Pipeline: Jubilee, Orzechowski & Mall Cops

Tue, January 24th, 2012 at 12:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

VAMPIRE JUBILEE VERSUS THE WORLD

The "Wolverine and Jubilee" miniseries has now been collected in both a Marvel Premiere Edition hardcover and (just recently) a trade paperback. If you want to read it, here's all you need to know up front: Jubilee is a vampire now. Not a mutant. And this doesn't make her happy.

What Kathryn Immonen writes in this four-issue limited series is a story aimed at getting Jubilee to come to terms with her new status, and not be so depressed about it. Immonen is moving her chess piece from one phase of the game into another, and doing it with great skill, love and humor. The last issue, when all the plot pieces come together and there's a madcap adventure and grand finale meant to close all the plot threads, is a bit melodramatic and hand-wavey, but I'll take it. The overall impact of the series is that Jubilee is a more multi-dimensional character who went through a bad time, but is now learning to be better.

I'm not sure how to describe the story, but picture this: Jubilee is under Wolverine's care for a little afterlife lesson, but she slips up. That leads to an adventure in Russia tracking down a human trafficking circle which in turn leads to a disturbing supernatural character or two who lead Jubilee into some kind of alternate world where she learns to love herself and cope with her issues.

The good news is, for a miniseries meant to help a character deal with an inward-facing issue, Immonen crafts a fun story that takes the characters to different places and gives them plenty of opportunities to show a lighter and more human side. Immonen references Jubilee's past without being beholden to it. She uses that to inform the character, not to service the die-hard fans. The dialogue in the book is sharp, with conversations that slide through the pages, punctuated by lighter moments that make the book a pleasure to read.

The visuals come from Phil Noto, who pencils, inks and colors the series, with a little coloring help in the second issue coming from Nathan Fairbairn and John Rauch. I've been a fan of Noto's cover design work since he showed up on "Birds of Prey" a decade back. Those were brilliantly-designed and colorful. Since then, he's grown to be more of an interior storyteller. It's a transformation that hasn't been without its awkward moments, as Noto's specific style can sometimes look stiff or underdrawn when used for panel to panel storytelling.

I haven't read everything Noto's done, but this book looks like a real leap in his abilities. His basic pen-and-ink style has evolved over the years. There's more detail in the pages, and more panels drawn from angles other than dead-on-center. The art's become more interesting, and his characters show a wider variation of expressions and poses.

It helps that Noto can do his own coloring. It serves him well in adding depth to his naturally flatter images, while also remaining light enough to never hide the art. There's just enough detail added in coloring to keep things interesting. Any special effects you think you see with the coloring is just Noto cutting in different shades to suggest details and shadows where his ink line is absent. It's a great effect.

There are occasional figures that look a bit squashed from a challenging angle, but those are few and far between. Some might quibble about just how Asian Jubilee looks, and the real quibblers will point out that the flashback to that fateful day at the mall when Jubilee first saw the X-Men doesn't have the characters dressed correctly. We can start nit-picking the book, but the overall look is strong.

Oddly enough, Noto didn't provide covers for the original miniseries nor this collection. Olivier Coipel handles the cover of the collection (torn from the first issue's cover) and Nimit Malavia handled the rest of the mini. Nothing against Malavia, a very stylistic artist whose work would easily draw attention on the stands, but Noto is already on the book. I wish Marvel would use him. He's great at the design stuff.

This miniseries exists to help straighten out a character that's gone through recent major changes. It's a necessary, though not earth-shaking, story that's entertaining in its own right, a can't miss book for any fan of Jubilation Lee. It brings her character to a new place, one less loaded with self-pity and more open to a future of experiences and adventure. The final book carries a $19.99 cover price in hardcover, $15 for the trade.

A BLAST FROM THE PAST: "UNCANNY X-MEN" #244

Because four issues is too flimsy for a collection like "Wolverine and Jubilee," Marvel throws in a reprint of "Uncanny X-Men" #244, Jubilee's first appearance.

The story is set during the X-Men's stay in Australia, living a ramshackle life of hiding, travelling around the globe thanks to the Aborigine, Gateway, whose whip-thingy ("bullroarer") could transport the mutants anywhere he wanted. This issue focuses on the women of the team, sure to be a crowd pleaser. Instead of a baseball game or a Danger Room sequence, the girls (Storm, Dazzler, still-British Psylocke and Rogue) go shopping at the same mall Jubilee is living out of. This is only after a big dramatic action sequence that exposes some more of Rogue's character, as well as everyone's powers along the way.

