Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #120

Tue, September 21st, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

It's amazing how artistic styles start sweeping studios. Remember when J. Scott Campbell starting drawing hairstyles on the Gen13 cast members by adding concentric lines around their hair to intimate shininess? Jim Lee and the rest of WildStorm started doing it the next month.

Now we have the Travis Charest style sweeping WildStorm. Take a look at the cover to DIVINE INTERVENTION: WILDCATS. Look at the inking on the bands around Spartan and Grifter's bodies. See all those short parallel lines running up and down the belts and sashes? Those started off with Travis Charest's art style. Now they're sweeping the whole studio, it seems. So what's next?

In the meantime, the chameleon Lee uses his FLINCH story style for the cover to TRANSMETROPOLITAN #27. Must be inked with a marker.

More on both of these books after this commentary and review:

CROSSOVERITIS

Intercompany crossovers are a tricky and ultimately futile effort, nine times out of ten. Politics ruins most of them. The need to create an event out of it ruins some more. By the time you're done, you get a watered-down "nice" story. Nobody dares win or lose. The villains are balanced out. The heroes can't fight to a win, if they're allowed to fight at all. It's just a messy business.

"Event-itis" kicks in when the publisher makes a rather nice story into a prestige-format, glossy, cardboard-covered, squarebound event. It's actually worse when they work to promote their own mini-series and you get things like the upcoming Loeb/Sale Batman maxi-series with glossy cardboard covers for no good reason other than to increase the price. It's especially bad when you're pretty safe in guessing there will be a collected edition later on that's so much cheaper.

The book I'm getting at is an exception to most of these rules. At the least, it's a success despite all of this:

SUPERMAN & SAVAGE DRAGON: METROPOLIS is a darn cool book.

This book is not crap. Heck, it's a pretty good introduction to both the Dragon universe, as well as the Superman universe.

More problems with these types of books: Schedules are thrown all out of whack. When you write and draw one of these things, you can never be 100% sure where the characters are going to be when it comes time to release the thing. So you have the option of setting it in past continuity, or try your darndest to go with the assumed future plans of the individual characters and hope things don't change too much. This book goes with the latter. It's set in the most current Dragon timeframe being published right now. I can't be sure about the Superman continuity, but it seems current. Supes isn't blue and electrical.

The end solution to all of these problems is to set the story in neutral territory at a neutral time with equal doses of both worlds. Sounds like a formulaic disaster, doesn't it?

Karl Kesel works all of this to his advantage. He keeps the basic character traits for each - Superman is the Man of Steel with a heart of gold for Lois and Dragon is a wisecracking, superstrong ex-cop - and plays them up. He plays with the basics of each character. Their origin images act as bookends. Superman and Lois play off of each other in ways that the reader finds entertaining and back-to-basics. Dragon's sense of humor comes to the fore, and his sense of the bizarre and extraordinary shows no sign of being hidden. Some of Dragon's lines sound like they came straight from Erik's word processor.

If you're reading SUPERBOY, you know that Kesel has a real deftness with using established continuity and mythos to his story's advantage. If you're not reading SUPERBOY, well, you ought to be. It's obvious he's done his homework with this book, too.

The only place the book bogs down for me is when it moves to Apokolips. I was never a fan of that place and the umpteen million Kirby characters that inhabit it. And it's also the place in which the plot begins to supercede the pace and the character-oriented story.

Jon Bogdanove's art is an acquired taste, no doubt about it. I hated it when I first read it. The more I saw of it, the more I got used to it and began to enjoy it. It's cartoony, but can also be used to evoke moody atmospheres and works really well at emotional scenes. His Dragon is pretty close to being on-model. He seems to have the fin closer to Erik Larsen's rendition than most other artists get.

If you've never picked up the Dragon's own book, I think this acts as a nice adventure to get your feet wet with. It's not so heavily involved with all the current continuity that you'll be lost before you start. This way, if you don't like him, you at least have a nice Superman tale.

This one is recommended. Erik Larsen's half hasn't been scheduled yet, but will feature Terry Austin on inks and Alex Ross painting the cover.

I wanted to end with this: Why is everyone complaining about the price on this book? This book is 48 pages of story, uninterrupted by ads. It's $4.95. The average SAVAGE DRAGON issue is $2.50 and comes in at around 22 story pages. So for DC's $5 price tag, you get a book that has glossy pages, squarebound format, cardboard covers, and more than twice as much Dragon story pages for just a nickel under twice the price. (Granted, there is no Dragonbert or Desperate Times or letters column, but this is a special event.) So quit complaining about the price. Complain about other needless intercompany crossovers that run $6 and are crap.

SHORTER REVIEWS

DESPERADOES: EPIDEMIC is a nice story presented in the attractive prestige format from Homage Comics. Jeff Mariotte obviously loves his westerns and puts a good amount of research to use here. The bad side of things is the art. John Cassaday draws glorious front and back covers, but the interior art by John Lucas is, I'm afraid, almost amateurish. It looks like it was inked with a Sharpy marker. There are panels that are almost incomprehensible -- page 13 panel 2, for example, looks like something a caveman might have scrawled on the cave walls. Who knows? Maybe my bitterness is all due to the fact that the villain is an Augie. =)

DIVINE INTERVENTION: WILDCATS #1 is, likewise, a waste of paper. It's filler material. I'll spoil the whole thing for you right now: Gen13 is on Max Faraday's side. The Wildcats are partially reunited against him. The rest of the 23 pages is exposition and recap of everything that's happened in DIVINE RIGHT up 'til now. So now you are freed from any obligation of buying this sucker. Maybe the GEN13 side will be different. I wouldn't count on it, though.

QUANTUM AND WOODY #32 is pretty darned terrific, though. Christopher Priest and M.D. Bright return in high style. If you were a devoted fan of the original series, pick this up and have a blast. If you've never read the book before, forget this issue. Go buy the trade paperbacks. Trust me on this one.

HULK #8 is a big fight scene between Wolverine and Hulk. There are some nice bits of art and a couple of small character bits, but in the end the only think outstanding about this book is John Workman's lettering. I'm a real big fan. (Yes, I am serious. One of these days, I'll do that Pipeline2 column on the fine art of lettering and why the best stuff isn't the stuff that you don't notice.)

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #27 is one of the best single issues of this series to date. Warren Ellis will crack you up. Darick Robertson and Rodney Ramos do a fine job in visualizing the story, and Jim Lee works up a nice cover. If you haven't been reading this series, this one might be a good place to get a hint of its flavor. Then, like with Q&W, you can go back and pick up the TPBs and have a blast.

I may be the only one, but I liked Scott Lobdell's BALL AND CHAIN #1, from Homage Comics. It's two confused people ending their marriage, but getting stuck together by circumstance. Sexy, interesting, fun. Plus, Lobdell has the pacing down very nicely. Great dialogue.

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