BILL JEMAS IN DANGER
At long last, it happens this week. Marvel's long and protracted attempt to look foolish and silly ("U-Decide") comes to a head with the release of CAPTAIN MARVEL #1, MARVILLE #1, and something from Ron Zimmerman that I just couldn't bring myself to read, but would appear to be attached to the Ultimate Marvel universe.
Let's start with the loser: Bill Jemas' stab at humor, MARVILLE, has a few good laughs. Unfortunately, they're not enough to sustain a 22 page comic, let alone one attempting to have a coherent plot. The rest of the attempts at humor come across as the writer trying too hard to be witty or inject some form of corporate humor into the mix. When the preview copy of the comic is sent to reviewers with a sheet to explain all the "in-jokes," you know you're in trouble. (With all the strides Marvel has made in the last two years to make all its comics accessible to as many people as possible, it seems really strange that one of their most hyped books right now is one that needs a cheat sheet. Of course, most of the gags are fairly obvious to anyone who's read a comic in their life, or who has followed this crazy industry at all in the past decade.)
M.D. Bright's art is great to see again, though. He deserves a regular gig, and one better than this. He might actually be capable of doing a great ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN issue or two, should Mark Bagley ever need a fill-in artist. He does great facial expressions, and can make normal people look normal.
The winner of the contest, creatively at least, is clearly CAPTAIN MARVEL, a book I gave up on after its first year. It's not that I thought the book was bad, it's just that I wasn't all that interested in it. I didn't get the same kick out of it as I did with THE INCREDIBLE HULK, which seemed to share half CM's supporting cast. When I had a pile of seven issues stacked up unread, I knew I was in trouble. When I went back and read through the entire first year of the series in one afternoon and didn't crave the next issue right away, I dropped the series off my pull list. No regrets.
This new direction and renumbering gives me the chance to give it a second shot. Word of mouth has always been favorable to the series, and I'm not above changing my mind. CAPTAIN MARVEL #1 features a strong new focus to the series with a great high concept that's a mainstay of science fiction/fantasy writing, as well as super-hero comics. Peter David pulls off the story with elegance and a couple of twists along the way to keep you guessing. If you're new to the series, the script easily brings you up to date on what you have to know. Gone (for this first issue, at least) is the supporting cast and any major storylines. This issue is about Genis and Rick Jones -- who share an existence -- and what happens to both when one threatens to go mad. How do you talk a god off the ledge?
This first issue is a gripping story, filled with examples of the kinds of decisions Genis is being forced to make with his Cosmic awareness, as well as the ramifications. Ironically, it reminds me a bit of Bruce Jones' current run on THE INCREDIBLE HULK, which is similarly focused solely on two characters -- Banner and the Hulk -- and how one affects the other.
ChrisCross' art is being digitally colored by Chris Sotomayor straight from pencils. I've only seen a couple of pages colored, as the preview I have is the black and white lettering proofs. (Let's hope they catch that capitalized "h" in the first word on page 19.) His pencil work is really tight, and despite some fading because of the nature of the photocopies, it looks great and well thought out. There are a few panels in the issue that look amazing in pencil that I'm sure would be flattened out by inks, no matter who was wielding the brush. ChrisCross shows some fine textures in his pencil work.
So, please give CAPTAIN MARVEL a chance when it hits stands this week. Creatively, it's an interesting book with a great look to it. Politically, it needs to trounce the likes of MARVILLE badly for there to be any hope in the world of comics.
WOMEN IN DANGER
Sam Kieth's FOUR WOMEN trade paperback compiles the five part mini-series released through Homage Comics a few months ago. Kieth eschews the weird this time around for a relatively simple and straightforward story. What happens when four women get stuck at the side of the road in a stalled car in the middle of nowhere late at night? And what becomes of them when a couple of thugs decide to have their own brand of fun with them?
It's a simple concept, but those are the ones that most often make for the best brand of drama. Think of any TWILIGHT ZONE episode, for example. Most of those can be explained in a sentence or two. ("A nervous airplane passenger sees a gremlin on the wing that nobody else can.") It's what's done with the concept that makes or breaks the book.
Sam Kieth makes it work here. The story is told through narration as one of the four women is reliving her experience with a psychiatrist. And, like a TWILIGHT ZONE episode, there's a twist ending here that works like a punch in the gut. It doesn't come out of nowhere and it doesn't betray the characters. It's completely character based. The four main characters are introduced quickly in the first chapter, and the two thugs remain mysterious, although their intentions are fairly obvious. (We don't need to know their childhood traumas to understand their plight in this story. It's the women who are the focus.)
It's a bit of a rougher book than you might expect from the guy who previously brought us THE MAXX and ZERO GIRL. This is a book for more mature readers, due to sexual situations, some language, and a certain amount of violence. (Most of it happens off-camera, but the results are shown quite clearly.)
Kieth's artwork doesn't change any to accompany the more mundane setting. It's just as quirky as you'd want. He even hand-letters a couple of word balloons and sound effects. He does keep the painted images strictly to the covers, though. He doesn't have the infrequently painted pages for no apparent reason like he did on THE MAXX.
It's also some of his best looking and easiest to read sequential art to date. It still has his wonky panel construction, but there's very little chance you'll lose your spot on the page when reading. It's possibly the most grounded work Kieth has done in the past decade, on a book that's the most easily accessible to a non comics reader. Nice bit of timing, that.
If you're looking for a more down-to-earth book by a guy who's not afraid to look at things from a slightly warped perspective, this book might just work for you.
LI'L BO PEEP IN DANGER?!?
MAX HAMM: FAIRY TALE DETECTIVE is a new book from cartoonist Frank Cammuso, who works a day job in New York State as an editorial cartoonist.
This is a story about a place called Storybookland. Picture Roger Rabbit's Toon Town, but inhabited by Mother Good and the Grimm Bros.' fairy tale creatures and you have the idea. Our lead character is one Max Hamm, the owner of a private detective agency with his partner, Humpty Dumpty. Together, they run the Eggs and Hamm Detective Agency. But when the femme fatale, Li'l Bo Peep, loses her sheep, things get a bit hairy. And then the egg gets whacked, and things turn personal.
The book is broken up into two sections. The bracketing sequence is drawn sequentially in pen and ink, with our intrepid detective tied up and sweating under the bright light. He narrates the rest of the tale, which is made up to resemble a storybook. Cammuso uses graywashes and paints the rest of the book, using text as captions for the images on the pages, like a children's storybook. It works for the story, and flat out looks great.
It's a wonderfully skewed look at many of the fairy tale characters we grew up with as kids, recast in some sort of Humphry Bogart noir film. It's utterly charming, with a great sense of humor and a deft artistic touch.
The book is 48 pages long, at a roughly 8 x 6 inch format with square binding for $4.95. The pages are a slightly yellowed color, which just adds to the storybook feel. You can find it this month on page 326 of PREVIEWS.
Friday: STYLISH VITTLES. I promise. It's the best book you probably haven't heard about yet. You can see it on page 274 of the latest PREVIEWS. I'll even give away a copy of the book to one lucky winner.
More than 400 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.