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Tue, February 3rd, 2009 at 2:28pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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COMEBACK COMIC OF THE YEAR

Honestly, when Erik Larsen introduced a duplicate earth in "The Savage Dragon" and instantly doubled the series' cast, it started dragging the book down. At the time, I thought it was exciting and different and proof that a creator-owned and controlled book can and should do anything.

The problem is, 50 issues later, things are a complete mess. There was a time -- maybe around issue #50 -- when I could recite the name and back story of every single character ever to grace the pages of the mostly-monthly title. With "This Savage World," things got more complicated. With two earths to eventually keep track of, it became impossible to remember which reality is the "real" one. Characters crossed over from one to the other. The sprawling cast of the title -- once a real asset -- was proving its undoing.

There were still some great isolated issues and smaller runs on the series, but the overall effect really dampened my enthusiasm for the book, which I once considered a favorite.

Add onto that Erik Larsen's schedule as Publisher at Image Comics, and even the momentum left the book.

Thankfully, "The Savage Dragon" is having itself quite a renaissance today. Larsen, no longer chained to the office gig, is free to draw his book. It's coming out at a steady clip now. He's wrapping up storylines that have dragged on seemingly forever -- Dragon's wife and son, amongst them. He's telling simpler stories as the main focus of each issue, with the subplots mobbing forward and promising interesting future stories. The book is finally settling down, finding its rhythm, and developing into something that's fast becoming a favorite once more.

Larsen admits in the letters column that he's working hard to clean things up and to start a new direction for the book that will be, most likely, more new reader friendly. There are many of us who've followed the book since Day One who will be happy "new" readers again.

A big part of the revival is its new overall look. After trying it himself, Larsen now has a new colorist and letterer on the book. If ever there was a debate as to the influence those two roles play on a single title, "The Savage Dragon" should end it. The book looks revitalized, to go along with its creator's renewed dedication. Colorist Nikos Koutsis not only kept the bright color scheme that the series has had since its inception -- most notably from Reuben Rude -- he added to it. His coloring brings a bit of sculpture to the book. He doesn't try to make everything look photorealistic, but he does add greater dimension and weight to the characters on the page. His use of textures in the background help add interest and, perhaps, a bit of gravitas. He even throws in the gradients without being all Photoshop Showoffy.

And what need be said about Tom Orzechowski's lettering? He's back to the nib and hand lettering for the series. It may not be as slick and smooth as his work on "X-Men" thirty years ago, but it doesn't need to be. Orzechowski's work is unmistakable. The letters are a joy to see on the page, and his style fits in well with the series' original and long term letterer, Chris Eliopoulos, and one-time replacement John Workman.

Heck, I'm tempted to write a letter to the book, so renewed is my enthusiasm for it. I'm glad to have it back. I can't wait to see how things settle down once Dragon dons his police uniform, puts the past behind him, and stakes out new ground in Chicago.

But, first, I have to read the latest issue, in which Larsen condenses 121 days down into 121 panels across 22 pages. I can't believe he beat Mike Allred to it! In case you haven't been reading it, "Madmen" has been an experiment in storytelling for Allred in the last couple of years. Check some of those issues out to see how wild a comic story can be told -- and why comics are more than just cinema's red-headed step-child.

PREVIEWS FOR APRIL 2009

With the PIPELINE PREVIEWS PODCAST gone, I think it's safe to move that kind of discussion back into the column proper. Let's start with the newest catalog, for items due to ship in April and beyond.

First of all, the catalog is still close to 500 pages (without Marvel's titles!). I can't wait to see if Diamond's new edicts will cut into that size. If it means the price might even drop down to $4 for the catalog, all the better. While 32 page comics priced at $4 might seem like a rip-off, a $4 "Previews" catalog would feel like a real bargain, even considering its function as a big fat ad.

Dark Horse leads off with the cover story: "Aliens" #1. I think I'd be more excited if they were able to acquire the rights to reprint the classic Archie Goodwin/Walter Simonson adaptation of the movie. I've never seen it, but always heard good things about it.

Adam Warren bestows upon us "Empowered" Volume 5! WHOO-HOO! OK, so it's not due until June 3, but just a confirmation that one is coming out this year is a very good thing. The fourth volume was a great extended length story, showing that Warren has mastered a set of characters that started as a gag series and morphed into a comedic action/adventure title, of a sort. He still plays it for laughs, but we care about the characters now. It's a fascinating turn of events for the series.

Dark Horse is going back to the Italian well with "Dragonero," a new fantasy title. This one is an awe-inspiring 300 page black and white job, coming out of the same publisher that did "Dylan Dog" and "Martin Mystery." Granted, I'd prefer to see more Franco-Belgian comics, but I can't discount some of the great stuff the Italian press has put out, too. I hope this ranks up there.

DC is publishing an "Oracle" mini-series. The second issue's cover (pictured on page 70) is a down shot on Oracle staring up at the viewer. Here's the thing that bothers me: Her clothing choice. Maybe I shouldn't be speaking for people in wheelchairs or women, in general. I just think that any woman with a modicum of dignity would refrain from wearing such an open low-rise top, knowing that the majority of people will see her from above. Why give everyone in the world a free view? I won't bother to argue with the bare midriff, although one would think that it might not be the best place to expose skin when you're always sitting down. . . It increases your chances of "muffin top," unless you're incredibly toned, doesn't it?

