Rude Chapbooks 03.28.11 | A Tale of Two Teams

Among this week’s capsule reviews of five new comic books as such, our cranky columnist retails diametrically opposed views of the most recent issues of the most recent iterations of both Marvel’s and DC’s top Silver Age team titles: FF #1 and Justice League of America #55.

In the final analysis, to what extent can one criticize, with any validity, most if not all features of formal coherence of a medium whose very existence depends on collage? Memo to Self: Pimp-slap Grant Morrison for even inspiring that smoke-and-mirrors query. Just before Thanksgiving, of course, the debut of DC’s latest chiropteran romp written by him earned an unequivocal recommendation here. Sadly, pass-the-aspirin time returns with Batman Incorporated #4—its official title, by the way, now newly bereft of comma and abbreviation—thanks to Morrison’s avowed love of all Batmannerism, including the original Batwoman from the Dark Knight’s mid-’50s–to–mid-’60s nadir. More specifically, he opens this issue with a five-page sequence mostly focused on that character instead of doing something as frivolous as revisiting the preceding issue’s cliffhanger. Coupled with a change in artist—to Chris Burnham, whose work sprawls all over the place, likely because of dictates of the script—that opening prompts only a humongous “Huh?”—and Morrison compounds that “bad Grant” turn with another eight pages of neo-nadir flashback. Puh-lease.
Among the manifold wonders scribe Ed Brubaker has worked on the Star-Spangled Avenger’s main title, one of the subtler ones has involved reconceiving a longtime, if small-time, antagonist less as a caricature than as a character, and that move bears fruit in Captain America and Batroc #1. The Marvel singleton, yes, accords marquee treatment to the savant of savate and, for a change, oughtn’t offend Francophiles everywhere. A neat little character-driven adventure, it comes both from writer Kieron Gillen (co-creator of the nonpareil Phonogram) and artist Renato Arlem and from the louche “leaper” himself, and Batroc’s interior monologue as he trains for and engages in combat with Bucky Barnes as Cap lends the narrative both roguish charm and even sweet dignity, sans the pidgin English silliness of the mid-’60s Lee-Kirby Tales of Suspense ten-pager reprinted here as a lagniappe. Indeed, based on this tale and his earlier appearance in Bru’s Captain America, Batroc had best veille son cul, lest he find himself reclassified from villain to antihero (a nobler but generally far less remunerative status).
“So this is tomorrow,” Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, muses to himself on the fifth page of FF #1, and in context, that comment cannonades, thanks largely to the efforts of writer Jonathan Hickman. Two months ago, “Rude Chapbooks” decried the necrophiliac media blitz surrounding a (putative) death in Fantastic Four, this new series’ parent; a month later, Hickman (putatively) concluded that title in stunning fashion, with a cover feature almost wholly “silent.” Gotta respect a mainstream creator so evidently possessed of the courage of his convictions. Here, with artists Steve Epting and Rick Magyar, Hickman launches the Future Foundation, and even to someone whose acquaintance with Marvel’s first family dates from the Stan-and-Jack days, it feels fresh. If anything, in fact, things seem even more “first familial” than ever. A four-page Baxter Building dinner scene borders on the sublime with its quasi-uncles old and new, world’s strangest nanny, space-time–hopping granddad, and small army of children—and directly, the issue ends on a signally surreal avuncular note. So—FF #1 as a debut? Foursquare fantastic.
Reading the saga of DC’s superteam supreme has become as entertaining as French-kissing a lamprey—as Justice League of America #55 reaffirms. The time has long since passed for giving James Robinson (the writer behind the company’s lapidary 1994–2001 Starman) the benefit of the doubt. At what point did he abandon all nuance in favor of a five-and-dime nihilism worthy of some Columbine wannabe? With pedestrian visuals from penciller Brett Booth and inker Norm Rapmund, this issue presents the latest chapter of the “Eclipso Rising” arc, which (no pun intended) showcases not only one of DC’s lamest creations from the ’60s, but also the insuperably insufferable Doomsday—the most recent in a tedious series of JLA antagonists devoid or almost devoid of any motivation beyond psychopathy, megalomania, or both. Such antagonists serve less to illuminate or elevate their opposites than to diminish them; protagonists that face nothing but embodied plot contrivances quickly bore. With his work on Justice League of America, alas, Robinson has almost willfully blundered from the merely boorish into the intolerable.
Like its predecessors in this five-part Marvel miniseries, Power Man and Iron Fist #3 approximates a bowl of waxed fruit—deceptively indigestible “produce,” short on “Oh!” and long on “Eeew.” This issue of the miniseries—basically a murder mystery focused on the demise of a third-rate character called Crime-Buster—sports a singularly clumsy script from Fred Van Lente that violates stagecraft at his convenience; on the third page, for instance, the protagonists, in mufti, speculate about a third character almost certainly seated right behind them. Equally uninspiring are the visuals from penciller Wellinton Alves and inker Nelson Pereira with artist Pere Perez. The most glaring disappointment of Power Man and Iron Fist, however, arguably involves its villains. Antagonists like the Commedia Dell’Morte (unseen in this issue), Heart-Club-Diamond, Noir, and Pokerface (a gleeful grotesque worthy of Chester Gould) should generate awesome narrative electricity in theory; in practice, though, under this lackluster team, such freakish creations couldn’t power a penlight, let alone a bank of kliegs. In fine, a textbook example of stuporhero trash. Pass on it. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Batman Incorporated #4 and here for a preview of Captain America and Batroc #1, both courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of FF #1, courtesy of PLAYBACK:stl.

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