Rude Chapbooks 05.23.11 | Recalling a Fallen Titan

The praiseworthy Rocketeer Adventures #1 pays tribute to the late, great Dave Stevens, who died much, much too young. Also reviewed and (holy guacamole!) recommended this week: The Amazing Spider-Man #661, Herc #3, Science Dog Special #2, and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7.


Once upon a time, mainstream comics could court whimsy without shame, and The Amazing Spider-Man #661 recalls that halcyon pre–“grim ’n’ gritty” era. Even its cover—which, almost unthinkably nowadays, floats word balloons and hinges on a bathroom-break reference—trumpets that fact. Substituting for regular writer Dan Slott on the opener of a two-part romp, Christos Gage teams with penciller Reilly Brown and inker Victor Olazaba to contribute a pitch-perfect tale wherein, appropriately, Spidey substitute teaches at Avengers Academy. The interplay among Marvel’s spandex-clad Charlie Brown and Hank (Giant-Man) Pym’s superpowered “kids at risk”—Finesse, Hazmat, Mettle, Reptil, Striker, and Veil—sparkles, amusingly defining a generation gap between the hapless instructor and his temporary charges. It almost goes without saying that Avengers Academy, in roughly a year, has become a must-read under Gage’s stewardship; with luck, this will tempt Webhead’s fans to sample that meritorious series. Rounding out the comic in question is an equally pleasing silent eight-pager from writer Paul Benjamin and artist Javier Pulido. Amazing, in short, once more deserves that adjective.
Following the forgettable finale of Marvel’s Chaos War “event,” Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, the writing partnership on Incredible Hercules, seemingly lost their paired pitch on relaunching the exploits of everyone’s favorite Greco-Roman demigod. Happily enough, Herc #3 (visualized by artists Neil Edwards and Scott Hanna) suggests they may be reacquainting themselves with the narrative strike zone. To be sure, the title still suffers from the absence of boy genius Amadeus Cho, the big, bearded brawler’s B.F.F., and this issue dovetails maddeningly with another “event,” the anemic Fear Itself. Still, a measure of Pak and Van Lente’s deft humor has returned, as shown in a scene wherein Hercules mingles with his new Brooklynite neighbors. (Ya gotta love it: “Snuffles will taste my steel.”) Moreover, Herc’s interaction with the Griffin and, especially, Man-Bull hints the writers may be planning interesting developments with the supporting cast, at least for the nonce. Finally, a Brooklyn studio designs a new costume for the Lion of Olympus that actually works visually, even as it generates some minor plot complications.
Comics aficionados “of a certain age” may well weep over Rocketeer Adventures #1. That IDW Publishing gem, of course, launches a quadripartite anthology and pays tribute to the signature character of writer/artist Dave Stevens, one of the medium’s bona fide titans, whom leukemia killed in 2008 at the age of 52. What a glorious, heartbreaking homage! Behind cover variants by Alex Ross, Stevens himself, and Tommy Lee Edwards, it boasts a trio of eight-page tales by John Cassaday, perhaps his first narrative work since Planetary wrapped; Mike Allred, arguably some of his strongest visuals ever (with a cameo by Stevens’ shadowy, somehow-familiar “Mr. Jonas”); and Kurt Busiek and Michael Wm. Kaluta, a bravura World War II exercise in juxtaposition that reaffirms Kaluta as one of the mainstream’s preeminent living artists. The anthology also features customarily wonderful pinups from Mike Mignola and Jim Silke, the latter a faux Saturday Evening Post cover. Future issues of Rocketeer Adventures will reportedly showcase contributions from Darwyn Cooke, Bruce Timm, and other top talents. A no-brainer, really—buy this title.
In mainstream comics, far too many mutts conduct themselves with A.K.C. hauteur. This week, though, devotees of the medium can and should ignore those kennel mishaps in favor of a blissfully kingly canid: Science Dog Special #2. As did its predecessor last summer, the Image offering boasts a script from Robert Kirkman and art from Cory Walker and stars some sort of terrier whimsically Bruce Bannered into a high-tech adventurer—yes, Dog Savage. With aides Daniel and Rachel, the title character battles perennial adversary Walter (transformed into a Leader type in the same lab accident that evolved “Science”). Like its predecessor, this special reprints certain material from Invincible, and longtime fans thereof may grouse about the duplication—especially given that Image, in all likelihood, will shortly compile both specials. In any event, the new matter here more than ably concludes Kirkman’s SF saga, with his script incorporating stranded extraterrestrials, a postapocalyptic nightmare, tandem temporal jaunts, nested climaxes, and a bittersweet denouement, all with seeming ease. Walker’s art, meanwhile, exemplifies ligne claire loveliness. Best in show!
As T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #7 illustrates, writer Nick Spencer continues to make DC’s take on the old Tower Comics team one of the most promising mainstream titles to premiere in the past year. Visualized by regular penciller Cafu and inker Bit—one can’t help wondering whatever became of comics artists named, y’know, “Jack” and “Steve” who shouldered the burden of surnames—the issue in question also incorporates a 1983 flashback with art by Mike Grell (before closing with a five-page 1960s Dynamo solo adventure with visuals by Nick Dragotta). It launches a new arc designed to reintroduce the Iron Maiden—by no means Wally Wood’s “baddest” “bad girl,” but certainly bad enough by the standards of mainstream comics in the mid-’60s—and to integrate her in an extremely intriguing fashion with this new incarnation of the fictitious United Nations strike force. With a narrative that ranges from Melbourne, Australia, to Morocco, by the way, Spencer’s globe-girdling opener boasts an action-to-action transition involving a cucumber which might have delighted even Wood, a man perpetually pushing the envelope. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Amazing Spider-Man #661, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Science Dog Special #2, courtesy of Comic Book Realm.

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