LATER THIS WEEK
Almost three weeks ago, I interviewed George Khoury about his forthcoming history of Image Comics. We spoke for over an hour about the book, the effects Image had on the comics industry, some of the personalities behind the company, and a whole lot more. For any old school Image fanboy, this is an hour of pure gold.
The good news is that I finally finished editing it and tweaking the audio levels on the recording over the weekend. While the usual weekly Pipeline Podcast will be out tonight, as usual, keep an ear out for this special Image-themed hour-long podcast special in the next couple of days.
WHAT I'VE BEEN READING
THUNDERBOLTS is a book that I think I should like, but I have serious problems with it. I do have a dark streak of humor. I can be as sarcastic and as dark as a situation doesn't warrant for maximum comedic effect. Truly, I can. But THUNDERBOLTS comes off to me as an exercise in meanness. It's a group of nasty people doing nasty things to people we like. Where's the fun in that? I can appreciate a certain amount of the creativity in the wretched brutality on display in the title, but unless Warren Ellis is setting all these bad people up for a rather ugly fall in the next few issues, I'm just not going to be comfortable reading this book for too much longer.
USAGI YOJIMBO #100 was as good as I expected it to be. For those who didn't read about it earlier in Pipeline, the 100th issue at Dark Horse was a roast of Stan Sakai featuring guest contributions from Jeff Smith, Guy Davis, Scott Shaw!, Mark Evanier, Jamie S. Rich, Andi Watson, Rick Geary, Frank Miller, Sergio Aragones, and more. Sakai strings most of the short gag pieces together by drawing his own introductions to his artistic friends, and the whole issue is a descent into a fun absurdity, the likes of which we'll never see in this book again. I think Sergio Aragones' and Guy Davis' contributions stole the show, but the Andi Watson-drawn piece written by Jamie S. Rich was fun, as well. The Evanier/Shaw! piece felt a little long, even though it was only four pages, but still has a classic funny animal sense of humor to it. All in all, it's a great $3.50 addition to your collection.
If you haven't been reading USAGI, go ahead and pick up one of the recent trades. They stand well on their own, and most have multiple complete stories. This is a book whose sales should be multiples of what they likely are. They're just that good.
Yes, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #538 (the "somebody gets shot!" issue) is a bit of a cheat, but Ron Garney's art is so beautiful that I have a hard time being too negative with the book. I thought J. Michael Straczynski did a great job in tap dancing around the end of CIVIL WAR with his script, accurately summing up the state of affairs after the mini-series' seventh issue, while not spoiling it for anyone.
THE NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI #2 is must-reading for any Marvel reader who fondly remembers the INFINITY GAUNTLET era at the company. Jim Cheung's art is beautiful. Justin Ponsor's colors are bright and well defined. And the script from Brian Bendis and Brian Reed is big and cosmic. It has all the individual pieces a story like this would need. Granted, I haven't read those mini-series in a long time. My faulty memory doesn't pick up on any continuity gaffes that the ending of this issue might create. I think this is also another excellent time to call on Marvel to reprint INFINITY GAUNLET -- heck, all three mini-series -- in an oversized hardcover form. Those books would sell.
I can't help but wonder what would happen with a book like INFINITY GAUNTLET if it was produced today. Would they wait for George Perez to finish up his commitments at DC to put out the last half of the series? Would they have used a faster artist like Ron Lim to pick up the slack and complete the series on time? Would the internet savage every issue as it came out for being a dumb stupid commercial waste of time? Could the wonder and cosmic awe of the series survive in today's day and age?
It's almost too depressing to consider.
CIVIL WAR: FRONT LINE #11 is a book that I said the whole Civil War event needed to bring things together in a cohesive way. I'm sorry to say that it didn't work for me. I don't want to give too much away, but all it does is further vilify Tony Stark's side of the debate, which is about all the event has done since its inception. And then Ben Urich throws away his journalistic ethics for the sake of, er, something. A safer tomorrow? I don't know. But he tosses away the story of the century for the sake of everyone getting along. Bizarre.
This, by the way, occurs only after Sally calls Captain America out of touch with America for not having a MySpace page or knowing who won American Idol last year or attending a NASCAR race. Guess what? Most of our parents are out of touch, if that's the definition. And I'm not buying it. Thankfully, I don't think too many others bought it, either.
Image's TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD #4 has the timely cover of Tom Beland acting like Ghost Rider. Amazingly enough, it's relevant to the story. I thought that it would just be a pseudo movie tie-in cover, but I was wrong. Credit to Beland for working in his sunburn story in a creative and marketable way. Really, though, this issue is two or three stories blended in together, as Tom has his tanning issue, makes some money doing body painting, and watches his wife accept an award for charitable work. It's told as sweetly as you'd think, but with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor and honesty that always makes the book work.
