Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #417

Tue, June 7th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

THE PIPELINE TRIAD

I write, generally speaking, three different types of columns. The first is Pipeline Previews, a once monthly exploration of the PREVIEWS catalog for new comics shipping two months in the future. The second is Pipeline Review which, fairly obviously, is where I write reviews of comics past, present, and future. The third is Pipeline Commentary. Those are the columns dealing with issues in the industry and musings on the artform.

There's a reason this column is called "Pipeline Commentary and Review." Inevitably, the two get mixed up in one another.

This week, I'm incorporating elements of all three. First, I'll look through the solicitations for Marvel and DC. The rest of Pipeline Previews will be weaved into this column next Tuesday. Second, I have a review of an exciting original graphic novel that's due out this week, plus my thoughts on HOUSE OF M #1. Finally, while I didn't make it to Philadelphia for the comic convention this weekend, I still have some things to say about the announcements made at the show and the on-going Marvel/DC feud.

PIPELINE PREVIEWS

The latest PREVIEWS catalog covers items shipping mainly in August. Flip through the catalog and pre-order everything you know you want for your best chance of reading it all. The direct market can be a silly beast.

Marvel: EARTH X promises a much cheaper edition of the Alex Ross/Jim Krueger/John Paul Leon alternate Marvel Universe mini-series than the edition Graphitti Designs previously came up with. This one is $50 for 528 pages. It has the 12 issues of the original mini-series, plus the #0 and X bookends, and more.

RUNAWAYS is the little series that just won't die. Just when you think it's going to get cancelled, Marvel produces another collection and renews the series. While the first 18 issues are now available in three Marvel digests, those of us who like to read things on larger paper can now look forward to RUNAWAYS Volume 1 in hardcover. This collects the first 18 issues under one cover, making it the largest hardcover from Marvel since ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP. It's only $35 for the 448 pages.

MARVEL VISIONARIES: CHRIS CLAREMONT offers up a hodge podge collection of Claremont's defining X-work over the years. It also has an IRON FIST issue in there, a couple DAREDEVIL issues, plus an AVENGERS annual. Artists include Dave Cockrum, Art Adams, Salvador Larocca, Jim Lee, Alan Davis, and Frank Miller.

DAREDEVIL gets a fourth hardcover edition, covering issues #56-65, the last of which was the anniversary issue starring an assortment of artists. It's the issue I remember best for having to read in the waning sunlight the day of the big east coast blackout last year.

UNCANNY X-MEN - THE NEW AGE Volume 3: ON ICE is an unwieldy title, but it collects six more issues of Alan Davis art on the series.

ASTONISHING X-MEN's back six issues are included in "Dangerous," its second trade paperback. Marvel is clearly praying that the twelfth issue sees the light of day before then. Who else here isn't holding their breath? In any case, I'm counting on a hardcover release for this series.

X-MEN VIGNETTES, Volume 2 continues to collect those short back up stories that Chris Claremont did with John Bolton for the back of CLASSIC X-MEN. They're well-illustrated short pieces that tie into the early Claremont stories very well. I'm glad Marvel got back to them after putting out a single volume a long time back. It's $18.

FANTASTIC FOES and STRANGE are collected, as is Peter David's first six issues of his return to HULK. ESSENTIAL X-MEN gets to volume six and a thorny series of crossovers leads to the inclusion of issues from NEW MUTANTS, X-FACTOR, and POWER PACK.

DC: SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL Volume 4 continues to collect John Byrne's revamp of the Superman mythos from the late 80s. It collects eight comic books, featuring the work of Byrne, Ordway, Wolfman, Terry Austin, and more. Two issues of LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES are even featured in here. I'm guessing that story is all about Superboy. It's $20 for the 192 pages.

IDENTITY CRISIS gets a hardcover collection in September. Even with my hardcover book fetish, this is one I can skip. Those of you who are more partial to the DC Universe, perhaps, might want to plunk down the $25 for the book.

