COMING SOON. . .
Stop back here on Thursday for a special review of a book that will be released in February.
A LITTLE EASTERN FLAVOR
I had a slow week at the comic shops last week, so I'll dispense with the Week In Reviews that I've been slotting in here. Instead, I'm still catching up on books from 2006. Last week I reviewed ROCK BOTTOM, Joe Casey and Charles Adlard's OGN from AiT/PlanetLar. This week, I have another release from the same publisher.
SEVEN SONS is the retelling of a classic Chinese fable about seven brothers with special powers who cheat death and bloodthirsty crowds through a series of smart moves and bits of mistaken identity. There's an excellent text piece in the back of the book that explains the fable's history and some of the varieties that other retellings have put on it. Honestly, I had never heard it before, but I've lived a sheltered life. I can deal with that. I didn't need to know the history or the original tale to enjoy this book.
Alexander Grecian's version of the story moves the story to California in the Gold Rush era, when Chinese immigrants were plenty, and some of the locals' reactions to them was not kind. It's a smart move to help place the story in a new context, and give plausible explanations for the moves and motives of all the characters. Grecian also wraps some bookends around the story to add extra literary flavor and interest, without being hokey or didactic. He's also not afraid to let the art tell the story. The dialogue throughout the book is just enough to tell the story. It's not prose-like or heavily stylized. It guides the reader through the book without ever getting in the way or plodding the book down. I appreciated that a lot.
The art is from Riley Rossmo. It's a very sketchy and messy looking style, but one that works. He uses grey tones and washes in the book, along with a very loose pen line. The storytelling uses everything from grid layouts to messy panels strewn across the page. But there's also a very cinematic feel to the book. You don't need wide panels spread across the page to get that feel. You can use silent panels, repeated images, and sequences that look more like storyboards than strict sequential comic narrative. (This makes sense, since Rossmo makes his living as a storyboard artist.)
I think the one other strength of this book is how well it proves what special magic comics have. Neither the art nor the story could have lived on its own with as much success as the two here have when put together. Grecian's story would be Just Another Retelling of the same old, same old. It would be a breezy and forgettable short story. Rossmo's art adds so much flavor and style to the book, yet it doesn't do so at the expense of the story. This isn't flashy. It's stylized, but it feels natural for the story. And that's a lot of what more comics should be.
The book is a quick 100 pages, roughly speaking. It's a pleasant diversion for a day when you don't want to get bogged down in continuity or deeper literary meaning. Sure, you could find some in here if you really wanted to, but I enjoyed it on the surface as a book that provided sympathetic lead characters, a believable historical setting, and a dash of whimsy.
SEVEN SONS is available today for just $13.
SOMETHING FOR THE KIDS
ZAPT! is a new kid-friendly OEL manga from the minds of Shannon Denton and Keith Giffen, with Armand Villavert Jr. on art. Its your typical boy's power fantasy story, but done with enough charm and humor to entertain the nephew, cousin, or son in your life.
Armand Jones is the star of the series. He's an average kid from Michigan whose bad day at school is only made worse when he's warped to outer space to join the Pan-Galactic Order of Police, or P.O.O.P. (And Armand is the only one who gets the humor in that name.) What starts as your typical sci-fi comedy with a human out of place in a world of aliens quickly becomes an adventure to save a friend who, unbeknownst to Armand, is also involved in this mixed-up world and who needs his help.
Remember: This isn't a book for adults. It's aimed at a much younger market, and I think is perfect for that audience. There's a hint of "gross" humor, some cool space scenes, and some action. There's a protagonist that a ten year old boy could see himself in. There's a situation that he's likely to dream about have happening to him someday. And there's an exciting adventure waiting for him. Sure, much of this might be old hat to us adults, but it's all new for the kids and is a lot of fun.
Villavert is a great artistic find. He lists his influences as Joe Madureira, Hayao Miyazaki, Frank Cho, but I see a lot more of Jamie Hewlett (Gorillaz), Humberto Ramos, and just a taste of everything Pixar's created in the last decade. His style is definitely manga-influenced, and fits right into the story and the overall house look of TokyoPop's books - lots of thin lines, gray tones, and panel borders that rarely meet at 90 degree angles. The storytelling is crystal clear, though, with no stylistic excesses to cover up flaws. The characters are designed nicely and work in the artist's style naturally.
