THE 60 [sic] COMICS OF CHRISTMAS CARRIES ON
With Christmas next week and the accompanying early deadline for the next column, there's NO chance of this thing ever hitting 60 comics. The good news is that I still have ten comics to review this week, and a load of commentary in the back half of the column. If you want to read me rant about digital comics coloring and J. Michael Straczynski's internet know-how, you'll want to read through to the end this week.
40. All Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder #7 (DC): Rarely does there come along a single comic sensation such as this, polarizing its fans into such starkly different camps. Is Frank Miller a comic genius, or a past-his-prime nutjob who's lost touch with his own style and, perhaps, a bit of reality?
Let's face it, this book is different from any other book we've ever seen Miller do. Maybe DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN is the closest we can come to this. And we saw what the reactions were to THAT particular project. It set the stage for this one, I have to think.
My own reaction to this book, while mostly positive, has been mixed. I started out thinking it was cool, then thought it got very, very weird and awkward, and now I'm back to thinking it's a brilliant comedic send-up of the genre. Miller is taking all of our Batman preconceptions and shoving them in a garbage can. This is a dark and brooding Batman who's a complete jerk. He's a realist and a self-centered crusader who doesn't want to be bothered with little things like that mouthy scrappy punk kid, Grayson. And the characters who surround him are equally unlovable, from the stupid Hal Jordan to the sassy brogue of Black Canary.
I've made the argument before and I'll make it again now: You don't need likeable characters to create a great story. It certainly makes it easier, but it isn't a necessity.
This is Miller's world. It's completely different and often excessive, but always prettily drawn by Jim Lee. I've accepted that fact and am enjoying the book a great deal, even in that issue where "the g*&^ned Batman" got a little too much play, pounding the cute gag into the ground with an excessively large sledgehammer.
That all said, I really liked this issue. I'm sure Hal Jordan fans were not amused but, hey, this isn't the same Hal Jordan. And Jim Lee's art was pretty once more.
This ought to make a nice ABSOLUTE book someday.
41. The Flash #234 (DC): This, on the other hand, is still a bit of a tough sell for me. I know people change and characters mature, but Wally West playing Mr. Flash Dad is a bit too soft for me. I can deal with his unabiding love for Linda Park that will save the world, but raising two precious next-of-kin just leads to a different kind of comic than what I want. It's no less valid a take on the character, but perhaps it's too far out of left field for me.
Freddie Williams III takes over art on this issue, which will take some getting used to. His Superman looks drawn by Carlo Barberi, too. I have another issue to play catch-up with. Maybe things will start settling down for me with that one? Stay tuned. . .
42. Green Arrow and Black Canary #2 (DC): Cliff Chiang sure does draw pretty, doesn't he? I liked the quick pacing of the book, a few of the one-liners, and Canary's quickness and intelligence in knowing her enemy. Judd Winick did a good job there.
It's a bit of a theme this week that so many of the comics I'm reviewing have their next issues on the stands already.
43. Will Eisner's The Spirit #11 (DC): Darwyn Cooke is very, very good. I loved this issue. While the cover is a little creepy and uncomfortable and the whole tone of the book this month is very serious and morbid and fatalistic, I enjoyed it a great deal. It just felt important, you know? It just felt like the culmination of a year's worth of storytelling, which in many ways it is. (Don't ask me to explain issue #10, though.)
The art is beautiful, too, with another great title page splash that stretches the imagination of the artist and pleases the eye of the reader. As with ALL STAR BATMAN, I hope there's an ABSOLUTE edition of all this material someday.
44. The Walking Dead #44 (Image): Speaking of books that feel important and fatalistic and culminating. . . This book fits all those bills. There's some nasty stuff going down and this issue, I have to think, is merely the teaser. All you have to do is look at the covers for the next three issues to see that this issue is just the beginning of the mayhem and carnage yet to come. In a world dominated by corporate superhero comics, the idea that a series that's lasted nearly 50 issues now can be so radically changed is exciting. The March issue's cover is up now at the new Kirkmania.com website, though I think it constitutes a massive spoiler. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it.
I'm afraid I don't give Charlie Adlard enough credit whenever I review THE WALKING DEAD. Kirkman's story so dominates, with its twists, turns, and large casts that Adlard is too easily taken for granted. His art has really grown over the years, from his earliest days on THE X-FILES to ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE to this. It's fascinating to see his line loosen up and the sense of action on the page become more palpable. Cliff Rathburn's tones are subtle enough that you almost don't notice them, but you know the series would look completely different if left strictly black and white.
But looking at the cover to the next issue -- already on stands -- in an ad after a cover image of THE ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN, one has to ask: What's this "Pain To The Gut" fetish Kirkman is developing these days? Everyone's got their hands clenched to their stomach, with blood spilling out onto the ground. Bizarre.
