THE 100 [sic] COMICS OF CHRISTMAS, PART ONE
Welcome to a new short-run Pipeline series, The 100 Comics of Christmas. It's a complete misnomer, as none of the comics we are about to discuss are related to Christmas, and I probably won't make my way through all 100 of them. But branding is important, and coming up with catchy titles for columns can draw people in. If Digg has proved anything, it's that people like lists. Top 10s are perfect. 100 of anything is blogtastic.
As there has been a dearth of reviews in this column in recent weeks, I'm going into overdrive in providing pithy reviews and thoughts on comics I've recently read for the rest of the year. We'll count to see if I can make it to 100, but I doubt we'll get more than half way there.
1. Witchblade: Shades of Gray #4 (Top Cow/Dynamite): When people ask what was bad about comic book art in the early- to mid-90s, just show them this comic and let them know that EVERYONE was trying to draw like this: Boobs bigger than heads, skin-tight mini-dresses, stiletto heels, and windows in the front of those dresses. The guys had slick long hair, shaved chests, and six packs consisting of up to 12 abdominal muscles. Also: Lotsa cross-hatching. Everyone looked alike, too. Good times.
2. Proof #1 (Image Comics): This is the new series from the same creative team as AiT/PlanetLar's Seven Songs graphic novel from last year. This time, Alexander Grecian and Riley Rossmo are telling the story of a black ops FBI department that specializes in tracking down "cryptids," or animals that have never been proven to exist despite multiple sightings. Bigfoot is part of the team, by the way. Sasquatches have been very chatty lately. (See Doug TenNapel's FINK later in this column.) Curiously, the story is cut in half, with the back-up story being the lead-in to the main story. Don't know why they chose to go that route, but there's enough of interest in the book to make it worth following. The second issue is due out this week.
3. Suicide Squad #3 (DC): I love this book. I know it might not be the classic series. I realize that events in CHECKMATE made this book's ending a little obvious, but I don't care. This is classic Ostrander creating a team of ne'er-do-wells working on suicide missions. This time around, he's concentrating on explaining how Rick Flagg has returned from the dead, and it all works out just fine. Javier Pina's art is serviceable, though a little stiff at times. It gets the job done, I suppose, and that's just fine for me at the moment. The ending to this issue sets up the new Squad team, and that gets me excited for whatever comes up next.
4. Criminal #10 (Icon): This is the finale to the second story arc of the Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips series that I've previous called about the most perfect comic being published today. It's another solid ending to a solid storyline that I'm sure could only be improved by reading it all at once. I should go back and do that sometime, because it's a book worth rereading. CRIMINAL will return in February with a new #1 issue and the start of a "second season." I don't care what tricks Marketing has to pull to keep this book alive. I'm in.
5. Sorrow #2 (Image): Rick Remender/Seth Peck/Francesco Francavilla return for more ghastly doings in a small ghost town in the middle of the desert. Some people just aren't catching on so fast that there's nasty stuff going down. Things only get weirder in this issue. I hope they don't try to spread out the mystery too far. I'm hoping something gets resolved in the next issue, but it's been as suspenseful and horrific as I'm sure the authors intended it to be. Francavilla threatens to steal the issue, as always, with his fine black and white line work that looks like little else in comics today. It's fine art. It's chiaroscuro. It's classic sequential narrative. Word recently leaked out that he'll be drawing up the ZORRO comics update, and I couldn't think of anyone better for it. If you're a horror fan and can find the first issue to this one, do yourself a favor and pick it up now. Don't bother waiting for the trade.
6. Batman and the Outsiders #1 (DC): It doesn't matter how good the book is, because most reviewers on-line will feel the need to qualify their statements somehow with Chuck Dixon's name. I'm fascinated by that. I come into the book as a Dixon fan, though, and got everything I wanted. There's great action in here, some funny lines, great character interaction, and a mystery to be solved. It's everything a superhero comic book is supposed to be. I know we're supposed to be all about the evolution of a creator and all, but I think Dixon's finest work has always been set in the DCU with Batman involved in some way. It plays to his strengths as a writer.
The only soft spot in the issue is another Resistance: Fall of Man videogame ad. Those things are ugly speed bumps in any comic they show up in.
The second issue of the series should be out this week. I hope it is.
7. The New Avengers #36 (Marvel): Remember how there were all those Venoms jumping around New York City a couple issues back? This issue tells that story. Sort of. It tells part of that story, from Luke Cage's perspective. I imagine that THE MIGHTY AVENGERS actually tells the nuts and bolts of the story. Or maybe Brian Bendis didn't intend for the main plot of this story to ever be the Venoms hopping around. That was just a means to an end. I can understand that, but given all the delays of the other title, I felt lost through much of this book, figuring that I was missing out on something. Unfair? Perhaps. But it's reality. The ending is really cool. I hope issue #37 follows straight on from that event, and isn't a 180 degree turn back to some other subplot.
8. Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius #8: Fall Football Fiasco (Marvel): I laughed out loud in a few places. That's all the book needs to do for me. Lockjaw has been used to comedic effect before, but it's his stubborn determination to do nothing that succeeds so well here. And the time travel storyline at the end shows you why this comic book works so well: it can take the trappings of a superhero storyline and play with them in a most nonsensical way, but still make a satisfying story in the end. Time travel storylines make my head hurt; this one didn't.
9. Iron Man: Director of SHIELD Annual #1 (Marvel): Harvey Talibao is one of the new breed of comic artists: he has the fine line of Steve McNiven and a lot of the excesses of Marvel Comics, circa 1994. This results in awkward anatomy, top-heavy women, a reliance on the colorist to make the art look more than two dimensional, and a desperate desire not to draw feet at any costs. Smoke drifts in out of nowhere, grass is unusually tall, rubble is stacked up, and characters get cut off just at the ankle at the bottom of a panel. It's almost text book. I didn't read the issue, so I can't comment on Christos Gage's story. This is purely an art review. Avalon's Edgar Tadeo does an admirable job on colors.
10. Thunderbolts: Breaking Point (Marvel): It's a one shot special from Christos Gage (him again? When did the Writer's Guild strike start again?) and Brian Denham that furthers the antagonism between Moonstone and Songbird. It's an OK addition to the overall storyline of the main series, but nothing that qualifies as a Must Read to me.
The one thing that jumped out at me is that the 22 page story takes 38 pages to tell, with all the ad interruptions. And there's an additional 10 pages of back matter after that, a mix of Marvel house ads and paid ads. Tis the holiday ad season for buyers, I guess.
11. Dynamo 5 #8 (Image): The weakness with this series is that Jay Faerber has so many characters to juggle that they all risk falling flat. Look at how in-depth we know the life of a solo title character like INVINCIBLE. There's space there for Robert Kirkman to explore the day-to-day life of the lead character and make us care about him more. With at least six main characters in Dynamo 5 and more being introduced in every issue, we know little about the personalities behind the masks. This issue is an attempt to solve part of that problem, as we see Visionary return home to more than a little bit of trouble, while Myriad covers for Scatterbrain and -- I'm just realizing now that I don't know any of the main character's names by heart. It's been eight issues now. I enjoy the melodramatics and the hooks that Faerber puts into each issue, but I want to know more now. I hope we see more of it, perhaps in the upcoming Annual filled with short stories. Maybe I'm just down on the issue because Augie doesn't appear in it.
12. The Walking Dead #43 (Image): Robert Kirkman's zombie book just gets better and better. After a couple of issues that had a lull in them, he's setting the world on fire, pouring gasoline on it, and threatening rampant mayhem between now and issue #50. Issue #44 is out this week, and the events back at The Governor's town are about to come back home to roost.
13. Captain America #32 (Marvel): Reviewing this book on a monthly basis would be an exercise in repetition. It's a very good comic book. That is all. This issue is no exception. Butch Guice comes in to lend a helping inking hand, and works very well with Epting's pencils.
14. The Art of Greg Capullo (Image): Sadly, it's a disappointment. The good news is that the paper is glossy and holds the colors and lines well. The pages are oversized. And there's a variety of art styles, from painted to pen-and-ink to loose sketches.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the book is dedicated to cover images, mostly painted. Each two page spread is made up of a smaller image of the cover to the left with lots of white space, followed by a full page detail from the painting filling up the right page. Seems backwards, don't you think? Even worse, what very little commentary there is for the images is hidden on a single page near the end of the book. With all that white space -- literally, WHITE space -- on the thumbnail pages, they couldn't find room to fit in Capullo's 25 -50 words next to the images, themselves?
The hidden gems are near the back, where a small inset of Capullo's original pencil work is shown next to final inked and colored covers. This is particularly instructive, because you can see where Capullo's line ends and McFarlane ink lines begins. Many have suggested that Capullo became a McFarlane clone when he moved to SPAWN. While there is no doubt a very strong influence at work there, I think the separation of pencils and inks might help dispel it, though just a little. I would love to have seen more of this style of work, and less of the relatively simple SAM AND TWITCH covers.
After a short sketchbook sampler, there's a six page guide to how Capullo paints his covers on the computer. It's interesting, but not very instructive. It's filled with general hints like flipping the image 180 degrees to spot any problems, or working around the image and never getting caught up in one spot in particular. Tech heads and aspiring artists learning new tools won't find much of interest here.
