ALL NEW: THE COMMENTARY TRACK
This past Friday saw the debut of the first edition of THE COMMENTARY TRACK, a new CBR feature I'm heading up. As the title suggests, it's a series dedicated to creators dropping by to discuss their latest comic offerings. Think of a typical DVD commentary track but without the dead air and with a lot more content. We started off with Greg Pak discussing WORLD WAR HULK: AFTERSMASH #1, and he's set the bar pretty high for all who follow.
It is our hope to have a new installment every Friday, but creator and publishing schedules might not always agree with us on this. I have a bunch lined up for the next month or so already, but I won't be pre-announcing them. Deadlines are tight on this content, so please check in on Fridays to see what pops up. When situations allow, I'll be sure to hype future editions here, and I'll always link to the previous one in Pipeline so you don't miss a thing.
THE 70 [sic] COMICS OF CHRISTMAS, PART THREE
31. Asterix the Gaul (Sterling): Everything evolves over time, and ASTERIX is no exception. Looking at this first book in the series, you quickly notice the differences in the figure drawing from later books. Obelix doesn't look so cartoonishly plump. Cacafonix's nose and facial features are different. Chief Vitalstatistix has the bushy hair of a Viking. Even the backgrounds often have the look of, in hindsight, works in progress. Uderzo was an amazing artist this early in the series, but the repetition of drawing the characters every year certainly helped to solidify them into something more memorable and iconic.
What impressed me the most about going back to the first volume is how much of the groundwork was laid right there, whether purposefully or not. There's a reference to the sky falling on their heads from the Chief. Getafix has a golden sickle he's using to cut mistletoe down for the magic potion. The menhirs, the boars, the end-of-story feast, the magic potion, and Obelix's accident as a baby are all mentioned. Whether some of those were throwaway ideas that only later were expanded out into whole stories on their own or not, it's an impressive foundation for the series. This is truly the Origin of Asterix without being so blatant about it. Rene Goscinny does a wonderful job in setting the scene without resorting to show-stopping expositional passages.
Oh, the story? The Romans are ticked that this little village inside Gaul is still opposing them. They send in a spy to find out what the secret is. They kidnap the Druid to get the secret recipe. Asterix and the Druid plot revenge. These are all tropes used again in later volumes to expanded degrees. But for the first story, it's a winner.
32. Avengers: The Initiative Annual #1 (Marvel): I forgot this book had ever been solicited, but I'm glad it showed up. It's not a filler book. It's not a try-out book for new talent. It's not a simple one shot. This is an important chapter for the series that fills in gaps you didn't realize needed filling, while being a textbook example of serialized storytelling. It's broken up into five short stories that give any regular reader of the title a series of "a ha!" moments well worth the price of admission. Many of the mysteries hanging over Dan Slott's Camp Hammond-based team and the overall 50 State Initiative concept pay off here, with scripting assists from Christos Gage.
It starts off relatively slowly with a couple of origin stories for Gauntlet and Armory that have some interesting connections, but then plows into Senator Woodman's nefarious connections and Hardball's twisted origin, how MVP returned to Kentucky despite being dead, a little humanizing of Baron Von Blitzschlag, and the introduction of the Liberteens, Philadelphia's entry into the 50 State Initiative. (Because there is no crime in Pittsburgh. Or Reading. Or Lancaster. Or Scranton.) The Liberteens, as it turns out, are not exactly what they seem. And even then, they're not exactly what they seem again.
If you're at all interested in the characters from the first seven issues of THE INITIATIVE, you'll need this book to fill in the gaps. If that's not enough to sell you, let me tell you about the other half of the book: the artists. There's an all-star lineup of talent in here, including Patrick Scherberger on the Liberteens story, Salvador Larocca, Clayton Henry, and Steve Uy. Remember Steve Uy? It's been a while, hasn't it? Tom Feister and Carmine Di Giandomenico round things out by drawing the MVP/Baron story. I include them separately, because they're the names you're least likely to have heard before on this list. But there's not a stinker in this bunch, honestly. The stories are easy to follow and pleasant to look at. That's all I need.
Sidebar, your honor: You know what just hit me? (Because I'm the slowest comic geek known to man sometimes?) While "One More Day" might just undo the marriage, it could also neatly put the Spider-Man Is Peter Parker outing genie straight back into the bottle. That only took a little over a year, eh?
I'm still convinced that this End of Spider-Marriage thing is a marketing smokescreen and Marvel won't be hitting the giant reset button. They're only pushing the fans' buttons, to get them talking. I could be horribly wrong. Come back at the end of the month to see how right or wrong I am.
