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Tue, March 1st, 2011 at 1:58pm PST | Updated: March 2nd, 2011 at 9:21am

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist
9

TAKIO

You know how George Carlin was the main character on "Thomas the Tank Engine" in his later years?

That's kind of how "Takio" feels at first blush. "From the creators that brought you the monkey sex issue of 'Powers' comes a feel good kids superhero comic!'

Hmmm, maybe this is more Bob Saget moving from blue comedian to father on "Full House?"

Cheap gags aside, "Takio" is a solid read with a distinct identity and look. It's the kids comic without the pitfalls of kids comics. For starters, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming didn't create a diverse cast of two dimensional characters here. You don't get the dumb jock and the airhead cheerleader or the prom queen who looks down her nose at all her minions. The cast is kept very small, just large enough to populate the story being told.

The book is focused like a laser on its two stars, 13 year old Taki and her little seven year old sister, Olivia. Those two dominate the book, usually together. It's their bickering back and forth that drives the story, but it's never done in a way to make either character unlikeable. No, it's a sign of their youth and immaturity that they behave the way they do, along with their shared (and not-so-shared) past. Let's face it -- we're talking sisters at ages 7 and 13. How could there not be conflict? But Bendis and Oeming make it deeper than that in ways that are both explained and left to the imagination of the readers -- at least until a future volume digs into the past a little more.

The story is fairly basic: There's a mad scientist, an accident, some new superpowers, and Men In Black out to get the heroines. Oeming gets the chance to draw more characters with energy pouring out of them. Bendis gets to write the patter of two kids doing everything they can to get on each other's nerves. And Chris Eliopoulos nearly has a heart attack trying to figure out how to stuff all the word balloons on the page. The book is laid out pretty simply. It averages out to four to six panels per page when there's no action involved, but then expands out. It's very manga-esque that way. The storytelling is open, transparent, and straightforward, as any book aimed at kids should like be. This is not a hard comic book to read, and we need more material like that if we're to bring up the next generation right.

Oeming's art is unmistakable, yet very different from his "Powers" look. For starters, the backgrounds are a bit more cartoony than the characters, drawn with a skewed perspective and with the black lines knocked out and a softening filter added on top, to give it a distancing factor. It's like the whole comic is shot at f/1.8, to put it in photography nerd terms. The depth of field is limited, and that helps the artwork pop. (You don't need 3-D gimmicks when you can use a simple approach to the art like this.) The sharp focus on the characters in front of the slightly blurry backgrounds is something that's been toyed with in superhero comics, but never committed to in the same way as it is in this book. I'm still surprised nobody's tried it seriously at Marvel or DC.

Colorist Nick Filardi is the unsung hero of the issue. Besides dealing with all those knocked out colors, he keeps the book bright and open, never showing off his Photoshop tools to try to make things look "ultra-real" or kewl. He cuts in shadows. He doesn't do gradients or sculpting. The final look is great.

Bendis clearly is drawing on his daughters for inspiration here, with dialogue that only sounds wrong and forced to you if you've never dealt with kids before. Otherwise, it all fits together nicely. The restraint he's shown in keeping the story small and straightforward at a time when he likely just wants to tell us everything, is commendable. It leads to much better storytelling. Like I said before, I'm sure the open questions we're left with will be deal with in subsequent volumes, should they happen.

"Takio" is available as a hardcover graphic novel for $10 as of tomorrow. It might not be your thing if you don't have kids or don't like Bendis' writing to begin with, but for everyone else it will be an enjoyable read.

THE FORMAT QUIBBLE - NOT THE PAGE COUNT

There's just one thing that bothers me about "Takio," and it's not a strike against the book or its creators at all. It's about my on-going frustration with comic readers who claim to love the artform and then refuse to consider anything other than standard formats. This isn't me ragging on Bendis and Oeming in the least. They chose a good format for their material, and I hope it does well for them.

"Takio" is nearly 100 pages for $10. But you could easily cram the same amount of storytelling in half the pages, if you went in the Franco-Belgian comics tradition. Same price, larger page size, but fewer pages. People would whine about the number of pages being so small for the money and run screaming. Drives me crazy.

