PIPELINE RETRO: INFINITY GAUNTLET
"Infinity Gauntlet" is not a comic I should like at all. It has everything going against it. It's a cosmic book featuring characters I didn't know much at all about at the time. (Honestly, many of those cosmic characters I still don't "get" to this day.) It features fights with characters embodying concepts such as love, hate, eternity, and time. That's all versus a purple guy with a golden glove so gaudy even Liberace would blink.
But it works, and it works well as a classic Marvel superhero comic. There's something that, despite all the cosmic concepts in play, works at the most fundamental levels as a superhero comic. Check out that meeting on the rooftop between Wolverine, The Hulk and Adam Warlock. Watch the Avengers fight against impossible odds amidst wreckage in the middle of New York City. Watch the scale escalate from street level to cosmic level. And you have to love Captain America standing up to Thanos, particularly drawn by the guy who drew the first extended run on the Captain America title that I had ever read.
The level of carnage is so high - half the galaxy's population wiped out, the earth knocked out of orbit - that the reset button is clearly going to be hit in issue six. That kills a lot of the drama. But it still works!
I was 15 when the book came out, just a two year comic veteran. I'm sure I had never heard of Jim Steranko or Will Eisner at that point, so when George Perez started doing cool little tricks with the layouts of panels in those first two issues, my mind was blown. This really was a special event, wasn't it?
It was disappointing when Perez had to leave (for a forgettable DC crossover series that I think even everybody at the time knew was a lesser "event"), but I had followed Ron Lim for a while on both "Silver Surfer" and "Captain America," so it was a good fit. Lim's Silver Surfer is still the Surfer I picture in my mind to this day, so his art carried some weight for me. It might not have been nearly as inventive or wildly detailed as Perez's, but it still included dozens of colorful costumed characters parading around a giant monument to Death floating in space. Crazy cool.
Jim Starlin's script is jam packed with stuff happening, even when it doesn't necessarily push the overall plot forward. With six double-sized issues to fill, he includes lots of character work, lots of atmosphere, and plenty of great twists and dramatic moments. Is some of it a little forced, perhaps a bit obvious, maybe even deus ex machina-laced? Yeah, probably. But it's an old-fashioned super hero extravaganza. I can deal with that. There's something so honest and pure about those. Today, you'd need to add an extra gallon of black ink to these pages, model the color to make Adam Warlock look like a real guy in golf face paint, and use computer modeling to accurately show reflections in Surfer's skin. No thanks. Not for me. I'll take this.
Perhaps it's not possible for me to give this book a proper critical review. I admit it; this column reads like a lot of fanboy praising. I'm OK with that, though. Can't we all have fun from time to time? And isn't it great when a memory from half a lifetime ago isn't destroyed by revisiting it?
Some quick random thoughts about the book:
- Thanos is a sick puppy. All the power in the cosmos, and he just wants to impress Death. Death. You have ultimate power in 1991 and you're not going after Cindy Crawford?!?
- The great thing about hand lettering (Jack Morelli is the primary letterer here) is you can tell when a word balloon was added after the fact by someone in-house. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Most of the examples I saw of it in "Infinity Gauntlet" were expository, little bits of captions and dialogue to explain to readers what's going on, or why a scene is important.
Take this panel from the opening spread of the second issue. I guess someone at Marvel thought Thor needed a solid namechecking, since he was a temporary replacement Thor? People might not get that from the hammer and the blonde hair and the outfit already? Crazy.
- The Watcher claims a vow of non-interference, but his very appearance is often a tip-off to someone that something big is about to happen. Thus, he's interfering in the natural course of events.
- That cover of Thanos crouched, hands waving the reader in? It's one of the best covers of all time. I love that it's the dust jacket cover on this book, and that both the original and the recolored version of it are included in this hardcover. Though I complained about modern coloring earlier in this review, I admit that this works for me. Why? Because it's not like the colorist is trying to make Perez's art look phototraced. The cover maintains its energy and its weight without becoming a glossy abomination.
- My initial guess was that the hardcover was finally scheduled once Marvel's movie department clued editorial in on the inclusion of the Infinity Guantlet in one of their movies. Now I wonder if this was done as a tie-in to Brian Bendis' "Avengers" plans this fall? Or, perhaps, it's all synergistic company blah blah blah. I don't care. I'm just happy to finally have it.
- That said, I can't see "Infinity Gauntlet" as something they could ever make a movie of. It would look insanely cheesy to put that many costumed characters on screen together at the same time. Plus, the rights to some of them - Spider-Man, most of all - aren't with Marvel Films.
