Pipeline: Pipeline #299

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

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

FOCUS ON THE BAT

The Batman family of comics would seem to be in a prime position these days. What's the most popular television series out there right now? CSI. Most popular new series? CSI: MIAMI. While there is a CSI comic book out there right now (from IDW), what would be the most natural superhero comic to deliver the forensic goods? It would seem to me to be DETECTIVE COMICS. Instead, it's ARCHIE MYSTERIES.

Isn't the world a warped little place?

[Batman: Gotham Knights #38]BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS is the most overlooked book of the core Batman titles. While BATMAN gets the high profile creative team (Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee) and DETECTIVE COMICS shifts from Greg Rucka to Ed Brubaker (both with strong followings of their own), GOTHAM KNIGHTS holds the most steady. Its focus on the Batman family remains true, with artist Roger Robinson sticking with the title since it started up three years ago. When Devin Grayson left for NIGHTWING, Chuck Dixon-protegee Scott Beatty quietly slipped in to assume the duties, and sharply maintained the feel of the book.

I think that it might be my favorite of the Batman titles right now. It has a clear point of view and works completely different from all the other titles in its family. With Greg Rucka gone from DETECTIVE (and Sasha Bordeaux gone with him), GOTHAM KNIGHTS assumes the character-oriented strengths. Beatty surrounds Batman with a squad of costumed vigilantes and, in keeping with Grayson's initial vision for the title, works his way through their relationships with Batman. While the book isn't the darkest or most crime-centered of the titles, it is the most character-focused book in the group. That's probably why I'm so drawn to it. It also has all the colorful characters that BATMAN has, but it uses them much better.

Robinson's an artist who is much overlooked, probably because his fundamentals are so often hidden by the inker. His art doesn't fit into any of the neat categories that are so popular these days. He's neither manga-influenced nor overly stylistic. There's a bit of a nourish feel, what with all the chunky black areas. In the end, he's a solid storyteller with a dynamic sense of perspective and environment, when necessary.

All I'm saying here is to give this book a chance, if you're a Batman fan. Don't overlook it because it's not the flashiest book, or doesn't carry the highest name recognition factor.

[Batgirl #37]BATGIRL #37 brings its original creators (Kelley Puckett, Damion Scott, and Robert Campanella) to an end not with a large farewell, but with another distinctly "Batgirl" story. It's another done-in-one story with a large amount of silent storytelling, and just the right kind of off-beat pacing that made the series stand out amongst the Batman family of titles and the superhero crowd, in general. The large storyline of the series already culminated in the Batgirl/Lady Shiva battle at the beginning of the third year of the series. With the fill-in issues (including a 3-parter by Chuck Dixon), there wasn't enough time to put the wheels in motion for another climax for the creative team's finale. Thankfully, they didn't feel the need to force one, either. Very subtly, Puckett has woven a thread of continuity throughout the entire series. Cassandra's relationship to her two father figures - Cain and Batman - is what has propelled her through the series. It's her disconnect with her own past and her attempt to realize who she is in the face of this blank slate that propels her character. The rest of it is is flash and sizzle, done in a very entertaining manner.

In this issue, Puckett weaves in a story involving Batgirl's past with her trainer Cain, with a modern day story of a gifted child and the kind of over-the-top custody battle seen only in comics. Scott's storytelling skills carry the story with all the skill of a veteran artist. Panels are well-staged, and extraneous detail is omitted to the benefit of the art. I was most struck by the little girl's long blonde hair, which is kept mostly in silhouette through the story

This is another series that would make for a great hardcover collection, the likes of which Marvel is currently putting together. Sadly, I don't think we'll see it happen, for strictly commercial reasons. BATGIRL doesn't sell enough, and critical acclaim will only get it so far.

[Batman: Gotham Adventures #59]Every now and then, the fates align and the perfect printing job happens. Ask any colorist and they'll tell you. The bane of their existence is the difference in color quality between their computer monitor and the printed page. There's just no way to perfectly align the two. Paper quality, Photoshop settings, monitor quality -- all of these things are weak links in the chain from concept to reality. In BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES #59, of all places, it looks as though the two have merged and created the perfect print job. Check out the third panel on page 11. Check out the purple sweater in the foreground, the crisp shadow on the characters face, and the bright red sky silhouetting Batman so perfectly in the background. Gone is the paper grain and the individual dots that make up the coloring. The image jumps right out at you.