33. The Order #5 (Marvel): It dawns on me now that this is a series that might be a great Wait For the Trade title in a different way. Usually, you want to wait for a trade where a single story unfolds (or drags out) over multiple issues. Decompressed stores read best in one big chunk. But Matt Fraction's scripts for THE ORDER are self-contained from issue to issue. Each issue includes a framing sequence of a therapy session with a member of the team, and the story between those segments is done in one. Simple and straight-forward, right?
But there are so many new characters in different situations that it's tough to remember it all from month to month. I'm sure that's just my old and feeble mind (why remember anything when we have Google?), but I get the feeling that I'd get more of what's going on over the course of the series if I read it in one bigger chunk.
That all said, it gets the Panel of the Week nod for this beauty:
It works best in context, but it made me laugh out loud.
Barry Kitson is credited with layouts this month, as Khari Evans steps in to finish of the art. I like the look a lot. Kitson's art always looks a little stiff to me. Evans loosens things up a bit. I like that. It's a blending of two styles that wouldn't seem like natural fits, but which make for a compelling pairing.
34 - 36. 2 Guns #2 - 4 (Boom! Studios): This might just be the overlooked gem of the year for comics. I think it's flying under most people's radars, but I hope it gets a big reception when the inevitable trade sees print in 2008. As much as I liked the twists of the first issue, I loved the next three even more. Sure, the big one that got me to gasp out loud in the first issue is neatly undone at the top of the second, but in a way that's smart and doesn't drag things out for cheap drama. Grant's script includes lots of reversals, with tense plots constructed to trap characters with their own bad decisions. It's smartly written with consequences for every decision dragging the two lead characters down deeper and deeper.
I'm not kidding when I say this might be my favorite mini-series of 2007. There's one more issue to go, which likely won't be out until January. I'm hoping for a strong ending here.
37. Ultimates 3 #1 (Marvel): The big release of the week is a disappointment. I've been a champion of the colored-straight-from-pencils look of Joe Madureira's art, but it'll need an inker, stat, if this is the reproduction value the art is going to get. I have to think a glossier page is needed to hold the colors and make Joe Mad's art stand out the way it's supposed to with this format. As it is, the pencil lines just sink into the background and the whole thing looks a mess.
Jeph Loeb's story is packed with ideas, but they never come together. Stuff is set up for the purpose of the shock moment that happens a page later, but nothing flows for me here. Characters talk at each other, appear out of left field, then disappear for pages at a time. And while I know this script was likely written a year ago, it's bad timing for the similar plot point that Matt Fraction's been using in the last couple of issues of THE ORDER. (I laughed out loud, though, when The Wasp pointed out that the leaked tape was "edited." Oh, Tony, you cad. . . )
38. She-Hulk #23 (Marvel): The second part of Peter David's opening gambit as writer answers a couple of questions raised from the first part, while raising a whole array of new ones. In other words, it's serialized drama. The book suffers from not having the large supporting cast that I think informs some of David's best previous work, but I'm sure that's just a matter of time. He'll get there. For now, the situation with She-Hulk and Jennifer Walters is a rich one that will be fun to watch develop, and one which is certain to place the character into bigger plot lines in the future.
39. Punisher War Journal #14 (Marvel): Ariel Olivetti's artwork has never done much for me, and in fact became a barrier to entry for this title for me. With different artists on board now, I'm truly enjoying the series for the first time. Issue #14, due out this week, features art from Scott Wegener, whose art fits neatly into the same school as previous artist, Cory Walker. It's clean, it's open to color, and its expressive.
The story is a pretty good one, as well, as Kraven the Hunter's son is amassing a super-powered menagerie in a sick Battle Royale-esque way. This accumulation includes the likes of The Rhino and the Vulture. Matt Fraction does a great job in showing how sick this crew is, and then throws the Punisher into an untenable situation to get out of. I like it.
The one nit-pick I have comes from the Punisher's first scene, where he's stuck in line for a hot dog behind a man driving him crazy. That scene doesn't go anywhere. Maybe it will in a future issue, but I was really rooting for Frank Castle to gun the guy down where he stood, as cold-blooded and cruel as it might have been.
That was a slow week. Too many office holiday parties, too little time for reading. I plan on picking it back up this week, and reading more books that Marvel isn't publishing. Plus, in even more exciting news, my technical problems surrounding the podcast have been fixed. The weekly podcast will sound normal once again, and Pipeline Previews shall return!
For now, though, the 70 [sic] Comics of Christmas needs a major re-adjustment. With only two or three weeks remaining, I'm dropping the number down again to The 60 [sic] Comics of Christmas.
The Various and Sundry blog offered up my rant against Best Buy, and the usual instalments of Twitterisms, DVD releases, and interesting links, including a new highly-addictive Flash game. You've been warned!
More than 800 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.