Rude Chapbooks 04.23.12 | Well Worth the (Tandem) Wait

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This week, after a seemingly endless interregnum, Castle Waiting Vol. II #16 occasions joy unalloyed, as does the return to comics of perhaps the preeminent paladin of the pulps with The Shadow #1. Also lauded: Batman Beyond Unlimited #3, Reset #1, and Wonder Woman #8.

 
With Batman Beyond Unlimited #3, DC’s outsize futuristic superhero saga (a review of whose debut appears here) grows from two serials to three. More specifically, in a 20-page lead story, tomorrow’s Man of Steel joins the prospective Dark Knight and the forthcoming roster of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. Moreover, happily, writer J.T. Krul, penciller Howard Porter, and inker John Livesay open the adventures of the “Beyond” Superman with few faults. Early in the tale, to be sure, Krul makes comics’ hero among heroes sound like an astronomical naïf by describing the distance between Krypton and Earth in “millions of miles” instead of light-years, and in places in Porter’s rendering, Superman looks positively prognathous. All things considered, though, this constitutes a solid debut, which closes with the return of an old nemesis in a new form. Furthermore, it complements a Batman 10-pager from writer Adam Beechen and artist Norm Breyfogle and a second such 10-pager starring the JLA from writer/artists Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen, in what’s fast become one of the company’s most enjoyable titles.
 
Since its 1996 Olio Press inception with The Curse of Brambly Hedge, writer/artist Linda Medley’s sweetly Grimm magnum opus has sometimes appeared fitfully, and this week, Castle Waiting Vol. II #16 continues that trend. More specifically, as her publishers note in a one-page introduction, three years have passed since last the black-and-white Fantagraphics Books neofable graced comics shops. Still, those same publishers—Gary Groth and Kim Thompson, not exactly gentlemen known for lavishing praise profligately—also characterize the series as “one of the greatest and most beautifully drawn fantasy comic books of all time,” and the verity of that characterization, even after so long a hiatus, earns Castle Waiting this column’s most heartfelt recommendation, as does the series’ gentle humor. Regarding its visuals, by way of example, a two-page view of Jain’s new quarters sparks astonishment for the impeccability of its draftsmanship; regarding its wit, meanwhile, a gentle chuckle should greet Rackham’s comment about the castle’s three handmaidens: “They’ve been old biddies for so long, it’s hard to imagine that they were once young biddies…”
 
In general, one would hesitate at pairing science fictional trappings and writer/artist Peter Bagge; among contemporary comics creators, after all, his work scarcely approximates that of (say) Wallace Wood or some other master of visual SF. In that respect, Reset #1, at a glance, prompts trepidation, inasmuch as it appropriates the premise of Roger Zelazny’s “He Who Shapes” (the award-winning 1965 novella subsequently expanded into The Dream Master). In the quadripartite Dark Horse miniseries, fortunately, Bagge treats the tech—in effect, virtual reality employed for psychotherapeutic purposes—as a MacGuffin, to borrow a term from Alfred Hitchcock, to explore the character of his protagonist, down-and-out comedian Guy Krause. That said, it works quite well (although, in all likelihood, longtime Bagge fans will still sigh wistfully at his pursuit of any project not starring Hate’s Buddy Bradley). Misanthropic and embittered, Guy here keeps revisiting a single incident of signal insignificance from his high school graduation, and Bagge’s oddly empathetic presentation of his protagonist’s foibles couples with his customarily rubbery visuals to make this a snarky treat.
 
Last year, a well-placed confidential source informed your ’umble calumniast that a long-running legal wrangle over rights was stalling new comics adventures of arguably the most successful pulp hero ever. That wrangle self-evidently ends this week with the gun smoke–clouded debut of The Shadow #1, a Dynamite Entertainment ongoing boasting top talent: writer Garth Ennis and artist Aaron Campbell. Given the atrocities lately perpetrated on another Street & Smith champion by a different publisher, it comes as a distinct pleasure to praise this premiere. Campbell, who previously acquitted himself quite well on a similar hero on Green Hornet: Year One, depicts the title character here with consummate skill, and Ennis appears to have a solid conception of that character, although, inevitably, some readers may balk at having the Shadow assigned limited precognitive abilities; then again, even the late, great Walter B. Gibson (“Maxwell Grant,” by and large) regularly altered details about the icon over time from the 1931 publication of The Living Shadow, which, incidentally, San Antonio’s Sanctum Books reprinted in 2011 in facsimile.
 
For its gonzo verve, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang’s reinterpretation of DC’s Amazon ideal ranks as the most intriguing title among the “New 52.” (Not a difficult feat given the field, but still.) Consider, if you will, Wonder Woman #8, wherein, as the cover shows, Diana unlimbers…the pistols of Eros. Yes, the pistols of Eros—shades of KISS’s “Love Gun”! Less jocularly, by recasting virtually everything about the character, including her origin and the Greek deities almost inevitably populating the series, Azzarello has transformed Wonder Woman into a bona fide wonder, a freakishly readable romp featuring surprises on every page, even for someone who’s been perusing the title for decades and decades. Helpfully, the artwork from Chiang (periodically seconded by the equally sterling Tony Akins) blazes like a blast furnace. In this issue, on a rescue mission, Diana and Hermes invade the Greek underworld, and not only does that milieu resemble nothing formerly seen as such herein, but also something previously unthinkable happens, leading to the latest in a sequence of delicious cliffhangers. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
 
Click here for a preview of Reset #1, courtesy of Dark Horse.
Click here for a preview of The Shadow #1, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.
Click here for a preview of Wonder Woman #8, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.
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