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Tue, March 30th, 2010 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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TOY STORY #0

In a way, the first two "Toy Story" movies have the same theme: self-preservation. What happens when Andy doesn't need his old toys anymore? They have different variations on that theme and come at it from different angles, but there you have it. By all appearances, the third movie will finally answer the question, and it's a little depressing: all old toys wind up passed down to the next generation of kids to beat them up for good. They're old toys anymore. Who cares if they start losing pieces and falling apart?

Yikes, that starts sounding depressing when you put the "Toy Story" filter on it, doesn't it?

BOOM!'s "Toy Story" comic book hits the question from another angle. Writer Jesse Blaze Snider asks what happens when Andy gets a second Buzz Lightyear toy? It's a simple exchange, right? But it's not so simple when the new Buzz thinks he's top dog. (Shades of "Toy Story" 1, eh?) Then, things get complicated. It's a nice story idea, told with a lot of energy and packed with not-so-hidden gems that the younger comic readers might not get. There are references to current commercials, "The Princess Bride," and more, tossed off not as jokes all unto themselves, but as little quick gags told along with the story. Like the best of All Ages movies, this one has gags for the parents as well as the kids.

Oddly enough, "Toy Story" #0 is the first part of an on-going storyline, continued in "Toy Story" #1 (and then #2). maybe I'm too old school for comics marketing anymore, but I always thought of a #0 issue as being either a flashback story or a self-contained sampler for those who might be curious about something and want to jump on board without the worry of prior continuity. Has that changed in this day and age? Do people expect #0 issues to be the first chapter of on-going series, or other mini-series?

Artist Nathan Watson has a tough job of recreating a completely computer generated world in traditional 2-D pencil-and-ink. It's a different sort of challenge than, say, "The Muppet Show," but with many of the same pitfalls of getting characters to look "on-model" when there's no model in the same artform. Further complicating things, Pixar stuck pretty true to the physics of the original toys when they designed the movie, to the point where the toy soldiers' feet are even stuck together. That has to hamstring a comic book artist a little bit. Watson had to decide whether to drop that for the comics and allow his characters to squash and stretch a bit more, or to stick with the limitations of the plastic toys and risk having art that looks stiff on the page. He pulls it off well, maintaining the proportions and anatomies (if you will) of the toys, while giving their faces enough animation to pull off the emotion of the scene. In other words, he approximates reality much in the same way the original Pixar team did.

OK, Andy looks weird, but he wasn't so adorable in the original CGI, either. . .

There are times when the book gets too talky, but it's most often during confrontational moments between the new Buzz and the current toys. The tension keeps the dialogue moving, as does the humor. There's also a nice trick or two played with panel layouts in helping to tell the story, most noticeably in the scene where the two Buzzes compare feature lists.

Credit also goes to Mickey Clausen, who keeps things light and bright, using some spare shadows to add depth, but not overrendering anything at all. It's a very transparent color scheme, one which doesn't attempt to set somber moods or show off a new modeling technique. It's a fairly literal interpretation of the colors of the sets in the movie.

Overall, the zero issue to this series is a welcomed addition to the "Toy Story" canon for me. The characters feel right, the plot fits in with the themes of the movies without being a slavish copy, and the art adapts the look and feel as well as it could be done, without a radical reinvention of the style. I need to sit down with the next couple of issues, which are available in stores already.

I'm impressed by what BOOM! has accomplished with all their Disney licenses in the last year or so. What might have been a collection of bland repetitive stories has turned into a series of creative and exciting licensed books. I can't think of the last publisher to have this good a batting average across a line of licensed titles like this. "Toy Story" looks to be another winner.

TOY STORY: THE BLU-RAY RELEASES

I'm pretty sure this is the third copy of "Toy Story" I now own, in just as many formats. It's also, thankfully, the best. I don't mind updating old copies of things, so long as I get them in a better format that makes them worth the money. This is as true in my home theater library as it is in my comic library. I try not to buy things twice anymore, but I still make exceptions for favored series that have oversized hardcover printings, whether it be standard Marvel hardcovers or DC's "Absolute" editions. If a new movie release features a major restoration or a large-scale addition of bonus materials, it's something to be considered.

