Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #301

Tue, March 18th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

LIVING ON THE EDGE OF NYC

[The Couriers]THE COURIERS is a top-notch action piece of ludicrous proportion. Thankfully, it doesn't take itself too seriously, so it works. Brian Wood and Rob G combine to rocket the reader through a non-stop action piece set in the heart of New York City, with gunfights, missile launches, helicopter pursuits, and car chases. The main characters are quickly introduced and made likeable and sympathetic, helping to smooth the whole thing over. Think of it as the polar opposite of the new movie, THE HUNTED.

The over the top action sequences of THE COURIERS are not the easiest things to convey in a comic book filled with static panels, but Rob G's straight and deceptively simple storytelling is remarkably easy to follow. It's much better storytelling here than what Brett Weldele did in this book's predecessor, COUSCOUS EXPRESS. (In the meantime, Weldele is doing great work over on Jim Krueger's THE CLOCK MAKER at Image.)

Rob G uses some Photoshop tricks to add dimension, but his most interesting use of the program is with the blur filter. Used sparingly, it really gives you a sense of a camera pushing in towards the action in the panel. There's one big example early in the book as New York City is established over the course of three pages. The last page brings us in to the street we need to be on with an effective blur around the sides of the splash page.

Brian Wood keeps the storyline simple, focusing on two protagonists and a single bad guy aided by a small army. He teases the reader with a larger mystery throughout the book that's paid off beautifully at the end. The action distracts us from that mystery with great style.

The logic -- such as it is in an action piece like this -- holds up well, particularly since the reader doesn't have time to question it too much. Sit back and enjoy the ride. The book takes off like a rocket and doesn't take much time to slow down. Wood is smart enough to know what he's writing here, so he doesn't try to pad it out or slow it down by overwriting it. He sets up a scene with a few captions, and then lets the action play out, often going silent for a full page as the art takes over.

The book has loose ties to other books. The lead characters of Moustafa and Special came from Brian Wood's COUSCOUS EXPRESS, and that book's lead character, Olive, also shows up for a couple of pages. Characters from Rob G's TEENAGERS FROM MARS appear in a brief cameo. There's a CHANNEL ZERO character that's important to the plot, but doesn't require any continuity knowledge to understand. And publisher Larry Young -- who becomes the Jerry Bruckheimer of comics by publishing this book -- even shows up. It's a credit to the book that I didn't catch the latter two appearances until a second glance through, alongside a reading of the endnotes provided by the artist. Rob G doesn't have Larry there mugging for the camera, as so many artists end up doing when they throw a friend in for a background panel. I'm particularly reminded of licensed comics, where every character looks photo referenced, even when they don't need to be.

THE COURIERS stands alone as one of the best all-out action comics on the stands today. Check your brain at the door, pour yourself a tall cold one, and rip through the pages of the book until it comes crashing to the end you secretly wished would never come. Now you can only hold your breath and hope for a sequel next year. This one, in the meantime, is an 88 page black and white job that will only set you back $12.95.

THE TALE OF A LITTLE GREEN ALIEN

[Decoy]DECOY: STORM OF THE CENTURY is a completely fun and harmless book appropriate for all ages. It's the story of rookie police officer Bobby Luck and his small enigmatic friend, Decoy. Decoy is a three foot tall neon green alien with shape shifting powers who secretly lives with Luck and assists him in his police work.

Buddy Scalera's story for the four part mini-series collected here gives us an adequate introduction to all of the characters without ever hitting us over the head with it. It's enough to make me want to go back and read previous issues of the series, without leaving out so much that I ever feel lost. That said, the characters are mostly two-dimensional, but they're either evil enough or likable enough to make for an enjoyable read.

The series only suffers from the usual problem that series like this often have. When a character goes to such lengths to keep a secret -- whether it's Peter Parker's that he's also Spider-Man, or Bobby Luck's that he has a hidden neon green alien partner -- it can become difficult for the reader to believe that the escalating excuses and silliness would be bought by the people around him. Scalera sells it with a good sense of humor, though. Decoy becomes the lovable underdog, beset by interstellar bad guys, corrupt police captains, and the need to hide his own existence.

The art by Courtney Huddleston is clean. His strength lies in the cartooning work done on Decoy, who comes across as half alien and half animation school project. The alien's fluid body and ability to morph gracefully from one form to the next gives the project a life that normal cops-on-the-street couldn't visually give the project. I'd love to see him try a completely silent comic with just Decoy having an adventure of some sort. You get a bit of that at the end of this trade, though, with a 10 page storyboarded sequence. It stars Decoy and Luck chasing down some bad guys. It would make a great animated short. It's well choreographed, funny, and makes great use of the characters.

Inks are by Mostafa Moussa, who gets a nod here because his bio references the PBS show SECRET CITY with Commander Mark. It's the show that kept me drawing as a kid all day long, often on big pages of poster board filled with elaborate space cities. It's a show I still occasionally draw things from to this day while I'm doodling.

