Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #223

Tue, September 11th, 2001 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

INTRODUCTION

There won't be any previews of issues due out this Wednesday in Pipeline this week. I spent a wonderful weekend up in Boston at my cousin's wedding. Sadly, pressures of time kept me from checking out any of the comic shops in the area. (And I looked up the two whose names I knew off the top of my head. Turns out they weren't that far from where I was staying.) On the plus side, Boston is a really pretty town and I hope to get back up there again someday soon to do the whole tourist thing. Passing by Fenway Park was really cool, though.

The good side of this is that it will let me take the chance to look at some other books that have come out recently that I otherwise wouldn't have the space to discuss. And since this upcoming weekend is the Small Press Expo, I'll be including a bunch of indie-friendly reviews in this week's columns.

CROSSGEN NEWS AND REVIEWS

[Chuck Dixon]I can't let Chuck Dixon's CrossGen signing go without some sort of comment. I've always been a fan of Dixon's work, although it wasn't until recently that I'd considered myself a follower of his work, anchored by the Batman satellite titles of BIRDS OF PREY, ROBIN, and NIGHTWING.

It's been a lot of fun, and has even filled up a column or two. It's been a lot of fun to see him in action in Chicago these past two years, answering writing-related questions. The man is a workhorse, and CrossGen is about ten times better off today with him than they were yesterday without him. In about a year from now, when his titles are off and running, I can't help but think that CrossGen will rise from its #5 niche right now to be a larger force in the industry, as either the #3 or #4 comics publisher. The talent it's grabbed from all over is quite impressive, and brings in a variety of fans.

The funny thing is that even I type all of this, I still can't believe it's happening. When Dixon's message showed up on his website Monday morning, I had to double check to make sure it wasn't an elaborate gag. It shouldn't be such a surprise, though. Given Dixon's recent proclamations on his message board and the things he's talked about at con panels, it all makes sense. Many of the faults he finds in the industry are the same as the ones outlined in numerous places by Mark Alessi. The two seem to be completely simpatico when it comes to the woes of the industry.

Most of all, it probably means you'll get to see Chuck Dixon writing that western that he's been wanting to do. You may get to see him write a pirate book or a flat out action/adventure book. You will definitely see CrossGen's range of books grow even more.

For those of you worried about the future of the spin-off Bat-titles, don't be. First of all, Dixon works so far in advance of his deadlines that you won't see the end of his stuff there for a good 9 months or more, I bet. Speculating now on his successors is way too soon. Second, he's handing over his notes to the DC Editorial offices. With any luck, the next set of writers will follow them to a large degree. And, third, maybe it's time to try something completely new anyway.

I wish Dixon all the best of luck on his upcoming move.

Now let's talk about a couple of the current titles in the CrossGen stable.

CrossGen's most recent issue of SCION (#15) has one of the worst coloring jobs I've ever seen. I don't know how else to describe it. At first glance, you can pick out Ashleigh's head and a swatch of orange sky. The other 2/3 of the cover is one brown blur. It's difficult to make anything out on the cover. While you don't need to use lots of bright primary colors to make a cover easy to read, it would help to vary the tones enough to make it clear that there's a big gorilla, Ethan, and a chunk of mountain there. The interiors are better with a lot of attention being paid to the lighting that a campfire throws out to the characters.

Ron Marz writes a good solid story for the issue, which explores more of Ethan and Ashleigh's relationship, while pointing out some more of the class issues with the Underground. There's a lot of dialogue early on in this issue to explain all that has happened before. If you were interested in getting a new reader hooked on this title – and I think SCION is the best of the lot – issue 15 would be a great place to start. It seems that it would also be the first issue of a third trade, should the current publishing trends at CrossGen continue. It makes sense, then, that there's a bit of catching up going on for new readers in this issue.

Just to run the complete gamut, Jimmy Cheung's art looks as great as always, with expressive characters, moody landscapes, and naturally evil looking gorillas.

It's a good tense character issue that leads the way into something slightly more foreboding for the next.

CRUX #5 is a bit of a breather issue, as the characters pause to reflect on the people they lost in their lives. It doesn't make it an easy issue, at all. A lot of light is focused on where these people came from and the "origins" (dare I use that term) for some of their pain. Mark Waid is all over this issue, with small personal stories that feel natural and are presented in a classical manner. You get everything from sibling rivalry to divorcing parents to promises not kept and loves lost. Like SCION, the issue involves a lot of character-searching and sets up the following issues nicely. The characters have their missions in mind now. It's just a matter of time to accomplish or fail at them.

Steve Epting draws what could be a very visually boring story. It's characters in the past during Atlantis' glory days standing around and talking. Epting does a great job in conveying body language and facial expressions amongst the characters here. Even more interesting, though, is that he makes each page a visual feast. There isn't a bring page, and it's all done in different ways. Some are set outside in the rain. Some are set in the middle of the city. Others occur on a rocky outcropping. The interstitials are set in the midst of the rubble.

