A SEAMLESS TRANSITION
Having read ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #112, I can safely say that the book is in safe hands with Stuart Immonen. It doesn't lose a bit of its charm. In fact, I think the new artist adds a new spark to the title.
The new issue is due out in shops next week. If you're worried that the departure of Mark Bagley marks the beginning of the end for the title, or that Immonen will be too radical a departure in art styles for the series to work, don't be. You're safe on both counts.
Yes, the book looks different, but it doesn't feel any different. Brian Bendis' writing still drives the show, with all the quips and dialogue stylings that you've come to expect from the last hundred and ten issues. Immonen has modified his art style yet again, putting it somewhere between his NEXTWAVE stuff and his monthly SUPERMAN work. I can even see hints in various panels that compare to the styles of such artists as Mike Mignola, Travis Charest, Olivier Coipel, and Frank Cho. Honestly, it looks like something I'd almost expect to see in a French comic album. There are hints of grounded realism mixed in with moments of well-chosen cartoon exaggeration. Not many artists can safely walk both sides of that line without looking silly. Immonen does it without the reader realizing it.
He nails the differences between adults and teenagers. With one panel's exception (story page six, panel three, and it's only in the upper body), Spider-Man looks like the gangly teenager inside the suit instead of a stereotypical superhero.
Immonen draws a wide range of emotions using both simple facial expressions to more complex -- and at times, more subtle -- body language. A classroom filled with teenagers has never looked so good or so natural, and everything has a slightly three dimensional look from Immonen's attention to detail and background.
He carries on with many of the hallmarks of Bagley's run, mostly in the panel layouts. He uses simple grids and two page layouts to get the story across. And he doesn't needlessly change the characters' hair styles and clothing choices just to make his mark on the book. It looks right, with just a slightly different filter over it.
Given the bit of a merry-go-round the other positions on this title have been on lately, I would be remiss in not mentioning Wade Von Grawbadger on inks, Justin Ponsor handling colors beautifully without overpowering the art (i.e. not too dark), and Ever Steady Chris Eliopoulos still lettering, 100 issues on.
The only single point at which the comic suffers is in Bendis' use of one of the most overused high school plot contrivances of the last twenty-five years: the high schoolers are getting baby dolls to treat like real babies. However, Bendis has infused these characters with enough personality that you'll forgive the momentary Ode To A John Hughes Movie. (I haven't seen all of Hughes' work, so if he never used the plot, then feel free to compare it to any family sit-com with teenagers from the last twenty-five years.) Thankfully, that plot isn't the main point of this issue; it's the way it brings characters into conflict that spurs the book on.
On the other hand, this is as much a teenage melodrama as it is a superhero title. If using this hoary old chestnut is a way to prove that, then the mission is accomplished. Like I said, Bendis uses it to force some characters into complicated positions, so it has a point. This isn't an old hack attempting to prove he's hip to today's educational system by throwing in something he saw on an episode of GROWING PAINS once.
The point is, this is another excellent issue of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. The transition to a new artist is a strong one. Bendis' script maintains the feel of the title. Old time fans have nothing to worry about here. And an artist as skilled and as strong as Immonen should give the book a welcomed boost of new fans. While I doubt he'll last 111 issues, I wouldn't mind being proven wrong on this one. Let's just hope for a good long run.
Oni Press published Jim Vining's FIRST IN SPACE a couple of months ago. It's an original graphic novel telling the story of the first chimp launched into space by the nascent American space program. It's a comic book documentary that's not heavy on melodrama, but gives the reader a good sense of what happened in the program, without going into a lot of graphic detail. Vining personalizes the tale by showing it through the eyes of the chimp and his handler. He helps to keep the story in its historical context by throwing in a few names you've probably heard of - Vice President Johnson, John Glenn, et. al. -- for authenticity.
It's an effective, if breezy, look at a story that most American boys daydream about at some point in their lives. Who amongst us hasn't watched THE RIGHT STUFF and APOLLO 13 with a sense of wonder? This is that story, but from a wildly different angle.
The art is strong. Vining is able to express emotion and show visual interest in a story that's filled with a lot of talking heads and repetitive training exercises. It's a solid cartooning style that doesn't go for spectacle, but does hit a few well-timed splash pages at key moments. I'm also sure that at least one of them is based on a well-known picture to those who've read more on the topic than I have. If you can picture Steve Rolston's art mixed in with a bit of Cal Slayton's, you'll get an idea.
