Monday, February 05, 2007

When Good Comics Go Bad: Wolverine #50

If you are looking for signs that the mainstream comics industry is about numbers-- as opposed to art, style, integrity, or craft-- look no further than Marvel's Wolverine #50. This potential milestone issue with lovingly rendered art by Simone Bianchi was knocked down to just another market number by careless editorial handling. The worst part is it doesn't have to be that way. All Marvel has to do is care about the end result.

Strike 1: The Lettering
Bianchi's style of art is unique, in regards to most comics work there is an absence of the "inked" black line that ties the absolute black point together on each page. With digital lettering, the fine-detail of a vector font stands out like a sore thumb, and that's even after contending with the method of separating black to it's own plate for printing. Don't want to get too technical here but the process barely works on regular comics, it is a total cop-out to use the process on painted or toned art.

Lettering is handled by Comicraft, which while in general has a degree of quality (I myself purchase their fonts), the quantity to which they apply themselves to comics has created a genericism that hurts the form. Adding insult to injury here, there are horrid, horrid color choices for captions and sound effects, evident from the first page. This is surely due to the factory-line procedure of the letterers not having access to colored art-- therefore it is the editor's responsibility to correct these issues. Basically, a large lettering effect should never be given a color that isn't represented on the page. Add to this the fact that Comicraft is off-site from Marvel offices, and the ever impending deadlines, one could argue it's amazing the effects are colored at all. But what I am saying is lettering done poorly has a noticeable influence on the finished product. Because in this instance the artwork of Bianchi is setting a higher standard than average, the other elements of the book must be up to the task.

Strike 2: The Coloring
After the main tale, there is a backup story featuring the groovy-crisp art of Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines. Unfortunately since it is a "flashback" of sorts, a decision was made to put on the "color halftone" effect to, I don't know, date it. This is rarely done well, as most folk just apply a photoshop filter to the page and are done with it. Colors in this instance are by Dave McCaig, whom I know to be a great colorist, but something went wrong. The dpi setting for the halftone at first is set to low, and all the wonderful detail of McGuinness' art is lost in muddy dots. Later in the story the dpi changes and looks truer to form, but it's still a miss. The idea with the color halftone is to replicate older coloring, and yet applying this filter will give you anything but. There are instances where you'll see a correct interperetation, like Y100 (that's a solid yellow ink) for Wolverine's costume, but of course every other color is nowhere near the desired spectrum if you color the pages like a modern comic. There are other ways to get the effect but they are bit more involved than selecting a filter, but apparently the story wasn't worth the extra effort. Or perhaps in the hectic world of publishing, there wasn't the time. I don't know for a fact one way or the other, all I see is the lackluster end result.

Strike 3: Jeph Loeb
So here is the one thing that doesn't directly impact the production of the book, it's a tad more subjective. But I am officially placing Jeph Loeb in the company of Geoff Jones and Brad Meltzer as Destroyer of Comics. The story of the book pits Wolverine against Sabertooth, for that one final showdown, which we've been reading for about 20 years. And there is a showdown, but not before Loeb introduces some new, primal "memories" for ol' Canucklehead plus a flashback to his time with Silver Fox. Sabertooth goes on to kill Silver Fox, but not before Loeb lets us know he raped her first. Asshole.

The forgettable, Loebish over-narration of the main story isn't the worst offense, it's the aforementioned backup story that really lit my fuse. Here is a re-presentation of the classic Wolverine first appearance from Incredible Hulk #180-1... to which Loeb proceeds to piss on the original story by Len Wein and Herb Trimpe. Oh I'm sure that's not the direct intention, but that's sure as hell how it reads. Here Wolverine (through narration-- big surprise) spits out knocks on his origin, early motivation, and even costume. The worst is when he laments at the original story itself, as outside of Loeb's narration the panels contain snippets of the original dialog. Here we're given narration explaining that people were always putting words into Wolverine's mouth, as if he's now so much cooler in the hands of a literary luminary such as Loeb. The clincher caption: "There's always some jackass making me say something I normally wouldn't." I just can't take that line in context with the story. It's either some clever gripe by Loeb at comics editorial, or (as it sounded to me), a dig at all the other Wolverine writers, specifically the first one. Real nice, Loeb. Long Halloween was a hell of a long Halloween ago, it's nice to see you've matured as a writer.

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