Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #397

Tue, January 18th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

PIPELINE PODCAST #3 - Added 1/19/05

Listen directly to the Podcast through the MP3 file (7:45, 3.6 MB)

Or subscribe to the podcast by planting this URL into your iPodder: http://www.comicbookresources.com/rss/podcast_pipeline.xml

See its listing on ipodder.org.

Show Notes:

Poker god Phil Hester

Rock god Andy Kuhn

Contact information:

  • AUGIE *AT* GMAIL *DOT* COM for MP3 file audio e-mails.

  • For plain ol' text e-mail, just click here

PIPELINE PODCAST IS GETTING THERE

I promise.

The bad news is, the coding and programming around last week's podcast didn't work out too well.

The good news is, we've learned our lessons from that particular debacle and won't repeat them this week. If you subscribed to the RSS feed with an iPodder client, though, you didn't miss a beat.

If you're just coming in now, though, here are the direct links to the two podcasts thus far:

A third will be up on Wednesday. Click back here for an update then.

One bit of good news for the week -- the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast has a place in the iPodder.org directory in the "Books" category.

PIPELINE GOES GOTH

Every genre has its formulas. The productions that are the most memorable or the best received are the ones that tinker with the formula in some way. THE USUAL SUSPECTS might have been a simple crime film, but for the way it was structured. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is so well liked because it adds a healthy dollop of humor onto a zombie spectacle. MILLION DOLLAR BABY right now gets rave reviews for changing up the typical sports film format.

Occasionally, though, a genre exposes itself too much and becomes annoying. The formula becomes so familiar that the surprise and thrill is quickly drained from it. This happens quickest in television, where development time can be so short that competing shows can be aired before the originals get out. Look at the boxing reality shows of this past season for one example. And how many movies have we had now about an older person and a younger person switching bodies?

This weekend I read the first trade paperbacks of both Dark Horse's CRUSH (Jason Hall/Sean Murphy) and Viper Comics' DEAD@17 (Josh Howard) and realized something: It's the same book. Despite a few cosmetic differences, the art and the storyline is so similar that I can't write a review of the two without keeping them both open in front of me for fear of confusing one with the other. Here's the plot:

A teenage girl stars. It's her birthday. She has a best friend. Her best friend's brother plays a key role in the story. She's adopted. Her biological parents are the trigger for all the events in the book, but they gave her up to protect her. A traumatic event in the first issue triggers her entry into a new and scary world filled with conspiracies, creatures beyond death, and her own innate powers that she only got today because it's her birthday. A book in her possession contains spells that will save the day. Other monsters come after her. Things get so bad that she has to leave the town and her old life behind.

The story is far from compressed. It's so full of plot that you don't get enough character moments to develop a connection to the characters. Plot happens around the main characters and they can only react to it. Dialogue is filled with stuff that I once would have considered awful and stilted. However, I've seen enough reality shows on MTV to know that teenage girls really DO talk like that. It scares me more than the monsters in the books do.

In the end, a new "Scooby Gang" is formed. "Buffy" travels off into the sunset, her future uncertain but her life completely changed.

The book is a collection of four comics, shrunk down from standard comics size for the reprint. The art is drawn with a three or four tier layout in a style that crosses Humberto Ramos with generic cartoony manga. Coloring is flat, but detailed.

That's the outline for both books. When I picked up the two books, I figured there would be similarities. Both starred female leads and had elements of horror to them. The art would be of a fairly similar school, and the story would be relatively short. I didn't think I would wind reading the same thing twice. That's unfortunate.

Yes, there are differences in the books. In CRUSH, the monster lives within. In DEAD@17, the monster comes out after death. CRUSH is a lot brighter, with daytime scenes that give your eyes a break in the color department. DEAD@17 is ruthlessly dark. DEAD@17 does a better job in keeping its characters active and involved in their fate, while CRUSH features them bumbling through the entire storyline, reacting to event after event, never having a clue what's really going on.

