Rude Chapbooks 06.04.12 | Mercurial Mediocrity

With its focus on Mr. Freeze, the latest iteration of Batman Annual #1 leaves our reviewer cold, but happily enough, he’s got the hots for three of the other four floppies analyzed this week: Glamourpuss #25, Rachel Rising #8, and X-Men Legacy #267.

 
Lessening the joy of a (shades of 1961!) Batman Annual #1 written by Scott Snyder are two facts. First, however tangentially, it ties into DC’s “Night of the Owls” quasi-“event,” which nonsense involves almost a dozen titles this month; that should certainly wow innocent “civilians” wooed into braving comics shops by the “New 52” hoopla. Second, between this annual’s initial solicitation and its publication, Snyder became merely its co-writer, with James Tynion IV, and as a result, the script lacks the snap of Snyder’s solo efforts on Batman each month. In any event, the 38-pager features the menace of Mr. Freeze and the artwork of Jason Fabok, and here again it lacks. Mr. Freeze has never transcended tertiary status as a Batvillain—one can’t help picturing him passing Saturday nights losing at rummy to both Clayface and the Tweeds—and the present tale, with a bit of unconvincing new frippery, sounds the customary one note (“inamorata frigid, Ice Tedium hot”). Fabok, meanwhile, hasn’t quite deduced how to mimic Gary Frank with satisfactory vigor. Textbook tepidity.
 
If, embarrassingly, “Rude Chapbooks” so seldom critiques writer/artist Dave Sim’s latest black-and-white bimonthly soapbox, that infrequency should in no way reflect negatively on the Aardvark-Vanaheim series. Rather, as Glamourpuss #25 testifies, it remains resolutely and profoundly peculiar—very much an acquired taste in all likelihood indigestible by the average fanboy gorging weekly on spandex slop. The issue opens with the extension of mock “Who’s stronger, Thor or the Hulk?” clashes, this time between model Kyla Nicolle (a late-teen Halifax hotty) and Sim’s Zootanapuss (evidently a conflation of actress/singer Zooey Deschanel and Zatanna, emal-rebü CD sserecros), abetted by Bunny the One-Rabbit Wrecking Crew (an acting Enterprise officer, it should be noted). As usual, it closes with another 12-page installment of Sim’s pseudo-forensic meditation on the September 6, 1956, Corvette crash that killed comic strip god Alex Raymond, that hospitalized comic strip demigod Stan Drake, and that reflected what Sim has dubbed “the Margaret Mitchell Glamour,” which, on its eventual compilation, should become an instantaneous and controversial must-read for anyone with a genuine interest in the medium.
 
Near Death #8 continues to affirm the promise of that Image series since its debut last September—mostly, anyway. Perhaps unfairly, one can’t help wishing that Simone Guglielmini, whose art otherwise sparks no snark, would ink with greater authority—that he’d either embrace the lushness of the brush or the precision of the pen applied with the dexterity of (say) Tom Palmer in his prime. That opening mostly, though, this issue relates to the work of writer Jay Faerber. As ever, his script—which centers on his reformed-assassin protagonist’s Solomonic resolution of a generational vendetta—progresses with a tele-policier cadence (not, by the way, intended as a slight). Unfortunately, on its penultimate page, that script climaxes in a way that should have left (a) one character asking himself, “I just shot him point-blank—why ain’t he dead?”; (b) another character asking himself, “He just shot me point-blank—why ain’t I dead?”; and (c) the discerning reader asking himself or herself, “Does Faerber think that flipping the page to his tidy denouement will halve my I.Q.?”
 
Midway through the year, writer/artist Terry Moore’s latest black-and-white wonder from Abstract Studio is inexorably positioning itself for inclusion on this column’s 2012 best-of list, as prior reviews here, here, here, and (dear God!) here should hint. Why? Well, consider Rachel Rising #8. Following last issue’s explosive conclusion—possibly the freakiest scene in comics this year—Moore keeps cranking tighter and tighter his narrative iron maiden, with one herpetological four-page sequence, in its queasiness, rightly or otherwise recalling Philip José Farmer’s Image of the Beast. As he usually does, Moore leavens the macabre marvels of Rachel Rising with wit, as with a scene ending in a lupine sigh and with the typical repartee between the eponymous character and her newly zombified B.F.F.; the issue also includes a quite touching scene between said B.F.F. and a rotund morgue staffer. Diamond Comic Distributors’ June Previews solicits the series’ first collection for July shipment; latecomers to Rachel Rising are encouraged, quite vehemently, to preorder it, to buy this issue and its predecessor—and to join Moore’s ghastly party.
 
Increasingly, for the sort of superheroic frisson once generated reliably by Uncanny X-Men—about which the less said, alas, the better—one must turn to mutant-misadventure ancillae, like X-Men Legacy #267. Although he hasn’t yet matched here the mastery on display month after month in Avengers Academy, Christos Gage keeps rewarding the readerly faith placed in him when he assumed the scriptwriting duties on this title in January. To be sure, the issue under consideration participates in Marvel’s latest moronic “event,” which pits the X-Men against the Avengers, but Gage emphasizes character over Action Figure Theater buffoonery; more and more, his exploration of Rogue’s psyche is transforming her into one of the company’s most intriguing heroines, certainly a surprise to at least one reader who would scarcely have predicted such a development on the character’s first appearance 31 years ago (!) in Avengers Annual #10. Moreover, penciller Rafa Sandoval and inker Jordi Tarragona form one of the mainstream’s most pleasurably dependable art teams; dig, for instance, an early two-pager spotlighting the original She-Hulk and Rogue. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Batman Annual #1, here for a preview of Near Death #8, and here for a preview of X-Men Legacy #267, all courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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