Review: Question: Pipeline trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Overall I've been impressed with how DC Comics's "co-feature" backup stories have translated to trade paperbacks collection, but The Question: Pipeline is the first one to fall short of the mark. This is, I should say, much to my surprise, as constant readers know I'm both an ardent fan of Greg Rucka and his Renee Montoya iteration of the Question. Pipeline offers a bunch of nice moments, but they're scattered within a repetitive plot that lacks some of the nuance of earlier Question stories.

[Contains spoilers]

In both Teen Titans: Ravager: Fresh Hell and Blue Beetle: Black and Blue, the books' respective writers used the ten-page co-feature format to send the characters on mini-adventures with quick cliffhangers. This worked well; the Ravager story, especially, felt like a great action thriller, with the title character narrowly escaping one near miss only to be confronted by another.

Question: Pipeline, however, has a plot that's ultimately just not that strong. Question Renee Montoya tries to help a man find his sister who was kidnapped into slavery; Question saves the woman, and then proceeds to try to take down the criminal network basically by traveling from base to base and beating up the network's henchmen, with a well-armored Huntress in tow.

Greg Rucka writing Question and Huntress eating lunch would be considerably better than a number of other books on the market, but there's not enough plot growth in the center of the book; the heroes don't learn much that's new about their enemies, for instance, like Ravager and Blue Beetle do. What results, then, are a couple of pages of Question or Huntress beating up some guys outside a house, a page of banter, and then the heroes beating up some guys in a warehouse, and then the heroes beating up some guys on a ship. The reader begins to suspect the contents of the next page very quickly.

Alternatively, whereas segments of Question: Pipeline do tend to repeat one another, Rucka makes the transition between the individual segments quite seamless. Pipeline is formally split into two chapters, comprising about a third and two-thirds of the book respectively, like a single issue and an extended Question special, even as both are made up originally of ten-page segments. To write a co-feature series such that, once collected, it reads like a graphic novel is an achievement on Rucka's part. In this way, Question: Pipeline works better than other co-feature collections, even as in other ways it does not.

After the fantastic Question: Five Books of Blood, in which Renee has to discard her morals chapter by chapter until she enters the heart of the Religion of Crime, Pipeline paled in moral ambiguity. Rucka seems to give a half-hearted attempt at conflict when Question and Huntress pay off the assassin Zeiss for information, and Tot (Question Vic Sage's long-time mentor) chastises them for it -- but a hero buying money from a villain is hardly new or shocking, and we never see any bad result from the heroes actions, making the whole thing feel flat. In the end, Question sacrifices herself in a way that is indeed shocking, but this comes only in the book's final pages.

Still, as Question: Pipeline marks perhaps Greg Rucka's last DC Comics work for the time begin, there's some nice scenes here than can be read, to an extent, as Rucka's final victory lap. For one, Rucka reveals the identity of Oracle Barbara Gordon to Renee, and Renee's continual amazement that "Commissioner Gordon's daughter" is a superhero is priceless. Rucka dips into Doom Patrol territory with a cameo by Oolong Island president Veronica Cale, whom Rucka created in Wonder Woman, and it's nice to see him get one more crack at the sinister character.

And perhaps most welcome is a nicely muted scene, which I hoped for in my review of Huntress: Cry for Blood, in which Renee realizes that Huntress knew (and loved) the Question Vic Sage, and both acknowledge that Vic saved their lives. One of Rucka's overarching stories in the DC Universe (among many) has been about the end of Vic Sage's life and the legacy that the Question left behind, and this brief scene in Question: Pipeline brings to a good close that series of work.

[Contains sketchbook pages by artist Cully Hamner. Printed on glossy paper.]

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5 comments:

  1. I found myself much more impressed with this volume. I didn't find the fights repetitive so much as an series of conflict escalations as Renee moved up the hierarchy of the people smugglers. Cully Hamner's art is the best example of fight mechanics and choreography I've seen since Quitely's work in Batman & Robin.

    The character interactions and guest appearances were all great surprises and the book gave us really memorable scenes for Tot, Helena and the ultimate villain (won't spoil it for those who ever read it). Most impressively the book made me re-evaluate the previous Renee story Final Crisis: Revelations and give it new resonance.

    Like you I appreciated the shout outs to Cry For Blood and connecting that to Charlie's death scene in 52.

    All this made me treasure this book when I went into it with low expectations. I thought it was a suitably high note for some of Rucka's last work on DC characters. Just got to see where his final Batwoman issues will be collected.

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  2. I didn't care all that much for this volume either. I mean, it's entertaining, and I suppose that's all I can hope for in my funnybooks. But it's so damn slight. I finished it in about an hour or two. There's very little depth for the reader to explore.

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  3. *Bump* for those last couple Rucka issues of Batwoman being collected in the first trade of the new series.

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  4. Which means we don't get to see the eventual face off between Renee, Helena & Vandal. Ouch!

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  5. I totally agree with Aalok Madhusudan Joshi I want to know more about Renee and Helena, you can't finish a story with MAYBE LATER!!! i want to know if she has the !"%#&/& mark!.

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