CRUSH feels emptier. The story is left far more wide open, to the point where it feels like nothing's happened. The lead character doesn't learn much. Jason Hall realizes this. He writes a caption in the penultimate panel of the book, acknowledging it.

"Sure, there were a lot of unanswered questions and mysteries left unresolved… And who knew if we'd ever find all the answers."

At least he's honest about it.

CRUSH gets major points, though, for its packaging, with extra space inserted by the margins so you're not ripping the book in half to read the word balloons on the inside of each page where the glue holds it together.

DEAD@17 has a lot of amateurish charm to it. I don't mean to put down Howard with that. I actually mean that as a compliment. The book doesn't feel like a superslick production, as hard as it tries to be. His talking heads scenes are relentlessly close up. Backgrounds drop out far too often. And the lettering is awkward, at best, with balloons thrown around to wherever there might be space in a panel that's packed so tightly onto the page. However, when the need arises, he can draw full figures in his style and does draw in establishing shots for backgrounds. I get the feeling, though, that writer Howard carefully wrote the script to save artist Howard from having to draw anything too challenging.

So if I had to pick one book to read, which would it be? First of all, let me compliment you on asking the proper question. Reading both only diminishes both. Reading one or the other might be a good way to maintain the illusion of originality. CRUSH is the less satisfying read. It's clearly the first chapter of an on-going series. It might have read well in monthly installments, but I think fails in the collected edition. It does have the better art, and stronger production values. DEAD@17 is a more reader-friendly book, but is so hard on the eyes and asks me to check my brain at the door so often, that it annoys me. Did I mention the repeated number of times that a teenager picks up a gun for the first time and perfectly fires shots straight between the monster's eyes?

Sorry, you're on your own for this one. I'd advise skipping over them both.

TWO MORE FROM EISNER

WILL EISNER'S NEW YORK: THE BIG CITY was done in the very early 1980s. In many ways, this is the predecessor to the CITY PEOPLE SKETCHBOOK I reviewed here last week. Being a more concerted effort, though, this one is superior. Eisner uses the same format for this book. It's a series of vignettes around common themes. In this book, the events happen around physical objects, with chapters like "Stoops," "Subways," "Windows," and "Garbage." Most of the book is silent, which means that Eisner gets to show off his "acting" chops.

At the time of his death, we recently learned, Eisner was working on a third instructional book about "expressive anatomy." I can't imagine a better instructor for this. While his characters may act like figures on stage gesticulating wildly so that the back row can make them out, it's very clear and emotive acting. Many of these stories don't require words because the pantomime tells the reader everything he needs to know. It makes you look harder at the art, which is always a good thing. Skip straight ahead to the "Sermonette" story on page 102 for a great example of both acting and storytelling.

The artwork has a very polished look to it, with gray washes to add texture and depth to the scenes. I almost want to compare his architectural work on this book to the work of Francois Schuiten on the CITIES OF THE FANTASTIC books, but it's not nearly as detailed for the sake of being detailed. It's used sparingly to emphasize a point, but it's still there. The man known for drawing emotive characters could also draw a building or a wrecked wall with great character.

The other reason I'd compare it to Schuiten's work is purely cosmetic. The book is printed on slightly larger paper than the normal North Amerian comic. It's still smaller than the Euro-albums, but has a lot more breathing room to it than today's superhero comics give you.

Oh, and there's another character named "Augie" in this book. He's a sidekick character with a five o'clock shadow or a goatee, depending on the panel. Thankfully, this "Augie" survives the course of the story.

DC reprinted NEW YORK: THE BIG CITY in 2000 for $12.95. For 129 story pages, that's a steal.

THE BUILDING is Eisner's attempt to give a building a soul. In his introduction, he posits that buildings are more than mere mechanical constructs. They have souls, given to them by the people whose existence intersects with them on a daily basis. The act of knocking a building down to replace it with a new one has consequences that reach out further than one might expect.

