Rude Chapbooks 09.19.11 | Liss Is More

This week’s column praises two comic books from novelist David Liss, a veteran writer relatively new to the medium: Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #523 and Mystery Men #5. Also celebrated from the latest quintet of select floppies: Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve #12.

 
Although the transfer of Daredevil’s longstanding sobriquet still defies rationality, Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #523 continues to testify to the skills of David Liss (he of Mystery Men fame) since he assumed the chimeric Marvel title’s scriptwriting duties late last year. Indeed, at the risk of tripping a Total Geezer Alert, his work here seems like a long-lost, mediated extension of Don McGregor’s mid-’70s Jungle Action exploration of T’Challa’s character. In addition to forming a graceful Fear Itself crossover that feels like nothing of the sort, this latest issue concludes the title character’s conflict with the revenant Hate-Monger and his newest xenophobic stooge, the American Panther, in the ruins of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. Ably visualized by main artist Francesco Francavilla, the conclusion not only abounds with urban-jungle action, but also makes subtle but salient points about intolerance in this nation. It likewise features the most interesting supporting player introduced during the past year, the Serbian waitress Sofija, who works for T’Challa’s undercover alter ego (not a redundancy) at the Devil’s Kitchen diner.
 
Bonnie Lass #1? Sure, why not? Unfortunately, the titular wordplay of this quadripartite Red 5 miniseries, which stars a lovely, young female pirate, constitutes one of its few memorable features. Two or three days after giving it a flip, purchasers may find themselves, quite literally, muttering, “Did I read this?” Michael Mayne and Tyler Fluharty’s script makes that little of an impression, sad to say. Moreover, as a mélange of Robert Louis Stevenson–style piracy, modern technology, Old West lawmen, and a cyberpunkish villain, it scarcely repays attention from anyone concerned with narrative coherence. That said, Mayne’s art does warrant consideration. Despite some throwaway gags that should have remained thrown away and a few scenes wherein staging succumbs to clutter, his cartooning recalls that of Phil Foglio (co-creator, with wife Kaja, of the splendiferous Girl Genius, of course). In addition, from a general artistic standpoint, Mayne’s technique suggests that of Adam Hughes—by no means a failing. If only Bonnie Lass otherwise felt more substantial than a walk off the plank of a nonexistent galleon.
 
The present recession has taken a dire toll indeed when a dedicated, dependable professional like Hal Jordan finds himself “rightsized” and replaced by an alien, undoubtedly at a much lower salary. Precisely those abysmal circumstances obtain in DC’s Green Lantern #1 from writer Geoff Johns, penciller Doug Mahnke, and inker Christian Alamy “with Tom Nguyen.” Less jocularly, the Guardians of the Universe (the cosmic Smurfs who all but define insufferability) have stripped Jordan of his power ring and accompanying battery yet again, and the ring, inexplicably, has fingered as its new wielder rogue G.L. Sinestro. That yet again, alas, tells the tale. Although the Sinestro conceit may confound the few noobs drawn to this “New 52” relaunch by this summer’s disastrous cinematic adaptation—“Hey, honey, this here Green Lantern’s a walking, talking beet that looks like a really pissy Frenchman!”—this debut lacks anything even vaguely approximating vigor. As flat as a week-old soda, that is, it reads like any number of nondescript Green Lantern adventures from the past half a century. Who really cares?
 
In June, “Rude Chapbooks” hailed the second issue of a Depression-era Marvel miniseries from writer David Liss and artist Patrick Zircher, and this week, Mystery Men #5 closes that mini with incontrovertible panache. It bears declaring, in fact, that Mystery Men, from start to finish, has exemplified mainstream excellence; would that even a third of the series hitting comics shops each week could match its magnificence. In this issue, the Operative and his cohorts—including the splendidly freakazoid Surgeon—foil the General and Nox, along the way infiltrating a dirigible in flight, battling a werewolf, just missing one of the company’s oldest villains, and preventing a monstrous sorcerous sacrifice. Zircher’s visuals, complemented by subtle colors from Andy Troy, thrill with their neo-pulp perfection, and the script, from Liss, blends widescreen wonderment with nuanced characterization and includes a historically astounding denouement. Mystery Men, in sum, numbers among the most entertaining and intriguing releases of 2011. Readers who previously disregarded it should hit the back-issue boxes now—or make a mental note to preorder the almost-inevitable collection.
 
Sometimes a bad pun beckons too temptingly to resist: Optic Nerve #12 should be a sight for sore eyes to comics connoisseurs everywhere. Far too much time has passed since Drawn & Quarterly last released an offering from writer/artist Adrian Tomine. This latest issue of his deservedly lauded ongoing largely comprises two tales. “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as ‘Hortisculpture,’” the 19-page opener, relates a gardener’s efforts to better both his art and (not coincidentally) his accounts receivable; following it is the 11-page “Amber Sweet,” whose narrator suffers from a resemblance to a hard-core porn star. In addition to his customarily lovely ligne claire visuals, Tomine recounts both stories with gentle wit and considerable empathy—comics portraiture of nonpareil delicacy and style. Closing the issue, ironically, is an untitled, autobiographical 40-panel (!) two-pager wherein he reflects on his existence as “the last pamphleteer,” as a colleague jeeringly dubs him; one can only hope that Tomine disregards that and similar jeers—and that he keeps favoring the medium with Optic Nerve. Integral work. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #523 and here for a preview of Mystery Men, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Bonnie Lass #1, courtesy of the creators’ homepage.
Click here for a preview of Optic Nerve #12, courtesy of Boing Boing.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply