Rude Chapbooks 04.18.11 | Infinity and the Trickster

With the singleton S.H.I.E.L.D. ∞—listen to those comics shop databases crashing!—one of the two most enjoyable floppies from this week’s quintet spotlights, of all characters, Scandinavian god of fire and longtime Thor nemesis Loki: Journey Into Mystery #622.

 

Carbon Grey #2, the midpoint of an Image miniseries, all but defies description—and not in a favorable way. It certainly defies understanding, like its predecessor, a synopsis of which fills the frontispiece; on reading that synopsis, those who likewise read the debut of this tripartite jumble may find themselves muttering, “Oh, so that’s what happened.” Even in the gleefully mongrel medium of comics, whose greatest works and dazes often hinge on collage, Carbon Grey reads like an indigestible hash of the ’60s CBS sitcom Petticoat Junction, the dimmest ’80s Eurotrash filler from Heavy Metal, and the daydreams of someone with both a theoretical fondness for cutlery and high calibers and a practical lack of wound-debridement technique. Paul Gardner contributes the script, from a story by Khari Evans, Mike Kennedy, Hoang Nguyen, and himself; Evans, Kinsun Loh, and Nguyen contribute the art. Readers striving to muddle through this para–World War I misadventure of the sisters Anna, Eva, Giselle, and Mathilde Grey—whose conception, incredibly, took eight years—should look to Bufferin to contribute relief.

 
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” Alexander Pope observed almost three centuries ago. Pope, of course, had no experience of mainstream comics, else he might have revised that observation. That said, a glimmer of hope did indeed greet the announcement that J.G. Jones would assume the scriptwriting duties on DC’s interpretation of the venerable Man of Bronze with Doc Savage #13. Jones has previously expressed fondness for the pulp icon, and as cover artist, he’s provided the sole redeeming feature of this series and the related First Wave fiasco alike. Unfortunately, notwithstanding that fondness, he chronicles the adventures of the title character just as clumsily as his three predecessors on Doc Savage in a tale involving techno-mummies set in New York, Egypt, and, for good measure, Russia. Meanwhile, new artist Qing Ping Mui apparently learned about human anatomy from a study of Pillsbury’s Poppin’ Fresh, views life through a fish-eye lens, and believes a surfeit of lines can conceal structural deficiencies in artwork. Regarding Doc Savage, yes, hope springs eternal—for the closest cliff.
 
Amid multi-issue tales that explore the larger saga of his stogie-chompin’, stone-gloved demon-brung-up-all-wrong, Mike Mignola obviously also loves to treat his readers to singletons like Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish, which permit him, as a writer, to collaborate with a kaleidoscopic array of artists. Here, for instance, Kevin Nowlan joins him on a Dark Horse romp set in north-central Kansas in 1985 that involves, among other things, spectral cattle, an old-school flying saucer, a boxers-clad bovine-human hybrid, and anal probe–wielding refugees from Roswell, New Mexico. (Hellboy, regarding the last, grits, “Oh. I don’t think so.”) The singleton’s main delight almost perforce derives from the visuals from Nowlan, who over time has usually served solely as an inker—but who basically launched his career by contributing spot illos eons ago to The Comics Journal and who last worked his full-art wonders at length in collaboration with Alan Moore on the impish adventures of Jack B. Quick in the anthology title Tomorrow Stories. A blissful bounty of über-clean compositions, impeccably spotted blacks, and linear loveliness.
 
Despite Marvel’s recent Thorry cinematic shenanigans, previously denounced here, Journey Into Mystery #622 comes as not just a surprise but an extremely pleasant one. Instead of the Thunderer, the prior focus of the title, it stars Loki, recently resurrected as a lad, and almost inconceivably, in its general literacy, it recalls an earlier series whose cast also included that Teutonic trickster: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. In fact, this script arguably ranks as the sharpest thus far written for Marvel by Kieron Gillen, he of Phonogram fame; it opens with striking lyricism, incorporates much sly humor (especially in a scene involving a smartphone), and centers on a delicious conversation between Loki and…well, that would be telling. It also dovetails with the company’s Fear Itself “event,” but the brevity of that particular scene renders it fairly inoffensive. Artists Dougie Braithwaite and Ulises Arreola illustrate everything with an adept hand, and Braithwaite’s Thor, thankfully, looks less like the Norse god of grump. Can Gillen transform Loki from a villain into a “mere” antihero? The answer should make intriguing reading.
 
Serving as a bridge between the first Marvel miniseries and its successor, coming in June, S.H.I.E.L.D. ∞ (alas) excludes regular artist Dustin Weaver but otherwise extends the title’s gonzo glories. Here, writer Jonathan Hickman recounts bits of backstory on the so-called Brotherhood of the Shield in four short chapters visualized by Nick Pitarra, Zachary Baldus, Kevin Mellon, and Gabriel Hernandez Walta (in that order and, by the way, with impressive skill by the first and fourth). With its alternate-historical focus and other felicities, of course, S.H.I.E.L.D. will likely vex and confuse certain readers, more’s the pity. Others, though, should delight in seeing (say) the Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes inside the Colossus of Rhodes in 226 B.C. battling a rampaging Sentry (not the tedious superhero introduced in the 2000 miniseries of that name, but one of the Kree automata from the Lee-Kirby Fantastic Four). In a short afterword, Hickman calls S.H.I.E.L.D. a “special little gem located firmly in the Marvel Universe,” and although that adverb prompts qualms, the title otherwise deserves such a lapidary characterization. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Carbon Grey #1, right here at PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of S.H.I.E.L.D. ∞, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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