ADAM STRANGE: PLANET HEIST is the long-awaited trade paperback of the recent revamp of the series by Andy Diggle and Pascal Ferry. I know what you're thinking. "The final issue just came out a few weeks ago. How long-awaited can this be?" After the early reviews of the book's first issue came up so great, I put it in my Want List. I'm waiting for the trade. It's been a long time. On August 10th, I'll exchange $20 for my copy.

WATCHMEN: THE ABSOLUTE EDITION has received lots of press already, and it's not even due out until October 5th. This is an advance advance solicitation. It'll collect all of the bonus material found in the original hardcover edition of the book from more than ten years ago, plus new computer separations on the coloring from WildStorm. It's $75 for the 464 page package. Normally, that would seem like a fair chunk of change. For what is arguably the greatest comic book of all time, it seems perfectly fair to me.

V FOR VENDETTA is the other Moore series that many of his supporters would cite as his best work. (Personally, I'd throw in FROM HELL as tops uber alles, but to each his or her own.) DC is putting together a new edition of the book as the buzz for the movie starts to ramp up. This new hardcover is only $30, and includes a new sketchbook section at the end. It isn't recolored or re-edited in any way. The story remains the same.

THE MAXX BOOK FIVE finishes off Sam Kieth's trademark comics series. It also raises the question, "What's the difference between a book and a volume?" Wildstorm favors "book," it seems. DC prefers "volume."

TOM STRONG BOOK FIVE covers work from Brian K. Vaughan, Ed Brubaker, and more. These are issues #26-30 of the ABC series. It's another advance solicitation for September. If I happen to mention it in next month's Pipeline Previews when it's listed again, feel free to write me to point it out.

I'll look through the rest of the catalog next week.

PIPELINE COMMENTARY: PHILADELPHIA

I didn't get down to Philadelphia for Wizard World this year. All this means is that when it comes time for the 25th anniversary soiree, I won't be invited to attend as one of the people who made it to all the shows. Ah, well. It's OK, though. I got outside, breathed some fresh air, and didn't think about the on-going Marvel/DC rivalry for a few hours. Surely, that has to be good for the soul, right?

I'm back now to wallow through it, though.

First, DC announced that Dan Di Dio failed once again to sign John Romita Jr. to an exclusive contract. That was evident when he announced the Kubert Bros. were coming to DC. While those two have worked at DC before -- I have both the ADAM STRANGE trade and the BATMAN/ALIENS work with their names in the credit boxes -- it has been a long time since those two did a regular gig at the Distinguished Competition. I'm sure DC is throwing a few cubic acres of cash at the two, so good for them. I hope they milked the Warner Bros. coffers for all they're worth.

From a slightly less cynical standpoint, though, I can understand why they might take off for a different pasture. After drawing the same characters and the same universe for the last 15 years, getting three years of guaranteed employment drawing a new back of characters would be a lot of fun and a nice break. In 2008, when rumors start circulating (in "Lying In The Gutters," of course) about Marvel's editor in chief throwing bags of money at them to come home, don't say I didn't warn you. It is possible by then that both Marvel and DC will be fully out of this cycle of "Major Universe Changing" events.

DC's other big announcement is the tease that they're jumping ahead by a year in their universe's continuity. Drooling fanboys were quickly seen pondering Superboy's existence in the Legion of Superheroes in light of this chronological conundrum. I kid. Sort of.

Stories based on this premise have happened before, and fairly often. Keith Giffen famously did the "Five Years Later" arc on LEGION, for one example. But there's something about these storylines that always fascinates me. More stuff happens in that one year than have happened in the book's previous 50 years. Granted, those 50 years may only represent three or five years of actual continuity, but they also maintained a status quo. Suddenly, the storyline jumps ahead by a year and everything changes. Di Dio has promised that we'll see what happened in the missing year in a lot of cases, thus negating the purpose of skipping the year. Why not just tell those stories in the course of next year's batch of issues and let things fall naturally?