45. Batman and the Outsiders #2 (DC): I think you should listen to Chuck Dixon's interview at John Siuntres' Word Balloon podcast. It'll help explain some of the decisions that have gone into this book. I don't know if that will make the extant fans of the series any happier, but I was fascinated with how Dixon worked the situation he was handed with the title -- a work in progress with editorial constraints -- and made it into something completely of his own and enjoyable. It's a classic Dixon romp, with character moments shown through pure action
Carlos Rodriguez's art in the issue is strong, too, and fits in well with the artist from issue #1, Julian Lopez. As Dixon points out in the interview, both artists are in the same studio, so the similarities are almost natural.
As Dixon pulls ahead of the schedule on this book, I hope DC uses that studio system to consider a more-than-monthly schedule for the book. A twice monthly title every now and then would be a very cool thing for a series that's as likely to read as fast as this one.
46. Brit #3 (Image): If you liked the first two issues, you'll like this one. If you like INVINCIBLE, you might like this one. It has less teen angsty stuff and more crazy H.R. Giger meets Spider-Man meets Government Spooks meets Science Projects Gone Awry in it. It's very aware that it's a superhero title and picks on the conventions and attitudes towards it, which is fun.
I think the star of this issue is writer Bruce Brown's dialogue. He doesn't waste an opportunity to throw a pithy saying out of a character's mouth. There are lots of clever one-liners and a lot of attitude showing in this book, which makes it stand out.
Art from Andy Kuhn (layouts), Cliff Rathburn (art and colors) is perfectly suited to the Kirkman superhero universe. And, of course, Rus Wooten is along for the lettering.
This one isn't for everyone, but it is a creepy good time.
47. The Circle #1 (Image): This is Brian Reed's new baby, about a secret organization called "The Circle" that exists for the sake of starting off a cool international spy/espionage story involving a missile train, American agents, an international mercenary group, and lots of guys with guns in the street. Reed spends a bit too much time, perhaps, in adding details without presenting the larger picture, but the whole thing moves so briskly and piques my interest so much that I want to stick around long enough to figure it all out.
Let me try to sum the book up again: a failed coup in a country that sounds vaguely like a Soviet state leads to a group of international mercenaries with a worldwide organization set up to do things. Lots of people are tracking them down, for reasons good and bad. We're introduced to two of them in this book, along with a newbie who's there to give us our vantage point of view for the new readers.
I hope the second issue shores up the plot a lot more, because I'll be looking closely for one, rather than the scattering of events and plot points that occur in this issue.
48. New Avengers #37 (Marvel): If you're looking for a clean and concise group battle comic, this is not your thing. If you want to read an entire issue devoted to a group fight in which you'll never know really what's going on or where, this is the book for you. The funny thing is, it's quite readable and enjoyable despite all of that. The trick is that Bendis' writing keeps the dialogue light and interesting. Some might think it self-indulgent to devote an entire issue to a series of cut scenes for the sake of pithy punchlines, but I've seen enough straight-up group fights in comics to enjoy the change of pace. It gets a little confusing at times to keep the costumes and sides straight, but it's overall a fun ride.
And that last sequence at SHIELD is pretty cool.
49 - 50. Fantastic Four: The End #1-2 (Marvel): I just started reading the premiere edition hardcover compilation of the Alan Davis mini-series. Normally, I wouldn't discuss it until I finished reading it, but it's too tempting to get to #50 this week.
It's Alan Davis drawing something. I'm already in love. I'm sure there's some critical faculty deep in the back of my mind that could analyze the use of alternate futures and the decisions that come from deep in a character that might affect that future in such a major way. I'm sure there's a thesis to be written in how the glory of the perfect future comes at a great cost, how no good thing isn't without bad consequences, or how human nature dictates that humanity will never be without conflict, vandals, or savages. There are parallels to be made, no doubt to "Civil War" or Dwayne McDuffie's recent FANTASTIC FOUR run. There's likely a blog to be dedicated to analyzing generational differences in characters, whether it's the relationship of the Thing to his children or Doctor Strange to his.
All of that is likely fodder that can be raised from just the first two issues of this book. When I'm done reading it, perhaps I can step into that a little. Right now, I just know that Davis' art is real purty, his story puts familiar characters into unfamiliar situations and settings in a loving and often reverential way, and that he doesn't do all of this at the expense of story. This has the makings of being a plot-heavy story, but so far it's all building out of character.
And I'm loving every minute of it. I hope the next four issues (which will likely comprise #51-54 of this pseudo-Countdown) can pay if off. Given Davis' track record on projects like THE NAIL, though, I have few worries.
That's it for this week. I'm not sure what I'll be reviewing next week. Due to the Christmas holiday, I have to write the column very early this week. But I'll be pounding away at the keyboard ASAP. It's also the 550th column next week, which ought to be a cause for celebration. I think the 500th column and the Tenth Anniversary column earlier this year have already filled that quote, though, so don't count on anything.
So Merry Christmas to those of you celebrating, and let's get on to some commentary action for the week.
COMIC COLORING IS TOO DARK, PERIOD
There's been a bit of a comics blogosphere pile-on with ULTIMATES 3 #1. I think Tim O'Neil sums it up best.
