Rude Chapbooks 01.30.12 | Hickmania

Writer Jonathan Hickman earns a tandem attaboy this week for the carefully crafted cosmic craziness of his work on Fantastic Four #602 and FF #14. Also analyzed herein: American Vampire #23, King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1, and Kirby: Genesis #5.

Now nearing the end of its sophomore year, writer Scott Snyder’s Vertigo picaresque practically dares a reader to dislike it. After all, as American Vampire #23 shows, its quasi-focus owns such an irresistibly roguish grin, brightened by switchblade canines and rattlesnake eyes. Skinner Sweet (the title character, kinda) continues his mischief in this, the second chapter of a quadripartite arc entitled “Death Race,” set just outside L.A. in 1954. Here, with friction-generated sparks showering everywhere and that devilish new “rock and roll” music blaring from the dashboard radio, the blond bad boy grinds chassis, figuratively and literally, with a 19-year-old nonunion vampire exterminator named Travis Kidd. In ways not yet established, Kidd—James Dean with a fang fixation, all pomade, shades, leather jacket, and swagger—holds Sweet responsible for his being orphaned and otherwise institutionalized as a tyke. Add to the mix a ponytailed teenybopper named Piper with vampire-related issues of her own and some high-octane visuals from regular artist Rafael Albuquerque, and brace yourself, dear reader, to burn rubber on the highway to hell.
In hindsight, the audacity of writer Jonathan Hickman’s conception of the self-styled World’s Greatest Comic Magazine boggles the mind. Consider, if you will, Fantastic Four #602. Mostly successfully, that latest issue of Marvel’s revenant flagship title incorporates Kree Invasion No. 743 (complete with Ronan the Accuser and the Supreme Intelligence), the pestilential Annihilus, the Inhumans, and Galactus, all from the series’ defining Stan Lee–Jack Kirby run, as well as incidentals like an Avengers cameo and a cadre of insane other-dimensional Celestials. The Allies’ D-day invasion during World War II probably prompted fewer drops of blood on the brow than coordinating all the plot points herein. If anything, furthermore, Hickman’s skill with characterization and dialogue surpasses that involving plot. In one scene, by way of example, Sue Storm Richards, with a small, serene smile and a wave of her hand, hurls an armed, armored Kree warrior through a starship’s hull before kneeling and needling her fallen hubby, “On your feet, old man… Everyone still needs saving.” Barry Kitson illustrates the wonders both great and small.
In its nominal evasiveness, submitting FF as the most promising Marvel launch of 2011 not only borders on too clever by half, but also disserves writer Jonathan Hickman’s visionary extension of Fantastic Four. For the third consecutive issue, additionally, FF #14 features the not-quite-cartoonish yet scarcely business-as-usual visuals of penciller Juan Bobillo and inker Marcelo Sosa, and if anything, the incongruity of their contribution supercharges the Future Foundation’s pandimensional Thermopylae play against lunatic Celestial raiders. Yes—with aid and counsel from their paternal grandfather, young Valeria and Franklin Richards pit themselves and their schoolmates, including the endearingly amoral Bentley, against some of the most puissant antagonists in the Marvel multiverse, as defined. Yet for all that, amid the stellar strife, a chat between wee Val and inarguably her strangest adoptive uncle of all constitutes one of the finest exercises in nuance in a mainstream comic in recent memory. By the end of the issue, in fact, only readers with the hardest of hearts will fail to be rooting for none other than Victor von Doom.
Arguably, not since a madcap Missourian and a mad-dog Englishman collaborated on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian #1 in 1970 have fans of Robert E. Howard’s signature swashbuckler enjoyed so blissful and buoyant a time. Last week’s column saluted the conclusion of Conan: Road of Kings, the newest Cimmerian saga from writer Roy Thomas—the aforesaid Missouri lad, now publishing the fanzine Alter Ego and otherwise enjoying semiretirement in Atlanta—and this week, “Rude Chapbooks” whoops without reservation about Dark Horse’s latest adaptation, this one involving perhaps the most historic work in the Conan canon: King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1. A revision of the (then-unpublished) 1929 King Kull tale “By This Axe I Rule!,” “Phoenix” bowed in the December 1932 Weird Tales and marked the official debut of Howard’s leonine legend. As on earlier projects for the present publisher, writer Timothy Truman reestablishes himself as one of R.E.H.’s most sterling stewards, and artist Tomás Giorello and ace colorist José Villarrubia once more flex their metaphoric muscles to glorious effect on this quadripartite mini.
Roller coasters don’t take pit stops. Prompting that observation, as well as a weary sigh, is the arrival of Dynamite Entertainment’s Kirby: Genesis #5, whose predecessor shipped on October 26—that is, fully three months ago. Although this column previously hailed both the series’ “zero issue” and its formal premiere, “Rude Chapbooks” has also long maintained that serials demand seriality. That dictum holds true particularly for this project from writer Kurt Busiek and artists Jack Herbert and Alex Ross, which amalgamates creator-owned published works and otherwise unpublished works and concepts generated by Jack Kirby over three or four decades. As such, Kirby: Genesis constitutes a miscellany, if (pardon the pun) a marvelous miscellany, with dozens of villains and heroes, including Captain Victory and appealing everyman Kirby Freeman, sharing the stage in each issue. At its heart, it truly does rank as a fine act of fealty to the King. Despite its good-hearted intent and seductive gaudiness, though, such a narrative juggernaut will inevitably falter and fail where the schedule, for whatever reason, jumps the tracks. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Fantastic Four #602, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of King Conan: The Phoenix on the Sword #1, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Kirby: Genesis #5, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.

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