Pipeline, Issue #555


on sale this week

It's easy to get drawn in by the buzz and the excitement of the publicity machine in motion. With Joe Quesada returning to the Colbert Report (with his head held high -- Marvel Hollywood signed a deal with the Writer's Guild) and the big city newspapers proclaiming that "Cap Is Back!", there's a certain buzz in the air for this week's big release - CAPTAIN AMERICA #34.

But you know what? It's well-deserved. Forget the buzz, this is a very strong issue that capitalizes on everything Ed Brubaker's been building on for the last three years. When you look back to this series of CAPTAIN AMERICA starting at the first issue, you can see the puzzle pieces being carefully laid. Everything has been thought through. Actions have consequences. Characters plot out beyond the next thrown punch. The heroes -- even when confused or misdirected -- act interestingly and appropriately. Brubaker has created a big fat gray shaded area smack dab in the middle of the Marvel Universe, and everyone that passes through it acts that way.

This issue sees the debut of the new Captain America. Some consider that a spoiler, so I won't discuss it in depth here. But if you've been reading the series or even just saw the last few pages of last issue, how could it possibly be a spoiler?!? (Waiting for the trade, I presume?) It doesn't matter. It just all makes sense. The internal monologue and the doubts that the new Cap expresses to his, uhm, assistant in this adventure all fit. And best yet, there's a great action scene to capitalize on all of this hoopla in the middle of the issue. Captain America acts strongly and accurately, with the added twist playing out in a funny way. It's a great action piece.

Artistically, Butch Guice's inks atop Steve Epting's pencils are a perfect match. There's a level of shadow to this book that feels appropriate, both in a graphical sense as well as the metaphorical. Characters look like real people without feeling traced off photos, though there's clearly some photoreference being used. Captain America's new costume looks much better in side the issue than it does in Alex Ross' well-publicized design painting. I think coloring it a little darker and slightly less shiny helps a lot. Frank D'Armata's coloring will likely print too darkly on paper, as always, but they look fantastic in the preview PDF and I can always hope the paper version looks this good, or the eventual hardcover editions.

Really, that's the only complaint I have about the issue. It works well as an action/adventure book, and as a political story. I haven't touched on the latter part yet, but there's plenty going on behind the scenes at S.H.I.E.L.D. that will play out in dramatic fashion, too. Brubaker even manages the trick of tying in current events to the storyline without throwing pot shots at thinly-veiled analogues of real world people.

The funny thing is, I think this might work out OK if it's your first issue of the series. The heart of it is Captain America's debut. The political stuff and the machinations by the villains and heroes is spelled out fairly explicitly by the characters involved. You'd be missing a lot of enjoyment by not going back and reading the series from issue #1, but I think you could drop in with this issue and enjoy enough of it to make it worth your while.


Worst: News came out that THE ORDER wouldn't last past its tenth issue. It's one of Marvel's best titles right now, and it couldn't attract a big enough crowd. I really hope the reason isn't because it didn't have "The Champions" as its name. That would be sad.

The seventh issue just came out, and thankfully we still have three more to go. Let's enjoy them while we have them. Please don't tell me that you're dropping the book now because it's been canceled. That's an admission that you're reading a book for all the wrong reasons.

Best: Marvel is going to be reprinting some French comics out of publishing house, Soleil. There's a Marvel web page devoted to it already and everything.

Worst: American publishers traditionally screw this up. The only hope Eurocomics have come from British publishers. (See ASTERIX, LUCKY LUKE, MELUSINE, et. al.) If Marvel or DC got the rights to ASTERIX, I'm sure they'd split each story into a three part mini-series at digest size, recolor it, and letter it in the stiffest computer font they could find.

That's the big question Marvel still has to answer: Formatting. It's something DC botched when they had the Humanoids license. Conventional wisdom states that retailers and collectors loathe buying anything that's not a standard American comic book's size. French albums are oversized. They're glorious. The pages are bigger so they can pack more beautiful lush art onto every page. Publishing these comics at standard American comic book size will seriously undermine the reading experience. The DC/Humanoids production, by the end, had figured out a way to reproduce Francois Schuiten's art so that nobody would want to look at it. That takes a lot. Thank goodness for NBM for leading the way on his art. . .

It's worth paying $10 for a 48 page story if it's done at the larger page size. Sadly, too many people just won't give it a chance.

If they attempt to break albums apart into mini-series, then it's another nail in the coffin. These are movies, not television mini-series. While there are series of albums, they're still meant to be read 48 pages (give or take) at a time. There are no convenient chapter stops, usually.

If the translations are shoddy or the lettering is cheap looking (as far too many French reprints are), then the art would suffer for it.

I'd like to have high hopes for this product, but it seems like the market isn't willing to accept the changes necessary to make this successful. I hope to be proven wrong. If reading comics at a tiny size and backwards can still be successful for manga, I don't see why les BD can't work here, too.

Maybe this will all be a further effort on Marvel's part to beef up their library and bookstore back catalog. In that case, they might get away with the album format.

After that, I want my Smurf comic reprints!

Best: Chip Mosher turned his Commentary Track for the LEFT ON MISSION trade paperback into a travelogue, explaining his experiences in visiting places around the world and how that all contributed to parts of the story you see in the collection.

If that's not enough for you, Dave Di Gilio discussed NORTH WIND #1, the comic (also from BOOM!) that's created headlines for being released on MySpace for free at the same time as it is published. He comes at his Commentary Track from the angle of a Hollywood writer discussing the learning curve in writing a comic book. It's an interesting perspective.

