PREVIEWS OF APRIL 2004
I usually have the chance to peruse PREVIEWS first before sitting down to write this column. I didn't this time, so this will be a more by-the-seat-of-my-pants effort than usual. You've been warned. Like last month, I'll start in the second half of the catalog.
As always, I recommend picking up a copy of PREVIEWS for yourself and giving it a thorough reading. There are treasures hidden amongst the trash. You only have to make it through the first 3/4 of the book before it turns to trading cards, DVDs that are half the price at Best Buy, and international items that you couldn't read even with the help of a Babelfish.
About Comics starts us off this month with 24 HOUR COMICS, a series of short stories set in the world of CTU and Jack Bauer. Each creator finds a new way to capture the essence of splitscreen narrative while engrossing the reader in a real time adventure. As a bonus, Kim appears in her underwear in six of the nine stories included in this volume. For only $12, how can you go wrong?
(Nah, it's just a collection of notable 24 Hour Comics, a concept created by Scott Cloud to create a complete 24 page comic in 24 hours.)
A.D. Vision presents ARIA MANGA, Volume 1, the first in a decompressed contata featuring a sole singer belting out high note after high note. Only Brunhilda does it better, and we all know the truth: She's just Bugs Bunny in drag.
AiT/PlanetLar presents DEMO #6. I can't wait for the full album to come out, though, to hear how smooth this track will play after they add in the reverb and sample some other tunes.
Larry Young presents PLANET OF THE CAPES, because some Hollywood losers beat him to the idea of using simians better than thirty years ago. He's so pissed off about it that he's taking it out on a bunch of superheroes, all of whom he promises to kill.
Aspen gives us its main characters in formal wear in a series of new posters. Good news: For $7.99, they come "rolled and tubed," just like your favorite drugs. I'm not kidding on this paragraph, folks. It's really in their publishing plan. Can't wait to see how this builds up over the course of the year. Could we be looking for wall scrolls by the summer? Laser-etched lithographs in the fall? Stained glass for 2005? Maybe we'll see a comic book at some point, too.
Avatar has its own lineup of strange offerings, including another first issue for STRANGE KILLINGS. If anyone other than Warren Ellis were slugged as the writer, we'd all be ripping this thing to shreds based on the ad copy, "Even the elite forces of Britain's S.A.S. are powerless to destroy them or bring an end to their blood orgy of insatiable lust. Now, one man will risk his life for the fate of one woman." I half expect Jim Balent to be drawing this by now. Think of the panties you could sell as tie-ins.
Cartoon Books gleefully advertises that the concluding chapter of Jeff Smith's BONE saga, "Crown of Horns" is available in April "for the first time in trade paperback." Of course, the hardcover was just issued last month, so it's not exactly an earth-shattering event. Ah, marketing.
Dark Planet Productions is the home for James Hudnall's publishing efforts. The big release in April is ESPers: UNDERTOW, a trade paperback containing six issues of the series that I actually read once. It features the art of a young up-and-comer named Greg Horn. This is before he discovered Photoshop as a full-time gig and everyone looked like his girlfriend. It ought to be an interesting exercise to play "compare and contrast" with the covers he produces today.
Gemstone gives me more and more reasons to love them every month. This time, they go so far as to credit the letterer in their solicitation copy. UNCLE $CROOGE #329 includes this highlight, "Don Rosa's epic 'Dream of a Lifetime' (lettered by Todd Klein) takes Scrooge on a whirlwind tour of his life via his dreams..." Some of Rosa's overall best-looking stuff has been lettered by Klein in the past. Glad to see him keeping his toes dipped in the Duck pond.
Komikwerks presents KOMIKWERKS, Volume 3, subtitled "Nuts and Bolts." This time, Keith Giffen is in charge of things, contributing six stories to the volume, drawn by the likes of Art Thibert, Todd Demong, and others whose names you might not recognize but whose credits are impressive. The sample artwork on page 287 is promising. It's $10 for 140 black and white pages.
Page 289 includes a listing for the GANGSTA RAP COLORING BOOK. It's a coloring book for "Mature Readers." I'm waiting for the people who decry nostalgia comics to go after a coloring book for adults.
