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Tue, May 13th, 2008 at 1:58pm PDT | Updated: May 13th, 2008 at 1:59pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

DAVE SIM RETURNS

Who doesn't like a good high concept comic? Take a standard crime tale, for instance, and throw in talking monkeys. Make it a thriller, but set it on a space station. And then the aliens come in! Or maybe it's a vampire let loose in a world with two suns, or a romance between two monsters.

But there's another kind of high concept comic. It's the kind of comic where the storytelling is high concept. A 24 Hour Comic might be one. A landscape-formatted comic would fit in. (Remember "Marvelscope?" I'm the only one who misses it.) Dave Sim's "Glamourpuss" #1 would fit the bill, too, and it's on sale now at finer comic shops everywhere. This isn't a narrative comic with sequential storytelling. This is something completely different from literally any other comic on store shelves today. In fact, it's at its strongest when it isn't trying to tell a story. When it's merely Dave Sim narrating his artistic thoughts, it's at its most interesting.

Let me take a step back and try to explain what the comic is. "Glamourpuss" is Dave Sim creating a new art style for himself, 20 pages at a time. He's doing it in full view of the public by publishing this book every other month. He's going back to the fine-lined photorealistic artists he admires so much from classic adventure comic strips of 50 and 60 years ago. He's literally tracing those drawings and trying to recreate them as best he can. The genius part of it comes from his narration. Sim discusses the artwork, itself, and his process in trying to replicate it. He discusses the school of art that it's all part of, the people who wielded it, and how it has aged over the years. Sometimes, the narration comes out of word balloons in the characters' mouths. Sometimes it's just in caption boxes. It doesn't matter. It's all Sim. And it's deeply insightful. If you're a process junkie, this is a great book for you. I couldn't ask Dave Sim to do a COMMENTARY TRACK based on this book. The whole boook is a commentary on itself. And that, my friends, is a high concept.

Along the way, he tries to inject a narrative. It has something to do with fashionable girls in vintage clothes who are models. I don't know. That's not the point of the book to me. I skimmed through those parts just to get back to the artsier parts. I can admire the art on those pages and ever the graphic design of the pages and their layouts. But the story does nothing for me, though I think it's supposed to be humorous or satirical. That portion falls flat, but the rest of the book is so strong that I don't mind spending three dollars just for it.

The one big disappointment I have with the book is in the lettering. Sim is one of the best comic book letterers of all time. Period. In "Cerebus," his lettering gave the characters a personality. Nobody since Sim has dared to try what Sim did with his hand lettering. Paul Grist can ape the general look of Sim's lettering, but doesn't attempt to convey the character of the letterforms and the way they mutated to mirror a character's emotional state or accent. For "Glamourpuss," Sim uses a computer font. It's a good font -- Comicraft's "Joe Kubert." But it's still static cold computer lettering ill-adjusted to the caption boxes it sits in on top of finely detailed pen and ink work. Every now and then, Sim draws some letters by hand. When he does, it's a breath of fresh air. The lettering matches the art and adds character. It's like everything fits together at last. Sadly, those moments are few and far between.

As a process junkie and an admirer of the older photorealistic school of art that Sim is recreating in this book, I'm very excited about it. I can't wait for the second issue to come out, and I hope Sim can eventually pick up the pace and make the book monthly. As always, Sim's book is self-published through Aardvark-Vanaheim in black and white. This issue will run you three bucks. Pick it up today.

HOLMES AGAIN

The easiest joke in the world to go for is "Sherlock Holmes was a druggy." It's a simple shortcut to a complicated character. If you haven't read the original Sherlock Holmes tales, I highly recommend them. Most bookstores will have a complete collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works fairly cheap. There's countless hours of fascinating reading ahead of you, if you choose to go there. It takes a story or two to warm up to the language and the writing style, but it's worth the effort to get there.

Sherlock Holmes has been remade countless times in many different media. Most recently, AiT/PlanetLar published a collection of Omaha Perez's independent comic mini-series, "Holmes." It's a relatively thin four part series in black and white and it's available now for just $12.95. It may not be the greatest Holmes take of them all, but there's a manic energy and crazy cartooniness to it that I enjoyed a lot.

In "Holmes," we have the tale of the missing head of composer Joseph Haydn. Holmes, of course, is on the case. More than just the drugs, though, this Holmes is a manic and paranoid man, not afraid to call out any suspicious suspects on the chance that they are his dreaded foe, Moriarty. Nor does his madness always have a point. He's also not always right, though he's convinced that he is. It's played for laughs, as a combination of Holmes' excessive ego and quick jump to conclusions sends him careening through the lesser areas of London. I was about halfway through the book by the time I caught on to it all, but I went on to enjoy it a lot. Perez makes a fool of Holmes, and Watson is there to wrangle him and apologize for him as best he can, but even he comes up short. Watson acts more like a caregiver for a mentally ill man here, than an assistant to the world's greatest detective.

It is not a terribly respectful and authoritative take on the character. It is, however, wicked good fun with a dark sense of humor. It's not quite "Sherlock Holmes Meets Inspector Gadget," with Watson as Penny doing all the true detective work. But you might see some similarities.

