PIPELINE PREVIEW: ULTIMATE X-MEN #1
…is an engaging book with some cool art, but with some problems. This is the obligatory first issue of a team book, in which one character goes around recruiting the rest of them. Through those newbies' eyes, the readers get to learn all about the brand new world they're visiting. In addition, the team gets formed and has its first mission.
The art, from Adam Kubert and Art Thibert, is crisp and clear. Kubert keeps his layouts relatively simple, as compared to some of the wackier layouts he's used in other mutant books in the past. Personally, I like those different layouts, but since this book is aimed at new readers, this move is the right one.
ULTIMATE X-MEN is aimed at a slightly older audience than its sister SPIDER-MAN title. Things are a bit dirtier and a bit grimmer. Some nasty things happen. Character flirt more with swear words, but not too much. (This is still far from a Vertigo title.) The mutants in the book, also, seem a few years older than Peter Parker. One comes out of jail, one we find in a pool hall, and another still is dealing with the Russian mafia.
Writer Mark Millar's revisions of the characters are all very much recognizable. Ororo is probably the one showing the least change, besides being about ten years younger than the mainstream version. Beast is the pre-blue fur version. Jean Grey is a bit more au currant. Instead of being the beauty with tresses of red hair, she's got the short punk cut. Cyclops is so proud of his students that his crotch is about the burst. (Seriously, when you get the book, check out Cyclops' first appearance.)
The story does a nice job in moving back and forth between team-building and environment-setting. Mark Millar spends some time establishing the situation for mutants on Earth-Ultimate. He introduces some good political angles to the whole struggle and shows us the faces behind them - yup, it's Magneto.
We get to see each character using her or her powers at least once in this set-up. The conflict between Magneto and Professor X is clearly shown, and some hints are thrown in as to what caused their friendship to dissolve. But the biggest shocker of the issue comes on the last page, when one familiar X-Man character appears in a completely different role than we're used to. Nicely handled, and a nice surprise from Millar and Kubert.
Here's my beef on the book: There's an awareness on the part of its characters that they're trapped in a comic book world. No, I don't mean it in a John Byrne's SHE-HULK breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of way. I mean it more in a post-WATCHMEN deconstructionist kind of way. The characters gripe about the needs for codenames - reasons that are never really given, either - and their costumes. Millar throws in a reason for the costume, but it rings hollow to me. The costumes are a way of fooling the mutant-hunting Sentinels so that they don't realize the X-Men are mutants. But they couldn't possibly act as a shield. On the women, in particular, vast portions of their bodies - thighs (inexplicably) and stomachs --are extra bare. And if it's just the start of some sort of force field, then design a badge or something they can wear to do the same thing. It would help to give that unifying look that the team needs, while still eliminating the "dreaded" costumes inherent in a super-hero comic. Current popular thinking holds that if any of us real people had super powers, we wouldn't bother wearing spandex to go out and fight crime. If that's what it being fought against here, go all the way! Get rid of them. And don't use the codenames at all. Or, if you use them, slip them in as slightly derisive sneers from the team member who has a bit of an attitude problem.
Even at that, though, the book is definitely worth a shot. If you're one of the many who finds the current mainstream X-Men titles unreadable, I think you'll like this. If you've read X-Men in the past and are looking at a good jumping-on point for the series again, I think this one should come highly recommended. It's due out in the stores sometime in the next couple of weeks.
FUN WITH COVERS
Both of these comics came out in the same week. What a weird compositional coincidence:
Meanwhile, from a week or two previous, we see Superman battling Godzilla's genitalia!
SCENE OF THE CRIME: A LITTLE PIECE OF GOOD NIGHT
…first came out a couple of years ago and is generally credited with bringing writer Ed Brubaker into the mainstream spotlight by way of Vertigo. SOTC is a straight on hard-boiled detective story set in modern San Francisco. There's nothing fantastic about it. There are no super-powers, no paranormal phenomenon, or extra-terrestrial events going on.