Oni features the first trade paperback collection of LOVE FIGHTS in April. It's in the digest-sized format, complete with TokyoPop-like cover design. This is Andi Watson's latest effort, an on-going series centering on a love story in a world where superheroes are commonplace. When a reporter looking for a big scoop and a comic book artist trying to keep his job clash, romantic sparks fly. It's not Watson's strongest work -- suffering a bit from being so fantastic -- but it is a creative and imaginative work that has a quirky charm of its own. I'm enjoying it so far.
Titan Books gives you more Chuck Dixon. Page 308 holds the solicitation for the next installment of ALIEN LEGION stories. This time it's "Tenants of Hell," a 144 page trade paperback. Don't ask me where this fits in with the continuity of the Checker Publishing reprints, though. Alan Davis is drawing the cover, which is a real plus. $19.95 buys you what promises to be a relatively quick read.
TokyoPop must be high on its new series, FAERIES' LANDING, because it's putting out the first 3 of 13 intended volumes in the same month. Want to bet that they all get released on the same week, driving comic shop owners crazy? I wonder if anyone cares to rip into TokyoPop for this kind of thing the way they go at Marvel for either publishing a new mini-series on a bi-weekly or weekly basis, or having a late book's following issue shipping on time soon after?
Top Shelf sends FROM HELL back to print for a sixth go-around. For $35.00, it's still a cheap read. Alan Moore's story of Jack the Ripper is an insanely good book. It will take you a while to get through it all, but it rewards the patient reader.
TwoMorrows keeps plugging along with interesting books looking at the people of comics and the artform itself. Their publishing schedule grows more and more impressive every year. In April of this year, they plan to release COMICS ABOVE GROUND, a look at how comics art influences other entertainment media and vice versa. Interviews include Bruce Timm (BATMAN ANIMATED), Greg Rucka (Atticus Kodiak book series), Adam Hughes, Louise Simonson, and more. These are all people who work in other media in addition to comics. The book is $20 for 160 black and white pages. It's put together by Durwin S. Talon, who did a remarkable job on TwoMorrow's PANEL DISCUSSIONS, a nuts and bolts approach to sequential art through interviews with respected artists.
Hidden amongst all the anime properties that Viz pimps is the third volume of a manga series called SHORT PROGRAM. This is a series devoted to short stories in an art form best known for decompressed storylines that can last thousands of pages. I like the short story format, if only because it's a quick read to fill small spots of time and can show a creator's skills with a one-two punch. I need to sample this one. It's 224 pages for $10.
I busted on the international section of the catalog a little while ago, but now I have to eat my words. On page 358 is a solicitation for BOOK OF SCHUITEN. It's a $50 hardcover art book for Francois Schuiten, who draws all those amazing CITIES OF THE FANTASTIC volumes, HOLLOW GROUNDS series, and more. I love his stuff, and this one is very tempting. It's oversized at 10x12 inches, and runs 152 full color pages.
You're not going to get me to look at the trading cards section of the catalog, however.
MEANWHILE, UP FRONT. . .
Dark Horse starts with EL ZOMBO, a new three issue mini-series. It looks gorgeous. It has painted backgrounds with a very animated look to the characters on top of them. Since it's Yet Another Comic About Wrestlers, though, I have no interest. Pity that.
The rest of their listings look a lot like the previous months' listings: Star Wars. Buffy. Conan. Hellboy. The only thing missing are the usual Rocket Comics series that have been running for several months now, replaced with THE MOTH and the aforementioned EL ZOMBO.
DC Comics leads off with its Superman relaunches. I'm trying very hard not to get dragged into this one. I've been through a few of these relaunches by now, and they've all ended badly. After about six issues, they begin to wander. After a year, I drop them all again with a certain level of frustration that it didn't work out that time. (This usually coincides with a DC Universe-wide crossover, notably ZERO HOUR and OUR WORLDS AT WAR.) Since the odds of DC putting any Superman stories out in trades is iffy, the monthly issues are the only guaranteed source for them. Check that -- you can bet the Jim Lee issues will be collected, probably just as quickly as BATMAN: HUSH was. I'll wait for that trade, and make a judgment call when these issues come out in April. It's tough to pass up anything Greg Rucka writes, though.
