This week, I'm looking at a bevy of diverse comic books. Monday's column covered TRANSFORMERS: GENERATION ONE, HALO AND SPROCKET, HIGH ROADS, and LAB RATS.
Today's column includes a superhero crossover (because "diverse" doesn't mean ignoring superheroes), a punk rock love story, a British tale of romantic woe, and the introduction of a Yeti biologist. Weird, eh?
Last week, DC finally published SUPERMAN/SAVAGE DRAGON: CHICAGO. It's a prestige format one shot on nice glossy paper that serves the artwork well. Unfortunately, an overall lackluster story and high price keeps me from giving this an enthusiastic recommendation. If you're a Dragon or Erik Larsen fan, you'll enjoy it. Otherwise, this isn't the best entry point into either Dragon or Superman continuity.
Flipping through it, the first thing that popped into mind was that when Erik Larsen doesn't ink himself, the Walter Simonson influence really shows through in his art. Al Gordon is the inker of the piece, and does as good a job as anyone could do over Larsen's pencils without Larsen applying the brush himself.
The story is just an excuse to put the Dragon together with Superman and have as many villains as possible populate the page for Larsen to draw. Don't think about it too much. Don't get bogged down in the details. It's not an exciting story. It's pretty much a by-the-numbers old-fashioned crossover spectacular. The characters think out loud in large expositional chunks to explain everything to new readers from either side of the crossover. It's more bombast and visual extravaganza than substance.
This isn't to say it's a bad thing. If you're a regular Dragon fan, you'll probably like it. Dragon's wiseass comments are all over the book. The villains from the Vicious Circle dominate. Chris Eliopoulos is lettering and Reuben Rude is coloring.
It's a bonus Dragon story with a nicely painted Alex Ross cover over Larsen pencils.
It's a throwback in more ways than one. It's set in the past continuities of both characters, so that Dragon is still a cop, and Lex Luthor is still nursing a gloved bionic hand and running Lexcorp. I'm sure if you thought about it at all, it might present some oddball anachronism, but if you're thinking about it that much, you're a lost cause.
The book probably won't make any Dragon fans into Superman fans, or vice versa. It's just a fun little romp that will go right through you and leave little behind aside from some pretty panels here and there, and snappy Dragon one-liners
All this is meant to say is that I enjoyed the book for what it is, but don't expect me to get all-enthusiastic about it.
Oni's latest mini-series is POUNDED, a three issue romantic comedy from the team of Brian Wood and Steve Rolston.
Wood is best known for his CHANNEL ZERO, a graphic novel about a nightmarish future, filled with angst, loathing, and cynicism. Rolston is best know for his QUEEN AND COUNTRY run, drawing the British secret service running all over the globe and chasing the bad guys.
It makes perfect sense, then, that the combined talents of the two would foist upon an unsuspecting populace - a romantic comedy?!? OK, a romantic comedy with attitude.
Heavy Parker is the spoiled rich boy who wants to make his name in the world of punk rock music. (Already, you can see how this book got placed at Oni.) He drives an SUV, lives in a penthouse apartment, and has the pretty girl. But when an old flame shows up on the scene and his current love interest prepares to cross the country for college, Heavy faces some serious angst and comedic situations.
Wood focuses on Heavy Parker, only diverting from him in the last couple of pages to set up the next issue's conflict. After four pages of exposition-through-captions, the character is pretty well established. His actions in the rest of the issue show him as a pretty mixed-up character, though not entirely unlikable. His girlfriend is slightly younger and, it seems, a bit more naïve and clingy. The two seem headed for disaster, and the entire issue shows us that slide. By the end, you're ready for the war to begin.
Wood and Rolston fire on all cylinders in the first issue. Rolston's slightly cartoony art probably fits in better here than it did in Q&C. It's very expressive, with a nice balance to it. Wood's story is a breezy read, but something that's east to get yourself situated into and comfortable with. The whole issue reads quickly.
POUNDED is an interesting read, and a nice light topper to a night's worth of crime and superhero comics. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I get the feeling that it will read better as a trade paperback when all is said and done. That would, of course, lead into an argument about the value of original graphic novels. Why get into that argument, though, when you can just review one such book?
That brings us to another Oni offering, Andi Watson's DUMPED.
DUMPED is a low-budget independent film put on paper. It's an art house film told in sequential art. It's a black and white love story with thematic elements far past that. It doesn't have explosions or car chases. It's the subdued story of two imperfect characters and their chance relationship. And it works on every level.
Produced in Watson's familiar black and white (and loads of gray) art style, the story stretches past 50 pages and tells the story of two people whose chance meeting at a party goes much further. He chases after her, and she throws up walls to block him at every chance she gets for reasons he doesn't understand. In the end, you have two believable characters acting like actual human beings, and not like plot devices tethered to a story the author wants to force on them.
The man, Binny, is a collector of books with character. The woman, Debs, is a collector of vintage clothing, and owner of a boutique for same. Their mutual interest in collecting old things would seem to make them a natural fit, but it's a little more complicated than that. Neither seems ready for a relationship, yet they quickly start falling towards each other.
I could sit here and analyze this book as a fine piece of literature. Think of it as being in the same category as NBM's "Comics List." There are thematic elements present. There's the use of weather as metaphor. There's the subtext of the word "dumped" stamped all over this story.
I don't want to bore you with that, though. That's not what this column is about. I want you to read the comic. I want you to be excited to race to the story next week and pick it up because you missed it on the stands this week.