DAREDEVIL #94 is a complete filler issue. It's a recap of the Milla/Matt relationship, with very little new added to the mix. It might be a nice issue for a first-time reader who wants to jump on now that the overall story arc of the last 70 issues is completed, but for the rest of us it works out to be a very pretty time sink. Lee Weeks and Stefano Gaudiano handle the art. You couldn't tell that Michael Lark wasn't drawing the issue unless you read the credits. It's a seamless transition in art styles. Weeks is a great artist on his own, but if he can morph his style this well to match Lark's, then he should have a permanent home as the resident DAREDEVIL backup/fill-in artist.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #1 is a very pretty first issue with a few great character moments that sell the whole book. It reminded me a bit of the best of the Giffen/DeMatteis JUSTICE LEAGUE era in that way. No, this isn't a BWAH HA HA book by a long shot, but Mark Waid seamlessly adds in the little character moments over the course of the whole story that really make it stick out in your mind. Bruce Wayne's connections in Vegas and Hal's daredevil betting style make perfect sense. They're incidental to the story, in many ways, but they make the whole thing credible. Waid is able to write not just a larger story here, but also one that is filled with believable moments.
George Perez is, well, George Perez. His work in this issue is most impressive in the quieter moments, believe it or not. Since this isn't a large team book, Perez doesn't have the opportunity to dazzle the reader with the spectacle of his detailed art and character-packed pages. Instead, it's the smaller moments that really shine. When a character walks through an office, for example, the shadows are perfect for the room, and everything has its place. There's art on the wall, pictures on the desk, plants on the coffee table, and bottles of alcohol over on the side. Perez doesn't waste an inch of space on the page and it, once again, adds to the believability of the story.
He does get to draw a large fight in the Batcave which has many of the Perez trademarks you might be looking for, though. It's pretty cool.
DETECTIVE COMICS #829 is the first of a two-parter giving Paul Dini a bit of breathing room in his writing schedule. Stuart Moore steps in for a story in which Bruce Wayne is trapped in his own building as a suicidal bombed wreaks havoc. Robin is left to fight it out for himself, as Bruce gives help where he can from plain sight. It's a great set-up for a story, and Moore does a smart job in this first part in making a real page-turner that makes sense.
CIVIL WAR: THE INITIATIVE is a bit of an odd duck. I've heard Bendis describe it as being the place to put all those leftover scenes they never had the chance to put in other books. Coincidentally, of course, all those leftover scenes lead into new series or new directions for old series. (And, wow, does that Omega Flight lead-in stretch the reader's acceptance for a kind and benevolent Dr. Langkowski. Thankfully, the preview art by Scott Kolins looks so amazing that I'm willing to overlook that for now.) Warren Ellis even hops in with a short THUNDERBOLTS story that has all of the same problems as the regular series has.
The big draw of the book, I suppose, would be Marc Silvestri's art. He handles all 34 pages of art in this book, which is a worthwhile accomplishment for an artist who doesn't handle regular comics anymore. (Well, there was that whole HUNTER/KILLER debacle last year, but I think I've about driven that thing into the ground for all the humor it's worth.) I heard Silvestri on Fanboy Radio last week. He talked there about how it takes him two or three days to complete a page. I imagine it would take him a full week per page without the help of his two credited background artists.
(Spoiler alert! We're about to get into the obligatory discussion of the events surrounding the latest issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA. If you've managed to live under a rock successfully for the last week and don't want to be spoiled have a nice week and I'll see you back here next Tuesday. Back to the column. . .)
By the way, this book takes place after CAPTAIN AMERICA #25. Two things should tip you off to that fact. First, there's a reference to Cap's death in the dialogue of the issue. Second, there's a six page preview of the issue in the back of the book that ends with Cap getting shot.
Let's talk about the whole CA #25 debacle. Like so many of you, I tried to stay away from the spoilers last Wednesday. I stopped visiting comic sites. I didn't look at any mainstream news sites. I stuck to the technical sites and TV-related sites and video game sites and everything that WASN'T related to comic book. It only took until 10:00 a.m. to see the "Captain America is dead" headline on Reddit.com, an otherwise extreme-left leaning tech website. (What can I say? They have neat links to LISP stories mixed in with the dozens of daily "Impeach Bush" headlines that I can so easily ignore.)
There was just no getting away from it last Wednesday, and I think this was a bigger loss of surprise than the Spider-Man unmasking event from last summer that everyone is comparing it to. The unmasking was not a shocker. We all saw it coming for a month leading into that issue. Before the preview copies of THUNDERBOLTS spoiled the story outright, the previous CIVIL WAR issue and the concurrent AMAZING SPIDER-MAN issue showed everything leading up to that one moment that people felt "spoiled" about because it hit the newspapers and mainstream news sites the same day as the issue.
This plot point of Captain American came out of left field, though. We only knew that something big was going to happen. I figured that Steve Rogers would be forced to give up being Cap again. Instead, Steve Rogers was dead again. Thankfully, Harvey Jerkwater compiled a list of previous Cap deaths. Thanks to Loren for pointing it out on the Pipeline message board.
