Rude Chapbooks 01.24.11 | Dig It: “M-I-C, K-E-Y—”

“M-O-U-S-E!” Yeah, buddy! In an industry overrun with rats, our columnist sings the praises of a much more agreeable rodent on the release of Mickey Mouse #304, which presages a monumentally exciting M.M. project on the horizon. He also praises Shellhead’s 500th, pans the Slayer’s finale-for-now, and ponders two other floppies published during the past week.

Arguably, one should never revisit old flames; too often, not even the smallest ember glows among the ashes of the past. Case in point: Buffy the Vampire Slayer #40. This issue of the Dark Horse title concludes the “eighth season” of Joss Whedon’s TV phenom starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, and although that turn-of-the-millennium series sparked a fannish conflagration then, little if any warmth lingers here and now. Even though this issue features a script written solely by Whedon himself—its immediate precursors involved “stealth” co-writes not solicited as such and not altogether satisfying for that reason—the finale to the five-part “Last Gleaming” arc feels (pardon the phrase) anemic, largely lacking his whip-snap cadences. Moreover, the art from penciller Georges Jeanty and inker Andy Owens exhibits the main failing of work perforce heavily reliant on photo reference, an overall lack of robustness. In an afterword, Whedon reflects on lessons learned from this run and characterizes himself as “giddy about Season 9.” One can only hope those lessons and that giddiness translate to the “season” itself.
 
Invincible Iron Man #500 recalls why Marvel once bore the nickname “the House of Ideas.” In truth, since assuming the scriptwriting duties on the title a few years ago, Matt Fraction (creator of the brilliant Casanova, of course) has long occupied that grand old manor, which, over time, has been too frequently flipped and too carelessly maintained. Here, behind a singularly cool CAD/CAM cover from regular artist Salvador Larroca, Fraction teams with him and guest artists Kano, Nathan Fox, and Carmine Di Giandomenico to present “The New Iron Age,” a stand-alone 56-page extravaganza that features not only Spider-Man but also the malign Mandarin and the son and granddaughter of the title character’s alter ego. (Also included is a brief but perceptive afterword from editor Alejandro Arbona—a name to note.) Presuming that we survive the Mayan end of everything next year, 2013 will mark the semicentennial of ol’ Shellhead’s debut. With Invincible Iron Man #500, Fraction & Co. not only preemptively honor that debut, but also tempt one to believe once more in this publisher.
 
Some reprimands write themselves, and in that respect, almost nothing about Image’s Memoir #1 qualifies as memorable except its dismal forgettableness. Yes, it sports a typically smart cover from John Cassaday, but he and Alex Ross, between them, seem to be contributing covers to 90 percent of the comics being produced nowadays (thereby, incidentally, also contributing to the problem, as opposed to the solution, of the mainstream’s moribundity). Otherwise, absolutely nothing about this premiere from writer Ben McCool and artist Nikki Cook rings true, in what appears to be an attempt at “David Lynch weird.” McCool’s script suggests a nearly mind-boggling ignorance of contemporary journalism at all levels, life in a small town, and, almost incidentally, professional dramaturgy. Cook’s “splash that Higgins” aesthetic, meanwhile, hilariously scants the fact that an apple extracted from a suitcase—by itself, an unlikely enough bit of stagecraft in a narrative putatively set in the U.S. in 2011—oughtn’t initially resemble nothing so much as a woman’s disembodied breast (page 7, panel 2). An amateurish waste of paper and ink.
 
From an industry growing increasingly omphaloskeptic—did ya hear that J.M.S. just retold Supes’ origin for, like, today, is that cool or what, just lucky nobody ever did that before, huh?—this column would generally disregard a reprint; given the mainstream’s obsession with the past, it enjoys little enough of a present, let alone of a future. BOOM! Studios’ Mickey Mouse #304, however, constitutes the exception that proves the rule by showcasing 30 vintage pages pencilled by the great Floyd Gottfredson (1905–85). With such collaborators as writers Bill Walsh and Webb Smith and inkers Dick Moores and Ted Thwaites (as here), Gottfredson visualized Mickey’s adventures for more than four and a half decades, and as this issue’s “Mickey Mouse and the Pirate Ghostship” shows, he customarily did so with nonpareil verve, style, and wit. His work remains criminally underappreciated in the industry, and to anyone who cherishes the medium—note the distinction—Mickey Mouse #304 should provide a tantalizing preview of Fantagraphics Books’ forthcoming compilation of Gottfredson’s tenure on the adventures of the character.
 
In the brutal beauty of its execution, no other contemporary mainstream series rivals Northlanders, for one simple but sly reason: its title notwithstanding, this extraordinary Vertigo creation from writer Brian Wood focuses not so much on a fixed cast of characters as on a dramatic milieu—northern Europe from 8 to 12 centuries ago. Given the spatiotemporal latitude of that milieu, anything goes with Northlanders, a new-millennial Conan the Barbarian without the comforting Conan component. Thus far on the series, Wood, with diverse artists, has produced much of note and a certifiable tour de force in the Leandro Fernandez–illustrated fourth collection, The Plague Widow. With art from Becky Cloonan, Wood’s splendid collaborator on the equally splendid Demo, Northlanders #36 concludes “The Girl in the Ice,” a simple yet elegant two-part tale of a bleak life bleakly disrupted by death, an almost Chekhovian narrative set in Iceland circa A.D. 1240. Frostily fine, this title numbers among the top comics being published today; the pull-and-hold list of any genuine devotee of the medium should include it. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #40, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Invincible Iron Man #500, courtesy of PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Memoir #1, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Mickey Mouse #304, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

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