Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #372

Tue, July 27th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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REVIEWS A PLENTY

FAMILY REUNION is the new ashcan-format comic from Steve Lieber's pen. This time, it's written by Sean Stewart, who uses characters from his novel, PERFECT CIRCLE. The comic is an original short short story (eight pages), meant to help drum up interest in the novel. It's an interesting marketing ploy. Given the number of bloggers, alone, talking about it these days, it seems to be working just fine.

The story is not very complicated or twisty, but I would suggest reading the back cover or inside front cover first. It gives you the teaser pitch for the novel, and explains enough about the characters you're about to read that you'll be able to follow things easily. After that, though, it's a good story, albeit a bit predictable. The center of the story is a long-lost cousin who died in Vietnam, and the coping mechanism his mother uses to get her through the day. The story, thankfully, doesn't become an anti-war screed, and even uses that assumption as a nice trick against the reader at the end. It is, instead, a small personal story for a couple of characters, with a lot of heart behind it and no melodramatic flourishes to fake excitement.

Lieber's art is the star here. While the lettering is a little small at this size, everything else about it works well. He differentiates the "regular" world with the one that's in tune with the dead with some simple greying effects. It looks like the regular world is drawn only in pencil, while the secondary world gets inked to keep it differentiated. But beyond that, everything is there. The storytelling is solid, the art doesn't miss a beat, and characters behave and look natural.

It might be because the book was produced outside the normal grind of a monthly book, I don't know, but the detail in the book is outstanding. Lieber acts like an illustrator within the panels, not concerned with taking cheap shortcuts to produce drawings under a harsh deadline. Everything is clearly delineated, and the long shots use effective "artsy" techniques to fill out the backgrounds.

In the end, FAMILY REUNION is a nice read, an interesting and well drawn short comic book story. It's not about to change the face of comics, but it might prove to be a new marketing tool for comics in a new market. I wouldn't mind seeing comics used more like this.

You can order your copy of the book for just a dollar from Lieber's website. Or, for $2, he'll also send you ME AND EDITH HEAD, another excellent short story in the same format.

ULTIMATE X-MEN #49 contains the single worst example of decompressed storytelling I've ever seen in comics. I like Brian K. Vaughan's writing, in general, but this is too much. Let me recap the first five pages for you. Page 1: Xavier watches his students on closed circuit television. That's a splash page. Page 2: Half page splash of Xavier's profile in closeup, asking "Who?" Half page splash of Sinister saying, "I don't show up on cameras." Ooh, cute nod and a wink to the Marvel Universe mutants' natural cloaking mechanism. I'm sure there's a reason for it somewhere in Chris Claremont's continuity, but I can't remember it anymore. Page 3: Four whole panels. Xavier tries to creep into Sinister's mind, but Sinister stops him, and wheels him out into the hallway. Page 4: Sinister dumps Xavier out of his chair and down the stairs. That's a full page splash.

In the old days, that entire sequence is half as long, filled with twice as much dialogue, walking a fine line between character development and exposition.

The rest of the issue is interesting, but is still far too spaced out. Lots of cool stuff could have happened if there was more on the page. There isn't, but Brandon Peterson gets to draw bigger pictures, at least.

And now that you've all seen the cover full-sized, isn't that obviously the Olsen Twins as Rogue and Kitty Pryde?

BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #181 impressed me more than I thought it would. I was certain it would dive completely into a series of mind-numbing cybercliches. It didn't fall into that trap, though. It didn't rely on silly tech-speak that's ultimately meaningless. It didn't treat the cyber aspects as anything other than a social gathering place, really, with high level language used to cover some of the tech stuff going on. Dylan Horrocks deserves credit for that, and in wrapping it all in an entertaining story.

Ramon F. Bachs is an up and comer. His art is remarkable. It'll be solid superhero monthly work for some lucky editor someday. I'm surprised he's not already on something with more circulation already. (UPDATE: It was announced in San Diego that he's the new DETECTIVE COMICS artist. I should be an editor.)

A VERY SAMMY DAY is a book I wanted to be more excited about than I actually was. While I enjoyed Azad's story and art, the whole thing just felt slight to me. I wanted more for my $6. He does get massive bonus points for including a religious figure in the story without stooping to altar boy jokes. (UPDATE: I talked to Azad in San Diego this weekend about the series. There are plans for more, but no plans for an immediate collection of the first mini-series. Stay tuned and be patient. Good things come to those who wait.)

BLOODHOUND #1 is a solid first issue with a lot of potential, and for that I'd give it thumbs up. Things actually happen in this first issue, which is a rarity these days, even with the growing negative decompression buzz.

Dan Jolley's storytelling raises a few interesting possibilities and punctuates them nicely with brief displays of graphic violence. (This is not a book for the kiddies, and there is no Comics Code Authority seal on the cover.) The high concept is that a cop thrown in prison for murdering his partner is being offered an opportunity to get out to help hunt down a metahuman, something at which he excels. While I'm sure there's a lot more to the back story than we're currently being told, I'm also happy that Jolley doesn't just throw it all at us right away. It's something to be discovered as the series moves along. And like I said before, stuff happens in this issue. We're moving the story somewhere, with plenty of character motivation. It's not done simply in service to the plot.