But that's OK. Comics shouldn't be made for movie adaptations. They should be made for comics' sake! Let them have glittery costumes and glowing jewels and skull-encrusted white tombs floating in space and superpowered people on the moons of other planets and all the rest. Comics can do that convincingly. Movies can't.
- Lim isn't as great at drawing the special effects as I mentioned last week that Gagne and Immonen are. There are plenty of energy discharges, worlds imploding, and chaos getting stirred up in the back half of this miniseries. Lim's lines are fairly pedestrian there, mostly radiating out from a single point. I could imagine Gagne or Immonen instilling those lines with more life, more action. There are whole pages' of that kind of material at work here.
- Now, when can we expect the next two miniseries to see hardcover reprints?
Can you imagine the internet splitting in two when it was announced that Ron Lim would be replacing George Perez on the series? Couched in today's terms: The legendary "Avengers" artist was being replaced by that guy who does those "Anita Blake" comics. Ouch.
Thanks to Google Groups, we can look back in time, though. This is fun. Let's go back to October 1991 for the juicy rec.arts.comics rumors of the day. Did George Perez take a vacation and blow it? Did a DC artist join the armed forces instead of completing a gig? Craziness!
It should be noted that Perez talks about the situation in TwoMorrows' "Modern Masters" book, so I'd point you there for further clarification. Or, check out this 1991 interview with George Perez, who talks about doing both series at the same time and what a mistake it was.
Let's go now to July 1991, to quote Lance Visser:
"I am sorry but gathering up Captain America and Woverine to fight a threat to the whole universe is just silly beyond belief."
I tend to agree, but it's comics! It's fun!
I'll disagree with David Hunter later in the thread, who wrote:
"I'd not really made my mind up on IG until this issue but now I'm ready to say, unequivocally, that Infinity Gauntlet stinks. It's worse than poorly done, it's just plain stupid."
Now that's more like it, internet! Keep up the good work!
Thankfully, Milton Kuo explains what went wrong:
"If anyone's to blame, I think it should be George Perez. He got way behind schedule on the artwork and that's why Ron Lim will do the artwork for Infinitely Stupid Gauntlet starting issue #4 (as much as I like Mar-vel books, this is really "Infinitely Stupid.""
Ah, good times. See? The modern level of disappointment and dismay over artistic choices in comics can trace its roots back at least twenty years.
"To tell you the truth, Hitler's Mein Kampf is quite the honest truth. He said, don't tell small lies, tell big ones, people will be afraid to challenge you on them (paraphrased.) I have respect for a man who moved a nation to organize."
Ah, those wacky college kids and their crazy ideas!
But, just to cleanse the palate, if you need someone to explain how all the crossover books tied into the main series, I refer you to this awesome explanation.
Spoiler: They didn't all tie together so well.
Also, if you thought people didn’t care about proper punctuation and clear and consistent stylistic choices in their internet writings today, wait till you see USENET 1991. (I'll spare you the .sigs quoting "Star Trek.")
Here's a sample of the writeup:
"QUASAR #27 appears to be next - Eon's body is still rampaging out of the FF's building, just like the end of last issue. Here comes the first continutity goblin. Epoch, Eon's... offspring, has to be alive by IG #2, even if she's called miscalled Eon during the rest of the series. Epoch is not rescued until the end of this issue. However, Her meets Him (Adam Warlock) outside the Doc's mansion half way through this issue, even though the Doc don't meet him till half-way through IG #2. The only way out of this one is to put the two pages of Her and Him happening sometime after IG #2, especially since Adam's currently recruiting fighters in this appearance. The fact that the end of this issue has folks like Darkhawk, Sleepwalker, and Dethlok fighting Eon's corpse-goo is being ignored as the act of an unsound mind."
We're due for an "Essential Quasar," aren't we?
It might be fun to further explore the USENET archives someday. I'm afraid of finding my first posts on there, though. Maybe I'll let the sleeping dogs lie.
GO GO MESMO
There's a pitfall with waiting for the trade: If you're not careful, the ending sneaks up on you when you're not expecting it. Brian Bendis' "Secret War" hardcover did that to me. It felt like there was another 50 pages to go in the book, so I expected a big ending was about to happen - but that was the ending, followed by 50 pages of bonus material. Unless you flip through the back matter first (a real danger for the spoiler-averse), you're always going to be in danger of this happening to you.
I love sketchbooks, and design pages, and original pencil work, and scripts and whatnot. Love it. But when I forgot to take that into account, it means the book might end before I'm expecting it to, and that throws off the pacing for me.
