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Tue, March 23rd, 2010 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

YTHAQ IS NOT A SOUND EFFECT

When the science fiction equivalent of the Love Boat crashes into an unknown planet, three disparate survivors have to work together to survive an unending series of perils, alien species, and adventures. It's an uneven, though entertaining work, that only gets more ingratiating the further along you get. Unfortunately, one big production issue nearly dooms the book.

The story starts off with a bang (almost literally), and we're left with an up-and-coming ship's officer named Granite, a young good-looking engineer (and poet) named Narvath and a two-dimensional and uninspiring spoiled brat in search of her sugar daddy, Callista. The boy's in lust with the snob, and the officer is falling for the boy without any reciprocity. It's all on the nose and obvious stuff, but handled mostly well. There's a great twist at the end of the first book that nearly redeems Callista, even when she returns to her old ways intermittently throughout the rest of the book. At that point, it becomes almost comedic and only occasionally grating. If you get wrapped up in the new worlds and the adventures, you'll find some nice eye candy and solid set-pieces. If you're more hung up on motivations and complex characters, you might find the book wanting. We never get into the "origins" of these characters, which might be part of the reason they all seem so two dimensional.

The diversity of locations and aliens and adventures in the book is a strength in that it gives artist Adrien Floch plenty of opportunities to shine. His thin lines - slightly manga inspired, perhaps? - and detailed backgrounds give your eyes plenty to rest on. The environments are as detailed as the characters interacting in front of them. The coloring by Crazytoons works beautifully, staying bright and colorful, not getting moody and "realistic" and muddy. "Ythaq" features bold colors with simple shadows that a lot of North American superhero comics colorists could learn a thing or two from.

Most impressively, letterer Joe Caramagna fits an enormous amount of text into the word balloons of each page, no doubt helped by the translation from Nicolas Meylaender and Stephanie Logan to keep the number of words fitting for the balloons.

Where the book falters, though, is in the feeling the reader gets after a few dozen pages that the writer, Christophe Arleston, is tossing stuff up against the wall to see what sticks. Every couple of pages, it often seems, they introduce us to a new contentious race, a new setting, and a new quick run out of there. It's very episodic, often losing the overall point of the narrative in preference to just giving us a cool moment the author thought would be cool to throw into the book. It has all the plotting of a video game.

Second, adding onto that, people suddenly develop characteristics when it's necessary, and then drop them a minute later. I laughed at a point late in the book where the characters are floating above a desolate landscape, and one is instructed to use his race's well-known great eye sight to see what's going on below. Hey, it's convenient at that point, so let's add it in. Chekov is rolling over in his grave, looking for the gun that was never hung on the wall.

It's a bit of a cheat that there's so much stuff thrown at you that new traits can be brought in almost randomly. They get lost in the overall noise, without the sort of whiplash feeling you often get from a writer pulling things out of thin air to get his characters written out of that corner they painted themselves into.

But the worst thing about a book that I still enjoyed despite spending all these hundreds of words railing against it: The size. There has been no bigger travesty committed in American comics in the last decade than DC publishing Francois Schuiten's gloriously detailed highly-rendered architectural drawings in a shrunken standard America-sized comic book. There ought to be an Act of Congress to prohibit such things from happening. (Pelosi's a supporter of the arts, right? What's she doing next weekend?) "Ythaq" has a similar problem, though perhaps not as pronounced. "Ythaq" has a lot going on with every single page. It's four tiers of panels, all of them with plenty of background detail, and lots of word balloons and caption boxes floating around. Reading "Ythaq" is an exercise for the eyes, where "exercise" is the polite term for "strain." If Cinebook can produce these styles of books in an oversized and easy-to-read format, I don't see why the mighty Marvel Comics can't. If they can't, they should hire someone to figure it out for them, or farm them out to someone who can. Compare the reading experience of this to something like "Largo Winch" and you can feel the difference. Not just see it, but feel it.

Perhaps I'm asking for too much. Perhaps I should just be happy that anyone is translating these books and reprinting them here in any format short a tankoubon. But why settle for that? Why not demand more? The notion that an oversized book is dead on arrival is a funny argument to make in a world where Omnibuses were flying off the shelves at Amazon a couples weeks back, where "Absolute" volumes are revered items, and even Image is producing oversized pamphlets, such as "Vikings" and "King City." Did you see the beautiful new "Titan Edition" of "I Kill Giants?" It's gloriously large for a style that would likely work just as well at digest size.

But don't let all of that grousing take away from what is a pleasant enough popcorn read, a summer movie of fun and colorful adventure with lots of imagination and attention to detail. "Ythaq" is the kind of book where the plot matters more as the story progresses, but that still wows you with its smaller set pieces and imagination necessary to get there. You're not going to get too attached to the characters just yet, but I'm hoping the second book starts getting into more detail there. I'm hoping the three leads have "origins" that'll make them much more palatable and sympathetic to the readers. We'll see.

