Rude Chapbooks 02.14.11 | T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and Lightning

Continuing the galvanic revival of a title that’s too often lacked electricity in prior incarnations is T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4. Also reviewed: two other series previously praised for their narrative jolts, a fourth series that sadly lacks juice, and a fifth that couldn’t be called current.

 

 

 

As it does in The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #4 from DC, the appearance of penciller Rick Burchett’s byline all too often occasions frustration. It does so not because Burchett lacks talent—far from it, in fact. Unconstrained, his artwork recalls that of Golden Age greats like Carmine Infantino and Alex Toth in its grace and economy. Much too frequently, sad to say, contemporary comics undervalue grace and economy in favor of compositional ineptitude and linear profligacy—empty flash and dazzle. In consequence, Burchett’s work during the past two decades has mainly enlivened animation-related titles like this, wherein, except during the shining Paul Dini–Bruce Timm era, constraints have customarily existed in the form of inferior TV style sheets. Here, Burchett labors under just such style sheets as he teams with writer Sholly Fisch and inker Dan Davis to spotlight the nuptials of Batman and Wonder Woman. Eminently forgettable, even as a quote-unquote children’s comic, except for one panel that should make Sheldon Mayer fans smile wistfully. Burchett deserves better—much better.
 
Three issues, two months, and one multimillion-dollar action flick after Kevin Smith ceded the scriptwriting duties on the Dynamite Entertainment series to him, Phil Hester continues to bolster his bona fides on Green Hornet #13. In fact, with penciller Jonathan Lau and colorist Ivan Nunes, Hester promises to outshine his predecessor by pitting the series’ protagonist and the distaff Kato against the scythe-wielding, skeletal Santa Muerte—“Saint Death,” not some relative of that Claus chap—and concurrently relating a Japanese adventure of the original Kato that hinges on the psychological concept of intermittent reinforcement (among other things). Along the way, Hester also sketches the younger Kato’s philosophy of violence, leavened with an amusing exercise in (“Thump Thump”—what the hell?) intimidation. All of the preceding arrives behind a characteristically arresting Alex Ross cover that features a stained glass window—not something one sees on the average comic book. Then again, in its stylish blend of spandex and street, kung fu and wisecracks, Green Hornet has fast established itself as a title far above the average.
 
In December, this column celebrated the long-awaited resurrection of the title. Then, in January, its second issue earned further plaudits here. Now, at the risk of belaboring a point, kindly excuse an explicit “third time’s the charm” endorsement regarding Next Men #3: John Byrne’s IDW Publishing series belongs on the pull-and-hold list of anyone who thrills to the finest in contemporary superheroics. As a writer and an artist alike, Byrne is once more operating at the top of his game, plumbing a spatiotemporal mystery in a gloriously slick science fictional fashion. This issue generally focuses on the member of the title genengineered quintet mostly neglected in the prior two issues: Bethany. As a reminder of Byrne’s skill with cheesecake, the indestructible blonde clad in the Little Black Dress and crimson gauntlets finds herself in an outré, honeycombed enclave, being enlightened about purported betrayals by an enigmatic figure wearing high-tech charcoal armor (likely fullerene). It all leads to an excruciatingly eye-opening sequence—as well as a cliffhanger that should have fans clamoring to learn what comes…well…next.
 
Increasingly, it seems that no one in the mainstream recognizes why we call periodicals periodicals. Case in point: Punisher MAX #10 from Marvel. The series’ ninth issue shipped at the end of last July—commencing an interregnum of more than six months. To be sure, dire mitigating circumstances may have surrounded that interregnum. Still, devotees of the series from writer Jason Aaron and artist Steve Dillon might be forgiven just a smidgen of exasperation—especially inasmuch as the six-plus months separated the antepenult and the penult of a six-chapter clash between the title character and Bullseye engineered by the Kingpin. Given its more “Marvel Universe–centric” focus, of course, this relaunch commands far less fervor than Garth Ennis’ defining tenure on the title, one of the most stunning mainstream runs of the new millennium. That said, Aaron (co-creator of the extraordinary Scalped from Vertigo) achieves the neat feat of having Bullseye experience an epiphany about Frank Castle that feels eerily right and true. If only that epiphany had come four or even five months ago.
 
Almost unthinkably, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 suggests that writer Nick Spencer and artists Cafu and Bit have broken the curse that’s seemingly clouded the title characters’ existence since their mid-’60s Tower Comics debut. That original run, overseen by no less a titan than Wally Wood, enjoyed only a mayfly life, and subsequent revivals (including one in the mid-’80s that involved talents like Dave Cockrum and Steve Englehart) lasted none too long, either, sometimes for legal or quasi-legal reasons. It thus feels spooky, in a “don’t wanna jinx things” way, to reflect on the promise of this new incarnation, from DC. Spencer has adroitly contextualized the team, past and present, and injected a delicious element of intrigue as well as some skillful characterization. Moreover, given the agents’ mission—“tackling the kind of threats most superheroes don’t even know exist”—one can even hope the series avoids being sucked into the vortex of the publisher’s clockwork “events.” In the meantime, this issue features five pages from a guest penciller whose name might ring a bell: George Pérez. Recommended! | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Green Hornet #13, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.
Click here for a preview of Punisher MAX #10, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

 

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