Marc Silvestri is the artist, with Dan Green handling the inks, as usual for the time. If you like this period of Silvestri's work, you'll likely enjoy this issue. It's fun to watch him draw the period fashions of the late-80s, including Storm's new haircut and Rogue's new dress. It's all stuff that seemed so modern and "hip" back when the issue came out, but that now looks dated. That's OK, though. I like a mini-time capsule in a comic.

The coloring is the big stumbling block, as always, with a reprint like this. The colors stay true to the original comic, if you used it as a guide. But the printing is much better now, on glossier white paper. Suddenly, those colors that were once muted by newsprint now jump out at you, primary colors looking particularly bold and glaring. I almost wish someone had taken the final files for this reprint and toned the brightness down 25%, or added a light gray layer on top of it all to dull it up a little bit. That's the funny things with reprints today, though: There's no solution that will make everyone happy. I'm sure others love this look. But doing a full recoloring would be cost-prohibitive and, some might argue, break up the original "look" that people remembered and liked so much in the first place.

I realized two things while reading that story. First, Chris Claremont's writing style is unique and I miss what he had going with the mutant books back then, even if it would be unsustainable today. Second, Claremont and Tom Orzechowski used lettering in a way to tell the story beyond just dryly reciting the dialogue.

Is the writing in this single issue of "Uncanny X-Men" overdone? Perhaps. There's certainly a lot of it. But you know what? For an issue I likely haven't read in a decade, I never once felt lost in reading it. Claremont's dialogue explains everything going on in the issue, from character names and powers to their locations and current situations. It's a master class in storytelling. Today's more economical writing style is done for collected editions, assuming people will know everything that's come before because it's under the same set of covers. Mostly.

Claremont's story is also never boring. It uses the comics format to its advantage. It doesn't draw anything out. If there's a character dispute that he wanted to highlight for an issue, he had them fight it out, literally. A conversation afterwards works to straighten things out to let the dust settle, but then it's on to the next big event. There are two or three such beats in this one issue, where today's comics are lucky to fit in one complete beat. Comics today, taken as single issues, fit into one of three camps: Setting things up for later events, middle issue slowdown, or rushed ending to wrap everything up so all of these six issues can be reprinted together. Claremont did all of that in this one issue, minus any thought of making a boring section.

The secret weapon in the issue, as it was in most of Claremont's run, was the lettering of Tom Orzechowski. I'd love to see the original scripts to these issues, because I'd be curious to see how much of it is contributed by Orzechowski and how much is detailed in the script. Maybe Columbia University's collection of Claremont's papers will be able to tell us someday.

Let's look at some examples:

It's such a simple thing that you might not have consciously noticed it, but check out that first word balloon. It's cut-off, including in the middle of the words that fill it. It's a technical no-no, usually, that's used here to help tell the story. Jubilee is running from the mall cops in a frantic rush. She's babbling as she goes, and we're looking in at only a small slice of that moment. Orzechowski cuts off that first balloon and it gives the reader a better sense of looking at a scene already in progress.

Then look at what he does with the last balloon. His hand lettering goes to all lower case, and shrinks in size in the word balloon. This is to indicate a softer voice, almost like Jubilee is now mumbling to herself, rather than calling out to everyone in the area.

Claremont did this bit a lot, using lots of little word balloons to carry the dialogue. It helps pick up the pace for the reader, I think. It's not as extreme as some of the captioning work Frank Miller fell into after "Dark Knight Returns" and with "Sin City," in particular. Miller loved two word captions. But Claremont uses the staccato dialogue to give the reader a sense of something frantic happening, not of a disjointed barely literate character's psyche at work.

People make fun of the repeated bits of Claremont dialogue that became cliche. ("I'm the best at what I do." "The sum totality of my psychic powers." etc.) That served two purposes, though. First, it brought new readers up to speed with pithy and succinct descriptions. Second, it became a rallying cry to long-term readers. It's like listening to your favorite music record and singing along with your favorite parts. Hearing Psylocke describe her psychic blade is like that point in R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It" where everyone screams "Leonard Bernstein!" It's the familiar comfort of a memorable turn of phrase at an interest moment. It's no different from Captain America screaming "Avengers Assemble!", which I think he did a half dozen times in "Fear Itself."

