Rude Chapbooks 08.29.11 | Yesterday’s Future Man of Tomorrow

This week’s column goes up, up, and away with Superman Beyond #0—an admittedly old-fashioned conception of American comics’ fundamental superhero, as well as one of the most entertaining exploits of the Man of Steel in recent memory. Also this week: a farewell to Xombi?

 
Dark Horse Presents #3? Yes, quite. The resurrected bimonthly-going-monthly now also has gone three for three in “Rude Chapbooks,” and if that seems excessive, consider the rarity of its achievement as a comics anthology done right. Moreover, that achievement involves not a singleton—and God knows, successful stand-alone anthologies appear all too infrequently—but a periodical. In that light, the revenant DHP’s publisher, editors, and creators all damned well deserve kudos. This third issue continues the felicities of its predecessors: another wise Concrete eight-pager from Paul Chadwick, more Mr. Monster goofiness from Michael T. Gilbert, a third wry Jaeger-does-FedEx tale from Finder’s Carla Speed McNeil, and so forth. Further enhancing this 104-page extravaganza are a 12-page science fiction adventure written and illustrated by Dave Gibbons and, accompanied by a three-page interview with comics legend Steranko, the revised first chapter of his landmark Pyramid graphic novel, variously known as Fiction Illustrated Vol. 3, Chandler, and Red Tide—out of print since its issuance in 1976 through Byron Preiss Visual Publications as a (!) $4.95 trade paperback.
 
Given the commencement this Wednesday of DC’s “New 52” scheme, wherein the Man of Steel will suffer perhaps the retcon to end all retcons, the publication of Superman Beyond #0 positions it as an instant atavism because, in one way or another, it would disagree with the reconceptualized Action Comics or Superman. A damned shame, that. In an unassuming way, this singleton numbers among the year’s most enjoyable adventures of the mainstream’s ur-hero. In it, scriptwriter Tom DeFalco, penciller Ron Frenz, and delineator Sal Buscema (the longtime creative team behind Marvel’s similarly future-minded Spider-Girl) spotlight the return to Terra of a gray-templed Kryptonian crusader, his interaction with an aging Jimmy Olsen (still, blissfully, “Superman’s pal”) and the future Justice League, his old-school tussle with a sympathetic villain, and his terminal meeting with a grumpy longtime amigo named Wayne. Great literature? No. Great comics? Again, no. Fun comics? Yes, actually. Indeed, were DC to assign to DeFalco, Frenz, and Buscema an ongoing Superman Beyond or, better yet, a Justice League Beyond with this cast, the series would go on the “Rude Chapbooks” P&H without hesitation.
 
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—yet again?” It would do a disservice to Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s 1984 achievement to so condescend to the most recent revival of that title at IDW Publishing. After all, that achievement (however aesthetically minor) prompted a prodigious period of comics fecundity, and if the infamous black-and-white boom all too predictably led to the just-as-infamous B&W bust, well, the industry (like the nation) has rarely rolled without avarice. That said, Eastman sans Laird returns to this new TMNT #1 to partner on the story with Tom Waltz, who contributes the script, and to provide layouts for artist Dan Duncan. Predictably, it begins a retelling of the protagonists’ origin, and in addition to Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, a mysteriously disaffected Raphael, and the rodentiform Splinter, it includes mock martial artistry, pizza, and a “cowabunga.” Groundbreaking it ain’t. Still, if in 27 years the series has effectively never transcended its inspiration as a spoof of Frank Miller’s Ronin with a nod to Jack Kirby, the industry (unlike the medium) has rarely embraced innovation.
 
For long-term fans, Marvel’s so-called Ultimate Universe early enjoyed its momentary allure; that allure, however, lasted almost literally for mere moments, and for some time now, the line has inspired nothing but apathy. Grudgingly, that changes with Ultimates #1, the resurrection of that series by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Esad Ribic. The involvement of the former drives the interest here, naturally, given his praiseworthy work on Fantastic Four, FF, and S.H.I.E.L.D. Even at that, this debut leaves something to be desired. Ribic, to be sure, visualizes everything nicely (perhaps too nicely in certain panels that suggest diverse heroes herein are goin’ commando). Hickman’s script, meanwhile, shines with his characteristic polish, with particularly noteworthy scenes depicting the interplay between Tony Stark and his “new Jarvis” and the ongoing transition of the U.U. Iron Man from a modern knight to a telefactor. Ultimately…er, finally, though, the title characters continue to feel like debased Avengers doubles created for potential readers who (a) believe everything they hear from the talking heads each night and (b) relish multiplex popcorn.
 
Good news and bad regarding DC’s most creatively beguiling launch of 2011, which wraps its opening arc this week with Xombi #6. The good? Amazon and Barnes & Noble are already taking preorders for a compilation of that arc scheduled for February, with the former, perhaps mistakenly, perhaps tellingly, listing not DC proper but Vertigo as the publisher. The bad? Unlike the latest issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Xombi #6 sports no notice reassuring readers that the title will return once the company’s “New 52” frenzy has faded. Its blithe cancellation, frankly, would verge on criminal stupidity. Writer John Rozum and artist Frazer Irving, from the start, have made this bizarre blend of science and sorcery a paradigm of the new-millennial mainstream comic book, with every page a showcase of gonzo glory. In this issue, for instance, using a literal Pearl of Wisdom, protagonist David Kim (the eponymous nanotech immortal) saves the hypercranial Ninth Stronghold—after, of course, battling the Sisterhood of Blood Mummies and related foes, with allies like the delightful Catholic Girl. Altogether ingenious. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Dark Horse Presents #3, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Superman Beyond #0, courtesy of Newsarama.
Click here for a preview of Xombi #6, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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