Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #536

Tue, September 18th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS REDUX

Click here for a preview of "Marvel Comics Presents" #1.
Most of the original MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS was bad. The series existed to give new creators a shot, paired up with stories that might actually attract an audience. And while you'd get Barry Windsor-Smith doing WEAPON X, you'd also get Scott Lobdell writing Captain Ultra stories, or some wood god character written by a young Fabian Nicieza, or a barely-remembered horror character written and drawn by people we haven't seen a credit from since. For every Peter David/Sam Kieth collaboration, there were noble failures, like that Terry Kavanagh/Erik Larsen EXCALIBUR story. Larsen came back later with his own Spider-Man/Wolverine story that was better, but still not quite WATCHMEN II.

Each issue had four eight page stories with no ads for just a quarter more than the standard newsprint Marvel comic. The attraction to the series is that it came out every two weeks like clockwork. Every now and then, you'd have a memorable find, like a John Byrne Rictor story or an early Joe Madureira thing that looked like an Art Adams clone. For the most part, you reveled in the unknown and the frequency of it. You didn't really care about Tiger Shark, but you knew he'd be replaced by Silver Sable next week and there'd be more to talk about. With no ads, each issue was packed to the gills, inside and out. Wraparound covers and inside cover letters columns and tables of content protected 32 straight pages of story.

In the book's absence over the last decade, a strange glow has surrounded it. We remember all the good stuff, and so easily forget the filler material that today would condemn the book to the ash heap snarky on-line commentary. We overlook the time when every issue featured a new Cable story, for goodness' sake! We forget how the book eventually turned into preview magazine for upcoming series, making you pay for eight pages of a comic twice, in effect.

MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS #1 returns this week with a new volume, and it's pretty good. But it's not 48 pages of solid entertainment. There are eight ad pages, first of all, but you are still getting five eight page stories. And those vary in quality and interest. Let's do a quick breakdown:

  1. "Vanguard" is about a New York city police officer who wants the world to enjoy her enormous rack. She also sleeps on her couch in her underwear, ready for action. Also, there's a war going on in the Middle East. I have no idea what this one, written by Marc Guggenheim, is about. It does have a great last panel that made me laugh, and the painted art from Dave Wilkins is very pretty.

  2. "The Girl Who Could Be You" is the contribution from Stuart and Kathryn Immonen. I can't help but feel like a superhero comic book writer who understands fashion and women's clothing is responsible for this one, because the internal dilemma Patty Walker feels when getting changed for a big date night sounds a lot more nuanced and direct than what your typical male superhero writer puts together. It's a fun romp with wonderful art. The last page sets the story in action, and it's to be continued. So far, two stories without an ending.

  3. "Unfriendly Neighborhood" is an imaginary story, basically, from Stuart Moore, but one that made me laugh out loud. Spider-Man is trapped on an alien world where a meeting of the universe's Spider-Men is taking place. Their alien interpretations of Peter Parker's world is filled with good laughs for the knowing fan, and Clayton Henry's art is imaginative and slick.

  4. "Weapon Omega" is part one of 12, and the least interesting story of the bunch. That's a bad sign, isn't it? THREE GEEKS' Rich Koslowski joins the "House of Ideas" for a long form Omega Flight story that so far has me completely lost and confused. I found myself just scanning through the pages after awhile. Not a good sign. Maybe it would help if I had read the recent mini-series? I'm waiting for the premiere edition hardcover on that one. Art here is by Andrea DiVito, late of the much-missed THING series.

  5. "To Love A Man, Not A Monster" is my favorite segment of the issue. It's not much of a story, though. it's Alicia Masters narrating why she loves Ben Grimm and why it's hard for him to be The Thing. It's absolutely nothing original nor does it shine any new light on an old situation. it is, however, heart-felt, new reader friendly, and self-contained. Best of all, Nelson both writes and draws it. I loved his inks over John Byrne's pencils on ACTION COMICS in 2005-2006, even if Byrne didn't. There's a smoothness to his line and a thickness there that not too many artists attempt these days. As it turns out, he's pretty good with the pencils, too. This story should be a great portfolio piece for him. And if only for the art, this is the story that gets my pick of the litter.

Or, in the words of the great Len Biehl, I give that story three claws! Or was his scale out of six claws, total? It's been 15 years. I can't remember all the details of that letters column anymore.

