Rude Chapbooks 03.19.12 | Saga’s a Gas!

In Saga #1 (recommended, BTW), one character frets about defecating on another—and if that doesn’t draw coprophiliac eyeballs to this column in droves, what good is SEO, for pity’s sake? Also reviewed: Fantastic Four #604 and three other floppies newly delivered this week.

 
 
Of late, with each issue of the self-styled World’s Greatest Comic Magazine, writer Jonathan Hickman has somehow topped himself. Last month, for instance, three insane, other-dimensional Celestials merged into their own version of the Eternals’ Uni-Mind and sent Galactus himself (itself?) plunging earthward, either incapacitated or… In Fantastic Four #604—with Steve Epting and Rick Magyar temporarily returning to the artistic duties—Hickman wraps the hexapartite “Forever” arc on Marvel’s flagship title and fulfills roughly three years’ efforts on it in a strikingly satisfying, even moving manner. In Hickman’s conception of the FF, family always comes first, and one cannot overemphasize that focus—a gimme too many other scribes have slighted—as the chief driver behind his success in chronicling the adventures of clan Richards. Even here, with the future Franklin and Valeria appearing for the final clash with the Celestials, Hickman never strays from the series’ domestic heart: amid cosmic conflict, a sister gives her brother an attaboy, an uncle wipes a tear from one eye, and a father gently reproaches his son. Bravo!
 
Fists should fly. Ale should splash. Blades should flash. Aesthetically, however, nothing of the sort happens with Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #4, Dark Horse’s deficient tribute to that titan of the swords-and-sorcery subgenre; like its predecessors, it feels less like a narrative barroom brawl than a coffeehouse contretemps. (“Oh, I do so apologize for spilling my decaf soy latte on you!”) In truth, increasingly, the title seems a transparent exercise in capitalizing on the goodwill of Howard fans. By way of example, the “80 Action-Packed Pages!” trumpeted on its cover involve only 64 story-pages—31 of them squandered on the continuation of a signally stultifying reprint from 1989. To be sure, the 52 percent new component of the issue features some fine visuals from Fabio Cobiaco, whose work recalls that of Alex Niño; the customarily wonderful Sean Phillips, on a Conan vignette; and M.S. Corley, who memorably delineated The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde last year. That said, this series remains an embarrassingly substandard offering from the publisher of the integral Dark Horse Presents.
 
Because the buzz for it’s been building for ages—some lovely preview visuals posted online a few months ago—writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples’ Saga #1 arrives like a swarm of hornets. Premiering at an ad-free 44 pages, the Image ongoing opens with one of the funniest lines in recent memory. Its second page includes an equally amusing aside; its third, a snide observation about childbirth; its fourth—well, one could continue thus till the forty-fourth page. Saga focuses on new parents Marko and Alana, at least putatively, but stars a third character, Hazel by name, in a fashion reminiscent of John Marc DeMatteis and Jon J. Muth’s Moonshadow. A delirious mélange, it incorporates everything from a literal grease monkey to a curious, baleful creature called the Lying Cat, a white-clad matron whose brow sports a narwhal’s horn and the TV-headed citizens of the Robot Kingdom. Whether Vaughan and Staples can make their sprawling science fantasy cohere convincingly, of course, remains to be seen—but watching them try should prove enormously entertaining.
 
Vertigo’s Saucer Country #1 constitutes a remarkably lightweight debut from the imprint behind Northlanders and Scalped. That the new series, written by Paul Cornell and illustrated by Ryan Kelly, involves U.S. presidential politics during an election year only compounds its initial impression of inadequacy, insofar as it scarcely approaches (say) the political gravitas of the newly concluded DMZ or the savage satire of Transmetropolitan. Indeed, with a paranoid nod toward Messrs. DiDio and Lee, Saucer Country suggests a sub rosa “Vertigo Lite,” given its facile conflation of a female Hispanic candidate (the fictional Governor Arcadia Alvarado, subbing for New Mexico’s real Susana Martinez) and Nevada’s infamous Area 51, leading predictably to the intimation of alien illegal aliens. (“I was abducted by aliens,” the governor tells two subordinates on the issue’s unshocking last-page shocker. “We’re being invaded.” Pesky doggone E.T.s!) Even the visuals from Kelly, whose work on The New York Five helped place it among the most notable miniseries of 2011, lack élan. In sum, categorize Saucer Country as a U.F.O.—an unfortunately forgettable offering.
 
As hinted two weeks ago in a review of the latest Ultimate Comics Ultimates and as Ultimate Comics X-Men #9 this week reaffirms, reading stories set in Marvel’s so-called Ultimate Universe approximates being waterboarded with Perrier. The creative teams—here, writer Nick Spencer, penciller Paco Medina, and inker Juan Vlasco—usually exhibit unassailable professionalism, but that professionalism always skews funereal. An abhorrent landscape altogether lacking in light and air, the U.U. brings to mind Alan Moore’s denunciation of Thatcherite Britain: “It’s cold and it’s mean spirited and I don’t like it here anymore.” In the U.U., pseudo-Blackwater mercenaries torture Colossus without remit, and much of the “action” centers on a mutant Gitmo. (One could all too easily envision Dick Cheney sharing Ultimate Comics X-Men with his grandchildren.) In the U.U., tellingly, Kitty Pryde operates under the nom de guerre of the Shroud. In the U.U., in short, nihilism chic reigns supreme, and despite the involvement of a scriptwriter as skilled as Spencer, wading through such stuff evokes having a hospice pillow pressed to one’s face. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Fantastic Four #604, here for a preview of Saga #1, and here for a preview of Ultimate Comics X-Men #9, all courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Savage Sword #4, courtesy of Dark Horse.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply