PIPELINE PREVIEWS PRESENTS...
Thanks to the wonders of black and white previews and summer comic conventions, I'm proud to present a look at three books that will be popping up at your local comic shop fairly soon. Right after those, look for a brief glimpse at the latest PREVIEWS magalog.
MIDNIGHT NATIONJ. Michael Straczynski's MIDNIGHT NATION appears under the Joe's Comics imprint of the Top Cow imprint of Image Comics. It's the story of the LAPD member who's shot dead and loses his soul. At least, that's how JMS is laying out this 12 issue series. For anyone who's read or watched his other works, you know he has ways of pulling the carpet out from under your feet in short order. (Remember, for example, when RISING STARS was a murder mystery? That didn't last too long, did it?)
The first issue leads up to the dramatic death of Lieutenant Grey, as he investigates a strange series of murders. This is fairly typical comic writing from JMS, as he likes to write lots. There's a ton of first-person narrative captions from Grey throughout the issue. It's not extraneous stuff, by any measure, but it still shows the signs of a novelist or television writer trying to write for comics. He's learning, though. There are a couple of scenes in which he steps back and let's the artist tell the story. Speaking of whom:
This book has one giant advantage over RISING STARS: This one has Gary Frank providing the art. The preview book sold at the conventions this summer is the entire first issue shot directly from Gary Frank's pencils, complete with lettering. So you get the whole story, just without inks and colors. I like it this way. Since the inks aren't present yet, you're missing a lot of the solid black areas, but you get a little extra fine pencil shading that normally gets lost in the inking process.
It'll be interesting to see what this book looks like once the colors and inks are added in. The book carries a cover date of September, so it should be in your comic shop sometime this month. If you're looking for good, solid material written under the typical Top Cow umbrella, this book should work for you. It's a little mystical, a little magical, and a lot police procedural.
UPDATE: I've delayed in writing this column too long. MIDNIGHT NATION popped up in comics shops everywhere yesterday. It's interesting, still, to look at the book before and after inks and colors.
I'm happy to say that the coloring didn't muddy the book. My biggest fear with a book like this is that the colorists will go crazy trying to make it noir and dark. I mean, the first part of the book takes place at night in a rainstorm. I don't think my fear is terribly unfounded. While the book may use an earthier color palette, it still stays brighter in tone than a lesser colorist might use. Colors here, by the way, are from Dan Kemp. The glossy paper stock helps, also.
Inks from Jason Gorder remain completely faithful to Gary Frank's pencils. The only differences I noted were in the tiniest of details, such as the raindrops on the corpse's body on the first page.
More telling were some of the changes in the lettering. Some of it has been rearranged on the page to aid in storytelling and to allow the artwork to shine through better. Some of it has been corrected to line up with the background art better. One again, let's look at the first page. The words in the first four caption boxes are seemingly reproduced from a hand-written ledger kept by Lieutenant Grey. In the black and white preview, they often don't line up properly with the ruled background. That's been fixed for the final edition. The black and white edition made it look like each caption was ripped off the notebook. In the final color edition, each caption box was perfectly square. Also, the fourth caption was moved off the first panel -- where it blocked some of the character artwork -- to the top of the second panel, where it doesn't interrupt any of Frank's art. Finally, the double balloon used to differentiate the lettering between Laurel and the unseen voice has been changed back to a single-balloon in the final edition. I liked the look of the double balloon better, plus it helped to differentiate the voices. Now, there is no difference.
More annoyingly, Grey's first-person narration has been reversed. Instead of black lettering on white backgrounds in caption boxes, now the lettering is white on top of a dark blue background color. Granted, this is something that would have been tough to accurately reproduce in black and white. However, I think it's easier to read as plain black lettering on white. The final version is tougher to read and adds to a darker tone on the page.
Just to be fair, though, I think the computer-aided work that was done with the coloring in the second half of the book was done well. Specifically, there are some goblins and ghost-type figures in the second half. Their color has been muted to help make them feel like they're on another plane.
MIDNIGHT NATION is scheduled to run a dozen issues. Never mind all the nit picking and behind the scenes stuff I just vented on for 400 words -- the book is definitely worth a look. If you've wanted to try some of JMS' material, but the RISING STARS artwork turned you off or the continuity-laden nature of BABYLON 5 did the same, here's your chance to get in on the ground floor of a new JMS creation.
(Don't be worried about scheduling, either. Top Cow prints the pencils to the first twenty pages of the second issue in the back of this book. I'm trying my darnedest not too look at them too closely.)
AVIGON is a 56 page "graphic novella" due out from Image Comics in October with a $5.95 price tag. It's written by Che' Gilson and drawn by Jimmy Robinson, in stark black and white with some grey tones added in.
You may remember Robinson last from the EVIL AND MALICE book Image published last year. The art style he uses in this issue is something completely different from that. This book is very much a Tim Burton dream - dark and gothic. Robinson goes for the ultra-stylistic here, drawing long thin people. There are some hints of manga in here and some touches of the Bruce Timm animated Batman style.
This book is something completely different from all of that. It's tough to judge the entire story because I only have the first half of it sitting here. It's a dark fantasy about a robot that appears to be realizing some level of humanity. This isn't the most original basic plot in the world, but it's all the execution. It's said that there are only twelve basic plots in all of fiction -- 3 if you REALLY want to boil it down -- and the true judge of artistic merit is in how the storytellers pull it off. Robinson and Gilson seem to be doing a stylish and fitting job in the execution.
