Rude Chapbooks 02.27.12 | Lettering in Finesse

Beyond the series’ customary virtues of script and art, AvengersAcademy #26 earns accolades this week for an unlikely but no less fine lagniappe: its letters page. Also praised, panned, or simply pondered: Dark Horse Presents #9, The Flash #6, Mondo #1, and RASL #13.


With a script by Christos Gage, pencils by Tom Grummett, and inks by Cory Hamscher, AvengersAcademy #26 yet again demonstrates why this column has never stinted in lauding that Marvel series. As usual, it foregrounds philosophical differences over fisticuffs—a contemporary comic book with this much palaver simply should not work, yet gloriously, it does—and a two-page monologue by Giant-Man constitutes a hortatory wonder. That said, the review at hand salutes “After School Special” (sic), the letters page to Avengers Academy. Of late, despite the babble of social media, letters pages have enjoyed a rebirth, and presumably with support and succor from editor Bill Rosemann and assistant editor Jake Thomas, Gage has grown this series’ page into a shining dialogue with its audience, notable for its intelligence and politesse in a department too often previously regarded, often rightly, as filler. In this issue, for instance, a Kentucky reader objects, respectfully, to what he construes as a liberal degeneration into “a showcase for alternate lifestyles,” and just as respectfully, Gage responds at length. Bravo!
Paul Pope. The mere mention of the man’s name should attract the attention of true comic book aficionados, so its inclusion on the roster of Dark Horse Presents #9 would have made publisher/editor Mike Richardson’s monthly a must-read if that anthology didn’t already rank as integral. Here, as writer/artist, Pope contributes the typically lush and lovely black-and-white eight-pager “1969,” which, atypically, eschews the robo-gonzo bliss of his THB for a (mostly) straightforward meditation on this nation’s manned exploration of Luna. Visually, as always, Pope’s application of ink to paper sings like a katana cleaving the air; like his luscious wraparound cover to Floating World’s recent Diamond 6 tabloid, it should leave devotees jonesing for the return of HR Watson. Be that as it may, at the close of “1969,” Pope notes that only a dozen humans ever have trod our planet’s ivory natural satellite, the last of them in 1972. “Who will go back again?” he asks in tandem terminal captions. “…And when?” In an era anything but heavenly, the poignancy of his inquiry resounds.
Irony imbues The Flash #6. Of the many “improvements” of DC’s “New 52”—most of which run the gamut from merely stupid to moronic—few furrow the brow as deeply as the transformation of Captain Cold. Characterized now by the Scarlet Speedster as “bigger and stronger,” the Rogues’ Rogue has somehow internalized his subzero prowess instead of relying on his trusty freeze pistols, but more tellingly, the character now suggests nothing of the arctic gravitas established with so much skill during the past decade or so. To be sure, co-writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato (the former of whom doubles as artist, and the latter, as colorist) continue to make The Flash enjoyable enough, and their Eisneresque treatment of each issue’s splash logo invariably prompts a smile. The pre–“New 52” Captain Cold, though, like an untended sidewalk after multiple ice storms, had implacably developed into an antagonist of glacial grandeur, a berg-like foe whose frigid tip only hinted at the true depths of his melancholy—and this “new” captain feels like just another supervillain.
Over the course of 25 years, to be frank, the appeal of writer/artist Ted McKeever’s work has remained a mystery. It remains so with Mondo #1, sad to say. The premiere of that slightly oversized tripartite black-and-white Image miniseries basically conflates Marvel’s Hulk and…well…Dick Orkin’s Chickenman (“He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!”). It stars a grizzled, bearded milquetoast identified as “Catfish Mandu”—ah, such paronomasiac sublimity!—who appears to be quote-unquote developmentally disabled and who labors at a Tysonesque abattoir equipped to irradiate poultry, enlarging the average fryer to the size of a side of beef. Hamlet I.iii.79: “And it must follow, as the night the day…” As ever with McKeever’s work, Mondo reads like the fanboy gloss on outsider art, the bong-hits-on-the-futon genius turn of someone newly introduced to Tod Browning’s Freaks, the teratological jape of an auteur manqué who in all likelihood can neither define nor even spell teratology. Also as ever, it features McKeever’s habitual mock-scratchboard technique and listless delineation, in service of a narrative lacking frisson, humor, or any other allure. Clucking awful.
RASL #13 provokes equal woe and wonder. Because writer/artist Jeff Smith has been publishing roughly three issues annually and because the Cartoon Books series reportedly will end with its fifteenth issue, fans of genuine science fiction in comic books—as opposed to the vacuous facsimile the mainstream chiefly peddles—should be mourning later this year. That said, RASL #13 advances ever closer to apocalypse Smith’s curious amalgam of, among other things, art theft and teleportation, the military-industrial complex and Everett, Wheeler, and Graham’s many worlds hypothesis. Not for nothing, one suspects, does RASL’s protagonist bear on his left biceps the given name of his ex-lover, Maya—the architect of demons in Hinduism, but in another religion altogether, the Buddha’s mother. Similarly, as that protagonist faces the armed security forces of a high-energy physics R&D facility and Sal Crow, his leering, reptilian nemesis, on the brink of cataclysm, one can’t help smiling at the fact that Smith’s hero also bears the name of Robert Johnson, a man who knew a thing or two about infernal crossroads. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of AvengersAcademy #26, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Dark Horse Presents #9, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Mondo #1 and an interview with Ted McKeever, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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