WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT
Consider this the leftover material. These are reviews that got squeezed out of last week's columns. There are also some new thoughts on trade paperback quality and the movie UNBREAKABLE. Proceed at your own risk.
Slave Labor has published the first two issues now of SLEEPING DRAGONS, a new black and white series from writer Kevin Mason and artist Kevin Szewczuk. The book is a fantasy book, but comes at things from a unique enough angle to make it interesting.
The first issue is the better of the two. It's a self-contained story that pokes a couple of holes in your standard fantasy rulebook. It's the story of a young boy cruelly dubbed "Muley the Coward", who doesn't believe in the ritualistic nonsense of some of the standard fantasy archetypes. The story is funny, it's entertaining, and it's worth reading. Mason and Szewczuk display a deft sense of comedic timing in many points in this story. In the end, the story is a heart warming, tinged with just a pinch of cleverness.
The second issue begins a multi-part epic, which author Mason isn't too proud to admit that he doesn't know how many issues it will last. It started off as a two-parter, but could end up lasting four. He's going to give the story as much space as it needs, and I think that's for the best. The only problem is that there's a slight delay until the third issue comes out. It's not expected until February now, but that gives you plenty of time to find these first two issues.
Anyway, the second issue is set a few years after the first. It stars a new cast of characters. Here we meet a new knight in town, who has come to the town's defense, and who might have a romantic interlude while he's in town. The problem starts when the story takes an abrupt turn in the second half of the book, and we're treated to a tale of warfare, told in epic verse. For me, it sent the book crashing to a halt. I imagine it'll read more smoothly in coming months when it has the rest of the story accompanying it. That's when it won't feel so abrupt, set against the larger tapestry.
I was first attracted to this book when I saw Kevin Mason sitting at his table at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland in September. The thing that piqued my interest the most about the book was that it didn't come off looking like a lot of other smaller press fantasy books. A quick flip through the book showed it to be a serious attempt at creating a good comic. The art was solid throughout, with plenty of panels per page, a nice sense of balance between the white and black areas, and the dragon looked pretty cool. That's what sold me on giving the book a try.
It's worth a shot, even if your interest in fantasy books is miniscule. That first issue should sell itself pretty well.
TRADE PAPERBACK THOUGHT
Trades are supposed to be the form in which books last for eternity, right? Multiple printings of trades are no big thing. Multiple printings of single issues are frowned upon, generally, and are done only in extreme instances of under ordering or late-breaking desire on fandom's part.
But the trades are created so that future generations can read full stories in one neat package. It's more than just printing something so that current readers can catch up on things. (OK, until recently that was Marvel's theory.)
You want to create these collections and keep them in print for all time. Look at the sales of Warren Ellis' TRANSMETROPOLITAN collections, or Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN books. Those things are selling more than individual issues. It's a new strategy for comics sales.
But there are still some growing pains with this. Please explain to me why a comics company would print a permanent trade paperback collection in a lesser-quality format than the original 'pamphlets.' One recent example of this that I've actually gotten e-mails on is the PLANETARY trade. It collects the first six issues, but the paper used is of a plainer stock than the original issues were printed out. It makes the colors look muddy.
The hardcovers that DC has been producing in the past year seem to be getting it right, and make them instantly worth the extra few bucks. But I have to be slightly suspicious with the paperbacks.
I don't mean to pick on DC here, by the way. They're not along in doing this. The Kevin Smith/Joe Quesada DAREDEVIL trade paperback was similarly muddied, as I recall. (I don't have a copy here to reference. I only bought the Graphitti Designs hardcover, which is one of the nicest hardcovers I own.)
BIRDS OF PREY #25
…isn't a double-sized epic spectacular. By comparison to previous issues, it is a quieter, more serene tale with a quirky sense of humor.
Chuck Dixon puts Dinah Lance and Barbara Gordon on two different trajectories this issue -- where nary the two shall meet -- and lets each have their own adventure. The results are more than just the "Thrills! Spills! Chills!" that the cover promises. You get a good dose of humor in here, some nostalgia, and an awful lot of great art, some of which features gorillas. (Gotta love them gorillas, right?)
Butch Guice pencils and inks the entire issue, so you know right off the bat that it's going to look beautiful. Chuck Dixon's story allows him to indulge in some fun with Black Canary as she vacations on some far-off beach paradise. Just when you expect some new adventure to pop up out of nowhere (as has happened on just about every one of her previous "vacations"), Dixon pulls the rug out from underneath you. Neither Guice nor Dixon let opportunities go by, and there's almost a subtle hint of a self-mocking tone when they get away with some gratuitous Canary cheesecake shots.
Meanwhile Ted "The Retired Blue Beetle" Kord and Barbara "Oracle" Gordon go off on an adventure of their own, albeit rather unintentionally. For those of us who are big fans of the Giffen-era JLA, this issue is a real treat. Sure, there may be no Oreos (or whatever non-trademarked DC legal is referring to those cookies as today), but there's still a page in here for us.