While I have my quibbles and qualms with every story in the bunch, I think MCP is off to a good enough start. It's an anthology title, so you're never going to like every page of it. This issue's signal to noise ratio is high enough to give it a second and third chance. We'll see how a market traditionally cruel to anthology titles welcomes this one.

OVER IN THE DC PLAYGROUND

The JLA WEDDING SPECIAL is another win for Dwayne MacDuffie, whose comeback trail in the world of comics has yet to hit a speed bump. He does a great job in setting up a big cast of characters, creating a credible threat in the modern DC style (beat them up, shoot them, put them near death, rape them), and injecting a fair amount of humor.

It's the humor that jumped out at me in this issue. Bachelor parties in comic books have become great occasions for light comedy with show-stopping twists. Look at Peter David's bachelor party for Rick Jones, for one example. They never end as lightly as they begin. This one is no exception. Amidst the drama there, MacDuffie beautifully parodies previous JLA writer Brad Meltzer in the opening, has Joker spewing one-liners from Al Brooks (as quoted in Chuck Jones' autobiography), and makes Batman funnier than he's been since Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis stuffed word balloons into the cape and cowl. At one point, I was sure we were about to hear "One punch!" all over again.

To complement this all nicely, Mike McKone handles the art. I miss his stuff. He seems to be avoiding me lately, working on books I don't otherwise care about. It was great to see him drawing a wide array of characters for this book, with some nice inking from Andy Lanning keeping things light and not at all over-rendered. McKone's clean and open line remains fluid throughout the book.

This issue is going to bring me back to the Justice League. At this point, I'd follow MacDuffie anywhere. He's batting a thousand.

One more bit of DC loving goes out to SUICIDE SQUAD: FROM THE ASHES #1. For the old-school Ostrander fanboys, this is the title you've been waiting a decade for. Ostrander's original Squad is a modern classic, a blend of superpowers and Cold War politics that were never equaled. And while I enjoyed Keith Giffen's Squad book a few years ago, it wasn't the same and it didn't last long. Now, at least, the original creator returns to the book with the original cast and much the same feel. Ostrander has to work hard to explain Rick Flag's reappearance in CHECKMATE after his apparent death in a very large explosion. While you're not going to get an answer out of this issue, the characters dance around it very nicely with twists and turns to keep everyone -- readers and characters, both -- on their toes.

Javi Pina handles the pencils for the series. He needs some work with keeping his faces from looking either flat or lumpy, but at least he's capable of drawing more than two emotions. In the end, he tells the story and isn't often distracting. I'd prefer some more panel grids and a few less overlaps, but that's picking nits now.

SUICIDE SQUAD: FROM THE ASHES #1 is out in shops now, for just $2.99.

WHO FILLS OUT YOUR COLLECTION?

I had an e-mail volley with iFanboy.com's Ron Richards last week about prolific comic artists and writers. In surveying our collections, we wondered which creators we had followed the longest. Whose work comprised the biggest percentage of our comic collections?

For the sake of argument, we picked a couple of numbers for this exercise, keeping in mind that my collection dates back to 1989, while his goes back a little further:

  • Which writers do we have at least 200 comics (roughly 4400 pages) written by?

  • Which artists (pencilers) do we have at least 75 comics (1650 pages) drawn by?

The numbers there favor more writers than artists, since a writer can do four books a month easily, while an artist often pushes to get one done. The writers list should start at 300 comics, given that ratio, but this is all just for the sake of argument. I'm also assuming a 22 page monthly comic, which also favors Marvel and DC creators nearly -- but not quite -- exclusively. Most manga artists probably laugh at these "small" numbers.

Let's start with the artists:

Erik Larsen: I think I own every comic book he's drawn since he broke into the Marvel/DC arena. It started for me with his AMAZING SPIDER-MAN run, to SPIDER-MAN, to SAVAGE DRAGON, and some other shorter works inbetween. I've also gone back and picked up his DOOM PATROL, PUNISHER, and MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS runs, among others.

Mark Bagley: Made the list on the basis of his run on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. On top of that, I count lengthy runs on NEW WARRIORS, THUNDERBOLTS, and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in my collection. Adding in all the fill-ins and one shots he's done over the years, he is probably the most prolific artist represented in my collection.

Dave Sim: I didn't read all of CEREBUS, but the four phone books should count as enough. Gerhard also should get credit on this list for that feat.

