Rude Chapbooks 01.03.11 | Aaron Unerring—and Otherwise

Scalped #44? Writer Jason Aaron at his acme. His Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #4? Uhhh…next question, please! (The answer, preemptively, involves three other floppies—two praised with considerable vigor, one panned with a vengeance—released during the final week of 2010.)

If, in fact, the periodical in question astonishes in any way, shape, or form, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #4 may well do so chiefly by reminding potential readers that it exists. Its indicia identifies the Marvel title as a monthly, which strongly suggests something has gone awry with the space-time continuum. Furthermore, for a work supposedly designed to introduce and endear the title characters to “civilians,” this miniseries, to date, has failed and failed laughably. Previous issues sent Spidey and Logan pinballing through the past and the future and shanghaied Dr. Doom, Ego, and the Phoenix in an almost transcendentally WTF fashion. This, the antepenult, finally reveals the miniseries’ villains, three new characters that push stupid even by the standards of mainstream comics; the least confounding of the trio makes MODOK look dignified, for pity’s sake. Admittedly, penciller Adam Kubert and inker Mark Roslan prettify all of this nonsense, but it otherwise seems staggeringly beneath a writer as adroit as Jason Aaron—three decades ago, this mess wouldn’t have stretched beyond a single Marvel Team-Up.
In para-pulp adventure—an outré subgenre or sub-subgenre perhaps first localized by the late Byron Preiss with the 1975 anthology Weird Heroesa prior installment of this column lambasted DC’s First Wave quasi-line. Happily and characteristically, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips have lately been demonstrating how to do it to it in comics. To wit, with Incognito: Bad Influences #2—the second issue of the second of a series of miniseries from Icon—they continue the twisted, twilight saga of villain-gone-virtuous Zack Overkill as he feigns a return to criminality at the behest of the Amazonian Zoe Zeppelin (think “Nicole Fury”), with the malefic Black Death monitoring his actions from an über-penitentiary and what appears to be a familiar cloaked-and-cowled vigilante newly patrolling New York. A splendid transposition of pulp blood-and-thunder to the comics, Incognito: Bad Influences suffers from just two shortcomings: at least for the nonce, it feels parlous echoic of Brubaker and Phillips’ earlier Sleeper, and Incognito miniseries alternate at Icon with those of an even finer collaboration from them, Criminal.
“Who’s this Dr. Chaos?” an incidental character asks the Golden Age Flash midway through Justice Society of America #46. In response, Jay Garrick confesses ignorance—aptly, insofar as a written death threat under scrutiny, shown two panels earlier, bears no signature and the script has otherwise established no means whereby said I.C. or the Flash could know whence the threat originated. Such amateurishness has recently come to characterize this DC title. By way of example, the cover here promises Scott Kolins as artist, but the interiors come from Mike Norton, at best a marginal talent. Otherwise, writer Marc Guggenheim apparently specializes in what the late, great Damon Knight dubbed the idiot plot—a plot that “works” solely because it has for a protagonist a total idiot—with a veneer of B movie psycho killer and front-page terrorist. Why does the Flash go cowboy throughout this issue? Simple—to help the hack indicted in the credits fill 22 pages. At the moment, under Guggenheim, Justice Society of America numbers among the most odious titles being published.
“I’m even a failure as a suicide,” FBI agent Baylis Nitz reflects in a voice-over caption at the start of Scalped #44. One silent panel later, Nitz adds, “And the day started off so promisingly…” Those two captions nicely encapsulate the mordant glory of this Vertigo title from writer Jason Aaron and artist Davide Furnò (substituting for series co-creator R.M. Guéra). It opens with Nitz pressing the muzzle of his automatic to his own right temple and closes with a gunpowder gala at a meth lab, followed by the promise of much worse—and this ranks as one of the title’s more lighthearted issues. Any dolt can do cheap nihilism, of course, and in mainstream comics, too often any dolt does. With Scalped, however, Aaron has implacably dismissed not only the mainstream’s easy blacks and whites, but also its more seductive but no less risible grays. Here, even Nitz, one of the series’ main antagonists, self-evidently antagonizes no one so much as himself. Golden, absolutely golden—like dawn on the day of your scheduled execution.
If our infamous war on drugs hadn’t effectively eighty-sixed them, head shops nationwide likely would be retailing among the “paraphernalia” S.H.I.E.L.D. #5. Trippy? Oh, baby! To jest that Timothy Leary would have so grokked this Marvel nonesuch runs the risk that writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Dustin Weaver haven’t already plotted to add the late, lamented lord of “turn on, tune in, drop out” to the dramatis personae in a few issues. After all, the roster already includes not only the fathers of Reed Richards and Tony Stark, but also Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, and a third scientific titan (Real World Division) revealed this issue as the alter ego of the enigmatic Night Machine. Almost half a century ago, Stan Lee jocularly nicknamed Marvel the House of Ideas, and with S.H.I.E.L.D., Hickman and Weaver remind readers why, thrillingly. Oh, hell—burble burble burble. Just buy S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 and its predecessors, fanboy, before the Einsteins now guiding the company announce their dismal intent to make the title the centerpiece of Marvel’s next whorish “event.” | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #4, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Justice Society of America #46, courtesy of DC Comics.

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