Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #313

Tue, June 10th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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AUNT MAY -- TROUBLE-MAKING FLOOZIE?

"Trouble" #1
[Trouble]
For more on "Trouble," including a six-page preview of the series, read this CBR News story.
TROUBLE is bound to be a controversial book for all the usual silly reasons dealing with continuity and tradition. Look at any message board right now where debate is already raging on a series that people haven't read more than the first six pages of. Trust me; the first six pages are tame. And this series is less about breaking tradition than it is creating a book for teenagers that brings Marvel to the maturity level of 1987.

You see, TROUBLE is DIRTY DANCING, Marvel-style, only without Jerry Orbach or Patrick Swayze's singing. In this story, four teenagers -- friends May and Mary; brothers Richard and Ben -- are working at an elite club on the fashionable east end of Long Island. There, teenagers act like teenagers, often acting irresponsibly and trying to find ways around working in favor of fooling around. In the first issue, they get their revenge on a snotty customer, get their meddlesome boss in trouble, and drink alcohol for the pure giddy thrill of breaking the rules. It reminds me a lot of John Hughes' films of the 1980s, but without the marijuana. Yet. Who knows?

Subtlety is not writer Mark Millar's strong suit here. The boss is a prissy little fellow. The patrons of the club are self-centered jerks who look down their nose at the "little people." Since they're only inciting characters to get at the heart of the teenagers, though, it can be forgiven. Millar doesn't forget to include teenagers in this book who are interesting and act individually. When one character decides to go skinny-dipping, for example, the rest don't immediately follow suit.

Most "shocking," however, is the behavior of the teenagers. These are (potentially) teenaged versions of well-known Marvel Universe characters that you never would have dreamed you'd see portrayed in this light.

This book is written at the same level some of those teenaged young adult romance fiction novels are that your teenaged daughters/nieces/counsins are reading. The only difference is that there are pictures to go along with the words, and they're being published in a "kiddie's medium." I fully expect to see more of those arguments about comics being for kids and this book aiming too old. If this were written up in an issue of SIXTEEN, nobody would blink. (OK, maybe Walmart, but it doesn't take much to make them flinch.)

The other thing I'm worried about is that people are going to judge the entire mini-series on the first issue. They'll see the alcohol and the teenagers making out and they'll declare it immoral and improper or some such silly thing. I have a feeling that the series will, in the end, be a lot more about risks and consequences of decisions, both good and bad. This is all set-up. Sadly, some people won't want to see past that. They're the same people who protest the Judy Bloom books for discussing such topics as menstruation and bra stuffing.

Terry and Rachel Dodson do their usual amazing job with the art duties on this book. They have a knack to make art that looks realistic without looking heavily photo referenced. Just to prove it's not all about pretty girls, they're pretty solid around the background details like Richie's Mustang or the two-page spread of the resort. Reading the black and white previews, I had a slight issue keeping Mary and May straight, but the color pages that have since come out give their hair and outfit colors enough of a separation to clarify things. It doesn't help, either, that their names are so similar and any minor misreading of their names could throw off the whole story for a quick reader.

Chris Sotomayor is doing the coloring for the book, and the small sampling of color work that Marvel passed along complements the artwork well. He's using bright and varied colors here, although it gets a lot bluer and darker near the end. The style reminds me a lot of Paul Mounts' work, which isn't bad at all. The trick will be to see how well it holds up on the paper the comic is printed out on in August.

Purists are going to have a hairy conniption. Modern readers who aren't married to the concepts laid out by Stan Lee forty years ago will probably like it. I'm in the middle -- I'm thinking of TROUBLE as the origins of Ultimate Peter Parker. Judging by the first issue, I think that's where this story would fit best. And don't quote me continuity details from an obscure annual or a throwaway one-liner from an early issue of any series to point out how this book is a sham. I don't care. If you don't want to accept it as the "origin" of Peter Parker, then don't. That's the way the book is built. It's a fun story in its own right so far, though.

There's a reason why I think of this as taking place in the Ultimate universe, though. The traditional Marvel Universe version of Aunt May is a bit of doddering old fool, who's kind and warm but rather innocent and nave. The Ultimate version of Aunt May is a bit more wise and sassy, while still retaining all those warm-hearted characteristics. (See her reaction to Peter and Mary Jane alone in his room in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #13.) It makes much more sense to see this wild child version of the teenaged Aunt May as belonging in the Bendis/Millar-dominated version of the Marvel Universe.

