of the original pages there. There's only one sample, but I was surprised by what I saw. I thought, for sure, that ASP was rearranging panels to create shorter pages. Just look at all the white space on the top and bottom of every page of the ASP comic. Judging by the admittedly small sample size of one page, though, they're not. It's a direct one-to-one correlation. The art is just open enough to accommodate a smaller size. This isn't a book that loses detail in the shrinking, such as would happen with any Schuiten book.
Despite that, the intricate and detailed imagery is there, mostly in the scenery and backgrounds. The French and Belgian comics creators don't skimp on that. They really want you to land inside their world. They draw every table and every chair. Part of that might be a function of a longer deadline than what American comic artists have to deal with. American artists struggle to find shortcuts to hint at backgrounds without having to draw every last one. That's not a slight to them. It's a function of what comics are -- monthly and repetitive. I can't blame them for not wanting to draw the interior of the Bat Cave for 20 pages month in and month out. Give enough information to carry the story and get out. Simplify.
But even the cartooniest of cartoonists in Europe give you twice as much detail as you're used to in the art of American comics. Look at Asterix, for one good example. Uderzo drew all the bushes and trees of that forest. And while he may have reused some establishing shots of the village across albums, those shots were always there. Later close-ups included full backgrounds. Even Carl Barks couldn't do that.
THE KILLER is a great example of the kind of book I wish we had more of in this country today. It's easily accessible to one and all, and is still likely set in the kind of world that a superhero junkie could understand. It's mature without being too smart for its own good. The art -- from the line work down to the coloring -- works well.
Sadly, they chose the world's worst comic book font -- WhizBang -- for the lettering. I'll never understand why so many European translations default to that crappy font, particularly when there are so many more professional ones easily available for a cheap purchase today.
One more book, though this is stretching my definition of Euro-Comics. WISDOM #1 is a book that you probably didn't even know was coming. It showed up in the Marvel solicitations a couple of months ago, and not much has been said about it since. Certainly, there's been no big campaign to promote it, no interviews sweeping the 'net of the creators, and no major crossovers of the characters in other titles.
WISDOM is a MAX title that stands on its own two feet with a high concept that's bound to be entertaining. UK-based writer Paul Cornell gives us the story of Pete Wisdom -- Kitty Pryde's one-time EXCALIBUR boyfriend -- and the MI-13, the secret section of British intelligence tasked to the world of fantasy characters come to life. In includes Wisdom, a Skrull, "Tink the Fairy Dissident," and more. It's a colorful and well-chosen cast of characters, all with attitudes that are bound to clash and often do.
There's a devilish charm to this book, thanks to the confluence of odd characters and an unexplored subculture in Marvel lore. This first issue is rather simple, fast, and has an ending out of left field that will either make you chuckle or groan. It's a coin flip. Now that Cornell has established the characters and the situation, I look forward to seeing more complicated storylines, but hopefully not lacking any of the wit or creativity that this inaugural outing possessed.
The art on the book is from another British export, Trevor Hairsine, whose work we just don't see enough of. His is an interesting combination of styles, but you'll notice the likes of Alan Davis, Bryan Hitch, and Dale Keown in there first and foremost. Having Paul Neary inking him certainly helps with those comparisons. It's a pleasant style that works well for the book, with lots of blacks to ramp up the dramatic part of the narrative.
WISDOM is one to look out for. I want to see what the future issues give us before recommending it, but it might just turn out to be a clever and entertaining trade paperback for your summer reading next year.
For more on WISDOM, check out CBR's interview with Paul Cornell.
So, to sum up, I'm positing that the influence of European comics on American readers is growing due to a Marvel comic done by two Brits, a DC comic drawn by a Spaniard, and one honest-to-gosh translated BD from a relatively small company that probably won't ever be seen by more than 5,000 people here.
Sometimes I pull at any loose thread I can to unravel a theme in the books I happened to read that week. . .
- I was worried that I'd forget the characters and situations of CRIMINAL #1 before the second issue hit stands. Not only did I have no problem remembering the characters in the first issue when I sat down with the second last week -- a full week after the book had hit shelves -- but the second issue turned out to be better than the first. Brubaker and Phillips ramp up the action very quickly, and give us all the twists and turns we could have asked for.
I read somewhere once that there are two types of heist movies -- those where the viewer knows what's going to happen and then things go horribly wrong, and those where the viewer doesn't know what's going to happen and is impressed with the ingenuity of the heist and how smart the criminals are. Sure, we don't want to sympathize with or admire thugs and thieves, but we can't help respect their creativity and foresight. Brubaker somehow combines both types of heist into one storyline, and it's wonderful to behold.
My experience with film noir is very limited. I can't speak towards the authenticity of this comic to the style of cinema that influenced it. It does, however, all make me want to go back and find more, past just RIFIFI and THE MALTESE FALCON and one or two others that I have seen. That's where Brubaker's text pages in the back of these issues should prove quite handy.
Whether you're waiting for the trade or just hemming and hawing on the monthly, make sure you read CRIMINAL. One way or the other. It's a rare book that's as good as its hype.
- Read NEW AVENGERS #24 last week, finally cementing in my mind once and for all that I just don't care about The Sentry.
- FRANKLIN RICHARDS SON OF A GENIUS: HAPPY FRANKSGIVING is another fun romp from Chris Eliopoulos and Marc Sumerak. If you liked the previous editions, you'll like this one. I think it's my favorite of the lot so far, just because the GUIDING LIGHT crossover in the back of it tickled my funny bone so much.
I'm kidding. The reason I like it the most so far is that it looks like Eliopoulos is playing more with the formula than ever before. This book shows all the signs of a restless artist, continuing to give the fans what they're looking for while making it interesting to himself by doing new tricks along the way. That includes multiple Franklins running around his bedroom, some dramatic spotting of blacks at the open of the Thanksgiving story, and a few widescreen panel pages.
The stories are still of the silly Kid Gets In Trouble variety, but the artist is playing around the formula more, which renews my interest in the material. It reminds me a bit of the way Don Rosa began playing with the formula on UNCLE SCROOGE stories a few years back. One story about a way to change the pull of gravity leant itself to turning the pages on their side to continue reading the story. A story about a black hole creation led to characters falling through panels. I wonder if this kind of creativity is fueled by a desire on the artist's part not to get bored, or not to bore his readership?
In either case, HAPPY FRANKSGIVING is a high point in this series so far.
- There's a reason why Jim Lee is one of the most liked people in comics. Check out his Newsarama interview this week for yet another example of his honesty and transparency.
- For those who have asked, I can now say that I have seen the very first episode of HEROES. I have the rest sitting on TiVo to watch, but haven't gotten there yet. I liked the first episode, but there's a certain momentum lacking there from all the quick cuts between storylines and characters. It's nice that they tied a couple of them together here and there, but it's a bit too frenetic for me right now. That said, that's only the pilot episode I watched. Shows always settle down after that, so I'm planning to watch the next couple of episodes before I decide if it's a keeper or not.
- I've praised Stan Sakai frequently in recent weeks. Check out this CBR interview with Sakai for more preview panels of USAGI YOJIMBO #100, and Sakai's thoughts on turning 100 with the rabbit. It's a great article.
- The Pipeline Podcast takes full credit for inspiring Erik Larsen to write his most recent "One Fan's Opinion" column. It may or may not be deserving, but I'll take it anyway.
Next week: Reviews and stuff.The Pipeline Podcast is must-listening tonight. See the top of this column for why.
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