Speaking of trade paperbacks, it's a crying shame that DC isn't aggressively collecting this series in trades.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO -- ?!?
That's right; it's time for the fun game of overlooked books and forgotten titles. Things that the world was high on and then quickly forgot. Things that I was ready to rant about for paragraphs on end, only to have slide from my grasp at the last minute.
To the last category above I add MARVEL BOY #5. The fourth issue came out three months ago. It was a Grant Morrison book (with J.G. Jones art), so it had a high profile and lots of people talking about it. Yet, I've barely heard a whisper about it in the two months that it's been late. It has been found, however. The fifth issue goes on sale tomorrow in comic shops everywhere. And so Marvel saves themselves from this wrath at the last second.
The second one is more curious. Remember GEAR STATION? It was out earlier this year. It ran four issues. I finally got around to reading them this past weekend and I'll do a full review of them in the near future. I always thought it was a four-issue mini-series. In the back pages of the last issue, though, there's talk about keeping your eye out for the fifth issue. I don't remember that ever coming out. So I visited the web site. It's under construction, promising to be done by the end of the month, although which month that is the site doesn't say. I haven't seen any solicitations for the fifth issue, either, and Dan Fraga has been off the radar for a little while now, at least since the summer cons.
UNBREAKABLE (NO SPOILERS)
(In all fairness, I'll be giving away the twist ending to THE SIXTH SENSE in here. Is there anyone reading this who hasn't seen that movie yet, or who doesn't know the surprise?)
Wow, the trailers and advertisements on this movie sure did fool us all, didn't they?
They don't begin to scratch the surface of what this movie is about. In a world where trailers often show cuts of the final scene and in which comic book plots are spoiled months in advance for the sake of higher sales, that's a rarity.
It's also a neat little sucker punch.
If you haven't seen it yet, UNBREAKABLE is a movie for us, masquerading as a movie for them. They're going to be uncomfortable watching a movie about comics. We just suckered them into it. And M. Night Shyamalan pulls it off with enough grace, style, and directorial excellence that they might not even realize it just yet.
Of course, one shouldn't overlook the essence of stupidity and lack of foresight, either. There were three 50-somethings sitting behind me in the theater. Two gentlemen and a woman. They were talking before the movie began about how long it's been since they've seen a movie in the theaters. That should have been my first guess that I was in for trouble.
The movie opens up on a black screen with a number of comic book-related statistics on it. (And if you want to call that a spoiler, you're too sensitive.) The woman behind me right away mutters, "What does this have to do with the movie?"
I didn't scream, but I felt it welling up from inside of me. The movie is all of five seconds old and she's demanding to know what it means already. She must be great fun at the movies. No wonder she usually doesn't get out often. Her husband is probably mortally embarrassed.
But it didn't end there. When Bruce Willis comes on the screen she settles back and says, "Oh, he's in it. Must be an action movie."
I knew we were in trouble. Her husband - for the sake of this story I'll assume that's who it was - then predicted the twist after the train wreck occurs: "Bruce Willis is dead. It's the only way this could happen."
That's when I almost started laughing. People love it when you repeat your tricks.
Bruce Willis' character has a son in the movie, which that same woman I discussed a couple of paragraphs back was sure was Haley Joel Osmet.
I'm not spoiling it, but if you're reading this column there's a good chance you like comics. You need to go see this movie.
Be warned: It's slow. It's done that way deliberately. Just set your internal action meter to low, sit back, and enjoy the movie. This won't ever be an MTV favorite.
When you do see it, be on the lookout for some directorial "tricks." There are some 30 scenes that were shot in one take. No quick editing here. There's one part of the movie that goes nearly 15 minutes without a line of dialogue. Note the way the frame of the movie screen is set up to resemble a comic book panel, almost. Note the reflections and the symmetry and the color and the costumes and -
Well, you get the point. Darn good movie. It's a comic geek's movie, but also works well for all of them. (Well, it would if they had any patience whatsoever.)
Now let's all start the countdown for the DVD! In the meantime, I need to go see it again. And again. Then we can discuss spoilers in this space.
COMING DOWN THE PIPELINE
More reviews! More commentary! A general mish mash of ideas, opinions, and random tangential thoughts.
In the meantime, hop on over to the Pipeline message board, which is growing more active lately. Let me know what you think of this week's column, what you think I got wrong, what you think I got right, etc. Plus, we can discuss the burning issues of the day, comics-wise. (Trust me - you do not want to discuss politics with me. ;-)
And trust me when I say you don't want to miss next Tuesday's column. This is the one Pipeline you'll have to read. I'm thinking it's going to be pretty darn cool. I'll tell you what it's all about on Friday. I don't want to jinx it just yet.