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Tue, March 3rd, 2009 at 2:15pm PST | Updated: March 3rd, 2009 at 2:16pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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YEARS IN THE MAKING. . .

Yes, "Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk" #3 is out this week. The title sounds more like a video game than a comic, doesn't it? While you could craft a fun little ditty with just those two fighting up in the mountains, Damon Lindelof does better by intermixing the battle royale with some bizarrely entertaining conversation between the two title characters. Really, this is mostly about Hulk and Wolverine having a chat, with a layer added on top of Wolverine rewinding his memory to tell the story back. It's a neat device that adds a little style to what would otherwise be a pretty straightforward punch up.

I admit, I haven't read the first two issues of this series since they first came out, what, three years ago now? The recap page and narration are good enough to bring me back up to speed and let me enjoy the issue for what it is. When last we saw these two, Hulk had just ripped Wolverine in half. Now, Hulk is playing nasty, and that dark vein of comedy carries through the story.

Some of you are not going to like it. You're going to think it's overly mannered and too ridiculous. I don't know, but I like ridiculous and crazy these days. I can read "Watchmen" one week and Jeph Loeb's "Hulk" the next and enjoy each for what they are. And so I enjoy this book, and look forward to reading the rest of it, and adding an eventual premiere edition hardcover version of it to my "Ultimate" book shelf.

Leinil Francis Yu's art is shot off the pencils, with nice coloring from the more-than-capable Dave McCaig. The work looks tighter here than it did in Yu's run on "New Avengers," so hopefully some of the anti-non-inker types will appreciate this. The lines on the art don't look scratchy, and the colors laid on top of them are just muted enough to blend in and not make the softer line work stick out or, more appropriately, disappear beneath them. I think that's something that gets overlooked when discussing comic art shot straight from pencil -- the color palette has to match up with the linework. If you can do that, you'll eliminate many of the problems people have with the "rough" nature of the artwork. (And there's no need to 'knock out' the black lines, either, but that's a rant for another time.)

"Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk" will ultimately be remembered in comics for being one of the most painfully late comics to come out of the time period when Hollywood invaded comics. It's been the butt of jokes for years now, and I don't think anything will ever remove that asterisk from its Wikipedia entry. But I'm enjoying it again, and hope the back half of the series carries through as strongly as this issue did.

IT'S NOT WHAT. IT'S HOW.

"Missing the Boat: The Offered Salvation and Inevitable Demise of the Churamane" tells you all you need to know about the book you're about to read, if you're smart enough to pick it up. It's the tale of a pair of "Churamanes" and how they left late and missed Noah's Ark, thus dooming their species. It's a book that should not work on any level, and yet one that's entertaining and a little sad, all the same. The fact that it's written by the same guy that wrote "The Roberts," the story of two serial murderers hanging out together at a retirement home, is just another reason to love the comics industry.

George and Gladys are a married pair of Churamanes with some personality problems. They're lazy, most of all. Gladys is prone to long fits of napping. George is likewise sedentary. So when they finally check their mail after a long period of snoozing, they find a letter inviting them to a free cruise -- Noah's Ark -- under a tight time constraint. And, after a short nap, they're on their way.

They're not terribly sympathetic characters. They squabble and make poor personal choices and accomplish very little. But they're made for each other and they have a love and a bond that's very strong. Their "origin story" is told near the end of the book to great effect. Their adventure is the kind of thing that should make you slap your head and groan out loud. But when they reach the Ark, the book turns both its most serious and its most hilarious. The whole thing is almost worth reading just for their conversation with Noah and the animals at the Ark, really.

When they doom their species to the ash heap of Biblical history off-panel, I couldn't help but feel sad. Like I said, these creatures are victims of their own laziness and stupidity. But there's something lovable about them and their love for each other. You can't help but root for them, even though the title of the book tells you how it all ends.