Worst: The attitude amongst a certain faction of fandom that Hollywood writers need fandom's blessing to write comics, or that they're not allowed into the club. Yes, they're often learning in public and some of those growing pains can be a speed bump for long-time fans. I just happen to think that some new perspectives in comics are a welcomed thing. So long as they're writing comics because they can create interesting stories and not just so that their name can sell a few books ("From the writer of Hit Action Movie. . ."), then let them in!

Neutral: Not too long ago, there was a boom in animation industry creators coming to comics. It probably started with Jeff Smith, but really seemed to hit its stride after the immediate success of HEROBEAR AND THE KID, with the FLIGHT anthology and a smattering of smaller independent titles. While Hollywood writers have been dabbling in comics for years, it seems like the last couple of years have seen their presence blossom, but mostly across Marvel and DC books. (Though BOOM! is a publishing concern set up mostly to publish titles written by Hollywood writers.)

Where have all the animators gone?

Best: Mark Millar is returning to WOLVERINE, with Steve McNiven handling the art. I really enjoyed the "Enemy of the State" storyline with John Romita's art. I just wish they had released the oversized hardcover of it first before the two part premiere edition hardcover series. ::grumble grumble::

In any case, I hope this storyline he's promising turns out to be just as lively and as colorful a spectacle.


AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE is the next book from Marvel I worry about facing the firing squad. I'm not sure why, but it's not receiving the attention that it deserves, much like THE ORDER. It's an inventive superhero comic with a colorful cast of characters, mixing Dan Slott's subversive sense of humor with a very serious set of storylines with far-ranging implications for the Marvel universe.

The ninth issue is out this week, and it's a big shocker for long-time readers of the book. The house of cards created at Camp Hammond is starting to fall on top of its charges, and things are ugly. The best thing about having a cast such as this book has, is that the characters are new enough creations to be disposable. Anything can truly happen to them. And Slott (with scripter Christos Gage) isn't afraid to run his babies through the chipper here.

Stefano Caselli has quietly created a body of work in this series, too, that's powerful and memorable. He may not have the name recognition and the fan heat just yet, but the work he's done here certainly justifies a higher profile for his career in the future, I have to think. I hope he isn't doing so well, though, that Marvel feels the need to move him off the book to something further up the chain. It would be tough to replace him.

So, to sum it all up: AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE is a great book. No doubt it'll be the next one on the chopping block.

(No, I have no insider knowledge on this. It's just my "woe is me" attitude today.)

PROJECT SUPERPOWERS is Alex Ross' new project over at Dynamite Entertainment. He's bringing back some long-forgotten (or long-unknown, but now public domain) characters back to comics for one more adventure. He's paired up again with Jim Krueger on the writing side of things, with Doug Klauba and Stephen Sadowski handling the art duties. Ross paints the covers and the occasional interior moment.

The #0 issue is out now and it's a beauty. For $1.00, you're getting a full 28 page story, filled with solid pencilled art and a story that has a couple of nice hooks to it, though they happen in the back half of the book. You really need to slog your way through the opening of the book and trust that enough will be explained later on to make all your questions worthwhile. The good news is, the explanations are there. Ross and Krueger have constructed a story that has a couple of nice moral questions to it, as well as the promise of a grand adventure in the offing.

The art is shot directly from the pencils and colored by Captain Moreno, who maintains a very painterly look to the book. He does great work with textures and in keeping the fine line work visible over it. There's a very nice double page spread in the back of the book to show the various stages that one double-page spread from inside the story was constructed. You get to see Alex Ross' original sketch, Sadowski's finished pencils, Ross' color guide, and then the final color work without all the lettering over it. It's particularly nice to see material like this before the trade paperback presentation.

I'd put a "cautious buy" on this book for now. We'll see if it lives up to its promise, or if the themes and material overlap with a somewhat similar book in Marvel's THE TWELVE.

Meanwhile, in the letters column at the back of the book, someone is asking Dynamite for a M.A.N.T.I.S. comic book. I laughed, but then I thought, "Is it time to bring VR.5 back yet?" And suddenly I felt uber-nerdy.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CHOSEN #6 this week wraps up the mini-series from RAMBO writer, David Morrell, and artist Mitch Breitweiser. This last issue is just one big package of cheese, waiting for someone to eat it up. I'm as schmaltzy as the next guy, but this one was just painful. Finally, after five issues of set-up, we have the pay-off and lots of Captain America explaining just what's going on. And, then, it's over. Almost merciful, really. I don't mind the attitude or the final point of the series, but the whole thing seems horribly overblown and the final presentation is too corny. If this had been a one-shot double-sized special, I might have been able to overlook its short-comings. As a six issue mini-series, it's a failure with some moments of pretty art.

That's it for this week. Please, join us again next week as I discuss something related to comic books and the industry that surrounds them.

Keep an eye out for this week's Commentary Track late on Friday. We're completing the BOOM! Hat Trick with SALEM #0. Chris Morgan and Kevin Walsh, the two authors on the book, will drop by to present one of the most detailed and entertaining tracks we've had thus far.

The Various and Sundry blog is back on American Idol coverage, as auditions came through two more cities last week and hit two more this week. I got my new camera last week, as well, so expect to see more photos in the days and weeks ahead. Plus, all of the usual Tweets and DVDs and interesting link dumps.

Everything else: Twitter, Tumblr Blog, The Pipeline Podcast, ComicSpace, and Google Reader Shared Items.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 800 columns -- ten and a half years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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