For this material, a smaller page size with larger images relative to that size is a good way to go. It'll fit in with the rest of the material in the field. That's all well and good, and the design is smart for it. But, in general, it always amazes me to read "serious" comic buyers who won't buy a Cinebook because $10 is too much to pay for 48 pages of story. I can also safely wager that those 48 pages will take you longer to read than four issues of the latest superhero comic at Marvel or DC, so your cost per minute is much lower. And two Cinebook volumes will take longer to read than the latest trade paperback that's $20 and collecting six issues.

Sorry, just had to get that off my chest before jumping into another volume of "Lucky Luke."

THE FIRST ISSUE: INSIDE COMICS

This week, "Wizard" relaunches as the pop culture version of "The Daily." Sorta. In honor of that event, let's look at some first issues of the past. We start this week with "Inside Comics" #1. The cover date is June 1992.

The scary thing about the magazine is that the cover could be repeated today and it would still be relevant. It features a Rob Liefeld-drawn "Youngblood," and headline interviews with Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, Liefeld, Mark Bagley and Steve Geppi. A magazine that launched today could be credible with that lineup. Bagley could talk about this return to "Ultimate Spider-Man." Liefeld could be talking about a "Youngblood" movie, or his recent prolific comics output. Moore and Gebbie are a real catch for any comics outlet. And Geppi could be talking about Diamond Digital.

Instead, let's talk about the landscape of 1992 with those players:

Liefeld is the lead interview. The interviewer? Current Image Publisher Eric Stephenson. Here's a quote from the introduction:

"While Rob Liefeld has never been a media darling in the eyes of the fan press, the months since the first Image press release have seen anti-Liefeld sentiment at an all-time high."

I wish "Inside Comics" had lasted long enough to gauge fan sentiment around about the time Liefeld took over "Captain America."

The interview goes over the creation of Image Comics, how Liefeld bit off more than he could chew in launching "Youngblood," how it's not just a copy of what he did at Marvel, who created Cable, and more. By the time the interview skips to the back of the magazine, some designer thought it would be a good idea to use a giant black and white image of Liefeld's face as a background to place behind the words. Yeah, that made things easier to read.

Still, there were magazines with worse design sense, but we'll get to those another time.

A five page short "Robocop" story written by Steven Grant is thrown in, too, to help tie into Dark Horse's other "Robocop" offerings, as well as the third movie in the series.

The Moore/Gebbie interview discussed "Lost Girls," which was then in active production for "Taboo." It features this choice pull quote from Moore, "The idea of a crocodile with a clock in its mouth. What is that a symbol of sexually?"

He reminds me of that English professor I had in college who could turn any phrase from a poem into the most salaciously sexually suggestive thing ever. We used to take bets before class began on which most benign phrase he'd interpret in a sexual way. And he always surprised us by going even lower. Pardon the digression...

The interview, by Steve Bissette, was broken into three parts. Smart move -- three consecutive issues of a magazine with a single interview with a top name creator? Today, we do that on the web, but we just break the interview up onto three pages for more page clicks. (Thankfully, CBR is not one of those sites.)

The reviews section of the magazine looked at the X-Men lineup of the time, which included the classic run of "Excalibur" by Alan Davis, the early post-Claremont X-Men lineup, Peter David's "X-Factor" (of which the reviewer writes, "Sometimes the humor is a bit much") and "Wolverine." It's that last one where things go horribly awry for review writer Dennis Gordon. This paragraph is wholly unforgivable:

"Let's use this title to explore unanswered questions and to visit folks we haven't seen in a while, and for the sake of all we hold dear, let's get rid of Jubilee. Who came up with this Asian cross between Dazzler and Boom-Boom, and what was wrong with Dazz and Tabitha, anyway, other than the fact that we need more minorities in comics (and I mean that, but that's not a reason to invent Jubilee)? At least Kitty seemed like a real person when she was playing sidekick to Logan?"

