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Rude Chapbooks 03.07.11 | M-m-m-mad Science!

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Dr. Doom should watch his ass, ’cause a new fantastic foursome is now gleefully gunning for technovillainous types like him—as chronicled in The Intrepids #1. Also recommended without reservation from this week’s five floppies: the latest Avengers Academy and Uncle Scrooge.
 
 
 
Once upon a time, from wire spinner racks at a neighborhood grocery or pharmacy, a fan might pluck an unfamiliar comic; might buy it on a whim; might find that whim blossom into a “Whoa!”; might revisit that particular rack seeking back issues; might visit every other spinner rack in every other grocery and pharmacy in that municipality in that search; and might then extend the search to neighboring municipalities. Once upon a time, yes, comics could exert a mighty influence. And y’know what? Done right, they still can—as Marvel’s Avengers Academy #10 serves as a delightful reminder. In just its first year, writer Christos Gage (here partnered with penciller Sean Chen and inker Scott Hanna) has made this one of the most addictive Avengers-related series ever. This issue subtly addresses the wages of responsibility, and Gage, as ever, handles with equal facility both students like Veil and “staff” like Speedball. A silent panel wherein Hazmat hugs Giant-Man, in fact, almost justifies the price of this latest issue by itself. Superheroics at their pinnacle.
 
First Wave #6… God—where to begin? Months ago, when a preview of Rags Morales’ art to this Brian Azzarello–scripted DC miniseries appeared, it held promise; those pages even suggested an hommage to the opening to The Green Death, the cover feature of the November 1938 Doc Savage pulp. Directly, though, the miniseries turned into one of the stupidest stews ever to lap the ladle in the mainstream comics cafeteria. By the third issue, Morales had surrendered the inking duties, and Azzarello was cementing his inability to make the narrative cohere. One can scarcely imagine this disaster accomplishing anything but sparking a textbook WTF from devotees of any of the heroes involved: the Man of Bronze, the Batman, the Spirit, the Blackhawks, the Avenger, and even Rima the Jungle Girl. From start to finish, First Wave #6 (as well as the miniseries as a whole) reads like an exercise in “action figures theater” staged by an eight-year-old—albeit, given all of its psychobabbly interior monologues, an eight-year-old fonder of Dr. Freud than Dr. Seuss.
 
At some point, more’s the pity, Rat Bastards joined Trimalchio in West Egg among the lists of abandoned titles. C’est la vie. Under its new “cooler heads prevailing” name, happily enough, The Intrepids #1 still gloriously rewards attention. Writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artist Scott Kowalchuk’s Image series introduces a quartet of “augmented” noncostumed adventurers—tiny tech titan Chester, sharpshooter/strategist Crystal, bookish-looking powerhouse Doyle, and jetpack commando Rose—mentored by aging cybernetic mastermind Dante. Their opponents? Well, on the outside chance that the purple cyborg grizzly on the cover remains insufficiently indicative for slow readers, the first arc’s title should prove useful: “Mad Scientists Are a Girl’s Worst Enemy!” For someone whose moniker rings no bells whatsoever, Wiebe exhibits magisterial skill at comics scriptwriting; unlike any number of mainstream writers with credits from TV schlock like (say) CSI: Miami, he obviously knows the form. Kowalchuk, meanwhile, inspires nothing shy of delight with his mildly cartoonish visuals. If only mainstream comics offered more series even half as much fun as The Intrepids! An utterly delicious debut.
 
Serials demand seriality. During the past decade, maddeningly, the comics mainstream—whose continuing existence hinges to a ridiculously Pavlovian degree on Wednesday shipments from Diamond—has more and more flouted that “it ain’t rocket science” dictum, and inasmuch as no one in the industry even vaguely resembles Wernher von Braun, one can’t help extrapolating disaster. In the noncomics (if not noncomic) world, had good old Boz taken a leisurely sabbatical during the serialization of things Pickwickian, brutal market forces in the form of a mayfly popular attention span might have aborted subsequent literary trifles like David Copperfield and sent that slacker Dickens shuffling back to the poorhouse woe of his boyhood. All of the preceding leads to Joe the Barbarian #8, the finale of a Vertigo miniseries whose predecessor appeared midway through September last. A kaleidoscopic fantasy founded on hypoglycemic hallucinations, it ranks among writer Grant Morrison’s warmest and most satisfying works and boasts bravura artwork from Sean Murphy. As a serial, though, Joe the Barbarian incontrovertibly fails because of those five months. A shame.
 
As noted in January, “Rude Chapbooks,” in general, disregards reprints for one reason or another—but baby, this column will always brake for writer/artist Don Rosa. Rosa ranks among the medium’s true mad geniuses, yet enjoys an industry profile disgracefully lower than creators far less talented than he. BOOM! Studios’ Uncle Scrooge #401, in that regard, qualifies as a must-buy by devoting its entirety to “The Universal Solvent,” a lunatic Jules Vernean romp from him that apparently dates from 1995. Into this tale’s 24 pages, characteristically, Rosa packs more thoughtful adventure than graces the average multipart contemporary mainstream “event” and makes European Disney artists look like utter milquetoasts, all in his usual delirious blend of Carl Barks and Will Elder. Hilarious doesn’t even begin to describe it. (On the first page alone, the title substance effortlessly GLORP!s its way through eight slabs of “the hardest, toughest, most impervious substances known to mankind,” all helpfully labeled, ranging from lead through six other slabs to…“Disney contract.”) Honestly, someone should hurl money at Rosa to create new comics. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Avengers Academy #10, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
Click here for a preview of The Intrepids #1, right here at PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Joe the Barbarian #8, courtesy of DC/Vertigo.

 

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