Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #389

Tue, November 23rd, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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LARRY YOUNG'S COMICS AND STORIES

PROOF OF CONCEPT is the next release from AiT/PlanetLar. The book is a series of short stories -- barely vignettes, really -- written by Young as pitches to his superstar comic book attorney, Ken Levin. (In Kieron Dwyer's drawings, I was shocked by just how much the two resemble each other.) Yes, we've now gotten to the point of self-awareness in this industry that we make comic books about making comic books for potential Hollywood property value. In fact, there aren't many complete stories in this book. Just as the title says, there's enough of each story to give us a "proof of concept" that such a thing could work. The proof was achieved with help from contest winners at Young's Comic World News column. The results are, like most anthology books, mixed. There is, however, enough good to recommend the book.

"The Bod" is the most complete of all the stories, but that's unfair since it's a full multipart storyline. It relies a bit too much on cutesie pop culture references, but John Heebink's art is solid, and still translates in black and white off a color version. You might remember the story from its original presentation in DOUBLE IMAGE. Leave it to Young to find a way to make a trade paperback out of a four part serial. (The REX MANTOOTH collection still takes the award for that, though, stretching out a short three-parter into a full-blown graphic novel.)

"Hemoglobin" is a vampire story from a new angle, which is best explained by Young's dialogue with Levin both before and after the story. The interstitial segments are necessary to explain the flow of most of these stories, lest you be left scratching your head and wondering "so what?"

While I'm not sure I "get" the ending to the story, "Zombie Dinosaur" does seem to be the most complete story (of the new ones) in the book, complete with Bruce Willis lookalike in the lead. You can picture Levin walking into Jerry Bruckheimer's office to pitch this one.

"The Camera" is very high concept science fiction short story telling, starring a bunch of kids and a black void in their backyard.

"For The Time Being" is so very high concept that I'm lost. Blame it on the curse of the time travel story. It's inevitably mind-numbing to me, no matter how internally consistent.

"Emancipating Lincoln" is a cute short science fiction story. In a way, it reminds me of the short short science fiction stories that Isaac Asimov would write in the 1950s for the sake of a funny pun at the end of the two pages. That art form is lost, though I'd like to see some independent publisher give it a try. For now, I'll acknowledge Larry Young as the unchallenged world renowned master of the comic short short comic story.

Art across the stories varies wildly, both in style and professionalism. Your mileage will vary widely from mine, I'm sure. I'd name Steven Sanders and Jeff Johns as the most professional looking artists amongst the CWN stories, but even then it would need more work.

Ryan Yount's lettering needs some serious work in this volume. The pages with Young and Levin show zero progression of word balloons. If you guess right, you might just alternate them properly. At first glance, though, it's clear that all of the balloons in the top panel should be read before all of the balloons in the bottom panel. That's not the way it's supposed to work, though. Go figure. So long as you don't mind perfectly oval shapes and straight-edge balloon tails, the rest of the book shouldn't throw you off too much. That's style, though. For readability, the interstitials are a failure.

I do like the use of the guidelines for the lettering in the credits on the title page. As we move further and further away from hand lettering, I wonder just how many people will understand what those guidelines are. It'll be down to us comic book codgers and the architect students, I bet.

AiT/PlanetLar is offering up PROOF OF CONCEPT in December. The final book runs past 132 pages. In a genius piece of production, the pages for everything save the final THE BOD storyline actually have page numbers on them! The table of contents, then, actually serves a purpose! You can find the page you're looking for by scanning along the bottom of the pages to find out where you are in the book. You'd be amazed at how many publishers fail to do that today.

THE OTHERS

Here's an idea I've been toying with this week: What are The Others?

When you bring up Peter David's name to a long-term comic fan, you're likely to trigger memories of his run on THE INCREDIBLE HULK. If you throw out Will Eisner's name, you're likely to send someone to a bookshelf filled with SPIRIT hardcovers, or perhaps one of his groundbreaking graphic novels. Todd McFarlane's name will bring out SPIDER-MAN or SPAWN comics. Mark Waid has THE FLASH. Kurt Busiek brings us MARVELS or ASTRO CITY, groundbreaking words to superhero fans that remind us of Silver Age times. George Perez's name will send people to their bookshelves for TEEN TITANS or WONDER WOMAN.

