Rude Chapbooks 12.13.10 | Physician, Heal Thyself

Doc Savage #9 could serve as Exhibit A in a monumental comics malpractice suit, and the related First Wave #5 also desperately needs a crash cart. Happily, this column’s three other subjects—The Flash #7, Fables #100, and Echo #26—prompt much sunnier diagnoses…er…reviews.

 

 

“Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive,” Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen advised in 1944. Ummm, OK. As Doc Savage #9 shows, J.G. Jones has been contributing some lovely, James Bama–ish covers (albeit sans Bama’s otherworldly electricity) to that title in DC’s First Wave quasi-line. Behind those covers, however, has lurked disaster of a signally repugnant and reprehensible sort. Even though the title character, with Philip Wylie’s Gladiator, reportedly inspired the creation of Superman and thus, by extension, the contemporary comics industry, Doc Savage accords the pulp icon no respect whatsoever. To date, the series (now under scriptwriter Ivan Brandon and artist Nic Klein) has comprised characters devoid of character, plots sloppily assembled from random and often moronic set pieces, and themes as subtle as a brick through the window. (A second “feature” has similarly abused the Avenger, another, lesser pulp hero; it’s aimed at hard-boiled but achieved only half-baked.) Abominable scarcely begins to describe this travesty, which has absolutely nothing in common with the Doc Savage pulp facsimiles now being lovingly issued by San Antonio’s Sanctum Books.
 
Echo #26 sounds a “good news/bad news” note. The bad news? The series from writer/artist Terry Moore will soon conclude. The good? As Echo has progressed, Abstract Studio has promptly compiled that progression in affordable trade paperbacks—making virtually any issue a handy “jumping-on point,” to use an industry catchphrase—and throughout its run, the title has maintained a level of non–space operatic science fictional excellence rivaled among “ongoings” only by Brian Wood’s DMZ and Jeff Smith’s RASL. The proverbial calm before the storm pervades this latest issue, as Julie/Annie (Moore’s accidental superhuman) and her small, intrepid posse head into the Arctic Circle to avert a cataclysm involving the enigmatic Alloy 618. The simple yet elegant felicities of the series border on bliss. Our heroes are trekking to destiny in (of all things) a station wagon, for example, and at one point, hilariously, an incidental character exclaims, “I knew it… M. Night Shyamalan!” In all likelihood, the conclusion to Echo will qualify as one of the genuine events of the coming year in comics.
 
Etiquette experts have long provided gifting guidance regarding anniversaries—silver for the twenty-fifth, gold for the fiftieth, and so forth. God alone knows if such experts have even designated a category of presents for the hundredth anniversary, but to commemorate the title’s centennial, Vertigo has gifted readers of Fables #100 with a typically idiosyncratic and wonderful treat, a 104-page prestige-bound bonanza. In it, writer/creator Bill Willingham teams with penciller Mark Buckingham and inkers Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy to showcase the 62-page occult duel to the death between Frau Totenkinder/Bellflower and the malignant Mister Dark, a satisfying, if perhaps necessarily inconclusive narrative that incorporates such lagniappes as the introduction of a character likely not named Murpleblost and the Three Blind Mice’s search for the Magical Valley of Infinite Accidentally Dropped Pizza Bites—Extra Cheese. Rounding out the extravaganza are diverse other, shorter stories, the Fables Paper Puppet Theatre, and the board game Escape to Wolf Manor. At the centennial’s end, the Fables team wishes the title’s fans, “Here’s to 100 more issues and counting!” Indeed!
 
Almost a century ago, U.S. Brigadier General John T. Thompson conceived of the submachine gun which (through various models) would subsequently bear his name and which figured prominently in Depression-era racketeering, World War II—and such ’30s and ’40s character-based pulp magazines as The Shadow. With its pulp-inspired miniseries First Wave, perversely, DC has reconfigured Thompson’s “Trench Broom” as a single-action target pistol. Even beyond its quasi-bimonthly schedule—which has undermined the blood-and-thunder tempo so integral to pulp power—First Wave #5, the penultimate issue, strongly suggests that writer Brian Azzarello “plotted” the narrative by dumping the large, outré cast (including Doc Savage) into a figurative pot and spicing the resultant goulash with an excess of interior monologues in hopes of concealing its blandness. Also, speaking of that cast, whence the teenage, pseudo-punk Black Canary? To be sure, penciller Rags Morales and inker Rick Bryant have visualized the proceedings with panache—if only someone had troubled to link their visuals to a bona fide story. All in all, First Wave has constituted one long misfire.
 
At the risk of jinxing things, The Flash again appears to be running on time, which should delight fans of the Fastest Man Alive. Eight weeks passed between the shipment of the title’s fifth and sixth issues, a curious circumstance for a monthly—especially one starring a modern Mercury. The Flash #7, though, not only arrives with laudable punctuality, but also boasts a splendid story from writer Geoff Johns and artist Scott Kolins. “What Goes Around, Comes Around” (a truly Wham-O title) effectively recounts and recasts the origin of Captain Boomerang, a member of the Flash’s Rogues grievously mistreated during DC’s overlong embrace of necrophilia and nihilism. Johns has always excelled at character-driven tales, especially those concerning the Rogues, and here he lends the Aussie villain a tragic dignity, while hinting that poor Digger Harkness may remain the ne’er-do-well’s ne’er-do-well by freeing the malefic Reverse-Flash. When the latter, who’s been not just jailed but sedated, opens his eyes, the captain, in “voice-over,” notes: “They flicker like strobe lights. I can barely look at ’em.” Fabulous! | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Doc Savage #9, courtesy of DC Comics.
Click here for a preview of First Wave #5, courtesy of DC Comics.
Click here for a preview of Flash #7, courtesy of DC Comics.

 

 

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