Rude Chapbooks 03.26.12 | A Martian Marvel

To true devotees of four-color finery, Ramón Pérez’s luxuriant and rambunctious artwork should commend John Carter: The Gods of Mars #1. Moreover, rivaling it for pleasurability from among this week’s five new floppies is another (black-and-white) debut: Ragemoor #1.

Because it originates from Vertigo, which publishes some of today’s finest series, Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child #1 shocks, because unlike even last week’s merely forgettable launch from that imprint, Saucer Country, it surpasses mere inadequacy for out-and-out inferiority. Set in New Orleans soon after Hurricane Katrina, it fails miserably at launching an occult family chronicle involving the titular religion based on African polytheistic practices. The visuals from penciller Denys Cowan and inker John Floyd seek to conceal with crow-quill extravagance both lackluster compositions and anatomical creakiness, making it all the more ironic that the characteristically stylish cover from Rafael Grampa goes uncredited. Selwyn Seyfu Hinds’ script, meanwhile, lurches like a zombie from a Grade-Z horror flick, its captions an impenetrable blend of patois and purple gibberish, its dialogue astonishingly stilted; moreover, the title character, a Tulane grad student, and many of the supporting players soliloquize in a hilariously transparent “force-feed the audience with necessary background” fashion. Dominique Laveau’s scenes of carnage should horrify discerning readers far less than its utter incompetence—orphan this child soonest.
Ordinarily, John Carter: The Gods of Mars #1 never would have blipped the “Rude Chapbooks” radar, because scriptwriter Sam Humphries’ name rang no bells. Not so that of artist Ramón Pérez, whose visualization last December of Tale of Sand, an unproduced screenplay co-written by Jim Henson, rocked; Pérez’s involvement landed this Marvel adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ second Barsoomian adventure on the P&H without hesitation. Almost a century since its All-Story debut in 1913 and its novelization in 1918, the tale, of course, centers on the eponymous took-a-way-wrong-turn-at-Albuquerque swashbuckler, who, through arcane means, returns to Mars (d.b.a. “Barsoom”) in search of his native love, Dejah Thoris, with aid from (pardon the pun) comrade-in-arms Tars Tarkas and a Barsoomian maiden named Thuvia, who comes into her own later in E.R.B.’s saga. As hoped, Pérez’s art makes this hexapartite miniseries a must-buy. Complemented by psychedelic colors from Jordie Bellaire, it leaps and bounds across the page, its lines lush, its layouts muscular, in as jubilant a display of comic book bravura as now graces the mainstream. Superb!
In the past year or so, Image, inarguably, has blossomed into the industry’s go-to publisher for comics disdaining endless “events” and cretinous crossovers. Not all of its offerings succeed, to be sure, but enough do to earn the company congratulations on the occasion of its china anniversary. Among such successes numbers writer Jay Faerber and artist Simone Guglielmini’s noir ongoing, whose premiere this column praised last September, and the cover to Near Death #6 handily identifies it for potential new readers as “The First Issue of an All-New Story Arc!” Therein, the series’ focal reformed contract killer has relocated to L.A., at least for the nonce—one can’t help suspecting Faerber and Guglielmini shan’t abandon forever the supporting cast previously established in Seattle—and in this installment, Markham serves as bodyguard first to a Hollyweird diva, then to a retired D.A., in a solid, enjoyable tale smoothly executed and colored by wry humor. Also, in his back-of-the-mag “Under the Influence” column, Faerber further explores his love of crime drama with a reflection on Magnum, P.I.
Too seldom today does one see mention of Jan Strnad, who “back in the day” scribed such fine titles as Dalgoda. It thus comes as a pleasure to note his writing credit on Ragemoor #1. Intensifying that pleasure is Strnad’s reunion on the black-and-white quadripartite Dark Horse miniseries with artist Richard Corben, his old partner in peril on such works as The Last Voyage of Sindbad. Here the pair transports readers to the eponymous living castle, which recalls the Fritz Leiber swords-and-sorcery classic “The Jewels in the Forest,” to meet not just Herbert, Ragemoor’s Byronic master, but Herbert’s uncle and faux cousin. The uncle has returned to the five-millennium-old edifice for the first time since his boyhood—with an ulterior motive. (In private, to his “daughter,” he muses, “Who knows what untold wealth lies beneath the castle grounds?”) Needless to say, a Bulwer-Lyttonesque “dark and stormy night,” a deranged peeping Tom, and other complications intrude, and eventually, an interested party confronts Herbert’s uncle with (let us say) a bone of contention. A deliciously grotesque romp.
Last year, self-evidently, IDW Publishing enjoyed sufficient success with a four-issue anthology-format miniseries devoted to the late Dave Stevens’ signature character to schedule a sequel—so hats in the air for Rocketeer Adventures 2 #1. This new debut once more honors Stevens’ legacy with a trio of eight-pagers, as well as a typically gorgeous pinup from Arthur Adams (featuring Betty, our hero’s honey, in a leopard-skin maillot, woo!). Counterbalancing the customary clumsiness of the opening script from Marc Guggenheim are visuals from Sandy Plunkett, whose pleasantly assured work, for some reason, too infrequently appears nowadays; thereafter comes a Chuck Jonesin’ trifle from writer Peter David and artist Bill Sienkiewicz (a little of whose art, increasingly, goes a long, long way, sad to say). The final eight-pager constitutes the new debut’s bona fide treasure, happily enough: “A Dream of Flying” comes from writer/artist Stan Sakai, the guiding light behind Usagi Yojimbo, and takes the Rocketeer to a naggingly familiar Midwestern farm—and in 36 splendid panels recalls everything once right and true and wonderful about comics. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Near Death #6 and here for a preview of Rocketeer Adventures 2 #1, both courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Ragemoor #1, courtesy of Dark Horse.

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