Pipeline: 2012 Reviews and Upcoming Image Goodness

Tue, January 8th, 2013 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

BOOKS WITH SPINES: REVIEWS FROM 2012

At this point each year, I look back at the reviews I've done for collected editions, original graphic novels, and books about comics. I aim for 50 such reviews, but never quite reach that mark. In 2012, I only made it halfway. Here's the list, in roughly alphabetical order:

I didn't expect to see IDW up there so much, but it makes sense; I don't buy too many things they publish, but the ones I do are ridiculously high quality. It's always fun to talk about that kind of book. Plus, the "Artist's Edition" line of books is the most awesome format comics have ever been published in. I get giddy holding one, because I always find something in those books that I wouldn't see at the "normal" reprint size.

I expected more Image titles. I probably reviewed more Image individual comics, though. Maybe this is the year I start catching up on those trade paperbacks I've let pile up?

It doesn't matter. It's all meaningless statistics. Comic books are comic books, in whatever format they appear. I'm happy to read lots of them every year, and I'm happy to talk about as many as there is time and space for right here.

Here are some of the other things I wrote about in 2012:

Some art-focused entries:

The "transmedia" stuff:

THIS WEEK, FROM IMAGE

Now that we've looked back, let's look forward to a few titles hitting comic shops this week from Image:

"Clone" #3: I'm liking this science-fiction thriller title, written by David Schulner. It has its share of twisty moments, yet is still easy to follow. It's a high concept book with standout art from Juan Jose Ryp. (Felix Serrano's coloring is likewise distinctive.) The closer you look at the art, the more you wonder just how much time Ryp slaves over each page to add all those lines and dots and textures. Take a closer look at this book next time you see it and notice just how much work is on each page.

"Savage Dragon" #184: Has Dragon never been on trial before? It just dawned on me that it seems like a standard trope of superhero comics that every character will go on trial at some point or another. My first taste of that was a little off to the side, in Peter David's "Star Trek" series in the early 1990s. That was the "The Trial of James T. Kirk," which provided a neat wrap-up to David's first year on that title.

But Dragon? I don't think we've had the courtroom drama yet. Given that this is Erik Larsen we're talking about, I don't think that he'd be able to write a courtroom drama without a villain breaking down a wall to get in to attack the finned dude. Larsen hasn't moved into the trial phase of this storyline just yet -- this is the issue where the defense lawyer is gathering information and we see how dire the situation is for Dragon. It functions as exposition for new readers, and also a chance, perhaps, for Larsen to poke a little fun at himself for writing the characters into so many absurd situations, especially when you look back on them like this.

I couldn't begin to explain Dragon's death and rebirth if you had asked me to today. Angel explains it all in the middle of this book and sorts it out for me in the process.

"The Walking Dead" #106: The wraparound cover on this is in celebration of Charlie Adlard's 100th continuous issue on the series. It's a remarkable achievement in this day and age, and one that only Mark Bagley has achieved in the last decade that I can think of. (Next closest would be Ryan Ottley on "Invincible," though he's had some fill-in art along the way. Stan Sakai might qualify with "Usagi Yojimbo," but I'm not sure how monthly that book has been over the years.) This issue suffers a bit from being in the middle of a storyline. There is, of course, the great final page cliffhanger to bring you back, but the rest of the issue gives us a look at some of the supporting characters while moving the main plot forward just a little bit. It's not disappointing by any stretch of the imagination. You just need to put it in context. There's still plenty to look forward to.

"Guarding the Globe" #5: Phil Hester is doing a lot of great work with this series, wrangling a potentially frightfully large cast and giving characters their focus in turn. Along the way, he's not losing sight of the overall plot, which comes crashing back down by the end of the issue. Hester does two interesting things in this issue. First, he addresses the recent phenomenon of possessed characters' sex lives. The characters start the issue off with a frank discussion of what has recently happened with Outrun, while keeping everyone "in character," reacting in a variety of interesting ways to the news that she wasn't who they thought she was. It treads a fine line being being being light-hearted and deadly serious, and I think pulls it off.

The other balancing act Hester pulls off in the issue is addressing Brit's relatively nonchalant attitude towards his autistic son. Hester's solution fits in beautifully with the tone of the series and the type of book this is. Others, particularly a more sensitive reader, but object to it. Maybe. We'll have to wait and see what the reaction might be after the book hits the stands. I'll be curious to see how reactions land.

Todd Nauck's art is a perfect fit for the book. Like "Invincible," this is a book that demands a certain "comic booky" feel at all levels. Nauck's art is perfectly geared for superhero comics. Yes, he can do more, but you can't deny that his stuff looks its best when applied to the kind of stories he's telling here. His style matches Ryan Ottley's and Cory Walker's. Some of the earlier jitters I saw in Nauck's work on the book have mostly worked themselves out by this point. The book looks more "finished" now than it did then. Nauck is clearly getting more comfortable in inking his own work, and the book benefits from that.

"Repossessed" #1: Think of this as the Ghostbusters, except they bust possessed souls instead of ectoplasmic creatures hiding in a large public library. A team of three bounty hunters are sent on missions to get the demons out of possessed bodies. There's some incantations, some planning, and some holy water-soaked bullets. After an introductory action scene, they get caught up in a case that is, of course, bigger than expected. That leads them into bigger danger than they've ever faced before. The story is easy to follow and has some nicely timed bits of humor, but it's mostly an action book with demons as the bad guys.

Everything in the book is done by JM Ringuet, who has an interesting coloring style. It looks like a very colorful set of magic markers has been used across this book, and I like it. It feels oddly muted, with a lot of the black lines looking aged. It's not quite like the color is knocking out the black, but something in-between. It's not straight-forward and it's not the result of a reliance on a single Photoshop trick. It might be too much for some, but I think it works well in a limited format like a single comic. I like seeing different formats, so I welcome this one.

