Rude Chapbooks 05.21.12 | Hardcore Thrills

Hardcore #1, that is, Mr. SEO-Pornoholic. In addition to that sterling science fiction adventure from writer Robert Kirkman and artist Brian Stelfreeze, this week’s column praises Conan the Barbarian #4, DC Universe Presents #9, and Fury MAX #2 and pans a fifth new floppy.

As Dark Horse’s Conan the Barbarian #4 intimates, Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian alter ego, under the stewardship of scriptwriter Brian Wood, may be enjoying a level of comics lyricism largely unseen since the day auteur Barry (not yet Windsor-) Smith, on a whim, chose to show the character rousting a gull from a ship’s deck—and Conan’s funnybook godfather, Roy Thomas, chose to let ’im. This issue further explores the eponymous hero’s time with the pirate Bêlit and launches the series’ second arc, “The Argos Deception,” involving the infiltration and plunder of the wealthy port of Messantia. Visualizing the arc is James Harren; Harren, who previously swashed fine buckle on the company’s brief but neat Turok, Son of Stone revival, illustrates the derring-do with the requisite blend of muscularity and intelligence, although his conception of Bêlit sizzles less than that of regular series artist Becky Cloonan, perhaps predictably. (Cloonan’s Bêlit personifies lust on the page—it could give a stiffy to a Skopt.) Month after month, year after year, arguably Dark Horse’s top licensed property.
DC Universe Presents #9 tempts one to flirt with the hypothesis that writer James Robinson feels far more at ease with—and thus, pleasurably recounts the adventures of—the company’s secondary and tertiary players and titles. His pre–“New 52” Justice League of America, for instance, ultimately prompted nausea; not so, by and large, The Shade, the 12-part, Starman-related mini currently wending toward its conclusion. For its part, this DC Universe Presents, with crisp visuals from Bernard Chang, opens a tripartite, Silence of the Lambs–ish arc starring F.B.I. profiler Kassidy “Kass” Sage and her loving, imprisoned pop, Jon “Vandal” Savage. As a DC villain, of course, Vandal Savage dates from the Golden Age, and his pre–“New 52” daughter, under the nom de guerre Scandal Savage, anchored Gail Simone’s wonderful, underappreciated Secret Six. As a consequence, long-term fans may have to implement a few perceptual shifts to accommodate Savage père as a pseudo–Charles Manson with dismissed-by-the-authorities necromantic leanings. They should do so, frankly; this promises to be a narrative of no little finesse.
In the main, this review doesn’t focus on Fury MAX #2, the Marvel series from writer Garth Ennis and artist Goran Parlov whose premiere “Rude Chapbooks” lauded just two weeks past. Rather, it celebrates that series’ cover artist, Dave Johnson. A similar celebration appeared here in mid-January. The present encomium, with 20-20 hindsight, poses a question then left unstated: Why has neither of the “Big Two” nor some especially enterprising third party like IDW Publishing (all of whose Artist’s Edition series of hardcovers should tempt any comics aficionado, even during this vile economic slump) compiled a honkin’ showcase of Johnson’s covers, along the lines of Dave McKean’s integral 1997 Dust Covers? Over time, Johnson has certainly accumulated a bounty of work, both at DC (on Vertigo’s 100 Bullets, say) and at Marvel (on Punisher MAX, for example). On Fury MAX #2, with typical artistry, he depicts Colonel Nick Fury trading fire with Vietnamese adversaries, as well as a French officer glaring from an angle—all within the curvaceous silhouette of femme fatale Shirley Defabio. Gorgeous!
“How did that get in here?” Prompting the question*: the appearance among the week’s P&H goodies of Hardcore #1, an Image offering with a cover credit to Marc Silvestri, an artist whose work has never inspired much interest in these precincts. That credit, apparently, derives from Silvestri’s customarily anemic cover, as well as his status as CEO of Image subsidiary Top Cow Productions, whence this originates. Happily, the rest of Hardcore #1 comes courtesy of writer Robert Kirkman and artist Brian Stelfreeze, who here craft as insidiously impeccable a techno-thriller (whose premise, to be sure, recalls Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse on Fox) as one could possibly desire; indeed, the first nine pages may well constitute one of the most devilishly staged assassinations ever to grace the mainstream. Stelfreeze? Oh, Jesus, fanboy, if you’re not buying any and all of Stelfreeze’s too-infrequent contributions to the medium, you should collect Hummel or something. Meanwhile, with rare misfires like Haunt and the abysmal Infinite, Kirkman, on this debut, continues to cement his reputation for being—shall we say—invincible.
Reading a comic, by rights, oughtn’t duplicate the aerobic devastation wrought by running a marathon, yet Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men #12 does just that. Each turn of the page prompts a gasp—and not a gasp of surprise or delight. All Action Figure Theater, this issue dovetails with the company’s latest nitwit “event,” a conflict between the once-merry mutants and the Avengers over the forthcoming return here of the dread Phoenix Force. Its cover spotlights the Sub-Mariner, who belongs both to the X-Men and the Defenders, clashing with the Thing, who belongs to the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the Future Foundation; the two choose to throw punches, inexplicably, instead of comparing team medical plans and commiserating with each other over how much all those membership cards must pad their wallets. With inker Jay Leisten, penciller Greg Land contributes his usual invidious, photo-referenced visuals; the script comes from Kieron Gillen, who, in a better world than this, would be focusing his considerable talent on something besides this twaddle. One can’t help rooting for the Phoenix Force. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
* Also likely helping to prompt the question: the book was originally solicited for release over two years ago. –JG,FE 
Click here for a preview of Conan the Barbarian #4, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of DC Universe Presents #9, here for a preview of Hardcore #1, and here for a preview of Uncanny X-Men #12, all courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply