Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #507

Tue, February 27th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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FIRST NOTES ON THE NEW YORK COMIC-CON

Had a great time this past weekend in NYC at the big second NYCC. Things went a lot smoother this year than last year. The crowd control was better, there was more to see, and I generally had a lot more fun. I didn't regret for a moment going back for a second day of the show on Sunday, either.

I did come to one conclusion, though: I don't need any more comic books. Sure, I made a sweep or two through the dealers' section of the convention, but I didn't spend more than a dollar on comics. It was a dollar well spent. I'll be scanning in some hilarious sample pages from it in an upcoming column. That was more of a curiosity item, though, than a "fill the gaps in my collection" item. I don't worry about gaps anymore. That's what trades are for, right?

Instead of comics, I enjoyed spending two days with friends who I really only ever get the chance to talk to at comic book conventions. That's the fun of con season for me, and that's what I did for two solid days.

However, the late Saturday night followed by a full day of Sunday activity means I ran out of time to write up a con report. Plus, I have pictures I'd like to include. The Jacob Javits Center, itself, is an awesome spectacle to behold from the inside. So I'm begging your patience this week. I'll be back next week with a full write-up and a few pictures.

Keep your eyes and ears out this week, though. You might just see me over in some other blogs/podcasts.

In the meantime, here's something I think might be of interest to quite a few of you, followed by a few quick one-liners:

THE MIGHTY AVENGERS BEGINS

For a man who has said that he's not terribly comfortable doing team titles, Brian Bendis sure works wonders with MIGHTY AVENGERS #1, due out in stores next week. It's his strongest team book outing yet. This comes from someone who generally enjoyed his short ULTIMATE X-MEN run, and is currently enjoying NEW AVENGERS.

Tony Stark has taken to reforming the Avengers in the wake of Civil War, and he's drafted Carol Danvers to take the lead. It's a smart choice, given his point of view. She has military training and fell on the winning side of the recent struggle. In this first issue, Stark is at her side to guide her through picking out her team, and following along as they have their first scrape with a series of monsters in the streets of Manhattan.

The story runs along two tracks. In the past, we see Stark and Danvers creating the team, running down a list, character-by-character, of recruits for the Avengers. Along the way, we get a simple and limited bit of text info to explain the character, along with strong dialogue back and forth between Danvers and Stark as they outline the reasons for each inclusion. This is where Bendis shines, not surprisingly. The dialogue is crisp and the banter is rapid. You're not just getting an info dump to bring new readers up to speed, though it does help with less familiar characters like The Sentry and Ares. You're also getting a sense of the relationship between these two lead Avengers, and I find that most interesting. Bendis slyly includes a page to indicate that Stark's loyalties aren't as cut and dried as you might think. It's very well done.

The thing that will stand out to modern comic readers the most with this issue is the return of thought balloons. That's right - I said thought balloons. They make their return to Marvel Comics here. Bendis doesn't use them as they were once conventionally used. Mostly, they were equivalents of the caption box, giving us running internal narratives from one character's point of view. They were almost always expository, and that's something modern storytelling doesn't do well. Everything is dialogue-based now.

Bendis uses the thought balloons to do something that comics can't do, but movies can. It comes down to one of the cardinal rules of storytelling - every character is a liar. They say what they think the other character wants to hear. They'll be nice to someone they hate to avoid conflict. They'll deny their feelings for the sake of not creating an awkward situation. They'll agree for the sake of being agreeable. In a movie, a subtle gesture or a quick camera cut can give the viewer the information they need to know that the character isn't entirely truthful. In comics, it's a lot harder. There's only so much page space, after all, and adding in the extra panels or relying on your artist to convey a very subtle and tricky direction just isn't feasible. So Bendis brings back the thought balloon. He uses it to show the readers the times that the speaking character is having a thought track divergent from his or her spoken track. Those doubts that character A has about character B are expressed not in the dialogue, which is all very much on the surface and shallow, but internally, as it so often happens in real life. Bendis is a very smart man.

The only question is, how will the readership react to this new tool's sudden inclusion? I'll be honest; it sticks out like a sore thumb throughout the book. But I enjoyed it for what it brought to the table as far as storytelling techniques go. I'm sure it's something I'll grow used to. It's something that's a specific style for this specific book, and I think that's a good idea. I don't think it'll work everywhere, but on a new book like this, Bendis is taking his chance.

It's also a much lighter book. After months of grim and gritty war stories, it's nice to have a more traditional Marvel Comic where a group of superpowered heroes are teamed up to fight the big bad monsters in the middle of New York City. And the dialogue is often light-hearted. There are a lot of jokes in this book, many of them Inside Baseball for Marvel fans, but not at all impossible to penetrate for new readers.

My only real qualm with the entire book is the last page, which starts pandering to some of the basest elements of the comics readership. The new character could have been introduced in a much, er, subtler way. Instead, it's something ripped straight out of the mid-90s playbook of exploitation and conveniently-placed shadows. It sticks out like a sore thumb in a book that's otherwise fairly light-hearted and all-ages friendly. But, hey, WIZARD will like it.