It's a romantic notion, the work of a poet or a deep city philosophizer. Perhaps I'm too much of a realist to take it seriously, but Eisner's stories are touching and the romantic streak that runs through them feels real. The book is filled with downbeat stories about people whose lives have gone awry and are helpless to do anything for themselves. But, in the end, a little bit of hope is restored. And Eisner indicates something I do believe in at the end -- life is filled with circles. THE BUILDING is merely one loop in that circle.

THE BUILDING contains four short stories that come together at the end to wrap up a larger story in a way that Hollywood would be proud of. It's certainly forced, but that's a conceit of the book you choose to swallow for a greater enjoyment. The art and storytelling is solid, but in the end it's far from my favorite of his books so far.

Having read a half dozen of these books now, though, I have to ask a silly question. Does any married person in an Eisner story stay faithful to his or her spouse? Yeesh.

THE BUILDING is 80 pages long, and is available from DC today for just $9.95

THE DEMO TRADE

The script collection of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan's 12 issue series, DEMO, is released this week. I have it in my mitts right now. It's a spiffy book, although I'm not sure what it adds to the experience of reading the series. I'm going to try to work that out for you right here.

The scripts are presented unedited and without comment. Wood points out at the top that all the typos, grammatical issues, etc. have been left in for authenticity's sake. I can appreciate that. If the point of a script book is to learn about the creation process, then that's exactly what you want: the raw data. The only new material in the book comes on the title pages, where Cloonan contributes a new piece of art for each script. The scripts, themselves, are as conversational as Wood has always said they were. Reading this book is like opening the e-mails sent between two creators in the throws of comics creation.

That's all there is to the book. No big surprises. After the annotations of REX MANTOOTH or QUEEN & COUNTRY, it seems dull. Even Brian Bendis' ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN script book contains some commentary for each issue.

On the other hand, this one criticism also points to one large compliment: Cloonan's artwork followed the script so well and contained storytelling so clear that I didn't need anything explained to me. Reading the scripts, then, becomes less of a journey of discovery and more a journey of pure process. While I have to confess I haven't read the entire book yet, the scripts I have read offered no new surprises, clarifications, or moments of "Oh, so that's what he meant." Everything you need for each story shows up clearly on the page. The interesting parts lie in the formatting and the relaxed attitude of the scripts. Cloonan, the artist, turns out to be the real star of the series after reading the book of scripts by Wood, the writer.

That said, the third issue is worth reading for the process junkies. Wood explains up front the various shots he's going to request for the issue, most of which is set in a car. If you're curious to see how one comics writer uses the language of film in his comics creation process, this might be an invaluable read for you.

Be aware of why you're picking this book up. If you're looking for the director's cut of the stories with this book, you won't get it. A careful comparison between script and final issue might lead you to some interesting and perhaps surprising changes on the final pages, but there won't be any great revelations in this script book surrounding the story. That's all in the stories themselves. For that, Cloonan becomes the surprise star of this book.

DEMO: THE TWELVE ORIGINAL SCRIPTS (AiT/PlanetLar, $12.95) is available in stores this week.

Next week: I'm still not telling. More trades, I hope. Part Two of my SIN CITY recap is overdue by now, isn't it? And I need to do a few more superhero trades to balance this all out, don't I? We'll see what happens. . .

Over at Various and Sundry this week: Podcasting questions and suggestions. The TV crush is on. American Idol starts this week! You don't get your birthday off when you're an adult. Hybrid cars cause lawmaking traffic jam. Google cares about spelling. Vaporware 2004. And tons more.

The Various and Sundry DVD Podcast is now four weeks old and still chugging along. Those of you with a podcasting program can subscribe to it right here. It's now listed in a category all its own under "DVD" in the podcasting directory.

All political discussions have been pushed off to one neat side at VandS Politics.

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. I haven't had that account in years, but they've yet to delete the page space. Bizarre.

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