Rude Chapbooks 05.09.11 | Proof Positive…and Negative

In one of those sporadic must-be-off-his-meds-again columns, our cranky comic book commentator lauds not only Proof Endangered #5, the bittersweet finis of that “Bigfoot goes X-Files agent” miniseries, but also four other floppies released during the past week.

Plot that fails to illuminate character, in traditional narrative, serves no purpose, devolving into a mere sequence of incidents—a failing far too common among “event”-driven contemporary comics. In that light, as Avengers Academy #13 reaffirms, writer Christos Gage’s achievement on that Marvel series shines like a supernova, even in the view of someone who started reading the franchise’s ur-title just as Stan Lee was ceding scriptwriting duties on The Avengers to Roy Thomas. In this issue, Gage partners with penciller Sean Chen and inker Scott Hanna (behind a cover of considerable wit and style by Billy Tan and Leonardo Olea) to chaperone the utterly delightful “Prom Night,” wherein, among other things, romance slowly begins to bud, however improbably, between Hazmat and Mettle, Finesse continues to impress as the mainstream’s most believable polymath, Reptil resolves a personal crisis with help from a guesting Spider-Girl, Striker and Veil explore what it means to belong to their team—and oh, yeah, two of the academy’s damaged instructors make a love connection before everything ends in bubbly jubilation.
Writer Mark Andrew Smith first attracted attention in these precincts with The New Brighton Archeological Society, his 2009 collaboration with artist Matthew Weldon. The charm of that children’s adventure guaranteed a place on the pull-and-hold list for Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1, the new Image title from Smith (whose middle name has herewith collapsed into just the initial A.) and artist Armand Villavert. Bright and funny and (mais non!) fun, this debut details the founding of the eponymous educational institution, including a shot of Ironsides, “one of the most remarkable villains of all the universe”…sporting a pink apron as he serves cranberry muffins and coffee to a guest. It also introduces several of the pupils studying such courses as “Getting a Nemesis 101” and “Hatching a Scheme”: the hilariously cocky Kid Nefarious, his long-suffering amigo Martian Jones, best buds Mummy Girl and Ghost Girl, and “the infamous Skull brothers”—the locquacious, even eloquent Skull Brother One and his younger sib, the taciturn, often monosyllabic Skull Brother Two. A lovely “all ages” romp—buy it!
On the splash to Proof Endangered #5, the conclusion to the latest Image miniseries starring Bigfoot John “Proof” Prufrock, writer Alex Grecian and artist Riley Rossmo engage in a neat and apt bit of wordplay, inserting at the tail of the valedictory’s title “(End… Angered).” Because the miniseries closes only in stalemate between Proof and his foster brother, Mi-Chen-Po, and because it also involves a trio of formal “to be continued’s,” devotees of the pair’s work may indeed feel angry at the degree to which overblown “events” and stale crossovertures now glut the market at the expense of fresh, exuberant work like this. In an afterword, without pointing any fingers, Grecian confesses that Rossmo and he “don’t know whether there are enough readers to support this book…” So only time will tell if and when Proof returns. If anything, therefore, this issue’s sunny epilogue—set five years in the future, beneath cerulean skies on the rolling green grandeur of Ireland—merely emphasizes this finale’s plangency as well as the hatefulness of much of today’s mainstream.
During one of those dismal periods wherein neither Justice League of America nor even Justice Society of America approaches readability, a dark horse for DC’s best team title, with perverse pluck, keeps stealing the race, as Secret Six #33 demonstrates. In this third and final chapter of “The Darkest House” arc, writer Gail Simone, with the dependable J. Calafiore on art, continues to work without a net and to do so with obvious gusto. More specifically, having dispatched the title team to hell to vie with the Secret 666—in comics, a “been there, done that” thing—Simone likewise puts them through hell. Here, even King Shark—hardly the brightest star in the firmament and arguably the team’s biggest lightweight, despite his size and savagery—enjoys a moment in the narrative sun. (With macabre hilarity, readers visit the character’s conception of perdition: being trapped in a vegetarian restaurant.) Meanwhile, more sublime members of this mélange of malefactors, like Bane, Catman, and the deliciously “paging Sam Peckinpah” Deadshot, continue to deepen in character. A tragicomic wonder.
If, in fact, one can credit the credits—a snarky way to start an encomium, but we live in signally suspicious times—Spidey Sunday Spectacular! #1 should fry the mind of anyone who thought Stan Lee, as a writer worth reading, had forever degenerated into a caricature of himself something like four decades ago. This Marvel singleton compiles a dozen two-pagers crafted by him and artist Marcos Martin (with magnificent colorist Muntsa Vicente) that collectively (a) recall Lee’s personal professional belle époque from the early to mid-1960s and (b) further establish Martin as one of the finest graphic talents now toiling in the mainstream. In its absurdist ebullience, in fact, the lead story recalls nothing so much as the dizzily blissful three-page “How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man!” from ol’ Webhead’s first annual, in ’64—albeit with layouts and balloon/caption placements that verge on Eisnerian genius. A 12-page second tale from Lee and Martin (with another colorist) almost perforce falls short of the lead’s pop perfection, but still, this special rocks. Excelsior, indeed! | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1, right here at PLAYBACK:stl.

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