Rude Chapbooks 06.20.11 | Uncannily Grand

Just in time for its cancellation—oh, as if!—Uncanny X-Men #538 recalls that mainstream mainpin’s glory days. A new/old spin-off, Alpha Flight #1, fares less well, unfortunately. Also reviewed from this past week: Kirby: Genesis #1, Northlanders #41, and Ruse #4.

 

Although tracking such niceties has grown more and more difficult if not impossible, it appears as if Canada’s primo superteam (a) perished en masse at some point in the past and (b) also en masse, conveniently, recuperated during Marvel’s recent, miserable Chaos War “event.” Discounting a nonsensical “Point One” issue released midway through May, Alpha Flight #1 reintroduces that team, which debuted during the halcyon Chris Claremont–John Byrne era of mutant merriment. How times have changed since both 1979’s X-Men #120 and Alpha Flight’s subsequent brief but memorable independent run under Byrne. Shepherding this eight-part revival are writers Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente and penciller Dale Eaglesham, and it never transcends standard superheroic stultiloquy. In addition to a suspiciously familiar Canada-gone-fascist subplot, the miniseries opens amid the company’s current Fear Itself “event,” with Vancouver besieged by perennial Sub-Mariner antagonist Attuma. More specifically, Attuma’s been possessed by the hammer-wielding Nerkkod—which looks like a child’s mispronunciation of naked—because fear, in the Marvel Universe, apparently focuses on a supernatural crew of crazed carpenters. Ho-hum.
 
At the end of May, Dynamite Entertainment released a “zero issue” teaser/prelude to a new ongoing, praised here, and it now comes as quite a pleasure to extol Kirby: Genesis #1. Boasting a script from Kurt Busiek and art from Jack Herbert and Alex Ross, this saga devoted to characters and concepts generated by the late, great Jack Kirby self-evidently ranks as a labor of love for the trio. With his description of the bucolic founders of a St. Paul university, Busiek opens the debut in high style: “Farming was real work. And school—that’s just another kind of farming, farming ideas. They expected their students to dig in and apply themselves…” Immediately thereafter, readers meet both delightfully nerdy collegian Kirby Freeman, the series’ focal character, and Bobbi Cortez, his rambunctious gal pal destined for something more—and all hell breaks loose. Indeed, in an obvious but as yet undefined tipping point, cosmic characters start making planetfall in profusion and with an exuberance befitting the King. A grand game, without a doubt, has here begun.
 
Because Brian Wood’s Northlanders has always stalked a narrative landscape of lovely severity—wherein, from issue to issue, Wood seemingly has channeled the shade of Harvey Kurtzman or Archie Goodwin on an update of Two-Fisted Tales or Blazing Combat—the Vertigo series’ recent cancellation comes as no real surprise; work of such uncompromising austerity obviously has no place in an industry dedicated to compromising itself into nonexistence. Although the title shan’t end for another ten issues, the requiem aptly commences with Northlanders #41, a singleton with gracefully understated art by Marian Churchland. “Thor’s Daughter,” set in the bleak Outer Hebrides in A.D. 990, centers on the rude entry into adulthood of a local landholder’s 14-year-old sole offspring, following her father’s more-or-less assassination. Minimalist and naturalist in its tone, Wood’s tale, like most of Northlanders as a whole, adroitly counterposes much of the rest of the mainstream’s “sound and fury.” (How does that quotation continue?) Devotees of the medium as a literary and artistic form worthy of adults’ attention should much miss, even mourn, this series.
 
Although not altogether successful, Ruse #4, as well as the miniseries it concludes, numbers among Marvel’s more promising offerings of 2011, partly because its status as an erstwhile CrossGeneration Comics title tonally distinct from contemporary superheroics shelters it from being sucked into the company’s endless “events.” (“In related news today, Marvel announced a forthcoming event centering on its CrossGen acquisitions—”) Under other circumstances, one might have wished for visuals a bit more robust than those provided by Mirco Pierfederici and others in prior issues; here, for instance, the interiors exhibit none of the character and dynamism of Butch Guice and Mike Perkins’ cover. Still and all, writer Mark Waid—long one of the mainstream’s most dependable craftsmen—fully reveals the whys and wherefores of the foe until now outfoxing the miniseries’ protagonists, spins a plot twist that not only dovetails with the opener but also functions as a wry conceit unto itself, and furthers the delicious repartee between Simon Archard, Ruse’s insufferable sleuth, and Emma Bishop, his more-than-able “aide.” A sequel would be lovely.
 
A mere three weeks ago, unthinkably, this column lauded a Marvel series previously lambasted here without mercy or, at best, wholly ignored. This week, the unthinkable repeats itself: Uncanny X-Men #538 utterly rocks. This issue finishes the quadripartite “Breaking Point” arc, and whether because writer Kieron Gillen is finding his voice on the title or because the ever-wonderful Terry and Rachel Dodson are replacing (alas, only temporarily) the malodorous Greg Land on the art duties, the arc recalls Uncanny X-Men at its Chris Claremont–John Byrne zenith. In showcasing the vengeance of Powerlord Kruun against the X-Men, in fact, it sounds absolutely no wrong notes, with last issue’s cliffhanger involving Kitty Pryde resolved in a particularly logical and satisfactory fashion. In the end, moreover, Gillen manages the feat of making Kruun sympathetic, even noble, and with no little wit and romance—in more than one meaning of that word—the final page could serve as a symbolic summary of our merry mutants’ nearly half a century of misadventures. A Marvel genuinely deserving of that designation. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Alpha Flight #1, right here at PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Kirby: Genesis #1, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.
Click here for a preview of Uncnny X-Men #538, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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