WE BEGIN IN BRITAIN...
Miracleman is the greatest comic story ever told. No, I'm not talking about the Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman penned stories. I'm talking about all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans.
KIMOTA! THE MIRACLEMAN COMPANION is a pretty timely book. Released by TwoMorrows Publishing just a couple of weeks ago, author George Khoury provides the most extensive resource for Miracleman lovers that one could ever ask for. He interviews just about everyone ever involved in the series, including Mick Anglo, Alan Moore, Dez Skinn, Alan Davis, Rick Veitch, Chuck Austen, Barry Windsor Smith (just because he drew a couple of covers), Beau Smith, cat yronwode, Neil Gaiman, Mark Buckingham, and more. You also get the complete Alan Moore script for the first Marvelman story (complete with finished art), a cover gallery, sketch galleries, bibliography, a complete unpublished Moore/Totlebon science fiction story, some pages from the unpublished Gaiman/Buckingham issue, and Moore's original Marvelman proposal.
I've never read a page of Marvelman or Miracleman before this book. I've avoided much of the news about it over the course of the past year. It all seems to get quickly involved in convoluted copyright issues. I lose my interest fast when it's just two guys with competing stories and no proof to back either of them up. Let's face it; this character's history is a mess. However, Khoury starts the book off with a brief three page synopsis of the character's history and copyright. (I never realized, for example, that Marvelman was a character before Alan Moore handled him.) Khoury traces through the history in a neat and orderly fashion. For the first time, it's easy to get a grasp on everything that's happened.
He backs it up in the series of interviews that follow, including Alan Moore, Dez Skinn, Alan Davis, and Garry Leach. These are the original players in this epic, and Khoury got to all of them. The interviews remain tightly focused on Marvelman. They answer the essential questions we'd all like to know about just what happened with the copyright issues. They delve into a lot of story points and behind-the-scenes creative struggles, as well.
There's a fun game you can play in reading this book, too. Try to figure out the chronology of the interviews. Figure out where Khoury is playing dumb in order to get various sides of the story, and where Khoury is just learning facts for the first time. It can be entertaining in its own right.
While the interviews make up the bulk of the book, there's other fascinating material inside. Alan Moore's original proposal for Marvelman is in there, with a character-by-character breakdown and synopsis. Since I've never read the book but hope to some day, I skipped over this section. (While the book does obviously contain spoilers for the whole of the series, I found that this was the only part that I specifically stayed away from. The rest of it is handled rather nicely so that the entirety of the series isn't ruined for anyone who hasn't read it before. You'll know where it's going in places, sure, but it's not all lined up for you.
Alan Moore's complete panel-by-panel breakdown of the first story is printed. I've heard for years of Moore's long-winded scripts. When I asked Zander "Top 10" Cannon about them, he said that they weren't as detailed as you might think. They're just very conversational. The sample seen in KIMOTA! bears that out. Moore offers suggestions and rambles in a couple of places about minutiae in the book. The most interesting thing for me to find was that Moore didn't break the book down by page. He offered suggestions for page breaks, but otherwise just told the story in 40 consecutive, numbered panels. Garry Leach's artwork (provided alongside the script in shrunken form) looks positively sparse by comparison, though, often ignoring page break suggestions, details, and layout. The artwork feels a lot more cramped than the script. I found the pictures in my head that formed when reading the script were often slightly wider-angled than Leach's final work.
The author's love for his subject matter truly comes out in his interview with artist John Totlebon. Besides getting the longest interview, there's also an extensive sketchbook section to the book and a penciled in story (with penciled lettering) written by Alan Moore called "Lux Brevis." It was never finished or published, but shows up in KIMOTA! for your enjoyment. Totlebon's art gets the grand treatment here, with stellar samples of pencil work.
If you've read MIRACLEMAN before and want what has to be the most comprehensive explanation of the series, this is definitely the book for you. If all the interest and attention in the series has whetted your appetite, this book will pique your interest even higher while giving you a jumpstart on the series for when it does eventually show up in reprint form.
MEANWHILE, IN A GALAXY FAR FAR AWAY...
I don't read the STAR WARS comics that often. In fact, I think the last one I picked up was the Terry Austin/Chris Sprouse mini-series that came out quite a few years ago now. Recently, though, Dark Horse put out a pair of issues that looked so inviting, I had to give them a chance. I'm glad I did. They're outstanding in their own ways.
STAR WARS TALES #9 is five page's worth of story from Ron Marz that takes 48 pages to tell. Trust me when I say that this is a very good thing. What a waste it would have been to tell this story in any format shorter than the one we got here. It's a tale of Darth Maul and Darth Vader fighting it out with light sabers. Who would want anything less than a widescreen cinematic extravaganza? That's what you get. Lots of splashy art, done by two guys who know how to draw great stuff - Rick Leonardi on the No. 2 and Terry Austin dipped in the India Ink. It's just beautiful bold stuff, with atmospheric dimensional coloring from Studio F ("Out There"), specifically Raul Trevino.
The story doesn't answer all the questions it brings up, and the climax is ripped from the pages of Frank Miller's RONIN, which is a bit disappointing. At the same time, it scores some points on that for Geek Chic.
You don't really need to know that much Star Wars continuity to read this one. It stands nicely on its own. If you've seen THE PHANTOM MENACE, you've seen all you'd need to understand this book. I'm sure a bigger Star Wars fan than I could pinpoint this story on the grand timeline. It doesn't bother me that I can't. This is just a fun book with exciting visuals.