Finally, the cover image for the book I received from Image is poorly chosen. It looks like it belongs on a HEAVY METAL cover, but it's dreary and drab. It won't stand out on the bookshelves at all.
15. Fearless #1 (Image): This is the new series from Mark Sable, David Roth, and PJ Holden that wants to be INVINCIBLE so badly it hurts. (Has Kirkman's influence trampled over Image now?) It may sound like I'm mind-reading creators here, but I say that based solely on the execution, which includes an unlikely lead character with his share of typical superhero problems. The problem with the issue is that it's so scattered, I don't care yet. There's not enough focus to the work. The issue starts off with a mostly-silent 16 page action sequence that took about 30 seconds to read. Thankfully, the first issue runs a full 32 pages of story, pushing the text page to the inside back cover. It's a bad first issue, but I'm not yet convinced that it's a bad series. I'll give it another issue or two to see if it can find its own two feet to stand on. An asthmatic superhero? I like that hook.
16. Crawl Space: XXXOMBIES #1 of 4 (Image): This is the new 1970s porn-meets-zombies series that's probably not even appropriate to discuss in this column. Since Rick Remender has put out so much good work lately, though, I gave this one -- with art from Kieron Dwyer and plot assists from Tony Moore -- a shot. It's a big fat "eh" to me, though. The art is nice and the coloring adds a texture to the backgrounds to make it feel like an authentic 1970s comic, but the worlds of heroine, porn, and zombies hold little interest to me. Feel free to flip through it for the art, though, as there's nothing screamingly NSFW shown. The language is not all-ages appropriate, though.
17. Flink OGN (Image, $13.99): I've reviewed most of Doug TenNapel's graphic novels in Pipeline over the last few years. I'm a big fan. But there's something about this latest one that doesn't work for me. While some will want to celebrate it just for not having an overtly religious message, the problem comes from the lack of heart in the book. It's too Disney. It's too paint-by-numbers. The whole thing feels like a writing exercise to me -- the characters are all in the right place with just the right background stories to inform their characters in ways that bring them together perfectly. The ending is too clean.
It's not completely laughable, mind you. This is "a story about a boy and his Bigfoot." The high concept pitch is a winner, and there are individual moments over the course of the book that almost make it a winner. The boy stays human. The talking Bigfoot is approachable. TenNapel's art is without fault. There's a great panel early on where the kid realizes the enormity of what's just happened to him. TenNapel doesn't need a paragraph of text to explain it to the reader. It's a beautifully silent and silhouetted panel that makes you feel everything.
In the end, though, the total isn't as good as the sum of its parts, and so I have to pan the book as a whole. Put it in the hands of PIXAR, though, and add another 100 pages' worth of material, and it might be salvageable.
Go check out TOMMYSAURUS REX or IRON WEST or CREATURE TECH, instead.
So, there you have it: one week and 17 titles. I'd need to average about 20 reviews a week through December to make it to 100. It's not going to work. So please join me next week for the second installment of The 75 [sic?] Comics of Christmas, Part Two!
QUICK DIGITAL COMICS CORRECTIONS AND ADDITIONS
- I may have inadvertently mixed my comparisons in last week's column, because I've had a couple of e-mails pointing it out in the last week. So let me say now, for the record, that Marvel.com's digital comics plan is, indeed, $10 a month, or $60 for 12 months. You can pay on a monthly basis for the $10 rate, or pre-order a year's worth of Marvel digital comics all at once for $60, i.e. $5 a month.
My point is that you're paying that $60 all at once, not over the course of 12 months. Thus, you need to compare a $10 barrier to entry to a $60 barrier to entry on those two plans.
- I also made a correction later in the same day that the column went up that you can see all of the free comics if you have a Marvel.com account. You don't need to sign up specifically for the Marvel DCU.
- Johanna Draper-Carlson, meanwhile, pointed out that the digital comics initiative means the end of the licensing of Marvel comics to DVD. That news was all I needed to order up my copy of the 40 Years of The X-Men DVD. I might go for the Hulk and Captain America discs next. I already have the Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man sets. They're wonderful resources, even if I don't take advantage of them enough.
- The Pipeline Podcast continues each and every week. Just because I'm a lazy cuss who never bothers with the show notes doesn't mean the show is out of production. In fact, you'll often hear reviews on the podcast earlier than I get the chance to write them up, such as this week's FLINK. So it does pay to listen!
Next week: The 50 (I hope) Comics of Christmas continues!The Various and Sundry blog carries on "NaBloWriMo" with a look at The Wii At One, TV show THE SHOT, and my gripes with the Video iPod. Additional posts deal with photography, Twittering, DVD buying, Black Friday, and more.
More than 800 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.