Monday, April 7, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #45

Today's post is going to be a challenge.  A couple of weeks ago, I saw the new Muppets movie, Muppets Most Wanted, which is awesome.  One of its best elements is the songs by Brett McKenzie; I got the soundtrack a few days ago and have been listening to it ever since.  Hence, I've got about six songs vying for attention in that place where things get stuck in your brain.  So if I start typing out lyrics and don't notice that I've done it, don't be too surprised.  I'll fight it, but I've only got so much fight in me.

We begin with some Joe Hill:




Gotta love that cover.

The rest of the issue ain't so bad, either.  If you saw or heard any interviews with Joe Hill around the time of NOS4A2's release, then odds are good that you heard him talk about what fun it is at Christmasland, where the kids get to do charming things like play a game of Scissors For The Drifter.

Well, in Wraith #5, you'll finally get your chance to see what a game of Scissors For The Drifter consists of.  Turns out, it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect.  


Elsewhere:

  • "But you'd know more about that than I would, Mr. Hansom!"
  • Llewelyn reveals what a simp-hoister is, and why he knows it
  • there is some correctional-officer/inmate bonding
  • some panels so bloodsoaked that I swear I smelled copper for a second there
  • a cameo appearance by the man in the moon
  • "I guess you'll just have to shoot me."

The final page is a splash page, and it lives up to the name.

Joe Hill's Locke & Key reached its end a few months ago, and that's cause to be bummed out a bit.  Luckily, Wraith swooped in more or less right after Locke & Key ended, which has taken a bit of the edge off.  Bryant Has Issues votes "no" to there being a time without Joe Hill comics coming out at least every couple of months.  He's just too good for the vote to go any other way.

Let's now turn our attention to the first part of a Scott Snyder triple-feature:


Somehow -- possibly because I am an inattentive moron -- I failed to notice the peace symbol on Pearl's shirt the first few times I looked at this cover.


Next up, we -- at long last -- have the return of Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque's American Vampire.  For some reason, instead of simply numbering this #34 (or, arguably, #36), they have decided to start over at #1 under a new title.  Whatever, dudes.  For all I care you can title it Leprechaun John and the Tennessee Christmas #1; just keep 'em coming.

Let's have us a look-see at the first few pages.  Vertigo has been running them as a preview section in other comics, so I don't think they'll mind much:



Boy . . . between this and Batman #16, it feels like Scott Snyder really has something against horses.

(This page, and the next, have been omitted from those previously-mentioned previews Vertigo has been running, but I like you, so I'm including them here, hopefully not in a manner that would agitate Vertigo.)

No idea what's going on in this scene, but it's niftily horrible.





That's Pearl Jones, of course, and if you don't know who she is, then odds are that you haven't been reading American Vampire.  Which is fine!  Vertigo and Scott Snyder have taken your lack of previous attention into consideration; Second Cycle #1 reads a lot like everyone involved intended to pitch it at people who had not read the series previously.  Hence the renumbering, presumably.

I'm okay with them pitching the series at new readers.  It gives this particular issue a "Previously on American Vampire..." vibe in certain places, but that didn't bother me; it confused me briefly (why is Scott Snyder pretending I don't know who Skinner Sweet is?!? . . . ohhhhhh, okay, I get it...), but it didn't bother me.  You've gotta try to bring new sheep into the flock once in a while, I guess.

Anyways, this is a very solid issue, and after that Pearl Jones splash page, you will also get: brisket discussion; grenades; "...let's meet your new roomies"; a tooth showcase; and what appears to be an ambush.

Despite the evident wishes of Scott Snyder and Vertigo, I can't in good conscience recommend you jump on board here; the first thirty-ish issues are easy to find (and are collected in six graphic novels), so if you're interested, I'd say go back and start at the beginning.

But if you feel like you just have to begin here, it seems doable.




I'm not terribly fond of that cover.  Conceptually, it's great: Leeward and her pet dolphin mad on the run escaping from sea monsters.  But there's something about Leeward's arm -- specifically, her right arm and its fingers (and maybe the one closed eye) -- that Andrew Robinson has not captured quite to my satisfaction.

Good thing the interior art by Sean Murphy is perhaps the best art he's done for the series so far.  It's epic, it's badass, and it's got occasional moments in which Leeward's face seems to not quite look like Leeward.  But let's ignore that last part; it's eminently ignorable within an issue that contains stuff like the action scenes this issue contains.

None of which are things I'm willing to show you.