AVIGON is a pretty quick read. The art is drawn large, without a lot of narration, captions, or dialogue. It's the bare minimum needed to carry the story along. The art carries the story, for the most part, with some bizarre and surreal imagery.
My main gripe with the preview is that some of the lettering gets obscured in the darker gray areas. Of course, I'm reading this book as a photocopy on plain white paper. It might just be that the final product will look better and clearer on the paper it's printed on.
DC publishes HARLEY QUINN #1 on October 11th, in an attempt to milk the animated Batman series for every penny it's worth. Does Quinn really need a series all her own, set in the mainstream DC Universe? Nah, probably not. Isn't this risking overkill?
The challenge of figuring out Harley's story appears to be half the fun, and I don't envy Karl Kesel his writing task here of coming up with a coherent and meaningful story for her in the long run.
Kesel is off to an admirable start, though, as he tells the story of Quinn's jailbreak and reunion with the Joker. (For those of you who are continuity nuts, don't ask how this fits in with the events at the end of the EMPEROR JOKER storyline. Does it really matter that much?!?) Quinn just wants to do her Mr. J. a big favor. She wants to help him out of his stupor. In the meantime, Bruce Wayne takes a tour of a new amusement park with a super-villain theme. At the end, the two storylines are about to crash together.
Kesel does a great job with Joker's character here, perfectly recreating the diabolical, yet more-than-slightly insane jokester. Joker may look crazy, but he uses it here as his cover to keep Harley in line. Harley, herself, is a doting sidekick, although Kesel shows some signs of intelligence in here, particularly at the end of the issue. It's subtle enough that you will be rooting for her by the time this first issue is done.
Terry and Rachel Dodson handle the art duties. The most interesting part of it is that they use two different art styles. The Timm animated look is used when the story is being told from Harley Quinn's point of view, while the traditional, more 'realistic', look is used for the rest of the story. It's a great narrative trick, and helps the reader to see the bias through which the story is being told in certain parts. In that way, it also creates a bit of sympathy for Quinn that wouldn't normally be present. You can see how she deludes herself here and you almost have to feel sorry for her.
This should prove to be an interesting title when it starts up next month.
PREVIEWS FOR NOVEMBER
It's time for that quick flip through PREVIEWS I promised earlier. As always, the disclaimer: This isn't exhaustive. It isn't meant to be. I'm just highlighting a few things that stuck out at me, or that I'd like to see do well.
The first DVD collection of REBOOT episodes is due out in November (page 372). It looks to be collecting the first three or four episodes of the third season of the show, that didn't make it on ABC here in the States. The Cartoon Network showed them, but I was always too lazy to set up the VCR to tape them. The disc will run you $25 for 90 minutes' worth of entertainment. I've heard nothing but good reviews for the third season, so I'll be ordering.
Dark Horse is printing the complete AKIRA manga in a series of six phonebooks, for $25 each. I've never read the Marvel reprinted comic, nor have I ever seen the movie. But I'll give the first phonebook a shot and see what it's like.
Speaking of which, has the first LONE WOLF AND CUB come out yet? I haven't seen it at my local comic shop yet, and I keep forgetting to ask. It's not on the release list for next week, either.
THE COMIC READER #5 is solicited for November. Don't believe it. In case you hadn't noticed, the first issue isn't out yet. Don't ask me about it; I've given up asking.
I'm not reading the TOMB RAIDER series from Top Cow. I just don't have that much interest. I've played a little TOMB RAIDER 2. That was fun. It's always interesting to see how many ways the programmers can come up with to show you a dramatic up angle on Lara Croft's butt. Top Cow is offering one very interesting looking book in November, however. TOMB RAIDER: THE GREATEST TREASURE OF ALL is written by Dan Jurgens and fully painted by Joe Jusko. It's 48 pages and in the prestige format, so it'll show up well on paper. Jusko does some terrific painting. And in a month when Alex Ross' SHAZAM: POWER OF HOPE will be dominating the stands, I think this one might deserve an extra look.
If you wanted to read the EARTH X series, but didn't want to spend $100 on the perpetually-delayed Graphitti Designs hardcover edition, Marvel is offering the trade paperback for it on December 6. There's no mention in the solicitations if the color will be sucked out of it, as it will be in the hardcover, but it's probably a good bet that it will. The price point is $25 for 464 pages. If it were color, it would probably cost twice as much. (I'm just hoping the glue is strong enough to hold together that many pages through a long reading.)
AAAARGH! Comics proudly presents Chris Eliopoulos' DESPERATE TIMES Vol. 2 #1. This one's 24 pages of funny book excellence, featuring the return of Toad and Marty and all their wacky friends and single guy life experience. The cover, as always, is a jam between Erik Larsen and Eliopoulos. Assuming someone at FedEx doesn't steal the art, it should look pretty good when it's done. If you're on a budget, you can also purchase an electronic edition of the book for a buck at JamBooks.com when the time comes.
NEXT WEEK IN THE PIPELINEMore fun and adventure, and maybe even a surprise guest columnist! I don't have it all figured out just yet. Do you know what you're doing next Friday night? Didn't think so.
Have a great weekend!