Rude Chapbooks 11.14.11 | Putting the “Arg!” in “Argent”

Yes, we know—the g there varies from hard to soft. It’s a joke, for pity’s sake. Less jocularly, Kirby: Genesis—Silver Star #1? Even lamer than that header. Drop your dough instead, our columnist advises, on Journey Into Mystery #631, Rachel Rising #3, or The Unwritten #31.

 

 

 

Two months ago, the grin of the protagonist on Adam Hughes’ typically splendid cover to DC’s relaunch of Batgirl spoke volumes: “At last! Free of that wheelchair after 23 [expurgated] years! Yvonne, darling, gimme a buzz! And Alan, you [expurgated] British [expurgated], kiss my scrumptious, spandex-clad [expurgated]!” Well, OK, maybe not. To be sure, the series (from writer Gail Simone, penciller Ardian Syaf, and inker Vicente Cifuentes) returns Barbara Gordon to her role as Gotham City’s dominoed dare-doll, and Batgirl #3 boasts some skillful, if still superheroic, interplay de coeur between her and a guesting Nightwing. Props to Simone for that and to Syaf and Cifuentes for mostly serviceable visuals. Sad to say, though, this opening arc still feels misplayed, by yoking Babs’ as-yet-unexplained “miracle” to an unconvincing in medias res menace, and that failing derives from DC’s “having its cake and eating it too” only-kinda-linewide relaunch. To wit, how could a twerp like Mirror unnerve someone who’s had the Joker blow a hole through her midriff, then strip her and shoot Polaroid mementos? Unsatisfying.

 

To anyone (a) who’s been reading comics for more than five minutes and (b) who has more than a spoonful of brains, the mainstream holds few if any surprises. (Like a bison with diarrhea, it promotes no doubt about what’s to come, if considerable trepidation about where it might land.) In that light, Journey Into Mystery #631, the latest issue of Marvel’s new/old Scandinavian supersaga, extends that series’ run, under writer Kieron Gillen, as one of 2011’s prodigies. Against all odds, herein Gillen’s transformed into a sympathetic character Loki, albeit “kid Loki,” his mannish maleficence moderated to boyish mischief. In this issue, with a mix of guile and integrity, Loki faces the consequences of his actions during Marvel’s Fear Itself “event,” dealing with various tenuous allies and fallen Asgard’s (pardon the pun) new womanagement. (“You can vilify an evil woman without language that exists only to vilify women,” Freyja scolds him—and in a single sentence, Gillen imparts to that goddess more character than she’s shown in…well…millennia.) Marred only by Whilce Portacio’s customarily graceless pencils.

 

Consign this one to the Dawn & Dusk Department. As delightful as Dynamite Entertainment’s Kirby: Genesis has proven since its debut late this past spring, the company’s Kirby: Genesis—Silver Star #1 prompts disappointment so precise in an equal-but-opposite fashion that it could serve as a comic book example of Newton’s third law of motion. Neither sterling nor stellar, it even sports that rarest of birds, a mediocre Alex Ross cover. Jai Nitz’s script embraces a trend among younger writers nowadays of opening with a lame conceit (faux quotations from Executive Orders from one POTUS or another during the past four decades) and follows it with more clumsy infodumpage in dialogue and even clumsier dramaturgy. Johnny Desjardins’ artwork, meanwhile, strongly suggests that he learned everything he knows about his craft from reading comic books—and third-rate comic books, at that. Verbally and visually depressing in equal measure, this premiere, in its putridity, ill serves the memory of funnybook giant Jack Kirby, who created the title character almost 30 years ago at the long-ago-kaput Pacific Comics.

 

Writer/artist Terry Moore’s newest Abstract Studio series, whose premiere this column praised, recalls Churchill’s famous characterization of Russia: “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Rachel Rising #3 only reinforces that notion. Where most horror comics display all the finesse of blunt trauma, Moore’s latest keeps layering frisson upon frisson in a midnight mystery which may or may not center on a doppelgänger (in its original Germanic sense), but which incontrovertibly involves prescience. In this issue, for instance, Moore’s risen Rachel tells a stranger, “Your wedding bed will be a shallow grave…your lungs full of mud.” Directly, another character smirks at Rachel, and that single masterly restrained shot radiates more dread than entire issues of a lesser comic—the screaming meemies gone sotto voce. Immediately thereafter, of course, comes a two-page scene of naturalistic violence more shocking than a two-hour zombie or vampire flick. It almost goes without saying that Moore illustrates all of this with the skill he developed and previously deployed on Strangers in Paradise and Echo. A magnificent mainstream must-read.

 

For manifold reasons, the exigencies of a weekly column reviewing current comics can muddle one’s mind, especially (if ironically) regarding consistently excellent titles; from week to week, after all, the industry never lacks sacred cows all but demanding butchery, and the medium, somehow or other, still continues to entertain promising debuts. In that regard, “Rude Chapbooks” may have inadvertently slighted writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross’ lapidary Vertigo series, but as The Unwritten #31 reminds, its splendor, by rights, should never go unspoken. With a visual assist from M.K. Perker, this issue commences a new arc wherein Carey and Gross’ conflicted protagonist, who may be the logos spermatikos embodied, escalates his opposition to the malign Cabal, with aid from the delectable Lizzie Hexam, grumpy (and hilarious) journo Richie Savoy, the winged tabby Mingus, and—oh, yeah, the Frankenstein monster. Unfortunately, as this first chapter of “Tommy Taylor and the War of Words” demonstrates, tactics deployed prematurely often lead to strategic peril. Issue after issue for more than two years, one of the mainstream’s finest. | Bryan A. Hollerbach

 

Click here for a preview of Batgirl #3 and here for a preview of Journey Into Mystery 631, both courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

Click here for a preview of Kirby: Genesis—Silver Star #1, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.

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