THIS IS NUMBER SIX HUNDRED
I've now officially written more of these columns than "Punisher: War Zone" sold movie tickets. (Lawyers: This is an exaggeration for humorous effect. Please do not sue. Thanks.)
Pipeline isn't going away anytime soon. I'm looking forward to the 1000th column, in fact, sometime in late 2016. Thanks for stopping by again. And special thanks for all the support behind the scenes at CBR for getting this column looking pretty week in and week out, specifically Stephen, Andy, and Jonah.
The promised nostalgic trip back to a somewhat-forgotten series of the 90s will come next week. For this week, I wanted to talk more about today's comics, tomorrow's books, podcasts, collections, crossovers, old favorite, upcoming westerns, the rising costs of comics and comic subscriptions, etc. It's a nice capsule for some of the discussion points of the day, and many of the themes I've covered in this column in the recent past.
Plus, some of it had to get published this week, for timing's sake. So we'll look back next week. This week, let's take a look at some other things.
SECRET INVASION HAS ENDED (SPOILERS)
It's time for the "Secret Invasion" post-mortem, isn't it? My overall opinion is going to be tilted in a negative direction for one creative choice at the end. I admit this is a snap judgment, and might need refining with a re-read of the overall series. So let me get the good points out of the way first:
Brian Bendis told a sprawling tale that's larger than anything you or I could likely conceive of, let alone write a beat sheet for. I can't imagine the notebooks he's filled and the timelines he's had to work out for this thing to make sense. The stack of "research" comics that needed reading had to be enormous. Through the companion stories in "Mighty Avengers" and "New Avengers," we see all that work laid out on the page. Some of those stories proved to be the highlights of the event, as Bendis told short done-in-one style stories that filled in the gaps of Skrull invasions and showed us how characters were replaced along the way, along with glimpses inside the Skrull invasion. Some worked better than others and the real continuity nuts have probably blogged their quibbles already, but it worked well enough for me.
Leinil Francis Yu's artwork took on a new look, thanks to inker Mark Morales. Shooting from inks instead of pencils worked well, though I did enjoy the rougher direct-from-pencil look, too. "Secret Invasion" never looked rushed. Yu made it through eight issues in eight and a half or nine months. That's right -- this was the crossover event that shipped on-time, barring a two week delay at the end due to a longer script. There was no "Civil War" or "Final Crisis" meltdown here, and there's just as much work put into it. Yu had plenty of characters to draw across his pages, editorial had a ton of tie-ins to consider and time out (though a book or two slipped out early in the last couple of weeks, i.e. "Thunderbolts"), and Bendis had a lot of timeline juggling to do.
It's an impressive accomplishment.
And, from a silly fanboy's point of view: Hawkeye and Mockingbird are reunited! Yay!
So here's the problem I have with the last issue and, thus, "Secret Invasion" as a whole: It ends on the wrong note. Yes, this is a big dumb superhero comic. Of course the end result will be kick-'splode-boomtastic. It's disappointing that the covert actions and mind games of the earliest issues got tossed aside for a three issue fight scene, but this is a superhero crossover from a Big Two company. If you don't like this type of thing, you went to the wrong place to start.
It's "Dark Reign" that rubs me the wrong way. The finale of "Secret Invasion" #8 would work well as a threatening coda to the series. If it were just a hint of things to come, I'd love it. If it was just a downbeat ending to a successful superhero slugfest, it would provide an ironic counterpunch. Something like this could slowly seep into the Marvel Universe in the year ahead, and cause lots of readers to second-guess lots of things they see that the heroes don't see. (Hmmm, sounds like the set-up to "Secret Invasion," doesn't it?) It's the kind of thing a gifted writer would wring his hands over in the dark, as a flashlight uplights his face and he mutters "mwah ha ha" under his breath.
Instead, it reads like "Secret Invasion" was an eight issue set-up to "Dark Reign." It's Yet Another Special Event on top of Yet Another Special Event. And that takes away from some of the stirring parts of the final "SI" issue (specifically, The Wasp's death and Baby Jones' abduction). Something that might have been a running theme in the Marvel Universe is now just The Next Big Story with Assorted Spin-offs and Expensive One Shots. That next big story is wide open for cool stuff to happen. I thought that of "Civil War and "Secret Invasion" before they turned out to be New Paradigms that weren't fully explored before the magician told us to look the other way while he fetched a new rabbit to wow us with.
It's not that "Secret Invasion" was a bad mini-series. It was an impressively large-scale effort that allowed for some great side stories, set up some wonderful new directions for characters, and had classic superhero moments in it. I just can't see it as being anything special, or anything all that different from "Civil War" or, most likely, "Dark Reign." Or "Batman R.I.P.," or whatever big event is happening in the Superman titles now. . .
Now, I'm just waiting to see if Magneto attacks Spider-Man in a junkyard next month. I also wonder if enough of my readership was reading comics during "Acts of Vengeance" to get that joke.