There are two thoughts that I haven't seen expressed anywhere else in association with the common coloring complaints for the issue. So let me lay them out:
First, we've finally hit a comic that people on-line will universally complain is too dark. The darkness and muddiness on things like CAPTAIN AMERICA, X-MEN: MESSIAH COMPLEX, and MIGHTY AVENGERS never seems to register with the reviews I see on line. Now, with ULTIMATES 3, we've finally hit the point where not only is the paper quality so poor a match for the coloring that people notice it, but they're actually including the colorist's name in their reviews! Imagine that. Aside from Laura Martin, I can't think of any colorist that ever gets regular notice on the internet. Now, Christian Lichtner has done all his colorist compadres a huge favor and brought them to the fore. Colorists have been getting cover credit since the CrossGen days, but only now are the fans/reviewers noticing them as being an important part of the creative team. Sadly, they're only noticed when they're to blame for something.
There's a greater lesson to be learned here for colorists everywhere, though. It's an ages-old problem, and one of the very real drawbacks of the digital comics workflow: Digital coloring doesn't reproduce well on comic book paper. Unless the company is willing to invest in high quality heavy glossy pages -- and CrossGen was the last to do so on a regular basis -- the coloring on the page is going to look like utter crap compared to the coloring on the screen in Photoshop, or in a preview PDF (at a lower resolution.) It's time to adjust the coloring styles out there to accommodate the ink-chewing paper being used at Marvel and DC. It's time to revert back to a brighter coloring style to make the artwork legible again. The art is still the star of the visual show in comics. Not the lettering. Not the coloring. Anything that obscures the art or makes it more difficult to read is inherently bad to the art form.
I've been railing against this for a long time now. Getting to see comics previews in PDF on my screen has been eye-opening. Seeing the colors as they're "meant to be" is interesting, and one of the factors in my drive towards more digital comics reading has been the coloring. It's backwards, but it's what we're stuck with -- a generation of colorists who, for whatever reason, can't create a color scheme with any regularity that fits the current print format. Whether that's because the company changes paper stock without telling them, or tells them the wrong thing, it doesn't matter. The end result is the same -- too many comics look like utter crap today because of poor color reproduction.
It's time to hack around that. If you can't beat them, join them. Stop expecting your colors to reproduce brighter than they do, nine times of ten. Aim for that 90%, don't hope for the 10%.
Until digital comics are the norm, this is what we're stuck with.
JMS - NOT A NET NEOPHYTE
You know what amuses me? J. Michael Straczynski made a post on USENET last week about One More Day. It would seem the whole thing is an internal nightmare. Like "Civil War," it's being written and re-written and re-written some more up to the last possible moment, and MAJOR things are changing above and beyond just a line of dialogue here and there. We can gather that from JMS' words and -- my speculation -- the insane lateness of the project. I tend to think it's more than just Joe Quesada's lack-of-quickness as an artist. That's too easy.
JMS has been posting to USENET for more than a decade now, since Babylon 5 began production. (Next year will be the 15th anniversary of the original television movie.) He's posted about all the behind-the-scenes things that happen on a television show. He's talked about relationships with actors, television studios, networks, writers, production people, the works. His words there have been referenced in blogs, other USENET posts, and even books. They're all archives and searchable.
JMS knows what he's getting into when he posts something to a public forum.
So when people read about what he's written about OMD on USENET and say, "Well, he probably didn't expect anyone would read what he wrote," they're just ignorant. JMS is not some Johnny-Come-Lately who recently discovered the internet and thinks it's a novelty to interact with his fans. He's been doing it longer than most comic creators, for goodness' sakes. And he knows the good and the bad that come with it.
The truth is just that he's an open and honest guy who expresses his opinions, whatever they might be. It's what makes him so respected in certain corners, and what makes him so interesting a writer to follow. You may not enjoy his particular style of writing so much, but he's a fascinating creator to watch work in public.
If he says he tried to remove his name from his last couple of Spider-Man scripts, he's not trying to get out in front of a bad situation; he's being honest to unknowing and ignorant fan commentary on the message board he frequents. He's done it all along.
The second installment of CBR's latest feature, THE COMMENTARY TRACK, went live on Friday with commentary from Chris Eliopoulos about his Frog Thor story leading off SPIDER-MAN FAMILY #6. Go there to learn the behind-the-scenes origin of the story, what it's like adjusting to a 22 page story from the FRANKLIN RICHARDS short story style, Erik Larsen and Walter Simonson's influences, Michigan J. Frog's influence, and more.
Also, Jamie Tarquini and I returned to the podcasting studio over the weekend to discuss the PREVIEWS catalog for product shipping (mostly) in February 2008 We limited ourselves to discussing only items over $5, but still managed to fill 45 minutes of podcasting time with our cover-to-cover look at upcoming releases.
Update your feeds today to download the podcast. We plan on coming back next month to discuss March 2008. We haven't settled on a format for it yet. Maybe we'll discuss only items under $5 next time?
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