Rude Chapbooks 05.30.11 | Gods and Monsters

This week’s column, true to the holiday that informally opens summer, praises a multifaceted memorial to the King of Comics: Kirby: Genesis #0. It likewise lauds The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde #2 and else mulls three other new releases, among them the aptly titled Venom #3.

 
 
One can’t help greeting with trepidation Kirby: Genesis #0, Dynamite Entertainment’s teaser qua prelude to a series starring characters conceived by Jack Kirby, arguably the talent most integral to the creation, half a century past, of today’s comics mainstream. After all, the characters reportedly involved scarcely approach the primal pop power of his ’60s and ’70s work—characters not unreasonably culled from such work or derived from Kirby’s socioeconomically promising but aesthetically disappointing early-’80s stint with Pacific Comics, whereafter, to be brutally frank, only melancholy reigned. Moreover, since the King’s 1994 passing, certain actions of his heirs have bordered on posthumous regicide. Kirby: Genesis #0, happily enough, banishes all qualms about the project. With a 12-page intro from writer Kurt Busiek and artists Jack Herbert and Alex Ross, among model sheets and other features, the dollar-priced naughty strongly suggests that the three of them have invested considerable heart and head alike in making this series truly worthy of the King—as one might well expect from Busiek and Ross, who gave us the landmark Marvels.
 
Oh, to recommend Strange Adventures #1—but no. No. Despite its title, the Vertigo singleton suffers from shortages of strangeness and adventurousness alike; as science fiction, its contents collectively fall far short of the top SF comics now gracing the stands—DMZ, Echo, RASL. Indeed, beyond a splendid cover by Paul Pope, who could teach a master class in doing SF in comics with élan, the anthology’s 70-plus pages plod. Fundamentally, only “Partners,” a restrained character study founded on an ontological fillip from writer Peter Milligan and artist Sylvain Savoia, works. The other eight tales, sad to say, largely wallow in bargain-basement dystopianism, reprising already-borrowed angst or shtick from Blade Runner, The Matrix, and similar flicks. To be sure, “All the Pretty Ponies” (from writer Lauren Beukes) reinforces the impression of Inaki Miranda as one of the mainstream’s most promising younger artists, and “Spaceman” (from writer Brian Azzarello) showcases Eduardo Risso’s customarily magisterial visuals. Otherwise, though, Strange Adventures constitutes a signal disappointment from the imprint behind such echt SF as the aforementioned DMZ and Transmetropolitan.
 
The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde #2 confirms that quadripartite Dark Horse miniseries as a sleeper far superior to the snoozers now dominating comics shops. Abrim with such pleasantly gothic appurtenances as candles dribbling down human skulls and hackney coaches awaiting a gallop into intrigue, it comes from writer Cole Haddon and artist M.S. Corley (both, embarrassingly, unknown in these precincts) and focuses on Scotland Yard inspector Thomas Adye’s investigation into savage murders being perpetrated by—yes, of course—Jack the Ripper. Various clues lead the inspector to seek counsel from one Dr. Henry Jekyll, the original “Just Say No” poster boy, covertly imprisoned for five years after his alter ego’s staged demise. The delicious complication? Absent the serum that transformed him into id incarnate, Jekyll is hiding nothing, apparently, but Hyding everything, and his ongoing consultation with Adye—as masterfully dramatized by Haddon—stinks of corruption. Corley, meanwhile, visualizes this exercise in neo-Victoriana, all but three of whose pages sport six or more panels without ever feeling cramped, with ligne claire surety and style.
 
Because it involves Joss Whedon’s über-martial Breakworld, Uncanny X-Men #537 (with the arc whose third chapter it forms) almost radiates irony. It does so because penciller Terry Dodson and inker Rachel Dodson are gifting readers with a break from Greg Land, the series’ semiregular, downright pernicious “artist,” who’s made Uncanny all but unreadable for far too long. Where Land (the acme of Photoshopworn awfulness) hacks like an alley cat with a someone-call-Guinness hair ball, the Dodsons together purr like a pleased puma; somewhat less figuratively, their visuals exude muscular and lithe vigor suggestive of a great cat. Meanwhile, Kieron Gillen, who recently assumed scriptwriting duties on the Marvel series, is at last harmonizing with artists equal to his significant talent, to relate the cat-and-mouse revenge of Powerlord Kruun against the team in general and Colossus and Kitty Pryde in particular. Genuinely gripping. This, this right here, exemplifies why and how Uncanny X-Men once turned the mainstream topsy-turvy—and why, even at the most exasperating of times, one should never discount its continuing ability to thrill.
 
No status in contemporary comics involves more potential peril than belonging to Spider-Man’s supporting cast. Invariably, some dastard drops a building on you (“Captain Stacy!”) or kicks you from a bridge (“Gwen!”). Worse yet, editorial fiat shoehorns you yourself into a spandex monkey suit—as in Venom #3. This new series written by Rick Remender spotlights the alien symbiont introduced ages ago in the execrable Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, now joined to Flash Thompson, ur-foil of Spidey’s alter ego, Peter Parker. Poor Flash! At various points, in one solemn way or another, the character has threatened to transcend mere caricature (“high school bully who bedevils our hero in mufti”). Venom, alas, scarcely numbers among such points. A conflation of comics and Guns & Ammo fandoms, it features Flash as the blackest of black ops for the U.S. military, spouting jingoistic nonsense as if body armor and a Surging frown redeemed such tendentious tedium. Here subbing for regular penciller Tony Moore and inker Crimelab! Studios, Tom Fowler nicely visualizes everything—but not, y’know, that nicely. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Kirby: Genesis #0, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.
Click here for a preview of The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde #2, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Uncanny X-Men #537, courtesy of Newsarama.
Click here for a preview of Venom #3, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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