Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #321

Tue, August 5th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

PIPELINE GOES TO CHICAGO

It's really Rosemont, Illinois, and it's too long a train ride into the city proper to be bothered with, but WizardWorld: Rosemont doesn't sound so special, does it? No, I didn't think so.

CBR will be at the convention this coming weekend in full force, updating all weekend with the mountains of expected announcements and news coming from the on-going Marvel/DC war. Pipeline will also run a pair of special columns on Saturday and Sunday morning, with my reports from the con floor the day before. Then I'll hit the bar and drink anyone else under the table, matching their beers with my own Diet Pepsi.

Ought to be fun, if I can negotiate the thrill of long term parking at Newark Liberty International Airport. Wish me luck. I might have another airline horror story yet.

RETURN OF THE YOUNGBLOOD

YOUNGBLOOD: BLOODSPORT is a touchy subject. It's a Rob Liefeld book, and that's bound to set fireworks off in any discussion. There's no other person working in comics today whose name alone is enough to spark the kind of reaction that Liefeld gets. Honestly, I don't think the man would get a fair shake if he wrote and/or drew the literary equivalent of WATCHMEN or LONE WOLF AND CUB.

Some camps are reading this review right now hoping to see another critical drubbing of the man. Others are just tuning in to accumulate some ammo they hope to use against me at some point. Rob Liefeld is the third rail of comic politics. He's what makes writing this column so much fun sometimes.

What are we to make of the latest entry in Liefeld's many-storied career, YOUNGBLOOD: BLOODSPORT? If you don't like Liefeld's style, there won't be anything in here to change your mind. I can say, however, that it's fairly strong stuff for that style. While the Danny Miki-inked YOUNGBLOOD #4 still stands out in my mind as Liefeld's best post-X-FORCE work, the stuff in this issue doesn't need to be ridiculed the way CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 was. Let's face it -- Liefeld gave his enemies plenty of ridiculous ammunition to shoot at him with on that one. While there might be the occasional flaw here and there on YOUNGBLOOD: BLOODSPORT, playing a game of "Pick Out Anatomical Flaws" shouldn't be a distraction. It's fairly solid art for Liefeld, particularly for those who look back fondly at the hey day of Image and the mutant books just before then. It has a similar energy and brashness to it.

Mark Millar's story is probably what will draw in some new people. Millar's ever-growing industry presences make him one of the "It" boys of the comics world for good reason. His stories are highly imaginative and entertaining. YOUNGBLOOD: BLOODSPORT takes Millar's AUTHORITY work one step further, going for a lot of the obscene gags that DC would never have allowed in any of its imprints. This is definitely a "Mature Readers" book, complete with a secret headquarters hidden below a porn shop to the multiple references to Supreme's nether-hairs. Millar rejoices in his freedom here, and gives us a few too many dirty jokes. If you can stomach this many gags at this level, you'll definitely enjoy it even more than me. I liked the issue, but thought some of the jokes were just dirty for dirty's sake.

The first half of the story is also about fame and celebrity and how that's eclipsed the job of the average superhero. It's a return to the roots of YOUNGBLOOD, a book whose themes were just a bit ahead of their time, even if their execution wasn't. This isn't to say Millar's story is structurally foolproof. While you don't really need to have any knowledge of the characters ahead of time, there is a definite lack of definition for many of them. The most egregious one being the character at the end who makes an enormous impression, but is a complete unknown. Whereas Judd Winick defines his characters by their actions and interactions in OUTSIDERS #2 (see below), Millar has characters as ciphers defined by the barest glimpses of expository dialogue. The ideas are larger than the characters, but those ideas are best defined by the way the characters act in support of them. That's what's missing from the book.

The story starts out strongly, looking at the celebrity superheroes of yesterday and how they look upon the next generation of superheroes who are in it only for the fame in a world overfilled with superpowered individuals. Alan Moore's additions to the Youngblood Universe are referenced and play a strong part in the second half of the book, where Millar sets up the mini-series' story, which a lot of people will no doubt compare to BATTLE ROYALE. I wouldn't blame them. It's much the same idea. If anything, I'd say Millar's guiltier of swiping anything in this issue than Liefeld is, thanks just to that.

