Rude Chapbooks 01.10.11 | Stellar Monkey Business

The singleton Starman/Congorilla showcases the gypsy scriptwriting genius of which James Robinson’s capable. If only it weren’t a “done in one” thing! Otherwise, from among the first floppies released during the new year, our columnist reaffirms that Next Men #2 marks John Byrne’s best and that the launch of a new Fallen Angel miniseries from Peter David should occasion acclaim.

Fallen Angel: Return of the Son #1 resumes what may constitute writer Peter David at his zenith. Almost necessarily, it revisits both Bete Noire, the so-called city that shapes the world, and the title character, as well as her darkling supporting cast—among them her monstrously and manifoldly scarred offspring, Jude. It also continues to explore the mother-son tensions integral to the work for some time now and debuts a preternatural menace with a signally intriguing pedigree, all illustrated with grace by J.K. Woodward. Through the years, David’s peculiar success with Fallen Angel (now at IDW Publishing, previously at DC) has derived from his embrace of his characters’ sociopathy. His focal antiheroine, for instance, has always excelled at kickin’ ass and takin’ names, without apology and with gusto enough to make Marvel’s Wolverine look like the soul of diplomacy. Moreover, unburdened by decades of dubious continuity and the even more dubious contributions of a large corporation, David has imbued this phantasmagoria with a thrilling anything-goes electricity. One of the most underappreciated titles being published today.

Once upon a time, DC meant “Detective Comics,” but nowadays, increasingly, those initials stand for “dismal contrivance,” as readers of JSA All-Stars #14 should deduce without difficulty. The dismal contrivance of a tissue-thin schism in the Justice Society of America birthed this title. Dismal contrivance led to Cable wannabe Magog “co-leading” the team with Power Girl—and subsequently departing in a “wow, big surprise” snit. Dismal contrivance inspired that team’s field name, an absurd (and, in context, embarrassing) nod to All-Star Comics, the title that started everything. Dismal contrivance prompted the introduction and just-like-that acceptance of the A.I. Roxy and Anna Fortune, a sorcerous Grifter in drag—one can almost envision those “dark secrets no one foresaw” four-issue arcs drafting themselves. This issue, writer Matthew Sturges unleashes the villainous Puzzlemen, gray-robed occultists with large, pointy teeth. (Yes, stunningly original.) After two issues by Howard Porter and Art Thibert, it also features the return of regular artist Freddie Williams II, whose work recalls that of former X-standby Joe Madureira, a pencil-pusher of inexplicable popularity. Eminently forgettable.
On the outside chance that Constant Reader missed this column’s encomium three weeks ago, it bears reiterating that writer/artist John Byrne, after a long hiatus, has revived perhaps his finest creation. Where that debut from IDW Publishing almost necessarily—if masterfully—recapped a backstory of mind-boggling length and complexity, Next Men #2 speeds into overdrive. More specifically, Byrne’s genengineered protagonists and their ally, fed Tony Murcheson, find themselves strewn by enigmatic means across time and space; one lands in the South during the Civil War, a second materializes in a European wasteland in World War II, and a third appears in ruffed-and-ready, thees-and-thous England. In what passes for the present, meanwhile, a fourth member of the cast tells an interviewer, “[I]t was she who foiled the assassination attempt on President Lincoln by the actor John Wilkes Booth.” What blissful mystery! Byrne’s visuals, incidentally, equal those from his top earlier work, though his line as an inker today recalls less Terry Austin than the late, great Dick Giordano—by no means a demerit. A pull-and-hold gotta-have.
Although his current tenure on Justice League of America has thus far dispiritingly failed to cohere, due in large measure to complications engendered by crossovers and “events,” Starman/Congorilla #1 recalls writer James Robinson’s prior glory on one of the most noteworthy DC titles of the past two decades: Starman. Among many bravura fillips, of course, that Starman reintroduced this Starman, the azure-skinned alien Mikaal Tomas, created by writer Gerry Conway and artist Mike Vosburg in 1st Issue Special #12 in 1976, and the debut of the gleefully goofy Congorilla predated even that by some time. In what seemed a bit of characteristically brilliant quirkiness, Robinson, on assuming the scriptwriting duties of Justice League of America, inducted both characters into DC’s superteam supreme, only to sideline them. This one-shot (with art from Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund) sends the outré duo on a quest also involving Rex the Wonder Dog, Animal Man, and other lesser-known DC heroes and boasts the sharp dialogue and characterization that frequently vanish when Robinson tackles marquee players like Batman. Recommended? Absolutely.
Nobody bats a thousand. Although Vertigo fields a number of Most Valuable Player candidates in the mainstream—DMZ, Fables, Northlanders, Scalped, and The Unwritten—its bench also includes a basebalker incapable of crossing the Mendoza Line: Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth. After almost a year and a half, this series remains resolutely unconvincing. It reads, in fact, like a hash of late-night after-the-apocalypse sci-fi B movies: castoffs from Dr. Moreau’s island (none of them at all totemic), Road Warrior rejects, vivisectionist militiamen. Beyond its derivative nature, the title suffers from a looseness than too often shades into impenitent sloppiness; between the eighth and ninth issues, for example, the title character’s age rose from nine to 11 years, and the latest issue, Sweet Tooth #17, boasts an almost laughable “reveal.” Finally, that title character may rank as the mainstream’s least proactive protagonist, as well as its most annoying. (If Rudolph had moped only half as much as Lemire’s deer-boy hybrid, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius, quite early in their peregrinations together, likely would have supped on roast venison.) | Bryan A. Hollerbach


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