Andi Watson's art style is deceptive in a couple of nice ways. It is highly stylized, and just a touch cartoony. On the Scott McCloud Meter, it leans heavily towards the iconic and away from the realistic. You don't notice it at first. At first glance, it looks like a terribly complicated piece of work. That's the gray areas being laid down on top of the art, presumably through Photoshop. They look brushed on in spots, and are laid down flat and heavy in others. It's the key element of his style. Shot in straight black and white, the pages would look interesting, but relatively dull. The gray tones add a lot of depth to the art, as well as a certain level of visual interest. It breaks up the figure work and the backgrounds, in large part because the use of solid black areas is so infrequent.
This is all just the nice way of saying, "It looks good." Go with that.
It's more than just that, though. The storytelling is simple and effective. Watson has improved his pacing and timing since even BREAKFAST AFTER NOON. Take a look at the climactic ending on the bridge. That single six-page sequence shows more knowledge of sequential storytelling and pacing than just about any other segment of a comic I could point to from the past year. Using 12 panels per page is an ambitious undertaking, particular on a page format this small (the book is slightly undersized at 6 x 9 inches). Watson's art remains uncluttered through even the most ambitious and intensive parts of the story.
Andi Watson's work is a rare nexus; it's hard to come up with the name of an on-line reviewer who didn't like his BREAKFAST AFTER NOON, or who isn't currently enjoying SLOW NEWS DAY. In fact, DUMPED just came out yesterday as I write this, and I think I'm the last one to be reviewing it. There's just that much excitement for this guy's work.
IMAGE INTRODUCES: CRYPTOPIA is the fourth entry in Image's attempt to give new potential series a spotlight. This one is from Ben Raab and Pat Quinn. It tells the story of a biologist who observes life of a most unusual sort -- the sort you're normally run into on X-FILES. Yeti. Bigfoot. Chupacabra. That kind of creature. Some of it is genuinely funny due to the absurdity of the situation, and a lot of it has a certain charm. Sadly, the book only gives us a brief glimpse of this world, and fills it with some horrifically lame clichéd accents.
Have you seen the Disney movie ATLANTIS?
Frustrated researcher. Rich financier. Crack international staff. Impossible mission. Fancy ship.
Yup, that's CRYPTOPIA, too.
This is ATLANTIS with a female version of the lead character. Her name -- hold back your cringing -- is Dr. Shannon Elizabeth Palmer. "Shannon Elizabeth"?!?
Yes, the book has its hokey moments, but it's a good high concept. The execution is flawed, but not fatally so. I'd buy this for a couple of issues if it went to a series. The first things that need to go, though, are the accents on the supporting cast members. They border on the insulting. The Hispanic character seems incapable of going more than three words without a "'sup" or "yo." The French financier uses "ze" far too often. I have no problem with ethnic characters having their voice. I just hate tripping over their voices when they're so heavily laced with these clue words. Chris Claremont did such a great job with foreign accents in UNCANNY X-MEN. Characters had key words they would use, and speech patterns that often mimicked their native tongue.
The other problem with this issue is the structure. It's trying to do too much too soon. It's an origin story that opens on a glimpse of the end of the journey, and also includes a flashback to a prior adventure. It goes in three different directions in its 22 pages and it's a bit jarring. I wish the creators had stuck with one simple story and hooked me in with the concept and one example of what comes of it. It seems like they have a whole arc planned out for this, which is always exciting, but I don't necessarily need to know about that right now.
Pat Quinn's art serves the purpose of the story. I know it sounds like I'm damning him with faint praise, but I just don't know what else to say. It's nothing that grips me. It's solid work with a fine attention to detail. He doesn't go crazy with page layouts or insanely impractical posing. Backgrounds are visible and nothing is overdone
In the end, CRYPTOPIA is a good idea that would benefit from a large exploration. A four-issue mini-series might be a big help in getting the idea off the ground. And with a few minor adjustments, it could make for a great read.
CORRECTIONS AND UPDATES
Jeff Carolan wrote in to correct something I said in a Previews-related column last week:
"I only wish it were true that DC hadn't resorted to the hardcover graphic novel for two years. Just last year, they also put out Green Lantern: Willworld, JLA: League of One, and Bizarro Comics. In the next 2 months alone we get another GL hardcover (Last Will and Testament or something I believe) plus the Elseworlds Batman tale Nine Lives that was supposed to ship last week. If you count Wildstorm, there was a Star Trek:TNG hardcover last year as well. At least now they're somewhat spread out, rather than all being shipped at Christmas as was the case 2 years ago. These things seem to be breeding like mad."
He's right. I had forgotten about a few of the hardcover books DC had put out over the past couple of years. What confused me was DC's lack of initiative or focus on those hardcovers in the time period. An occasional book would trickle out, but there never seemed to be an overall game plan to it. Now, it seems, they're putting the books out on a regular schedule and preparing for them as a part of their publishing plan. That's a very good thing to see.
I picked up the BATMAN: NINE LIVES book this week, as a matter of fact. I think that it's a safe bet I'll be reviewing it here in the coming weeks. It combines two of my loves in comics: It's a hardcover and it's presented in the "Marvelscope" format. The latter was a very pleasant surprise.
Finally, Luke McBratney writes in to correct another PREVIEWS error from last month:
"Gordon Rennie and Frank Quitely's MISSIONARY MAN only appeared in THE JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE. Missionary Man did later appear in 2000 A.D. but with different artists. Trevor Hairsine even did a couple of episodes."
That was strictly my misinterpretation, Luke, based on the limited information offered in that PREVIEWS. Thanks for the correction.
Next week: An interview with J. Torres, author of THE COMPLETE COPYBOOK TALES, and some more reviews. Plus, I'll run down the list of Eisner Award nominations. They're always fun and controversial, aren't they?
More than 350 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, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.