Pipeline: Pipeline2, Issue #98

Fri, May 11th, 2001 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #592

[Adventures of Superman #592]There's a storm a'brewing. Jimmy Olsen is hanging out with his fellow hipsters playing the latest videogame release. Alas, he fails to heed Clark Kent's warning about playing with B13 technology and attempts to "hot-wire" his console to magnify the affect of the game. I think writer Joe Casey lost me right there. I could understand if Jimmy were playing an imported game and needed to solder in a mod chip or something. But how do you get a better Gamestation (TM and DC, I'm sure) experience by hot-wiring it?

Needless to say, things go wrong. Not just the plot.

The story here is very thin, accomplishing very little other than to set up some future story, while hiding it under an A plot about Jimmy Olsen and his videogame. In his short tenure on the title so far, Casey has done different things with the storytelling and the story formatting. It's been a lot of fun to read. He doesn't get into much of that here at all. He gives new regular artist Mike Wieringo a chance to strut his stuff in a couple of places, but it's hardly worth it in the grander scheme of the storyline. It's quite possible that Casey wrote this as a warm-up issue for Wieringo. That would explain it, if not excuse it.

There is one positive to this story, though. The big storm that's brewing is due in no small part to Strange Visitor. The last time she showed up was pretty early in the new direction of the titles nearly two years ago now. She popped up out of the blue as the deus ex machine, and anyone who hadn't bothered with the Superman titles for the previous five years – such as myself – had no idea who she was or what she was doing. In this issue, Casey brings her back and gives us a bit of a capsule synopsis of who and what she is. He gets definite points for that. Plus, she's not being used as the big shocking surprise at the end. I appreciate that.

Casey also works at putting dialogue in the mouths of Jimmy and his friends that sounds convincing for people his age. I'm assuming they're supposed to be 20, at the most. Either that or I'm even more out of touch than I suspected. Their conversations are laced with all the vapid time-filling phrases and slang that those wacky kids use these days. Know 'um sayin'?

In the end, though, this issue comes off as a piece of fluff to set up future plots and divert our attention (lamely) from that a computer-enhanced art sequence. Mike Wieringo's art doesn't need computer enhancement, even if it suits the story. It's beautiful the way it is. His cover art, as inked by Terry Austin, is amazing. Just a beautiful piece. The Superman books have leaned towards the more cartoony side of the comics spectrum in the past couple of years. Kano and Ed McGuinness are two prime examples of this. Wieringo makes for a nice complement to the team.

I'm looking forward to next month and the promise of a better story that it brings.

YOUNG JUSTICE #33

[Young Justice #33]A couple of weeks ago I brought up the idea of "Banter Comics." While not the best name for it, it's the one that seems to have caught on amongst the e-mail and message board postings that I've gotten in response. "Banter Comics" are the reaction to "Widescreen Comics." It's the flip side of the coin. In "Banter Comics," the action and excitement and entertainment come from the dialogue and the character and not wide panels and splash pages and pithy one-liners at the end of large-scale explosions.

Peter David has been writing such comics for a while now. YOUNG JUSTICE #33 is another excellent example of a "Banter Comic." The action in this issue comes out of the characters' mouths, with a one-scene exception for a brief fight in the mall. Characters sit down and talk to each other. They talk a lot. Superboy and Impulse engage in a discussion borne of boredom that reads like an old vaudeville act.

In this issue, Cissie lands a cameo appearance on the hit show, WENDY THE WEREWOLF STALKER. (Unfortunately, due to the time it takes to produce a comic, there aren't any good jokes about the show switching networks after this season.) But Peter David does sprinkle some minor nods towards his Babylon 5 experiences in the script, and the parallels to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER are not coincidental, down to the lead actress' three names and her co-stars' roles. Cissie immediately invites Wonder Girl and her roommate to come with her, raising the ire of newbie Anita Fine. Some catty comments ensue, and Anita plots her revenge. Of course, all is not well on the set of the show, but Young Justice is about to find that out for themselves.

This isn't an issue with high adventure. Aside from that one aforementioned mall fight scene, there's no display of superpowers anywhere in this issue. It's all about the interactions between characters and how they handle their differences of opinion. While it does get a bit wordy – such as one discussion that is handled by a half-page splash with room enough to get in all the balloons – it is a nice piece of character development by David, both well reasoned and in character.

On the other hand, I finally figured out what it is about Todd Nauck's art that sometimes nags at me. I've liked his stuff since I first laid eyes on his style back in the NEWMEN days at Image. But there's been something I couldn't explain that irked me. I finally figured it out while reading this issue of YJ. His panel composition, quite honestly, leaves something to be desired. There is no grid. There is no strong sense of layout and flowing motion. While all the action occurs in panels, and there aren't any graphic design aspects to the pages to distract the eye from the story, there's also no rhyme and reason. Panels overlap and assume odd sizes for the sake of fitting in the drawing Nauck seems to want to do in that particular moment. There are some pages in which the gridlines of the panels match up fairly well, but I'd like to see a restrained Nauck try drawing a story in a 2x3 grid someday, just as an experiment.

The good news is that he doesn't have a problem with drawing talking heads comics. He doesn't wimp out and just drop out all the backgrounds and draw fewer panels. He still has the stick-to-itiveness to time out the discussions fairly well, with the one exception noted above. That's important in this type of comic.

