Rude Chapbooks 11.22.10 | Granting Morrison a Reprieve

This week, our cranky columnist audits Batman, Inc. #1 and recommends it and a second title to potential investors, but also puts little if any value in the stock of three others, among them Haunt #11 and a Chaos War one-shot.


After the chiropteran nonsense of the past two weeks—vide the earlier “Rude Chapbooks” pans of Batman and Robin #16 and Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6—it comes as a relief to praise, without reservation, DC’s Batman, Inc. #1, which at long last features a script from “the good Grant Morrison.” Smart without the smugness of “the bad Grant Morrison,” impeccably staged and paced, even (give the devil his due) witty in many places, that script takes the Dark Knight and Catwoman to Tokyo to launch the former’s goofy-enough-to-be-real globalization plan, only to encounter the deliciously atavistic Lord Death Man and to learn (as its title teases) “Mr. Unknown Is Dead.” Supplying the razor-sharp artwork are penciller Yanick Paquette, one of the more underappreciated talents now working in the mainstream, and inker Michel Lacombe. Not, I suspect, accidentally, the vibe here approximates the pop kinetic artistry of the first few episodes of the ’60s Batman TV series, albeit without the camp imbecility, and damned if it doesn’t work. Recommended? Yes, actually, yes.
“The gods of Zenn-La have failed. Who will remember our noble efforts? Indeed, who will ever read these last entries to the belief system…?” The answer to that transparently narcissistic caption: anyone hapless enough to squander $3.99 on Marvel’s Chaos War: Chaos King #1. Someone named Brandon Montclare committed the script to this travesty, and even within the lax aesthetics of “event”-based singletons and spin-offs, its emetic amateurism suggests that he and the multiple editors named in the credits should be ushered to the nearest exit posthaste because of laziness, stupidity, ineptitude, or some combination thereof. Under most circumstances, to be sure, Montclare’s work would prompt nothing like such ire; scarcely the first incompetent to work in comics, he just as likely shan’t be the last. In the case of this singleton, however, his profligate captions and balloons mar artwork from Michael Wm. Kaluta, who, during four decades’ tenure in the medium, increasingly deserves to have the phrase the great automatically added before his name—and who categorically deserves assignments far better than this.
Roughly a year into its existence, writer Robert Kirkman’s latest Image series still inspires nothing near the fervor of his Invincible, that splendid new-millennial update of Stan, Steve, and Jack in their ’60s “House of Ideas” prime. Why? Hmmm. Try this—rather than being conceptualized and visualized by a giant like Ditko or Kirby, that series was co-created by Todd McFarlane, perhaps the biggest hack to blacken the mainstream in the past quarter of a century, a so-called artist who hasn’t appreciably developed as an artist since noodling over scripts from Steve Englehart and Roy Thomas in the ’80s. Admittedly, with Jonathan Glapion, McFarlane merely inks Haunt #11, the latest issue of the series in question, but penciller Greg Capullo, arguably a better artist, apes McFarlane’s M.O.: multitudinous grimaces and sneers, overarticulation tedious even by mainstream standards, and an embrace of derivation over anything like innovation. Cross McFarlane’s late-’80s Spider-Manure with his jejune-from-go Spawn and a smidgen of Ian Phlegming, and despite Kirkman, you’ll have Haunt, a signally disappointing example of comic book afterlifelessness.
Richard Corben rocks. Indeed, Kansas City’s ranking mad genius has been doing just that in comics for 40 or so years, and whenever he teams with fellow madman Mike Mignola, something lovely and lunatic always results—like Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil. As its title suggests, this 28-page Dark Horse singleton features Hot Stuff’s stogie-chompin’ bigger little brother in a pair of gothic tales, both set in 1960: “Sullivan’s Reward,” which recalls at least two Poe classics, concerns a haunted house in Kansas, and includes a gargantuan helping of just deserts, and “The House of Sebek,” which boasts a museum gift shop guy gone gaga, revenant mummies in Massachusetts, and a short but telling course in ancient Egyptian theopolitics. As ever, Mignola’s scriptwriting exhibits deceptive formal subtlety for content so blissfully boisterous, and Corben, who turned 70 in October, visualizes everything with the gonzo take-no-prisoners verve of an artist a third his age. Hellboy ranks as one of the few truly endearing and enduring characters created during the ’90s, and work like this explains why.
Once upon a time, J. Michael Straczynski crafted enjoyable, sometimes notable comic book scripts, even from the perspective of someone who didn’t follow him, lowing with bovine adoration, to this medium from the TV space opera Babylon 5. Also once upon a time, DC exercised bear-trap oversight over the icon that debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938, to the extent that said publisher, during the ’70s, infamously (as well as clumsily and offensively) altered artwork featuring that character from the late, great Jack Kirby, inarguably the preeminent “superhero artist” of the past century. My, how times have changed. Superman #705 continues for a few figurative footfalls more Straczynski’s dreadful, joyless run on the title, here with pencils not only from the not-quite Eddy Barrows but also from the not-even-close Wellington Dias. A few weeks ago, DC and Straczynski announced that because he has more important things to do there, he’ll soon cease to write Superman. That announcement, in all honesty, prompted considerable relief…but also considerable sadness for reasons conceivably inexplicable to the character’s publisher. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Batman, Inc. #1, courtesy of DC Comics.
Click here for a preview of Chaos War: Chaos King #1, courtesy of PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Haunt #11, courtesy of Newsarama.
Click here for a preview of Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Superman #705, courtesy of DC Comics.




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