"Ythaq: The Forsaken World" is available today for $25 in hardcover format. The second hardcover collection, "Ythaq: No Escape," should also be out, though I'm having troubles tracking it down at the moment.

HULK SMASH HATE

When I reviewed the first hardcover collection of Jeph Loeb's "Hulk" series, I praised it for its craziness, its inventiveness, and its goofy fun. While the second volume didn't hit me in quite the same way, the most recent third volume - collecting "Hulk" #10-13 and "Incredible Hulk" #600 - is a return to form. It might not include classic moments like the Hulk punching out The Watcher, but there are plenty of good times in this one slim volume to make it worth the money.

This time around, the Hulk is given a chance to save the love of his life, Princess Jarella. To do so, he needs to recruit a team of heroes from across time, effectively reuniting The Defenders in a patchwork way, picking the characters out from different points in Marvel history, all united in an attempt to save the women they loved and lost. Then, they're pitted in a fight to the death against their equals and opposites - Namor vs. Tiger Shark, The Hulk versus Red Hulk, Doctor Strange vs. Baron Mordo, and Silver Surfer vs. Terrax. What happens across these Ed McGuinness-drawn issues is a glorious thing to behold, as McGuinness gets the chance to use his larger-than-life style to full effect, drawing crazy fight scenes in large panels that scream across the pages. There's a two page cosmic spread of Red Hulk that will forever stick in my mind. Hilarious.

Loeb's humor hits in all the right places here, too, which I think is part of what turned me off to the second volume. The one-liners fell flat for me then, seeming a little too corny or on-the-nose. Yet, in volume three, "Hulk Smash Hate" was enough to crack me up. A sense of humor is an impossible thing to quantify, so your mileage will always vary, but this book worked for me much more often than not.

Oh, and don't tick off Galactus. That's my friendly piece of advice for you this time around.

"Incredible Hulk" #600 lands after the big Defenders reunion story, and brings the two Hulks back into conflict on planet Earth. Spider-Man is a major guest star, but the thing that really stands out in this issue is the inks from Mark Farmer and colors by Dan Brown and Chris Sotomayor, which give this chapter of the story its own look. It has a much thinner line at times, and the textured colors tone down some of the round cartooniness of McGuinness' natural style.

The only weak spot is the final collected issue, in which things quiet down a bit for Rick Jones and Bruce Banner have a chance to get reacquainted and have a heart-to-heart. Of course, there's also a brawl with Ares in the middle of things, but that's a distraction. The main thrust of the story is the human interest story, with Bruce Banner dealing with the ramifications of events in previous issues. (Yes, there's one of those status quo changers that we all know will only last for as long as the writer or the editor finds it interesting.) It's the kind of character study story that should be a highlight for me but, honestly, I read "Hulk" for the craziness, the humor, and the over-the-top nature of the whole shebang. I don't need deep characterization here. Bring on Red Hulk toting the Silver Surfer's ride, or two Hulks punching each other into oblivion.

"Hulk, Volume 3: Hulk No More" - the title is a spoiler, of sorts - is now available as a Premiere Edition hardcover at your local comic shop for twenty bucks. It's a nice collection, complete with the Audrey Loeb-penned Mini-Marvels drawn by Chris Giarusso, and plenty of covers and interior page sketches in the gallery section. Comicraft's overall fight card design for the series of collections is also maintained.

THE RETURN OF THE PIPELINE PODCAST

Sorry for the silence on the podcasting front for the last month. It started with a missed deadline, then hit a problem with a fraying wire, and then the basement flooded and everything took a back seat.

A new wire has been had now, the basement is almost dry, and I'm ready to talk comics again. Check out the latest podcast for some thoughts on books other than what would normally be on the Top Ten release list for the week of March 17th, 2010. Most impressively, the new format of "Sin City" gets an 11th reprinting, with the rest of the series getting high reprint numbers, as well. This is long after the movie bump. Most impressive.

The whole podcast runs just over 13 minutes. Future podcasts will likely take this same format, unless I can get them out early enough to do a Top Ten list for what has yet to be released in any given week. Stay tuned to find out what's next!

Next week: Possibly another European comic. Definitely a Blu Ray review with a comic tie-in. And a few more bits and pieces. You're going to love it.

And in my spare time: I'm podcasting, Twittering, photoblogging, and blogging.. E-mail me!

Talk at the Pipeline Message Board, and catch up on nearly 13 years of columns in the Pipeline Archives.

TAGS:  pipeline, hulk, jeph loeb, ed mcguinness, ythaq

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