ASTERIX HEADS TO IBERIA
What, you thought I'd forgotten the little guy? Perish that thought.
ASTERIX IN SPAIN is the 14th volume of Goscinny and Uderzo's mega-successful European series of comics. This time around, we meet a Spanish village similar to Asterix's one -- it's the lone hold out against Roman oppression. The Romans retaliate by kidnapping the son of the village's Chief Huevos y Bacon. But when Asterix and Obelix meet the snotty little brat after beating up their daily allotment of Romans, a trip to Spain is in order to return him. As you'd expect, this leads to the kind of humor the series excels in -- parodying stereotypes and local trivia to great hilarity. I wondered throughout this book if the humor of the series couldn't be read badly by certain parties. While I don't think the jokes are necessarily politically incorrect, I can't help but wonder if an ASTERIX GOES TO KENYA book with a similar style of humor wouldn't end up getting the same treatment today as TINTIN IN THE CONGO current is gettting. There is a black pirate with overly large lips recurring through the series that marches up to that line, but does it cross it? I don't know. Surely, someone's written about this before. I'm sure I'll come across that someday.
Still, it would be a shame if we can't poke fun of each other for our smaller foibles. In this volume, for example, the Spaniards have a tendency to shout "Ole" and take siestas. It's a broad stereotype, but it's ultimately harmless and is cause for a few great laughs. Still, some people take things so seriously. . .
It's not all stereotypical humor, though. There's a lot of physical humor in this book that would work well in any country. The specific location just gives Uderzo a new set of backgrounds to draw behind our main characters as they outfight any who get in their way. Obelix beating up on Romans and getting giggles from it is funny in any language.
We also get another of the great character names this book is known for: "Raucus Hallelujachorus." Somehow, I doubt we'll find that in any baby naming books.
More kudos go out to the book's English translators, Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, who manage to squeeze a pun into the script with the word "Spainful."
And, yes, there's even a Don Quixote reference in there. Loved it.
While the book's pace suffers a bit for cutting between scenes too often, I think it's another fine addition to the series, and Uderzo's line work continues to astound me. I'm happy to think that I still have more than another dozen books in the series left for me to read.
DAREDEVIL DUE THIS WEEK
I have something of a pet peeve: stories that are extended dream sequences or hallucinations. They're self-indulgences on the part of writers more often than not, filling up page space with "artistic license." There's nothing worse than trudging through page after page of story where there is no cause and effect, where the rules of "normalcy" don't apply, and there's a giant reset button to be pushed at the end. As an added bonus, the reader is as confused as the character between what's real and not, and it's not a comfortable feeling.
This brings me to DAREDEVIL #100, which doesn't indulge in all the excesses of such hallucinatory storylines, but still bugged me. The good news is that the hallucinations allow for artistic contributions from Alex Maleev, Lee Bermejo, Bill Sienkiewicz, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr., and more. The bad news is that most of this issue is taken up by references to continuity with disjointed story segments. Ed Brubaker keeps it grounded a little bit by flashing back to reality sporadically to show how Daredevil's actions affect reality, but I just couldn't buy into it completely. I tried.
The other risk the writer runs when he or she starts jumping in and out of reality like that, is that the reader tries to map all actions to reality on a one-to-one basis. If the writer doesn't provide that map with crystal clarity, there is a chance that the whole exercise will seem disconnected to the reader.
It's a worthy artistic risk sometimes, but it's one that doesn't work for me. The story in this book could have been accomplished in half as many pages, without Daredevil stumbling around for 20 pages. That's my frustration with the issue.
Yes, this also means that fear-based characters don't do much for me either, like The Scarecrow in the Batman books.
DAREDEVIL #100 is an artistic achievement, but the story feels very slight for a book with an extra batch of story pages.
To make up for that, though, there's a reprint of DAREDEVIL #90 from the Gene Colan era, and a generous selection of sketch and script pages from the issue. Is it at all necessary? No, not really. But it is very pretty.
One last quick thought: Remember the infamous kick to the crotch from NEW AVENGERS a couple of months ago? I'm afraid Brian Bendis has found a way to top that panel in this week's NEW AVENGERS #34. I expect it to be the hit panel of the comics blogosphere this week. It might even (sadly) dwarf the couple of questions in the on-going saga of the New Avengers that get answered in the issue.
BITS AND PIECES
- Like many Mac fans, Chicago Sun Times tech columnist and fellow geek, Andy Ihnatko, followed the big Apple announcements last week from home. Here's his comics-relevant Twitter entry:
Following the iPod event through twitters and live feeds on multiple screens. I feel like Oracle, only I can walk and I'm a dude and stuff
- DC continues to stumble, with last week's announcement of SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL's rearrangements. The final issue of the much-delayed Darwyn Cooke/Tim Sale storyline has now been put on hold. The next few issues will ship on a regular basis, but none of them will be the conclusion to the storyline. DC doesn't have a clue when it'll be ready. The hardcover compilation, also, is now off the books until later re-solicitation. I was looking forward to that one.
As I said on the podcast last week, I'm taking bets on the story finishing as SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL ANNUAL. Annuals are funny things. They've been used to burn off inventory stories. They've been used to introduce new characters. Some tell giant crossover stories.
DC uses them to correct the mistakes of their monthly book nightmares.
