Rude Chapbooks 09.12.11 | Ones More, More Once

As it did in early June, the Net’s crankiest and most prolix weekly comics-related review column focuses here on five floppies adorned (justifiably or not) with a big ol’ 1: Action Comics, The Big Lie, Casanova: Avaritia, The Intrepid Escape Goat, and Wolverine: Debt of Death.

Action Comics #1. The joke seems painfully obvious: “Where to begin?” Its price: a dime. Its date: June 1938. Its cover feature: a hastily reformatted, previously unpublished comic strip created by naïfs named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Oh, wait—that references DC’s grandpa Action, the doesn’t-tweet Action, the who-cares Action. This review concerns the new-and-now Action Comics #1, the one not just for today but for tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow, from writer Grant Morrison, penciller Rags Morales, and inker Rick Bryant. It now stars a truculent quasi–Tom Joad in an S T-shirt and cape, in an ugly affront to a 73-year tradition; Siegel’s and Shuster’s heirs should sue DC once more, this time for alienation of affections. The company either directed or permitted Morrison to rape its own icon, and appropriately, the Glaswegian über-huckster depicts Lex Luthor, here reconceived as an energy drink–sipping military consultant, balling this “New 52” Superman big-time (page 13, first panel) before nailing him to the wall with a truly prodigious circumcised penis (page 25, last panel). Ghastly.
Thomas Yeates’ cover to The Big Lie #1, written and pencilled by Rick Veitch and inked by Gary Erskine, depicts Uncle Sam clutching Old Glory and towering above the smoking horror of the World Trade Center. In a comics context, the cover to that Image singleton feels at once wondrously anachronistic and smarmily au courant, as if the great Reed Crandall had crafted a Pearl Harbor–centered stunner—in 1951 instead of ’41. Worse yet, that cover may constitute the sole grace of this dreadful “anniversary issue.” It recounts the efforts of a high-energy physicist from 2011 to rescue her husband from death in a WTC conference room the morning of September 11, 2001. In a decade, you see, said physicist has not only mastered tachyon technology, but also constructed a time machine. Moreover, in her spare time, she’s loaded an iPad with an entire “truther” library—conveniently allowing Veitch to bludgeon readers with tidbits therefrom. Stultifying in the extreme, the clumsiness of its polemics damns The Big Lie far more than do its polemics.
Woo, baby! After far too long, one of the most deliciously demented comics to debut in the past decade returns this week with Casanova: Avaritia #1. The quadripartite Icon miniseries comes, as ever, from genius writer/creator Matt Fraction, with art by Gabriel Bá (who visualized the first of the two minis preceding this one) and luscious colors by Cris Peter. Also as ever, it focuses on gloriously Moorcockian multiversal black-ops agent Casanova Quinn in wreaking spatiotemporal havoc with aid from polymorphous future blonde goddess Sasa Lisi (who, intriguingly, appears to dig congress in cowboy boots). Sad to say, Cass desperately needs career counseling; early in the tale, in a voice-over caption, he glumly remarks, “None of these people did anything to deserve having me inflicted on them.” Even at that, he manages to make a stunning discovery about mummy-bandaged archenemy Newman Xeno. Like its predecessors, Casanova: Avaritia numbers among the precious few contemporary comic books that make one hope the mainstream, despite its kamikaze aesthetic, maintains its viability—and it has this column’s highest recommendation.
The finest “Hey, Kids—Comics!” comic books appeal not just to children but to their elders. One thinks immediately of the classic Disney work of both Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson (and one furthermore suspects Roger Langridge’s forthcoming Snarked will likely join that elite cadre). Alas, The Intrepid Escape Goat #1, the premiere of a tripartite Th3rd World Studios mini from writer/artist Brian Smith, fails to achieve that appeal. Despite a punning title and certain Houdini-related details seemingly intended for adults, this adventure of caprine escapologist Thomas Fleet in Victorian England otherwise targets the footy jammies–and–Cap’n Crunch, Saturday-morning boob-tube crew, with its simplified visuals, nattering kid sidekick, and general level of shtick. Regarding the last, for example, the transition from the fifth page to the sixth would work only for a munchkin with a brain bubbling from too much processed sugar. A shame, really. As other new series like Reed Gunther are demonstrating, the phrase all ages needn’t mean “simplistic,” and under other circumstances, this fluff could have tickled readers beyond stray kindergartners.
At the moment, the mainstream abounds with quite talented artists who, for whatever reason, lack regular assignments. In 34 sweet pages, Marvel’s Wolverine: Debt of Death #1 showcases the bravura work of one member of that contingent: David Aja, whose last published work appears to have graced Secret Avengers #5, more than a year ago. From a script by David Lapham, the singleton in question incorporates Japanese combat robots dormant since World War II, central-casting ninjas, the Yakuza, Colonel Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., and, in mufti, everyone’s favorite Canucklehead, and it all feels just a trifle…busy. In an era of flagrantly quote-unquote decompressed storytelling, such a complaint verges on obnoxious, of course, but with an artist as adroit as Aja—who, like Daniel Acuña, Chris Samnee, and Tonci Zonjic, follows in the grandly impressionistic Noel Sickles–Milton Caniff tradition—a bit more room, a few more pages, probably would have honed the visual cadences even further. Ah, well. The aforementioned issue of Secret Avengers, by the way, also prominently featured Fury. Coincidence? One can’t help wondering… | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Action Comics #1, courtesy of Newsarama.
Click here for a preview of The Big Lie #1, courtesy of The Beat.
Click here for a preview of Casanova: Avaritia #1, courtesy of Comics Alliance.
Click here to read the entire Free Comic Book Day edition of The Intrepid Escape Goat, courtesy of Comixology.
Click here for a preview of Wolverine: Debt of Death #1, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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