Pipeline

Tue, May 11th, 2010 at 1:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

FOUR SHORTER REVIEWS

I've read a lot more in recent weeks than I've had time or space to talk about. Let's play catch up this week:

"Asterix and Obeliex's Birthday: The Golden Book" is a complete misfire, sad to say.

I've never been so disappointed in an "Asterix" book. I know it's unfair, since this book is a collection of short pieces over a long span of years, with a little interstitial material added in to make it feel like one cohesive piece. It can't help but be schizophrenic. Even worse, it's not particularly funny, often trying too hard to be clever. Removing Asterix from the structure of a long-form album-length adventure might just be a dull thing to do. As heavy handed as the messages to some of the albums may be, at least they're consistent with the characters and spring forth naturally from their actions. This book is too often gags laid down on the characters, who are then forced to be Hollywood actors to get through their parts. It's the same kind of misfire you often see from Disney when Mickey Mouse isn't being his adventurous self, but is rather playing the role of "Mickey Mouse," You know?

It's nice to see that Uderzo can still draw these characters so sharply and so comfortably, but this random assortment of bits and pieces falls completely flat. Asterix works best in the context of a narrative. I'd rather see more of that, less of this.

This book is nice to have as a completist collector, but that's about it.

"Torpedo, Volume 1" from IDW made me uncomfortable. It's too bad because I love Jordi Bernet's work. I love the European style of comic book storytelling. But the book steps over the line a bit too often for my tastes. When the lead character -- an Italian-born mercenary now living in New York City -- takes his pay by raping his contractor's daughter, well, it makes me a wee bit uneasy in my reading chair. That, by the way, is not long after he disrobes another woman and slaps her around.

Enrique Sanchez Abuli's stories don't pull any punches and don't try to portray Torpedo as a hero. He's the protagonist, not the hero. He's still a cold-blooded killer for hire, though they do take the time to humanize him in the occasional "origin story" that shows us how life led him to this profession. His actions are consistent with his mental profile.

But it doesn't mean I have to cheer it on or even feel comfortable with it. I can understand why it is Alex Toth left the series after the second story.

It's a shame, because the book has much to offer. Bernet's fine black and white line work is superb. His storytelling is crisp. His sense of chiaroscuro is textbook worthy. He can mix things up, drawing lively gentlemen's club, jazz clubs, and back alley grime. I could look at these pages all day, soaking in the texture and the negative space's effect on the storytelling and the subtleties in characters' expressions. I just get thrown every now and again when Torpedo acts a little scummier than usual.

"B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess" is volume 11 in the now-venerable Dark Horse series (mostly) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis. I can't explain why, but the B.P.R.D. miniseries, "1946," got counted as volume 9 and now sticks out like a sore thumb in the run. Nothing against Arcudi's co-writer, Joshua Dysart, or the artist, Paul Azaceta, on that one, but if it's not Arcudi and Davis, I think it needs to be in its own lineup of numbered spines. The Abe Sapien and Lobster Johnson miniseries are off on their own like that, and the Lobster Johnson miniseries features some stuff we see later in "B.P.R.D." So it's not like it's without a connection.


I'm off track already, aren't I?

I read volumes 10 and 11 in the last couple of weeks because the current miniseries, which will be volume 12, is shaking everything up. There's a new issue this week that's supposed to be a big event in the history of this story, too. Being a trade-waiter on this series is killing me, but I do think it reads best that way. Being able to sit down with the complete story and read it at my own pace is huge, particularly when the more fantastical elements show up and I can't keep all the crazy demon names and whatnot straight.

"The Black Goddess" features B.P.R.D.'s final assault on Memnan Saa's city, which winds up in a dramatic fight dealing with mole men, fire-breathing dragons, rifle-bearing monks, and the return of the dead. Oh, and Liz Sherman is floating in air, surrounded by flames, and speaking in tongues. It's utter madness and it's completely engrossing.

Everything that you've read in this series to this point leads up to this miniseries, which is touted as being part two of the "Scorched Earth" trilogy. I can see why they're lumping the three miniseries together like this. It's great to see everything coming together, and read names and see events that I had forgotten from previous books already. I love it when there's a long-term plan for a title, and this is now something I almost want to back and reread from the start, just to see all the puzzle pieces slowly coming together.

And, damn, but Guy Davis' art combined with Dave Stewart's colors is comic book perfection. When I think of tailor-made combinations of artists with colorists, this is one of the first pairings that spring to mind. Davis' open style combines well with Stewart's lighter and more subtly textured style of coloring.

Yes, Twitter, I'd give Stewart royalties on this book.

Finally, though "Wolverine: Old Man Logan" made my Top Ten list of last year, I never reviewed it in Pipeline. The book -- a nice, slightly oversized hardcover -- hits on a lot of things I love about superhero comics today. It's not restricted by continuity. It has lots of winks and nods to current fans. It's a completely new world with an assortment of familiar faces. It has a sense of humor, as violent as it might be sometimes. It's a high concept with set piece after set piece. And it's very very very pretty.

Yes, it has its share of squirmy moments and over-the-top violence. The ending with Wolverine's final victory is a bit over-the-top even for my tastes, but all the other moments inbetween made it a book that I enjoyed. The camaraderie between Hawkeye and Logan led to great one-liners (and the Spider-Mobile!). The twists with Hawkeye's daughter were great. The Red Skull was insanely creepy. And Wolverine's takedown of the Banners was the kind of berserker rage we miss Wolverine flying into these days.

While Mark Millar's story is carefully constructed to set everything up before knocking all the pins down, it's Steve McNiven's art that shines, as inked by Dexter Vines. The book is effectively a western, and McNiven adopted a style for it that reminded me a bit of an old-time pen-and-ink illustrator, making drawings on paper that's yellowed today. I know I'm probably being anachronistic here, but it's how it made me feel, and that's enough for me. Printing it oversized in an edition like this is a smart idea, because it helps to open up the art for the reader to see more of the fine details. It's great stuff.

Millar's script isn't exactly subtle. You can see many of the beats a mile away. There are some emotionally manipulative moments that feel a bit too cold and calculated for my taste. But Millar knows how to work that kind of material. This is an action piece, at its heart, and everything serves that. Whatever needs to happen to compel the character to the next story beat will happen.

So, yeah, a solid mixture of art and writing made "Old Man Logan" a worthy read for me. I hope there's a sequel someday. There's a lot of material left to be mined here.

For your homework this week, go read Timothy Callahan's interview with Joe Casey. It's good stuff.

I have a spot to hang my iPhone photography now at AugieShoots.tumblr.com. There you'll find Disney plushes I never thought would happen, nature shots, my new camera gear, iPhone HDR, and more.

In my spare time: I'm Twittering, photoblogging, and blogging.. I'm podcasting once in a while, too.

E-mail me! Or come chat at the Pipeline Message Board, and catch up on nearly 13 years of columns in the Pipeline Archives.

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