Sorry 'bout that.  Maybe we'll have better luck in the final part of our Scott Snyder triple-feature:


That's a pretty great cover.


It's not evident from that image, but this is another of DC's $4.99 specials.  Is it longer than usual?  Yeah, it is.  So I guess I shouldn't complain.

Especially given how good these opening pages are:


This is, hands down, my favorite page of Snyder's Batman run to date.  Will it stay that way throughout the entirety of Batman #29?  Eh . . . if so, it's only by a hair.





You'd think there'd be no gold left to mine from the hills that are Bruce Wayne's Batman origin story, but that first page proves that the veins run rich and deep yet.

Elsewhere in this issue . . . boy, lemme tell ya: Batman does some Batman-ass shit in this issue.  I mean, seriously, if you are into Batman at all, and enjoy seeing Batman do Batman-ass shit, then you will definitely get to scratch that particular itch.  I'd love to show you what I'm talking about, but I'm not going to.  I'm a tease like that, I guess.  All I'll say is that it's a splash page that is heavily reminiscent of The Dark Knight Returns.  A blimp might or might not be involved; you'll just have to find out for yourself.

Overall, it's a pretty solid issue.  Like The Wake, it's got some real scope to it, and there is some impressive action art (this time by Grego Capullo instead of Sean Murphy).  There is also maybe a wee bit too much monologue from certain villains.

And, oddly, no; I'm not talking about The Riddler.  Which brings me to one of my complaints: for an issue -- and indeed, a story arc -- that is ostensibly focused on The Riddler, The Riddler doesn't actually get that much play here.  We spend much more time with Helfern, the mutated scientist who looks like he would have appeared much more at home in Snyder's Swamp Thing run.  It kind of doesn't work for me, and it weighs the issue -- and (again) the current arc -- down for me.

Still, there is some good stuff here.




That's a Francesco Francavilla cover, and it's pretty sweet. 

Note that the cover bills a "menton3."  This, evidently, is the nom de plume of Menton J. Matthews III, whom Wikipedia indicates is both an artist and a musician.

Can I be honest?  I sort of tolerate the idea of people using a nickname instead of a "real" name when it comes to, for example, deejays and hip-hop stars, and the occasional singer.  Somebody like Lady Gaga can call herself "Lady Gaga," and it's fine by me.  Pro wrestlers similarly get a pass from me in this regard.  However, when it comes to writers, comics-book artists, and directors, I immediately lose interest when you adopt some sort of moniker in the place of a name.  (Incidentally, it is not lost on me that some of you might, theoretically, remember when this blog was at a different location, and I used the nickname "Honk Mahfah" as its author.  So, yes; I get that there is an element of hypocrisy at play in what I'm ranting about.  However, I dropped that and started using my real name, so at least I wised up.) 
  
My rationale for this is a little fuzzy even to me, but I think it comes down to this: if a person is going to have a stage name, then I sort of expect there to be an actual stage involved in their work.  An artist -- or a writer, or even a director -- mostly does his or her work out of view of the public eye; they (we) see the results moreso than the process.  An artist is not, generally speaking, a performer, and I think of stage names as a perk reserved for performers, and for performers alone.

Would I watch a wrestling match starring somebody named The Iron Sheik?  I sure would.  I would not buy a novel by somebody named The Iron Sheik.  (I'd by a novel by the The Iron Sheik, but in this hypothetical scenario, we are pretending there never was any such nickname until it appeared on the cover of a novel.)

Similarly, I have a problem with the film director McG.  His movies aren't particularly good, but even if they were, I'd be grumpy about liking them.  Because of that "name."

So when I see that this X-Files comic has art by someone calling themselves menton3, it just annoys me.  This is, arguably, a problem I have within myself, and not an actual problem otherwise.  You can be the judge on that score.  Alls I'm sayin' is, using a name like that as a comic-book artist is not something I personally would do, and it aggravates me as a reader.  If that makes me a judgmental prick, so be it; I am merely presenting the facts as I see them.

None of which answers the question of whether the art is any good.

I don't know how to answer that, actually.  It's occasionally very striking; it's just as occasionally difficult to look at.  It's got impact to it; I can't honestly say that the art had no effect on me, because that would be a lie, and I don't think I can say it had a negative impact, because its disjointed and bizarre nature seems appropriate, given that the issue is a sort of Cigarette Smoking Man backstory.  In that sense, I think I think it works.

But did I like it?


I certainly didn't like this page, I can tell you that for a certainty.