It must have been a slow news day, or Marvel's P.R. department called in all its favors to get the kind of headlines this story got. Most of the stories featured interviews with people who pointed out how this kind of thing is never permanent. That didn't stop the eBay hounds from snapping up issues and throwing them on-line for $50 or $75. It's madness, but it'll be short-lived.
Folks, this story is written by the guy who brought Foggy Nelson and Bucky back. How long do you think Steve Rogers will be dead for? Obviously, not forever.
Besides, which, the big story of the issue is not in Cap's death, but in the Sharon Carter twist at the end of the issue. That's the big shocker. That's the memorable part of the story arc that drives a knife into your gut and twists it in place. That's what the comic fans will be talking about when it comes to this issue. Steve Rogers' death is almost incidental. Without knowing the who or how or why, it's not much of a story, now is it?
I would have preferred all the comic book news sites -- CBR included -- had not spoiled it in their headlines for 24 hours, but what are you going to do? The story was out there already. It went beyond our little community. It was out of our hands.
It's only a shame that the retailers didn't listen to Marvel when they were told how big an issue this would be. Marvel can't give out the full spoilers to impress upon retailers how big an issue this was going to be. Retailers don't trust Marvel for various reasons. Marvel did as much as it probably could do, in overprinting the issue and giving as much warning as possible for weeks in advance.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more Marvel was damned if they did, and damned if they didn't. Think about it: If Marvel had come out in advance of the issue and told retailers that CAPTAIN AMERICA #25 would feature the death of Steve Rogers and the retailers should order huge numbers on them, what would the response likely have been? "Sure, Marvel, pull the other one. Steve Rogers will be back in three months and nobody is going to fall for this latest sham death."
In the end, the retailers who listened to Marvel in this instance will have made the most money. And even they probably didn't order enough. In some ways, it's a no-win scenario. The Direct Market doesn't have the infrastructure necessary to handle this kind of event, period, and that's everyone's fault. We've built our house of cards and have to live with the consequences now.
One last note: Let's not overreact to the overreaction to this issue and start wailing and moaning that the speculators are back and the bust is here. They're not and it's not. This is an isolated incident that generated a one-time interest on the part of those who've never been in a comic shop before and likely won't ever return. Just sit tight and ride out the initial eBay stupidity, buy your second printing, enjoy the story, and come back next month to see where Brubaker and company are going with the storyline. Or, just wait for the trade paperback in a few months. Either way, you can get the story and enjoy the spectacle without going broke, feeding into the worst of the worst, or creating any self-fulfilling prophecies. Thanks.
EIGHT YEARS AGO
Erik Larsen announced he was leaving AQUAMAN. I wrote up a special mid-week column to break the news, as this was back before the days when there were multiple major daily comic news sites and dozens of blogs tracking every creators' move. Pipeline hadn't even joined CBR yet. That wouldn't happen for another couple of months. But in that week for those five minutes, Pipeline was a news breaker. Whoo!
And, boy, did the move ever raise my dander. I'm a much more cynical and accepting critic now. I've seen enough stuff and seen enough of these cycles go around that very little surprises me or upsets me. At worst, I tend to scoff at it, make a few cutting comments, and move on with my life. That wasn't so true on March 17, 1999.
It just seems a mighty shame that with all the editors DC has taken great pains to scoop up lately (Matt Idelson, Heidi MacDonald, and Bob Schreck), they can't seem to properly control the ones they have. The main question to ask here is why would Dooley ask Larsen aboard if he wouldn't let him write the damned book?!? Why would any editor do that to any writer? You hear it happening again and again, but usually it happens in a book like you'd find in the mutant universe over at Marvel. Or with a Superman book. They're intricately woven into the plots of other books and so must be controlled. AQUAMAN is pretty well self-sustaining. Aside from any JLA activity, AQUAMAN is a loner and the book is rather self-contained. Stupid editorial dictates like, "Superman must appear this month" are easy enough to blow through. But this seems too weird. I suppose if I wanted to be conspiratorial, I'd fashion this theory: Sales on Aquaman were sliding. Sales were low. Nobody cared about the book anymore, and those that did were leaving when PAD left, too, after considerable editorial dictating became impossible to deal with. (I sense a pattern already.) Even Aquaman's presence in DC's most popular title, JLA, couldn't boost sales.
So what better way to boost sales than to invite on as writer the man often considered PAD's greatest enemy? The man who's had 13 column tirades in his letters column against PAD? It certainly would fuel interest, wouldn't it?
Ah, good times. . .
Don't forget to check the podcast feed for tonight's weekly installment and the big Image discussion later in the week. I'll be back with another column next Tuesday, filled to the brim with whatever itch I need to scratch next week. Let's hope no major metropolitan newspaper cracks a front page story over a Marvel or DC comic in the meantime.My blog, Various and Sundry looks like a lot of Reality TV show reviews with sporadic tech/geeky things thrown in. I'm working on beefing up the tech stuff and toning down the reality stuff, though.
More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.