Best of all, this is a 100 page story for just $5.99. Not only is the material great for children, but so is the lower price point. And, yes, a second volume IS on the way.
FIVE YEARS AGO. . .
In Pipeline #242, I previewed the week's biggest release, THE ULTIMATES #1. It was the hot new book from Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. It was quite the beautiful piece of work, too:
THE ULTIMATES #1 is probably the biggest release of the week. It's the Avengers-like team for Marvel's Ultimate lineup, as written by Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie. The first issue focuses completely on Captain America, save for a couple of pages at the end. If you're looking for the big team formation issue, this ain't it. What it is, however, is a great introduction to the character of Captain America and how his origin has been reworked and tweaked by Millar.
The issue tells the tale of an invasion not unlike that of D-Day. It's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN done as a comic book. The action sequences owe something to the movie, for sure. It is not, however, a clone of the movie devoid of soul. Hitch's artwork is detailed and widescreen at its best.
Five years later, we've yet to see the 26th issue of the series.
It's also funny in that column to see my review of THE PUNISHER #8:
. . .is an atrocious waste of paper. It's one of the worst comics books I've read in recent memory. If it were a movie, I would have walked out at the end of the first act and asked for my money back. I did the closest thing I could do. I stopped reading after the first five pages.
I had such high hopes for the issue's writer, Ron Zimmerman. He worked on Jay Mohr's ACTION, which is easily the funniest single season sit-com I've ever seen. It seems, however, that the side of him that writes the higher art of "V.I.P" and "7th Heaven" came out to play here, instead.
Here's the money quote from there, given the events of recent CIVIL WAR days:
But would Mr. Fantastic willingly ally himself with the murderous Punisher to go back in time to murder a man and change the course of human events? (We're not even talking Hitler here. Capone was bad, but he's not ever going to be the subject of a question in a college Philosophy class.)
And, yes, you read that right. The story in that issue had the Punisher time traveling to defeat Al Capone. Now you know why so many people despised that issue.
Later in that week, Pipeline2 #136 featured a hop through PREVIEWS. Those were simpler times. More fun times. Times where CrossGen was flush with funds and experimenting with formats:
CrossGen's big news is their new compendium editions, reprinting selected issues of various comics into an anthology format at a low price. They'll definitely get points from me for the cardstock cover, the color printing, the paper stock, and the sheer volume for the $10 price point. I'm a little less excited about the oddball content nature of it. It seems scattershot. I don't know. We'll have to see how this works. Maybe an anthology idea like this is what's needed to give readers a broad cross-section of the line to see just what it is they would like to see more of.
There's also something really cool about collecting all the series at once in a neat lineup of spines that face out on your bookshelf. On the other hand, if I were interested in that, I'd be waiting for the standard trades of each series, individually.
The series of trade compilations gave rise to the oft-repeated marketing term, "good hand." The comics "gave good hand," in that they felt natural in your hands, fitting comfortably. They were small enough to be portable, yet big enough to clearly understand. Purists will note that the full-sized pages still looked better, but for 90% of the potential market of those books, the compendia were good enough.
Since I spoke about AiT/PlanetLar earlier, I'll reference another solicitation that month here:
CBR's own Larry Young has a new book out called TRUE FACTS, collecting all his articles from savantmag.com into one small book. Yes, I realize his column here has ended, but we still like him. We'll always consider him one of us here at CBR. Besides, he won't leave. He's still occasionally seen at his message board.
Still true. And the book is a great one for anyone interested in how the comics market works.
Don't forget to stop by on Thursday for that special advance review. And keep your ear to the iTunes feed for another podcast tonight. In case you missed it, the Pipeline Previews Podcast finished its three part look at PREVIEWS for March 2007 last week, also. Update your feeds today!
Pipeline will return next week with another advance review of a comic. This one isn't due out until March.
My blog, Various and Sundry, is in full scale reality TV mode now, with AMERICAN IDOL and GREASE updates currently running. Also, there's lot of tech talk and stuff of a more general interest.
More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.