ODDS AND ENDS
Some quick thoughts on some recent comics:
THE NEW AVENGERS #28 was a great issue. It really cemented in my mind that this is the premiere team title of the Marvel Universe. It's got everything I want in a Marvel comic, including lots of characters, quips, and adventure. The team has traveled over to Japan and squabbles amongst itself the entire time. But interspersed with those scenes are the ones that show us more on how the team came together and got to Japan in the first place. Brian Bendis shows a strong awareness of the characters of the Marvel Universe, mixing and matching them in a way that feels familiar, yet new. It's an interesting line to walk, but I think he's doing it deftly. And it's a new front runner on my list of most anticipated titles from month to month now. I used to wait for the hardcovers with this series. Not anymore.
Francis Yu's artwork doesn't hurt, either. It's shot now directly from the pencils, and I think that gives it more life than it would had they used an inker. Dave McCaig -- who colored Yu on the SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT book - comes along here, too, creating a bright look that interacts with the pencil work in an enjoyable way.
THUNDERBOLTS #112 is the change of pace for the title that I was looking for. Rather than featuring a bunch of villains and near-villains going after a good guy and destroying him in a most sadistic way, Warren Ellis's script in this issue is scattered across a diverse cast of characters. Each of the mainstays of the team gets their chance in the spotlight, while some new characters are introduced that raise your anticipation for whatever hijinks they might add to the title in the months ahead. It gave me renewed interest in the book. The only thing that didn't at all work for me was Norman Osborn's speech to Radioactive Man. You could argue it's perfectly in character for Osborn to try to manipulate Dr. Lu like that, but to me it came off poorly. It read like clichéd hackneyed political theater, and I've seen it and heard it a million times before.
You should buy the issue, though, just for the one page Stan Lee cameo that reads like something that would have been used in NEXTWAVE, had the book survived past a year.
THE SPIRIT #4 is another beautiful book. Darwyn Cooke has yet to make a single misstep in this series. The first issue recently had a second printing. It's not too late to jump on board. Every issue is complete in and of itself. I hope there's a hardcover compilation for this series in the future. I'd love to see ABSOLUTE THE SPIRIT next year, but I somehow doubt that will enter the publishing program.
SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT
The kind folks at Penguin Books sent over a copy of Berkeley Breathed's newest book, MARS NEEDS MOMS. Yes, this is the BLOOM COUNTY guy. This time around, he's written and illustrated a 40-page picture book for kids that is imaginative, witty, and colorful. It's enough to entertain both the parent (or uncle) and the child.
The story is of a little boy, Milo, who complains about his tyrannical mother who wants him to do silly things like take out the trash, eat his vegetables, and clean his room. When aliens abduct her and many other moms, Milo tags along for the ride and discovers a little something about the world and about mothers on the planet Mars.
No, this isn't sequential narrative. There are moments of that over the course of the book, and I'm sure some might argue that this is as much a comic book as anything else. I'm not going to get involved in the semantics. It's a book with words and pictures telling a funny story with a sweet moral and nice art. There's the occasional pen and ink illos, but the majority of the book is full-page computer-painted drawings with lines of type next to them.
It's odd to see the lushly colored artwork from a guy many of us grew up on drawing penguins and crazy cats in pen and ink, but it really does work. Some of the blurring/focusing work Breathed attempts in the computer might be trying a bit too hard, but there are also moments where it really really works.
I was particularly taken with Breathed's word-play in the book, referring to mothers, for example, as "bellowing broccoli bullies and carrot-cuddling cuckoos." Accompanied by an illustration of a little boy scowling at the orange and green vegetables strewn across the table, the whole thing rings true enough to make you laugh.
It might be a little too scary near the end for the very youngest of readers, but there's nothing overly-traumatic in the book to scar them for life. Instead, it's an imaginative tale of a little boy who learns to love his mother for all she's given him. It's available next week as a wide hardcover (about 9 x 11 inches, I'd guess) with a dust jacket for $17. Breathed completists and those with children might want to consider this one.
FIVE YEARS AGO LAST WEEK
Five years ago this week, I was writing about PREVIEWS. In retrospect, that's not very exciting, so let's go back a week further.
Five years ago last week in Pipeline history, I was writing column #250, with no plans to celebrate the milestone until the fifth anniversary column due out a couple of months later. Today, I'm more or less planning the same thing, having skipped the 500th column in favor of the tenth anniversary.
By now, there's a Pipeline Drinking Game somewhere that involves taking a sip everytime I mention that anniversary. I understand. I'll drink with you all.