And the "Toy Story" Blu-Rays released last week do the job of being a major upgrade. I'm still new enough to the Blu-ray format that I thrill to seeing the details, but the truth of the matter is that Pixar movies are always the gold standard in any format they're released in. Being able to create a new "print" from the original digital files every time certainly helps. With this go-around, the level of detail I saw for the first time in the first "Toy Story" movie is amazing. Mr. Potato Head's skin has texture. The bed behind Woody doesn't just have a faux wood grain print laid on top of it, but actually appears to have grooves from the wood rings in it. The titles of the books behind Woody - mostly previous Pixar shorts' titles - are more legible than ever. It's in all those little things that the new higher definition format shines.

So that VHS tape I have? Garbage.

The DVD sitting in a box somewhere? Almost garbage. This is almost nit-picky of me, but as a comic fan, I think you'll be able to appreciate the completist nature of this thought: Not all of the bonus materials from the last DVD release (a glorious two disc Ulimate (ha!) edition with tons of extras) made it over to the Blu-ray. Whether it's for space, or fear of overloading consumers on extras, or wanting to make the old DVDs still collectible, I don't know. (If it's that last one, then we have more comic industry comparisons to make. I think that's the least likely reason, though.)

While I know I probably won't ever miss those features - heck, I have to see their track listings on serious Blu-ray review sites to even know what is missing - I feel safer still having those older discs laying around. Someday, I'll get over that.

The other thing that wowed me about the new discs is one particular movie trailer at the start. "Beauty and the Beast" is coming out on Blu-ray later this year (October 5th was just announced.) While Disney's animated revival started with "The Little Mermaid," for me it started with "Beauty and the Beast," a movie I saw in the theaters no less than three times. It hit at a good time for me, when I had just gotten into comics, but when animation was still my first love. I was deeply into classic Warner Bros. history, mostly, but all classic animation, in general. Every new animated thing that came out on the small screen or the silver screen was worth a shot. Everything. From "Anastasia" to "Capital Critters" to "Mighty Max."

While I still own "Beauty and the Beast" on VHS - the horror! Pan and scan! Low Def! - I don't think I ever picked up the DVD. But the detail in just the trailer for the re-release is spectacular. I don't think the movie looked that good in the theaters. Every little line is crisp and clear. The colors pop. It makes everything that came before it look murky and out of focus. The only danger is that it'll make things so clear that you'll pick up on the weird thing that prove distracting when seen with warts and all. We shall soon see.

But that's the glory of the Blu-ray format. High definition video means we never have to miss a hand drawn line in a piece of animation ever again. The closest to that level of detail I've come before this was seeing "The Lion King" on IMAX a few years back.

In the case of "Toy Story" 1 and 2, high definition means we get to see those textures and those patterns in insane detail. You already know the movies. You've seen them both. You don't need me to sing those praises. Though you might like to hear me whine that the second movie got robbed for an Oscar for "Best Original Song," which it clearly deserved more than the others that year.

As a Blu-ray, these two movies are reference quality stuff. The material shines in this format, and that's what's important at this point.

Both Blu-rays are out now through Disney DVD, and each comes with a bonus DVD version of the movie so you can show the movie to the kids in the back of the mini-van. Not a bad deal for the price.

RETURN OF THE PIPELINE PODCASTS

I did two podcasts last week. The first contained the Top Ten list of new releases for March 24, 2010 (12:14, 6 MB):

  • 10. "Night Owls" Volume 1 TP

  • 9. "Art Of Jaime Hernandez The Secrets Of Life And Death" HC

  • 8. "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: The World According To Peter Parker" HC

  • 7. "Complete Peanuts:" Volume 13 1975-1976 HC

  • 6. "Book Of Grickle" HC

  • 5. "Green Lantern" #52

  • 4. "Phonogram" Volume 2: "Singles Club" TP, $14.99

  • 3. "Guild" #1 (of 3)

  • 2. "Captain America" Reborn HC

  • 1. "Nemesis" #1 (of 4)

The more I think of it, the more disappointed and surprised I am that Marvel didn't release "Reborn" in their slightly larger hardcover format.

I followed that up with a new 14 minute podcast at the beginning of this week to look at what else came out. Is Marvel deluging the market with "Iron Man" comics for the sake of the movie? Or is it really no different than the massive "Spider-Man" or "Avengers" families of titles? I ran down the comics released last week so you can make up your mind.

Next week: Euro-Comics. As Humanoid returns to the American scene, it's time to anticipate what they might have up their sleeve. Ah, remember their grand displays at SanDiego back in the day? Tables of gloriously oversized hardcover albums for sale. Delightful.

And in my spare time: I'm podcasting, both in audio and slideshow format. I'm 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, toy story, boom! studios

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