Rude Chapbooks 03.12.12 | Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

For its voguishness and verve, this week’s column embraces the Fables spin-off Fairest #1. Among freshly shipped floppies, it also welcomes The Manhattan Projects #1 and Night Force #1, praises Rachel Rising #6, and pans (out-Land-ishly) Uncanny X-Men #8.




Spotlighting the distaff contingent of the Vertigo standard Fables is Fairest #1, on which writer/creator Bill Willingham teams with penciller Phil Jimenez and inker Andy Lanning. Beyond an inaugural-issue wraparound cover by Adam Hughes superlative even by his standards, this first hexapartite arc focuses on Ali Baba, a snarky bottle imp named Jonah Panghammer, and Briar Rose, abducted by goblins a few months ago in the parent title. Its excellence almost allays the suspicion that DC, in its infinite wisdom, plans to pension Karen Berger—one of the most influential editorial professionals in the company’s history—and eighty-six the imprint. In any event, as always, Willingham’s script rocks, with the interplay between the Arabian über-thief and the sub-subgenie particularly delightful. Moreover, visually, this debut ranks as a prodigy, the finest work Jimenez has ever done; at last, perhaps because of the absence of spandex stupidity, he’s ceased impersonating George Pérez and here, with the assistance of Lanning and painterly colorist Andrew Dalhouse, conjures not so much post–Crisis on Infinite Earths tedium as Pre-Raphaelite chic.
Because he’s rejuvenated Fantastic Four and made FF that rarest of things, a spin-off to equal its source, writer Jonathan Hickman commands attention. This week, he does so with The Manhattan Projects #1, and the devilish plural in that title should speak volumes. Partnering with Hickman on the Image ongoing is artist Nick Pitarra; the two teamed last year on the interesting if finally unsatisfying The Red Wing. Here, they figuratively trephine the reader, apply a handheld mixer, and thumb it to purée. Mondo creepy-weird, this premiere focuses, after a fashion, on J. Robert Oppenheimer, the hapless papa of the A-bomb and, to this nation’s eternal shame, the U.S. Galileo, whom Hickman and Pitarra yoke with a cannibalistic twin. To that mad mix, they add a general who keeps a grenade affixed to his lapel and sports a field bandolier at his D.C. desk, a military prisoner who suspiciously resembles Albert Einstein, mentions of a “sentient origami incident” and “Death Buddhists,” and an assault by robotic samurai, for which, puckishly, captions provide brief specs. Depraved!
Ah, Night Force. Ages ago, the original, 1982–83 run of that DC title, from writer Marv Wolfman and penciller Gene Colan, came as a disappointment for two chief reasons: (a) its cast exhibited nothing like the collective magnetism of their earlier Tomb of Dracula, and (b) inker Tom Palmer failed to accompany them from that Marvel marvel. Still, curiosity compels revisiting Wolfman’s latest revival of the title, with ever-dependable artist Tom Mandrake, and the new Night Force #1, the start of a seven-part miniseries, definitely shows promise. Baron Winters, Wolfman’s shamanic protagonist, remains characteristically warm and cuddly, as circumstances draw a South Carolina police sergeant and a blonde co-ed whom he rescues from murder to D.C.’s Wintersgate Manor, like moths to the proverbial flame. It nearly goes without saying that a supernatural conspiracy is brewing, one involving toothsome things called Gatherers, bogus F.B.I. agents, and a charismatic senator running for the presidency. In short, old-school occult fun. Of course, one almost can’t help rooting for a series like this from creators with those surnames.
This review marks the fourth time in six issues that “Rude Chapbooks” has focused on writer/artist Terry Moore’s latest Abstract Studio series Rachel Rising, and any readers who might deem such attention excessive obviously have failed to accord Rachel Rising #6 and its predecessors sufficient consideration. No more macabre and masterly a title now graces comics shops, and with each issue, against all odds, Moore manages to heighten its disquiet and outright fright. In addition to an unexpected revelation about grandfatherly Dr. Siemen, for instance, this most recent installment features a freakish interlude with a new revenant, some tantalizing hints about the “other blonde”—the apparently diabolical and dangerous presence haunting the eponymous character—and a horrifying accident involving a truck loaded with rebar. Heaven alone knows where Moore plans to take this nightmarish narrative. That said, despite the seductive idiosyncrasies of Strangers in Paradise and the speculative fictional felicities of Echo, his previous series, Rachel Rising threatens to make even them look like apprentice projects and belongs on the P&H list of any genuine comics aficionado.
Can nothing be done about Greg Land? Honestly, as a public service, can’t some 11-year-old hacker with five minutes to spare hatch an “exploit” whereby to disable his copy of Photoshop or whatever software allows him to impersonate a penciller? As demonstrated by Uncanny X-Men #8—scripted by Kieron Gillen and inked by Jay Leisten—Land has too long leeched any joy potentially resident in that shaky Marvel standard, under new numbering or old. All of Land’s female characters, as usual, suggest tracings from The Pictorial Journal of Anorexic Catwalk Cuties, and he seems constitutionally incapable of depicting Cyclops without (très street!) beard stubble. Just as tellingly, where a script calls for character design beyond easy photo reference, Land altogether falters; in this arc, by way of example, an X-ally called the Savage (Brave Old World, anyone?) might as well have been dubbed Salmon Pâté Man. As a result, even scenes enlivened by Gillen’s wicked wit, like those herein showcasing interplay between Namor and Hope, ultimately disappoint. So, X-fans, let Marvel know: Land must go. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Fairest #1, here for a preview of The Manhattan Projects #1, and here for a preview of Uncanny X-Men #8, all courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Night Force #1, courtesy of Newsarama.


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