Rude Chapbooks 07.29.11 | EXTRA: A Blast From the Past

In honor of DC Retroactive, "Rude Chapbooks" digs into the PLAYBACK:stl archives for five funnybooks from those halcyon days of January 1976.

 

Editor’s Note: In recognition of the first, ’70s-based round of DC’s “Retroactive” releases, which just finished shipping—the ’80s and ’90s homages will appear throughout August—we plumbed PLAYBACK:stl’s archives for a choice “Rude Chapbooks” offering from that first decade…

We chose a column focused on five floppies cover-dated January 1976. In that era, of course, PLAYBACK:stl content uploaded only monthly, via extremely arcane means, to the Menlo Park node of the U.S. Department of Defense’s ARPANet. At that time, such content resided on a thirdhand DEC PDP-11 yoked to a trio of railroad-salvage MITS Altair 8080s and, if memory serves, a Texas Instruments calculator as big as a brick.
 
Also at that time, “Rude Chapbooks” reveled in prolix pomposity. Some things, obviously, never change.
 
Don McGregor’s detractors, who customarily denounce him for overwriting, miss the point of his passion; if the man indulges in Whitmanesque effulgence, he does so with a breathless, even blissful appreciation of the fire of human life—as well as a dreadful apprehension of how easily that fire can be snuffed. Case in point: Amazing Adventures #34. That Marvel series, of course, uses as its narrative launchpad The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells’ landmark 1898 novel, and stars redheaded swashbuckler Killraven and his small, fractious band of allies as they battle to reclaim our planet from Martian conquerors and their minions. (If Wells laid the launchpad, Edgar Rice Burroughs provided the payload.) This issue, set near Chattanooga in 2019, concludes, quite definitely, the ongoing cat-and-mouse maneuvers between K.R.’s Freemen and Skar, the cyclopean Martian thrall who has been tracking them across the ruins of the U.S. As usual, Craig Russell—well on the way to succeed Barry Smith as comics’ preeminent visual lyricist—furnishes the art for McGregor’s tale, which clarifies, at last, the connection between Carmilla Frost and Grok and bears the telling title of “A Death in the Family.” An extraordinarily lovely but harrowing piece of work.
 
Give writer Steve Englehart points for chutzpah. During the past few months, he’s extended Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ already-protracted conflict with Kang the Conqueror, their time-hopping archenemy, into the Wild West. That stratagem, delightfully, has allowed Englehart to include such surprise guest stars from Marvel’s six-guns–and–sagebrush fictional history as Kid Colt and the Two-Gun Kid. The Avengers #143 concludes the conflict in a tale punningly (and punishingly) entitled “Right Between the Eons!” While Captain America, Iron Man, and the remainder of the team continue to probe the nefarious nature of the Brand Corporation—just a two-page sequence herein—Hawkeye, the ever-vexatious Moondragon, and Thor settle the Avengers’ account with Kang, in a no-holds-barred battle that includes a mysterious bearded, blonde cowboy…and a much more familiar character. Visualizing all of this Sturm und Drang, with inker Sam Grainger, is tyro penciller George Perez, who’s developed by leaps and bounds since his recent Manwolf run with David Anthony Kraft in Creatures on the Loose. (Perez shows considerable promise, albeit perhaps not on a team title—The Amazing Spider-Man, maybe?) This issue’s climax, naturally, begs the question of whether Kang will ever again bedevil the Avengers. Well, y’know, only time will tell…
 
Arguably, this month will welcome no comic wiggier than The Brave & the Bold #124, which teams the Batman and Sgt. Rock. Given its cover, it spoils nothing to reveal that this issue of the DC standard also features three special protagonists: writer Bob Haney, artist Jim Aparo, and editor Murray Boltinoff. Propelling the narrative is the theft of a truckload of “the U.S. Army’s latest and greatest top-secret rifle” by terrorists called the Thousand; a general orders Rock to investigate, and his investigation leads to Gotham City. As a counteroffensive, though, the villains threaten the B&B creative team to change the story as it’s being crafted. (In one scene, Aparo scans the script, altered by the Thousand, and muses, “What’s that crazy writer done now? He’s got Batman and Sgt. Rock being killed in the next panel…”) The rest of the daffily metafictional narrative alternates between the Batman and Rock’s efforts to eighty-six the Thousand and Haney, Aparo, and Boltinoff’s efforts to evade them—a delicious conceit (which, incidentally, includes a neat nod to Anton Chekhov’s “loaded rifle” dictum). Some readers, of course, will balk at terrorists scuttling around the U.S.—but this is, after all, just a comic.
 
The Defenders #31 opens amid a nightmare—the coral-nailed hand of a gigantic disembodied female arm crushes Nighthawk, who fruitlessly implores assistance from Dr. Strange, the Hulk, and Valkyrie—and thereafter grows no cheerier. One might be tempted to speculate that writer Steve Gerber desperately needs a hug, but for the fact that Gerber, in a strikingly brief time, has indelibly branded Marvel’s “nonteam team” as his own. In succession in this issue, for instance, Val and Jack Norriss, her beleaguered quasi-spouse, jaunt to (of all places) Coney Island’s boardwalk, where hilarity ensues, and the Hulk goes all Walt Disney—or, for purists, Felix Salten—in a bucolic tableau focusing on two bibulous poachers and incorporating one of the most memorably captioned pages in comics history. (The issue also includes a scene involving two querulous middle-class Las Vegas tourists and a redheaded elf with a revolver—about which not even the most dauntless reviewer dares to speculate.) Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney provide dependable if uninspiring visuals, incidentally, and if the introductory nightmare suggests that they can’t tell right hand from left, decorum forbids ascribing that oversight to mere sloppiness rather than to a lapse in Dr. Freud’s Sekund√§re Bearbeitung.
 
An announcement on the letters page of Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth #37 heightens the melancholy and doubt surrounding writer/artist Jack Kirby’s longest-running DC title, for those not already reeling from Joe Kubert’s incongruous covers these past few months: Gerry Conway will dethrone the King as writer next issue, and soon after that, Kirby will leave the series altogether, as well as this publisher, reportedly. (Almost certainly returned to Marvel, he could potentially restore the Asgardian glories of Thor, which has been meandering of late; by way of example, the credits to one recent issue listed a small army, including three editors. Kirby could also conceivably apply residual Fourth World mojo to Marvel’s long-neglected conception of the Greco-Roman pantheon—Olympus Now, perhaps?) Be that as it may, in the issue under analysis, Kamandi summarily separates from Dr. Canus and Pyra, the scarlet-skinned alien, to investigate a musical mystery. In so doing, he fast runs afoul of the Red Riders, magenta-clad motorcyclists who harbor a signally unlikely (i.e., Kirbyesque) secret. Fun stuff, if not exactly Tolstoy. D. Bruce Berry, whose line still maddeningly lacks muscularity, delineates the adventure, before Mike Royer returns next issue—and shortly, sadly, it all ends.
 
This whimsical “Rude Chapbooks” extra is dedicated, with full fondness, to a brace of St. Louis Steves, one still very much rockin’ the house, the other, alas, not: to mi amigo Steve Pick, who likely glommed some or all of these five comics from a wire spinner rack three and a half decades back and is even now mentally cataloging disagreements with the preceding, and to the memory of the late, great Steve Gerber, who most famously hatched a dour duck named Howard—and who left us much, much too soon. | Bryan A. Hollerbach

 

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