No matter how long they may contribute works to the field, popular creators will inevitably be remembered best for the one or two works that struck a nerve in the most number of fans.

Forget about those books, though. I want to think of The Others. What are the other works by those creators that are worth looking back on? They might not be the most important works or the most groundbreaking. The Others are the books that entertained us for a few months but now are overshadowed by their more popular brothers. Let me throw out a few of my choices, and then I'll open it up to the floor. I want to know which books from which creators you think are too easily forgotten, but don't deserve to be.

Kurt Busiek has done a wide range of superhero comic books, including memorable runs on THUNDERBOLTS and AVENGERS and UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN.

But Busiek also did a very fun book for Acclaim, NINJAK. It was the story of a teenager who garnered the powers of his favorite superpowered video game character. He also inherited all the enemies of those characters, and thus did mayhem ensue. Illustrated perfectly by Neil Vokes' cartoony style, the book remained fun while filled with angst and drama.

My favorite book of Busiek's to fit in this The Others category, however, is now available from Dark Horse. DH might have shrunken it down from its original size, but it's still a beautiful book with a strong story structure that more comic book writers should emulate as the way to make stories interesting in both the pamphlet format as well as the collected trade paperback format. Illustrated by Stuart Immonen and lettered in Richard Starkings' trademarked Hedge Backwards font, SHOCKROCKETS is a complete package crying out for a sequel.

The Other Mark Waid book is clearly GATECRASHER. Produced through Wizard's on-again/off-again publishing concern, Black Bull, it's another male teenage angst-fest, but from a completely different angle. This one, drawn by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, is more science-fictiony and fun. Conner's art is very expressive, with lots of Paul Mounts' best and brightest colors filling in the lines. There's a trade or two available of the series if you search the right places. The proposed MTV animated series never materialized, sadly, which probably is what sounded the death knell for the book.

I'd give KA-ZAR a Runner-Up trophy, for both Waid and Andy Kubert.

At the rate things are going for him today, you almost might be able to list GOLDFISH for Brian Bendis.

For Peter David, I have to highlight the first year of his run on the relaunched STAR TREK title from the early 90s at my favorite of his The Other titles. Others might point to THE LITTLE MERMAID, of course...

Mark Millar is best known for books like THE AUTHORITY, WANTED, and ULTIMATE X-MEN, but he did some nifty all-ages friendlier work on SUPERMAN ADVENTURES. It seems like a strange mix, but he pulled it off.

Warren Ellis' run on EXCALIBUR had some good moments, most of which are forgotten in the rush of STORMWATCH/THE AUTHORITY.

So how about you? What are your favorite books by comics' top talents that so often go left unnoticed? What are those books that you once enjoyed so much but were quickly overshadowed by "landmark" work for a given creator? Drop me a line. I'll be running some responses in a future column.

QUICK ODDS AND ENDS

The new PLASTIC MAN trade paperback stinks.

I mean that literally. In case you haven't seen it yet, it has one of those oversized plastic covers on it. It's not the usual heavier-stock cardboard things. Nope, this one is (fittingly) plastic and printed up in Hong Kong, as are all the oddball collections done in recent comic book history. I unwrapped mine from the plastic on Wednesday night. When I came home from work on Thursday night, the entire room stank of the plastic. After breathing for a few days now, it's a bit better.

In the end, though, it's a great marketing gimmick, and a pretty wild addition to any bookshelf.

X-FORCE #4 is incoherent. It's a splash page of explanatory dialogue followed by a few pages of fight scene. Then more of the same. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. I thought Fabian Nicieza's scripting would be able to reign in Rob Liefeld's more excessive artistic hangups. No such luck.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 is a very pleasant surprise. Any worries I had about Ed Brubaker using this book as a political polemic were completely unwarranted. This book is about Captain America and Steve Rogers, not about politics. It's about the Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube. It does have a twist ending that any medium-term comic fan will immediately discount as being easily reversible at some point down the line, but that's the way it is with all superhero comics.

Steve Epting's art is the star of the show, with beautiful cityscapes, well choreographed fight scenes, and dramatic staging. It reminds me a lot of Phil Winslade's work. Frank D'Armata's coloring is not at all too dark in this book, the way it's verged recently in AVENGERS.