COWBOYS AND MONSTERS, DYNAMITE STYLE
"Dead Irons" is the next new series at Dynamite Entertainment, telling a western tale with horror leanings. While most new western comics these days can't help but include supernatural elements, "Dead Irons" makes the mix interesting, without making it seem like a thin layer pasted on top for the sake of exciting the genre buyers who would never buy westerns, just monster comics. Heck, I think the last Supernatural Western that I enjoyed without reservation was likely "Desperadoes," by Jeff Mariotte and ("The Lone Ranger" creative guru) John Cassaday.
"Dead Irons" is the story of a sibling crew of bounty hunters who happen to have horror monster powers -- one's a vampire, one a ghost, one a werewolf. The fly in their ointment is that there's another cowboy out there working against them, and it's their brother. Writer James Kuhoric skips around a bit in this book, from an opening teaser to an opening action sequence to the obligatory "Here's How This Character's Childhood Was Screwed Up and How That's Made Him Who He Is Today" sequence. He manages to introduce all of the characters and their powers, to one degree or another, in the course of this opening chapter. The dialogue is lean and filled with character, sounding appropriately 19th century west without hobbling the reader by forcing him or her to deal with atrocious accents or bizarre jargon.
Jason Shawn Alexander's art is the star of the book. It's scratchy, occasionally impressionistic, but never hard to follow. Jae Lee is listed as the art director for this series, much in the same mold John Cassaday carved out for "The Lone Ranger." I never thought of it before, but Lee and Cassaday have a lot in common with their art. It's not the raw art, but the storytelling styles. There's a lot of cinematic widescreen panels in this book. There are a number of moments that feel like a camera is pushing in on the action or panning along it. Those multiple panels and cinematically-inspired storytelling feel a lot like "The Lone Ranger" and even "Zorro." It's almost as if a small Dynamite house style is showing itself now.
Alexander splashes ink across the page, reminiscent of parts of Jae Lee's career. There are also a few silhouettes which reminded me briefly of Lee's earlier comic days on "Namor," where everyone became a shadowy silhouette and the storytelling was lost. Here, thankfully, it's the grown up version of that look, with actual storytelling chops. As with Lee's art, the color provides a crucial component to the overall look of the book, adding mood with spare coloring. Alexander, though, is an even better storyteller than Lee, whose art in the current Stephen King books at Marvel often looks prettier than it functions as a storytelling device. Alexander also has the advantage of coloring his own work, which I'm sure is a help.
As a first issue, there's a lot to be interested in. There's not a complete story here, but there's enough to chew on that you'll know what the series is about. As the series progresses, the characters will no doubt come together and the fireworks will start. I'm looking forward to that.
Dynamite won't be releasing "Dead Irons" #1 until February, so it's not too late to place your orders for it today. Your retailer will be placing his or her orders soon. . .
TWO QUICK THINGS I'VE READING
Birthday boy Erik Larsen released "The Savage Dragon" #140 not too long ago, and I'm happy to see the series is really picking up steam. He still has some loose ends to clean up to bring the series into greater focus, but the increased publication schedule is helping the book gain back the momentum that it lost so long ago.
Credit also goes to new series colorist, Nikos Koutsis, who does a great job giving the series a new look without overpowering it. The colors are a little more sculpted, textured, and dark than has been the norm of the book in the last 15 years, but I'm enjoying it a lot. Also, Tom Orzechowksi is on board as letter, and his trademark bouncy lettering is on better display here than it is over on "Spawn" right now.
I also finished "Tom Strong" Volume 3 recently, and was thrilled to see it returning more to the form of the stories in the first volume. The anthology nature of the book was toned down in favor of an overall story arc that pleasantly brought back a lot of characters from the first two volumes of the series. Great art, fun characters, pulpy high adventure wackiness in the form of alien ant invasion. And a Russian woman whose command of English is hilariously off-kilter, showing Alan Moore's love for the use of language in his stories. Who could ask for anything more? Plus, lots of solid Chris Sprouse artwork!
Flipping ahead to Volume 4, I see Moore starts with a three-part story introducing a different Tom Strong-type character. Ugh. I'm going to keep plowing through, though. At least the three-parter features Jerry Ordway's art. It'll be nice to look at, if nothing else.
ANOTHER COST SAVING MANEUVER: SUBSCRIPTIONS
In response to my recent complaints about the increasingly prohibitively high cost of comics, Billy Parker brought up the idea of subscriptions over on the the Pipeline message board. Marvel still offers them. They're cheap. They come straight to your home. And they're fairly timely. You might have some issues with bent corners, but if you're not a collector worried about mint condition, it sounds like a viable option.
Last week, Todd Allen did yeoman's work in sifting through sales figures and presented an astounding number: "Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man" is clearing 31,000 copies a month in subscriptions. It's barely on the radar in the direct market, but it's a hit in the subscription base. We always knew the market for these "Adventures" comics was outside of the direct market. I always assumed it was bookstore newsstands or digest-sized compilations.