Look at pages 17 and 18 for more of those warm colors (reds and oranges and browns) that just sit there perfectly on the page. There's no muddiness left in the grain of the paper. The eye just skims right over it all and reads it with crystal clarity.

Credit goes to colorist Lee Loughridge, the printers, and the special quirk of fate that helped the two line up so perfectly. Loughridge again deserves Eisner nomination, and I hope to see his name up there with the cast of usual suspects this year. Like the art in the comic, his work is deceptively simple. No special effects are necessary when the color schemes are this good, month after month.

Scott Peterson's story comes straight from the pages of your favorite Enron-style story and veers close to over-the-top moralizing and preaching at the end, but pulls up just enough to keep me from gagging on it. Tim Levins' art is as brilliant as ever, even without the extra costumed characters to draw. He can pull off "the common man" with as much visual ease as the caped crusaders. I'm going to miss his work on the characters when the series shuffles off the scene and is replaced by Yet Another Batman Animated comic series.

[Batman #612]Then there's BATMAN #612, the latest issue in the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee "Hush" storyline. Loeb's story is bordering on self-parody now, I'm afraid. Ignoring Lois Lane's questionable choice of office fashion (unless she was working a Victoria's Secret runway after the 5 o'clock bell rang), we have Jeph Loeb bringing back his old favorite, Krypto the Superdog. At first, I thought it was cute and funny. Loeb obviously likes the dog; he wrote a story with the dog in it for one of those 9-11 books. I just have a hard time going with the idea that he was the only one for the job. Certainly, Superman could have found who he was looking for without the pooch. After all, the top secret hiding place where he eventually found the villain was a hotel room. It wasn't exactly a lead-lined bank vault, now was it?

I'm still reading the series because I like Jim Lee's art, and I'm genuinely interested in where this story is going. I've read enough of Loeb's stories to know that they can often take a long time to pay off, particularly where Batman's involved. However, that doesn't mean I think it's all working right now.

YOU WANT PIPELINE TO REVIEW YOUR BOOK? READ HERE

It seems that a lot of people are intent on publishing their own comics this year. I know this because you're all sending me an e-mail asking where you can send your book in for a review in this column. It seems it's time to update the Pipeline philosophy on this topic.

For all intents and purposes, I'm down to one column a week now. Roughly, this runs from two to three thousand words. I have a stack of unread books on one side of the computer and an equally high stack on the other side of books that I have read and want to review. There is only so much time in the day, unfortunately. I don't have the time or patience to read everything, let alone review it.

However, if you want to throw your dart while blindfolded, you're more than welcome to send in your comics for possible review to the column listed elsewhere on this web site. (Hint: Look up the "Contact" link on the left column of this page, under "About/Misc.") Send your comics to that address. When the stack builds up high enough, the mail monkey of CBR will throw together a box and mail everything out my way.

But I can't promise anything. No doubt, I will look at it. Whether I read it or review it is up to the fates and blind luck. I have enough to keep me going right now, but thanks for the offer.

AROUND THE WEB

When it comes to box office statistics, the only web site to hit is Box Office Mojo. It has a great database with all sorts of amazing information in it, from dailies to weekends to year-ends to all-times and more. In the midst of that site, there's also a breakdown by genre. In honor of DAREDEVIL's release, then, I link you to Box Office Mojo's list of comic book-based movies and how much box office business they did. Look up your favorites and see how they did. (THE ROCKETEER only did $46.7 million in 1991. The DVD did even worse, relatively speaking, due to a horrific transfer and lack of quality extras. Still, it's a great movie.)

Speaking of round-ups: Johanna Draper-Carlson has a very thorough look at the past six months of DC sales figures. The first thing I noticed in there is that final issues of series have a noticeable sales bump up. People love to stop and stare at car crashes on the side of the road. They also love to come back to see the dead carcasses of comics series. They don't enjoy the book enough to keep on reading it, but they'll come back to see it put out of their misery. Odd.

Pipeline Previews returns this Friday with a look at the books scheduled to ship in the month of May.

Then come back here next Tuesday for the 300th edition of Pipeline Commentary and Review. I'm working on some graphic novel and trade paperback reviews for that one, but I'm not promising any names right now. See what surfaces here next Tuesday.

Various and Sundry has been updated all week with the mandatory DVD week in review, a long piece on casinos and slot machines, American Idol commentary, Grammys thoughts, near-nakedness on Survivor, the death (?) of the Drew Carey Show, and the sudden proliferation of cover tunes on the radio.

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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