Rude Chapbooks 03.21.11 | Unlivin’ Large

Xombi #1 (which, technically, has nothing to do with traditional voodudes) makes our snarky columnist believe the mainstream may not be digging its own grave. Otherwise, a certain webbed wonder again deserves to be called Amazing, and three more new comics undergo scrutiny.

For readers of a certain age, returning to The Amazing Spider-Man after a lengthy hiatus may feel as dislocatory as a sidewalk encounter with an old flame…who’s accompanied by a spouse and three toddlers. To be sure, writer Dan Slott makes that dislocation pleasurable in Marvel’s Amazing #656; with no little skill, he introduces the villainous (if unmemorable) Massacre and, following an earlier tragedy, counterposes resolutions by Spidey and Mayor J. Jonah Jameson. (Yes, “reader of a certain age,” mayor.) Much of the amazement inspired by the issue, though, derives from artist Marcos Martin, who manages a feat previously inconceivable: blending the visual felicities of Steve Ditko (both during and immediately after his defining Amazing tenure) and John Romita père (early in his Amazing run, before his inner Jack Kirby had altogether made peace with his inner Milton Caniff). Wiggy? Oh, baby, that don’t even come close. Poring over Martin’s artwork, complemented by killer colors from Muntsa Vicente, approximates being transported in time to a wire spinner rack in 1966. Silver Age hyperventilation—in 2011.
In January, Dynamite Entertainment president Nick Barrucci assured Comic Shop News that the company will indeed continue to issue the discrete adventures of both Zorro and the Lone Ranger—splendid news, given Dynamite’s sterling stewardship of them. Till those adventures resume, though, we have The Lone Ranger & Zorro: The Death of Zorro #1, the launch of a quinary miniseries set at the dusk of one paragon and near the dawn of the other. It fails, alas, to earn a recommendation. With colors by “Name Here”—props to editor Joseph Rybandt for due diligence!—Esteve Polls contributes serviceable if uninspiring visuals whose technique, in places, recalls a lesser John Severin or Val Mayerik. The script from Ande Parks, meanwhile, lacks both the foxy lilt of Matt Wagner’s scripts on Zorro and the plainscrafty grace of Brett Matthews’ on The Lone Ranger. It plods, in fact, thanks to sometimes overinflated word balloons, dueling interior monologues, and even an epistolary component; moreover, a plot point both figuratively and literally central to the issue stinks of contrivance. Disappointing.
Among its manifold virtues, Vertigo’s Northlanders, because of its quasi-anthology format, allows writer/creator Brian Wood to “platoon” the artists with whom he collaborates—and thus, to exercise an incredibly discerning eye for such collaborators. Northlanders #38 (no pun intended) illustrates that virtue quite nicely. The middle chapter of the tripartite “Siege of Paris” arc, it boasts gorgeous art from Simon Gane. To date, Gane has visualized this and that, with the 2010 graphic novel Dark Rain (written by Mat Johnson) arguably ranking as his most high-profile assignment. Here, his work brings to mind two giants of the medium: the late Vaughn Bodé and Richard Corben. Technically, Gane hews closer to the former, with a somewhat less refined (if not unpleasant) line than Corben has ever adopted; compositionally, he better suggests the latter on scenes of a Viking assault on the City of Light in A.D. 886 for which Bodé likely would have had little time or temperament. With Wood’s customarily sterling script, Gane’s art reaffirms Northlanders as one of the top mainstream series of today.
In house P.R. a few months ago, writer Mark Waid noted of his new/old protagonist, “He has the mind of a computer and the social skills of a steak knife.” How, then, could one resist Ruse #1, the Marvel revival of a property from Floridian publisher CrossGeneration Comics (another of whose series, Sigil, reappeared last week)? “Back in the day,” Waid’s customary craftsmanship made Ruse CrossGen’s most interesting title by far, and with artist Mirco Pierfederici, he returns with aplomb to the Victorian detective duo of Simon Archard and Emma Bishop (a more vainglorious Holmes and a cannier, distaff Watson with secrets). It remains to be seen, of course, whether Waid can here better his and artist Minck Oosterveer’s efforts on The Unknown and its sequel, two recent BOOM! Studios miniseries starring a congruent twosome in gloriously blood-and-thunderous adventures in the present. For the nonce, though, with its hansom cabs and Inverness coats, its death traps with big hinges and small assassins, Ruse should provide a more-than-welcome alternative to the industry’s perpetual surfeit of spandex.
Because the mainstream teems with such trash, the occasional diamond in the Dumpster glints all the more alluringly—in which light, comics fans should unlimber their loupes for Xombi #1. The DC debut revisits a series from Milestone—its short-lived imprint of the mid-’90s—and does so with Tiffany-level panache and precision. Frazer Irving’s neon-edged art perfectly complements John Rozum’s script, which brims with cybergothic delights: the nanite-enhanced Korean-American protagonist; his allies Nun of the Above, Nun the Less, and Catholic Girl; and the antagonistic Snow Angels and A Parada Assustadora, “an occult organization commanded by oppressive rod puppets papier-mâchéd out of discarded religious and political tracts.” In Brazil, the coins in a man’s pocket mutter caveats to him; meanwhile, beneath the city of Dakota—likely a DC construct, not the Iowa or Nebraska municipality of that name—everyone imprisoned in a miniaturized community has been murdered…except a college student stricken with semicolon cancer by an exceedingly (even hilariously) corrupt edition of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. Categorically outré—and highly recommended. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Amazing Spider-Man #656, courtesy of Newsarama.
Click here for a preview of The Lone Ranger & Zorro: The Death of Zorro #1, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.
Click here for a preview of Ruse #1, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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