Darick Robertson: TRANSMETROPOLITAN almost single-handedly qualifies him for this list. Add on top of that his NEW WARRIORS work, JUSTICE LEAGUE issues, WOLVERINE, NIGHTCRAWLER, and a few other mini-series.

Jim Lee: Starting with UNCANNY X-MEN/X-MEN and moving on to shorter stints on WILDCATS, MAX FARADAY, SUPERMAN, and BATMAN. Oh, and DEATHMATE. I think that should add up to 75, right?

Carl Barks: I'm not entirely sure. There's no easy way to figure out just how many of his Duck stories I've read, though I suspect it's the majority of them by now, which would be enough to quality him.

John Romita Jr.: After Mark Bagley, he's Marvel's most prolific artist, and a long-standing one at that. Runs on UNCANNY X-MEN, THOR, and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN easily break the 75 issue rule, I'd have to think. Then I could throw in various mini-series to top it all off.

John Byrne: NAMOR, SHE-HULK, NEXT MEN, SUPERMAN, UNCANNY X-MEN, X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS, WOLVERINE, BATMAN/SUPERMAN, FANTASTIC FOUR, WONDER WOMAN, BABE, etc. Come to think of it, I might have more comics in my collection drawn by John Byrne than Mark Bagley. He was also one of the first comic artists whose work I followed from title to title.

Frank Miller: I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read his DAREDEVIL run yet, though I have all the trades. If I don't include those unread books, this gets a little iffier. I don't think SIN CITY, RONIN, and DARK KNIGHT 1 and 2 would add up to enough pages. It'd be close, though. I'm sure the books he's written that others have drawn would put him over the top, but this is strictly an artist's list.

Albert Uderzo: Not quite yet. As soon as I complete my ASTERIX collection, though, the 48 page stories will just tip him over the page count we've defined.

Goseki Kojima: LONE WOLF AND CUB. 28 volumes at nearly 300 pages per. I think that even tops Mark Bagley's page count. I don't need to add in SAMURAI EXECUTIONER or PATH OF THE ASSASSIN.

Eduardo Risso: I didn't include him on the first draft of this list, as I haven't read 100 BULLETS in a while. But then I remembered the overseas material that's been translated for English-speaking audiences. VIDEO NOIRE, BOY VAMPIRE, and BORDERLINE should goose the page count nicely to be included here.

Alan Davis: Nearly makes the list from his EXCALIBUR run, alone. Add in his X-MEN work and all those mini-series he's done at both DC and Marvel (THE NAIL, CLANDESTINE, KILLRAVEN, F4: THE END, SUPERBOY'S LEGION, et. al.) and you have a winner.

The funny thing is, this whole conversation started with a comparison of Top Five Favorite artists. I had a tough time narrowing it down that far, but Alan Davis was the first name that came to mind. I'm happy to see he makes this list.

Who else might be close? Dan Jurgens has a large number of comics in my collection, including lengthy SUPERMAN outings and TEEN TITANS, which was beautifully inked by George Perez. Perez, himself, has to be close. Between AVENGERS, JUSTICE LEAGUE/AVENGERS, and his CrossGen work and BRAVE AND THE BOLD, he might already be there. I don't have his original F4 or Avengers issues in my collection, though, which is all I can imagine holding him back. Ron Lim has to be up there, especially with his SILVER SURFER run.

If I had a real computer database of my collection, this would be easier.

What about writers? From the above list, John Byrne, Dave Sim, and Frank Miller would easily make it.

I'm not entirely sure about Erik Larsen. Add in FREAK FORCE (which was dialogue, not plotting, but I'll count it for the sake of this exercise) and some assorted Dragon-related books and you might get up to 200. He also did short stints on AQUAMAN and WOLVERINE a few years ago. Let's not forget his memorable runs on adjectiveless SPIDER-MAN. I think that might push him over the edge.

Kazuo Koike handily makes it for LONE WOLF AND CUB, plus some of the other manga of his that Dark Horse is in the process of publishing today.

Kurt Busiek: THE AVENGERS, ASTRO CITY, THUNDERBOLTS, NINJAK, SHOCKROCKETS, IRON MAN, UNTOLD TALE OF SPIDER-MAN, CONAN, THE POWER COMPANY, etc. etc. I haven't said this in a long time in Pipeline: Kurt Busiek wins!