It involves a cast of about ten characters, when all is said and done, and I never had a problem keeping track of any of them. That's the highest praise I can give this book. Usually, in a comic book mystery, something trips you up. Usually, it's when the writer and the artist don't seem to be on the right page and the narrative suffers. Introductions are made hastily and events are set into motion before you're comfortable with the people involved. Characters appear to change looks and shapes in mid-story as the artist's comfort level rises. This isn't a problem in SOTC.
Brubaker's script really shines here. The plot is tense and mysterious without being full of ludicrous plot twists. But it's the liquid prose that Brubaker lays down that moves you through the book. You don't realize it, but you're halfway through the first part (the book was originally a four issue mini-series) before you blink. The first-person narrative blends perfectly into and out of the dialogue with ease. The background details - such as the path the detective's life lead him through - are trickled in throughout the story without slamming the story to a complete halt. In the end, the story of Jack Herriman is just as interesting and twisted as the story of the missing girl he's set up to find in the first part of the story. Everything is well thought out throughout the book. Details are laid in for every decision that's made. If you have a question as to why a certain character is acting a certain way in a certain scene, there are supporting facts for it in the surrounding pages.
Michael Lark is a real find as an artist. He never tires of drawing normal people in normal situations, nor drawing cars driving down the street or "boring" establishing shots of plain buildings in the city. The story is laid out on a grid of four tiers. Panels vary in width, but generally hold up as two across, with solid black gutters, a la inker Sean Phillips' WILDCATS tour of duty. (Heck, if Phillips ever has to leave that title, I'd like to nominate Michael Lark as a possible replacement.)
Lark's technical skill is remarkable. He can blend that in with good character design and acting. It all comes together here. When it comes to drawing a mother and her two daughters and two different stages of life, Lark manages to make them all look like family, while not drawing the same person three times. The age progression is remarkably good, as well. (I don't want to drift into spoiler territory, so I'll stop there.)
This is, above all, a remarkable story. It can pass as more than just a "comic book." If you've got a friend on your Christmas list that's a fan of detective fiction, then this would be the book for him or her. But, most of all, don't make the same mistake I made in taking so long to read this one. It's good stuff. Even if the story doesn't satisfy you (you never know what some people find entertaining), you have to admire the technical skill used in pulling it off.
BLACK WIDOW #1
…would work best as the first chapter of a graphic novel. It's a shame this mini-series couldn't have been done that way, instead. I'm sure it was a marketing decision or one necessitated by the creators' scheduling, but the story here cries out for completeness. The first issue reads really fast and really confusing.
I don't mean that the story is confusing, but that by the end of the first issue just about all the characters seem confused and everybody's off-kilter and the reader is left hanging, without a sense of what it right or wrong with the story. Maybe that's the authors' intent. It just makes me uncomfortable. I wish we could flow on through to the next section of the story and see where this is going some more. Waiting a month to begin to get the chance of that satisfaction is a little frustrating.
The story is by Devin Grayson and Greg Rucka. It seems that our two Black Widow characters have switched places, but without one of them knowing about it. And then things get ugly. Scott Hamptons' painted art, however, is anything but ugly. It's not the picture perfect smooth Alex Ross stuff. It's much closer to being painted line artwork, but mostly leans on the painted side of things more so than the pen and ink side.
I think I'll just put this book aside as it comes out and read it all when it's complete.
STAVING OFF AN INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT
I'm sorry for not thoroughly proofreading Robsta's contribution to last week's Pipeline2. Those of you who wrote in to point out that Kate Winslet didn't win for TITANIC are right. I knew that. My apologies for not catching it.
The rest of it turns out to be up for grabs, too. Anna Paquin's biography has her all over the place. Born in Canada, she has agents both there and in New Zealand.
This isn't to slight New Zealand, by the way. Steven McDonald wrote in to point out, "Actually, your buddy Kiwi forgot to pump up another major Kiwi export -- hard-working Sam Neill, former Kiwi film documentarian turned Kiwi actor turned international star (let's all pull for him as Trask in X-Men 2, eh?) Actually, he still does the odd bit of alternative documentary stuff when the mood strikes him."
But I think Black Canary said it best:
See ya next week!