Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #109

Tue, July 6th, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

PREVIEWS IN THE PIPELINE

The new PREVIEWS is out and, as usual, lends itself to a whole lot of commentating, speculating, ranting, and raving. After that, it's more storytelling time, as Pipeline looks into the latest offering from Scott Lobdell called HELLHOLE. It's a whole Hell theme this week!

DC GOES TO HELL

Well, the trouble starts at PREVIEWS' cover. DC is doing another company-wide crossover. Oh, joy! And, look! This one's co-edited by Kevin Dooley! My heart soars with anticipation and excitement.

This is just another useless crossover event that could just as easily be done in a four-issue mini-series. There's no reason to involve Aquaman, Young Justice, Superboy, Impulse, etc. al. in this colossal waste of time.

What could turn out to be worst of all, though, is the fact that every indication says that Hal Jordan will become the new Spectre. But since everyone's expecting this, the fear is that DC will do another turnaround (a la with Monarch in Armageddon nearly ten years ago) and make mush of the story.

Yes, I'm pre-judging this series before it comes out. Given DC's track record and the overall uselessness of these things, I think it's a safe bet. I would not be pre-judging the series this harshly if it weren't interfering with every other DC book that I read. The fact that whatever momentum may happen to be building up in those titles will be demolished with this silly crossover between the agents of heaven and hell annoys me. Yes, that UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED crossover proved successful, alienating a bunch of fans. As did the ECLIPSO stuff . . . Annoyances all!

(Further to prove that DC just doesn't get it: They compare this series with THE FINAL NIGHT crossover, another forgettable mess, although it did have pretty art by Stuart Immonen. ONE MILLION is so forgettable barely a year later that I didn't even bother picking up the recent 80 Page Giant.)

The writers of the books that get stuck crossing over can't like this too much either. Last I heard, there were a couple who were annoyed by Grant Morrison writing their books/suggesting storylines during ONE MILLION. It appears that's not happening here. There's no language in the solicitation to suggest so. So people are just getting their books interrupted for little to no good reason other than an assume temporary sales boost. The only book that makes any sense in this crossover is SUPERGIRL, whose angelic nature makes her a natural fit.

THINGS DC IS DOING RIGHT

But just to be fair, DC does have some interesting things going on. For starters, Homage Comics is soliciting BALL AND CHAIN, Scott Lobdell's new creator owned mini-series about a married couple pending divorce whose sudden superpowered fate sticks them together. The art looks decent, and the storyline sounds interesting. Picture QUANTUM & WOODY, but they are a couple!

The hardcover collection of SUPERMAN: FOR ALL SEASONS is solicited for $25. I can't wait for that one. It was a terrific mini-series from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. If nothing else, DC has an excellent track record with publishing hardcover books, that CRISIS boondoggle notwithstanding.

They're also soliciting collections for TRANSMETROPOLITAN, STORMWATCH, JACK KIRBY'S FOREVER PEOPLE, and other less interesting (for me, anyway) titles.

So for those of us who love to collect these TPBs since they look so good on bookshelves, September is poised to be a very expensive month.

There are also one-shots for the terrific science-fiction western, DESPERADOES, a new GON collection "GON UNDERGROUND", and the Image crossover, SUPERMAN & SAVAGE DRAGON: METROPOLIS by Karl Kesel and Jon Bogdanove. All three are highly anticipated here at Pipeline Central and will probably get reviewed in three months time.

And I just realized that half of the good things DC is doing these days are only due to their buyout of Wildstorm and associated properties. Heh.

OTHER PREVIEWS

Even they don't know what they're doing from month to month! ARIA #7 is solicited as having a Jay Anacleto cover. No artist is listed for the interiors, although they are soliciting ARIA: BLANC & NOIR #2 and the ARIA JAY ANACLETO SKETCHBOOK. So while acknowledging the fact that the main selling point of the book is the art, they can't solicit the series with art from that artist. They want a monthly book without a monthly artist. That's going to frustrate a great many people. Quite honestly, the story in ARIA is not my usual fare, and not so enjoyable that I wouldn't consider only picking up the books Anacleto does.

The DESPERATE TIMES TPB is coming. If your retailer was like most and refused to order one of the funniest books to come down the pike in quite some time, buy it. For $13, it collects the four issues of the original series and includes tons of new and additional material.