Frank D'Armata's coloring each month is one of the boldest designs in the CrossGen titles today. It's very colorful, mixing in the earth tones with more primary colors. The glowing green stasis tubes shine in the midst of brown and gray rubble. The orange sky and sea surround characters that glow orange and blue.

It's not too late to jump on this series today. If you're worried about that, then talk to your retailer. There are probably still more issues available for re-order through Diamond.

PRIVATE BEACH

[Private Beach]The third issue of this Slave Labor Graphics series came out just a couple of weeks ago. It's a story centering on two twenty-something women and the things that happen to them. There's no huge romantic backdrop here. There's no aliens or high spy drama. There's no sex or violence. It's the story of two women who hang out together and see a lot of things. As they go along, they offer up their own wry commentary on everything from people at the beach to the roaches in their friend's apartment. There's no strong throughline throughout any of the issues, but you'll find yourself getting sucked in, nonetheless.

Creator and writer/artist David Hahn draws art that is simple and straightforward. It's classic in that it doesn't subscribe to any of the "hot" art trends in comics today or ten years ago. No speed lines. No big manga hair or feet. No needless crosshatching. It's better than good art. It may not be Frank Cho or Terry Moore, but it does more than just serve the story.

The book is focused on its dialogue, anyway. It is a talking heads book. There's plenty of humor and banter, very little melodrama or pathos. Hahn goes from wry observations on people to laugh-out-loud funny gags. (There's one in the first issue with a seal that's beautiful.)

There are little hints that there might be something more odd going on here. There might be an element of fantasy circling around. Personally, I hope the series doesn't fall back to that. I like the idea of an on-going slice of life series. I don't want to see this one messed up the way STRANGERS IN PARADISE became unhinged when all the other non-relationship crap started happening.

Word of mouth is slowly spreading on this book, so jump on now before the train starts running away from you.

GUTWALLOW

[Gutwallow]…is an obscure little gem, and one I picked up at Small Press Expo 2000. It doesn't have any loud kind of buzz, so it might have slipped under your radar. Creator Dan Berger borders on toiling in obscurity. But the trade paperback collection of the first 12 issues of this little book has the possibility of turning you into an instant fan. It worked for me.

GUTWALLOW is a comic fantasy tale. The plot isn't terribly complicated or horribly convoluted. It doesn't have the large cast of characters that a book like BONE does. It's kept pretty self-contained, with but three main characters: Gutwallow and two ladies he journeys with, Leafale and J'Sika. Also along for the ride is the bat, Wyrmkiller, who seems to be mostly around for comic relief and doesn't have much of a storyline or character of his own.

There are other characters that float in and out of the story. The villainous side of the story stays relatively murky throughout, though. Berger knows more about the story than he's letting on. That's to be expected. But he's also withholding much more than he should. It's there for the sake of breaking up the main story and being slightly mysterious.

One other nit pick is that the book doesn't have a strong ending. You can easily look at this book as telling one large story - albeit one with plenty of diversions and tangents. If you do, though, you'll notice that the ending is a bit anticlimactic. It doesn't build up and sustain a heavy conflict point.

The art is expressive and bold. The characters stick to their designs throughout the issue, with not a whole lot of change over the course of the twelve issues. The ink lines are thick and the pages are fairly breezy. There aren't many pages with more than three or four panels. Most panels use close-ups or medium shots. There are times that the pages feel a bit cramped and too simple. It's not that Berger doesn't spend time drawing backgrounds. It's that he can't because the characters take up all the space in the panels. I'd like to see more medium shots in the story. It gets better as the book progresses, though, which shows that Berger is learning and improving.

The book runs $24.95 from Numbskull Press. The ISBN is 0-9704366-0-2. You can find more information on the series and the trade itself on the official website, gutwallow.com. You can even read a full issue of the series at the web site. Check it out.

SHADES OF BLUE

The fourth issue of SHADES OF BLUE should now be out at a comics shoppe near you. If it isn't, stop by James S. Harris' table at the Small Press Expo to buy yourself a copy.

It's the second of a three-parter storyline called "Silence," after the villainess who Heidi is fighting, against her better wishes. As always, Harris and Rachel Nacion write it. While it'll be good to seethe storyline wrap up with the next issue, I'm still enjoying the quirky and fun sense the series has. Heidi makes for an excellent narrator to the tale, and her high school experiences are played up for the oddball madcap screw-ups they are. This book doesn't take itself too seriously, which is a good thing. On the other hand, the second half of this issue goes through a great deal of trouble to scientifically explain how the villain's powers work. It's an interesting, if improbable, theory.

Cal Slayton's artwork is just as good as it was in the third issue. He plays around a little with character designs, if only in dressing them differently. While it's a little stiff in places, it works perfectly in telling this story. I think a bunch of spastic, overly action-packed panels would just take away from the story.

As always, more info on the series can be found at CalSlayton.com or at the comic strip site.


Come back on Friday for some more indie reviews, including some Humanoids albums.

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 250 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 or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.

I'll be at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland this Saturday.

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