FOREWORD IS FOREARMED
Welcome back for the third installment of "The Short Box Chronicles." Click back to read part one and part two of the series. This is a journal of my reading in the past few weeks, as I attempt to catch up on the comics currently backing up a trio of short boxes next to my computer. This covers back issues, recent issues, and new releases in the month of August and into the beginning of September.
The original goal was to read 100 comics. I've read them now, and I hope to get this series completed next week. If I continue to run off at the virtual mouth, however, expect one more installment past that.
Before we get to the reviews, though, might I also recommend checking out the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast when you get the chance? I switched the format up a little bit in the past couple of weeks. I'm now counting down the ten most interesting releases to the direct market each week. Some of the choices are bound to surprise you, including last week's choice of a book that's not even a comic.
OK, onto the comics!
THE SHORT BOX CHRONICLES, PART THREE
These reviews have been lightly rewritten to flesh out the original thoughts, but the more continuity-heavy comments have been left in. You'll see what I mean most in the first couple of reviews, in which I review one mini-series in two sittings.
43 - 46: THE TWILIGHT EXPERIMENT #1 - 4: From Wildstorm and the minds of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, this mini-series is about a second generation of scientifically engineered superheroes attempting to save the planet from an extra-dimensional crisis
It's very plot driven, and it looks like (unfortunately) one of the great characters of the series is changing around just for the sake of the plot at the end of the fourth issue. Part of this might be a limitation of the mini-series format: There's a lot to squeeze in, and some character bits don't make it in because of that. Plus, you can tell Palmiotti and Gray are trying to be New Reader Friendly, with every issue containing plenty of plot repetition to bring up new readers. When it comes time to read the trade, that's going to be annoying for many.
As for the plot: It's The End of The World, global crossings, aliens, governments creating superpowers, conspiracy, mass mayhem... I'm not quite sure what to make of it yet. So far, though, there's not enough style to it to make me excited for it. A strong ending will go a long way towards me giving this book a positive recommendation.
47 - 48: THE TWILIGHT EXPERIMENT #5 - 6: In retrospect, the whole mini-series feels like an exercise in plot mechanics. Can you put all the pieces into play and then pull them all together at just the right moment? Can you save one or two surprises for the end? Sure you can, but it doesn't always make it an exciting story. This book needed another couple of issues, at least, to give it a more organic feel. Some of the relationships don't feel right. It's like they're all being rushed along for the purposes of the plot.
The art from Juan Santacruz is, likewise, solid but unspectacular. There's no fault to be had, generally speaking, with his storytelling or anatomy. Perspectives are on target, and there aren't any obvious cheap shortcuts or theatrics. In the end, though, it's just not memorable.
I don't think I can recommend this one.
50. THE ADVENTURES OF MIA #2: I picked this one up in San Diego this year from animator Enrico Casarosa. It's an anthropomorphic WWII adventure, with an amazing opening scene of a plane flying around. It's always interesting to see comics done from an animator's eye. They use new perspectives that those brought up on comics don't consider.
Casarosa's also a wizard with the gray washing, which I notice more and more black and white comics using these days. This isn't just toning done to spice up a black and white book. This is a very painterly look.
I hadn't read the first issue in a year or more and was able to easily dive into this one. If you can find it anywhere, pick it up and enjoy it on its own merits. If you can find the first issue, too, then you'll be twice as happy.
51. ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1: This is what the monthly title should be more like -- a super-powered romance comic that will appeal to a readership that crosses over between teen superheroes and the female manga readership. There was no huge dramatic conflict in this issue. It was normal people angsting just a bit and taking a long time to have enough space to reach the point everyone knew the story was going to get to. Believe it or not, that's all a compliment. Bendis' dialogue works here, driving Peter Parker and his new girlfriend together in that awkward way that only inexperienced teenagers can manage. (Experienced adults have a completely different yet just as awkward ritual to go through.)
The art from Mark Brooks is solid and fits right into the "feel" of the title. I would have loved to see some more of the inking and tone effects here that were employed on his recent THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN stint, but I don't have any complaints otherwise. We'll get to those comics in a little bit.
52. DEAD WORLD #1: This is a zombie comic from Desperado's wing of the Image Comics group. It would seem this is a remake of a comic from 20 years ago. I never heard of it before this, but a quick web search brings up a fairly long history. I will say this, though: I loved Vince Locke's art. (HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is still near the top of my reading list, just for his art.) It reminds me of a cross between the works of Guy Davis and Gary Gianni. It has a scratchy look that your eyes naturally fill the gaps in. Gary Reed's story is easy to follow, but I'm probably not the target audience for this book.
