Rude Chapbooks 10.03.11 | Be Careful What You Wish For

Giddy as a schoolgirl at a Justin Bieber concert, our columnist at last succumbs to a certain publisher’s naked grab for market share and reviews a quintet of “New 52” debuts: Aquaman, Flash, a series whose official title remains T.B.D., The Savage Hawkman, and Superman.

In a string of interviews since early spring, writer Geoff Johns has burbled about the protagonist and supporting players of Aquaman #1. One can only wonder if his enthusiasm for this “New 52” revival (nicely visualized by penciller Ivan Reis and inker Joe Prado) will last longer than did Johns’ devotion to The Flash, the latest in an ever-lengthening line of bungled launches and relaunches from DC. That said, he’s following a peculiar and duplicitous approach to promoting this revival. In interviews, Johns has again and again touted his protagonist as something more than a second- or third-rater; in the narrative proper, meanwhile, he’s positioned Aquaman as “a punchline,” “a laughingstock,” and “nobody’s favorite super-hero.” Siamese straw men—if the series and the hero enjoy even minimal success, that success will look positively Odyssean. Beyond such win-win shiftiness, Johns introduces “the Trench,” which he’s called “the most talked-about new characters in the DC Universe”—still more of the cardboard antagonists with big, pointy teeth nowadays endemic if not downright epidemic at DC. Lazy and tedious.
Huh! As an August “Rude Chapbooks” extra intimated, Flash #1, prior to its issuance, seemed a dark horse because two creators with no track record at scriptwriting would shoulder such duties on it: artist Francis Manapul and colorist Brian Buccellato. The published re-re-re-relaunch (an example of snarky hyperbole, by the way, not a stammer) works surprisingly well. Despite a few infelicities, Manapul and Buccellato’s script integrates adroitly with their visuals, even as, vexatiously, it silently sunders the marriage of Iris and Barry Allen, the title character’s alter ego. (At some point, one can’t help wondering how DC will react when some right-wing demagogue denounces the publisher for its contemporary dismissal of connubial bliss.) Those visuals, additionally, crackle with electricity. A five-panel page depicting our first “New 52” view of the Scarlet Speedster donning his uniform? Mondo cool. Moreover, a two-page spread early in the issue and a later page showing Barry researching a case in his apartment border, in their brio, on Eisneresque. So eating-crow plaudits to Manapul and Buccellato. Add Flash to the P&H.
Ah, editorial due diligence. DC evidently can’t decide what to call one of its “New 52” prodigies: The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men, as in the logo and in-house flackery, or Fury of the Firestorms: The Nuclear Men, as in the official postal colophon. Whatever the case, to twice tweak a metaphor from Matthew 9:17, this utterly needless relaunch feels less like old wine in a new bottle than “surprise” vinegar for which the vintner overcharged without shame. Superheroics at their most soporific, the debut comes from co-plotters Ethan Van Sciver and Gail Simone, the latter of whom doubles as scriptwriter, and artist Yildiray Cinar and exemplifies why the phrase comic book enjoys such currency as a pejorative. In revisiting the title character’s or characters’ origin, it adds black-ops idiocy—Richard III: “A supervillain! a supervillain! my kingdom for a bona fide supervillain!”—and race-related mummery to a slugfest between Red Firestorm and Yellow Firestorm, leading to the appearance of a quasi–Composite Firestorm, Fury. For this drivel DC terminated Simone’s splendid Secret Six?
To anyone whose childhood or youth included the character’s Silver Age adventures, The Savage Hawkman #1 from writer Tony S. Daniel and artist Philip Tan may come as a personal affront. Extraordinarily incompetent work, it squanders the “New 52” opportunity to reboot, definitively, one of DC’s characters most in need of a tabula rasa. Daniel’s script no more sings than it pipes or warbles or trills—it squawks. “I consume and expend energy,” Daniel’s new villain tells Hawkman, in possibly the single dumbest line of dialogue in a comic book in 2011. Further, said villain, Morphicius, and his minions number among the Big, Pointy-Teeth Baddie Brigade, leading one to suspect that the powers that be at the publisher scored a great, if sinister, by-the-pallet deal on such antagonists at Sam’s Club. Tan’s visuals, meantime, lack anything like airiness, the element one would expect to be of signal importance to a human raptor; a less kind critic might characterize them as watercolor guano. In an otolaryngological context, in short, this relaunch puts the hawk in Hawkman.
Two days after the “New 52” Superman #1 graced comics shops nationwide, word circulated that writer George Pérez (also the source of the breakdowns here) will abandon his pesky script-related duties within six issues. That seems understandable, inasmuch as Pérez, with this DC plodder, has already cluttered Jesús Merino’s art with the equivalent of a full year of scripts. Never by any means a dramatist of Shavian skill, Pérez here struts his congenital logorrhea, presenting a classic comics “clash of titans”…between captions and word balloons. More specifically, although the issue’s (pardon the pun) action involves the total J.F.C. demolition of the Daily Planet high-rise and the Man of Steel’s battle with a happily big-pointy-teethless (but still unhappily characterless) flaming foe, Pérez filters virtually everything through narrative devices like TV news feeds. Even more distancing, his script, perhaps at the direction of the editors, includes a full page unrelated to the rest of the tale, footnoted to another series altogether—the sort of slavering-fanboy nonsense less likely to incentivize new, “civilian” readers than to incense them. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Aquaman #1, here for a preview of The Savage Hawkman #1, and here for a preview of Superman #1, all courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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