Rude Chapbooks 11.28.11 | Sans Spandex

At least for the week, “Rude Chapbooks” takes a holiday from superheroes and celebrates diversity in the medium with reviews of Dark Horse Presents #6, How to Draw Expressions, The Sixth Gun #17, The Unwritten #31.5, and World War 3 Illustrated #42.

Take that, Mike Richardson! In a display of consummate restraint, “Rude Chapbooks” last month abstained from mentioning the flagship anthology from Richardson’s publishing company, which he also edits—don’t want the man gettin’ too cocky. Having fired that figurative shot across the bow, though, this column can now complacently revert to type by hailing Dark Horse Presents #6. Cover-featured is “Change,” an enigmatic but gorgeous vignette from writer/artist Fábio Moon, and the issue also boasts an atypical, if still blissful, Beasts of Burden story by writer Evan Dorkin and artist Jill Thompson and a Skeleton Key romp from writer/artist Andi Watson. Beyond those noteworthy eight-pagers, this sixth DHP continues laudable serials from writer Peter Hogan and artist Steve Parkhouse (“Resident Alien”), writer/artist Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), and writer/artist Howard Chaykin (“Marked Man”). In his editorial, Richardson emphasizes a “Hey, Kids—Comics!” level of variety as his imprimatur for assembling every issue of the anthology, and in all honesty, as long as DHP remains such a glorious gallimaufry, it likewise will remain a must-read each month.
As a sequel to a July release devoted to depicting women, Terry Moore and Abstract Studio gift students of the form and others with How to Draw Expressions. Moore, of course, previously established his bona fides with the sui generis Strangers in Paradise and then the science fictional Echo and, three months ago, launched the eerie—and heartily recommended—Rachel Rising. In the present black-and-white 24-pager, he mulls how the human physiognomy conveys meaning. In so doing, Moore drops various autobiographical details that should interest both fans of his work in specific and pupils of his profession in general, using visuals that range from an array of 42 circles with differing, simplified looks (largely and appropriately focused on the ocular) to finished sequences from Strangers, Echo, and the rest of his oeuvre. Especially instructive: a panel-by-panel dissection of a four-tier strip starring two minimalist characters called Bik and Beep. One can only hope Moore continues these sporadic meditations on his craft, which make intriguing reading even for someone long steeped in panelological processes and products.
Of late, quite pleasantly, the weird Western has been enjoying a small but striking renaissance. Last week witnessed the depraved debut of Hawken, for instance, and 2011 more or less opened with Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever. Further, for roughly a year and a half, Oni Press has fostered writer Cullen Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt’s sterling addition to the subgenre, and The Sixth Gun #17 showcases why it merits attention. The issue concludes “Bound,” the latest, hexapartite arc, which largely sidelined the series’ focal antihero to center on Becky Montcrief, who (pardon the phrase) possesses the eponymous infernal weapon, and Gord Cantrell, who’s seeking a sorcerous means of destroying it and its five counterparts. Here, in fine, both make difficult decisions: Becky (who’s slowly but surely growing into a heroine of note) embraces a potentially dark and dangerous future, and Gord rejects an equally dark and delusional present. The issue ends with the shimmer of tears readying to fall, the flicker of flames—and the threat of “A Town Called Penance.”
Leave it to creators as crafty as Mike Carey and Peter Gross to make a virtue (forgive the pun) of doing things by halves, as demonstrated by The Unwritten #31.5. “Rude Chapbooks” applauded the series’ latest whole-numbered issue just two weeks past, naturally; the current Vertigo offering commences a series within the series designed to supply background (to a point, one presumes) on the centuries-spanning metanarrative conspiracy whose villainy permeates The Unwritten. Beyond the customarily literate script from Carey, this first “half-issue” features utterly lovely contributions from a trio of longtime artists: Michael Wm. Kaluta, who’s been experiencing a splendid surge in industry activity during the past five years or so, illustrates the first chapter, set in China in 221 B.C.; Rick Geary, the second, set in New York in 1898; and Bryan Talbot, the third, set in Germany in 1462. Those chapters, the last of which involves a telling appearance by a historical personage of signal import, suggest how deliciously Carey and Gross’ saga sprawls—and why it numbers among the mainstream’s finest titles.
Beyond paving the road to hell, good intentions too often also pad the average longbox; too much of the time, a noble cause does not a notable comic make. In that regard, World War 3 Illustrated #42, which comes from a publisher that shares its name with the predominantly black-and-white anthology, almost perforce incorporates work whose dogmatism overpowers its artistry. Counterbalancing that deficiency is the anthology’s extraordinary bounty; its 160 pages (priced at just seven bucks!) include a number of polemical but praiseworthy contributions from around the globe. England’s Edd Baldry presents a cartoony but canny dialogue on “Freedom,” for example, while New York’s Seth Tobocman, one of the issue’s three editors, uses scratchboard to explore “Frederick Douglass on the Nature of Power.” Also contributing memorable work are Lebanon’s Mazen Kerbaj, New York’s Jennifer Camper and Marguerite Dabaie, and Jordan Worley, also a New Yorker and an editor. Yet another New Yorker, finally, provides the anthology’s highlight: Sandy Jimenez’s apparently autobiographical “Beyond the Lighted Cage” dwells movingly and eloquently on loss, boxing, friendship, and redemption. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Dark Horse Presents #6, courtesy of Dark Horse.

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