Rude Chapbooks 11.01.10 | Reigning Cats and Dogs

Among this week’s five select floppies, Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice rules! The Weird World of Jack Staff #5 inspires a smile, meanwhile, but Justice Society of America #44 warrants only a snarl.

Daniel Acuña provides the full artwork to Captain America #611, and rarely has the Marvel series looked so stunning; Acuña, in all likelihood, could teach a master class in manipulating digital ink—it’s a bravura performance. This issue, moreover, marks the start of “The Trial of Captain America,” which promises to be yet another rock-solid arc from writer Ed Brubaker. Brubaker has long cited as an influence Steve Englehart’s ’70s run on the Star-Spangled Avenger’s saga, and one can’t help suspecting this new narrative will revisit Englehart’s own strongest arcs, those that debuted the ’50s Cap as such and the original Nomad—that is, an assessment not only of Captain America, but also of America itself. In the dark days following Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, Englehart used the title (then called Captain America and the Falcon in its logo if not its indicia) to meditate on integrity and honesty and responsibility. Brubaker should succeed in finding a few resonances in these otherwise lighthearted times.
At present, one of the most enjoyable “team” comics features no scowling mutants, no sugarcoated sociopaths, no spandex-clad mesomorphs. Rather, it stars a clutch of dogs and cats, and this week, they share the spotlight with Mike Mignola’s celebrated demonic hero in Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice. A pre-Halloween treat, the Dark Horse singleton comes from regular Beasts writer Evan Dorkin (with input from Mignola) and artist Jill Thompson and adds the stone-fisted, cigar-chomping paranormal investigator to the junior apprentices to the Wise Dog Society: the canine cohort of Ace the husky, Jack the beagle, Pugs the (duh!) pug, Rex the Doberman, and Whitey the Jack Russell terrier, along with feline equals Dymphna and (a personal fave) the Orphan. Among other menaces, the Splendiferous Seven and their new sidekick battle the skull golem to end all skull golems, and without revealing any telling detail, in the end, grumpy little Pugs effectively saves the day in a singularly funny but effective fashion, there in the fictional south-central Pennsylvania hamlet of Burden Hill. Bravo!
Although not the worst DC release of the week—a dubious distinction belonging to Superman #704—Justice Society of America #44 does come as the biggest disappointment. This issue, of course, introduces the newest creative team to chronicle the adventures of comics’ oldest superhero team, and to the detriment of the latter, the former makes a dreadful hash of things. Partly because of colorist Mike Atiyeh’s sepulchral palette, Scott Kolins’ art lacks the verve of his earlier Flash work and often overplays the narrative’s human moments, even by the operatic standards of mainstream comics. A large measure of that second failing may derive from Marc Guggenheim’s positively wretched script, which reads as if he tweeted it—ADHD chic. Apparently, Guggenheim believes that referencing the threat of terrorism and relentlessly time-stamping scenes and panels accord his drivel the cachet of sophistication, instead of betraying the laziness of its creation. The heir to All-Star Comics, in short, has tragically transformed into Gen Twit caca. Appalling.
Over time, even in the most jaded critic, a comic book of quality can cause worry on two fronts: first, that unremitting and unreserved praise of that comic will diminish to the critical equivalent of background noise, even for otherwise receptive readers, and second, that the creators of the comic will suffer a crisis of confidence or craft as they proceed to its conclusion. The preceding confession leads, almost inevitably, to Vertigo’s Scalped #42. Arguably the finest title now published in the mainstream, the Native American policier from writer Jason Aaron and (main) artist R.M. Guera has unfolded so fearlessly and finely since its inception that one begins to fret that the two of them will lose the courage of their convictions. Aficionados should pray that they do not. In the meantime, this issue presents the finale to “Unwanted,” Scalped’s most recent and perhaps most harrowing arc, in a customarily grim and satisfactory fashion. It also includes an action potentially never before depicted in a mainstream comic. Buy it if you dare.
From the brainless stadium-rock excesses of far too many superhero comics, The Weird World of Jack Staff affords a footloose-and-fancy-free refuge worthy of the best sidewalk busker. Even when showing the title character chapeau’d with a boulder—as in the fifth issue of this winning Image offering, its latest—writer/artist Paul Grist keeps everything bright and bold, even bouncy. How could he not, with a supporting cast that includes both Becky Burdock, Vampire Reporter, and the enigmatic, babelicious Calendar Girl (the latter so named, with gleeful ambivalence, to reflect her status either as a so-called Clock Cop or as a cheesecake queen)? Further, when not fighting the good fight, “Britain’s Greatest Hero!” (as the title’s covers proclaim) does the alter ego thing as contractor John Smith, trundling around London in a dinky pickup…um, lorry. It almost may seem as if Grist, who previously produced the laudable cop comic Kane, isn’t taking superheroic Sturm und Drang all that seriously. Live with it, fanboy. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Captain America #611, courtesy of PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Justice Society of America #44, courtesy of DC Comics.
Click here for a preview of The Weird World of Jack Staff #5, courtesy of Image Comics.


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