- Chuck Dixon returns to ROBIN. I'd like to think this is a hopeful step in the right direction for DC, but I can just see it turning south with the next "event" happening. It'll also be interesting to see how Dixon can handle this cast of characters given how much of a jumble they've become in his absence.
- Neatly hidden at the end of
a longer blog post by Greg Rucka comes news that THE COMICS JOURNAL recently did a lengthy career-spanning interview with the man. It's not on the schedule yet, but I look forward to picking that up when it does come in.
And I'm only 50 pages from the end of PATRIOT ACTS. I'll have something to say about it in the next Pipeline, for sure.
- Scott Kurtz has a new podcast, WEBCOMICS WEEKLY. Every week, he and three webcomics-producing buddies gather around their microphones and discuss the craft of making comics. They aren't, by design, there to talk about the issues of the day in the webcomics world. They're not a news podcast or a particularly topical one. There's a certain element of the show that's just them flying by the seat of their pants. I think, perhaps, that a stricter focus to the shows would help, but I'd hate to lose the valuable tangents and side conversations, too.
The TWiT network-inspired podcast turns out to be an entertaining and informative one, for those who follow the webcomics world, or those looking to get in.
I read comic strips religiously before I ever read comic books, and at one point even fancied myself an up-and-coming comic strip artist. (We're talking 7th or 8th grade here, folks. I was young and delusional.) I know a lot of the things I would have found fascinating back then are the kinds of things WEBCOMICS WEEKLY discusses today, so I think they're hitting the right notes with it.
That said, I think some of the creators on the show need to pick up a Writer's Digest book or two. There are some basic Writing 101 tips that were revelations that should have been built-in knowledge already. Yes, all of those Writer's Digest books are saying the same thing after a given point, but that doesn't make them wrong.
And the recent discussion of copyrights and trademarks was all over the map, and very little of it lined up with what I learned a few years back. (For example: If you register your copyright, you can sue for legal fees. If not, you can only sue for damages.)
There are some rough edges on the podcast that a few more shows' worth of experience ought to clean up. It's definitely a show to keep an eye on, though, for both entertainment and information.
THE E-MAIL BAG
Lynn writes in reaction to my request on the most recent Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast for a "HOW TO READ JACK KIRBY" book with a suggestion:
Run, don't walk, to your nearest DVD supplier and purchase the Special Edition of the Fantastic Four movie, regardless of whether or not you enjoyed that movie. On the special features disk is an awesome documentary about Jack Kirby entitled "Jack Kirby Storyteller" which contains interviews with a slew of creators talking about Kirby, including guys like Jeph Loeb, Walt Simonson, Mark Evanier, John Romita, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Bruce Timm, Jim Lee, and many more. They each explain why they appreciate Kirby while showing examples. It's really, really good, and I think you'll enjoy it.
I've added it to my Amazon Wish List, Lynn. Thanks for the pointer. It sounds like a good feature.
Peter Parent of Montreal, Canada chimes in with his defence of the execrable THE LAST FANTASTIC FOUR STORY:
Please tell us something we didn't know, Stan Lee's best days are behind him.
You got me there.
Tell us without sounding like some spoiled brat who feels it necessary to lambast someone to whom he owes his living (?). I am sure us old guys all knew Stan would give us the 2007 FF and John would show up with a Jim Lee slant.
The good news is that Pipeline isn't my living. I do this column at night and on weekends. I need a day job to pick up the tab on the car payments, mortgage, and health care plan.
I don't know if I agree that John Romita's art had any particular Jim Lee slant to it, though. Maybe it wasn't as Kirbyesque as his ETERNALS work, but I don't think it went anywhere near the kind of crosshatching and anatomy that you'd expect from a Jim Lee comic.
It seems you couldn't wait to slam this issue and while I like to tell it like it is, what it is, is a way for Stan to say farewell. My grandad doesn't sound like he use to either but I do not cut him up everytime he tells a story a little different from the time before. I owe him a lot, with respect being at the top of the list!
I didn't want to slam the issue. I wanted to have a quaint old-fashioned F4 romp. I knew better than to expect Stan Lee to be writing a neo-classic modern adventure story. But when something come out this bad, I have to jump. It's like the old argument about superhero movies: just because it has Spider-Man or Batman in it doesn't mean you should ignore the conventional rules of good storytelling because, hey, the visual effects were cool.
Just because Stan Lee wrote something, I'm not going to give it a pass. I gave it more latitude, but Stan walked all over that. It wasn't pretty.
I respect Stan Lee. I just think he might have been better off in staying the Marvel Good Will Ambassador and enjoying some more time enjoying retirement and a nice vacation. Instead, he gets thrown into all these money-making ventures that are stains on his reputation. I don't have any problem with the man making money hand over first. If anyone deserves it, it's Stan. Let Hollywood shower him with cash.
But THE LAST FANTASTIC FOUR STORY was bad. Very, very bad.
I wanted to print this where the rest of your readers could comment, if you would be so kind.
The URL for the Pipeline Message Board is below. Thanks for writing!
Next week: I'll be done with Greg Rucka's latest novel and can get back to reading comics. I think.The Various and Sundry blog is my personal home site. This last week, we've talked a lot about the iPhone and iPod announcements, but I've also shared some of my photography. Ooh, I'm being all creative-like now.
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.