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Rude Chapbooks 01.31.11 | A Far From Fantastic Farce

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“Hey, Kids—Necro-Porn!” Wait—the placards atop those old wire spinner racks didn’t really sport that slogan, did they? Whatevs. This week’s column meditates on Fantastic Four #587, the “triple-bag special death issue,” in addition to four other comic books published in the past week—three of them wholeheartedly recommended (WTF?) by Professor Petulant.



Chaos War #5, the finale to that miniseries and Marvel’s latest “event,” prompts considerable sadness—not that it’s concluding, but that it’s concluding in such a fashion the writing partnership of Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente on Incredible Hercules. With various artists, the pair made the merry misadventures of everyone’s favorite Roman demigod and his B.F.F., boy genius Amadeus Cho, a jubilant old-school romp. Now, the average superhero will never pass for Captain Ahab or Huck Finn; most of the mainstream focuses not on well-rounded characters as such but on para-literary constructs. Still, Incredible Hercules always radiated bonhomie. Not so Chaos War #5, as well as its predecessors. With utilitarian visuals from penciller Khoi Pham and inkers Thomas Palmer and Bob McLeod, it ends an exercise in tedium that’s sprawled across four months and 19 bloody yet bloodless comics. Utterly forgettable. Concurrent with its release, Marvel announced the April debut of Herc, wherein Pak and Van Lente will chronicle Hercules’ “de-powered” exploits. A pity they preceded that launch with a soporific exploration of non-incredibility.
In an era and an industry wherein an incarnation of Superboy literally disarms opponents, to characterize any current mainstream comic book as charming, delightful, and purposely funny likely risks dooming it. With apologies, then, to writer Bill Willingham, penciller Eric Shanower, and inkers Richard Friend and Andrew Pepoy, Fables #101 warrants all three adjectives. Following the Vertigo title’s oversize centennial, which this column celebrated, this issue opens in the dimensionally dislocated Business Office with a hilarious conversation among the winged monkey Bufkin, Mirror (of “Mirror, mirror, on the wall—” fame), and the disembodied head of the Frankenstein monster, stacked atop six tomes in a toy wagon. From there, it only improves, almost inconceivably. Along the way, “The Ascent” includes a chromatic lagniappe and certain guests that should spark applause from fans of Shanower, the über-talented savant behind Age of Bronze and…let’s just say other comics work of considerable note. Although it involves no talking and troublemaking tots, in fact, this stand-alone issue recalls, in its unbridled joyfulness, Sheldon Mayer’s classic Sugar and Spike. Glorious!
When did the comics mainstream so invest itself in purveying snuff films with staples? That rhetorical question, of course, derives from Fantastic Four #587, wherein one member of Marvel’s flagship title putatively dies. Typically, the company “teased” the event in advance. Just as typically, (a) the comics press parroted the tease; (b) the Associated Press “spoiled” the death, bacteriology be damned; (c) the comics press castigated the AP; (d) Marvel itself “re-spoiled” the death with a news release; and (e) the comics press related that. It prompts despair not so much that the industry has danced this dance before, but that the industry has hoofed it so often and so well (in an unwell way) that “civilians” likely expect any mention of comics to involve a disco dirge. The baseline shame here? To a reader unfamiliar with this run, Fantastic Four #587 (written by Jonathan Hickman and pencilled by Steve Epting) reads quite intriguingly; it hinges on a “Thermopylae moment” that leaves one member of the FF in tears—likely along with some longtime fans.
Beautiful lunacy. Arguably no other phrase will suffice to describe Aardvark-Vanaheim’s Glamourpuss #17. Even by the surreal standards of writer/artist Dave Sim’s après-earth pig endeavor—previously praised here—this issue boggles the mind, while functioning as a subtle reminder that the term glamour has at least one meaning that long predates haute couture. More specifically, after a bit of frivolity involving the title character’s “eldest time-share daughter,” Sim devotes eight pages to “The Wit and Wisdom of JFK”—select quotations from our nation’s 35th president, accompanied by blissful pen-and-brush profiles of this past century’s American Arthur. One can only surmise his reason for doing so—perhaps to commemorate the semicentennial of Kennedy’s inauguration. In any event, Sim follows that almost touching curiosity with another 11 pages of…what shall we call this sui generis nonfiction serial? “Dave Sim’s Secret History of Adventure Comic Strips,” perhaps? Whatever. This latest installment furthers his valedictory, at once warm and cool, to Alex Raymond. An inestimable contribution to comics literature, to use a phrase that Sim himself would probably deplore.
In today’s mainstream, no writer has cultivated as varied a workload as Brian Wood, who’s largely avoided standard superheroics in favor of prodigies like DMZ and Northlanders. Now, with artist Ryan Kelly, he extends his rep for eclecticism with The New York Five #1, the debut of a quadripartite Vertigo miniseries focused (mostly) on a quartet of female NYU students. The miniseries itself constitutes an extension of The New York Four, Wood and Kelly’s 2008 short stand-alone graphic novel for DC’s laudable but largely stillborn Minx imprint. As a result, prior to publication, it occasioned fretfulness among the comics press, with its bagged-and-boarded aesthetic: “B-b-but does this really belong at Vertigo?” Oh, grow the hell up, will ya, fanboy? The New York Five fits perfectly at Vertigo, inasmuch as it showcases a customarily pitch-perfect script from Wood and drop-dead-gorgeous art from Kelly; based on this premiere, it should rank among the top offerings of 2011. For that anal-obsessive John Constantine cameo, Vertigo “strict constructionists” will simply have to await the sequel, The New York Six-Six-Six. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here for a preview of Chaos War #5, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.


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