Rude Chapbooks 05.14.12 | No Mystery in This Space

The science fiction–based anthology Mystery in Space #1, alas, wholly lacks what SF fans and critics alike call “sensawunna.” Also analyzed in this column from the latest new floppies: Avenging Spider-Man #7, Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1, Garfield #1, and Trio #1.


Under almost any circumstances, the appearance of Stuart Immonen’s byline as penciller sparks interest—hence the purchase of Avenging Spider-Man #7. Basically Marvel Team-Up resurrected for the new millennium, the series this issue pairs Spidey and the original She-Hulk in a tale scripted by Kathryn Immonen, Stuart’s spouse, and inked by Wade von Grawbadger. The visuals, unsurprisingly, delight. The web-slinger has rarely looked half this good during the last few months in The Amazing Spider-Man, sad to say, and the same holds true for his bodacious jade ally; the art team handles with equal aplomb all other details of this Egyptological romp involving a mystic relic, some robed cultists from central casting, several complex shots of a crowded museum, and cats—lots and lots of cats. Unfortunately, Kathryn Immonen’s script falls flat; although lighthearted enough, it exhibits little if any musicality, such that the intended-to-be-funny dialogue between Spidey and the She-Hulk feels logy and the quips lack snap. To use a rock analogy, the script plays like a session percussionist straining to impersonate Keith Moon.
Let us thus define irresistible: IDW Publishing’s Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1 with visuals from horror auteur Bernie Wrightson. Wrightson, of course, secured his place in comics history by creating, with writer Len Wein, DC’s Swamp Thing four decades ago, but he also previously (in 1983) illustrated Mary Shelley’s novel about “the modern Prometheus.” Here he partners with writer Steve Niles to revisit the tormented, tragic Frankenstein monster after the finale of that famed 1818 gothic romance (which no less a sage than Brian Aldiss has long championed as the fountainhead of modern science fiction). A thoughtful, even loving sequel, it opens with the monster earning a living in the Depression as an accepted member of Stenger’s Funland Circus & Carnival, before reflecting on the primordial, haunted prelude to that poignant existence. Although printed in black and white, the artwork reportedly was scanned in color to accentuate Wrightson’s atmospheric intricacy—nicely done—and after the tale proper appears the three-page start of a revealing discussion between Niles and Wrightson, tracing their fascination with Shelley’s patchwork man.
Oh, what the hell. Garfield #1. Sure, why not? After all, scripting the new BOOM! Studios series, whose arrival a shipping snafu delayed by a week, is industry eminence Mark Evanier, and ably following in the artistic footsteps of Garfield creator Jim Davis is Gary Barker, a man with an entirely inapt surname in a cat-related context. This pleasant trifle features everyone’s favorite lasagna-lovin’ feline and supporting players—but not, more’s the pity, the endlessly swatted spider—in two tales, the first of which focuses on the kitten Nermal’s discovery of a discarded copy of a rare, valuable comic book, the second of which centers on a mouse determined to debunk Garfield’s diet. Sophisticated comedy? By no means. Still, for entertainment value, it far outshines any number of other, portentous new releases displayed with pomp and circumstance in comics shops throughout the land. Fanboys will be fanboys, of course—which means that they’ll likely continue to privilege over Garfield and similar offerings the pinheaded progeny of (an inside joke) Ultra-Powerful Guy #1. A shame, really.
In general, Vertigo anthologies recall Charlie Brown striving to placekick Lucy’s football, and in that regard, sad to say, the science fiction–themed Mystery in Space #1 proves unexceptional. A figurative scream of frustration coupled with a resounding thud, the 70-page singleton comprises an octet of eight-pagers and a single six-pager behind a customarily lovely cover by Ryan Sook. Virtually all of the stories suffer from one or more of the typical faults of SF in comics: lazily explanatory dialogue or captions (in the generic argot, infodumps), grossly inadequate and often laughable heuristics, and putatively surprising or moralistic twist endings. Moreover, somewhere between the anthology’s solicitation and its publication, a contribution involving “an intergalactic space heist” by writer/artist Paul Pope vanished into the ether. To be sure, the great Michael Wm. Kaluta beautifully illustrates “The Elgort,” but writer Nnedi Okorafor clutters it with captions, and even the best-balanced tale, “Transmission” from writer Andy Diggle and artist David Gianfelice, sports an error that will appall anyone with a basic knowledge of physics. An altogether soporific comic.
Of late, with the laudable relaunch of Next Men and launch of Cold War, writer/artist John Byrne has seemingly been undergoing a personal “Get Back” moment, much to the joy of his older fans. That seeming trend this week extends with Trio #1, evidently an ongoing for IDW Publishing. An old-school exercise in superheroic adventure, it stars a three-member team called (duh!) the Trio, composed of agents One, Two, and Three—nicknamed by a media wag Paper, Scissors, and Rock, reflective of their superpowers. Despite a nomenclature so perversely vanilla as to prompt utter puzzlement, the series premieres with efficiency and celerity, incorporating a double-fronted bank robbery, several mysteries, an injury to one of the triumvirate, and the advent of a vaguely familiar oceanic menace, all presented in classic Byrne style. IDW has been promoting Trio for devotees of his earlier work on Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight; it also brings to mind Danger Unlimited, an underappreciated quadripartite 1994 Dark Horse mini that IDW compiled with other material in 2009. In any event, fun stuff. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Avenging Spider-Man #7 and here for a preview of Frankenstein Alive, Alive #1, both courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Trio #1, courtesy of IDW Publishing.

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