Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #90

Sun, February 21st, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

SAVAGE DRAGON: TEAM-UPS

...is about the least likely trade paperback you'd expect Erik Larsen to publish. So far, he's been producing TPBs of the Dragon series in batches of 4 to 6 issues. Judging by my bookshelf, I'd say there are 5 of them so far: SAVAGE DRAGON (reprinting the original mini-series, plus the Magaton Man crossover special), A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH (reprinting the firstsix issues of the on-going series), THE FALLEN (#7-11), POSSESSED (#12 - 16 plus material from the Image X month' WILDC.A.T.s #14), and A TALK WITH GOD (28-33), which I can only imagine was published out of order to take advantage of the good word of mouth of the title story, and the abundance of guest-stars in the book, from WildStar and Spawn to The Maxx..

So you can see the pattern here. This sixth TPB, however, is comprised of various guest appearances by Dragon in other books, and issues in which other characters featured prominently in DRAGON. (I hope that makes sense.) It's an odd hodgepodge of issues, but they provide enough grist for the mill to complete an entire column for me!

VANGUARD #3 is the whole reason this book is being published. It has to be. Persoanally, I'd rather see Erik print a book with the VANGUARD mini-series en toto. That wouldn't sell too well, despite art from Rick Leonardi, Jason Pearson, and -- well: This is the issue that Joe Madureira drew nearer the beginning of his career. So there are people out there who'd buy this whole TPB just for that story. Who am I to argue with this if it brings new fans into the Dragon fold? And Mads has some pretty good artwork in here, making it a must-have for any Joe Mad completist.

And to you bandwagon jumpers: I've been a Madureira fan longer than you have! And I have proof! Take a gander at MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #105 (1992). "How long will it be until someone out there gives Joe Madureira ... his own book? The art is dynamic!!!" That comes from a letter from a younger me. (UGH, some of those early letters I wrote make me cringe today.) In the editorial response, Terry Kavanagh (or Mark Powers) answers "as soon as he finishes school" since "Joe isn't even drinking age yet!"

While I'm at it, MCP #90 presents proof that I was a big Erik Larsen fan way back when, too. In my first published Marvel letter, I begin by saying, "I started picking up MCP when Erik Larsen did his Spidey/Wolvie story. I like Erik's art and had to see his writing ability."

FREAK FORCE #10 is reprinted here. It's the only issue of that series that Erik Larsen both plotted and scripted, and one which I wasn't too fond of at the time. In retrospect, it's not as bad as I remember it. And while the ending is sappy and cliched, it doesn't ruin the rest of the issue. In fact, it's practically understated by comparison to books which hit you over the head with their morality -- like UNCLE SAM. =)

But the thing that this does for me is to lament the loss of the FREAK FORCE TPB that was once solicited but never published due to low orders. All 18 issues would have been collected in one binding -- in color. All of Keith Giffen's mayhem and Vic Bridges' wonderful Byrne-esque art. Unfortunately, this is as close as we're going to come for now. 'Tis a shame.

VELOCITY #2 is the second of three or four issues which comprised an earlier Top Cow mini-series. What's notable here is that it's written by Kurt Busiek, around the time he was riding high off of MARVELS and getting a ton of Image work. Alas, the YOUNGBLOOOD: YEAR ONE series never happened as Rob Liefeld changed his mind mid-stream again on us. But VELOCITY remained, as did the superior SHADOWHAWK series Busiek did for Valentino with James Fry.

SAVAGE DRAGON #30 is the second part of the SPAWN cross-over. Re-reading it brings to mind a meeting of the World's Finest. Yup, I'm about to compare Dragon and Spawn as being Batman and Superman. I dont know why. Part of it is the tension between characters. Part of it is that Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen are forever linked in my mind. When I first started reading comics, I read AMAZING SPIDER-MAN at the end of McFarlane's run and the beginning of Larsen's. The same thing happened again on the adjectiveless SPIDER-MAN series. So those two are linked. And DRAGON and SPAWN are the two main attractions at Image for me. This is true particularly now in light of the fact that they're practically the last ones left, and definitely the last ones left still publishing since Image was created.

It's also a darn fine read, and I'm amazed more Spawn fans didn't stick around after this one. It's a pretty funny book, although I suppose some of it comes at the expense of the Spawn mythos, which is generally overblown and silly.

Jeff Matsuda draws the sick but hilarious Keith Giffen back-up story to SAVAGE DRAGON #25. And Rick Leonardi takes his turn drawing VANGUARD #4.

The only story in the book which doesn't merit any change of its status in my mind is Jim Lee's SAVAGE DRAGON #13. It's a WILDC.A.T.s story guest-starring Dragon. Yuck. And when Scott Williams isn't inking Jim Lee's pencils, the quality of art takes a sharp decline. A lot of the artwork looks almost like self-parody, or copies of the cheap copies which emerged earlier in this decade of Jim Lee's distinctive style.

One final thought: This book stinks. Really. The smell is awful when you open it up. Whew.

UPDATES AND CORRECTIONS

A couple of weeks ago, I commented that Warren Ellis' new series,

PLANETARY, was pretty close to being a spandex super-hero book for someone who has vowed he was done with the genre. Warren corrected me on this over on rec.arts.comics.something-or-other:

Just to clarify; PLANETARY, THE AUTHORITY and a couple of other forthcoming projects will constitute my last work in the superhero genre. THE AUTHORITY is mostly just a bit of fun concocted with Bryan Hitch, and the other projects will fulfil some promises made to friends. PLANETARY is where I'm getting the genre out of my system.

I've a few years' worth of stories to tell, though.

So there's the obligatory Warren Ellis reference for this week!

Joe Torcivia takes his turn to pick on me twice. First over my comment that I didn't think we had seen Riddler yet on the newly redesigned Batman animated series:

Yes, we have... twice, in fact - just never in a starring role.

He was one of the trash talk show panelists (accompanied by the "Johnnie Cochrane-like lawyer" - who also appeared in "Joker's Millions"... "If the Bat's on a spree - he must pay the fee!") along with Harley and the Ventriloquist in "Over the Edge".

He was also one of "Bane's gang" (along with the Mad Hatter) in "Knight Time"!

The second was to point out that that the convention we attended last week was not a Big Apple Con but rather a Fred Greenberg production. This I realized when I went to the New Yorker Hotel instead of a church basement. It also helped when there was a noticeable absence of stench.

I tried to correct this on the mailing list, but Listbot wasn't cooperating very well with me last week. =(

Finally, and going back a bit, I praised David Gerstein as being one of the shining new stars in Duck comics, thanks to Gladstone. Ever humble, David wrote in to help "correct" the record:

I do want to put in a good word for my fellow writers, though. Pat McGreal has also done some classics, Noel Van Horn sometimes writes his own, and Byron Erickson (my own editor!) was really the guy who did the first "classic-style" Mickey stories at Egmont, with "Fantasy Island" (WDG 5) being the beginning of them. And it's only thanks to Byron that *I* got permission to try doing the same kind of story.

I also enjoy (and often edit) the Egmont Mickey stories of Stefan (THE X-FILES) Petrucha and his wife, Sarah Kinney, although neither have had a dern thing published by Gladstone, so it's pretty much irrelevant...

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