It's remarkable storytelling from writer Wayne Chinsang/Justin Shady and artist Dwellephant. Dwellephant's art style is not something I would normally enjoy. His characters are often flat -- the churamanes have flat heads with little trees for ears, for goodness' sakes. The coloring is done in a way that almost looks like polished-up crayons. Backgrounds look like something out of a bad 60s cartoon. But his trick is that he packs life into the characters and can still draw them believably in action. The designs might be stiff to my particular eyes, but he's not one of those modern Flash animator types who can't lay out anything that isn't flat or pre-designed. There's life in this art that I didn't see at first glance, especially in the flashbacks near the end done in straight pencil work. I'm glad I gave it a chance.

The pages are all full bleed, with no panel outlines, just white gutter space separating the panels. The pages are only 6 x 9 inches, but the art was designed for it. Nothing is getting squeezed into illegibility here. It's a great presentation of an enjoyable story, and it's all-ages friendly: no curse words, no nudity, no graphic situations. It's $19 for the 96 pages and available today.

CBR did an interview with the book's writer back in December that's worth a read. There's a bunch of preview art there, too.

THE COMIC BOOK CATACLYSM

In recording a WordBalloon podcast recently (coming soon!), John Siuntres and I talked about digital comics. I said it would basically take a Doomsday Scenario for comics to go day-and-date digital, like the dissolution of Marvel or DC, or something else appropriately serious.

Soon after that, Valerie D'Orazio asked what would happen if Diamond went under?

Now there's a better question, because it impacts the entirety of comics and would threaten to instantly destroy the Direct Market.

Surely, though, like America's plans for defense in case of Canadian invasion, comic book companies have a plan in a folder in a locked filing cabinet somewhere for what their Plan B would be if Diamond went bankrupt tomorrow.

Right?

I mean, comic companies aren't short-sighted, are they? It's not like they do variant covers and massive company-wide crossovers and publishing stunts to get media attention, right?

Yeah, now I'm worried.

If Diamond went under tomorrow, an entirely new distribution network would have to pop up overnight to service 2000 - 3000 customers before a profound lack of product saps retailers of their revenue, and before publishers are stuck with a week or two's worth of printed comics sitting at the printers with nowhere to go, and before the income stream is so disrupted that Rich Johnston's column is replaced with a Google spreadsheet of which creator is owed how much by which company, and which companies are promising that this is just a reorganization and the money is coming soon from their new Hollywood partner. (That track record has always worked, hasn't it?)

In the long term, it's possible to have a comic book industry without Diamond. The "Direct Market" concept would likely die with Diamond, though, wouldn't it? Publishers could switch to Original Graphic Novels and trade paperbacks to get distribution deals from the major book distributors, who are likely aching enough for more business to set favorable terms initially.

But that's not a new system that could be created overnight. The book market is a whole different beast, requiring a lot more lead time than the puny two months the comic book market uses.

There would almost have to be a cataclysmic interim before a new day dawns.

Couldn't a digital distribution model be created more quickly than a massive national -- and international -- distribution system for real world physical goods? Marvel's almost there now. They just need to flip a few switches and they're done. DC has nothing right now to solve this problem. As discussed in Pipelines past, smaller publishers have smaller websites to distribute through.

Would the readers follow them? More appropriately, would enough readers follow to the digital realm to keep the profit margins thick enough?

Now, I'm not saying Diamond is going to go under tomorrow or that DC has absolutely nothing in the pipeline. It's just an interesting hypothetical to ponder, and infinitely more relevant than "What if Batman was a Viking?"

I know I haven't mentioned it in the last couple of weeks, but the Pipeline Podcast (look it up on iTunes, kids!) is still going strong. The good news is that I've set up my recording studio again, so the sound quality is vastly improved, and still in development. Check it out if you haven't in a while. I've been running without the Top Ten list segment just to give it a looser feel. Let me know what you think!

AugieShoots.com takes a nature walk and reports back with pictures of a frozen lake and the birds around it. OK, they're just geese, but they make for excellent photographic subjects!

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 is still alive, albeit on life support.

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, ultimate wolverine vs. hulk, damon lindelof, missing the boat

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