In any case, Pipeline #250 held a smattering of then-recent reviews. It's always interesting to pick up a point of time in your comics reading past to see what you were excited about. Thankfully, the Pipeline archives give me a wicked paper trail to pick through.
Back at the end of March 2002, I was talking about THE ULTIMATES #3 (volume 1), ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP #14 (starring Black Widow and drawn by Terry Moore), and the brief revival of MARVEL KNIGHTS that never went anywhere.
In addition to that were a couple of books worth mentioning:
. . .last week's ULTIMATE X-MEN #16 includes the first appearance of a small bookstore in Marvel's London, UK. Featured across the bottom of a spread on story pages 8 and 9 of the issue, the independent establishment's name is "De Blieck's Books." I have the inside scoop that the store owner is just waiting for a big money buyout from Borders or Barnes and Noble so that he can retire to the fields of his family's estate in the country, and spend his afternoons at the local pub tossing darts.
I'm sure by now the owner has been run out of town on a rail, his store re-christened a Borders, and the parking lot tripled in size. Time marches on. . .
And from the "Can You Believe It's Been Five Years Already?" Department:
SPIDER-MAN: TANGLED WEB #12, "I Was A Teenaged Frog Man," is the writing debut of Zeb Wells, who will have to go through life now with the modern equivalent of Mark Bagley's, "I broke into comics by winning the How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way contest." Wells produced a couple of hilarious superhero spoof videos for WIZARD that were shown at the Chicago convention last year. He won the award and shortly thereafter the attention of comic book editors. Axel Alonso got to him first and the results will go on public display this week.
The good news is that the kid's got chops. While you might expect a series of black out gags like the videos he produced, you're not getting that here. You're getting a fully realized story with a couple of silly moments in it, but otherwise with humor stemming directly from the actions of the characters and their worldviews.
Zeb Wells has made the most of the last five years, writing a string of titles for Marvel, and now starring in an upcoming reality TV show. In case you missed it, there was a thirty second commercial during AMERICAN IDOL last week featuring Wells, the young filmmaker whose experience involves satirical takes on boy bands and superhero teams. Yes, a clip from his WIZARD award-winning video was played in the ad. He'll be part of the Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg-produced ON THE LOT on FOX in a few weeks.
Good luck to him. I'm sure he'll get a large voting bloc from the comics community.
Later that week, the March 29th Pipeline2 column was an even more eclectic set of reviews. It featured SPAWN #115:
SPAWN is described these days as an "urban horror" book. This issue would fit loosely into that department. It's definitely horror, although it's not necessarily "street-level" type stuff. In this storyline, the action takes place in Japan, and focuses on some mystic humdrum and ghostly visages and a weary traveler who's mixed up in all of it. It's all dreadfully boring and terribly nonsensical. About the only entertaining part was watching Angel Medina replicating the feel of LONE WOLF AND CUB in the climactic swordfight between Spawn and Lord Nakadai. It doesn't live up to its predecessor by a long shot.
The book isn't for me anymore. I imagine that if I were a 13-year-old starting comics again, it would be really cool to see the individual images in this book. They're littered all over the page. They're bold and dramatic. Their fault lies in the lack of storytelling, though, which is something that a comics reader can't help but pick up on through the years.
Honestly, I looked at the most recent issue of SPAWN this past week, and my take on the title hasn't changed at all. The art is a little more restrained, but the horror stuff has been amped up, everything is ugly on purpose, and it's not a book I could ever get into. Good luck to Todd McFarlane and his company on changing the direction of the title, but it's still not one I'm interested in.
After that, other reviews in the column included CEREBUS #276 (with a Spawn parody), RUSE #5, TRUE STORY: SWEAR TO GOD #2, VAMPIRELLA #7, and ROBIN #100. Funny enough, I can see that in discussing Dixon's writing style, I referenced the same issue of ROBIN in my review of issue #100 as I did in the ROBIN: WANTED trade paperback just last week. It really stuck with me. The more I think of it, though, the more I wonder if that wasn't a NIGHTWING issue, not ROBIN. Oh, well.
But, wow, that's an interesting mix of books to discuss all in one week.
The Pipeline Podcast will update again this week, though I can't guarantee it'll be tonight for Real Life scheduling reasons. Check the feeds -- it'll be there as soon as it's done.
This column returns next week, as always.
My blog, Various and Sundry is your best spot on the 'net to stop to chat about American Idol the day after every episode. Plus, I throw in link dumps related to the tech industry, TV and movies, and lots more. News from the world of DRM management on iTunes and Linux being used at the Library of Congress has started off the week already.
More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.