Rude Chapbooks 04.09.12 | i!

This year, as its logo nowadays shows, Image turns 20, and to commemorate that anniversary, this special column mulls five new floppies released by the company during the past week: Fatale #4, Invincible #90, Mudman #3, Savage Dragon #179, and Supreme #63.




Deliriously, its cover enlarges one ninth-of-a-page panel from Fatale #4. Sans affect, one of the series’ bespectacled, bowler-topped identical heavies licks blood from his index and middle fingers. That visual seems emblematic of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips’ deeply creepy amalgam of H.P. Lovecraft and Dashiell Hammett. As the issue fast establishes, the cover blood comes from the head of a mobster’s bodyguard—or rather, what remains of the bodyguard’s head. (As a quasi–police procedural, Fatale flirts with the hilarious question of how one might cuff Cthulhu.) Beyond that, in the past and present alike, it further explores the dark background of Josephine, the preternaturally compelling beauty to whom the series’ title refers; by way of example, a homicide detective questioning her latest conquest obtains some distinctly pointed answers. Closing the issue, as usual, is an intriguing text lagniappe: novelist Stephen Blackmoore on “The Real Philip Marlowe.” Immediately before it, Bru notes that Fatale (which has expanded from 12 issues to 15) has been selling extraordinarily well—great news for comics aficionados.
Dinosaurus clashes with Thragg in Invincible #90, and Thragg being Thragg—the leader of the Viltrumites would have to warm by several hundred degrees to qualify as merely “stone-cold”—that clash proceeds with painfully unassailable logic for the peculiarly magnetic, if sociopathic, supporting character that “Rude Chapbooks” praised in passing just last month. (Does anyone know a top-notch orthodontist?) That the toothsome antihero suffers gravely in striving to aid Mark Grayson, the incapacitated title hero, should only deepen the discerning reader’s respect for the dramatic talents of writer Robert Kirkman, penciller Ryan Ottley, and inker Cliff Rathburn. Otherwise, amusingly, the issue opens with the substitute Invincible confronting a villain dubbed the Walking Dread, a nod to another Kirkman endeavor that reportedly has enjoyed some small popularity on television, and Allen the Alien and Oliver, Invincible’s impetuous younger half-brother, have a revealing midflight conversation about the latter’s views of life in general and Terrans in specific. Anyone not reading Invincible, in short, is missing one of the most dependably pleasurable superheroic romps now gracing the mainstream.
As demonstrated by Mudman #3, the most recent offering from writer/artist Paul Grist recalls nothing quite so much as an Anglicized, new-millennial reinterpretation of the classic Stan Lee–Steve Ditko Amazing Spider-Man. Delightfully sui generis, this latest issue of the bimonthly boasts a cover showing the eponymous hero chalking “I must not fight in school” on a blackboard and begins with an enigmatic flashback self-evidently connected to Mudman’s origin, there in the placid English hamlet of Burnbridge on Sea. Thereafter, though, it mostly centers on a misadventure of youthful Owen Craig (our hero’s alter ego) and his best bud, on detention at their prep school, where they battle a mechanical adversary like a cross between Marvel’s Wolverine and…Warner Bros.’ Tweety Bird. No, seriously. Perhaps only Grist, who may not properly appreciate the gravity of his “grim ’n’ gritty” responsibilities as a contemporary comics creator, would risk lodging a life-threatening menace in the masonry gutter of a ramshackle brick mansion—and then effectively having said menace suffer defeat through an aerosol burst of chartreuse paint. Wonderful!
Of the Image founders—who appeared to range from mere hobbyists to one partner with the sharklike sensibilities of a Wall Street financier, as well as an aesthetic to match—writer/artist Erik Larsen seemingly always invested the most heart and soul into the enterprise, and to this day, that perception (whether correct or not) persists with Savage Dragon #179. Twenty years after the collective came into existence, Larsen still infuses the creation of comic books as comic books, not as vehicles for multimillion-dollar adaptations or intellectual property rights for eventual sale at an improbable profit or anything else, with a compulsive joie de vivre. Here, with the titular paragon still sojourning in space, Larsen continues to recount one of those deranged late–Silver Age extraterrestrial-invasion tales, wherein Malcolm Dragon and Angel, with a multitude of other spandex-clad wonders, combat a host of Alien-style berserkers, leading to a love-among-the-ruins cliffhanger. Only adding to the pleasure of this series: the contribution of Tom Orzechowski, after roughly four decades in comics still one of the industry’s finest letterers.
If Supreme #63 radiated any more irony, it could trigger a Geiger counter. Newly revived, this issue of the Rob Liefeld Superman pastiche features the last finished script from Alan Moore, composed not only long before he renounced mainstream comics for a second and perhaps final time, but also even before he launched America’s Best Comics. Moreover, it hinges on the metadiscursive playfulness integral to Moore’s run, just seven months after DC rebooted Action Comics and virtually everything else in the “New 52” boondoggle. That said, this blast from the past, with art by Erik Larsen and Cory Hamscher, incorporates various grace notes common to that run, among them an invasion of Darius Daxes (think “Lex Luthor”) and a cameo by Suprema, the title character’s younger sister (think “Supergirl”). (“[A]re you by any chance a shape-changing alien from the Supreme Retribution Corps, intent on marrying Supreme…only to destroy him?” Suprema grills her sib’s lady love. “Sorry to ask, but you’d be surprised how often that happens.”) A pleasure to see it in print at last. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Fatale #4 and here for a preview of Supreme #63, both courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Invincible #90, courtesy of Newsarama.
Click here for a preview of Savage Dragon #179, courtesy of Comic Buzz.

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