All in all, the first issue starts off strong and trails off near the end. It'll be very interesting to see what Millar does in the following issues with this story. It would seem a great many characters are slated to die. The interesting thing will be to see how Millar does it with a universe of characters who aren't all that well known or liked. How will he get his audience to react to a character's death when the reader hasn't gotten to know him or her? And will anyone get over their blinding hatred for Liefeld's art long enough to notice it? It serves its purpose well enough for the title. Let's move on from there.

In the end, it's really Mark Millar's book to carry. I'm getting mixed messages so far, but I enjoyed it for what it's worth so far. YOUNGBLOOD: BLOODSPORT is not meant to be a critical darling. Don't look for it to be. You didn't go see ARMAGEDDON expecting to see the next CITIZEN KANE, did you? Why hold Rob Liefeld up to that, too?

MEANWHILE, OVER AT DC. . .

Geoff Johns and Judd Winick have been taking their buddy act on the road this summer, appearing on panels in both San Diego and (soon) Chicago in a one-on-one setting, as well as in larger DC Universe panels. As the writers of the two "new" superhero team books of the DCU, TEEN TITANS and OUTSIDERS, they also have two of the more exciting new books coming out from the DCU. Johns' current raft of assignments are showing that he's not just a flash-in-the-pan or a one-title-wonder, either.

[Teen Titans #1]TEEN TITANS #1 is a bit somber in tone, as the team members have to each be drafted almost against their will and better judgments to join up with the new team, stationed in San Francisco. (Wasn't Power Company also set there? Wouldn't these two teams have to clash eventually?) Methodically, Johns shows each character juxtaposed with their mentor to establish where their heads are at before joining up with another team. Almost all were recently members of YOUNG JUSTICE, a team that did not end well. The characters are acting like teenagers: moody, grumpy, and pig-headed. In the end, though, they're all friends going back a relatively long way, and that should show through in the long run. For now, you'll have to deal with a first issue that's less fun and energetic than YOUNG JUSTICE ever was. These are characters who are at a turning point in their young lives. Johns is giving them space to explore that.

Mike McKone's art is still evolving. While his characteristic sleek line is still in place, he is concentrating more on some dark areas and a bit of a rougher line in a few places, as well. Some of that might be attributed to the inks of Marlo Alquiza, who does the second best job on McKone's pencils that I've ever seen. (Mark McKenna still gets the prize there.) His double-page spread in the middle of the issue is filled with some mighty impressive architectural rendering. It's an overhead shot of San Francisco. It may or may not be a correct depiction of the rooftops in that town. I don't know. I do know that I lingered over the page for a few extra seconds to appreciate all the detail and strong perspective work that went into it.

The pages that were previewed for WIZARD look different somehow and I think it's the lettering. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there looks to be extra space between the lines, and many words come uncharacteristically close to the balloons. It was jarring for a moment to me, but I know I'm probably one of only three people in the world who even noticed it. I'm guessing the pages were lettered separately ahead of time for WIZARD and might have been done by someone else, or with slightly different settings.

TEEN TITANS is off to a slow start, but one that's sure to interest fans of the DC Universe and those who miss YOUNG JUSTICE.

OUTSIDERS, in the meantime, has become the poster child on the internet for impenetrable superhero continuity. It's a wholly unfair portrayal of the material by a pseudonymous "satirist," but there you have it. OUTSIDERS is a superhero comic for superhero fans. There's nothing wrong with that. There are all sorts of superhero comics. DAREDEVIL is a superhero comic for crime fans. NEW X-MEN is a superhero comic for fantasy or science fiction fans. THE AUTHORITY was a superhero comic for fans of summer blockbuster movies. OUTSIDERS is a purely superhero comic book. I didn't read its predecessor title, but I had no problem easily assimilating into the world it offers, and figure I'll eventually figure out all the interrelationships as time goes on and as it becomes necessary for the story being told.