I'll say this for Barbara Gordon: She's got great skin. Her chin and breasts shine!

"The Flash Presents: Mercury Falling" is a new trade paperback collecting "Impulse" #62-67. This is out of left field, isn't it? I guess it ties into the current "Flash" series, particularly with art from Ethan Van Sciver in here. I'm happy to see Todd Dezago's stories back in print. I wish they'd reprint his whole run, including the issues he did with Carlo Barberi. This one is on sale in May for $15.

"Starman Omnibus" Volume 3 his comic shops in June. Volume 2 should be out later this month, to it looks like DC is speeding up the production on these books. That's good news. At this rate, Volume 4 should hit at the very end of the year, right?

"Point Blank" is getting a new edition trade paperback in May, complete with a new Sean Phillips cover. "...this volume works as a set alongside upcoming collections of the 'Sleeper' saga," sayeth the solicitation. I guess that means my dreams of an "Absolute Sleeper" aren't going to come true? Two Absolutes and a trade aren't exactly the best-designed set.

But you can get "Absolute Promethea" Volume 1 in September, if you're planning ahead. $100 for 12 issues' worth of J.H. Williams III's magnificent art and Alan Moore's detailed and captivating stories.

Image Comics is bringing back the much-heralded "Moby Dick" adaptation by Bill Sienkiewicz and Dan Chichester. It's only $13 for 48 pages, too. I look forward to the review of this that compares it to Marvel's recent six issue adaptation of the same Herman Melville book -- that trade is out in April, as well.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel: Spider-Woman's large spandexed breasts get their own series.

"The Art of Marko Djurdjevic" hardcover promises to give epileptic seizers to web writer spell-checkers everywhere in April. I'm happy to see Marvel doing "Art Of" book, and I hope the $50 price tag doesn't scare too many people off. The book is in the oversized format. This is not a "Premiere Edition" style of hardcover.

"Hulk: Red & Green" is the second hardcover collection of Jeph Loeb's current series. It only collects issues #7-9 along with "King-Size Hulk" #1 for $20. That's a mere 112 pages. But, then, that seems to be the new price point. Other Premiere Editions that collect six issues this month are up at $25 now.

Thank goodness for Amazon, is all I can say.

Now, it's far too early to take credit for this one, but did you see "Spider-Man: Torment" getting a Premiere Edition hardcover collection? That's the first five issues of McSpidey (along with "Marvel Age" #0) for $20. It wasn't all that long ago that I asked Marvel to consider reprinting the entirety of McFarlane's run on the series. "Torment" is the only batch of issues to remain in print. Not even the Ghost Rider/Hobgoblin two-parter has ever been reprinted. Nor his black costume storyline with Morbius. Nor the Wolverine team-up. C'mon, Marvel! Get to it!

Hopefully, this book is just the beginning of that run. And I'll happily take credit for it, if it is. My ego is ginormous.

Oddly, "Deadpool Classic Volume 2" begins with "Deadpool #2." I've said it before and I'll say it again: That's not a particularly brilliant idea, Marvel.

Here's the collection I didn't think I'd see: "Spider-Man 2099" Volume 1! It's timed to coincide with some other mini-series Marvel is doing in the front half of the catalog, and will reprint the first 10 issues of the Peter David/Rick Leonardi series that was the highlight of the line for Marvel 15 years ago. While the final price clocks in at $30, this is a worthy read. If you missed it the first time, check it out now. Fun stuff.

Now, that's just the front of the catalog. The crazy thing is, all the exciting stuff for the month is in the back half, from the smaller, but very solid, publishers. Next week, I'll delve into those releases. There are a couple of Wish List type books showing up in April.

PIPELINE PODCAST #200 (!) FOR 28 JANUARY 2009

Last week, we celebrated the 200th edition of the weekly podcast. The mathematically-inclined listeners will notice that the podcast should be closer to episode 204. The problem is, I've missed some episodes here and there for various technical and personal (illness) reasons. So it's taken me a little longer to hit 200 than some other podcasts. I can live with that. And we've had several bonus, convention, and "Previews" podcasts to fill the gaps. It all works out in the end.

Still, it's hard to believe that podcasting has been around for four years now. The community is still thriving, even if nobody's quite figured out where all the money is. Someday, someone will. And then a flood of imitators will swamp everything. UGH

I did away with the top ten list for last week's show. I just didn't see enough differential between ten books to honestly rank them. Instead, I ran up and down the release list and riffed on what I saw. I'm happy with the results and imagine I'll return to that format in the future. Let me know what your preference is. My email address link is at the bottom of this column.

In the meantime, you can download last week's 12 minute show here. It'll run you 4 megabytes or so.

Thanks, all, for listening over the past few years. I'm still having fun, technical issue notwithstanding. So keep coming back every week!


Next week: More from "Previews," and another review or two.

AugieShoots.com is wrapping up its run of pictures from the New York Comic-Con of 2008. After that, we'll get to bird pictures, self-portraits, and more!

Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items this week. It's the best of my daily feed reading, now with commentary!

The Various and Sundry blog carries on, though still a little slowly in 2009.

My Twitter stream is like my public e-mail box. I check it daily, looking for responses and new conversational threads. Heck, you're more likely to hear back from me if you ask me something on Twitter than my own e-mail box.

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 -- 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.

TAGS:  pipeline, savage dragon, erik larsen, birds of prey, image comics

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