Leonard Kirk's art (ably inked once more by Robin Riggs) is as easy to look at as ever. Some of that thick chunky line that Riggs had adopted near the end of SUPERGIRL has thankfully disappeared now. It's not gone all together, but I do think it's been better absorbed into the normal flow of the pen line.

Moose Baumann's coloring is unrelentingly green/blue, with the occasional splash of red or orange at the violent moments. Why do I bring this up here? I don't know. I just know it jumped out at me, which usually means something.

If you're looking for OZ: THE COMIC, this might be your closest approximation to date. BLOODHOUND #1 is a good start to a potentially great comic. We'll see where it goes from here.

THE FADE TRADE Volume 1 collects the first six issues of the Eisner-nominated team of Myatt Murphy and Scott Dalrymple's series, FADE FROM BLUE. The series follows the lives of four sisters in the city, who rely on each other as they go through life's obstacle course. One's a tough cop. One's a writer for men's magazines. One's a bartender who has a tough time keeping a job. The youngest is an aspiring actress. All have issues with their love lives.

What keeps them all together, though, is a back story that forms the weakest part of the book for me. The four sisters have different mothers. Their father is on the run from some sort of organized crime element. The cop sister is on the hunt for him and the people who might mean him harm. The sisters, likewise, are now in danger and on the run, settling down in areas for a relatively brief time and moving on before they can be found. Something like that. I couldn't explain the back story to you here if you put a gun to my head. The individual issues have a neat little recap at the top that does a fairly good job of explaining it in plain language, though. The problem is that the character interactions are far more interesting, and I want to get through the police procedurals part just to see the girls in their day to day lives again.

The core of the book is the four girls and their relationships. When two or more of them are in the same room talking, the book lights up. Murphy's ear for dialogue and drama carry the book. FADE FROM BLUE is at its best when it's a relationship book, filled with witty banter that doesn't feel forced. It's believable.

My only question now about the book is why Christa went from blonde to brunette between issues 5 and 6, in the course of the same scene. That one was jarring. It's a minor thing, but it stuck out like a sore thumb. Murphy, a writer for magazines like MAXIM himself, imbues Christa with the acerbic personality, unafraid to say what she wants and get into any trouble she wants. That makes her interesting, and most explosive. You never know what might happen next with her, but it'll always be fun to read. Murphy also contributes magazine articles "written by" Christa in the back of each issue. Those are entertaining, as well, and are collected in this trade.

Dalrymple's art is solid, drawing main characters of different body sizes and shapes. While his art does have its quirks - such as everyone's hair being really really shiny - it makes everyone look human. There are no artificially pretty people in this book. They look real and act natural.

Self-published under the Second To Some Studios label, the trade is available in stores now for just $12.95. The series continues on, also, and it's up to issue #9.

EGG STORY

Every now and then, there comes a very special comic book. It's the type that touches you -- on the funny bone -- and makes you revel in the glory of the art form. Where else will you get the story of an egg-turned-ninja? Where else, but in comics, will you get the true story of three egg friends doing their best to survive the world, while playing video games, going on job interviews, and falling in love?

OK, maybe Nick Park will decide to follow up CHICKEN RUN with something like that. Other than him, though, who would dare?

J. Marc Schmidt has dared, and succeeded. His masterpiece is Slave Labor Graphics' EGG STORY, now available in stores everywhere with owners smart enough to overorder it. This 61 page black and white story is complete in one volume, for the low price of $3.95. The art does all it needs to do. It's simple and easy to read. You don't need Eisner or Adams or Kirby to draw this story. That would work against the simplified feel of the story. This isn't supposed to be a realistic book. This is a dark comedy of the absurd. Ninja eggs, cracked shells, madness, and egg love.

In a very odd way, the book has heart. While you may have a sadistic laugh at the act of an egg falling off a kitchen counter to its doom, you'll also feel bad for the eggs he left behind. Those were his friends, and the death of one diminishes them all.

I can't begin to describe to you how surreal the very act of writing this review is. But the book is worth your time. If you like a little dark comedy, some ninja hijinks, or absurd fantasies, this one's for you. If you don't like puns, you'll like this book. It would have been easy to sneak in some puns in this book. After all, the 60s Batman TV series had an entire villain devoted to egg puns. But Schmidt relies more on situational humor and the bizarre gags that come out of everyday situations taken from another object's point of view. It works well. Give it a chance.

Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday with some final thoughts on San Diego, theoretically. It may be a two-parter. I have a ton of pictures to get through, plus Sunday's last minute dash through the con hall and Wednesday's travelogue adventures.

Pipeline Previews should also be next week, Friday August 6th.

WizardWorld: Chicago is the weekend of August 13-15th. Pipeline will be there, but there won't be any daily updates. Expect a con report that week or the next.

Various and Sundry updated this past week, even while I was away. You can see a picture from Comicon's FIREFLY panel there, plus stories on the CSI hirings and non-firings, a writer's lament, some great examples of bad writing, DOOM 3 specs, Half Life 2 hackers caught, 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 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 also still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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