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Rude Chapbooks 02.21.11 | Somebody, Quick, Call Delilah!

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In a good week for bad, Mighty Samson #2 tops the bottom—it may prompt some readers to price depilatories just on general principles. Among four other titles reviewed, though, Superman/Batman #81 embraces a heritage worthy of being called…World’s Finest.

 

 

 

 
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #5 defines a paradox by concluding a Marvel miniseries whose existence, from its inception, bespoke ephemerality but whose execution seemingly took eons—a centenarian cribbed in the neonatal ICU. That it originated from writer Warren Ellis makes one’s head ache. In comics, Ellis has crafted such prodigies as Planetary and Transmetropolitan, and he’s also distinguished himself in nonfiction and in the novel. From start to finish, alas, Xenogenesis has betrayed his considerable talent by belying its own title. No strange birth, that is—just the same X-fetor from narrative diapers left unchanged, quite proudly, for decades. That fanboys continue to savor the stench—the “Scott scowling and making the tough call” scene, the “just because ninjas shouldn’t have all the faceless antagonistic fun” scenario, the “even though I’m dangling a yard of bowel, I’m still the best at what I do” Logan moment—merely hints why mainstream comics will cease to exist as such within the decade. Adding insult to injury here: artist Kaare Andrews’ wankish focus on Emma Frost’s bosom. Tiresome.
 
For longtime readers of writer Garth Ennis, Dynamite Entertainment’s Jennifer Blood #1 flirts with an intriguing, if not new, question: In a single title, can he strike a happy medium, tonally, between slapstick and grim grandeur? On its face, that question might seem nonsensical when applied to an oeuvre ranging from abject doltishness (Dicks) to almost transcendently brutal beauty (Punisher MAX). More often than not, though, Ennis has trucked in tonal failures ranging from sad silliness like Hitman to the far more sublime disappointment of Preacher. In that light, despite an opening phrasal confusion that no female diarist would ever make—a mani’s a mani, dude, and a pedi’s a pedi—Jennifer Blood shows promise as “Frank Castle light, reimagined as a suburban housewife.” It also prompts caution, if not outright dread, regarding the treatment of the title character’s husband. (“Mister Snuggly,” Mr. Ennis? No. Quite simply, no.) Adriano Batista visualizes everything here nicely enough, although, frankly, five terminal pages of character sketches and designs from him in black and white outshine the front matter.
 
In its revival of four Dell/Gold Key titles, Dark Horse is now publishing one genuinely enjoyable old-school exercise in superheroics (Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom), one quite lovely “lost world” adventure apparently plagued by scheduling tsuris (Turok, Son of Stone), and one mildly entertaining example of what usually passes for science fiction in comics (Magnus, Robot Fighter). As Mighty Samson #2 shows, though, the company has also revived a title almost imponderably awful. The new debut reprinted the old debut, the imbecility of whose Otto Binder script, from 1964, not even the art of a youthful Frank Thorne could redeem. This issue, from writers Jim Shooter and J.C. Vaughn and artist Patrick Olliffe, continues the cheesy adventures of the title barbaric Übermensch “500 years after the end of the world” in the ruin-strewn territories of—no, really—N’Yark and Jerz. Olliffe’s art, to be sure, exhibits small felicities, but it pales in comparison to Raymond Swanland’s stunning cover. The script, meanwhile, recalls nothing so much as the text of a coloring book. Avoid this.
 
Once upon a time, DC published something called World’s Finest Comics, and sometimes the series thrilled and sometimes it didn’t. The branding-crazy present, of course, would gainsay any title so naively specific (“world’s finest” according to which and whose dicta?) yet general (does this publication involve no trademarked, copyright, or otherwise licensable and nominal intellectual properties?). Such jaundiced reflections, perhaps perforce, color the arrival of Superman/Batman #81, the start of a four-issue arc, “Sorcerer Kings,” which feels at once deliciously atavistic and new millennial. Penciller Chriscross and inker Marc Deering provide the immensely enjoyable visuals, compositionally tight and superficially bright work deficient solely in the depiction of the Phantom Stranger’s chapeau. (What about the fedora makes it such a conundrum to younger mainstream artists?) The pitch-perfect script, notably, comes from Cullen Bunn—co-creator of The Sixth Gun, one of the best new series of the past year—and embroils the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight in a tale of occult peril and gleeful doppelgängers, as the arc’s title implies. World’s finest? You bet!
 
Perhaps tardily, the artwork of Daniel Acuña blipped the radar at RC HQ only last autumn, on an issue of Captain America. Still, those visuals made enough of an impression that when Marvel named Acuña as artist on Wolverine #6, that series instantly hit the pull-and-hold list, at least provisionally. (Why provisionally? Simple. Even from top talents, material starring the Canadian X-Man rarely exceeds mere mediocrity.) Here, the title of the tripartite arc tells the tale: “Wolverine Vs. the X-Men”—grim piffle from writer Jason Aaron. Unpromisingly, the issue sports a ridiculous cover from Jae Lee, who, as an artist, has developed only infinitesimally in two decades: Cyclops, Magneto, and the Sub-Mariner pout and peer down at the clawed Canuck like foodies readying to return some wanting foie gras to the kitchen. Within, though, Acuña rocks the house with visuals that blend the puissance of Jack Kirby and the sophistication of Alex Toth, as well as some masterful coloring/production work. Would someone please throw money at this man to craft comics worthy of his talent? | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Jennifer Blood #1, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.
Click here for a preview of Mighty Samson #2, courtesy of Dark Horse.

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