On the other hand:
54. DEAD WEST OGN: This is the first release from Rick Spears and Rob G's new Gigantic Graphic Novels label. It's a zombie western, which means lots of guns, horses, bars, dust, and a man with no name and a poncho strolling through town. One showdown leads to another and another, while the larger menace skulks in a corner.
I'm not really a zombie fan, per se, but I loved this book on several levels. It's a complete and well-told story from beginning to end. Rob G's art is the strongest here I've ever seen. It's a little chaotic in the larger battle scenes. That suits the mood, even if it keeps all the action from being perfectly choreographed to the reader. Spears gives his tough Clint Eastwood-type character a couple of one-liners that made me laugh out loud. And the Zombies are scary. That's all I can ask for.
The book is done up at the digest size (slightly larger than manga) and is 144 pages long, all of it story. There are no title pages, behind the scenes stuff, or chapter breaks. It's all story. It'll run you $15.
One thing did strike me as ironic, though. Manga-sized books work best with large page counts, smaller page dimensions, and larger panels. Treasury Sized or album format comics work best with small page counts, larger page dimensions, and smaller panels. Rob G doesn't skimp on the panels in this book, but it's really not as small as a manga work, either. The art remains clear even with seven panels on some pages, whereas a manga book might only have three or four.
I don't know. Just thinking out loud.
55 - 56. ACTION COMICS #829-830: I'm sorry I didn't get to see the end of the subplot involving Lois' political enemy that is hinted at near the end of the first issue. Good to see that the INFINITE CRISIS crossovers aren't affecting the continuity of the individual series. ::cough::
That said, both were good issues, although the second was leagues better. When you don't have to be part of a bigger wheel, it's easier to turn the cog. I love Nelson's inks, but think Lary Stucker did a good job over Byrne's pencils, as well.
Gail Simone has a great sense of pacing in her work. The pages are packed with panels and dialogue, but in a day and age where comics are so breezy to read, I didn't resent having actual dialogue -- and captions! -- to read. Nice flow there, with a good sense of humor that didn't overtake the story.
57 - 62. OCEAN #1 - 6: This is a bit of a cheat for The Short Box Chronicles, since I read the first four or five issues once already. However, it's been so long that I had to reread everything to set myself up for the sixth issue. That's why I'm counting all six for this column's purposes.
Warren Ellis gets to do his thing in this mini-series, mixing some love of space flight with wise-cracking hard-nosed characters who get in great one-liners. The dialogue, as a matter of fact, really sparkles in this series. It's crisp, efficient, and snappy.
Chris Sprouse does an amazing job on the art. Karl Story's inks are perfectly suited to Sprouse's art, and Randy Mayor's color scheme is bright. In this day and age, I love a colorist who isn't afraid to color books in such a way that things don't get obscured for useless Photoshop effects.
The only problem with the story is the last issue. Big stuff happens, but I'm not sure exactly what it is that does happen. Either I missed something, or nobody explained what was really going on in the oceans of Europa before triggering it all. I'm just not sure. However, it was a nice action issue with good action bits and beautiful art. I'm willing to accept it on those merits alone.
The trade paperback for this mini-series is solicited in the latest PREVIEWS catalog. To read more about it, check out last week's Pipeline Previews column. The review there might look slightly familiar.
63 - 67. DAREDEVIL #66 - 70: Impressive. There are plenty of stories that have been told non-linearly in the past decade. I think PULP FICTION really popularized the concept for mass entertainment. Lots of comics and even television shows have given it a try. Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev use it to amazing effect in this storyline, complete with different art styles to help separate the eras in the timeline. Maleev drops to pure black and white for the oldest portions, a 1960s/1970s Marvel look for the middle portions (credit to Dave Stewart on the colors there), and his standard style for the modern day bits. Bendis starts the stories in the middle, quite often, and gets back around to answering those questions near the end, all while wrapping the multiple stories around each other and creating a satisfactory read.
Admittedly, this is nit-picking, but I can't help myself: I wish Bendis would stop starting characters' dialogue with "the hell." OK, it's cute and trendy to not say "what the hell" anymore, but it gets overused very quickly.
68 - 72. DAREDEVIL #71 - 75: Bendis and Maleev deserve more Eisner nominations this year. This book is amazing. The first four issues are neatly self-contained one shot stories, the kind we don't often think of when it comes to Bendis, save one issue of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN per year. These are solid, thematically-linked stories. In the finale, Bendis brings them all together and wraps things up in such a nice bow that it makes you curse yourself for not having another issue to read right away.
