FRIDAY REVIEW FRENZY
JMS is tooling right along with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #32. This is a mostly expository issue, as Peter Parker sits down with Ezekial and learns a great deal about his history and its possibilities. Unlike all the fears expressed across the internet (and probably here, too, quite honestly), this isn't the mythos-changing adventure we feared it might become. JMS lays out a theory for why many of Spider-Man's villains follow similar themes and how it all ties together. Get ready to understand what "totemistic" means. There is no Spider-Witchblade, thankfully. There is no Spider-Men through the ages. What JMS writes here makes good sense, although it may not necessarily be necessary. Even so, it doesn't really interfere with the rest of the Spider-Man mythos and if you wanted to ignore it completely, you could. In the meantime, it's leading up to a corker of a confrontation between Spidey and the mysterious vampire-like Morlun. All of this leads up to next issue's big confrontation.
John Romita Jr. does the art with Scott Hanna on inks. It's good-looking stuff and very easy to read. It's got some great detail and nice background work. The only distraction to it is the color work from Dan Kemp and Avalon Studios. I give the gang at Avalon credit for using different coloring styles across many different books. But the style used in this book gets a little old fast. I'm not sure I can put it into words succinctly, but it looks as if every area of solid color has been placed on a bubble. The highlights on the color form neat circles and splotches. The color scheme, itself, is just fine. But the shading and highlighting gets to be a bit much after awhile. Check out the pages where Peter and Ezekiel are sitting across a table from each other. It looks like Kemp is trying to create additional interest by spicing up the colors, but it doesn't work. It just gets to be distracting.
PETER PARKER SPIDER-MAN #32 is a good old-fashioned comic book, with a layer of psychology added into it. Paul Jenkins writes what is, in essence, a classic story of Spider-Man fighting against overwhelming odds to save the day, only to have it ruin his personal life in some way and end on a bit of a question mark. The central idea is not that new. What makes for a great comic or a great story of any sort, really, is the delivery. And Paul Jenkins keeps a tight focus on Spider-Man, who is effectively paralyzed by the villain of this piece, Fusion. Given that he can't move, the whole of the issue has to be taken from Spidey's mind and everything that he's thinking over the course of the issue.
A story like this could very easily be visually boring. Mark Buckingham fights against this with a 12-panel grid format throughout a big chunk of the story. This book never comes close to being boring to look at. Buckingham's Spider-Man is a nice blend of the modern and classic design. While the costume keeps the large eyes and darker blue sections, the physical side maintains the classic human agility. This isn't the wild Todd McFarlane/Erik Larsen era. Spidey looks much more 'normal' here. I don't have anything against the crazy contortions of McSpidey, mind you. In fact, I prefer it for high-falutin' superhero stories. This is just a different approach, and one that's more relevant to the story choice.
The only trick to this issue is that I saw the big twist coming a mile away. The list of possible ways out of the broken neck for Spidey that didn't require cybernetic implants, magic, or some other awkward solution were limited. And, in the end, the entire issue is just a "fight" scene. Not much happens here. The secrets behind Fusion are revealed. Spidey overcomes overwhelming odds. End of issue. Your entire perspective on this issue will depend on whether you're more interested in the psychoanalysis of Peter Parker or the trickery of Fusion and the threat he represents.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #44 is a good old-fashioned comic book, overwrought with melodrama. Don't get me wrong. I love all the new types of comics we have out there. I love the fresh looks at old favorites. I enjoy the creativity and wild thinking that brings us some of the best comics out in the market today.
But I also wonder sometimes if it isn't all a bit more than what is needed. When I was first reading comics, the books I loved the most and enjoyed the most were the ones that I'd make fun of today. They were the ones that, in retrospect, seem simplistic and repetitive and cliché. But you know what? To someone who's reading their first comic, they can't call anything cliché or repetitive. Simplicity is in the eye of the beholder.
For an entry-level reader, or for someone who likes old-fashioned comics, CAPTAIN AMERICA is not a bad read. If you're a fan of traditional Cap, this is a good read. Dan Jurgens' art is looking about as good as it ever has with Bob Layton's inks. Avalon Studios' coloring keeps things interesting and highlights the art. Todd Klein's lettering makes it easy to read.
This issue is the major turning point of the Steve Rogers/Connie Ferrari romance. In the same way that Peter Parker narrates the events of PETER PARKER SPIDER-MAN this week, Ferrari takes control of this issue. The villainous actions are there and keep things visually exciting, while Ferrari's narration is the heart and soul of the book.
