Rude Chapbooks 02.13.12 | Riverdale Enters the New Millennium

With Kevin Keller #1, arguably the industry’s most conservative publisher earns kudos for launching an ongoing with a homosexual protagonist. Also lauded in this gloriously diverse week: Berlin #18, Black Panther #529, Conan the Barbarian #1, and Thief of Thieves #1.

 
Fans whose buying and reading begin and end with superheroes illicit pity—mingled, to be sure, with disdain—because their stunted aesthetic prevents them from enjoying many if not most of the medium’s finest releases, like Berlin #18. Writer/artist Jason Lutes’ historical narrative for Drawn & Quarterly last appeared in November 2010, and the sedate pace of its production, however necessary, borders on maddening. In any event, after a one-page dream scene of considerable understatement and foreboding, the latest black-and-white issue advances Lutes’ saga of the Weimar Republic. Journalist Kurt Severing at last begins to rebound from amatory depression and dissipation, with a little help from a friend. (The four-page sequence wherein Joachim, the friend, buttonholes Severing constitutes a marvel of cartooning, with a three-panel clownish dance the acme of delight.) Among other characters, Berlin here revisits Silvia Braun, an adolescent girl filled with terrible (if understandable) rage who’s masquerading as a newsboy, as well as the lovers Marthe Müller and Anna Albrecht, arrested at an underground cabaret and abused by the local police. Extraordinary.
 
As part of Marvel’s ongoing purge of non-marquee titles, Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive #529 marks its finale, which seems a shame. As noted previously in this column, writer David Liss, with various collaborators, has developed it into one of the company’s most enjoyable. With artists Shawn Martinbrough and Jefte Palo, he here closes a quinary arc pitting T’Challa against the Kingpin for control not of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, the setting of the series, but of the eponymous character’s African homeland, Wakanda, through its national bank—a deliciously nonadolescent conceit for a superheroic saga. To be sure, Liss enlivens the narrative with guest heroes (the Falcon and Luke Cage) and villains (Lady Bullseye, Typhoid Mary, and the Hand, whose membership at any given point seemingly exceeds Japan’s population, man, woman, and child). Palo’s four-page epilogue works less well visually than Martinbrough’s bravura noir, but then, Martinbrough’s written a text on that topic, and the series concludes both gracefully and sagaciously. T’Challa (as well as his wonderful new aide-de-camp, Sofija) will be missed.
 
Although he’s taken pains to distinguish between Northlanders, his soon-ending creator-owned Vertigo title, and his newest assignment, Brian Wood seems a natural to write Conan the Barbarian for Dark Horse, and the debut of that title, which launches a 25-part adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast” (from the May 1934 Weird Tales) disappoints not an iota. Both figuratively and literally, it commences at a gallop where Conan: Road of Kings concluded, with the Cimmerian outracing a phalanx of Messantian royal guardsmen and gaining extemporaneous passage on a trading ship. Presently, of course, the ship’s captain briefs his odd new crewman on a certain distaff pirate, “[h]er skin the color of milk, her hair like liquid ebony,” and events proceed apace. Wood’s script exhibits the craft typical of his work and reaffirms why he ranks among the mainstream’s finest writers. Meanwhile, Becky Cloonan visualizes the derring-do with nonpareil panache; indeed, her conception of Bêlit radiates libidinous ferocity, like something from Margaret Brundage’s great-great-great-granddaughter gone punk (and perhaps mad). In a word, wow!
 
Archie Comic Publications has long tacitly exemplified sociopolitical orthodoxy (at best) in the industry, but give the devil its due for Kevin Keller #1. As with an earlier miniseries and other publications, the new ongoing stars the first gay addition to the Archieverse—thus extending the parameters of teenage romance (however improbably chaste) into something like the present. In the bimonthly’s premiere, writer/penciller Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski break the fourth wall for the first four pages to sketch their protagonist’s backstory for new readers and to establish the crux of their tale: Kevin’s jitters over his impending first date. Predictably, the rest of the Riverdale gang learns of their new friend’s nervousness and seeks to counsel someone who otherwise excels at everything. Out of the goodness of his heart, for instance, Reggie takes Kevin shopping for fresh duds, and even Jughead alludes to having a date (“Yep! With a bacon cheeseburger at Pop’s!”). By no means high art—but ironically, the single comic in recent memory most likely to change some reader’s life.
 
“I believe in comic books,” proclaims Robert Kirkman, twice, in an afterword to Image’s Thief of Thieves #1, which comes under the imprimatur of his Skybound Entertainment endeavor and to which he contributes the story. Projects like this affirm that belief and deserve support. With a tight script by Nick Spencer and lean, lovely visuals by Shawn Martinbrough, the series focuses on modern John Robie “Redmond”—not the character’s real name, according to the promo copy—and his crew, including impish assistant/apprentice Celia. (Worth the price of the book by itself: the funny and strangely instructive six-page meet-cute between the two.) The issue opens with the end of one larcenous caper and closes with the beginning, perhaps, of another, dubbed “the heist of the new millenium [sic]” by a third character, and based on this debut, the series promises to be a wild ride indeed. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how this thing is coming together,” Kirkman writes—and readers discerning enough to give Thief of Thieves #1 a shot should echo that sentiment. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Conan the Barbarian #1, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Kevin Keller #1, courtesy of Newsarama.
Click here for a preview of Thief of Thieves #1, courtesy of Image Comics.

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