Rude Chapbooks 05.07.12 | Five Aces

In an exceptional week for such things, Fate deals a winning hand to comics fans with a quintet of noteworthy debuts: Fury MAX, Mind the Gap, Popeye, The Spider, and Worlds’ Finest.


Extremest trepidation greets Fury MAX #1 by writer Garth Ennis and artist Goran Parlov. After all, after an opening chapter illustrated by Howard Chaykin, the two of them crafted the Punisher MAX arc “Long Cold Dark,” arguably the definitive narrative to star Marvel’s über-vigilante. Could they even approximate the frigid, horrific brilliance of that effort? This week, behind a characteristically brilliant cover by Dave Johnson, comes a tentative affirmative. In the form of a reminiscence by Colonel Nick Fury, this debut opens in 1954 in French Indochina on the eve of its fragmentation into Cambodia, Laos, and the northern and southern incarnations of a little place called Vietnam. Besides Fury, the issue introduces a nonpareil femme fatale, an unctuous congressman, and at least one second banana almost perforce doomed to be peeled. Early in the tale, tellingly, the sec-ban looks toward Old Glory, wafting on the breeze near the café where he and Fury sit. “Do you believe that means anything at all?” he asks the colonel. Fury replies, “I believe it should.” Dangerously delicious.
The week brings yet another impressive premiere from Image—publisher Eric Stephenson deserves an attaboy for attracting and nurturing notable creator-owned works—with Mind the Gap #1 from writer Jim McCann and artists Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback. Canny fans will recognize Esquejo’s byline from another boffo Image offering, Morning Glories, to which he contributes covers, and he and Oback make this 46-pager an ocular feast, including a scene involving the lighting of a cigarette sufficiently stunning that McCann (rightly) effuses about it in his two-page afterword. The series’ creator, for his part, adroitly amalgamates into the narrative a mind-boggling number of niceties both integral and incidental beyond the instigating, concussion-clouded subway assault on protagonist Ellis Peterssen—among them a splendid digression on Pink Floyd and “Money.” Perhaps not accidentally, McCann’s Mind the Gap also resembles Morning Glories in recalling Winston Churchill’s characterization of the U.S.S.R.: “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” At a minimum, one can’t help suspecting that no other comic published this year will incorporate a fiberglass fawn. Superlative!
The cover to Popeye #1 (delayed a week by a shipping snafu) should prompt a hoot of delight and all but ensure its purchase, insofar as it restages that of Action Comics #1 (the original, not last year’s pretender) with Superman replaced by a certain squinty sailor. Also contributing to the appeal of the quadripartite IDW Publishing miniseries: the assignment of its writing duties to Roger Langridge, whose own stellar Snarked easily numbers among the most memorable debuts of the past year. Partnering with him is artist Bruce Ozella, and the pair here stages an hommage both heartfelt and hilarious to the utter jubilance of E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre. More specifically, Popeye and Olive Oyl pilot the good ship Elsie to parts unknown seeking a honey for Eugene the Jeep, at the instigation of Olive’s forever-brainstorming-for-an-easy-fortune bro, Castor. Almost necessarily, the redoubtable J. Wellington Wimpy joins the crew—Wimpy being Wimpy, he effectively shanghais himself—and both Bluto and the Sea Hag oppose the operation because…well…they’re Bluto and the Sea Hag, for pity’s sake! Blissful.
Because David Liss’ collaboration with artist Patrick Zircher on Marvel’s Depression-era Mystery Men made it one of the most memorable miniseries of 2011, the announcement, last August, that he would write a pulp-based series for Dynamite Entertainment sparked considerable excitement—and this week, that excitement blooms with The Spider #1. Although not exactly according to Hoyle—Liss should probably buzz Howard Chaykin about how to handle Harlan Ellison, bless ’im—it skillfully reconceives the title character for something approximating today, a milieu mingling dirigibles and cellphones, abundant fedoras and laser targeting. Colton Worley illustrates that milieu with signal panache, promoting the hope that this outré exercise in nouveau pulp will work better than DC’s similar “First Wave” debacle. Moreover, despite a few typos and a balloon-placement bungle on page 17—honestly, one simply cannot imagine how Joe Rybandt earned the title of “editor”—Liss in no way disappoints in interpreting the adventures of socialite Richard Wentworth’s twisted alter ego. (Readers, incidentally, should watch for two hilarious throwaways involving Chinese takeout and Teaneck, New Jersey.) Fabulous!
Worlds’ Finest #1 well and truly rocks. Given this column’s congenital disdain for nearly everything related to DC’s “New 52” cozenage, that endorsement may cause “Rude Chapbooks” habitués to swoon in disbelief. So be it. In an admittedly fanboyish fashion, it feels grand to welcome the return of this title, its apostrophe shifted one letter to the right from the 1941–86 run, and writer Paul Levitz (never particularly a favorite in these precincts) praiseworthily introduces the series’ new titanic twosome, with which he has a lengthy history: the Huntress and Power Girl. Abetting Levitz both in and with classic superhero style are penciller George Pérez, inker Scott Koblish, and, on flashbacks, artist Kevin Maguire; indeed, these visuals rank as some of Pérez’s strongest work in ages, not least because of the script’s skill (compare it to the turgidity of the “New 52” Superman #1, lambasted here) and the absence of an excuse for Pérez to succumb to his fetish for spandex crowd scenes, forcing him to focus his not-inconsiderable talent on smart staging. Neat! | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Mind the Gap #1 and here for a preview of Worlds’ Finest #1, both courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Popeye #1, courtesy of IDW Publishing.
Click here for a preview of The Spider #1, courtesy of Dynamite Publishing.

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