THE PIPELINE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY AND FAQ
08 June 1997 was the publication date for the first Pipeline Commentary and Review column. Doing a little math, that means that Pipeline will be hitting its fifth anniversary next weekend. This, in my book, is cause for celebration. The week of 10 June, Pipeline Daily will return, with new columns every day from Monday through Friday. There'll be comic book giveaways, some celebratory art, and a few surprises along the way. (I hope.)
One of the things that I'm working on for that week is a Pipeline FAQ of sorts. It will cover the basics of this column and the workings and thoughts behind it. If you have any potential FAQ questions that you think should be a part of such a thing, please e-mail me with them. I can't promise to return all your e-mails, but I will include the ones that fit the format, and I'll be sure to include your name at the end of the column.
It took me long enough, but I finally read the most recent HUMAN TARGET mini-series, from Peter Milligan and Edvin Biukovic. The collection is available now from DC/Vertigo for $12.95, and is worth every penny of the cost.
Christopher Chance is The Human Target, a man who assumes another's identity when his life is on the line. By immersing himself in the role completely, he can get into the middle of a volatile situation and defuse it in the manner he sees fit. When all is said and done, he goes back to being Christopher Chance, and the man whose life he assumed gets his back.
Or does it? That's the question at the heart of this story. Do we really know who Christopher Chance is? Does even he know?
At the heart of it, THE HUMAN TARGET deals with the issues of self-identity from a number of fronts. How far does one go in assuming another's identity? How does one maintain dual identities for long periods of time? And how does this leave the man, himself? What about others who assume a not so complete identity disorder? What about the man who professes to be one thing when he is, in fact, another? Milligan packs the 102 pages of story with these kinds of questions, and shows us some potential results.
Milligan crafts a nice mystery story that holds up on its own, with different villains, antagonists, and unsteady protagonists. It has the characteristics of a Hollywood blockbuster thriller. At the same time, however, the book hits on deep themes and has a brain to it. It's as much a thinking's man's comic as it is a thriller or mystery.
Biukovic's storytelling is just what the story needs. It's not melodramatic. The characters look and act like normal people. They can be expressive without being hammy. Storytelling doesn't get lost in a story that's more than just Vertigo talking heads. When the action heats up and there's more than one person in a scene looking like a given character, you won't get confused.
The book also features Lee Loughridge's trademark coloring style. I'm not sure that I could describe it if I had to, but I know I like it a lot.
Biukovic, who passed away in 1999 from a brain tumor, worked out of Croatia. I'm guessing the letterer on the book, Robert Solanovic, was also Croatian. His lettering has the same style you see in European graphic novels. They're not afraid to add character to their comics with expressive lettering the way we've become afraid in this country with the advent of computer lettering. It all looks so sterile and monolithic these days.
In any case, there's a new HUMAN TARGET graphic novel coming out in a couple of months written by Peter Milligan. If it's as strong as this one, I'll be the first to sing its praises. In the meantime, THE HUMAN TARGET is currently in print and should be available from your local comic shop.
A SMALL SUBSECTION OF THE SERGIO ARAGONES LIBRARY
I mentioned my disappointment with GROO: THE MOST INTELLIGENT MAN IN THE WORLD last week. This week, I thought I'd go back to nearly the very beginning and read the first trade collection of Marvel Epic issues. The trade collects the first four issues of the long-running GROO series. Even though it's very early in the series, all the trademarks are there that make it such a great series. OK, Rufferto isn't there yet, but you still get self-contained single issue stories with morals, cheese dip, mulch jokes to drive you mad, a stupid Groo, opening two-page spreads, and a rhyming Minstrel.
The chemistry between artist/plotter Sergio Aragones and dialogue man/co-plotter Mark Evanier is evident from the start. There's a nice blend of sit-comesque/theatrical verbal comedy mixed in with visual humor and sight gags. Evanier jokes about it, but you know that writing dialogue for The Minstrel is no easy task, and coming up with the right rhymes and scansion for his songs mean the difference between a fun read and a tediously unfunny one.
