Pipeline: Pipeline #295

Tue, February 4th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

LAST WEEK'S COMICS

GLOBAL FREQUENCY #4 isn't the deepest and most profound comic book ever made. I don't care. Right now, it is my favorite single issue story comic of the year. Warren Ellis and Roy Martinez (with David Baron's colors) tell a simple story of a pair of agents on the Global Frequency raiding an office tower in Australia and taking out a bunch of loopy cultists. That's a pretty simple plot. The thrill and pleasure of the comic comes from the dialogue, the pacing, and the attitude present in the story.

Ideas are a dime a dozen and execution is what counts. Ellis executes perfectly here, adding a cynical and wry sense of humor to what might otherwise be considered a pretty dangerous and tense situation -- a hostage stand-off involving suicidal cultists and enough explosives to take down the building. He first introduces Danny Gulpilil, an Aussie police officer. He's paired up with a Brit named Jill, in Australia on vacation and not terribly happy to be interrupted by the Global Frequency. The chemistry between the two shows up right away and carries through to the bitter end. It's particularly satisfying given how divergent their characters are. He's a law and order guy. She's a mysterious bad ass, who's not afraid to take out the bad guys in any fashion necessary

The issue becomes a buddy version of DIE HARD, with Martinez doing the job in keeping the action sequences kinetic, but also well-posed. It looks cools and is easy to follow at the same time.

In the end, the book is a seamless story, starring a pair of completely likeable characters doing what they do best under extraordinary pressure. Spend ten minutes with it, chuckle a little, cheer on the good guys, and come out the other side happy. That's not a bad return on a $2.95 comic.

Meanwhile, CrossGen released the BRATH PREQUEL, a comic unusual for its company in one big way. Chuck Dixon writes an epic battle scene to start the series off. Usually, a CrossGen comic takes five or six issues before two strong armies line up across the field from each other with spears and swords drawn high and a huge body count imminent.

The book does all you can expect it to do. It summarizes the world that the series will take place in. It introduces the series' title character, who plays an active part in the plot. It gives the artist (Andrea Di Vito) room to shine, and it has enough teases and hints of what's to come to make me want to come back for more next month.

Dave Lanphear even goes the extra mile in the issue by creating a new style of lettering for the book. His balloon lines are uneven, as if drawn by a slightly shaky hand. The tails coming out of the balloons overlap just a little bit. It gives the word balloons a certain ancient look to them, almost like the scrawls you'd expect to see on cave walls, or (more appropriately here) scrolls made of papyrus.

BRATH is off to a solid start. The trick will be to see if Dixon's scripts don't fall into anti-climax after this first issue, and if Di Vito can continue to experiment with his art as successfully as he does in this issue, particularly in the dream sequences near the end.

THE INTERMAN

[The Interman]There is a theory that says we have animal DNA inside of us. We start off as fetuses capable of living and breathing in a liquid environment, only to adapt and change before being birthed into the air-breathing world, for one example. What if our connections to that lost DNA were strengthened and we could adapt physically to our environment using lost genetic memory? That's the curse of Van Meach, a lonely man who wanders the world in search of his identity, taking odd adventurous jobs to pay his way. He is the product of a governmental conspiracy of science at the height of the Cold War, abandoned by his country and forgotten until now.

Take all of that and wrap it up in a spy case. Add in bounty hunters and super strong and super smart individuals sent by a gathering of nations to take care of this once lost link to the past. Set the action in places (both exotic and urbane) around the globe, add in some hints of romance, a dash of paranoia, and plenty of action and adventure.

What you end up with is Jeff Parker's THE INTERMAN, the modern day "Johnny Quest." It's a throwback to all the classic adventure comic strips and serials of 50 years ago. This isn't an endless series of set pieces, though. This is a complete 128 page graphic novel done up in full color, telling the complete "origin" of Meach as well as his attempts to keep his skin intact and his pursuers guessing. Parker does a great job in keeping the action sequences from getting dry and repetitious by adding new elements to each, and making sure that each one leads Meach to a new conclusion.

The supporting characters are just as interesting as Meach. The two that stick out the most are May and Outcalt. Outcalt is one of the men sent to get Meach by the conspiracy of nations. He's the charming veteran who acts as much as Meach's mentor as his pursuer. To my mind, he's the most interesting of the assassins, and deserves his own spin-off. (He's also tailor-made to be played by Sean Connery in any credible movie adaptation of the book.)

The tragic figure in the book is May, of whom little is revealed until the last act. I don't want to give anything away, so I have to talk around her importance to the book. Suffice it to say that she's good at what she does and has an effective yet compact character story arc.

The book isn't without its faults, although they shouldn't be taken as deal-breakers. Parker uses a half dozen different narrators in the course of the book. Picking one point of view and sticking to it is generally a better idea than that. There's also an issue with the pacing of the book. While it is a real page-turner, many of the scenes happen too quickly. You may have three different scenes taking place in different time frames and setting with different characters, stacked one right on top of the other.

In the end, though, this is the kind of comic book we need on the shelves today. It's appropriate for ages 8 to 88 without being schmaltzy or unimaginative. Parker's art is easy to read, and he tells a complete story. The action bits spur the book along with a sense of wonder being given to the main character as well as the locations he finds himself in.

THE INTERMAN is what XXX wishes it could have been, what BOND stopped aspiring to be decades ago, and what comics need more of. For only $20, it's a steal.

IMAGE'S NEW LINE: ROUND TWO

[Firebreather #2]The good news for VENTURE is that the creators got their printing problems straightened out in time for the second issue. When it streets later this month, you'll be able to see Jamal Igle's artwork, and the colors won't be a puddle of mud. In addition, there's a complete story in the issue that focuses on what the series is supposed to be about -- an opportunistic but likeable reporter who uses this super powered man as his stepping stone. I still haven't connected to any of the characters, though, and the book falls shorts for it. I'll give Jay Faerber and Igle one more shot, though, before I give up on the book entirely. Right now, its art is its saving grace.