But looking at the overall pages of a Chris Claremont-penned comic at the time, you can see a wonderful bouncy energy about the word balloons. Yes, there are pages that are text heavy, but for the most part the balloons bounce across the page. They're small, they direct dialogue back and forth quickly, and they have enough differentiation to keep from being repetitive.

Check out this panel, where (off-panel) Jubilee's growing fear is mirrored in her word balloon sizes. You can feel her voice getting louder by seeing the text on the page transform over four balloons. One word, then three words, then four words, then three big words. It's a wonderful meter to read a comic in.

Overall, it's a pretty light-hearted issue. The X-Men women are doing retail therapy at the mall. The mall cops are played for laughs, and the guest "villains" of the issue are a Ghostbusters-like group called "The M Squad", who claim to go around capturing mutants in a trap much like the Ghostbusters used to use.

In this panel, we see Marc Silvestri drawing a mall cop who looks like he's jumping straight out of some silent movie comedy, holding onto his hat as his feet leave the floor, smoke indicating where he took off from. But check out the balloon there with the extra red border to it. Again, it's rising tension, as the cop repeats himself, each time getting a bit louder. The first time, it's in a plain font. The second time, Orzechowski bolds the key word, "hate." On the third time, "hate" is not just bolded, but double or tripled in size, along with the rest of the sentence. The lettering size mirrors the energy with which the words are spoken. The "hidden" art form of lettering goes out of its way to help tell the story, not just stay out of the way. I like that.

Tom Orzechowski used every lettering trick in the book to tell the story. His lettering was another character on the title, not in a distracting way, but in an additive way. He was fluent in a number of tricks, and he had the diversity to nail each one. Add to that, he did it all in the hand drawn lettering days. These aren't computer shortcuts or standard template tricks. He did each by hand, giving each imperfect panel a sense of character absent in comics today.

The panel above shows a variety of lettering styles in one panel, from balloons butted up against the border, to joined balloons, to balloons separated by a tail. We've got straight tails indicating speakers, and slightly bent tails. Alison's laughter shows three different lettering styles, and even Betsy's "Oh" is in lettercase, to help color the expression.

And, yes, they're at a club where a shirtless man with a mullet is pulling Ororo up on stage to dance with him. (And it works!)

I could look at Orzechowski's lettering all day, and it always jumped out at me when I opened an issue of "Uncanny" at the time and found someone else's lettering. It impacted the story. I hope this column has helped explain some of the reasons why I feel so strongly about it, and maybe it'll even be an eye-opener for you, the next time you crack open a Claremont-era X-book.

BITS AND BOBS

  • Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos' "Cow Boy" comic is now on-line, starting this week at CowboyComic.net. The first seven pages are up there now as I write this. You can read my review of the book here.

  • There's a danger in over-using your logo's flap. DC's first corporate initiative with the new logo went out this week. It's a commendable effort to save lives in Africa.

    But this is what the bottom of the email looked like:

    Am I the only one who thinks the two flaps look weird together like that? The email is lifting it's flap up and to the right to reveal a DC logo that's lifting its flap down and to the left. It clashes to me.

  • After reading the issue of "Uncanny X-Men" discussed above, I want to see the Wolverine Omnibus featuring Marc Silvestri's run on the series with Larry Hama. Failing that, I'd "settle" for an Omnibus collection of the Claremont/Silvestri "Uncanny" run.

  • I liked "Prophet" #21, too, just like the rest of the internet! Sorry I haven't had a chance to review it. It fell victim to being read in-between a bunch of other things that I'm writing whole columns about lately. In case I never get around to it, let me just say this: It's the prettiest European graphic novel Image has published this year.
IN CONCLUSION

Next week could bring anything, including "Fear Itself" or "Moon Knight." So much to discuss, so little time...

If you want to look at some pretty original art, ComicArtFans.com is the one place on the web you need to visit. The majority of my original art collection can be found there, too.

In the meantime, here's where else I am on the web:

AugieShoots.com || VariousandSundry.com || Google+ || Twitter || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

TAGS:  pipeline, wolverine, jubilee, phil noto, kathryn immonen, marc silvestri, chris claremont, tom orzechowski

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