Rude Chapbooks 12.12.11 | No Defense Against Excellence

In a year glutted even more than usual with relaunches, Defenders #1 positively shines, even as its eponymous team turns 40. (Where did the time go?) Also praised from this week’s five focal funnybooks: Irredeemable #32, Thought Bubble Anthology #1, and Valen the Outcast #1.

 

 
“It’s Either in You or It’s Not,” as a tagline, better applies to Shotgun-Wedding Comics than to the latest revival of Marvel’s nonteam team (created fully four decades ago this year, by the way, by writer Roy Thomas, penciller Ross Andru, and inker Bill Everett). It likewise hints how sweepingly branding and other marketing-based abominations have supplanted creating quality comic books in today’s mainstream. In any event, bad grammar and all, that tagline (subsequently eighty-sixed, thank goodness) brings us to Defenders #1 from writer Matt Fraction, penciller Terry Dodson, and inker Rachel Dodson. It well and truly kicks. The Dodsons provide their customarily lustrous visuals, depicting Dr. Strange, the Sub-Mariner, and the Silver Surfer, as well as “red” She-Hulk and Iron Fist, more stylishly than at any prior time in the Defenders’ history. Fraction’s script, meanwhile, exemplifies everything a modern mainstream comic should be, a gigantic kaleidoscope combining apocalyptic menace, exotic locales, old-school action, impeccable characterization, and truly humorous humor. (She-Hulk’s entrance should prompt a guffaw from any Hemingway aficionados among the readership.) Highly recommended!
 
Kudos in general to writer/creator Mark Waid for crafty patience in finally staging a crossover between Irredeemable and Incorruptible, his two BOOM! Studios titles, the former the tale of a superman gone supermaniac, the latter that of a lifelong wrongdoer striving to do right. Although Irredeemable #32 opens the quadripartite clash between the previously heroic Plutonian and erstwhile villain Max Damage, “strict constructionists” may well kvetch because the latter appears nowhere in the issue proper. Rather, it commences the origin of the former. More specifically, following the nuclear annihilation of another two billion people on this planet—Irredeemable has never lacked audacity—two skyscraping extraterrestrials with milky skin, cinnamon-and-black armor, and ovate crania far too small for their bodies capture the Plutonian. Nominally his parents, they take him on a tour of space and time that illuminates his conception and earliest years in a stunning blend of the stellar and the psycho, all gracefully illustrated by Diego Barreto. Kudos in specific to Waid for a chilling six-page sequence focused on the title character’s nothing-like-Jonathan-and-Martha infancy.
 
Supposedly, a measure of the “New 52” mandate involved broadening DC’s demographic—hence the creation of a gay Teen Titan. Hence, too, as Static Shock #4 shows, the revival of a title and reintroduction of a hero that might as well have been conceived to share with unsuspecting African Americans the mediocrity of most mainstream comics. Its uninspiring visuals from penciller Scott McDaniel and inker Andy Owens serve a script from McDaniel and Xombi’s John Rozum, who’s departing, wherein everything feels, at best, derivative or, at worst, purloined. By way of example, this issue opens with the technologically brilliant teenage protagonist (think “P—— P——”) trading quips with Guillotina (a razor-wire conflation of the Female Furies Lashina and Mad Harriet), while Piranha (a lesser King Shark) experiments with some supersteroids (apparently available in the DCU beside the Bufferin) with aid from an undercover gendarme called Pale Man (a Joker wannabe). The appellation of the company’s much-ballyhooed über-relaunch notwithstanding, in short, nothing here seems at all new, and Static Shock registers only the potential to bore.
 
A charmingly coltish debut, Thought Bubble Anthology #1 commemorates the Leeds Comic Art Festival, a weeklong annual celebration held in northern England in November. A 10.25- by 14.25-inch 24-pager printed on uncoated stock, it showcases short contributions not only from various professional attendees, but also from the first-, second-, and third-place winners of two age-based comics competitions, with proceeds from the Image publication benefiting a local children’s charity. From the pros, Becky Cloonan provides a lovely fabulist cover; Duncan Fegredo impishly reflects on his first studio in a one-pager done, atypically, in wash; writer Andy Diggle teams with too-little-seen artist D’Israeli on a single-page time-travel jape; and writer Mike Carey joins artists M.D. Penman and Andrew Tunney in relating “The Timeless Genius of Leonardo,” a two-pager that begins like an outtake from The Unwritten but ends somewhere else altogether. From the nonpros, noteworthy vignettes come from Sally Jane Thompson (on “dragon breath,” exhalation condensing on a cold day) and Will Morris (on a father and son’s launch of a kite, in a style resembling Gipi’s).
 
During the past few years, Michael Alan Nelson has written some intriguingly outré comics, most notably Hexed (with artist Emma Ríos, compiled in 2009) and Dingo (with Francesco Biagini, 2010). Now, Valen the Outcast #1, like those minis, issues from BOOM! Studios and partners Nelson with artist Matteo Scalera on an ongoing that takes as its conceit a zombified Conan seeking to reclaim his stolen soul. Scalera’s (previously unfamiliar) art recalls that of John Romita Jr.—a pleasant surprise indeed. Nelson, for his part, artfully integrates a great deal into this specially dollar-priced premiere: the midbattle introduction of Lord Valen Brand, his defeat and violation by the necromancer Korrus Null, the start of Valen’s quest to regain both his soul and the kingdom of Oakhaven, and his attraction of two quasi-allies, the tattooed warrior-woman Zjanna and the career rogue Alexio Cordovan. Promising. Although nothing here transcends or subverts standard heroic fantasy in a Moorcockian fashion, it should prove entertaining to discover how Nelson and Scalera develop their characters and the series’ pseudo–Hyborian Age milieu. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Defenders #1, right here at PLAYBACK:stl!
Click here for a preview of Irredeemable #32, here for a preview of Static Shock #4, and here for a preview of Valen the Outcast #1, all courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Thought Bubble Anthology #1, courtesy of Comic Book Realm.

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