Frank Cho's art is getting better. My initial impression of it in the pages of Marvel Comics was that he's a comic strip artist attempting to learn what it's like to tell a story on the canvas of a full page. There were a lot of mid-range shots, talking heads, and stiff full figures. While some of the talking heads pages are a little static, he's definitely improving. First off, Bendis let him have fun by giving him a script dominated by double-page spreads of Avengers fighting monsters. For Cho, this has to be comics nirvana. That's a big help. With that help, Cho is able to go in and add to his toolbox of storytelling, with bigger establishing shots, more close-ups, and a greater variety of angles in his panel work. There are some dynamic panels in this book, and that doesn't take away at all from Cho's ability to sell dialogue with strong faces and expressions.

Finally, good job to Dave Lanphear, who had quite the workout lettering the Bendis script. Forget about the inclusion of word balloons for a minute and take a look at all the rapid dialogue running down pages, along with bold character labels, techno-jargon from Iron Man, and more. It tired me out just thinking about lettering all of this stuff, and Lanphear made it look easy and even bouncy, in spots. There's some nice variations in the balloon tails and connectors.

The first issue of THE MIGHTY AVENGERS runs 38 story pages and is available next week at your local comics shoppe. Marvel fans of all stripes should give this one a shot. There is fall out from CIVIL WAR being dealt with in this book, but Bendis gets the team up and running in a most entertaining fashion from the get-go. You won't be complaining here that he took six issues just to form the team. He zagged when you thought he was going to zig. And that's good news for all of us.

QUICK THOUGHTS

  • No better news has crossed my desk this year than that of a third WHITEOUT mini-series. Let's all wish Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber a happy return back to the South Pole.

  • News of an ABSOLUTE WILDC.A.T.S volume from the con last weekend, though, was pretty cool. No, those aren't the greatest comics of all time, but it'll be fun to see Jim Lee's artwork from that period blown up to that size.

  • Remember, kids, that piracy is wrong. But you might like this clip of a younger Jim Lee, anyway. This clip came from the Stabur line of interviews that Stan Lee did with the likes of Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Chris Claremont, and many more. I treasured the few I owned back then. I wish they'd compile them onto DVD now. They'd make a quaint collector's item for the historically-minded amongst us.

  • From the I Couldn't Make This Up If I Tried Department: The new editor in chief at Wizard Entertainment comes from the late men's magazine, FHM Magazine. He previously worked at WIZARD. Welcome to the publishing industry cycle. What goes around, comes around. I imagine working at WIZARD would make you qualified for editing duties at an FHM, though, and vice versa.

  • Clearly, I'm the only comics fan on-line who watched THE JANICE DICKINSON MODELING AGENCY. Just a couple of weeks back, one of her new clients was the International Fight League. They were looking to hire a couple of her models to be ring girls. And who was amongst the executives in her offices to have a look at potential ring girls? WIZARD head honcho Gareb Shamus.

  • Brian Hibbs nails it with his review of CIVIL WAR #7. I think we agree on most every point, but I think he better articulates some of the points I was attempting to make in my review last week.

  • If you didn't hear my interview with Peter David back in October, go listen to it now. I'll wait. We talked about bowling in the interview and how there aren't that many comics set in bowling alleys. David wasn't kidding when he said he would use one in his Spider-Man title. Check out the May solicits:

    FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #20

    Written by PETER DAVID

    Pencils and Cover by TODD NAUCK

    Peter begins to follow the threads that could lead to his greatest nemesis. But that pales next to the shocking development of Flash Thompson, the fastest jock alive, going on a date with the mysterious and menacing Miss Arrow. A date that will lead to them all to the most shocking destination of all: A local bowling alley!

    32 PGS./Rated A …$2.99

    Also, if you want to see the "After" picture of the dieting Peter David, I can give you no better resource than the iFanboy Video Podcast interview with him from a couple of weeks back.

  • Another May solicit is the TELLOS book. If you're not reading Mike Wieringo's blog regularly, you might have missed the beautiful cover artwork for it.

  • I've had some positive reaction to my Blue Sky idea for putting the fun back into Marvel in last week's column. Thankfully, an "I'm With Augie" campaign did not erupt out of this one. Joe Quesada's job is safe. Seriously, my concept would not sell any comics in the Direct Market. Without an outside distribution system, it's dead in the water. But thanks, as always, for your support.

  • I'll be darned if Jeff Parker doesn't offer up more evidence for why my plan would make for a lot more fun in the Marvel Universe, though.

I'll be back next week with, as previously mentioned, a full report from this past weekend's NYCC. By then, you'll all be neck deep in Wonder Con reports. Sorry about that.

My blog, Various and Sundry looks like a lot of Reality TV show reviews with sporadic tech/geeky things thrown in.

Here are the links to my MySpace page and my ComicSpace page.

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