Chuck Dixon: Once DC's most prolific writer, his Batman work alone (including BIRDS OF PREY, NIGHTWING, and 100 issues of ROBIN) should push him over the top. Add in books like MARVEL KNIGHTS (I was the only one who enjoyed it, wasn't I?), EL CAZADOR, and SIGIL and 200 issues is a piece of cake. Bah, he was 200 issues ahead of deadline when he left DC for CrossGen.

Fabian Nicieza: There was a time when the man wrote every other Marvel comic in sight. Did I buy enough of them? Probably.

Peter David: I'm missing just a few scant early issues of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Add in X-FACTOR, STAR TREK, and YOUNG JUSTICE and we're all set. I didn't read AQUAMAN and I still have no problem filling 200 comics out.

Chris Claremont: He did 200 issues of X-MEN, didn't the? Even if he didn't, SOVEREIGN SEVEN and assorted X spin-offs will get him there.

Brian Bendis: I've already mentioned ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, but look at what else is on his plate. He's done 50 issues of various AVENGERS titles already, right? All the JINX work. FORTUNE AND GLORY. SAM & TWITCH. DAREDEVIL lasted more than 50 issues. I don't need to include FIRE and DAREDEVIL: NINJA to hit 250 comics, let alone 200. He is perhaps the most prolific writer in my set of long boxes, and I didn't buy a Bendis book until 2000 or so. Most of the writers on this list started way before then.

Mark Waid: THE FLASH, FANTASTIC FOUR, EMPIRE, CAPTAIN AMERICA, FANTASTIC FOUR again, THE FLASH again, CAPTAIN AMERICA again. Not necessarily in that order. KINGDOM COME, IMPULSE, SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT, CRUX, BRAVE AND THE BOLD. Yes, even X-O MANOWAR. That's the problem with this list -- it makes me want to go back and reread everything.

Warren Ellis: TRANSMETROPOLITAN, AUTHORITY, STORMWATCH, GLOBAL FREQUENCY, EXCALIBUR, DV8, GEN13, HELLBLAZER, ULTIMATE GALACTUS TRILOGY, ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR, NEXTWAVE, and more. If that's not 200, there are enough other mini-series (RED, for example) and graphic novels (ORBITER) to push him over. Right?

(Come to think of it, adding in his Superman work, there's a chance that Stuart Immonen makes the artists list above.)

Alan Moore: No collection is complete with Moore's oeuvre. This includes everything ABC-related, on top of WATCHMEN, SWAMP THING, LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, FROM HELL, and SUPREME, plus others I'm sure I've forgotten.

In the years ahead, Joe Casey and Ed Brubaker should join the list. Robert Kirkman will be the next to make it, though. He's approaching 100 issues of WALKING DEAD and INVINCIBLE alone. Add on a couple years' worth of MARVEL TEAM-UP and his ULTIMATE X-MEN run (which I will get around to reading eventually), JUBILEE, CAPTAIN AMERICA, BRIT, and TECH JACKET -- 200 should be a walk in the park for him. The Kirkman Completist (going back to BATTLE POPE) might be there already.

Greg Rucka and J. Torres are both inching their way up the charts here.

Now I throw it open to all of you: Who fills your long boxes? Whose book spines stuff the shelves of your bookcases? Drop by the Pipeline Message Board or drop me a line. I'd like to do a follow-up next week with some more of the prolific creators with fan followings. Just remember the numbers I gave up at the top, and that I'm interested in what you own, not just what the creator has done. I can think of a half dozen creators in each category off the top of my head who could qualify for this list, but I don't own that much of their work.

I know I promised a review of POTTER'S FIELD this week. So here goes: It's a good TV show pitch with nice art. Isn't that what every other review of it has said this week? ::sigh::

And Greg Rucka's PATRIOT ACTS book is fun, but I can understand why some would have problems with it. More on that next week, perhaps.

Now, for a quick list of links to all my Web 2.0 content:

The Various and Sundry blog is my personal home site. This last week: Merv Griffin's Crosswords is a good game show, though not without its flaws. Also: Twitter updates, video game link dumps, SCO goes bankrupt and I stomp on its grave, Belgium has a split week, Nellie McKay promises a new record, and General Hospital has gotten really good!

Everything else: Twitter, Tumblr Blog, The Pipeline Podcast, MySpace, ComicSpace, and Google Reader Shared Items.

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 700 columns -- maybe even 800 -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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