The colors in the book are by Mike Garcia, who keeps the palette simple while adding subtle bits of sculpting. His only fault is in coloring the book too darkly. It helps Decoy to stand out even more on every panel he's in, but I'd rather see everything -- even at night or deep underground -- more clearly.

In addition to the original mini-series' main story, the trade also collects the back-up tales from this issues adding insight to Decoy's origins. Joe Chiodo's original covers are reprinted throughout the book. A bunch of pin-ups fill up the back of the book. The whole shebang is shrinkwrapped ("shrunkwrap"?) with a HEROBEAR/DECOY "print" by Huddleston and Mike Kunkel.

The trade itself is printed on nice paper, with front and back covers that fold over a couple of inches at the end. It's a nice way to keep the edges of the cover from getting dinged up.

Penny Farthing Press' DECOY: STORM OF THE CENTURY is a fun and friendly comic that's part police procedural and part sci-fi/fantasy. For $18, it's an upscale 160-page package sure to delight comic reading families.

UPCOMING BOOKS, MAYBE?

As a subscriber to THE COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE, I received a survey in the mail a couple of weeks ago. I got around to looking at it this weekend and found a couple of interesting things there.

The survey is being done by North Light Books to determine if there's any interest in the market for an assortment of books that the company is considering publishing. At least, that's my assumption. The book titles and descriptions are fairly generic, and there are no names attached, with one exception. THE BEST OF WIZARD'S BASIC TRAINING is one of the options, collecting those little lessons from the magazine by an assortment of artists, including Pat Lee, Tim Sale, Alex Ross, and more.

There's one titled WRITE AND DRAW COMICS that's accompanied by a little head shot of Bone, and is written by someone referred to only as "a renowned Eisner and Harvey Award winner." Draw your own conclusions.

The rest of the books are fairly generic sounding, from MANGA FOR BEGINNERS to DRAW DINOSAURS THE EASY WAY to DRAW NASCAR.

Are these proposals that the company is thinking of accepting? Are they hypothetical books made up to gauge interest? Will any of them come out? Stay tuned…

HERE'S ONE GOOD ARGUMENT AGAINST LETTERS COLUMNS

In the letters column of SPAWN #123, Todd McFarlane writes, "…I can tell you -- without any doubt whatsoever -- that Angela is, in fact, dead and will never appear in the comic again. It's always been one of my pet peeves when characters were killed off and then brought back to life through some strange, surreal plot twist. That won't be happening here, Michael, I assure you."

Ignoring for a second the irony that the title character of the comic is one who came back from the dead through a strange and surreal plot twist, who here really believes that that's the reason Angela won't return, and not the fear of any further legal action from Neil Gaiman?

I like the idea of dead characters staying dead in comics, but I somehow doubt the messenger in this case.

AROUND THE WEB

  • Brad Kayl explains why self-publishing is so difficult using some real world numbers, over at Comic World News. Two days after I read that column, Kayl showed up here at CBR to break the news of the latest movement of THE RED STAR.

  • Continuing Duck Watch 2003: Ken Plume has an target="_blank">excellent interview up with Gemstone publisher, Steve Geppi. Geppi reveals more ideas and publishing possibilities that may be coming in the next year or two with Scrooge, Donald, and the rest of Duckburg.

  • Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker's INVINCIBLE #1 is now available for free from the Image Comics web site. It's well worth a read.

  • The first nine Pipeline columns (from the summer of 1997) are available now in the Comic Book Resources archives. It's amazing to see just how far this column has come from those early disjointed efforts.

  • Marvel fans who engage in the practice of case-modding their computers might enjoy something like this. Its just one in a series of fan grills you can use on your computer case. The same company offers grills in the shape of Daredevil's head, Spider-Man's mask, and the Punisher logo. Run a search on "Marvel" to see more.

DC CORRECTIONS

Mercy! I surrender. I got the wrong TEEN TITANS books in Friday's column. And you let me have it. I didn't know there was that large a fanbase for the classic TEEN TITANS books. The upcoming trade paperback does NOT reprint material already available in the ARCHIVE edition. The trade is from the second volume of the book. I got confused because it's the same creative team and features the same villain. So, please, pre-order it if you were looking for something new.

And Joe Torcivia was kind enough to write in to provide a more careful reading of BATMAN #612, reviewed here a couple of weeks ago. Using Krypto makes a lot more sense when you consider Batman had just beaten up Superman with a small sample of Krypton. Loeb also set up the means to Ivy's end nicely in an earlier panel by showing Batman picking off a piece of her foliage leftover on Superman's costume. It makes more sense that way, but I'm not sure it entirely mitigates the cheesiness of the whole thing.

Various and Sundry has been updated all week with the mandatory look at the week's DVD releases, a tip on spam filtering, a STAR WARS petition, more AMERICAN IDOL speculation and analysis, a review of the godawful new movie THE HUNTED, an addictive movie game on the web, and tons more. It was a busy week.

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.

It's getting late and I still haven't locked down my final summer convention schedule. I have my plane tickets for San Diego, so I'll definitely be there. I'm thinking about Chicago again this year, and Philadelphia seems very likely since it's only a two hour drive from home.

Nearly 500 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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