Rude Chapbooks 07.04.11 | Drowning in the Sea of Tears

The much-ballyhooed “universewide reboot” coming later this summer evidently will exclude one of the mainstream’s finest new titles, causing our columnist to weep bitterly over Xombi #4. Also celebrated among four other capsule reviews here: Scalped’s golden anniversary issue.


To true devotees of the medium, the appearance in a comic’s credits of the name Steve Ditko should instantly prompt Pavlovian slaver. So does Incredible Hulk & the Human Torch: From the Marvel Vault #1, whose Previews solicitation did indeed list Ditko as artist, warrant such drooly unruliness? Alas, not especially. As Karl Kesel explains in his humble foreword, this special involves not 21 long-misplaced pages of full art by Ditko from, say, 1966—hey, a guy can dream—but breakdowns by him from a mid-’80s Marvel Team-Up inventory tale plotted by Jack C. Harris. Kesel himself scripted the story (pitting Matchhead and ol’ Greenskin against the Wingless Wizard) and finished the art, and despite his talents, it inevitably feels like a product very much of its era, when the House of Ideas was scarcely setting the world afire conceptually. “Moon Over Mayhem!” also sports certain visual infelicities that, cumulatively, grate; colorist Val Staples inexplicably seems to consider it a value add, for instance, to give the Wizard bloodshot eyes throughout the tale. Oh, well.
Although the general excellence of the series all but demands starting with its inception and blazing through the extant seven compilations, Vertigo’s Scalped #50 could under other circumstances serve as a sterling introduction to writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M. Guéra’s Native American thriller. Atypically, it presents two tales. With visuals from Guéra, “The Art of Scalping” opens the issue and dramatizes historical background every bit as genteel as its title hints. (Cotillion fare it ain’t.) That tale segues to “The Art of Surviving,” which smoothly introduces the past to the present on the fictional Prairie Rose reservation. Providing the bracketing art on the second story is Igor Kordey, a talent mysteriously missing in action for many years now, here making a welcome return. Kordey’s contribution wraps tone-poetic one-pagers spotlighting certain members of Scalped’s cast from Tim Truman, Jill Thompson, Jordi Bernet, Denys Cowan, Dean Haspiel, Brendan McCarthy, and Steve Dillon. Those not reading Scalped should start here and now. Month after month, one of the finest mainstream comics being published today—perhaps the finest.
The Sixth Gun #12 opens with a five-panel page splendidly emblematic of this Oni Press series from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt. In the first four page-width panels, the focus lazily narrows from the black hulk of an iron horse chugging across the Old West, through the Venetian blinds and arched windows of one of its passenger cars, to interior views of two such cars; the fifth panel, though, depicts the interior of a freight car, its walls painted and hung with crosses, its cargo a coffin circled by chains. C’mon now—how better could one define jumping-on point? This issue commences the third arc, “Bound,” and continues Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcrief’s efforts to keep the titular revolver and its five fellows from über-mental General Oliander Bedford Hume and his deliciously apeshit missus. Following an attempted trainjacking by superzombies, the issue ends with a threat that widens the eyes of even the seen-it-all Sinclair. In short, as remarked previously, Bunn and Hurtt’s weird Western remains one of the medium’s most pleasing romps.
The Previews solicitation for Witch Doctor #1 noted that none other than Warren Ellis, he of Crooked Little Vein infamy, called the new quadripartite Image miniseries “Mental.” In Ellis-speak, that customarily means “Buy this, monkeyboy!”—so the title from writer Brandon Seifert and artist Lukas Ketner was duly added to the ol’ P&H list. It makes an utterly jubilant addition, both to the list and to the mainstream. Witch Doctor stars Dr. Vincent Morrow, a lunatic M.D. who apparently relies as much on the Necronomicon as the American Medical Association’s JAMA. Assisting him are a resourceful paramedic and an anesthetist (amusingly dubbed Penny Dreadful) whose presence no one in his or her right mind would welcome at the foot of an O.R. bed. Their first case here? An incident of demonic possession—with “complications.” Ketner’s visuals recall prime work by Tom Sutton from the first run of Man-Thing and other ’70s Marvel horror series, and Seifert’s script (particularly in the doc’s risible asides) borders on diabolically fine. In short, yes, oh, yes—buy this, monkeyboy!
Because no onesie awaits it in the DCnU nursery, writer John Rozum and artist Frazer Irving’s outré amalgam of nanotech and magic will apparently soon vanish. Xombi #4 emphasizes the borderline criminality of that presumed cancellation. Behind a cover showing a Brobdingnagian, magenta-socketed human cranium floating amid cumuli and bearing a fortress, the issue solves some of the title’s manifold mysteries but deepens others. By way of example, an extended flashback visits the Skull Stronghold pictured on that cover, whose archives include “[v]egetarian recipes from Mars from back when it had natives to still call it Ma’aleca’andra; four of the seven Swords of Skin; a jar containing a captured chimney wraith; pearls of wisdom collected from oysters grown in the Sea of Tears…” Beyond radiating the sort of gonzo mojo to which most superhero series can scarcely even aspire, Xombi sparkles with a freakazoid humor; early in this issue, for instance, a rabbi arrives at the apartment of protagonist David Kim accompanied by a golem toting a bag of bagels. Wonderful! For failing to support such singular work, DC should be ashamed. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Incredible Hulk & the Human Torch: From the Marvel Vault #1, courtesy of Marvel.
Click here for a preview of Witch Doctor #1, courtesy of
Click here for a preview of Xombi #4, courtesy of IGN.

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