Now we know: They're huge in subs. I'm almost ashamed now to say that the CBR holiday gift-giving guide didn't include "Subscriptions to Kid-Friendly Comics." It's such an obvious idea, but nobody thinks about it anymore, because it's well-hidden. How long has it been since Marvel or DC included a house ad in their comics for subscriptions? Marvel tried it with some ridiculously good deals when the Ultimate line first started. But the day of every comic having subscription information for the company's entire line seems ten to fifteen years out of date.
RECENT PODCASTS I'M LISTENING TO
- John Siuntres interviews Alex Ross over on Word Balloon. Ross is not a regular podcast interview subject, so he's worth a listen.
- The guys at iFanboy have a great two hour long interview with Marvel Marketing Maven, Jim McCann. Just be warned: They talk about "Secret Invasion" #8.
- The Comic Geek Speak clan begin their look at the Giffen-era "Justice League" series with the first issue, as part of their new "Footnotes" series. I immediately cracked open the first hardcover to relive the excitement all over again. It's fun stuff that never gets old, no matter how many times I've read it.
- THE PIPELINE PODCAST: I love the sound of my own voice. Actually, I don't, but I thought I should mention it here because I successfully produced one this week.
- 10. Looney Tunes #169
- 9. Haunted Tank #1 (of 5)
- 8. Criminal 2 #7
- 7. Jonah Hex #38
- 6. Boys #25
- 5. Mice Templar HC Vol 1 The Prophecy
- 4. Supergirl Cosmic Adventures In The 8th Grade #1
- 3. Marvels Eye Of Camera #1 (of 6)
- 2. Astonishing X-Men HC Vol 2
- 1. Secret Invasion #8 (of 8)
Seriously, "Looney Tunes" has been around for 169 issues. That's impressive. Does DC offer subscriptions to it?
What I'm listening to next: The TwoMorrows Tune-In Podcast #15 features an interview with CBR's own George Khoury. They're talking about his Alan Moore work on the podcast, but George will always be the Image Comics Scholar in my mind.
Slightly off-topic, but I have no other convenient place to mention it: Congratulations to stalwart blogger and comics retailer Mike Sterling, who's now been blogging daily on ProgressiveRuin.com for five straight years. Ladies and gentlemen, that's the kind of content production that could drive someone to a love of Swamp Thing chalk. . .
ANOTHER OPEN LETTER TO MARVEL
Adjectiveless "Spider-Man." Also known as "McSpidey." There is a trade paperback from a couple years back collecting the first storyline. But McFarlane did more than that, including a great Ghost Rider/Hobgoblin two-parter, a Wendigo/Wolverine five-part arc with a large number of inkers due to McFarlane's baseball-busted hand, a two-part Morbius storyline that featured the black costume, and the "X-Force" crossover. That's fifteen issues right there. On top of that, Erik Larsen did the great "Revenge of the Sinister Six" storyline that's in a long out of print trade, along with a one-shot issue with the Beast that's never been reprinted.
McFarlane's name is in the comics press again now, with his new run on "Spawn." Talk to marketing. They should piggy-back off that.
I think you have three or four premiere edition hardcovers right there. Maybe an "Omnibus." I've got a few dollars in Amazon points to spend. Take them from me. Please.
-Augie De Blieck Jr.
Pipeline World Headquarters, USA
ONE LAST NOTE
The first such book is called "Grailpages", by Steven Payne, which is due out in March. The subtitle is "Original Comic Book Art and the Collectors", and it lets original art collectors discuss their passion in their own words, and detail their collections, which range from a few pages by their favorite artist, to “theme” collections. . .
There are so many great comics-related podcasts now, that we’re bringing out a new book next May called "The Comic Book Podcast Companion," by Eric Houston. It goes behind the scenes of ten of today's top comic book podcasts, by interviewing the casts of Around Comics, iFanboy, Comic Geek Speak, and others that are leading the way in our hobby.
I guess that's the sound of the cat officially being let out of the bag. I had a delightful hour and a half chat with Eric for the book not too long ago, and am honored to be a part of it. I can't wait to see what everyone else talked to him about.
I'm also looking forward to the original art book. While it looks like my days of collecting original art are behind me, I still enjoy that aspect of the hobby, and love hearing stories from collectors finding one of their Grail Pages.
(Credit to Johanna, whose blog originally pointed me to the interview.)
Next week: That unnamed series. The good news is that this extra week should give me a chance to do more scans to accompany the text.
The Various and Sundry blog covers the week's new DVDs (perhaps you want that Batman movie this week?), a request for audience stories from "Don't Forget the Lyrics," and more.
My Twitter stream flows briskly, carrying random thoughts through the ether with the force of white rapids. Very Zen.
The daily news bits that grab my attention in the worlds of tech and comics and more can be found at my Google Reader Shared Items. Several items are added to that page every day. I'm an RSS feed junkie.
More than 800 columns -- more than eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.