In this trade, Groo "rescues" the women of multiple towns who have been abducted by a roving zeppelin, gets caught up in the middle of a war in which sides are lost and continuously changed, defeats a dragon manned by MAD Magazine legend Al Jaffee, and successfully wins a war for the wrong side. The stories are sharp and filled with an infectious patter. Groo's character is quickly introduced, even without the Minstrel's exposition. Many of his trademarks make their way into the series early on. The plot carries through, with Evanier plugging in the dialogue and adding some running gags and fun dialogue along the way.
It's tough to say you're watching Aragones find his feet as an artist when you look at this early GROO material. Aragones had already done work for decades before this. While there is a certain refinement in his art from the earliest days of GROO to the modern-day tales, it's not the kind of quantum leap you find from a kid just breaking into the industry to the artist he is 15 years later. You can, however, watch Aragones become more comfortable with drawing Groo. In these early tales, Groo looks a bit dumpier, and his nose is a bit large and undefined, even for him. If you look closely, you'll also notice how many feet are drawn as squiggles at the end of legs. The funny thing about Aragones' art, though, is that it's so busy and so detailed and there's so much stuff going on in each panel that you hardly have the chance to rest your eyes long enough to dissect anatomical tricks he may be playing with you. If you want to go further, you might want to ask where Groo's legs meet. They're on such extreme sides of his hips that it looks like they never join together. That's something that never changes, however.
Aragones' art is always a joy to look at for any number of reasons. He isn't afraid to put everything on the page. Drawing a two-page crowd scene inside of a bazaar, complete with camels, dromedaries, and llamas wouldn't faze him. For the more superhero-centric amongst you: Picture George Perez drawing in a more animated style. Now you have Sergio Aragones.
Everything fits together. His style permeates every little thing, from the flags unfurling above a castle to the pottery carried atop the native's heads in villages. His characters are distinctly his own, yet they aren't carbon copies of each other, nor do they lean on the same old tired formulas. When they do, it's a point of character.
Aragones is also a master storyteller, and you need look no further than the recent two volumes of his silent story telling, LOUDER THAN WORDS and ACTIONS SPEAK, for proof of that. Each book is more than 120 pages of single page gag strips told completely in pantomime.
The ironic thing is that these pages take longer to read than regular comic pages that have all the dialogue do. There are two reasons for this. The first is that you have to really concentrate on each panel to follow the action. You don't have the cheat of dialogue telling you everything you need to know to follow the story. This is not, as Chuck Jones often referred to modern cartoons, animated radio. The drawings are not secondary to the words. You have to pay attention to the characters and their surroundings. In this, Aragones' detailed art style works against him. Many of the gags rely on crowd scenes and exotic locations that need to be set up and paid off all in the space of a page. It's a fascinating thing to study if you're of a mind to do so. If you're just looking for a few cheap laughs, Aragones' dexterity with turning situations around for humor's sake is second to none.
The second thing that makes these books slightly longer reads than you'd think is the lack of coloring. Being black and white means you don't have the cheat of coloring helping to draw your eye properly along the page. While Aragones does an amazing job at moving the reader's eye along the page in the proper directions, it never hurts to have a colorist spotlighting and reinforcing selected areas where the action is happening.
The books are also best read in small doses. They're great time-fillers. They're nice reads inbetween larger reads. If I sat down and read 120 pages of silent gag stories at a time, I'd probably go crazy. After awhile, the novelty wears off a little. So plunk down your money for the two volumes, but don't plan on locking yourself in your room to read them cover-to-cover. That would diminish the comedic impact of the book, I think. I keep the book by my computer. I can get lost in a few gags while I wait for something to download. (I'm still on a dial up modem. Pity me.)
Nevertheless, these two books -- and THE GROO ADVENTURER along with it -- are nice additions to your comic library. It can't all be about super-heroes or crime stories or fantasy epics. There isn't enough humor in comics these days, and Sergio Aragones is today's Grand Master of Funny Comics.
If only we could convince Aragones and Evanier that it's time for a revival of THE MIGHTY MAGNOR...
More than 400 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.