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Pipeline, Issue #564

REVIEW: SECRET INVASION #1

Don't worry, Marvel fans. There's no lack of big reveals or things blowing up in this issue. You're going to get your money's worth.

I think it was on Word Balloon some months back that Brian Bendis said he learned a valuable lesson from "House of M" -- open big. Don't use the first issue as set-up. Instead, upset the apple cart right away. Grab people's attention from the first page.

He's applied those lessons well in "Secret Invasion" #1. There's plenty of grist for the mill in the opening 40 pages of story. You get a few Skrull reveals that everyone has been pining for, as well as an even bigger reveal that throws so many questions into the air that the month wait for issue #2 won't be enough time to consider all the ramifications. Honestly, the "big reveal" is so big that I don't think it's real. I think one or two parts of it will be kept -- because they would make many many fans very very happy -- but the rest will be written back into place.

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This issue is a great bit of "gotcha" storytelling. You just don't know what to expect with each page you turn in this issue. While the veteran/cynic in me knows that any major changes are easily changed back, the fanboy in me enjoys the roller coaster ride, the hypotheticals that grow out of them, and the sheer spectacle of the whole thing. Sometimes, that's all you want from your superhero comics.

The smartest things about the book are the Skrull revelations. They're a neat left turn that I didn't see coming. It makes perfect sense when you think about it, but I doubt you thought about it this way.

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Boy, writing this review without spoilers can be painful. It's "Civil War" all over again.

The one thing I can say without fear of ruining anything for you is that Lienil Yu has an inker on his art for this eight part series. It's Mark Morales, who does an excellent job in cleaning up the fine line work on the page. I liked the inkless look to Yu's NEW AVENGERS work, but I think that puts me in a small minority. Those who didn't like that stuff will find this look to be a vast improvement.

I think that pencils-only look could work for Yu on certain projects. It's just artsy-fartsy enough to be perfect for an OGN of some sort, or a non-superhero mini-series. It's perfect for a Euro-album, I should think. I hope we see it again.

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I have a hard time thinking that this issue will generate too much outrage. Call me naive, but I think this particular pump has been primed well enough that you can't get too outraged by any revelation in this mini-series. The issue should lead to some fun Marvel geek discussions, though. When was character x replaced by a Skrull? What stories does this have ramifications for? How does this impact what we read way back when?

Remember: Those older stories you loved still exist, even if the characters weren't truly who you thought they were. They do, however, have a new layer added onto them, if you wish to read them in that way.

I look forward to seeing the conversations that erupt across the comics web in the days ahead. While I'm sure there will be the usual howls of outrage, I also think they'll be the vocal minority. It's very easy to skip over them. SECRET INVASION #1 is a great jumping-on point. There's a lot of stuff happening here. It's well worth the price of admission.

I just can't help but wonder if we're not rushing into this crossover too soon. Have we really exhausted the excitement and ramifications of "Civil War" already? Have we seen the teams that The Initiative has launched in all 50 states yet, for a start? Do we have to turn over the Marvel Universe on an annual basis to keep people's attention?

I know I'm being horribly naive and simplistic here, but I would like to see more exploration of those concepts as much as I enjoy the excitement of the new and explosive.

LOTSA DUCK TALK

The news came too late to include in the column last week, though I did talk about it at the beginning of THE PIPELINE PODCAST last week. It has leaked out of Gemstone's proverbial bath that they're finally putting together the complete works of Carl Barks into a series of hardcover tomes. These are, as any Barks fan would suspect, bullet-stopping, door-propping, muscle-building hunks of book. In hardcover.

The first one is due out in November 2008, will run 900 pages in full color, at $150. If you order it on-line, you can find that price under $100 easily enough. When Gemstone -- previously Gladstone -- first picked up the license for the Duck books a few years ago, they were asked questions about putting The Carl Barks Library" back in print. Their answers indicated that they wanted to, but that it would take time. Such a project isn't an overnight thing. They had lots of format experimentation to try first, in an effort (futile though it may have been) to pull in new and particularly younger readers.

Now, thankfully, the books are coming. This library has already seen print in Europe, which is where the pictures in the Comics Journal's message board thread came from. They're beautiful looking books.

To go along with that, there's a similar "The Don Rosa Library" book series starting up at Christmas time. These will be much slimmer offerings, roughly $40 for 250 pages a book. It's still a hardcover title, but it will do the same thing as the "Barks" books: present all of Rosa's stories in chronological order in full color underneath a hard cover. It's a very good thing. I already own a signed hardcover edition of "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck," but I might be convinced to buy it all over again for this series.

Sadly, the day after this news broke, the more unfortunate news came out that Don Rosa is recovering from surgery to correct a detached retina. I can't imagine how scary that must be. It's a six-month recovery process, but he hopes to be back out on the con trail by year's end. I can't imagine a worse fate for an artist than to have his vision screwed with. We at Pipeline World Headquarters wish him a speedy recovery, and hope to see more of his art in the near future.

