PIPELINE DAILY: DAY ONE
Welcome to Day One of this little experiment. I've got about a half dozen comic books to preview for you before they hit your local shop on Thursday (in America, at least). You can look forward to reviews of THE BROTHERHOOD #1, ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP #4, CODENAME: KNOCKOUT #1, ACTION COMICS #779, and one or two other books before they hit the stands. There's also some trade paperback reviews I might just fit in, plus a return of the ever-popular Pipeline One-Liners format.
I'll start today with reviews of WONDER WOMAN #170 and BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #17, both of which are due out later this week.
WONDER WOMAN #170
Phil Jimenez and Joe Kelly write the issue; Jimenez pencils it; Andy Lanning inks it. It's probably the best value you'll ever get for $2.25 in this market. I'll explain why in just a minute. I should start with a little background.
I've never taken to the character of Wonder Woman. I tried reading the comic once when John Byrne was writing and drawing it, but I didn't last past the first year. Aside from the occasional guest appearance in other titles, she's never done much for me. I have very little idea about the goings-on in this title of late, save for the fact that the matriarchy on Paradise Island has been abolished and Diana is persona non grata there. In effect, I'm coming into this issue completely cold.
It is fortuitous, then, that I read this issue first. It's a great introduction to the character of Wonder Woman, set as the story of Lois Lane doing a "Day In The Life Of Wonder Woman" piece for the Daily Planet. As a Superman reader of the past year or two, I knew about the tension in that relationship. Lois has a bit of a jealousy thing going against WW and her relationship with Superman. It's a perfectly natural reaction, and one Joe Kelly handled so well in ACTION COMICS #761 last year. (In fact, Kelly's strength on the book has been the characterization of Lois and Clark and their new marriage.)
Wonder Woman is about a lot more than super-powered strength, flight, and grrrl power. This issue shows her to be as much a politician and a humanitarian as a super-heroine. Lane has a tough time keeping up with her day, starting at the JLA Watchtower and criss-crossing the globe a couple of times over, with stops on just about all continents. Of course, it might just be personal reasons that made me take to Wonder Woman so quickly in this issue. Her first point of order to the day is in doing research on diabetes. The diabetic side of me was quite pleased with that. Yeah, yeah, I'm a pushover. (And having a character named "Trevor Augustus Barnes" doesn't hurt, either. ;-) Moreover, the dialogue in that scene didn't sound forced or technobabblish. Whoever wrote those word balloons knew what they were writing about. A little research can really sell a story point.
This is the story that Paul Dini and Alex Ross are going to have to work really hard to beat this year around Thanksgiving when their book comes out. It's almost the same style of book, with a few dozen more dialogue balloons. You get, however, the same well-rounded, heart-warming, feel good, liberal interpretation of the character.
I suppose I can't address this issue completely without some comment on the politics. The book delves heavily in Wonder Woman's interaction with peoples from all around the world. Along the way, just about every cause popularly espoused by a left-wing interest group shows up. While part of me wanted to groan at some of the heavy-handedness of it, I didn't. The fact is that the issue never devolves into preaching about any of the issues that it touches on. It just shows an active WW in many world issues, and does so without ever getting too schmaltzy and without trying to guilt-trip the readership.
Besides all that, Wonder Woman does an excellent job defending herself against Lois Lane's knee-jerking claims that she can't be compassionate because she's seen as royalty, wealthy, aloof, and blessed with powers far beyond those of ordinary man. After all, the same argument could be made against Superman, and Lois hasn't asked him the same question.
At the beginning of this column, I said the book would be the best value for your money you're likely to get this year. The reason is simple. In a day and age when a comic take an average of ten to fifteen minutes for me to read, WONDER WOMAN #170 clocked in at close to 40 minutes. This is very much a thought-piece comic. This doesn't rely on any action scenes – there are none – to tell the story. This relies on Lois Lane's on-going prose explanation of what she sees and how she sees it. It reminds me more of a novel than a piece of short fiction. Lots of time is taken to get in the characters' heads.
The issue reads like something Chris Claremont might write on a particularly verbose day. Some pages are nearly choked with word balloons and captions. The Claremont comparison is particularly apt, since Comicraft's lettering is a pretty neat Tom Orzechowski rip-off. No individual at Comicraft is credited in the issue, so it's tough to tell if it happens to be one of Orz's protgs who did the issue or just someone ripping off the font. (Marvel's BROTHERHOOD attempts the same and fails. More on that book tomorrow.)
I don't want to focus on the story so much that I lose sight of the art. Jimenez's art is tight. He doesn't have too much space to waste in this issue with all the lettering throughout it, so he draws lots of small things to get the points across. His storytelling is easy to follow, his characters look and act naturally, and he's not afraid to throw in extra art. There's a game of pool near the end of the issue, where panels are inset as each characters takes a shot at a ball. It nicely reflects on the conversation. Sure, it's simple stuff, but it's also a little extra work on the page that works to the storyteller's advantage. Although the words may threaten to push the pictures off the page, Jimenez still manages to draw detailed backgrounds, crowds of people, and impressive technical arrangements.
Adam Hughes provides the cover to this issue. It's a really striking one, too, with Superman in the background of a conversation between Lois and Diana. I have to admit that Hughes' latest photorealistic work is leaving me cold. I'm not sure how he's achieving it – whether it's heavily photo-referenced or just a trick of coloring skill – but I haven't grown used to it yet. Sometimes, it can be a very good idea to keep that barrier up between photorealism and comic book art. This may just be one such trick.
If you've never read an issue of WONDER WOMAN, this might be the ideal issue to jump aboard with. If you're a Lois Lane fan, this would be an excellent issue to read. I know I'm impressed and will be back for more next month.
BACKUP REVIEW OF A BACKUP STORY
Joe Kelly is the writer of the eight page "Batman: Black & White" story at the end of BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #17. The artist of the story is Aron Wiesenfeld, who hasn't been seen or heard from in a long time. He's probably best remembered for the artistic tour de force that was DEATHBLOW/WOLVERINE. Seriously, it was fabulously drawn and lauded by people who would have normally just dismissed such a crass crossover. Wiesenfeld was quickly put on a pedestal after that two-part mini-series, but even more quickly disappeared. (If I remember correctly, there was talk of his going back to art school.) His art and line style was distinctive, almost Travis Charest-like.
Now he's back, and this eight-page story uses a greywash technique. So you get painted Wiesenfeld art, which is pretty good. I'd like to see him come back after this with something straight pen and ink, though. The printing on page 4 looks to be a little off. Whereas the rest of the pages are stark black, gray and white, the fourth page has a tint of blue or pink in the paint. But the storytelling is there, the imagery is clear, and the characters all have interesting designs.
Kelly's story is a little awkward. It starts off with Batman in his prime, searching for one psychopathic killer, Zsaz. The internal monologue is solid Batman stuff. There's the prerequisite fight, and then things take a turn in the last couple of pages. I don't want to spoil it, but I will say that I'm just thick enough that I had to reread the story to make out what had just happened. It's an interesting experimental tale, but it's not going to make my list of favorite Batman stories.
Come back tomorrow for Day Two of Pipeline Daily. I'll have a review of this week's BROTHERHOOD #1, plus your first look at some pages from August's LAST KISS #2, by John Lustig. Odds are, there will be even more than just that. But that's a good start.
One other topic for this week is a look at CrossGen's trade paperback publications, including an advanced look at this week's MERIDIAN, Volume One.
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'm also tentatively scheduled for a day at the Small Press Expo in Maryland this September.