Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wednesday Is For Also-Ran Mavericks For All I Care #163

Gambit #1 (2012)
Happy! #1
Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 (2012)
The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1

Gambit #1 (Marvel , 2012, $2.99)
Uncanny X-Men was a long time favorite of my youth, but I lost interest in the book from around "Fall of the Mutants" until after all those Siege Perilous off-shoots. You could tell Chris Claremont felt the same, or else he wouldn't have done all of that silly shit toward the end of that period, like turning Storm into a little girl and wiping everyone's memory. Anyway, the last phase of Claremont's long tenure was reinvigorated by the creative input of Jim Lee, before he was pushed off a franchise he'd built and nurtured for nearly two decades. Anyway, the point of my bringing that up was that I started reading the book again a couple of months before Lee's arrival, because I was intrigued by the arrival of the new character Gambit.

Despite shitty, boring art by Mike Collins and a pervy fandango costume that recalled Prince circa Dirty Mind, Gambit was clearly kewl, a vanguard of the '90s from before that was considered unfortunate. A manipulative, cool and sexy thief with an untold past and questionable motives, Remy LeBeau brought an excitement and mystery the book definitely needed. I'd outgrown my interest in Wolverine by that point, and overtures were made toward an ascendant Remy in the face of a waning Logan. Unfortunately, Claremont's exit saw a slew of hacks and incompetents race to fill the void, and Remy became mired in Guild lore, inappropriate/bad art, and a popular but momentum killing relationship with Rogue. LeBeau went from being one of the most famous X-Men among the general public (thanks to the cartoon) to a has-been with countless underwhelming mini-series and a pair of failed ongoing attempts.

James Asmus and Clay Mann figure to run with a third series attempt. In the nuMarvel manner, the Gambit logo now looks like a font, in the instances where a costume is worn it is understated, and super-heroics are downplayed in favor of real world action comparable to a big budget TV series. Passing nods are made to X-Men continuity, but this book is about revisiting the o.g. Remy LeBeau's recidivism into rhymin' and stealin'. For the sake of the character, that's refreshing, but the actual book is purely a pauper's Bruckner life with art that is much too good for a Dynamite comic, though that's exactly what it recalls. Thoroughly unexceptional, I wish better fortunes on attempt quatre, mes amis.

Happy! #1 (Image, 2012, $2.99)
In spite of myself, I enjoyed this book. It's clearly Grant Morrison doing a Garth Ennis impersonation, including borrowing his The Boys collaborator Darick Robertson. It's kind of appropriate then that despite having a very distinctive pencil style, Robertson's ink technique is so indebted to George Pérez that you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a Sachs & Violens sequel. The hitman protagonist (see-- it's an Ennis book) is even named Nick Sax. "Nick?" Get it? Put simply, the story is "Léon meets Roger Rabbit," a premise which should be worth a reasonably priced trade collecting all four issues.

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 (Dynamite, 2012, $3.99)
When I was a wee lad, I bought a coverless copy of an issue of Thunderbolt (probably #58,) which introduced me to Peter Cannon, Sarge Steel (via a back-up,) and the Charlton Comics Group as a whole. If I recognized Captain Atom, Blue Beetle or Judomaster during Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was probably because of this one comic. I've always liked lesser lights, and while Cannon was probably too clean cut for my taste, I really liked the graceful line of artist P.A.M. and the Johnny Quest vibe of the title. When DC bought the Charlton Action Heroes, we got Watchmen, the surprisingly long-lived and exciting Captain Atom, the very best work of Denny O'Neil & Denys Cowan's careers on The Question, the fairly retarded Peacemaker and just about dick for Peter. See, "P.A.M." was in the unique position of retaining rights to Thunderbolt after the sale, and when DC did bother to do a new book, it was an obligatory attempt to retain their own rights before they permanently reverted back to creator Pete Morisi.

