Pipeline: Pipeline, Issue #558

Tue, February 19th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

ZORRO #1

Due out this week from Dynamite Entertainment, ZORRO #1 aims to do for comics what, well, Dynamite Entertainment did for THE LONE RANGER in his current incarnation. This is the origin story, as told by Matt Wagner with art from rising star Francesco Francavilla. It never dawned on me before how little I know about the character, very much like my lack of knowledge for The Long Ranger. He has a horse, a mask, and a sword that he brandishes about. Occasionally, he looks like Antonio Banderas and gets trained by Anthony Hopkins, with one a great movie score playing behind him. That's about it.

Wagner's storyline goes into greater depth, introducing us to Zorro as a kid and showing us much of the path that leads to his donning of the mask and blade. He does this without the sort of decompression we saw in THE LONE RANGER. This issue feels a lot more substantial.

Francavilla's art is perfect for this book, appropriate for both the time period of the series and the pulpy feel it needs to have. If you're used to his work from SORROW, beware that the coloring will knock a lot of the fine detail out of his line, but it adds something new to the art, as well. If you liked his art on LEFT ON MISSION, you'll get to see more detail and a softer color palette here. I think the period nature of the comic suits the art. Adriano Lucas colors with earthen tons and a feathery brushstroke. The book looks painted, not computer colored. It's a great final look -- including knocking out a lot of black lines in favor of color -- that adds to Francavilla's art. Sure, I miss the fine black lines, but the storytelling is strong and all the period bits and pieces feel right.

In the end, I don't see why this book can't be as popular -- if not moreso -- than THE LONE RANGER's revival.

CLANDESTINE #1

There's an awful lot going on in the 22 pages of comic book that is CLANDESTINE #1. The book features a large cast of characters, many of whom have had multiple personalities and are related by blood to one another. They were last featured in a series that died nearly a decade ago, with one X-Men crossover mini-series blip on the radar that followed. And now there's a new set of villains out to get them. Writer/Artist Alan Davis had two options: Start from scratch and not care about anything that happened before. Or try to catch new readers up by jamming in as much stuff as possible into the first issue.

The former has the convenience of not being bogged down in continuity or minutia. You wouldn't have to contradict anything that did happen. You shouldn't erase the original issues from existence. You don't want to insult the people who bought the book originally. You just want to start off fresh and leave that in the past.

Alan Davis went with the second option, which meant re-establishing the large cast and setting up some sort of menace to go against them for the next five issues. Most comic writers would balk at such a task. It's a lot of heavy lifting. And Davis has mostly five-plus panel pages heavily laced with dialogue and caption boxes to do it. But it works for me in a way that might just annoy most people. We're used to comics that read quickly these days. Whether it's decompressed storytelling or dialogue that reads so smoothly that you don't trip over it for pages on end, comics are a speedy medium. Davis bucks that trend and gives you something to dig into. You have to pay attention to this book. You might want to refer back to the family tree on the title page, even. While you still might not have your memory fully jogged from the original series -- I know I didn't remember most of it, anymore -- you have enough info to go by in this first issue to get a general feel for the series, its history, and its characters' throughlines.

Some of it is done through sheer exposition. We see the Big Bad Guys viewing the ClanDestine gang and telling one another what they know. It's not as clumsy as I make it out to seem, as the Big Bad Guys are trying to work through just who The ClanDestine are at the same time a new reader might be doing the same. The generational and immortal issues at the heart of the series can really complicate things.

The rest of it is carried in dialogue, occasionally a little stilted and Claremont-esque, but still very informative. Most importantly, it's done in segments. We're not introduced to six characters at a time. Instead, we're following a couple of characters at a go, before one goes off into a scene with another and we learn about them. It doesn't get overwhelming, because Davis is able to streamline it and, in his own way, spoon feed it to us. I like that.

While the hardcover collecting Davis' original run on the series is in stores now, as well, you don't need it. It might help you gloss over some word balloons to have it fresh in your mind, but it's not a necessity. I'll be buying it because I have no idea where my original issues of it are, and because I like having a hardcover lineup of Alan Davis art. But it's not a necessity.

Most excitedly, there's an EXCALIBUR "Cross-Time Caper" crossover coming up on issue #3. We'll see there is Davis can, indeed, go home again. While we've had a few trade paperbacks of that series now, I'd still like a fat juicy hardcover collection for the heart of Davis' run in the 40s and early 50s. Dare to dream.

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND!

No, really, I had one e-mail request for the return of Asterix, and who am I to ignore my readers? (Thanks, Chris E.!)

You know how the Vikings were the first Europeans to set foot on North America?

Asterix beat them to the punch by a day or two.

That's the story of ASTERIX AND THE GREAT CROSSING, in which Asterix and Obelix are lost at sea, land in North America, and make fast friends with the Native Americans already there. Rene Goscinny's plot is not terribly dramatic. There's not much in the way of rising tensions of a series of events that build upon themselves to bring you a moment of outrageous humor or drama. It's straight forward, but it's a wonderful example of Albert Uderzo's cartooning skills. The book focuses on three sets of people, none of whom understand the other. Asterix and Obelix are forced to explain themselves through pantomime. The answers come in similar style. While all of the word balloons are in English (with accented characters to indicate another language/accent), it's the characters' body language that stars in this volume. It's a relatively quick read in comparison to the other ASTERIX books, but one worth picking up. The time I saved in reading it is the time I went back to select pages to marvel at Uderzo's line work.