It's the lettering where the book has some problems. Some balloons are laid out in odd ways, where I'm still not sure if I read the dialogue in the right order. The balloons are often too big, the text isn't centered, and the tails are oddly shaped (too fat, short, not pointed enough). The font isn't bad -- though they did't need to also used it on the text page on the inside front cover -- so it's easy to read. I just hit too many speed bumps along the way.

As sick and as uninterested as I generally am of books with demons, there's enough potential in this series to give it the full four issues to see if Ringuet can pull off something ultimately interesting.

"The End Times of Bram and Ben" #1: James Asmus and Jim Festante write the story of a world in which the Rapture has come and gone, and two buddies find themselves seeing the world in two different ways because of it. One, who died and came back, is finding a new lease on life but not really learning a lesson. The other suddenly finds the will to believe after such crushing evidence. It's the Odd Couple of post-Rapturous comedy, but it works. While the book is played for laughs, it does include tangents to some of the concepts that such an event might bring up.

The art comes from Rem Broo, who has a cartoonier thing goes that works well with the madness of the book. It reminds me a bit of Rob Guillory's work (though nowhere near a rip-off, by any means), which is probably why this feels to me like the "Chew" of the End Times. It's expressive, action-packed, and exaggerated when it counts.

If nothing else, it's a full 32 pages for just $2.99, owing in part to a successful Kickstarter campaign, I guess. There's not so much as an Image house ad in the book. It's cover-to-cover content. It's planned to be a four issue miniseries. Like "Repossessed," the first issue is strong enough to warrant reading the rest. In fact, if I had to choose only one of those two books, I'd go with this one.

"The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts" HC: If you're a Paul Pope fan, I can't imagine you won't like this book. The presentation is beautiful: a nicely designed hardcover with heavy glossy paper to hold the inks and color. This is a collection of short stories, one-offs, and hidden gems from the mid- to late-90s. The title feature is a reprint of a story originally serialized in "Dark Horse Presents." Pope's work is not cup of tea, so I can't recommend it based on the content, or compare it to his other works to tell you how it holds up. If you like this kind of thing, though, I think you'll want this book. It's a great presentation. It will be out next week.

LINKS OF THE WEEK

  • Without a doubt the most exciting links of the week come to us from Rob Liefeld's blog. He's posting pages done for a "New Mutants" fill-in story he did before he eventually took over the series. Here's part 1 and here's part two. Inks are from Al Williamson and Al Milgrom. But even the pencils look nice. Check out some of those exaggerated Warlock figures. Awesome stuff.

  • How many other spiked fill-in stories are lining the flat files at Marvel and DC? Some, no doubt, have been around so long that editorial regimes have passed and everyone's forgotten about them. I'm fascinated by that kind of stuff. There used to be enough money in comics to solicit fill-in issues before there was a need for a fill-in. Imagine that these days.

  • There's at least one known story sitting in a drawer somewhere at Marvel: Remember the Robert Kirkman/Rob Liefeld "Killraven" miniseries? Liefeld has posted some images from that still unpublished mini. Keep a close eye on his blog as he keeps posting these great nuggets.

  • Is there a future in digital comics? Here's the latest bit of data that makes one think there is: "Wired" is now making more than half its ad money from its digital publication.

  • This year's CBR TV Blooper Reel is a compendium of mirth and merriment. It also features The Great Kazoo of 2012. Craziness.

  • Lettering Nerd Update for the Year: Todd Klein has a great series on his lettering role model, Gaspar Saladino. Klein goes looking for Saladino's first published work, and the blog post series that results is a treasure trove of analysis. Join Klein on the hunt in Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Saladino's legend only grows in the conclusion to this story, but you'll have to read it to see how.

  • I don't view European albums with rose colored glasses. I acknowledge that most are probably not very good, in accordance with Sturgeon's Law. But the more they make, the more good ones there have to be, right? 2012 turned out to be another growth year for those albums. Over 4,000 new titles came out last year. In fact, according to the article, that's more comics than American publishers put out. And we see next to none of it here. Frustrating.

  • The latest "Titeuf" book in France sold more than a million copies. You can count how many Americans have ever heard of that title on one hand. "Lucky Luke," decades after its original creator died, racked up a half million in sales for the latest volume. (Cinebook has published roughly three dozen of those volumes so far, and they're worth searching for.) Another Cinebook title, "Largo Winch," is up to 18 volumes in its native tongue, and that last one sold 440,000 copies. Most impressive.

  • If you want to help Peter David during his stroke recovery period, go buy one of his boodk.. I haven't read any of the books highlighted here, in particular, but I've read enough of David's prose to know they're worth a shot, at least. Keep an eye on his blog, too, as his wife provides continuous details on David's recovering. (Just don't read this one without a tissue handy.)

  • Finally, last month, I wrote:

    The next test will be this week with "Happy" #3, by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson. Both of the first two issues went to second printings. Has the four issue miniseries found its audience now, or are retailers still ordering in the dark? If reprints are still needed with issue #3, does that indicate a need for a third printing on the first two issues? Or do we just wait now for the trade collection and forget monthly sales on the mini? Is it too late to adjust orders on issue #4 given immediate sell-through on issue #3?

    This week, Image put out a press release that reads, in part:

    It's a "HAPPY" New Year for Grant Morrison's and Darick Robertson's Image Comics miniseries as its third issue, released on December 19, has sold out at the distributor level. Every issue of the skewed take on a classic holiday story has received a second printing. . .

    That won't answer any of the questions I posed above, but at least I can say I saw it coming.

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TAGS:  pipeline, image comics

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