There's a lot of talking in these stories. There's a lot of speechifying. There's a lot of text to get through. Bendis makes it all move along. This is the sound of his writing voice that so many of us fell in love with. Matt Murdock is treading a dangerous line here, and Bendis writes this title on multiple levels. These characters are deeper than just "costumed crime-fighter" or "lawyer's best friend" or "laywer's one-time wife."
Just impressive work.
Maleev obviously uses photo reference, something I've given Greg Land a rough time over lately. Maleev does it right, though. The refs are guides. His style still screams through it all. Obviously, many backgrounds are Photoshop jobs, but it's all adjusted to his own style. It's not meant to look photorealistic. It's meant to work with his own personal vision. Dave Stewart does an amazing job at tying it all together with appropriate color schemes, unlike any you see in any other Marvel or DC comic. Check out Stewart's work in the flashback sequences in this storyline. You'll see different styles suited to the different stories. It's great to see this level of work being done in comics today.
If ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is my favorite "light-hearted" Marvel comic book today, then this is my favorite "serious" Marvel comic.
73 - 76. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #515 - 518: This is the "Skin Deep" storyline that followed the Gwen Stacey storyline, and led into Peter and crew moving into the Avengers HQ.
I've read a lot of Bendis' stuff over the course of these Short Box Chronicles, including NEW AVENGERS and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. It's easy to get one voice stuck in your head for Spider-Man when you read those. J. Michael Straczynski writes this series, however. His sense of storytelling and humor are different from Bendis', and it took me a couple of pages before I got back into it. I've seen enough of JMS' stories going back to BABYLON 5 by now that I know what that "feel" is, if that makes any sense. It didn't take long to transition back to it.
Straczynski writes denser material. He doesn't rely on the back-and-forth dialogue that Bendis specializes in. Straczynski works with a grand scope, and concentrates on internal monologues and Big Questions. You can see that especially in his science fiction writing, but it also rings true in his comics, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN included. It slows up the reading pace, but doesn't make it any less enjoyable. (It took me about nine minutes per issue to read this, whereas the average Bendis title only takes five minutes.)
The story, itself, is well constructed. It's fairly straightforward with parallel flashbacks to establish the back story of a new character who wreaks havoc in Peter's life in present continuity. Chekov's Law about firing a gun in the third act after placing it in the first is mostly maintained, although there's one big gun that was left unfired at the end. (Mini-spoiler: There's a weakness in the skin coating established in the first conversation about it that is never followed up on. I thought it would be the big ending. It wasn't.)
Mike Deodato's art is nice, but Mark Brooks steals the books with his art. He does the flashback scenes, usually two to four pages at a time, with Peter back in high school. You saw his work recently in the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL, where it was just as strong. I liked it here even better, though, because it uses dot patterns to help with the shading. I love that look, and you just don't see it in comics these days, what with computer coloring approximating the same effect. It appears that the manga books are re-popularizing it, slowly but surely. Inks are by Jaime Mendoza.
77. THE WALKING DEAD #21: Things keep going down a very dark road. And there's sex, too. It's a good issue, but not the kind of issue that has me jumping up and down, begging for the next. That's OK, though. Robert Kirkman has delivered plenty of those already. This issue addressed an issue related to the overall zombie mythology, though, which should please some. There's also more nice art from Charlie Adlard. Letterer Rus Wooton has a couple of baffling balloon placements, though. Otherwise, it's another fine issue.
78. INVINCIBLE #25: Yes, more Kirkman. His appearances in these Chronicles are beaten only by Bendis', I think. Finally, we get a Science Dog story in this issue! Yay! Aside from that, it's a great issue. All INVINCIBLE fans should love this one, especially with the "Secret Origin" backup stories drawn by the likes of Todd Nauck and the Luna Bros. Plus, the main story has a great big surprise at the end of it.
79. DAREDEVIL #76: Bendis said he was going out with a bang, and I have to believe him after this issue. It's too bad he isn't going further down this road with Matt Murdock and crew, because he seems very comfortable on it and there's plenty of ground left to cover. But, really, wow. I love this title.
When this is all done, there will be five (or so) beautiful hardcovers lined up on my shelf that I will definitely reread more than once in the years ahead.
OK, I'm done drooling now.
Pipeline returns next week with the fourth part of The Short Box Chronicles, including looks at FELL #1 and Marvel's great (but overlooked) LIVEWIRES mini-series.
Check the Pipeline message board for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes now, too! You can still hear last week's podcast through the MP3 file. This week's is over here (as of Tuesday night).
Don't forget about the VandS DVD podcast.
More than 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.