The best name for this particular tale is the Viking who no doubt speaks in a Sean Connery accent: "Herendethelessen."

ORIGINAL ART: KEVIN MAGUIRE

I might have shown off some of this art before, but I think it's worth looking at it again from a new angle.

Let's take a look back at Marvel's last DEFENDERS mini-series, from the minds of J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen, featuring art from Kevin Maguire. The book was shot straight from the pencils, so the original art is all pencil work, too.

As an art collector, this causes some amount of worry. India ink (or whatever style of black ink the finisher uses) is permanent. It lasts a very long time before fading. Sharpie markers do not last long, and those ink lines fade rapidly. You can spot those inks in a page of original art very easily. Pencil pages are susceptible to general abrasion. It's not like anyone would take an eraser directly to the pages, but that would do more immediate damage to a pencilled page than an inked one.

My solution is fairly simple. I keep these pages in plastic sleeves and don't pull them out all that often. If they were ever framed, UV glass and some separation between art and glass would be essential.

But let's look at the art, itself. I have three samples to show you.

I picked up these pages at the first New York Comic Con. As fate would have it, Maguire was signing just a few tables down from where the original art dealing was selling. I vacillated on which page to get from a selection or three or four. I finally nailed it down to two.

The first is DEFENDERS #1, page 5. I bought it because it has a lot of art on it. While other people collect the splashier action pages, pin-up pages, or art only featuring characters in costume, I live for the talking heads pages. Part of this is practical -- they're cheaper. But I also enjoy having more art on the page. Seeing more storytelling is a good thing. Seeing an artist draw multiple characters on a page instead of just one fighting through it makes the art more interesting to me.

This page is broken up into eight panels in an unusual 2 x 5 grid layout.

Let's start at the top six panels to get a feel for what the page looks like. Keep in mind that this is a scan of the pencil art. I had to darken it up a bit to let more of the lines show through. This is also a necessary task the colorist has to go through in the production process to make sure all the line work shows through before he or she begins coloring. Yes, someone even did that with Joe Mad's art on THE ULTIMATES 3 #1. Some minor detail of the art might be lost from this, but on a 72 dpi computer screen, it's really for the best that I do this to the lines.

Look at the acting on this page. There's more gesticulating and acting and face work in this one sample of art than you'd see in whole issues for lesser artists. Nightmare is just getting started up in this sequence. The whole reason I wound up buying this page is the panel on the bottom tier:

I love that gesture. I love that face. I love those hands. I love Doctor Strange's scoff. Look at the arched eyebrow that's visible despite the fact that this is a profile shot. That's insane!

The second page I bought came from the first issue, as well. It's page 17, and it features more characters. I loved this panel, in particular, of Bruce Banner and Namor, in the heat of another crazy argument:

Note the little action lines off Banner's shoulder. Note the differences in texture between Banner's rough face and Namor's ultra-smooth facade. Look at Banner's hands and how much detail there is in the knuckles and in the folds of skin up the fingers. Banner has lines coming down off his nose, while Namor has striking cheekbones. Maguire's art is filled with a variety of character looks, not just one stock guy with slightly different hair or clothes on.

The only weakness in the art I can point out in these samples is in the line widths. The one thing an inker most often adds to the art work is a variety of line widths. It adds a visual flair to the art, but it's also used to add depth. Thicker lines bring items closer to the reader. Thinner lines recede. While some fine line work has dropped off these scans, the general outlines of characters are often uniform in weight.

In the end, tough, Maguire's reputation for drawing characters with a multitude of emotions holds up true in these brief art samples. And I'm very happy to have a small sampling of that in my collection.

Next week: Scott Kolins' insanely detailed work on THE FLASH.

This week also sees the end of CABLE/DEADPOOL with that series' 50th issue. It's a very funny issue and a great send-off to a beloved character. The text pages in the back are a nice addition, as well. The book is double sized and is fairly accessible even to new readers. Give it a shot. If you like it, there are plenty of trades reprinting the rest of the series.

There's even a Mephisto joke in there for you suffering Spider-Man fans.

The Various and Sundry blog is doing American Idol coverage, tracking the death throes of HD-DVD, discussing LOST and BIG BROTHER, and pointing out the most interesting people in professional bowling. Yeah, it's just another various and sundry week. . .

If you're really interested in what daily news bits grab my attention in the worlds of tech and comics and more, the best way to track is it at the Google Reader Shared Items. Several items are added to that page every day. I'm an RSS feed junkie.

The only social network I regularly appear on is Twitter. It's a very fun place with low overhead and the least number of annoyances of any Web 2.0 site, aside from an unstable infrastructure.

Everything else: The Pipeline Podcast, ComicSpace, and a Tumblr Blog.

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 800 columns -- ten and a half years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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