Adventure Time, American Flagg!, Armageddon 2419 A.D., BOOM!, Braden Lamb, Buck Rogers, Greg Rucka, Hermes Press, Howard Chaykin, Image, Jeff Lemire, Jeff Stokely, kaboom!, Lazarus, Matt Fraction, Michael Lark, Numbercruncher, Philip Francis Nowlan, Ryan North, Satellite Sam, Shelli Paroline, Simon Spurrier, Six-Gun Gorilla, Titan, Trillium, Vertigo
5. Adventure Time #19 (kaboom!): Ryan North puts aside the usual formal fireworks this month, instead a offering a complex mingling of alternate realities, terrible rap skills and honest-to-goodness heartbreak. Artists Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb keep track of all the goings-on with their usual aplomb. As is often the case with AT, the tone and pacing can turn on a dime: the initial silliness turns bittersweet when the usually villainous Ice King has his heart’s desire destroyed, almost cruelly, by the usually heroic Finn and Jake. Expectations already defied, North then gives the poor Ice King a small measure of redemption, allowing us a peak into his misunderstood, heroic heart. I tell you, if you’re able to get through this tale with completely dry eyes, your heart must be cold as ice. (DM)
4. Trillium #1 (DC/Vertigo): Jeff Lemire, who it seems hasn’t had an appropriate outlet for his true voice since the elegaic Sweet Tooth came to an end last year, returns to captivating form with the premiere issue of his latest series. And by “form” I mean “format”: he tells the stories of his two main characters separately at first by cleverly employing a flip-book configuration. Moreover, the page layout for both stories mirror each other precisely throughout until they finally meet in the middle; quite the disciplined feat (not to take away from this but, in an interesting coincidence, Andy Hirsch utilizes the same exact strategy for his back-up feature in the aforementioned issue of Adventure Time – another reason to pick it up!). This isn’t merely technical wizardry however; the format perfectly complements Lemire’s tale of two literally star-crossed lovers, separated by unimaginable distance and thousands of years. It was this type of artistic adventurousness that garnered Lemire his indy cred to begin with. Here’s hoping enough people buy this book that he can stop working on the likes of Green Arrow. (DM)
3. Satellite Sam #2 (Image): Here’s the truth: Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin certainly didn’t blow their collective wad with a well-received #1, which, somewhat surprisingly, was wildly entertaining for a book about a troubled television program back in the black and white days of the medium. The second installment brings much of the same to the page: Fraction’s showy dialogue is all business yet feels breezy and unbuttoned; and Chaykin delivers, yet again, earning exclamation points for nailing the period and for ostentatiously trading on subtlety as he slides from one panel to the next. Overall, this issue traipses along like a stylish transition; but, unlike Mike, who’s a little too handful of himself at the bathroom sink while focused on a lineup of father’s floozies, it delivers the goods–the very, very goods. (SC)
2. Six-Gun Gorilla #3 (BOOM!): Simon Spurrier and Jeff Stokely hit the mark again with the further adventures of Blue and his partner, the eponymous gun-toting primate. Spurrier, whose Numbercruncher (Titan) is by all accounts another engaging escape from reality gracing today’s increasingly crowded shelves, plays up the personal and cultural relevance of fiction, especially as he conjures Thurber’s Walter Mitty while crafting Blue into an increasingly compelling Christ figure–one persecuted from every angle imaginable: from the ridiculously voluminous General Vertid to the remotely sadistic Auchenbran. Without a doubt: three issues in, this creative team has proven it’s getting its inspiration from a higher power; that’s right, folks: this is the Newer Testament. Read. Rejoice. (SC)
1. Lazarus #3 (Image): Greg Rucka and Michael Lark are a perfect pair, like a flavor-forward cabernet sauvignon and a medium-rare porterhouse. Each is known for his firm grasp of reality and his uncanny ability to reflect it on the page. Together, they’ve brought an unbridled energy to the first three issues of this female-fronted fantasy: Rucka is a master storyteller, who is as good as it gets when it comes to delivering naturalistic dialogue; and Lark brings it all to life with a style that screams screen–small or big. This month’s offering sports an opening sequence that relies extensively on Eve’s intense eyes and ultimately focuses on her blade, which becomes a slicing symbol for her sexuality; see: even in this fabricated future, it’s clear: no means no. After some revelatory intercourse between the two Lazaruses–the Lazari?–another moment worth noting takes place poolside: Jonah and Johanna, status-driven siblings from the Carlyle family, plan a hit on their sister with the ease of planning a party; and, startlingly, just as easily, Johanna callously calls for Charles’s execution–because the simple servant may have “heard enough of [Jonah’s] tantrums to guess what’s going on.” That’s one cold broad! But this is hot stuff–thanks, in part, to the explosive cliffhanger–and is about as good as it gets. Forever and ever. Amen. (SC)
The Biggest Dis(apponitment): Buck Rogers #1 (Hermes Press)- A classic pulp hero re-imagined by a comics legend; this title had a lot to recommend it. Howard Chaykin after all revolutionized the design of comic books with such seminal works as American Flagg! and has done stellar work reviving bygone characters on titles like The Shadow and Blackhawk. This seemed then, a match made in heaven. Chaykin does takes Buck back to his origins, drawing much inspiration from his very first appearance in Armageddon 2419 A.D., a novella by Buck’s creator, Philip Francis Nowlan, (published in Amazing Stories in 1928). This is not the breezier futuristic adventure of the well-known, subsequent comic strip (the world’s first, and most influential, sci-fi comic) or the beloved low-budget Buster Crabbe film serial. This version is decidedly more political, detailing a violent guerrilla insurgency between surviving tribes of Americans against their overlords. For starters, here Buck is portrayed as a card-carrying communist firebrand, railing against the capitalist system. No, this is not your father’s Buck Rogers (though I suppose it may be your grandfather’s).
Now I readily admit, I’ve never read the Nowlan novel (I claim the dilettante’s credo, “I know of it”). Given the era, it’s entirely possible that it included communist concerns. In our own era of increasing economic disparity and global recession, perhaps this is Chaykin’s way of reintroducing such class-conscious ideas into the conversation. One might even commend him for doing so. But using your lead character (and a beloved icon, at that) as a mouthpiece to go on and on about the tyranny of the “plutocrats” is wearying, even dispiriting. Further, while decrying the evils of the capitalist war machine, it irritatingly ignores communism’s own history of atrocity.
Have your eyes glossed over yet? It gets worse. The threat that the future Americans are fighting? The Han (read Chinese). Again, this stays true to the original novella. But, so what? Whatever its merits, Armageddon 2419 A.D., reflects the paranoid racism of its time. Does Chaykin really want to revive the notion of the “Yellow Peril”? An example: at one point, Chaykin has an (admittedly unscrupulous) character, Black Barney, whom Buck begrudgingly admires, refer to the Han as “those cheap yellow bastards.” Now, the current, real-world China is an ascendant world power run by a government that is lousy with human rights abuses. Its increasing influence and deplorable treatment of its own people is a legitimate concern. But is this this really the lens through which we want to address such issues? By invoking a mindset that was abhorrent one-hundred years ago?
(An aside: isn’t it ironic that Comrade Buck is hellbent against China, of all things?)
Chaykin’s mastery of the medium is unassailable and ongoing. A large part of our enjoyment of Satellite Sam (see above) derives from his stunning period visuals. I eagerly anticipate his upcoming Century West from Image. But Buck Rogers is retro in the worst ways possible. (DM)
Scott & Derek