Rude Chapbooks 02.06.12 | 2 Dead Girls

This week’s column celebrates a brace of titles starring femme fatalities as disparate as Max and Caroline from a certain ribald CBS sitcom: iZombie #22 and Rachel Rising #5. Also lauded, just a wee, teensy bit, from among the latest select quintet of new floppies: Winter Soldier #1.

 

 
This month, Dark Horse Presents #8, publisher/editor Mike Richardson’s integral anthology, warrants accolades primarily for an ending and a beginning alike. To wit, writer/artist Howard Chaykin’s “Marked Man” serial concludes, while The Massive, the much-anticipated new ongoing from writer Brian Wood and artist Kristian Donaldson, commences a tripartite prelude before its discrete launch in June. Since its premiere, the former, in its tone, has felt restrained by the standards of the auteur behind American Flagg!, and it closes with similar restraint while remaining recognizably Chaykinesque—an observation meant, by the way, as neither complaint nor slight. Chaykin obviously intends to revisit his career-criminal protagonist at some point. Good! The prelude to The Massive, meanwhile, surges into existence with “an impossibly unique and beautiful and lethal demonstration of the power of the ocean” in the North Sea 17 years ago; its penultimate page includes an environmental epiphany, as the evident focal character, a young mercenary, dips his fingertips into that surge. As daring and tantalizing a debut as one would expect from the writer behind DMZ.
 
As iZombie #22 hints, that Vertigo series from Memorial scribe Chris Roberson and artist Michael Allred harbors a nasty secret whose very mention could doom it with card-carrying he-man potential readers everywhere. Even though it stars a Deborah Harryesque member of the walking dead who periodically scarfs human brains, even though the supporting players include a ghost and a quasi-lycanthrope, even though two competing cadres of Dr. Van Helsing types (one almost perforce a governmental black-ops strike force, the other one of those centuries-old fraternal orders so commonplace in contemporary horror fiction) also populate its pages, even though a Lovecraftian menace vast and cold and dreadful threatens all proceedings herein, iZombie, at its core, constitutes a romance comic. (Yes, fanboy—a romance. Deal with it!) Furthermore, in its good cheer and charm, it has few if any rivals. One can’t help pulling for Gwen (the title character) and her beau, spectral Ellie and her patchwork paramour, wereterrier Scott and his own potential heartthrob. Sweet without being saccharine, iZombie, in its bonhomie, commands attention—and acclaim.
 
In the inestimable grace of its execution, its bravura blend of humor and brutality, writer/artist Terry Moore’s latest Abstract Studio series, quite frankly, shames every other horror comic book being published today. Rachel Rising #5 plays a few more passages of Moore’s delicious symphony of wit and shivers, wherein he often conveys with a stroke or two of the pen what lesser creators fail to match in page upon page. The issue opens with his protagonist waking in her aunt’s house; it closes with a pigtailed gamine leaving bloody footprints as she (let us say) heads off a potential molester. Between those two scenes of atmospheric magnificence, Aunt Johnny, easily one of the best new supporting players in the mainstream, cooks dinner for Rachel and her B.F.F. Jet, and another guest at the meal, with chipper certainty, identifies Rachel in a celestial context—albeit one unlisted in A Dictionary of Angels by Gustav Davidson and three similar references at hand. In short, the mystery keeps deepening as Moore’s macabre melody continues to swell. Horrifically wonderful!
 
Half a year since DC’s “New 52” took seed, the time at last has come to assess one of its sprouts instantly hailed (this past September 7) for its heartiness by no less a general authority than The New York Times. Alas, Swamp Thing #6 recalls nothing so much as the common sunflower—pretty enough, in its way, but lacking any particular scent, like a plastic simulacrum of itself. In the thankless task of cultivating the exploits of a character so storied for so many reasons, writer Scott Snyder contributes nothing here equaling the psychogeographic devilry of his Batman or the (to coin a phrase) hellbilly kick of his American Vampire: Alec Holland (kinda back from the dead), Abby Arcane, abattoir imagery, insects, demons. It all reads like a studied variation on Alan Moore’s landmark run on the eponymous character—and at that, a variation bereft of the romantic yearning infusing that run. Moreover, on the issue at hand, guest artist Marco Rudy only approximates the ocular jolt of series regular Yanick Paquette. A disappointment.
 
Marvel’s Winter Soldier #1 explodes like a hand grenade hurled with pinpoint accuracy by a Major League Baseball pitching ace, all lovely concussion and shrapnel. As a superheroic spy thriller, it instantly bids fair to join Steranko’s Enola Gay work starring Nick Fury and the Doug Moench–Paul Gulacy Master of Kung Fu—and well it should, inasmuch as it comes courtesy of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Butch Guice. Bru (who’s otherwise a complete lowlife) ranks among today’s top talents, as evidenced by his scripts on Criminal, Fatale, and Incognito in the last few years; in the meantime, after a lengthy tenure of dependable craftsmanship, Guice has transformed into visual nitro. On Winter Soldier, the two reteam, having previously partnered on a little comic called Captain America, to continue the crepuscular exploits of James “Bucky” Barnes. To the publisher’s credit, the issue includes a page saluting Joe Simon, who, with Jack Kirby, created Bucky and who died in December. One can’t help picturing Joe and Jack, Upstairs, flipping through this dynamite debut—and grinning. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Dark Horse Presents #8, courtesy of Dark Horse.

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