[Outsiders #2]OUTSIDERS #2 is one of the best superhero comics this year. It has a great sense of humor. And it has monkeys. It has action that continues to top itself all throughout the book, before ending on one huge surprise plot twist. It's not the usual Traitor From Within the Group. No, it's the introduction of another outside force.

The strength of the book lies in its characterization. Winick's Lex Luthor has a great dry sense of humor to him. The characters in the main group are reacting to each other as characters and not as Plot Devices With Powers. When Nightwing jumps out of the plane to go after Gorilla Grodd at a time when nobody is sure of the group and its leadership, Metamorpho incredulously asks, "The pretty boy who just jumped out of the plane without a parachute is calling the shots?" The team is still uncomfortable functioning as one and is busy sussing each other out. It's a learning experience for the characters as well as the reader, keeping from the cliché of having one outsider character act as the eyes and ears of the team, or having excessive exposition to keep characters straight. It reminds me a lot of the devices Chris Claremont used in the classic era of UNCANNY X-MEN to keep the characters so well defined. If Winick can keep up this high level of characterization, he should have a really cool book here for the long haul.

[Flash #200]Finally, there's last week's THE FLASH #200, a major turning point in the book as Geoff Johns closes the door on one era of the character to start a new one. The issue is better than Mark Waid's landmark 100th, and has a couple of large twists at the end to make it even more exciting. Forgetting for a moment the way it sets up the next storyline, it concludes the confrontation between Zoom and The Flash in a convincing and truly horrific way, before giving Johns the opportunity to have a coda which flows nicely from the character as he's defined him, as well as bringing in a couple of major surprise guest stars. Scott Kolins' artwork will definitely be missed in this title. His eye for detail and stylistic depiction of Keystone City and its inhabitants was a large part of the book's success. Johns' script left the pages open enough for Kolins to fill them with an insane amount of well-orchestrated detail. His action sequences were always interesting, and Kolins even devised a subtle method of keeping track of Flash's superspeed movements with a simple yellow panel border. This is a book that DC should be reprinting in the same format as their ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY. The art would benefit greatly from it.

Alberto Dose debuts in the last two pages as the new artist of the book, and it's a bit troublesome. Right now, his artwork is cluttered, making it difficult to follow from panel to panel. He might be a good candidate for the book's new story arc, but it'll have to be stronger and clearer than this to impress me. He's got large shoes to step into. It'll be interesting to see how he does with his first solo issue next month.

THE FLASH was a book that was supposed to die in the water after Mark Waid left it. Instead, Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins picked it up, recreated it as their own, and ran with it for a couple of very strong years. It's a shame to see the run end, but I suppose it's better they leave while they're on top than to let things slide to a pitiful end.

COMICS CREATORS ON DVD

[Countdown To Wednesday]In stores today is the new COUNTDOWN TO WEDNESDAY DVD, and instructional video on how to break into the comic book business. If you've been trying for years to do so, this DVD probably won't teach you anything new. On the other hand, it's still kind of cool to pop a DVD in and watch Mark Waid, Marc Silvestri, Paul Dini, et. al. talking comics. If you're new to the comics world or just starting now to think about trying to break in, this would be a good disc for you. It's filled with plenty of common sense advice and tips on what the comic book industry is like. There's more advanced stuff to be found on the web, but this disc would be a fine starting place.

The main portion of the disc is broken up into a Writing section and an Art section. Each is just over 30 minutes, although the art section is subdivided more into penciling, inking, coloring, and even a few brief minutes on lettering. You'd think that a disc produced mostly at Top Cow Studios would feature a much longer art section, wouldn't you?