Ouch. And so very, very wrong.

Moving forward, the "Hot Picks" section gives you the zeitgeist of comics for mid-1992. Here were the 10 hottest picks for the month:

1. "Amazing Spider-Man" #365 had the cover with the hologram square for the 30th anniversary.
2. "Alpha Flight" #111 was an "Infinity War" crossover, but past that I couldn't tell you why it deserved to be on this list.
3. "Lobo's Back" #4 has Keith Giffen, Alan Grant, and Steve Bisley. That's not bad.
4. "Ghost Rider & Blaze: Spirits of Vengeance" #1 featured Andy Kubert -- who just turned 49 this week -- on art, and I knew that without looking it up.
5. "Ghost Rider" #28 was polybagged with a poster to tie into #4 above.
6. "The New Titans" #89 still had Tom Grummett and Al Vey on art.
7. "Marvel Comics Presents" #108 and #109 kicked off the Ann Nocenti and Steve Lightle "Wolverine and Typhoid Mary" storyline. It also tied into "Infinity War," as the series began floundering for readers.
8. "Unity" #1 was a title from Valiant, for those of you not old enough to remember Jim Shooter's powerhouse lineup of the early 90s. The rise and fall of that company is another one of those great unwritten books in comics.
9. "Infinity Gauntlet" #1 made the list for two limited edition reprints. The gold edition had 4000 copies; the platinum edition only had 3500. George Perez signed them all. 7500 comics. Signed by one man. Ouch. Today, there are Marvel series that barely scratch that number without a special edition.
10. "X-Force" #13 features the reveal of Cain as Weapon X. Deadpool guest-starred. And Nicieza was still writing.

The full list goes 20 titles, though it gets tiring after a while. #18 was "Robocop vs. Terminator" #2, though. That was a fun miniseries from Frank Miller and Walter Simonson. And #19 was the newsstand edition of "Eclipso: The Darkness Within" #1, which was less desirable for not featuring the chunk of plastic glued to the front cover, which turned out to be a pain in many longboxes for sticking out so much.

The twentieth book on the list "New Warriors" #26, which I believe was the debut of a young Darick Robertson as regular artist on the series, replacing Mark Bagley. How is it that 20 years have passed since then? I'm feeling old again.

The final article of the magazine was perhaps its most interesting. "Not Mint" chronicles the life and death of "New Dawn Comics," a mail order retailer with a mailing list 20,000 people strong. The rest of the story involves drugs, neglect, a mental institution, possible mafia contacts and more. Here's the concluding paragraph:

"The scandalous collapse of New Dawn Comics may have been prevented if greed and power and drug abuse did not exist as an all-too-real problem facing any rapidly expanding company. New Dawn Comics had been a pioneer in the professional marketing of comic book collecting, at its best helping to establish many of the standards still in use by the industry to this day. It is a sad fact that the company also pioneered many of the darker problems that can face the comic book business as it matures and enters the world of real business. Human nature will always be a flawed product. And mint condition exists only as a state of mind."

It's a fascinating story, the kind of thing you'd almost expect to see on a Dateline NBC special. I'd love to see this reprinted somewhere someday.

The author of the piece was Steve Perry. Given that Steve Bissette is listed as a consulting editor on the magazine, I'm guessing that this is the same Steve Perry, creator of "Thundercats," who was murdered last year.

The magazine finishes up, as they all did back in the day, with a price guide. It ran 96 pages long, exactly half the size of the final magazine. It has, in retrospect, a wonderful homemade feel to it. It looks like it came out of a high-end typewriter of the day, with one special computer font used for comic series titles. Cover images, in black and white, were inserted one per page for graphical interest. Their reproduction standards were extremely crappy. Were they using an early scanner or is it just bad black and white photocopying of color images?

"Inside Comics" didn't last very long, as I remember. I have three or four other issues in a box here somewhere, and I think that's about it. Fred Greenberg is listed as publisher. I can't find anything on the internet about the magazine, so I can't give you much more historical background than that. The interviews and articles in this first issue were solid pieces, though

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