WILDCATS #23

[Wildcats #23]Another "Banter Comic" that would go on my Ten Favorite Comics list if I ever made up such a thing, would be WILDCATS, from Joe Casey and Sean Phillips. While the latest issue does contain some violent action scenes, the draw of the book is in the dialogue and the structure. (Joe Kelly joked about the book at Wizard World last year, calling it "ChattyCats." And anyone who's seen anything Kelly's written in the past five years would probably find that ironic.)

In this issue, some subplots are set up for future issues, but the main draw of the book continues to be the somewhat strained relationship between Grifter and Zealot. Long thought dead by Grifter, she showed back up in his life in the last issue, stuck around long enough to find her way back to his hotel room for an evening, and then disappeared. This month, Grifter's going after her. He's a bit love struck for her, you see. What he finds isn't pretty. And what she does – well, it's sick and it's sexy and it's unlike anything else in comics today.

Sean Phillips is the perfect choice for the artist on this book. Since the book doesn't rely on costumed superheroes or, to a lesser extent, the full-blown use of their powers, the story has to be carried by interesting art. Phillips' art fits that bill. He's a restrained artist. He doesn't feel the need to flaunt his art or show anything off. He hunkers down and tells the story in tight grid formats. The gutters are thin and all black. The panel layouts are not locked down, vary as needed, and don't ever appear haphazard, but are never difficult to draw.

The monthly title also boasts interesting cover designs and titles. The past couple of covers have included the creators' names and the issue number and story title written out in large letters with a simple cover image beside it. It's just another example of the experimentation that's going on with the comics form these days.

WILDCATS is one of the overlooked books on the market right now. Pick up the first trade paperback, "Vicious Circles," that's available now and give it a chance. If you like it even a little, you'll love the second trade, "Serial Boxes," when it's released this spring. It gets more into the feel of the book as it exists now. It's less high concept and more character-oriented. "Serial Boxes" is a single 6-part story about a serial killer on the loose and how he affects the WILDCATS. Again, it ain't pretty, but they can take care of themselves, when they choose to.

MINISTRY OF SPACE #1

[Ministry of Space #1]Warren Ellis' latest mini-series is MINISTRY OF SPACE, a three-issue mini-series from Image Comics. The first issue came out last week. Chris Weston draws it and Laura DePuy does the purty colors all over it. Michael Heisler is credited with "Production," so I'll assume he's also the letterer.

The series is set in two timeframes, both with John Dashwood as their protagonist. Dashwood was a rising star in the British military in World War Two. It was his mad plan to get the Brits into space in preparation for the next war. With the proper funding rearrangements (that are sure to bite him back eventually) and personnel, he's sure to beat the Americans into space and onto the moon. The first issue shows us the Year 2001 that Dashwood lives in now, where he's a professor at a University set up by his Ministry of Space. The main events of the story, though, are set in the time period from 1945 to 1950, showing Dashwood as he schemes to get up into space as a fulfillment of a teenaged fantasy.

This three issue series looks to be a retelling of the story of what happened to the Ministry of Space from its humble and modest beginnings to its establishment as part of the British government responsible for all the high tech flying machines seen everywhere.

Chris Weston steals the show here. If you thought his stuff looked good in the just-concluded ENEMY ACE two-parter from Vertigo, you should see this book. He gets to draw more aircraft and more configurations of flying vehicles, for starters. He goes wild across the page, plunking in as many to a panel as he needs. He also excels in general backgrounds and architecture. Take the small farmhouse seen at the end with its tall windmill. It's breathtaking stuff. He even makes a farm tractor look both realistic and cool.

Laura DePuy's coloring is reserved in this issue. All the telltale signs that it's her are there. The color schemes shift as necessary from scene to scene. There's always a predominant color. There's a nice sense of depth and mood given by the colors. But the colors aren't as "in-your-face" as they were in THE AUTHORITY or some of her other superhero titles, where the coloring is more brash and bold.

It really is a beautiful book and the first mini-series of Warren Ellis' in a long time that I can recommend whole-heartedly.

SPECIAL PIPELINE ANNOUNCEMENTS

There's something I've always wanted to do with Pipeline but never got up the energy to do. After conferring with CBR Executive Producer -- i.e. Boss Man -- Jonah Weiland, we've come up with a game plan and have decided to go for it: Pipeline Daily.

For the week of May 28th through June 1st, there will be new commentary and review every day of the work week. Don't worry. I'll keep reminding you about this every chance I get. It's still two weeks away.

Also, make sure to check out COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1434. Peter David's installment of his But I Digress column quotes from Pipeline in its opening. Gotta love that! Thanks again, PAD.

There's one more interesting print announcement I have left to make. Keep your eyes peeled to this space for more in the next couple of weeks. I'll announce it just as soon as I can. I'm very excited about it.

OK, so I promised a couple of non-superhero reviews and only ended up with one. Sorry about that. I'll make it up to you next week with reviews of DESPERADOES and BONEYARD. Promise.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 200 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.

This year, you can still catch me at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) and the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego). I might even show up at the Small Press Expo in Maryland later this year, but that's tentative at this point.

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