Rude Chapbooks 10.24.11 | R.E.H., Meh

Now on its third issue, Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword continues to sing as thrillingly as (alas) a chintzy butter knife. Otherwise panned this week: Batman Odyssey Vol. 2 #1, Fear Itself #7, and Uncanny X-Men #544. Conversely praised herein is…well, keep reading!

The idiom hoist by/with one’s own petard means “caught in one’s own trap,” and this review focuses on one such instance of ego-fired comics self-entrapment. Consider this stumbling statement, from the Dark Knight: “We don’t have time… It’s…too big…too much…to…” Now this, from Robin: “An evolved dinosaur… God. I read about ‘What if dinos evolved,’ in Nat Geo… If…holy…an evolved dinosaur… Can’t be… He’s just freaky looking.” And this, from (Scout’s honor) Alfred: “Way.” All three quotations grace Batman Odyssey Vol. 2 #1, the latest installment of the 13-part DC series from writer/penciller Neal Adams. As a newcomer in the ’60s, Adams met his match only in Steranko in the seismic impact of his artistry; moreover, visuals from Adams (here, tellingly, inked by Bill Sienkiewicz, Adams himself, Paul Neary, and Michael Golden) still retain most if not all of the muscular majesty of his youth, as this issue of Batman Odyssey shows. As the preceding quotations also show, though, Adams writes as well as a flounder flies—and neither he nor DC apprehends that failing.
This week, IDW Publishing launches writer/artist John Byrne’s latest project, which may or may not replace Next Men on his and its schedule, and Byrne opens Cold War #1 in full-tilt-boogie formalist fashion. To wit, its first 11 pages constitute a “silent” sequence wherein his protagonist achieves a black-ops goal in an unlikely manner and then evades Soviet pursuit from East Berlin. After that brisk introduction and a second, briefer sequence suggesting the existence of a mole in Britain’s MI6, the narrative follows Byrne’s James Bondian Michael Swann back to London and environs as he commences a new covert mission, this one involving the potential defection to the U.S.S.R. of a high-level aerospace scientist. Here, pleasantly, Byrne appears to be playing it straight; that is, his late-’50s/early-’60s espionage thriller functions exactly as that, seemingly including no unitardy Übermenschen or supernatural nonsense or other mummery of today’s mainstream. As such, Cold War in general and this first four-issue arc (“The Damocles Contract”) in specific should provide a welcome alternative to the industry’s “same old, same old.”
A time of cupidity and sloth grips the industry. SPF, daughter of the Bad Burn, has loosed the enigmatic Sir Bent from Excel-lence on the bottom line of the marketing department. Sir Bent causes seven mondo meat tenderizers to plunge from some celestial kitchen-supply store and pummel the planet. Each M.M.T. transforms its somehow-or-other-destined wielder into a spandex-clad, even-pissier-than-usual Gordon Ramsay doppelgänger intent on turning the rest of the world into steak tartare. Learning of Sir Bent’s escapades, Oldshit and the Assguardians withdraw from…well…better not specify. Besides, Marvel’s Fear Itself #7 (from writer Matt Fraction, penciller Stuart Immonen, and inker Wade von Grawbadger with Dexter Vines) parodies itself with no problem. In it, Iron Man returns from Asgard with Action Figure Theater props, a Timely-era device gets Liberty Belled, and Another Hero Nobly Falls—all to backstop Odin, arguably the single most unsympathetic nonvillainous character in the company’s history. Even by A.F.T. standards, this grotesque little “event” begun in April—it seemingly has plodded along for much, much longer—defines, with textbook precision, mainstream tedium.
Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #3, like its predecessors, remains a grave disappointment because of (a) the inscrutability of its schedule and (b) the inferiority of its content. Regarding that schedule, the Dark Horse anthology bowed last December, and its second issue arrived in June—meaning it falls short of even quarterly status. This seems more than a little quixotic for a periodical most of which centers on serials. Regarding the anthology’s content, by and large, it boasts all the snap, crackle, and pop of Rice Krispies left in milk for a week—a mushy mess. Visually, only Fabio Cobiaco’s work on a Brule eight-pager here exhibits any verve; the other new material, artistically, appears to originate from tyros. The scripts, meanwhile, embrace an amateurish loquacity, with characters endlessly explaining their motivations and other matters. Finally, as ever, roughly half of Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #3 (31 of 63 story pages) constitutes reprint material, the first part of a lackluster 1989 Kull tale from writer Alan Zelenetz and artist Tony DeZuniga. A saddening failure.
It hurt—it hurt badly. Early 1970. The X-Men #66, as the comic was then officially called. Its letters page bore the woeful tidings. Inadequate sales. Cancellation. Confusion—the kind only a bookish eight-year-old could feel, especially an eight-year-old whose mind that Marvel series had lately boggled with its landmark run by Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, and Tom Palmer. And this week, Uncanny X-Men #544 pulls a Yogi Berra “déjà vu all over again”—and contemporary industry practices have made it all too easy not to care. This series finale (from writer Kieron Gillen, putative penciller Greg Land, and inker Jay Leisten) caps a narrative vessel long since capsized. It follows an unpersuasive Cyclops-Wolverine pillow fight presented in the five-part X-Men: Schism “event”—that the company was spewing that concurrent with Fear Itself defies belief—and a related singleton. Moreover, it largely functions as a combined epilogue and prologue, wherein Cyclops bids various old friends adieu, and Mr. Sinister quaffs wine and does that whole “master villain plotting and pontificating” thing. Imponderably fatigued and fatiguing. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Cold War #1, courtesy of RyallTime, the blog of IDW Publisher Chris Ryall.
Click here for a preview of Fear Itself #7, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword #3, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Uncanny X-Men #544, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

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