STAR WARS: TAG AND BINK ARE DEAD is a funny backwards look at the first Star Wars movie. The two titular rebels get swept up in a cascading series of foul-ups and miscues in an attempt to survive inside the evil Empire. Even the most minor of Star Wars fans will be able to spot the references to the movie used in this story. Writer Kevin "Troops" Rubio puts his characters into specific scenes ripped from the movie to explain those memorable moments of sheer stupidity on the part of the Empire. Those of you who have the script of the first movie memorized may know what this line is referencing: "You let a feeble old man shut down a power coupling less than ten feet away from you. And you did nothing!"
It's pretty funny stuff, but you'll need to know the plot points from the movie to get the entirety of the story. I'm afraid without those, it just looks like a pointless series of goofs.
As much as I love over-the-top humor and sight gags, there are a few moments where Rubio and artist Lucas Marangon go too far. The "Don't Panic" mascot from Douglas Adams' HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series appears on page two, behind an Empire ship with the bumper sticker, "Honk if you love evil!" The problem with this is that it's not the same type of humor that the rest of the book is made up of. There are a few other background gags to be found, such a Big Boy statue and a fortuitous appearance of the Dark Horse logo (nicely done on the artist's part). They just don't mesh well with the rest of the story. This isn't a spoof on science fiction movies and pop culture. It's just a funny story set in the Star Wars universe. The story stops abruptly with the inclusion of these little gags.
This isn't to say the book isn't good. It is. The rest of it is easy to follow. Rubio's pacing is very good. He keeps the jokes coming without lapsing into boring humorless gaps or venturing into sit-com territory.
Lucas Marangon's art (with inks from Howard Shum) threatens to steal the show. He's got a great style that combines cartoon characters with specific attention to detail to the Star Wars mythos. All the uniforms are done right. All the ships look authentic. But the characters are expressive and broad in their acting. It's nice to see that in comics today. I'm not sure what his background is but Marangon shows signs of coming from animation. The story flows like a series of storyboards and everything is kept loose. I like it a lot.
The second issue of this two-part mini-series should be out in a few weeks. It's a fun and diverting tale from the lighter side of George Lucas' pet project, and one that seamlessly fits into the continuity.
BACK IN NEW YORK CITY
COUSCOUS EXPRESS is an original graphic novel by Brian Wood and Brett Weldele about a spoiled NYC delivery girl of the hottest couscous-making restaurant. It also includes a small turf war with some Turks, a boyfriend with a gun and some friends with guns, and some hot rodding scooter action. (That's one of the most surreal sentences I've ever written for Pipeline.)
It's a compelling story and one you can have some fun with. It's not the political treatise that CHANNEL ZERO was. It's just one girl's story of growing up and living in a down and dirty world. Wood outlines a character arc in this book from start to finish, although he hits the point home a little too hard on the final page. It comes across as forced and trite when most of what the narration has to say is already known.
Weldele's art is black and white, with some solid dotted areas for shading and emphasis. His storytelling could use some work. During the major action climax at the end, I was completely lost on more than one occasion. Weldele goes with too many close-ups and not enough establishing shots. The few of those that there are show up are spare and minimal. Backgrounds come and go throughout the book. While there are a lot of talking heads in this book, the backgrounds seem to drop away completely when the tension gets high or the action revs up. It should be just the opposite. The more action there is, the greater the need there is for a background to ground it in.
Weldele also has a problem with consistency. Olive, the main character of the book, looks like two completely different people throughout the book, based on the direction she's turned in. Her profile doesn't match her three-quarter perspective.
I've seen Weldele's art before and loved it, but that was in a different style. The last pair of pages and the first four, to a lesser extent, uses that style. I think the book might have been stronger if he had stuck to that instead of the dotted patterns.
Nevertheless, it's a fun read from AiT/PlanetLar and worth giving a chance. If you like it, Larry Young is ready to provide you with more Brian Wood reading material than you'll ever need come January. Check out this week's PREVIEWS for details.
FROM HELL - SPOILERS GALORE
If you've seen the movie, you probably already know what I missed in my book review last Friday. I haven't seen the movie yet (a continuous source of frustration), but judging by everything I've read about it, the movie makes a much bigger plot point of this than the book did. I'm talking about Abberline and his near affair with Emma, the prostitute.
I missed it. I completely missed this one facet of the book. Moore was deliberately vague in his annotations. After 500 pages of reading and all those footnotes clearly explaining everything else, I missed the plot point here.
I've never been good with stories of mistaken identity. I get so easily confused. I've tried to read Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's GOOD OMENS twice now and stopped at the point where the babies get switched. I get completely lost.
Personal failings aside, I had a number of e-mails and posts on the message board explaining everything to me. Special thanks to Alexx Kay who was kind and patient enough to volley a couple of e-mails back and forth to get it all straight in my head. The gist of it is that Emma is Marie Kelly, and Moore's theory is that Kelly got out of town before the last Ripper murder. The woman killed in Kelly's flat was a friend who frequently slept there. The body was so mangled and ripped up that a proper identification could easily be missed.
Oh, and Marie Kelly's age isn't that far off from Heather Graham's, after all, either. (Thanks to Evan McCulloch at the message board.)
There. Everything cleared up. I can probably read the book a second time now in a whole new light. But I haven't the time. I still have to read ROAD TO PERDITION, HARRY POTTER, and LORD OF THE RINGS before those movies come out in the next few weeks. Pardon me while I go bury my nose in a good book.
Next week: Another lettering rant against the ULTIMATES, with a better understanding of where my loathing for it comes from. Some one-liners. Some thoughts on the contents of HEROES. And much much more.
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.