Rude Chapbooks 05.02.11 | I ♥ Hate!

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From among this week’s five floppies under review, our columnist muses, sotto voce, why anyone would waste time playing the mainstream’s tired numbers racket with Action Comics #900 or The Mighty Thor #1, when he or she could savor the sweet depravity of Hate Annual #9.

 

Nine hundred. It boggles the mind to mull how many pages and issues, how many months and years and decades, have passed since a primary-colored paladin effectively launched today’s mainstream comics. From a vantage both historical and historic, then, it borders on heartbreaking to dismiss Action Comics #900 (trumpets its cover, “A 96-Page Spectacular!”) as a crashing bore. The lead tale alone—scripted by Paul Cornell and visualized by an incredible nine artists—runs 51 pages and involves both “Luthor gone Eternity” and the ever-soporific Doomsday. Other narratives and para-narratives follow—no pinup padding here. Yet only “Friday Night in the 21st Century,” a four-page vignette from writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank, exhibits genuine vivacity; a wee island of wit and character in a sea of tedium, it suggests how egregiously DC has allowed the Man of Steel’s adventures to succumb to rust. Beyond that vignette, reading this anniversary celebration of Superman’s debut feels like slogging through homework for a “required” course incidental not only to one’s major, but also to one’s life.
 
Because of the nostalgia it prompts, Hate Annual #9 from writer/artist Peter Bagge may well make painful reading for comics fans of a certain age; it almost perforce recalls the glory days of Fantagraphics Books as a publisher of these rude chapbooks of ours, when Bagge’s Hate and Daniel Clowes’ Eightball and Los Bros. Hernandez’s Love & Rockets were redefining the form seemingly from month to month. Now, as “Rude Chapbooks” ruefully observed in February, Bagge’s publisher and many of the other main indies are apparently abandoning the comic book as such. All the more reason, then, to hail this full-color 28-pager, wherein Buddy and Lisa Bradley, with son Harold, jet to Seattle to visit Lisa’s parents, as well as her cousin Leroy and foster brother Billie. Needless to say, unsettling complications and revelations ensue, all presented in Bagge’s rubbery style. Perhaps the strangest revelation? In their own depraved way, the Bradleys have transformed into adults, with the interplay between Buddy and Harold especially heartwarming. Hate Annual #9, in fine, earns this column’s highest recommendation.
 
For a comic book self-evidently designed to capitalize on this Friday’s cinematic adaptation of the title character’s saga, The Mighty Thor #1, from Marvel, scarcely exerts itself to seduce potential new readers. One could imagine a debut that feels no more sterile, in fact—as if the thing had been conceived and birthed in an autoclave. Technically, to be sure, it flaunts no flaws, with a script from Matt Fraction, pencils from Olivier Coipel, and inks from Mark Morales. Fraction, of course, had been doing noteworthy work on Thor, lately re-renamed Journey Into Mystery to showcase the misadventures of (believe it or not) Loki under writer Kieron Gillen; alas, this debut evidences none of the joie de vivre of Gillen’s on JIM two weeks past, perhaps because the town of Broxton, Oklahoma, has overstayed its welcome herein; with Galactus and the Silver Surfer headed hither, the three pages of this issue devoted to Broxton parishioners’ natterings about gods and God, indeed, waver between transparency and transcendency—albeit not, in either case, in a praiseworthy way.
 
So close. The New York Five #4, which concludes the Vertigo miniseries from writer Brian Wood and artist Ryan Kelly previously lauded in this column, suffers from two shortcomings, one of them artistic, the other narrative. Regarding this conclusion’s artistic shortcoming, “circumstances beyond the control” apparently compelled Jim Rugg to ink nine pages midway through the issue, and perhaps predictably, his line lacks the astonishing lushness and surety of Kelly’s. The narrative shortcoming involves the death of Olive, the homeless young woman earlier ensconced on the exterior stairway to the title characters’ East Village boardinghouse; having served her choral or oracular function, the character obligingly exits stage left, thereby providing climactic “lessons learned” for the title’s protagonists—a turn of events too obvious and St. Elmo’s Fire–like for a dramaturge of Wood’s nuance. Otherwise, though, The New York Five #4 caps a lovely, wistful, and impressionistic reflection on the life of college freshmen, and one can only hope that somehow or other, Wood and Kelly again revisit Lona, Merissa, Ren, and Riley, with Angie.
 
Maddening. “NEXT ISSUE: ARROWS AGAINST RAPTORS! ON SALE NOVEMBER 24!” promised a text box in the debut of Turok, Son of Stone, the Dark Horse revival of that Dell title. Then Thanksgiving came and went. So, too, did Christmas, as well as January, February, March, and April 24. Last Wednesday at last witnessed the release of Turok, Son of Stone #2 from writer Jim Shooter and artist Eduardo Francisco (with a stunning cover from Raymond Swanland), and the five-month interregnum, sad to say, militates against a full appreciation of that release; as “Rude Chapbooks” has repeatedly emphasized, serials, for much of their allure, demand seriality, and a nonchalant disregard for that dictum numbers among the mainstream’s manifold failings at the moment. So even though Francisco delivers art generally as taut as the title character’s bowstring and even though Shooter delivers a script brimming with old-school funnybook delights—ravenous dinosaurs, bloodthirsty Aztecs, a blonde “goddess” displaced in time and space—none of those felicities will matter one whit if this title remains a biannual. A pity. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Action Comics #900, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of Hate Annual #9, courtesy of Fantagraphics.
Click here for a preview of The Mighty Thor #1, right here at PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Turok, Son of Stone #2, courtesy of Dark Horse.
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