Rob Haynes is back in comics with JLA: KID AMAZO, a new 96 page hardcover featuring the JLA and, well, Kid Amazo. My appreciation for hardcovers not withstanding, I'm just not excited by this. When I put together my final order for the month, I'll look back at this one and realize it's one of the first books I can skip without missing too much. It's not so much a victim of budget but of space. I don't have room to store all of these books anymore so I'm getting more and more picky about what I order.
That said, how can I pass up Howard Chaykin and David Tischman's BITE CLUB? Oh, it's easy: The first comparison in the solicitation is to THE SOPRANOS, the most overhyped and probably overrated television series of all time. If it weren't for David Hahn's art, I'd take my chances on a trade paperback for Christmas on this one. Instead, I'll line up to buy the six issues from month to month. Hahn's art sells the book for me.
At last, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's BATMAN: HARLEY AND IVY sees the light of day. It's too bad they chose to go the mini-series route with this one instead of an original graphic novel, but that won't stop me from picking it up. I've been waiting for this one for years now.
I can't recommend BATMAN: GOTHAM CENTRAL highly enough. The first five issues of this series set in the Gotham Police Department are packaged together under one cover for the lowprice of $10. With writing by Rucka (him again?) and Ed Brubaker and art from the criminally overlooked Michael Lark, this one has a style all its own delivered with dramatic punch every month. It's as gritty and realistic as you'll get in a world filled with superheroes and villains.
Image solicits for KANE: RABBIT PUNCH, the second volume in Paul Grist's noir police series. I never did review the first one, but I enjoyed it. The story is sound, but what sells the book for me is Grist's art. It uses the comics medium to its advantage. The black and white art is high contrast like Frank Miller's SIN CITY, but the layouts hint towards a deeper understanding of sequential narrative. Grist's work is another example of an independent artist whose past work is all too often overlooked while he does his own thing off in a corner. Hopefully, the exposure that Image Comics has given him in recent months leads him to a growing audience to appreciate the skill he shows on every page.
Erik Larsen returns to hardcovers for SAVAGE DRAGON with GANG WAR, the sixth volume in the series, collecting issues #22-26. It's a limited edition, so the price tag is back up to $50.
If you haven't been keeping up with Robert Kirkman, run faster. It's worth the exercise. THE WALKING DEAD, VOLUME 1 collects the first six issues of the series, just as issue #7 is hitting the stands. Even better, there's a low $10 price on the trade paperback. It's perfectly new reader friendly, and it's been one of the best new series in the past year. It's also worth supporting the concept of issuing a fast and cheap trade to coincide with the following issue to help bring new readers in as word of mouth does its magic.
DARKNESS/HULK returns Dale Keown to the character that made him famous, only to leave in search of the big Image money for PITT. This is a simple 32 page one shot that Paul Jenkins will be writing. To be perfectly blunt about it, though, nobody is going to be picking this one up for the writing.
The solicitation for TOMB RAIDER #41 has one of the oddest blurbs on it I've ever seen. On top of the cover image is the text, "ADAM HUGHES IS COVER BOY!" And soylent green is people. What's the point? Is Adam Hughes going to appear next month with a cape and a giant "CB" on his chest? Odd.
Marvel Comics puts Greg Rucka (him again?) back together with Darick Robertson on WOLVERINE #13 and 14. There's another series I'd like to see in hardcover format.
ULTIMATES Volume 2, #1 is in April, still with no Volume 1 hardcover in sight.
Marvel's digest-sized reprints begin with the first issues of SPIDER-GIRL, SENTINEL, RUNAWAYS, and one or two others I don't care about.
SPIDER-MAN: THE DEATH OF GWEN STACY feature art by Gil Kane and John Romita. So it makes perfect sense that an old MARVEL TALES cover by Todd McFarlane is being used for this new trade. Marvel may not like to remember many of its past glories (John Byrne's FANTASTIC FOUR leaps immediately to mind), but they love their McFarlane.
That's it for April 2004. "Pipeline Previews" will return next month for a look at May's releases. Be sure to return here each and every Tuesday, in the meantime, for Pipeline Commentary and Review's weekly dose of comics mayhem.
Various and Sundry chugs on with its relatively new look. AMERICAN IDOL is back in full swing and I'm there to cover it. More DVDs are released every week, and I've got an interesting list of highlights posted. And a whole series of odd and interesting tech stories have been popping up lately. Click through now and join all the fun.
Nearly 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.