Image Comics' NOBLE CAUSES #1 isn't due out until January 16, but judging by the black and white preview I've read, I think it'll be worth the wait. Creator and writer Jay Faerber does an excellent job in melding the world of super-heroes together with the format of soap operas. The first issue starts with the grandest of soap opera traditions, the wedding.
(The preview issue from a few months back featured the first meeting of superhero family member Race Noble and bookstore owner Elizabeth Donnelly. By skipping straight ahead to their wedding, we can avoid all the tumultuous conflicts they had in between. I'm sure there was at least one case of mistaken identity, one doppelganger, one pregnancy scare, one near adulterous relationship, one near encounter with the mafia, and a good case of amnesia in there somewhere. Faerber seems content to leave that in the past, or to save it for another time. ;)
Faerber's original tag line for the series was "The Kennedys with super powers." This first issue opens with a wonderful example of that, as the wedding causes the world to stand still, glued to its television sets. From schools to offices to bars, the world is watching. The world probably hasn't had that since Chuck and Di, but it seems that everything else the Kennedy Clan does becomes big news. (Heck, there's even a new allegation in the papers just this past week about the sordid sexual affairs of Michael Kennedy. Even after death, they attract attention.)
The wedding does give us a nice excuse to be introduced to a variety of characters in the book, from ex-super villains turned friends to spiteful mothers to trampy sisters.
Patrick Gleason handles the penciling chores of this issue, with John Wycough on inks. Overall, it's a good handling of the material. There are a few times when things felt a little cramped. Characters seem to stand in the extreme foreground simply to cover up as much space in the panel as possible, or to keep from drawing full bodies. I've seen much worse, though. This artwork matches the story just fine, and doesn't have any awkward parts that would turn you off completely.
The backup story is the tale of Race Noble's birth, as drawn by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti. It's only eight pages, but it helps to cement in a couple of the characters shown in the feature story, as well as providing a nice bookend for it. I love Conner's art. I miss GATECRASHER, but this will have to do for now. (I even have her issues of BAYOU BILLY in a box around here somewhere…)
My only problem with the first issue is that it's too short. I'd rather the backup story was eliminated and the feature story carried all the way through the issue. On the other hand, I understand that it's a timing and production issue. I suppose you could also argue that it helps to mirror the soap opera format. Very little happens on those from day to day. It's not until the last five minutes on Friday that anything surprising happens, and that's only to keep you coming back on Monday.
NOBLE CAUSES will be out in just a few short weeks. Give it a chance. I think you might be surprised.
THE DEFENDERS #12 is Erik Larsen's final issue. It's also the 'Nuff Said issue for the title. There are two stories in the book. The second is complete with words and leads the way into the new storyline, but it's the first that I'm going to focus on here, since it's the real draw of the issue for me. Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen put together a funny silent issue. It follows the standard story of the four Defenders being plucked out of their day-to-day life, thrown together in a new situation, arguing amongst themselves, and battling the bad guy before returning home. It's a simple formula and knowing it in advance helps make the telling of the story easier. Larsen's love for the Hulk is on full display here. The Hulk stars as the slightly dim-witted oaf. There are pages with 12 panels devoted to nothing but his face reacting to situations. It's a hysterically funny issue if you're into the dumb green Hulk. That goes double if you like to see him wearing Wonderbread-pattern pants with slippers.
The 'Nuff Said stories have been getting progressively better as the weeks go by, I think, and I'll probably devote some more time to talking about them in one of next week's columns. There are some common elements amongst the good ones, and some definite mistakes amongst the bad ones. Nuff Said month might just be the ultimate primer in How To Do A Silent Comic for future creators.
PVP #4 is also due out this week, courtesy of Dork Storm Press. Scott Kurtz's little on-line comic strip about a video game magazine staff is certainly growing into a comic book title that deserves to be watched closely. This fourth issue is a special Christmas story, and one that fits in nicely with the geek culture the comic is so closely associated with. There are references to a ton of other Christmas specials in the issue, including The Grinch (a prerequisite these days, but not done too slavish here), Frosty the Snowman, and more. (My favorite bit of the whole issue is the panel that lays out the laws of mall Santas in a way that only Isaac Asimov fans could appreciate.)
It's not just a progression of dumb Christmas gags, either. There is a story that uses the characters wisely and builds up to a nice dramatic ending, complete with the classic Christmas story question mark. Each character gets his or her own screen time, with Skull starring as the dim-witted lovable doof that he is.
The good news is that the issue stands up nicely on its own merits, the story is completely accessible even to those who aren't into gaming culture (like me), and is done so well that it wouldn't be an embarrassment to hand a copy to a non-comic reading friend. Spread the joy and share the love here, people. 'Tis the season!
DVD REVIEW TIME
I don't watch FARSCAPE on the Sci Fi Network. I know it's repeating daily now there, but I'm horrible about keeping up with shows that way. I've got too many new shows in the relatively new fall season to keep up with to bother with Yet Another Cable series. I just have no prayer of keeping up with a daily show that clocks in at an hour per. I like having the episodes all there for me to watch when I get around to it. Like with comics, I'll put them off for a long time and then speed through a whole run of them. I saw FARSCAPE originally when Sci Fi aired a six episode marathon. I taped all of them and gobbled them up in two or three nights. But the series was too far ahead for me to consider playing catch up.
Now, I have the DVDs.
About a month ago, I sat through volumes 3, 4, and 5 of the DVD collections of FARSCAPE first season episodes in one weekend. The next, I devoured volume 6. Since many comics fans are also fans of this series, I thought I'd take a moment to discuss the DVDs this week.
While I'm not terribly happy with having to buy two episodes per DVD, this is about as good as a television series is going to be presented without doing it in a season-by-season boxed set. See X-FILES or THE SIMPSONS or BUFFY for examples of those. In fact, it seems that FARSCAPE is behind the times. It seems that most TV series are coming out in full season boxed sets. (There are notable exceptions, such as FRIENDS, but they're becoming just that – exceptions.)
The episodes are presented in chronological order. The discs come out monthly like clockwork. Each disc and each package is designed similarly, with new graphics to differentiate them. While the volume numbers might be displayed larger, they are easy to spot on the spine of the case.
Most impressive are the episodes themselves. The bit rate is kept high. There's both stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mixes. The 5.1 works well, spreading the sound out a lot better than a simple stereo mix. It's fantastic for all the noises that Moya makes during scenes set inside the ship. The picture is crisp and clean on my television. The episodes are presented completely, including short segments that were included in overseas airing but lost in North America for commercial purposes. There's a character video biography on each disc, roughly ten minutes in length, with interviews with the actors involved and the creators and producers.
Some of the discs even have commentary tracks from the actors and creators. I haven't listened to more than a couple of them, but they sound like they'd be interesting for the die-hard fans.
The DVDs are worth your time if you're a fan. And if you're not a fan, I highly recommend picking up the first couple of discs and giving it a shot sometime. You might just be surprised.
WildStorm has a FARSCAPE one shot comic coming out soon written by Marv Wolfman. There. I just linked this back to comics.
Special thanks, as always, to Danny V. at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the assistance with this column.
Don't forget -- Pipeline Commentary and Review will be back next Wednesday, as well. Friday's Pipeline2 will continue as usual this week and next. This Friday, you can see the beginning of my list of Best Comics of 2001.
More than 350 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.