And wait till you see the final panel on the final page of the first issue. In the fight between traditionalists and everyone else, it might just be the most contentious.

Sit back and enjoy it, people. TROUBLE #1 is an entertaining story in a genre not very well accounted for these days. It's the last thing in the world you'd expect to read from the word processor of the guy who brought you THE AUTHORITY and THE ULTIMATES and even SUPERMAN ADVENTURES. Give it a chance.

TRADING RAIJIN

One of my favorite new series of the past year has been RAIJIN COMICS. It's a weekly anthology featuring eight serialized stories, freshly translated from Japan. If you don't want to deal with picking up stories 20 pages at a time, however, the folks behind RAIJIN are now starting to repackage those stories into smaller trade paperbacks. Measuring up at 5 x 7 inches, these trades weigh in at 190 pages apiece. The release schedule is fairly quick, as the first volumes arrive on shelves next week, with the second volumes going on sale two months later. Each book is only $9.95.

This first wave includes the long-anticipated high school basketball comedy SLAM DUNK, the political thriller THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF JAPAN, the 80s action piece CITY HUNTER, and FIST OF THE BLUE SKY, a series I don't read and so couldn't tell you much about. The folks at RAIJIN's publishers, Gutsoon -- Hi, Jon! -- were kind enough to throw some photocopies of the new trade material my way, so this week I want to take a quick overview of what they've got here.

The biggest question on my mind when I received the books was how well the art would hold up after being shrunk down from the weekly magazine's normal 7 x 10 inch size. Since each story is drawn in a different art style, the results aren't exactly the same. I'll use two of the trades for examples here.

CITY HUNTER reminds me a lot of LUPIN III, but with Members Only jackets instead of 1960s sideburns. It's also slightly more subtle about the innuendo. OK, not really, but it does avoid the nudity. Women in lingerie and various states of undress? Sure. Guys who are visibly happy to see them? Yup. Nipples? No.

Saebo Ryo is a slightly sleazy professional mercenary, who is unflinchingly accurate in his aim and dogged in his pursuit of quarry. It's his womanizing and occasional immature moments that make him a difficult character to completely sympathize with. Once the series gets going, though, he will grow on you.

The art by Hojo Tsukasa looks great even at the smaller size. However, it is heavily gray-toned. In this day and age where countless indie comics are sent through Photoshop for a toning, it's not a big deal. This comic wasn't produced that way, though. It appears that numerous methods were used to put together the gray areas, and some translate more successfully than others into this smaller size. Early on, some grays in the word balloons make the text a little difficult to read.

All in all, it's an entertaining series that translates well to the smaller format.

THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF JAPAN began as my favorite serial in RAIJIN and continues that to this day. Right now, it's the only serial I'm completely caught up on, and read every week as soon as the next issue comes in the mail. This is the story of the rise of a western-educated Japanese man to become that country's premiere president. There's a whole personal background story underlying much of the series that occasionally borders on the incredulous. However, the bulk of the series revolves around political tensions in the eastern Asian arena. Shifting alliances between Russia, the USA, Japan, and China cause turmoil in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. It isn't pretty, and some strong political maneuvering must be undertaken to keep things peaceful and to save lives. How can a country like Japan do this, after decades of stultifying one-party rule? Therein lies the story. It's a roller-coaster ride the likes of which you've probably only seen on 24 with Kiefer Sutherland.

The art here, by Tsugihara Ryuji, holds up well after being shrunk. However, some of the most dramatic half-page panels and title pages are cut out at the knees in this smaller size. The impact is diminished, which is unfortunate. It's not a deal-breaker, in any sense. These stories are still powerful and the pace is unflinching. Writee Hidaka Yoshiki is a political scientist by trade and he uses all his knowledge to craft a scenario that's as rich in possibilities.

It seems to me that RAIJIN COMICS often gets overlooked. For whatever reason, the monthly SHONEN JUMP seems to be the belle of the ball in this country. I don't understand it at all. SHONEN JUMP is filled with comics for kids. Kids aren't reading comics all that much, although the sales figures on the magazine don't reflect that. It's all Yu-Gi-Oh. Still, you'd think that the more mature-minded RAIJIN would be able to grab a large percentage of the extant comics fan base, while still being able to build one of its own based on price, material, and availability. With any luck, the aggressive trade policy that's just starting next week will start a new recognition for these books. They deserve all the attention they can get.

