Pipeline

Tue, June 16th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

HE'S BAAAAACK. NAH, NOT REALLY

Captain America

I don't think it's a spoiler any more to say that Steve Rogers returns in "Captain America" #600, is it?

Except he doesn't.

Let's get this straight -- there's a big Mainstream Media push right now for a book about a bunch of characters gathering for the first anniversary memorial of Steve Rogers' death. Back-up stories include a reprint, an update on The Other Steve Rogers, a cute Captain America memorabilia auction short story, and a fond reminiscence from Bernie, an old flame of Cap's. Oh, and the Bucky from "Heroes Reborn" gets a story, too. (For all its wackiness and superhero-ness, adding a character from "another universe" seems out of place in this series, but I'll deal.) I assume Bernie and Bucky (female) will be added into the main storyline mix somewhere along the way? I wouldn't mind that.

But Steve Rogers is still dead. You wouldn't know that from the headlines, would you?

As a single issue of "Captain America," it blends in well with the last four years of Ed Brubaker's story, and even ties into current events of the Marvel Universe, as Cap's death did with "Civil War." There's still a strong supporting cast that acts believably, and that you want to root for. Steps are definitely taken towards returning Steve Rogers to the Marvel Universe, mostly from Sharon Carter's actions. I really like the scene titles, reminiscent of Priest's work on "Black Panther" or "Quantum and Woody," perhaps, but without being done for humor's sake. It's a technique I think could be used in more comics, but that I'm also afraid would be overused in a heartbeat. Brubaker uses them when the story shifts to a new point of view character, complete with new narration. That's the key, and similar to the way a novelist might start a new chapter when a new point of view character starts narrating the story.

There's lots of nice art from David Aja and Butch Guice, among others. Frank D'Armata's coloring -- like it or leave it -- ties it all together and makes it look cohesive.

And Steve Rogers is still dead.

As an event book worth distributing on a Monday, it's not worth the hype. Then again, I thought the only way this book would be worth distributing early and with a mainstream media pitch behind it would be if a new Captain America were introduced and he was black. That would tie neatly into many modern themes that the media loves to pounce on. At the very least, Steve Rogers should appear on panel.

Nope. He's still dead.

Instead, the media is reacting to the "big news story" that there's another mini-series coming up that WILL return Steve Rogers to the land of the living. This #600 issue? Eh.

Maybe they should have kept the mainstream media bullets in the gun until the first issue of "Reborn." That's my only objection here. As a comic, it's a fun romp. As an event, it's completely overblown.

As it turns out, the big newspaper winner for the week is DC, for putting their Superman strip into USA Today. I didn't see that one coming.

Of course, being a "newspaper winner" these days is like being the largest publisher of 8-Tracks.

THE ART OF FRANK CHO

Frank Cho has a new art book out, titled "Apes and Babes: Volume One." If you're a fan of his art, there's a lot to enjoy here. Aside from the chapter headings, there's no text in the book, whatsoever. It's page after gloriously glossy oversized page of just his art. It might veer away from "apes" and "babes" from time to time, but those are definitely the high points.

The first half of the book is devoted to his superhero artwork which, for the most part, is the least impressive aspect of the collection. From a marketing perspective, though, it's smart to devote so much space to the work that the Direct Market buyers will most want to see. The big draw for me is the side-by-side comparisons of Cho's cover pencil work next to his full-color final work. The pencils aren't shrunken down. They're given the entire facing page to themselves, which makes it more instructive for the comic artists of tomorrow to learn from. It's always eye opening to see what level of detail or motion in a drawing can be lost in the transition from graphite pencil to India ink. I love original pencil art, though, so I might be biased. Cho doesn't outline big areas of blacks and drawn little "x"es all over the page. He draws everything in, and even adds little bits of texture and feathering that doesn't always survive the inking stage. Cho is inking himself here, so there's only one guy to blame.

After all the "Ms. Marvel" and "Spider-Man" covers comes to the true meat of the book. It's the stuff you likely never saw, even if it comes from Cho's other popular works. I almost think the short "Liberty Meadows" section is in there because people will expect it. There's some new stuff in there, though, which is very cute and much appreciated, but I'm not entirely sure it goes well with the rest of the second half of the book.

That includes sections titled "Jungle" and "Mars." Cho's cover work on Dynamite's "Jungle Girl" show up in here, and this is where the strongest part of the book begins. Cho has the room here to show off his impression of the female form, but also to surround it in lush and detailed jungles, simians, lizards, cavemen, and more. Odds are also good that you haven't seen this stuff before. It seems to me that Cho is at his best when his imagination is unleashed. While there are signs in his Marvel cover work that he's learning more design tricks -- a "Black Panther" cover, for example, comes straight out of the "100 Bullets" school of Dave Johnson, to my eye -- it's when Cho gets to draw aliens, jungles, zombies, or restless natives with bones through their noses that his work shines. He's unfettered by reality, in a way, and that gives him the chance to utilize every technique he knows.

The best pieces are also the ones colored by Brandon Peterson, who adds a brighter and softer touch to Cho's art, which is more often seen in subdued or earthen tones. Those are the ones that stick out to me.

The book is a thirty dollar hardcover, but has large pages, solid glossy paper that the artwork shines on, and a good variety of art styles, from the painted works to the pencils and everything inbetween. Cho fans who have collected the previous "Women" hardcover book and even the "Liberty Meadows" strip collections will not be disappointed in this addition to the Frank Cho library. The rest of you may want to flip through it first, especially with that price tag.

The pricing isn't out of line at all, by the way. It's a good price for a 128 page hardcover book at this size. But it's still not necessarily the kind of thing a lot of people want to spend big bucks on, particularly when you can buy a 12 issues hardcover collection of a series like "Y The Last Man" for the same price.

The cover features babes and apes, of course, drawn inside of a skull. No superheroes appear on the cover, which is likely part of the deal Cho had to make with Marvel to be able to use so much of his artwork for them inside the book. Just a guess there, though I think it would be a stronger book with more apes and babes, and less superhero work, as important as it obviously is for Cho. (One of the highlights of the front section is a "Marvel Apes" cover. Beautifully colored, nicely drawn.)

There is some -- very little, but some -- nudity in the book and lots of scantily clad women, so you might want to take that under consideration, also.

Next week: It will likely involve a French comic. Or two. I may have found the perfect Franco-Belgian comic for those of you not otherwise inclined to read Euro-comics. No talking animals, no funny Romans. Check back next week for that.

Good news! The Various and Sundry blog is active on a daily basis again. I stockpiled enough stuff to devote two weeks to photography-related posts, and some miscellaneous topics have come up in the meantime. Click on over for thoughts on the iPhone, Twitter, and photography.

My photoblog, AugieShoots.com is still going daily, and we're almost at the halfway mark for the year. Gulp. I still have six and a half months of pictures to take?

My Twitter stream (@augiedb) 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.

And there might still be a new blog on the horizon yet. . . Seriously. It's in the works.

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

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.

Really, are you still reading this? I'm cutting-and-pasting now.

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, captain america #600, frank cho, apes and babes, ed brubaker

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