On the other hand, I understand the point of this method of storytelling: It's effective. Look at all the TV shows that start on action before a title card with "24 hours earlier" pops up on screen. ALIAS lives on it for one. (ALIAS also skipped two years between seasons once. At least with that show, it's believable that everything would change in such a short time span. 'Tis the nature of the series.)

The whole thing is good to get people talking, debating, and guessing. In that, DC will be successful. So far, Mike Sterling wins the award for best suggestion with his Green Lantern idea.

There's good and bad to be debated in these announcements from DC this weekend. Unfortunately, given the state of the company these days and its rivalry with Marvel, I'm not inclined to give anyone the benefit of the doubt anymore. My cynical side is overwhelming the rest of me.

PIPELINE REVIEW

EARTHBOY JACOBUS hits the streets this week. This is the latest original graphic novel from Doug TenNapel, perhaps best known for his work on EARTHWORM JIM. His move to comics has brought us two books so far, CREATURE TECH and TOMMYSAURUS REX. Those were both strong enough to put this new one in the category of "eagerly anticipated." Thankfully, a copy of the book crossed the Pipeline desk this weekend. I devoured it quickly, and am happy to say that TenNapel goes three for three. In fact, EARTHBOY JACOBUS is the grandest in scope of all the books, as TenNapel pushes himself to new places and succeeds with both his story and his art.

If you've read the last two books, you have an idea of what to expect here: Kids, Parents, surreal bizarreness, a story with heart, lively black and white art, and a little bit of faith. It's a strange combination of things. There are certain morals and lessons that would make a book like this so perfect for younger readers. Unfortunately, there's a touch of language and perhaps some graphic (if cartoony) violence that would also be too mature for them. I'd probably label this one a PG-13, if only for the language.

This is the story of Jacobus, a boy from another dimension who falls to earth, only to be saved by "Chief," a lonely recently retired police captain. He immediately takes Jacobus in as his own when he realizes the danger the boy is in from evil visitors from his home dimension. An ex-Marine, Chief teaches Jacobus to fight back and be a better person. The training comes in handy for the rest of his life, even when he doesn't realize it.

The book is broken down into three chapters, each set in a different period of Jacobus' life. Roughly: Childhood, teenaged years, adulthood. The first third of the book covers the initial meeting and training. The second chapter flashes forward a few years, to the point where Jacobus is a rebellious teenager, flawed but well-meaning. The third and final chapter in the book takes the story in a more fantastic direction. This is where we leave earth and get introduced to some mightily strange things.

TenNapel remembers the humanity of the story through this all and fills in some back story along the way that adds all new dimensions to the book you've just read. Most importantly, he keeps the major players in character. Some fairly major changes happen to Jacobus over the course of the book. His occasionally rash and violent reactions to problems are fitting, given his training and his history with the villains of the piece. It seems like such an obvious thing, but given the way so many characters are sacrificed in comics today at the end of a giant plot hammer, it's worth pointing out.

It's an ambitious story structure, but it all works. TenNapel doesn't overcomplicate the book, although you might be weirded out while getting used to all the creatures and their "powers." The boy's main weapon is a cross between a light sabre and a samurai sword. The sword fights are all too sparing. I'd love to see TenNapel try a samurai epic. He does great sword fight scenes. For now, you'lll have to settle for bug-powered light sabers, ectoids who infect you, creatures who live in other creature's excrement, and -- well, you just have to read it to believe it.

TenNapel's art is unlike anything else in comics today, with a splashy brush stroke that makes the final art look slick and rough all at the same time. Underneath it, there's an animator's understanding of motion and and liveliness. He works magic with black and white, using black areas to often frame a space, while incorporating enough of interest in the black areas to keep the book from getting dull over the course of its 272 pages. I wish I could scan in a few pages for you, but I'd have to rip the book in half to get it to lay flat on my scanner. I'm not willing to make that sacrifice. Suffice it to say, this is a good looking book.