I'm not blaming any of this on anyone. It's just the compromise you make for this particular decision. It's something that has to be dealt with. I've taken to flipping to the back of my books now before reading them and scanning the margins of the last batches of pages to see how many, if any, of them are bonus materials. It does impact my reading. Thankfully, I'm able to do this without spoiling stories by reading last pages or anything so drastic.
It happened again, to a lesser extent, with "Mesmo Delivery," Dark Horse's collection of Rafael Grampa's fight comic with a touch of the bizarre, if not fantastic. The book doesn't spell everything out for you on purpose, and the ending works for what it is. But it came abruptly, just as I was expecting a big finale to be coming up in the next twenty pages that would spell things out in better detail.
Again, it's not the book's fault. It's mine. I forgot to flip to the back first. I get the gag of the book, and rereading it preserved the pacing and the ending's timing for me. I knew what to expect. But that first read-through? That would tricky.
"Mesmo" is a short story inspired, by the author's own notes, by "The Twilight Zone." It's the tale of an ex-boxer truck driver and an Elvis impersonator delivering an important load of something to somewhere else. When they make a stop along the way, the driver - the big pugilist - is drawn into a fight and mayhem occurs. Grampa's artwork is the bastard stepchild of Geoff Darrow and Frank Quitely. It's big and meaty and often over the top. There's a lot of little lines drawn in along the way to detail the five o'clock shadow on the driver's face and the folds of his shirt. His characters look visually dynamic, from large and bulk to small and wirey. Characters could be easily identified by their silhouette, just from how they carry themselves and how they are designed. That's a strong talent to have in comics.
While you might see resemblances to bits and pieces of other artist's work, there's nobody else producing work like this today. It's great to see this kind of highly individual work get a spotlight in today's market.
It could be just a simple fight comic drawn in spectacularly gross detail, but Grampa fills in just enough gruesome back story to make it all matter, and to make it all make sense. In the end, you do have an interest in the characters, while the visual bombast is there to capture your attention. It's a smart little book.
Dark Horse published the book earlier in the year, and it's just ten bucks for its 80 pages in full color. You can see a preview of it here on CBR. Grampa, if the name sounds familiar to you, is doing work in Marvel's upcoming second "Strange Tales" volume.
If you're looking for something a little more all-ages friendly, however, "Scratch9" has its first issue coming out any week now. The new miniseries from Rob Worley and Jason T. Kruse is about a very special cat, who can summon one of his past nine lives to get him out of trouble.
This is the "origin" issue, setting Scratch out alone into the world, where circumstances force him to discover his abilities. He flees his owner only to get caught up in a rougher crowd. It's broad cat comedy, with lots of silliness and groan-inducing acronyms, but it's not trying to be anything other than that. So it works. It looks like we'll be getting some comedic anthropomorphic adventure coming our way, and I'm always game for that.
Kruse's open animated style fits the book beautifully, getting loose and more energetic as the issue goes on. It even looks like he's abandoned pen-and-ink from the front of the book for shot-from-pencils, which is what it appears to become in the second half. I like the pencil work, though. It's not obvious, but it maintains the original energy of the lines on the page, which is key when the action starts ramping up.
Scratch has a number of friends and acquaintances in the book, including a street-wise dog and a frantic and hilarious squirrel, whose spin-off book I'd gladly plunk down cash money for. I have a soft spot for squirrels, so you can guess who my favorite character in the book is.
The pleasant surprise of the series is that the covers are being done by Mike "'Herobear' Who?" Kunkel. Yes, folks, he is alive. Great to see.
"Scratch9" is schedule to be a four issue miniseries through Ape Entertainment. The first issue is $3.95 and will be available soon. The Scratch9 blog will have lots more info for you. (Pay special attention to Scratch's hilarious Wonder Woman costume.)
One quick correction to last week's column: The "Nextwave" colorist was Dave McCaig, not Paul Mounts. Mounts has a credit in the collected editions, but I'm not sure what that's exactly for. I apologize for the misattribution. McCaig's work is just as great on the series when he's doing it as when I thought Mounts was doing it.
My blog has come back to life! Check out VariousAndSundry.com for, mostly, my in-depth photographic experience at a Wiggles concert. No, I didn't have a special pass. I just had really good seats at a concert with an open photography policy. I learned a lot, so it's taking five or six days to tell the whole story. It's given me the bug to go do "real" concert photography...
Better yet, I finally got the WordPress app to work on my iPhone, so updating the blog when away from the computer at home is, at last, a possibility. iPhone Photo Blogging is a real possibility now.
I have not given up on the Pipeline Podcast. There are some behind-the-scenes technical issues that kept me from uploading the most recent podcast. Hopefully, those will be sorted through in time for this week's show. I hope.