Can someone explain this one to me: Awesome is publishing a new WARCHILD mini-series, written by Rob Liefeld and Bob Napton, illustrated by Thomas Hong. Now, Awesome is a company coming out of some financial difficulties, and working on getting something going here. So why are they creating new mini-series of a property that theoretically already has a four-issue mini-series sitting in the desk drawer that was written by Alan Moore and drawn by Rob Liefeld. That seems to be the one that everyone would like to see. And it's finished and complete already. So why are they spending money publishing this one instead? Are they afraid of Alan Moore overload due to the on-going ABC line of titles? Does this one lead into the other series?

ONI Press is soliciting for the follow-up miniseries to Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber's mini-series WHITEOUT. WHITEOUT: MELT will run another four issues. Look for a detailed Pipeline review of WHITEOUT sometime in the next couple of weeks.

HELL TO PAY

If you were to want to write a comic book in the style Scott Lobdell uses in HELLHOLE #1 which came out last week, you'd have to pay Lobdell first.

Or so he hopes, I suppose.

Check out the inside front cover warning: "HELLHOLE-VISION™ created by and trademark Scott Lobdell 1999. Patent Pending."

Yes, that's right; he's attempting to trademark a style of storytelling.

Do I need to go into a rant here to explain why this is so incredibly silly? Do I need to take this to its logical conclusion wherein Joseph Campbell might own STAR WARS. Movies would be owned by whoever made that first silent film. The sit-com concept would be owned by, well, whoever did the first televised sit-com. Etc. etc.

More importantly, however, is the question of whether this style of storytelling is valid or worth trademarking. As regular readers of this column might already be aware, I've been hoping for more cinematic and more widescreen storytelling. I think Jim Lee's current attempt at "sideways" comics is a great high profile thing.

For those of you who skipped HELLHOLE #1 -- and I wouldn't blame you as the cover looks like one big black blob with a couple words highlighted on it -- Scott Lobdell and Adam Pollina have three panels per page. Each panel looks to be close to a 2.35:1 ratio. There are no word balloons. All the lettering is done underneath the panel, sorta like Kyle Baker does, but with a movie script style format instead of just the plain dialogue.

Although the attempt is laudable, there are a number of problems with it. For starters, unlike with Kyle Baker's work, the words here don't always appear underneath the pictures of the people who are speaking them. While this is sort of mitigated by specifying the character who is speaking with the dialogue, it can be confusing. Baker, working with just one mind, can set everything up to work well. I don't know if there's a lack of communication or a basic misunderstanding of how this format is supposed to work, but Pollina should be drawing this to suit the dialogue and he's not.

Another problem is the pacing. With a set number of three panels per page, there's very little room to maneuver for pacing purposes. At least with the nine-panel grid, you can combine two panels, or even three, for long shots or panels you want to have large impact. In this setup, that opportunity never really presents itself. I think for the first time out, it works OK. I also think some of the fault lays in the overall design. This might be another one of those cases where it'll read better once everything is done. For now, it's plotted out as an action movie. That means that while the first 10 pages might be interesting and attention grabbing, it doesn't help move the story along to where it needs to be by the end of the first half of the first issue. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if this started out as an action movie script by Scott Lobdell which just didn't sell, and so he decided to make it into a comic.

I don't know if this kind of format will work with everything. I have a hard time picturing a regular Spider-Man or X-Men book utilizing this. I could, however, see Warren Ellis playing with something similar in one of his forthcoming pop books. (More about those another time.) I think the writer and artist have to work harder so that the dialogue follows, left to right, with the characters on-panel. And I think the plot has to be one that naturally lends itself to this type of format. Something heavier in action and lighter in talking heads would be needed. At the same rate, I don't think you could do justice to a car chase in this format. There are too many cuts a director needs to make to make a chase scene understandable. Each one of those cuts is a panel in this book. It would take up too much space for so little a period of "screen time."

Oh, and the book itself won't be getting a rave review from me. The plot and the characters all fail to grip me. I'll probably give it another shot, though, just on the basis of its unique format. I hope Lobdell continues to work with it and "perfect" it. But I also hope this attempt to trademark a storytelling idea goes south real quick. It would set a dangerous precedent.

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