I've long hoped that the day would come when a quality publisher licensed the rights from Pete Morisi's estate to do a proper revival, hopefully with someone with retro cache like Steve Rude or Mike Allred. Instead, Dynamite Entertainment snatched up the rights, and if anyone today represents the bottom feeding, "keep the presses rolling" aesthetic of Charlton for most of its dreary existence, Nick Barrucci owns it. The revamp of the character is credited to Alex Ross, which like all Alex Ross writing projects (and Geoff Johns', for that matter,) should require an asterisk in the byline noting that the whole thing was a throwaway notion of Alan Moore's that was just a wink at a minor literary theft in the first place. If you were to combine Dynamite's debut issue of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt with the first edition of Len Wein & Jae Lee's Before Watchmen: Ozymandias, you'd have more or less the same comic. Like a 9/11 truther, Ross and the guy forced to actually work a keyboard, Steve Darnall, only researched the original comics to provide canonical fodder for analogues of Watchmen's analogues of Charlton's analogues of Marvel characters. Darnell even writes a text piece called "Pete's Dragon" lauding noted hack Pat Boyette's grievous misinterpretation of Thunderbolt's powers in a shoddy 1967 fill-in issue as divine inspiration for porting the space squid from DC. In the second issue, maybe he can applaud Avril Lavigne's magnum opus, "Girlfriend," or t.A.T.u.'s bold reworking of "How Soon Is Now?"

The leads story in Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 is plain fucking boring. I remember a review of Marcus McLaurin's Cage #1 where the lead character was drowning in a vat of chemicals on the splash page, but there were so many dense caption boxes surround the image that the critic noted it look like Luke was actually being swallowed up in gratuitous verbiage. Most of the panels here are at least 25% talky-talky-talky, but many are a 40/60 split, with word and text swapping places in the majority. Aside from three pages of action where Thunderbolt vogues like a Power Ranger in battle with the dragon, the entire book is about telling you how much this Peter Cannon is like Adrian Veidt, and how slyly analogues for the 100% DC owned Captain Atom, General Eiling, and even another run at Rip Jagger's young ward Tiger being an antagonistic martial arts Kid Miracleman. Since Ross surrounds himself with the sort of shrill liberals that make modern conservatism seem like a legitimate option, we also get cackling evil Military-Industrial Complex types and not-Veidt meets not-Scott Van Duzer. Alex Ross offers a bold new character design for Peter Cannon: Epic Fail and his cast-offs from Project: Superpowers, while the art is slightly above Dynamite standards, though still slightly below everyone else who publishes comics in North America.

All bitching aside, this debut issue was totally worth buying, especially at 41 story pages for $4. Mark Waid offers a text introduction to the "Thunderbolt Ashcan," a nineteen page original story he commissioned from Pete Morisi for DC's Secret Origins when he was editing the title in the late '80s. By that point, a revival for the character in the aborted Comics Cavalcade Weekly had long since been nixed, and Mike Collins' lifeless (yet still better than Dynamite's) attempt was a few years away. Aside from giving Cannon leggings that made him more closely resemble his primary influence, Lev Gleason's Daredevil, Morisi had a free hand to revisit Cannon's '60s origin however he liked. The result was a story more fun and fresh than anything in the front of the book, despite being obviously derivative of the '30s pulp heroes Dynamite also publishes, not to mention countless other blatant influences. Morisi was basically a George Tuska clone, but with a bit more of an Alex Toth delicacy, and considerably less command of anatomy and composition than either. Still, the joyous simplicity of the storytelling on display is a delight, and Morisi would have surely shown up whatever creative team his piece was conjoined with had it run as intended over two decades ago. Comics aren't high art on their best day, and it just goes to show that an unpretentious, largely unheralded craftsman like P.A.M. still had more innate talent for ripping yarns than most of the tedious twats warking in the industry today.

The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1 (IDW, 2012, $3.99)
Talking of Mark Waid, he does a decent job of capturing the spirit of Dave Stevens' writing on The Rocketeer. Remember how Disney tried to ride the coattails of Tim Burton's first Batman movie, and when Dickmania failed to catch on (as if Tracy,) they really bombed out when they chased that with The Rocketeer? Despite the strip be responsible for Bettie Page's modern day cult following, and Stevens' being a glorious artist who is much missed, who really gives a fuck about a period piece involving a pussy-whipped flyboy protagonist who looks like a hood ornament? The conceit of the series was to do a '40s Saturday afternoon serial with a script more akin to a pre-Hayes screwball comedy, allowing Stevens ample opportunity to draw saucy pin-ups and bitchin' cars/planes. That wasn't a particular strong formula when it was cooked up in 1982, and it's strictly your grandpa's stick nostalgia porn thirty years later. I like Chris Samnee's art as much as the next guy, but nobody wants to see him obscure areolas or reheat Hergé in a toaster oven. Give the guy something worth doing, because on a book as irrelevant as the Rocketeer, it's Dave Stevens or GTFO.

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