Even for those of us jaded industry watchers, the writing section contains a few high points, most of them coming from Mark Waid. They could have made a DVD of an hour-long interview with him and I would have paid the $20 for it. He had a couple of great Real Life Examples of working in the comic field that were entertaining and kept things light. Jim McLauchlin gets a lot of face time on the disc, even though the graphic underneath his talking head refers to him only as "Jim McClauchlin." Say what you will about WIZARD, but he can speak clearly and intelligently. He'd work well on radio. Sadly, there are a few moments over the course of this disc where the creators talking don't sound all that witty or wise. Blame it on the camera or blame it on the personality. I don't care. I'm watching a disc and if I'm fidgeting in my seat feeling uncomfortable for someone, it's not a good thing.

The interviews are all of the talking heads variety with the writers in a little library-like environment, complete with bookshelves and a table. The artists tend to be more spread out at their drawing boards, although Jason Gorder is interviewed in the Interns lounge, by the looks of things. It was odd to see Paul Dini talking about writing comics, only to have the camera zoom out to a larger view of the room he's talking in to include a lifesize Witchblade statue in the corner. It's bizarre. I'm not sure if it's the blatant "product placement" that struck me that way or the six-foot tall half naked chick statue that the director felt had to be included to keep Paul Dini interesting.

The art section features Marc Silvestri, but includes others like Scott Benefiel, current MAGDALENA artist , Jason Gorder, Batt, Steve Firchow, and Robin Spehar (Dreamer Design). Silvestri plays the role of the boss and taskmaster, bringing some real world experience into the world of drawing comics. He talks about how difficult it is to be a comics artist and how not every day is going to be fun. He also presents more practical advice, such as keeping a mirror at your drawing table. His interview portions are the highlight of the art section. Silvestri has plenty of experience in the world of comics, and shares the grind of what drawing comics is all about.

Further segments include marketing and self-publishing comics, as well as the post-production work involved in today's day and age of computer-composited comics. They're relatively short and don't go into much detail, but it's a good jumping off point. They keep things geared towards the newbie and attempt to explain all the "insider" terms that they use throughout, sometime in scrolling text at the bottom of the screen.

Menus on the disc are a big annoyance. They're all animated and every menu takes ten seconds to load up and bounce into place. It's frustrating when you hit the wrong selection and want to jump back. Picture quality across the disc is strong. It's presented in a television screen ratio, so you won't need anamorphic compression to make it look good. Bit rates are low, but since it's all talking heads, there's not much movement for the disc to keep track of and a lower bit rate is acceptable. Dreamer Design creates all the menu graphics and lettering for the "bottom third" of the screen. Besides the "McClauchlin" gaff, I only caught one other typo near the end of the documentary. The DVD producers could have taken slightly better care to make sure the editing was cleaner with the on-screen graphics. There are times when the camera cuts to the next interviewee, but the graphics under the first haven't finished scrolling yet. The devil's in the details, after all.

Overall, it's a fun DVD. The production values are high for a field best known for its Stabur interviews and How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way videos. It's a serious effort, and for that we should all be grateful. Let's hope it shows up on the shelves next to that Kevin Smith/Stan Lee disc soon…

There is a web site for the DVD at CountdownToWednesday.com. It includes a trailer and a form if you want to order it on-line. They're still promising that the full site is coming soon.

ONE LAST DVD THOUGHT

Universal Studios Home Video officially announced the specs for the HULK DVD, now due out on October 28th. Features include an audio commentary track by director Ang Lee.

How much cooler would an audio commentary by Stan Lee be? Can you imagine him expounding on The Hulk for two-plus hours?

Pipeline returns this weekend for two daily journals reporting from the floor of the WizardWorld: Chicago convention.

Next Tuesday's column might contain a Chicago recap if I have the time to write it. My plane gets in on Sunday night and I'm back to work on Monday morning. It's a tight schedule. If I don't get that chance, there will be reviews of such books as DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #1, STREET FIGHTER #0, SCURVY DOGS #2, FANTASTIC FOUR #500 (Director's Edition), and more.

Various and Sundry carries along with more arguments over semantics (what really is an "accident?"), Big Brother 4, the evil that is Ashton Kutcher, the weekly DVD Release List, and lots 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.

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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