This one, I like more; but I'm still a bit iffy on it.

I like this one pretty well; and I like the entire sequence of which it is a part (one panel excluded, but no need to dwell on that, especially since I'm not showing it to you).

This, however, I find to be literally difficult to look at for long.  A three-page sequence is done in that style, and I thought seriously about just not reading those pages.


So, no.  Not particularly.

The script by series writer Joe Harris is okay.  He does a good job handling the CSM in all of his incarnations, past and present.  But the issue has no real structure, no consistent point of view.  I don't really know what I'm supposed to be getting out of it, except from the final scene; and as far as I can tell, everything that comes before it is more or less irrelevant to that scene.  So why spend that time?

It's possible that subsequent issues will illuminate matters for me, but for now, let's call issue #10 a moderately interesting failure.




We move now to the sixth issue of Brian K. Vaughan's The Private Eye, which, as always, remains available online and only online.  Download it on a pay-as-you-will basis here.

And if you don't, then trust me: it's your loss.

In this issue:

  • Mel's fate is revealed
  • P.I. and Raveena question somebody
  • "I thought violence was supposed to be a last resort!"; "It is . . . but that doesn't mean the resort is closed for business."
  • a visit to a Wonderwall
  • journalists versus Frenchmen
  • "Juice, please..."
  • surprise Real Doll; 
  • and an appeal for a whistleblower to come forward.

Between this and Saga, Brian K. Vaughan is surely one of the most important science fiction writers currently working.  Which is not to say that I'm an expert in the current field of literary sci-fi; I'm not even a knowledgeable amateur, much less an expert.  But if there are more than a handful of people doing better sci-fi than Vaughan is doing these days, I'd love to know about 'em.

As always, the art by Marcos Martin and colors by Muntsa Vicente is terrific.  I know everyone involved with this keeps saying there isn't going to be a print edition, but that continues to be a shame if it continues to be true.  As beautiful as this book is, it deserves to exist somewhere in the world as ink and paper, and not just ones and zeroes.  I'm sure sure exclusivity is really in the spirit of the series, either.  Then again, what do I know?




Speaking of great sci-fi, here's the penultimate issue of Jeff Lemire's Trillium.  It's fantastic, and includes sci-fi vistas that would make Ridley Scott proud.  (That's Ridley Scott the visual designer, by the way, not Ridley Scott the storyteller; this would make Ridley Scott the storyteller outright envious, I suspect.  Or, given that that Ridley Scott might not know a good story if it sucked his dick, maybe not.)

I can't say much about this issue other than simply giving it a blanket recommendation.  If the final issue isn't a disappointment, then Trillium is arguably going to become essential reading for fans of sci-fi comics.

This issue, by the way, features an instance of the rarely-deployed sideways-double-splash-page, which always delights me.


Spacewalking without a suit seems like a terrible idea, even for a Jedi.


I certainly wouldn't make a claim for The Star Wars as great sci-fi, but it continues to be a fun sort of parallel-universe version of the movie we all know and love.  (If you don't love the original Star Wars, you need not tell me about it in the comments.  I'd probably just delete them.)  Example:





Shortly after this, our gang has a run-in with an asteroid field, too, and not long after that, a heavily-forested world heavily reminiscent of Endor shows up; elements from this early draft were clearly still popping up in the filmed versions of George Lucas's tale years later.  Nifty!

We are getting ready to enter the Alan Moore portion of our program, which will carry us through to the end.  But first, a detour of sorts.




When I was . . . oh, I dunno, eight, let's say, or maybe nine . . . my Aunt Margaret gave me some comic books for Christmas one year.  Specifically, what she gave me was a handful of treasury-edition-size comics.  She'd found them at a thrift store and thought I'd like them.

She was right.

I'd read plenty of comics, of course, but I'd never seen any that were as big as these.  For those of you who are uninitiated into the pleasures of treasury-size comics, they are roughly twice the size of regular issues: lay two regular comics side by side, with the spines facing up, and you will have the idea.  These days, most comics fans would probably think of these dimensions as being equivalent to DC's line of oversized hardcovers that bear the "Absolute" designation (Absolute Watchmen, Absolute Promethea, etc.).

Anyways, Aunt Margaret gave me several of these things, and they immediately became some of my all-time favorite possessions.  I must have read them each a hundred times.

Sadly, I lost them all at some point last decade, and more or less forgot about them until recently, when for whatever reason, the memory of those humungous comics leaped back into my brain.  I decided to see if I could track down copies of them.

Problem was, I couldn't quite remember what issues I'd had, with the exception of this one:




Once upon a time, I'd've been shit outta luck, but this ain't once upon a time no more, it's the age of Google Images searches.  So I typed in "treasury edition comics," and the Shazam comic above was one of the first that jumped out at me.  The Tarzan came not long after.

I was able to find surprisingly cheap copies of both, and so I snapped 'em both up right quick, and now, they are in my collection again.  This pleases me.

The Tarzan comic was published in 1973 (the year before I was born), and consists of an eighty-page adaptation of the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novel.  My scanner is nowhere near big enough to fit a book this size, so I initially was unsure I'd be able to show you any pages from this one.  But, again, Google has saved the day.  I present to you now a heapin' helpin' consisting of a lengthy section near the beginning:



You know how if you see something you were once VERY familiar with but have not seen in a long time, you get a moment of mental vertigo that is the closest thing I know of to actual time-travel?  Maybe you don't; but then again, maybe you do, and if you do, then know beyond doubt that when I saw that "Black Michael thanks ye, sor..." panel, I experienced such a moment with substantial intensity.  It is not the only panel that caused such a reaction; flipping through this Tarzan comic yielded numerous such moments.

The two panels on the left, particularly, sent me on that mental time-travel trip to 1982/3/?.





Even though she clearly survives, I always read this thing and thought Lady Greystoke had died.  AND STILL TO THIS DAY, when I look at that top panel, I think she's dead!  Incidentally, I don't really blame the ape for wanting to lay on top of her for a while.  That's gross, but possibly less so for apes; for them it's probably uplift of some sort.  This blog will now cease any and all thoughts of ape-to-lady fornications.



Words cannot express how horrified (and yet fascinated) I was by that bottom-right panel as a kid.  I still sort of am, too.


This treasury edition, by the way, seems to represent an abridged collection of Tarzan #207-210, from 1972.  These were, interestingly, the first DC issues; the comic had first been published by Dell, and then by Gold Key, and then DC; and each successive publisher retained the numbering system, which is pretty cool.  DC's series ran until #258.


Flipping through this book unlocked a memory: the year I got these comics for Christmas, I took them with me when we went to visit my dad's side of the family (which we almost always did on Christmas Day and the next week or so after spending Christmas Eve with my mom's side of the family, all of whom lived closer and therefore got more regular time with us).  One of my dad's uncles saw me reading the Tarzan comic and took an interest; he was an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan, and took me over to one of his bookcases, where he showed me what I now assume must have been a complete collection of Tarzan paperbacks.  This is one of the earliest memories I have of being confronted with the notion of such a thing as a "collection," and I suspect that it had a deep, permanent impact on me.  I never quite managed to become a Tarzan junkie, but I suspect that there is still plenty of time for that to happen with Tarzan in particular and Burroughs generally.

As for the Shazam comic, which was published in 1974 but consists of reprints of fifties-era stories, it did not unlock the same flood of memories for me, but it did ring a few distant bells, and it did something else nearly as interesting: it retroactively caused a great deal of the Alan Moore I've been reading lately to make even more sense.  During the nineties, Moore did a fair bit of Golden Age pastiche between the covers of (amongst other titles) Supreme.  We'll be covering that at a later date, but let it suffice for now for me to say this: flipping through this Shazam treasury comic clicked into place the knowledge of where, exactly, I'd gained my familiarity with the sort of Golden Age conventions Moore was playing with in those comics.  He also did built his Marvelman comics using some of this material, and since the original Marvelman of that day was a direct ripoff of Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam), then it makes perfect sense that looking at this issue of Shazam reminds me very strongly of what Moore was up to in his pastiche books.  (Which are all much more than mere pastiche, of course; but that is a topic for another time.)

Aunt Margaret gave me other comics in addition to these Tarzan and Shazam ones, but so far, I'm not having a huge amount of luck finding the others.  But I'm going to keep looking, and eventually, I'll probably track 'em down without having to overspend.  The searching I've done so far, however, has caused me to be bitten by the Treasury Edition bug, and I'm now going to also begin collecting treasury-size comics of the era regardless of whether I once owned them or not.  Because they're cool, you dig?  I'll report my progress as it is made, and I'll begin with these two, which I got in the same batch as my recent for-purposes-of-nostalgia purchases:





I'm a sucker for those Marvel Super Special movie adaptations; I'll probably end up building a collection of them at some point.  I got this Battlestar Galactica treasury edition for a mere buck, which I consider to be a steal.  The art by Ernie Colon is nothing to write home about, but that's par for the course with most movie adaptations.