In the meantime, this seems as good a time as any to share some more art. We have a sketch book thread in the Pipeline Message Board right now, and I contributed a drawing that Rosa did in my book a few years back. Here's the sketch and the whole story:

I didn't think Don Rosa did sketches at conventions. I met him once at the first or second San Diego Comic Con I went to back around 2000. But that was a chance meeting in the streets, and a mutual friend introduced us, however briefly.

A couple of years ago, someone told me Rosa was at Diamond's booth (their sister company, Gemstone, publishes the Duck books and so shared a table, basically) and doing sketches. Needless to say, I ran right over. It was a sadly quiet table. But I managed to catch him just before he was scheduled to leave and got this sketch.

I asked specifically for Scrooge.

"Happy Scrooge or Angry Scrooge?" he asked.

"Oh, angry. Definitely." I answered.

"That's the right answer," Rosa said with a smile, grabbed a Sharpie, and sketched away.

I love it.

ORIGINAL ART: BAT BOOKS

Over the weekend, I stacked my pile of original art pages up, created a spreadsheet, and made an index for them all. One thing I discovered is that I was quite the Batman fan not too many years ago. Back in the "glory days" when Chuck Dixon wrote all the spin-off books and the main books were written by the likes of Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, life was pretty good. As that was also a time of my greatest art purchasing, I suppose it makes sense that so many pages contain Bat themes.

Let's take a look at one that can show us a different way one artist handles laying out his pages. I know I've talked about this first one here before, but I don't think I've ever showed it to you.

This is art by Roger Robinson, who disappeared from the world of comics a couple of years ago. This is page 16 from "Batman: Gotham Knights" #24:

It's a classic page, really, complete with a call back to the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne. There's also a nice panel looking at a bevy of Bat costumes. As fits a Bat book, the page is drenched in black ink. And, yes, that's all ink. It's not a Sharpie. You can't see the brush strokes that a Sharpie leaves behind. The other interesting thing to note is that there are panel borders drawn in under all that black ink. Though the end effect gets rid of the borders entirely, the page is clearly composed of six wide panels.

The reason I wanted to feature this page, though, is to show off a bit of Robinson's work process. Check out the back of the art board. This is a detail from the bottom half:

It's a mirror image of what's happening on the front of the board. Robinson did layouts for each page on the back of the board, threw it up on the light table, and let the image shine through to the front, where he'd do his final line work. Other pages I saw him selling at the Comic Con International: San Diego that year included lots of detailed perspective grids splattered across the page.

It's a fascinating way of working, and one I've never seen another artist do. It also, to my mind, makes the art board more valuable. You're almost getting double the amount of art, after all, and that first half is in pencil! Pretty cool.

Next week, we'll take a look at some more Batman-theme pages. If I had to guess, I'd say you'll see Oracle on at least one of them.

UPDATES AND CORRECTIONS

  • Last week, I undervalued the enormity of "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King's" Oscar success. It was a win of "Titanic"-proportions, sweeping everything it was nominated for and leaving a path of destruction in its wake. It was very well-deserved.
  • Over on the Pipeline Message Board, somebody was kind enough to point out that there is a Damage Control trade paperback on the docket for the most recent three part mini-series that I loved so much. (You did pick up the stand-alone issue at the comic shop last week, right?) They're throwing in the "World War Hulk: Aftersmash" one shot to round out the volume, for $13. If you missed the mini-series in single issues, read it like that. It's worth it.
  • You didn't miss it: The Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast never happened last month. I want to stress that it's completely my fault, not Jamie's. I waited for the last minute to schedule it, and then other things got in the way and I ran out of time. With the new PREVIEWS out now, it seems silly to record a podcast devoted to an old one. I'll try twice as hard to get a podcast out for this month's PREVIEWS on a reasonable schedule. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Thanks for stopping by for another week. There's lots of stuff happening behind the scenes at Pipeline World Headquarters. Hopefully, you'll see the fruits of those labors coming up very shortly. I'm also working on getting THE COMMENTARY TRACK back on the rails in April. We've run into some scheduling and availability issues lately that have slowed down those columns, but hopefully will be doing better on it soon.

The Various and Sundry blog is still running, with a detailed report on my stupidity in returning a broken camere lens. Also: news of a Billy Joel album's re-release, more pictures, more American Idol, more Wii, more DVDs, and plain old more more more.

If you're really interested in what daily news bits grab my attention in the worlds of tech and comics and more, the best way to track is it at the Google Reader Shared Items. Several items are added to that page every day. I'm an RSS feed junkie.

The only social network I regularly appear on is Twitter. It's a very fun place with low overhead and the least number of annoyances of any Web 2.0 site, aside from an unstable infrastructure.

Everything else: The Pipeline Podcast, ComicSpace, and a Tumblr Blog.

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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