ULTIMATE X-MEN #53 didn't do anything for me. I like a lot of Brian K. Vaughan's writing, but I'm not completely sold on it here yet. There's some nice character moments and a couple of explosive action bits, but it doesn't add up to enough for me. Andy Kubert's art is set to match brother Adam's, for layout and explosiveness, but it never makes it there. The 'camera' isn't pulled back far enough, or a character isn't close enough to the reader. It's caught in an awkward inbetween phase for me. Those trademark pin-up pages that Adam was able to draw just don't show up here.

I enjoy the book, but not enough any more to wait anxiously for it from month to month. I might drop it in favor of the collections next.

THE WALKING DEAD #13 has a great final page. Kirkman has done great work lately in crafting those intense cliffhanger pages for this series. This one is no exception. In fact, the questions this one raises are the furthest reaching and most dire for all the characters yet.

MADROX #3 is another great issue from Peter David. This is the third issue in a row where he balances the dual identity puns perfectly with the implications that such a lifestyle brings up. It's a mystery story that couldn't be told with any other character. It's unique to Madrox. I can't say that I'm a big fan of Pablo Raimondi's art style, but it's not confusing. It serves the story, and sometimes that's just enough to get me through.

DONALD DUCK AND FRIEND #322 leads off with a reprint of Carl Barks' first Gladstone Gander appearance in a Donald Duck story. While the story relies completely on a deus ex machina, it's still a lot of fun. Most impressively, the reprint quality is as high as Gemstone has achieved so far. This one doesn't have that look of a fuzzy photocopy that so many of the Barks' reprints in the past year and a half have had.

THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #1 felt like an Ultimate book. It's trying hard to rework Tony Stark's origin to fit in with modern times. STRANGE is very similar in that regard. I think I'm going easier on STRANGE, though, because I'm predisposed to like Brandon Peterson's art, and I have very little knowledge of the character in advance.

EX MACHINA #6 starts a new storyline, but the thing that jumped out the most to me this month is the coloring. JD Mettler's style here is filled with very muted green and yellow tones, complete with multiple layers to create shadows and a look that borders on water colored. It's like nothing else in comics today, and effective.

I did think, however, that the page of dialogue between the sewer workers was rather unnecessary. It feels like Vaughan realized he had four pages to fill and only two pages of story. Not too long ago, it would have been filled with Tarantino-like pop culture deconstruction. Here, it's packed with descriptions of pornographic websites. It goes nowhere, aside from killing time.

PIPELINE PREVIEWS NEXT WEEK

If I'm not mistaken, the new PREVIEWS comes out this week, which means Pipeline Previews is coming up next Friday.

In the meantime, here's a teaser for what's coming in February 2005:

Top Shelf is proud to announce the second graphic novel in the breakout, all-ages series, OWLY. In JUST A LITTLE BLUE, Owly learns that sometimes you have to make sacrifices for things that are important, especially friendship. Relying on a mixture of symbols, icons, and expressions to tell his silent stories, Runton's clean, animated, and heartwarming style makes it a perfect read for anyone who's a fan of Jeff Smith's BONE or Mike Kunkel's HEROBEAR AND THE KID. Already winning fans around the world, OWLY is not to be missed. -- $10.00 (US), 112 pages, Graphic Novel, ISBN 1-891830-64-3

My review of the first volume can be found in Pipeline #380. More information on the second volume can be found on its Top Shelf page.

Pipeline Commentary returns next week for more reviews, odds, and ends. Coming in December: The ultimate QUEEN AND COUNTRY review, spanning two columns and breaking down every Q&C collection and more. It's a biggy. Stay tuned. . .

To my fellow Americans: Happy Thanksgiving. And don't you wish it was a more exciting game than Cowboys/Bears? UGH.

Over at Various and Sundry this week: HOMICIDE, SCRUBS, MacGYVER, THE LONE GUNMEN, and more DVD announcements. William Shatner is linked for three straight days. HALF LIFE 2 crashes its own servers. THE OFFICE finishes up its DVD run. More dieting madness. LOST and ALIAS pair up. Poker Chip Tricks. A Segway goes cross-country. Plus, lots more.

And if you think there's nothing left to talk about post-election, you'd be wrong. Move over to VandS Politics for more classic conservatism, crazy politicism, and fun.

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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