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Rude Chapbooks 02.28.11 | School Daze

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In a hard-driving week for floppies, writer Nick Spencer earns top marks for studying psycho scholastics in Morning Glories #7, while retooling War Machine in Iron Man 2.0 #1. Also: huzzahs for a doctor named Solar, a barbarian called Conan, and an indie titled Uptight.

 

 

  

Those who constitutionally distrust and denigrate reviewers and critics—the “well, everybody’s got an opinion” contingent—likewise disregard the fact that conscientious reviewers and critics again and again rejudge their own judgments and sometimes change those judgments. Case in point: Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #5. This column’s debut last October dealt that Dark Horse title a backhanded compliment, but further reflection and two more issues have cast doubt on that initial assessment. In this series, writer Jim Shooter is crafting solid, entertaining superheroics, often tinged with sly humor, with a surety and dependability absent from far too many other mainstream offerings. This issue, moreover, makes a fine “jumping-on point,” in that it commences two arcs, the first of which (with art from Roger Robinson) introduces what feels like the title character’s Lex Luthor and the second of which (with art from Agustin Alessio) starts detailing the doc’s origin. Look for it behind another cover stylishly painted by Michael Komarck and designed with equal style by Justin Couch—but do look for it, OK?
 
When the average comic cost a quarter or even a buck, the adventurous reader might take a chance on the work of an unfamiliar creator. Today, for obvious budgetary reasons, that happens less and less, especially for talents toiling at Marvel, most of whose titles cost $3.99. This brings us to Iron Man 2.0 #1 and writer Nick Spencer. To buy, or not to buy: that is the question. To Marvel’s “outrageous fortune,” Spencer has been doing interesting things on The Infinite Vacation at Image and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents at archrival DC, which recently set its comics’ baseline price at $2.99. In that wise, vexatiously, Marvel is here enjoying a blip on a borrowed radar. Be that as it may, this premiere (with art from Barry Kitson, Kano, and Carmine Di Giandomenico) adroitly launches Jim “War Machine” Rhodes into an arc entitled “Palmer Addley Is Dead,” a technopolitical mystery so tightly constructed it feels hermetic. First impression? Spencer & Co. should establish this as a worthy companion to Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s Invincible Iron Man.
 
As previously burbled in this column, Dark Horse has seemingly dedicated itself to transmuting the present into a new golden age for fans of pulpster Robert E. Howard’s best-known protagonist. Two months ago, it debuted the noteworthy Conan: Road of Kings, scripted by Roy Thomas, the gent who brought Howard’s barbaric brawler to comics four decades past. This week, it reassembles the crack Conan the Cimmerian team—writer Timothy Truman and artists Tomás Giorello and José Villarrubia—on King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel #1. By just the third page, Giorello and Villarrubia are depicting the spectacle of an armored elephant, its tusks a-glisten with gore, and Truman continues to cement his reputation as the only comics scribe to rival Thomas at dramatizing Howard’s originals at length (as here, with a story published in the January 1933 Weird Tales). Darick Robertson (“with Dave Stewart”) contributes an absolutely mad cover, meanwhile, and as ever, Jim and Ruth Keegan provide a wonderful installment of “The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob,” their double-tiered comic strip glimpse into Howard’s life. Neat!
 
Wherever he may be savoring a slice of cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee these days, one can easily imagine David Lynch poring over Morning Glories #7 with pleasure. Without feeling at all derivative, that Image series—which chronicles the arrival of six adolescent prodigies from across North America at Morning Glory Academy, a prep school as psychotic as it is prestigious—approximates the quotidian depravity at which Lynch has always excelled. Blissfully dislocatory work, it comes from writer Nick Spencer (who apparently plans to conquer the world one comics series at a time) and artist Joe Eisma, with splendid, distinctive covers from Rodin Esquejo. This latest issue mainly focuses on Zoe, the razor-tongued material girl from California; with consummate skill, in fact, it deepens the mystery both of the ongoing narrative and of Zoe’s backstory, with more bona fide uncanniness than customarily graces any six comic books set at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Morning Glories, in short, ranks among the most aromatic new blooms in the medium. Highly recommended.
 
Shipping vicissitudes delayed by a week the scheduled delivery of writer/artist Jordan Crane’s Uptight #4. That delay largely lacks significance, however, because (a) so many months have passed since the prior issue appeared that one more week matters little and (b) Fantagraphics Books, Crane’s publisher, nowadays releases so few comic books qua comic books that any such release constitutes an event (no pun intended in the context of this column). That said, let us celebrate a title of subtle and peculiar power from a creator of signal grace and range. Uptight #4 continues Crane’s dual and quite distinct serials: the urban romance between Leo and Dee—which, despite its superficial placidity, includes in the present chapter two scenes of disquieting violence—and the far more whimsical (if decidedly Roald Dahlicious) misadventures of the waifs Simon and Rosalyn and Simon’s lariat-tailed cat, Jack. Even during an exceptionally sunny week for rude chapbooks, the sublimity of Crane’s Uptight makes one gloomily deplore that so many of the main indies appear to be abandoning comic books as such. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #5, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of King Conan: The Scarlet Citidel #1, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of Morning Glories #7, courtesy of PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Uptight #4, courtesy of Fantagraphics.

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