Rude Chapbooks 11.07.11 | The Bloodsucker and the Blockhead

Among this week’s five reviews, our columnist wistfully welcomes back two characters perhaps most popular in the late ’60s: the vampire Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows #1 and melancholic munchkin Charlie Brown in Peanuts #0. Also lauded: Ganges#4.


Not so much a horror comic as a horrid comic, Animal Man #3, under DC’s “New 52” hooey, revisits a series which, in its prior run, boasted notable scripts from Grant Morrison and Jamie Delano alike. In the present hash, though, writer Jeff Lemire—a nine days’ wonder plodding inexplicably toward Day 10 of acclaim in certain quarters—stresses or superimposes Swamp Thing–era Alan Moore motifs (with “the green” Dopplered into “the red” and the Parliament of Trees reconfigured as an assembly of antecedent Animal Men) on the usual “Buddy Baker, family-man Übermensch” shtick. Matching the verbal attenuation are Travel Foreman’s visuals. Genuinely dreadful, albeit in no Clive Barkeresque usage of dread, they suggest the work of an only-semitalented art school freshman with a just-delivered iPad. More specifically, Foreman’s depiction of human anatomy falls a few pylons shy of Bridgman, his compositions flaunt an amateurish minimalism, his backgrounds border on nonexistent, and his foreground detail embraces noodling that, at best, impersonates a hyperactive kindergartner’s conception of crosshatching. Send this dog to the pound posthaste.

Readers “of a certain age” may well recall cowering under the sofa cushions while viewing, as children, Dark Shadows, Dan Curtis’ supernatural soap opera that ran on ABC from 1966 to ’71; others may remember the exquisite if ephemeral NBC nighttime remake from ’91. This week, with Dark Shadows #1, Dynamite Entertainment takes readers old and new to the fictional Maine burg of Collinsport and the crepuscular estate of Collinwood—the home of reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins. Previously the artist on Green Hornet: Year One, Aaron Campbell adroitly visualizes this spookfest, which uses as the model for Barnabas Jonathan Frid, not the later Ben Cross or (from Tim Burton’s cinematic adaptation, scheduled for 2012) Johnny Depp. Stuart Manning’s script, meanwhile, preserves the gaga gothic of the comic’s afflatus. More specifically, in 1971, Dr. Julia Hoffman strives to “cure” Barnabas medically, while manifold infernal menaces (one apparently involving the witch that “turned” Barnabas late in the 18th century) loom. By no means to everyone’s taste, but absolutely recommended for fans of the freakazoid Collins clan.

Lately, alas, Fantagraphics Books and Coconino Press’ Ignatz line has enjoyed nothing like the high profile exhibited at its launch, probably because of the global recession in general and the dismal state of the comics industry in specific. The arrival of Ganges #4 should thus all the more occasion delight in discerning readers. As ever, its words and pictures come from St. Louisan Kevin Huizenga—consider that a shoutout from a site originating in the Gateway City—and focus on his ink-and-paper alter ego, Glenn Ganges. Amusingly, in an industry increasingly specializing in the soporific, Huizenga pits his protagonist against the ravages of insomnia. In an effort to brake his racing mind, Glenn roams his bungalow in the night, disregards advice from (!) the Grim Reaper, tries to damp his synapses with an über-snoozer of a tome on philosophy, and otherwise fails to stack some Zs. The character’s peregrinations, both physical and mental, allow Huizenga to pack the issue with typically delicious formalist sallies, including a four-page sequence involving (again, !) a life-spanning spreadsheet. Phenomenal!

Following its noteworthy revivals of Ruse and Sigil, Marvel resurrected another title from the defunct CrossGeneration Comics, Mystic. This third revival, though, constituted a tougher sell because (a) the original, in “the naughts,” inspired zero interest, and (b) G. Willow Wilson’s earlier scripts have customarily stunk. The big (no pun intended) draw, then? The participation of artist David López, who illustrated Peter David’s fine Fallen Angel during its DC days. Marred somewhat by the coffeehouse coloring of Nathan Fairbairn—whose palette emphasizes mocha and mint—López’s graceful, confident pencils, inked by Álvaro López, remain the sole attraction of Mystic #4, which concludes the misadventures of sisters Genevieve and Giselle in the city of Hyperion on the world of Verne. Terminal anemia still characterizes Wilson’s writing on Mystic, which, in an online interview, she describedat one point as blending high fantasy and steampunk. Nevertheless, this wan, unconvincing finale only showcases how little Wilson grasps either of those subgenres—even as it flaunts her equivalent ineptitude with the “merely” naturalistic in scenes of a populist revolt.

Eleven-plus years after the passing of cartooning giant Charles M. Schulz, one cannot overstate the fundamental bliss of revisiting his work, directly and indirectly, in Peanuts #0. “Value-priced” at just a buck, the BOOM! Studios offering serves as a reminder of why and how his comic strip so dominated newspaper panelology for so long. (With luck, it will also lead readers to support Fantagraphics Books’ mind-boggling hardback Peanuts library.) Reprinted here are four Sunday classics from Schulz featuring Lucy and her duplicitous football, Snoopy and Woodstock, Peppermint Patty and Sally—and, of course, good ol’ Charlie Brown. Almost perforce, they recall how Schulz could spark maximal joy with (seemingly) minimal ease and, in their elegant austerity, affirm how drearily today’s strips have mistaken simplistic mimicry for simple mastery. Supplementing those Sundays is fresh material, the most successful of which, “Woodstock’s New Nest,” comes from writer/penciller Vicki Scott and inker Paige Braddock, who doubles as creative director of Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates; a “silent” seven-pager, it replicates Schulz’s charm and drollery with astonishing fidelity. Sweet! | Bryan A. Hollerbach


Click here for a preview of Dark Shadows #1, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.

Click here for a preview of Ganges#4, courtesy of Fantagraphics 

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