The cover of this issue is a perfect homage to the classic romance comics of the 1950s. It looks like something straight from Dick Giordano's sketchbook.
BATMAN: OUR WORLDS AT WAR #1 reminds me of one of the better X-FILES episodes. It's a bit mysterious. It's got aliens. And, in the end, you don't have any answers, but you are intrigued enough to keep on looking for them.
Ed Brubaker does the best with what little he's given. He manages to stretch out the catalyst plot point in the beginning to a three-page dialogue on the differences between Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne, both politically and socially. It's interesting stuff and well done. The rest of the issue is little more than a teaser for the OWAW crossover, helping to set up some of the central characters in the event. Lex Luthor, Bruce Wayne, Talia Head, and even Superman figure into the story. Oracle and the new Commissioner Akins have brief, but memorable, roles in the story.
The artist is Stefan Gaudiano, whose work I can't ever recall seeing before. His stuff reminds me a lot of Charlie Adlard's. It's not flashy. It's very strong when it comes to drawing "regular" people. And the storytelling is solid. It's a very reserved artistry that isn't boring. Brubaker keeps things opened up enough that the art doesn't get the chance to look cramped. There's also parts of the script which rely on a bold visual, and Gaudiano doesn't fail to provide those.
In the end, the book has some nice moments that will hopefully fit in better in the overall scheme of things. But for now, you could safely skip it without worrying too much. I'm sure the points raised here will be neatly summarized in other books where they're used. You will, however, miss out on another meeting between Superman and Batman. Those are always fun.
This week's GEN13 #66 is the long-awaited "Meanwhile…" issue, catching up on any number of subplots while allowing a whole string of big name guest artists the chance to draw a page or three. The list of artists for Adam Warren's story is pretty impressive: Jim Lee, J. Scott Campbell, Lee Bermejo, Brian Stelfreeze, Kaare Andrews, Terry and Rachel Dodson, Rick Mays, and Whilce Portacio. The problem with the book, however, is in the formatting and is two-fold.
The first is that this book is going to attract a lot of new readers who will be giving the book a chance just to see what the artists can do. The story bits in this issue, however, are going to be unintelligible to all but the most dedicated readers. Heck, I haven't missed an issue of this series since #20-something, and I was lost on some of the supporting characters in this issue. Furthermore, Adam Warren doesn't take the chance to catch up the readers on who all these people are. Quite honestly, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you have to explain everything before you do it, the issue would get tedious fast. It is, though, a major drawback of the story structure.
The second problem is that the artists don't necessarily get their chance to shine as much as they could. Warren plays to Campbell's strengths, for sure. It's a three-page bit of business with Caitlin Fairchild riding her bike. It's got a sexy woman in tight clothes and a bit of action to it, which is just what you'd want from Campbell. Brian Stelfreeze's pages are a bit of a waste. There are three pages to set up a future plot, with no real character art on it. It's just a ship floating through space. Jim Lee draws the Authority's Carrier and one page of Grunge on it. Kaare Andrews draws two pages in a style that reminds me a lot of Kyle Baker's most recent stuff. Just when you get a nice little taste of how cool a full issue by one of these artists might be, a new one comes in to draw the next page. Sometimes, it also feels as if the artist were wasted. They drew three pages for GEN13 and didn't draw one of the title characters, or didn't draw the one you had hoped they'd draw.
It all just gets frustrating. You'd love to see any of these guys drawing an issue or a full 8-page short story. To get the taste of their styles for a couple of pages before moving onto the next is to feel futility.
A TRIO OF UPDATES AND CORRECTIONS
In last week's Mayberry Melonpool review, I mentioned an issue of a comic book that Steve Troop produced about ten years ago. Image did not put it out. Troop's own Para-Troop Productions published it. For more info on the book, see the first collection of strips, THE ULTIMATE MELONPOOL.
I also talked about what a great idea it would be to put a larger format comic, such as DC's Treasury-sized tabloid format books, out on a monthly series. A few people wrote in to remind me of Barry Windsor Smith's STORYTELLERS, which was so wildly successful that the last few issues were never published. It's a different market today, though. I think the right creator or creators might be able to sell such a project. We'll see.
And in my review of DETECTIVE COMICS last week, I mentioned that I didn't know where Slam Bradley came from, exactly. An even larger number of people wrote in to point out his first appearance pre-dated Batman! That's right. He goes back to DETECTIVE COMICS #1, and has had a few brief returns since then.
More than 225 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 are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
This year, you can still catch me at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) and the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego). I'm also tentatively scheduled for a day at the Small Press Expo in Maryland this September.