Rude Chapbooks 09.26.11 | Dial “H” for Diverse Things

More specifically, horses, hit men, and Hippolyta’s heir. From the manifold floppies released during the past week and the five selected for scrutiny, this new column heaps huzzahs on Dark Horse Presents #4, Near Death #1, and—ah, hyperbole!—the 743rd Wonder Woman #1.

 

 
At the risk of tempting certain of this column’s (always hypothetical) habitués to suspect “Rude Chapbooks” of receiving kickbacks from publisher/editor Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Presents #4 earns acclaim here—the title’s fourth consecutive mention. Although recognizing, in part, the anthology’s general superiority, that unprecedented occurrence hinges on its mutability. This issue, for instance, features a trio of eight-pagers all new to the revenant DHP: a customarily wonderful Beasts of Burden tale from writer Evan Dorkin and artist Jill Thompson; a sui generis Age of Reptiles story from writer/artist Ricardo Delgado; and, from writer Dara Naraghi and artist Victor Santos, a surprising but welcome nongeneric narrative set in Iran in the late ’70s, “The Protest.” Moreover, among other felicities, writer Peter Hogan and artist Steve Parkhouse launch “Resident Alien,” an intriguing serial, and Geof Darrow contributes a to-die-for Shaolin Cowboy variant cover. At some point, to be sure, Richardson should consider devoting a page to collectively stating synopses or other background. That said, the return of DHP inarguably ranks as one of 2011’s true events.
 
Among their manifold offenses, “events” promote slovenliness in even the finest creators. Case in point: Invincible Iron Man #508 from writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca. Therein, because of nonsense engendered by Marvel’s Fear Itself “event,” the Golden Avenger—forging weaponry in that notoriously right-to-work nexus, Asgard—contends with an adversary crafted in the prior issue through sympathetic magic. That adversary should have immediately given Fraction pause for two reasons. First, its makers number among the clichéd ranks of gray-robed occultists with large, pointy teeth previously ridiculed here—the creator of Casanova Quinn can do much better. Second, one such maker (in that prior issue) calls it a golem in a ludicrous conflation of Norse and Hebraic lore. True, Marvel’s Asgard has never exactly hewn to Eddic strictures, but the lapse strongly suggests the “golem’s” assault to be nothing more than narrative filler to maintain this series’ synchronization with Fear Itself. At the start of that assault, in “voice-over,” the title character confesses, “I’m tired. I’m so—endlessly—tired.” Discerning readers may well relate.
 
Early in Near Death #1—the promising Image noir ongoing from writer Jay Faerber and artist Simone Guglielmini—the unlikely protagonist, a Seattle contract killer named Markham, experiences a flatline epiphany of macabre hilarity, wherein he faces, en masse, the hundreds of people he’s assassinated over time. If Markham’s response to that epiphany seems a tad too facile—his quote-unquote origin takes only slightly longer than another character’s 1939 “I shall become a bat!”—that facility constitutes the sole deficiency of this debut, a worthy addition to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal, Darwyn Cooke’s “Richard Stark” adaptations, and other offerings in today’s small but laudable comics crime spree. Faerber applies to noir the same pleasantly quirky perspective he brought to superheroics in Noble Causes; when a confidante asks Markham’s response to saving someone’s life instead of taking it, for example, Faerber’s antihero replies, “Honestly? I didn’t feel anything.” Guglielmini, meanwhile, visualizes everything with a surety and strength to make one wonder if Phillips’ family tree at some point didn’t sprout an Italian branch. Recommended.
 
Like its brethren in Marvel’s “Ultimate Universe,” Ultimate X-Men fast overstayed its welcome, all too soon prompting, at best, apathy and, at worst, disgust. In that respect, the relaunch of the title would have otherwise yielded nothing but a yawn, had not the company signed Nick Spencer to write the new Ultimate X-Men #1. Spencer, of course, has been doing noteworthy work on—well, name a title. Here he partners with penciller Paco Medina and inker Juan Vlasco to cook a superteam goulash starring not only X-regulars Jean Grey (d.b.a. “Karen Grant”), Iceman, and Kitty Pryde, but also the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch. This relaunch by and large derives from (a) the dead dead dead deaths of Professor X, Magneto, Cyclops, and Wolverine and (b) the revelation of mutants’ special origin “in an American-funded lab based in Canada.” It also mostly closes with a “voice-over” declaration by Kitty that “this is the story of how I became the most feared and hated terrorist in the history of the United States.” Bleak? Oh, just a bit.
 
“Who watches the watchmen?” A quarter of a century ago, DC clocked itself with that question, a loose transliteration from Juvenal. Today, Wonder Woman #1 sets to seething a much less intellectual query: Who pantsed the Amazon princess? Much as video killed the radio star, a TV deal dressed the comic book queen recently. When that deal went south, though, so, too, did Wonder Woman’s much-ballyhooed new slacks, with this umpteenth reconceptualization of the character (by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang) restoring the traditional star-spangled step-ins. For more substantive reasons by far, this renlaunch demands attention because it feels nothing like new Botox in old wattles. Chiang’s visuals, in the precision of their draftsmanship and clarity of their composition, recall the work of the late Dick Giordano—no mean feat. Even more significantly, Azzarello has striven to transcend the usual stale blend of superheroics and bowdlerized classical myth, infusing this debut with a frisson of dread bordering on the Yeatsian—regarding which, appropriately, some readers may find themselves revisiting “Leda and the Swan.” | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Dark Horse Presents #4, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Invincible Iron Man #508, here for a preview of Near Death #1, and here for a preview of Ultimate Comics X-Men #1, all courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Wonder Woman #1, courtesy of USA Today.

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