The book doesn't get into the politics of animal testing at all, though it does include a full page ad in the back for a Save The Chimp type of program. I think it's more effective that way, if that's the author's goal. He told the story. He didn't need to do more than a couple of pages of high-falutin' chimp dream sequences to help establish some level of sadness to the chimp's new lifestyle. Heck, I'm hardly of the political persuasion that such organizations stick their hands out to, but I still wanted to go visit that website after reading the book.
In the end, though, this is a brief glimpse into the history books, not a polemic. Enjoy it for what it is. It reads easily and quickly. There's not a strong level of drama -- or, perhaps, melodrama -- present in the book, but one isn't needed. There are moments through the book that you hold your breath for, but you still know that the chimp goes up, comes back down, survives, and kicks off America's entry into the space race for good.
For only $10, this is an all-ages accessible read that makes for a pleasant diversion.
Let's see if I can explain what seems like something that's so obvious. I plugged in the DVD for SAVING PRIVATE RYAN the other night to see how it looked on my relatively new television set. It looked fine, but I didn't feel it. There was something missing that took a lot of the impact away from that harrowing early scene on the beach. It was the sound. Listening to it in stereo as opposed to 5.1 surround sound makes everything feel flat. If you can't hear the bullet buzzing past your ears, then you're not getting the full effect.
In high concept comics, the thrill is in seeing how a crazy idea can be executed. Whether it's pirates stuck in the modern world, or Zombies fighting Robots, or a Robot and an Angel learning life lessons from each other, you're sucked into the comic from an always-farcical sounding pitch. The crazier, the better. The plot is important. The art is important. And the dialogue needs to match that level of energy.
MONSTER ATTACK NETWORK has all of that in spades. The new original graphic novel from AiT/PlanetLar is the story of an organization much like Marvel's Damage Control, entrusted to protect a Pacific island from the monsters the humans cohabitate the island with, and then clean up any of their messes afterwards. The pitch from Marc Bernadin and Adam Freeman is killer, the kind of thing to spaek any comic reader's imagination. The art from newcomer Nima Sorat is a true discovery. I know nothing about Sorat, but the art looks like something a fashion design artist might render, complete with wonderful gray tones and a thick brush strokes. There's movement in every panel. While you could make an argument in a couple of spots that some storytelling suffers for it, there's always enough there that you get the gist, can follow the story, and have a good time without stumbling.
On top of it all, though, Bernadin and Freeman didn't skimp on the dialogue. It would have been very easy for them to let the art tell the story and NOT add that extra spark. They didn't. There's great rapid-fire banter and one-liners throughout the book, all without dragging the book down. Characters are best defined by their actions, true, but you can learn a lot about them from dialogue that cleverly expresses their personality as much as their action. The authors never get lost in expository dialogue, or conversations that last too long. Nothing has a chance to overstay its welcome in this book, as it just moves too fast, and that's a good thing. This is an action comic about men fighting monsters. You don't need to weigh it down with expository dialogue. You don't need to deeply explore the monsters' motivations. (You see how well that did for the HULK movie.)
MONSTER ATTACK NETWORK is the best offering from AiT/PlanetLar, I think, in some time. It's snappy, fast-paced, high-concept, and oodles of fun. It's available today for a mere thirteen of your hard earned greenbacks.
I just can't stop. Over the weekend, I posted a roughly hour-long conversation between Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast co-host Jamie Tarquini and I to the Pipeline Podcast feed. In it, we talk about Jamie's first trip to San Diego -- the travel nightmares, the panels, the creators, the costumes, and more. It's always fun to see San Diego through fresh eyes.
The normal weekly podcast will be up later tonight, with the PREVIEWS edition coming up sooner or later. It won't be until this weekend, at the earliest. Most likely, it'll be up next week.Next week: More reviews. Maybe I'll have some comments about Wizard World: Chicago, if anything happens there.
Now, for a quick list of links to all my Web 2.0 content: The Various and Sundry blog -- my personal home site. Check out last week's megapost about podcasting in monotone.
More than 700 columns -- maybe even 800 -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.