I just hope that Gutsoon is smart enough to publish trades based on the REVENGE OF THE MOUFLON serial. It shouldn't take more than 2 volumes to collect the whole thing (15 chapters), which started with a terrorist attack and a powerful plane crash in populated land that lasted nearly the first half of the series. It's set in a post-9/11 world, and raises serious questions about how another similar attack might be handled.

In the meantime, these trades should suit a variety of interests. I hope some of you reading this right now give one or more of them a chance.

ARRIVING IN STORES THIS WEEK...

I'm not a fan of either mecha manga or big monster movies. I don't hate them; they're just not my thing. However, I really like what I've seen so far of TOKYO STORM WARNING, a series that's created with the intent to merge the two genres. This week's first issue kicks off a three-part mini-series from WildStorm's Cliffhanger! line by Warren Ellis, James Raiz, and Andrew Currie.

Ellis gives us an alternate history story here where aliens leave behind some very important giant robot suits that humans learn to interface with as defense against giant monsters that occasionally pop into the world. This issue introduces us to the viewpoint character, Zoe Flynn, who is visiting Japan from the U.S. and gets thrown right into the middle of one such fight. Ellis crafts a character that pops right out at you, with dialogue that strongly conveys the character's attitude. He doesn't rely just on the high concept or on the artist's ability to draw big things fighting to hold our interest. He wraps interesting characters in it all and gives us a nice point of view to experience this world from.

Raiz's art fits the story well. He's patient in drawing all the necessary but tedious architecture, monsters, and mecha-type gear. This isn't surprising, considering his last job was on a Transformers book. Technically, he's very strong. I only see problems when he draws heads in three-quarters view and at some angles as the head attaches to the shoulders. It reminds me a lot of some of the younger artists just starting out at WildStorm a decade ago. It doesn't happen on every panel, but it's there often enough that I noticed it.

As mentioned before, this is a Cliffhanger! book. The world of comics can now collectively throw up its hands and give up trying to figure out the differences between the various WildStorm line of comics. Shouldn't this book, for example, be an Homage book?

At first glance, though, TOKYO STORM WARNING is a fun mini-series with enough character and slam-bang action to keep anyone happy who's looking for a slightly spoofy summer movie type of comic.

ONE QUICK PREVIEWS UPDATE

Last week, I wrote the following:

The most annoying announcement of the month goes to THE ABSOLUTE DANGER GIRL, a repackaging of the previous hardcover, except this time it's oversized, like THE ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY. I tell myself I saved $50 with the previous edition and move on.

I hate Internet whiners who complain about everything, no matter what you do. There's a certain camp out there that get their rocks off by useless complaining. It creates a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. I'm afraid I find myself too perilously close to that line with the paragraph I just excerpted.

The truth is, if you put the original hardcover book up next to the ABSOLUTE version of the book right now, I don't know which I'd choose to buy. The ABSOLUTE book is numbered, but more importantly oversized. It also has the sketchbook included in that size inside the slipcase. But it's also about $50 more. The other book satisfies my hardcover purchasing habit. Do I really need more than just that? And if the big and expensive version had some out first, would I be complaining that DC/WildStorm made me buy a more expensive edition of a hardcover, when a smaller version at a lesser cost would have made me happy?

I don't have the right to complain about this stuff when I'm not sure what I really want. I don't want to be one of those people who just show up every week to knock someone down. That's no fun. I do wish that the decision had been made months ago and made known publicly that there would be two versions of it so that I could have figured it out ahead of time. However, I'm happy with the hardcover I have right now, and think I'll just stick with that.

It doesn't really fit in anywhere up top, but grab yourself a copy of the DC preview that is currently circulating at comic shops and conventions that includes a few pages from FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE. Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire haven't lost a step. I laughed out loud at those previews. Can't wait for the book now more than ever.

Next Tuesday: Reviews. More of them. Of books that are out already, even.

Special thanks to the gang at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for the assistance with materials in putting together this column.

Various and Sundry has lots of little blurbs in it this week. There are some thoughts on the Sammy Sosa controversy, MicroSoft's latest stupid decision, DVD packaging, why AOL is bleeding users, a new stupid movie projects, and a stupid terrorist-wannabe. All of that, plus the usual weekly look at the DVD release list.

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.

Somewhere around 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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