The lettering is done with hand drawn balloons and sound effects, combined with computer fonts for the dialogue. Word balloons utilize the same uneven line weights that TenNapel uses throughout the book in his art. It takes a second to get used to the combination of perfect computerized lettering lined up inside wavy balloons, but it's a quick transition that gives the book its own feel.

The cherry on top of the cake on this book for me is a certain political reading one might make into it. It's no secret that TenNapel has a point of view that's rather rare in the comics industry. (In other words, he's not liberal.) CREATURE TECH, for example, was hammered by those who found some of its creationist themes to be offensive. Those people will find a few things to hate about this book. There's a couple of pages early on that hammer public education while extolling the virtues of home schooling. Faith once again plays a role in the story, although it's mostly on the fringes. Chief doesn't spend any time wondering what the existence of this extra terrestial world means for his faith in God. Also, there's a lesson to be found in here that violence sometimes works. I didn't realize it until I read this book, but I'm sick of all the stories I read in comics and see on TV and in the movies that rely so heavily on brains over brawn. Every now and again, brawn is going to be what you need to win. TenNapel isn't afraid of showing that in this book.

EARTHBOY JACOBUS is available in finer comic shops everywhere this week. It's a big fat black and white 272 page brick for just $18. I think it's worth every penny.

Epilogue: Word came down this week that Image's FLIGHT anthology is moving to a mainstream book publisher. I'd be shocked if one of those book publishers doesn't make TenNapel an offer on his growing library of books and his future stories. These things are primed for a broader audience than perhaps a comics company can offer.

HOUSE OF M #1 is a big stinkin' cheat. It sets up beautifully a moral dilemma of the highest magnitude: When a hero goes uncontrollably bad to the point where her powers threaten all of reality, what should the other heroes do? Should they kill her for the good of the whole? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one? Should I be shot for quoting a STAR TREK movie in this review?

Bendis has the characters answer those questions in ways that are true to their characters. Anyone who calls their answers "predictable" doesn't understand the point of "character" in storytelling.

But, then, there's a ginormous cheat. The issue takes one of those left turns that seemingly all stories these days need to take. It potentially resolves the issue without anyone doing anything. Given what we know about the effects of this crossover on the Marvel Universe, this story might as well be done.

I hope we get back to this question sometime before the end of the mini-series. Still, the first issue doesn't leave a good taste in my mouth. It sets up a major problem of significance in one hand, and then waves its other hand in the air to distract you to something else. Knowing that we're about to be plunged into an alternate universe for the next few months that Marvel keeps insisting isn't an alternate universe but keeps creating new books to support, I'm not getting too enthused here.

MORE BLOGS

I knew I'd forget a few last week. Stay tuned as I continue to make amends over the coming weeks to all the blogs I keep forgetting when I sit down to write this column.

I missed THE BEAT because I have it bookmarked in my "News" folder instead of the "Blogs" folder. While there is a lot of news broken there -- FLIGHT moving away from Image this weekend, for example -- it's also a very personality-driven site that doesn't shy away from analysis and other random mutterings. Heidi MacDonald deserves a lot of credit for the work she does on the site, and I'm sorry I missed her site last week.

THE HURTING is a tough blog to describe. How do you explain a site that goes from answering Doctor Doom's mail bag (in Doom's voice) to random Mark Trail panels and then to serious comics commentary?

More to come next week. . .

The Pipeline Podcast will be updated again this week. Subscribe to the feed here. Check the Pipeline message board for updates on its status.

You can still hear last week's podcast through the MP3 file. (8 or 9 minutes, ~4.1 MB)

This past week was another insanely busy one for my blog, Various and Sundry. Another podcasting book, JACK radio hits NYC, lots of stupid movies and stupid movie blurbs, a bunch of music llinks, Microsoft makes the right move for once, and more.

The Various and Sundry DVD Podcast continues to look at the week's DVD releases, every Sunday or Monday. Those of you with a podcasting program can subscribe to the feed.

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.

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