Rude Chapbooks 10.25.10 | Happiness Is an Infernally Warm Gun

In this new column devoted to five “floppies” released during the past week, Bryan A. Hollerbach admires the ballistic beauty of The Sixth Gun #5 and praises four-color science fiction at almost opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum, Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #3 and DMZ #58.   

PLAYBACK:stl’s redoubtable comics editor, Jason Green, requested an introduction to this new column. Et voilà: For more than four decades, without appreciable damage to my faculties, I’ve been reading comic books running the gamut from The ACME Novelty Library (which apparently no longer exists as a comic book per se) to Zorro (whose latest licensee, alas, may no longer be publishing it). For much of that time, I’ve also been writing about comics here, there, and everywhere, on paper and in pixel alike. Given the latitude of my enthusiasms, my aesthetic, such as it is, might prompt, on any given day, distrust if not derision from everyone ranging from Gary Groth and Kim Thompson (the legendarily elitist gents behind The Comics Journal, which itself apparently no longer exists as a journal per se) to the mouthiest neophyte Marvelite. Caveat lector. Basically because it amuses me, the title of the column derives from an offhand denigration by Chris Ware, the fiendish genius behind The ACME Novelty Library, previously cited. The column itself will comprise rants and raves about a quintet of bona fide comic books—not compilations thereof, not genuine graphic novels, not boutique nosegays like Ware’s latest artifacts—unleashed on an unsuspecting public during the past week by Diamond Comic Distributors. Dig? Groovy. Then grab a dictionary, fanboy, and keep reading.
Despite its undeniable craft, the comics art of Danijel Zezelj has customarily left me cold. Although it recalls the horrific loveliness of Leo and Diane Dillon’s illustrations to Dangerous Visions, Harlan Ellison’s seminal ’67 SF anthology, Zezelj’s wood-blocky technique, in large part, has felt hilariously wrong for the workaday kinetics of the comics mainstream, where, a preponderance of the time, balsam passes for oak anyway. In that respect, DMZ #58, the latest issue of writer Brian Wood’s near-future Vertigo dystopia of a New York City gone tragically Afghani, constitutes the exception that proves the rule. The fourth of five thematically linked, character-driven singletons, it revisits the graffiti artist Decade Later, introduced in a similar earlier run (collected in the TPB DMZ: The Hidden War). Zezelj’s grim, static images of urban apocalypse, of Gitmo come home to roost both figuratively and literally, nicely ground Wood’s narrative, which, despite its bleakness, borders on being a neo-Romantic affirmation of the power of art over atrocity.
Can the guilty pleasure survive when the average comic book costs three or four bucks? Readers who believe so should feel free to share with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny their copies of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #3 (for which, strictly speaking, Dark Horse is charging $3.50). All snark aside, this really does rank as an enjoyable exercise in superheroics, if one afflicted by the dreaded S³—Superhero Stupidity Syndrome. (If the title character can jiggle quanta, for example, why does his alter ego resort to a physical disguise?) Still, behind an über-cool cover by Michael Komarck, this issue showcases agreeable artwork from Roger Robinson and a fun, straight-from-the-’70s script from Jim Shooter. A backhanded compliment? Probably. No one will ever mistake Shooter for Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman. Nevertheless, even Shooter—who largely stopped developing as a writer after discovering ASDF and JKL;—here appears to be rock ’n’ rolling in a union-suit take on The Lathe of Heaven. More power to ’im.
Although marred by coloring from Francesco Francavilla reminiscent of the effluent from a chemical plant begging for an EPA bust, Dynamite Entertainment’s Green Hornet: Year One #6 otherwise could serve as a textbook example of how to adapt pulp or pulpish characters to comic books. (Indeed, everyone involved with DC’s First Wave subimprint should study this title.) To be sure, editor Joseph Rybandt evidently continues to do nothing so déclassé as to actually edit the series, else he would have flagged an embarrassingly sophomoric panel progression from the eighth page to the ninth. Be that as it may, Matt Wagner—who deserves a much higher profile for his mastery in comics of the ’40s mise en scène—contributes a tight, smart script, stylishly visualized by Aaron Campbell. The issue’s “Whoa!” moment, by the way, comes when Kato, facing either three or four armed thugs (again, kudos to Rybandt for due diligence), produces a set of…yes…nunchaku with a Bruce Lee flourish. Ladies and gentlemen, reenter the dragon!
“Ready.” “Set.” “Go!” Thus begins Justice League of America #50, which opens, exuberantly, with a five-page L5 footrace and dialogue between Supergirl and Jesse Quick—that is, precisely the sort of full-tilt-boogie four-color fundamentalism that this title should feature, especially under a writer as talented as James Robinson. Maddeningly, since assuming the scriptwriting duties on DC’s superteam supreme roughly a year ago, Robinson has been grinding gears, predominantly, it seems, for reasons beyond his control; the title’s dramatic personae remains inchoate, and it has suffered from a surfeit of “events.” Here, semiregular penciller Mark Bagley reunites with Robinson for the 46-page first chapter of a Crime Syndicate of Amerika epik…er, epic. Furthermore, although Congorilla and the Starman who dare not speak his name (Robinson’s most blissful additions to the team) have absented themselves in a transient miniseries, the roll call, wonderfully, skews 80 percent distaff. Would it be too much to hope that this constitutes the true starting-pistol shot for the new JLA?
Although it may encourage accusations of boosterism to have a St. Louis–based critic applaud a series crafted by two creators also based here, so be it: The Sixth Gun, from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt, deserves applause. Now on the penultimate issue of its first arc, the Oni Press weird Western numbers among the strongest debuts of 2010. The Sixth Gun #5 adroitly accelerates the post–Civil War race to some sort of diabolical treasure between the series’ three protagonists and the crazed, undead General Oliander Bedford Hume (aided, by the way, by the most gloriously freakazoid cadre of lackeys featured in mainstream comics in some time). Regarding the titular firearm and its five brothers in bloodshed, it also delivers a splendid one-two, by revealing the revolvers’ true purpose and by suggesting their dismal history. Next issue—pardon the cliché—all hell may break loose. Join the party—and learn why many comics aficionados have expressed delight on learning that what they thought to be a miniseries is “an ongoing.” | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Green Hornet: Year One #6, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.
Click here for a preview of Justice League of America #50, courtesy of DC Comics.


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