FIREBREATHER #2 is just as good as the first issue, if not better. While it does open up with the usual high school hijinks, the series starts to take off in the second half as Duncan is taken off to visit his father, a giant dragon who lives off in the desert somewhere. Phil Hester's story and characterization are strong here, with Andy Kuhn providing distinctive artwork that fits the mood and off beat feel of the series.

DOMINION #1 is the series headlined by Keith Giffen, but co-plotted and written with Ross Richie. Colors and digital inks are provided by old Giffen companion, Lovern Kindzierski. I like the look of the digital inks here, overall. It softens up the art just a tad, but in many places you don't even notice it. Some lines do break up over the course of the issue since the computer doesn't fill in the missing bits of linework that an inker normally would.

[Dominion #1]The problem with the book is that it's completely scattered, with a mess of scenes that don't seem to link up featuring characters that are difficult to read or understand. There are pages of dream sequences that are included for the purpose of showing Richie's poetic leanings or something. It's just bizarre. There are some interesting bits to the plot here, but there's not enough explained and too much thrown against the wall to see what sticks. We'll have to see if the next couple of issues show everything in this first one under a new light or not. If that doesn't happen, the book isn't long for this world.

John Workman does the lettering here, and it looks ten times better than the job he did with the recent SUPERMAN: DAY OF DOOM mini-series by Dan Jurgens. It appears more confident and much cleaner. This is classic Workman, and I hope it's this level of quality we see on THE SAVAGE DRAGON when he takes over there next month.

Most interesting is the first issue of Jim Krueger's THE CLOCK MAKER. While it's not perfect, I'm definitely giving it points for readability and presentation. I didn't quite understand the format of it until I saw it for myself this weekend. The book is folded up into itself, so you end up folding it out twice before you see the full scope of the pages. It's a good technique for the feel of what Krueger is trying to accomplish. He wants something grand to show off the intricate design of the clock, as designed brilliantly by Guy Davis, and drawn and colored here by Matt Smith and Brett Weldele.

[The Clockmaker]The problem is that the book can be a bit ungainly to handle, and the massive folds running through the center of the pages can be distracting. While Krueger may like to design new comic book formats -- "Marvelscope" is based on an idea he once produced -- he would have been better served in producing this series as an oversized comic, either in the vein of DC's Treasury Editions, or the Humanoids album format that even Image now uses for LEAVE IT TO CHANCE reprints. Perhaps we will see it that way should a collection of the series be issued next year.

I suppose the reason for the format is pricing. For no more than the price of a normal comic ($2.95), you're getting this oversized format. You might balk at paying such a price for 12 pages of story, but Krueger does fit enough story in (by today's standards, at least) to make up for that fact. Davis' initial designs for the book are shown in the back, as a bonus.

Collectors/"investors" should stock up on a ton of this book. In the event it becomes a mega-million dollar movie, mint copies of this issue will be hard to find. It's tough not to get stress marks all over the book from opening this thing up and reading it. Refolding it back into its "resting" position isn't as difficult as flipping a map back over, but it will cause all sorts of marks on the book. The format itself is so weird that the book will make an interesting conversation piece at the checkout counter of your local comics shop.

INSERTING COMICS EVERYWHERE

[Brath Prequel]CrossGen is going to be inserting a comic into issues of future CINESCAPE magazines.

The mind continues to boggle at all the obvious ideas and opportunities that the Big Two have managed to miss completely for the past decade that could have helped increase comics readership to this day. When you hear Joe Quesada bitching about how DC has blown its opportunities with its AOL/Time Warner connections, this is precisely the kind of relationship he's talking about.

Even if this insert doesn't generate a huge sales spike for CrossGen, it does do one thing. It broadens the notion that comics aren't dead. It's just one more place where people might read a comic. How many stories have we heard that include someone mentioning a comic book to a friend and getting the response, "They still make comic books?" How cool would it be to make them the norm again? What if they were everywhere people looked?

That goes beyond just entering comics shops and bookstores. Seeing comic books bound into other magazines and on the web and in record shops and advertised on radio stations are all great things. We need more, though. Comics need to be omnipresent before people start taking them as matter-of-factly as they once did.

Every step helps, and CrossGen just showed us all another way.

AROUND THE WEB

Be sure to check out Arune Singh's interview with Brian Bendis last week. Just when I thought I had read everything he could possibly have to say in the dozens of interviews he regularly gives, Bendis manages to surprise me once again. This one covers all his titles, as well as giving some further details about his work ethic and practices.

Also, Rich Johnston is doing some stellar interview work over at Dynamic Forces' web site. Check out his head-to-heads with Mark Millar, Rob Liefeld, and Grant Morrison. Rich asks Liefeld, in particular, those questions that everyone on message boards claws and scratches to ask, but nobody else will.

ONE FINAL QUESTION

Should we start taking bets on when DC will "delay" the publication of the ORBITER original graphic novel in deference to those lost aboard the Columbia this weekend?

Pipeline returns this Friday with the newly redubbed "Pipeline Previews" column. In it, I'll be looking at items solicited for April (and May) shipment.

Coming up next week in this spot: A review of TRIPWIRE X 10, the reviews of RAIJIN COMICS material that didn't make it in this column, and more from around the web and the newsroom.

VariousAndSundry.com has been updated with a remembrance of the Challenger, a great web site for TV shows on DVD, a rant against the current season of Dawson's Creek, bad video game systems, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen news, and more.

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 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.

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