Perez's art is rough. The storytelling is fine, but the art style has that rough independent feel you get from newer artists still learning how to draw characters who move fluidly. It looks a little bit like Kevin O'Neill's work, but not nearly as polished or mature. You won't buy the book for the art, but it's not like it gets in the way. There is, however, a very nice short section in the middle of the book done in a scratchboard style that includes a cameo by Cerebus.

The lettering is straight from the freebie section of Blambot.com, which means it'll be very familiar for you. Lots of creators have used it in the past. It's just not my favorite font. Worse, the balloons are all perfectly circular, the tails are too fat, and even the balloon connectors lack character. OK, I'm the only person who's going to mention that in his review of this book. I'm a lettering nut, I admit it. But it did nothing to make his art look better, I'm sorry to say. . .

"Holmes" is not a perfect book, but it held my interest and attention for the course of the short volume, and I'd welcome a second volume down the line. Clean up the art and lettering problems and you might have a serious surprise hit on your hands.

SKRULL TALK

"The Mighty Avengers" might as well just be called "Secret Invasion Companion." With all the main characters off in the pages of the crossover, Bendis is busy creating a new team and filling in the blanks. Issue #13 is the recruitment issue, as Nick Fury recruits someone to recruit a team of unknowns (who are all related to known superheroes and villains) to do something shady and unexpected at, no doubt, a crucial time.

The problem is, it takes an entire issue to introduce us to a half dozen new characters in small two and three page chunks. By the end, it feels like not a whole lot happened to get us to where we are.

John Byrne's "Star Trek: Assignment Earth" series for IDW has a show-stopper of a page in its first issue, in which he introduces a cast of characters all at once on a single page with a quick headshot of each with a load of text next to each picture to explain who they are. It stops the momentum of the issue dead in its tracks and gives the reader an unnecessary moment of tedium to slog through. I skimmed it and moved on.

This issue of "The Mighty Avengers" is wrong in the exact opposite way. Maybe it'll work better as a chapter in the collected edition, but as a comic of its own, I'm afraid it feels too thin. There are some nice moments, but they're lost in the wait for something interesting to happen. I almost wish Bendis had started the issue with the team already gathered, thrown in one brutal page of exposition a la Byrne and just moved on with the plot.

"Secret Invasion" #2, meanwhile, is a great issue on a couple of levels. First, it focuses on the fight between the two teams of Avengers, and it's something Bendis has a lot of fun with. The 70s Luke Case, in particular, gets a laugh from his every line of dialogue. (It's all "Word.") The massive chaos and confusion can be felt here, without the need for some omnipotent narrator to explain it all. It works well.

But, best of all, we have the return of a character long thought dead. I'm just enough of a fanboy to be enormously happy to see her back in the Marvel Universe. While it's possible that she could still be a Skrull. I don't think she is. I think this really is a character's return to the mainstream of Marvel. And I'm glad to see it. I can't talk about it more without spoiling it, however. Drat!

The last sequence brings us back to NYC, where the invasion of the Skrulls is just beginning in highly dramatic cliffhanger fashion. My only question is, what happened with those two silent repeated panels? Was some dialogue accidentally dropped during the production process? Did something change between the two panels that I missed? I didn't see anyone's eyes suddenly turn green or anything. . .

A SURPRISE FROM MARVEL

"American Dream" #1 is the start of a new five part mini-series set in Tom DeFalco's "Spider-Girl" Universe. (What do we call it? The DeFalco-verse? The Marvel Next Universe?) This is the story of Shannon Carter, a small town girl turned super gymnast superhero. She's a full time Avenger who sacrifices her personal life for the life of a costumed Avenger. De Falco touches on the issues she has with letting her work get in the way of having any kind of social life, while giving us a superpowered villain to drive the plot into traditional fisticuffed hijinks. What DeFalco does best is create a narrative that is super easy to follow. The dialogue in the book gives the reader everything he or she needs to know to follow the story and then some. The plot gives us a character to root for and sympathize with. The danger she faces is clear and present.

Sound effects, thought balloons, and captions work together to bring you a book that in some ways feels like a product of the mid-1980s, but it's a style that works. It's clear and entertaining. Even for someone like me who doesn't follow "Spider-Girl" and that title's related spin-offs, this book is a blast to read through.

The bonus surprise of the series is that the art is done by Todd Nauck. He's a perfect pick for the title. He excels at drawing good superheroic action, with a specialty in teenaged characters. He gets that in spades with this book. This is the perfect title for him, which is why it's so easy to see him excel with it.

I'm just afraid the book might get lost on the shelves, so I wanted to review it here this week. It might not be the flashiest book or the most modern or the most awe-inspiring. It's just good a good read that's easy on the eyes. Give "American Dream" #1 a chance if you see it on your store shelves this week.

Next week: The return of the original art feature. I mean it this time. The art is scanned in and everything!

The Various and Sundry blog carries on. This is the week that I attempt to sell out, putting the blog up for sale for two million dollars. So far, I've had no takers. It's only a matter of time, really. . .

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 -- nearly eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

TAGS:  glamourpuss, american dream, secret invasion, holmes, mighty avengers

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