Rude Chapbooks 01.16.12 | A Marvel of a Team-Up

Almost inconceivably, our cranky columnist here lauds the first half of a crossover: The Amazing Spider-Man #677. Also praised, in a suspiciously benevolent week: Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1, Punisher MAX #21, Reed Gunther #7, and X-Men Legacy #260.1.

 

 
Although the (always hypothetical) habitués of this column might presume that it automatically vilifies crossovers, that presumption fails to hold true. “Rude Chapbooks” abhors not so much crossovers as moronic crossovers, crossovers with no purpose beyond padding a publisher’s coffers, crossovers that begin and seemingly never end. That brings us to The Amazing Spider-Man #677, the first half of a Spidey-Daredevil romp written by the ever-dependable Mark Waid (subbing for regular Spiderscribe Dan Slott). He here partners with one of the mainstream’s most exciting younger artists, Emma Ríos, whose visuals evoke the seminal mid-’60s work of both Gene Colan and John Romita. In the tale, someone has framed the Black Cat for a high-tech theft, and on her behalf, the web-slinger seeks aid and counsel from attorney Matt Murdock, DD’s alter ego. Waid’s dialogue remains impeccable, as does his characterization; at one point, for instance, the two heroes briefly compare aerial notes about Manhattan architecture—directly before “racing” vertically from the Empire State Building. A truly marvelous old-school Marvel, continued next week in Daredevil #8.
 
The involvement of artist Tonci Zonjic all but guaranteed a place on the P&H list for Dark Horse’s Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1 because of his sterling work on Who Is Jake Ellis? last year. Behind a customarily stunning cover from Dave Johnson—no relation, presumably—Zonjic teams with co-writers Mike Mignola and John Arcudi to relate the latest exploits of Mignola’s Depression-era pulp-inflected paladin. Although in conception the character more closely resembles a conflation of the Spider and G-8, the quinary miniseries opens with all the blood-and-thunder brio of an early-’30s Doc Savage supersaga by Lester Dent, the main (and best) “Kenneth Robeson.” To wit, phantom (and fake) Indians scalp a New York cop and assail a wandering couple, whom Lobster Johnson rescues; subsequently, a crusading female newsy investigates, while a second couple (she sultry, he sinister) enjoys a Caribbean cruise presumably headed toward the intrigue, and a white-clad dwarf who recalls actor Peter Lorre confers with a bootlegger about a land grab. Great fun—illustrated, again, with precision and panache by Zonjic.
 
This meditation only superficially concerns Punisher MAX #21, the penultimate issue of that series from writer Jason Aaron and artist Steve Dillon. No disrespect intended to them, but this review salutes Dave Johnson, whose covers on that vehicle for Marvel’s über-vigilante, issue after issue, have defined design excellence. Consider, as an exemplar, this latest offering, which depicts an angled close-up of a discharged automatic, loosely gripped by the eponymous antihero’s leather-gloved right hand. Blood spatters the surrounding pavement, as well as a snapshot of the man once known only as Frank Castle and his family, long since slain in crime-related mayhem. Moreover, almost unthinkably, the logo slants off the gun barrel into the cover’s lower left corner, and the quasi-imprint’s insignia occupies the lower right corner. As ever, Johnson’s palette relies on judicious use of red, black, and (most surprisingly) white—sometimes he’ll accent with neutrals like sage and khaki—making this the most recent Johnson composition whose thrilling muscularity and diversity rival and sometimes top those of Alex Ross, the new millennium’s Captain Cover.
 
Quite agreeably, 2011 witnessed the launch of several notably comedic comics, prominent among them writer Shane Houghton and artist Chris Houghton’s wonderful Western about a grizzly-riding buckaroo. This week’s Reed Gunther #7 opens with their kindhearted if chowderheaded protagonist flaunting a new pair of cowboy boots (those who have never celebrated the bliss of such a purchase will have to grant the brothers Houghton the benefit of the doubt, albeit with a nod from this columnist) and swiftly proceeds to a gold rush–like monster hunt, the seeds of which were sown in prior issues. That, in turn, segues to a frontier hamlet named Warmth, where Reed—accompanied by his long-suffering ursine pard, Sterling, and his sensible yet forgiving love interest, Starla—encounters a werewolf with anger-management and identity issues. The kerfuffle ends with élan…and flapjacks. Great fun, honestly. Image recently compiled the first five issues of Reed Gunther, and that trade paperback and the series alike enjoy this column’s warmest recommendation, especially for readers wearied of the faux solemnity of most mainstream comics today.
 
Writer Christos Gage has done such fabulous work on Avengers Academy that his assignment to any other series almost perforce transforms it into a must-read—as with X-Men Legacy #260.1, his debut on that long-running Marvel title. Happily, Gage makes entrée to the series painless, even entertaining, basically by flipping the focus of AvengersAcademy—i.e., emphasizing various new instructors at Wolverine’s Jean Grey School for Higher Learning over the students. Led by Rogue, those new instructors include at least one founding X-Man (namely Iceman), later additions to the mutant rolls, and utter enigmas to a fan who hasn’t been maintaining spreadsheets on all of the company’s characters for the past two decades or so. Visualizing this issue’s adventure, which pits the group against a menace from the Chris Claremont–John Byrne era, are penciller David Baldeon and inker Jordi Tarragona, whose work looks far cleaner and more coherent than that of either of the art teams on the revenant Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine & the X-Men. An interesting and promising change in creative team. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Amazing Spider-Man #677, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Reed Gunther #7 and here for a preview of X-Men: Legacy #260.1, both courtesy of Newsarama.

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