As for the Marvel grab-bag, it consists of five stories, all of which I assume to be reprints:
  1. "Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!" by Roy Thomas with art by Jim Andru, co-starring Spider-Man and the Human Torch;
  2. "In Mortal Combat with the Sub-Mariner!" by Stan Lee and Wally Wood, co-starring Daredevil and Namor;
  3. "...and to All a Good Night!" by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan, starring Black Widow;
  4. "The Hulk vs. The Thing" by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; and
  5. "The Avengers Take Over!" by Lee and Kirby, which is the continuation of the previous tale.

It delights me that five out of five of those story titles end in exclamation points.

I've not actually read either of these issues yet (the Grab-Bag or the Galactica), which arguably makes me a poor consumer.  But hey, I'll get to it eventually.

And with that, we turn our attentions to Alan Moore, who recently published a new comic set in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen universe:




Yes, lads and ladies, it's The Roses of Berlin, which is the second part of a Nemo trilogy following the exploits of Captain Janni, daughter of the famous Captain Nemo who served in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen during the Martian affair.  Oh, and was in Mr. Verne's famous novel, too, of course.

The Roses of Berlin is, unsurprisingly, a sumptuous, rollicking, densely-packed adventure yarn.  It's packed with great art by Kevin O'Neill (colors by Ben Dimagmaliw, whose name I could not pronounce for love or money).

It's also packed with surprises, and I'm loath to delve into them too deeply here.  I don't mean "surprises" in the plot-twist sense of things; this isn't Watchmen #12 or anything like that.  No, I simply mean that...

Well, let's back up.

For those of you who are not familiar with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, its conceit is that during the late 19th century, a team of British spies is assembled by the government to help combat various threats.  The team consists of Mina Murray (from Dracula), Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll (including, of course, Mr. Hyde), and Hawley Griffin (better known as the titular fellow from The Invisible Man).  The villain they go up against is Fu Manchu.  Practically every character who appears in the tale is a character from a period-appropriate tale of some sort.

That's the first volume; subsequent volumes retain the same approach, but use different characters (although a few do recur) and different time periods.  Part of the fun for readers is that Moore loves to spring new characters on the readers; and he's great at doing it, too.  Occasionally, he has to resort to win-wink-nudge-nudge obfuscation to bring certain characters in whose straightforward appearance might put him in dutch with the lawyers whose clients created or control said characters.  So when, for example, James Bond appears in the third volume, he's never actually referred to as James Bond; but any reader who is familiar with James Bond will get it, and will mostly get a thrill of recognition.

(Incidentally, lest this sound utterly impenetrable to the uninitiated, let me assure you that one of the hallmarks of Moore's work on this series is that he very neatly avoids making things overly complicated.  For the most part, it is not necessary for the reader to have any familiarity with the characters or the stories from which they have been derived; the plot Moore involves them in is strong enough, and self-contained enough, that readers can sail straight through it blithely unaware that the characters they are encountering had any previous fictional lives.  This does not hold 100% true, but it holds true enough that one need not hold a doctoral degree in literature to simply read the thing.  That said, the references are deep and substantial enough that writer Jess Nevins has so far produced three books of annotations for the series, and also has online annotations for the League books not covered by his published annotations.  Check out his annotations for Heart of Ice and The Roses of Berlin, and marvel at how big a favor he has done any fan of this series.)

For me, that thrill of recognition is a key component of what makes these books so enjoyable, and as such, I prefer to know as little about them as possible when I sit down to read one.  I'm of the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" mindset, too; which means that I don't want to inadvertently spoil anything for you that I would wish to not have spoiled for me.

This leaves us in a bit of a bind in terms of figuring out what to say and what to not say, but it's an easy enough bind to get free from: I'll just write a second, more spoilery, review that will appear here, at my fledgling (and mostly, for now, empty) Alan Moore blog, The Blog Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  So if you've read The Roses of Berlin and want to know more about what I took away from it, head over there and check it out.  If not, no harm / no foul.

I figured I could put up some stuff from the first few pages, though, just to give you a feel for what's happening.  Here goes:


These are the endpapers inside the front cover.

Does this pre-title page indicates that the romance between Captain Nemo and her first mate, Jack, will be a vital sotry component?  Well, duh.

I don't quite know how to translate "wissenschaftspirat," but "schlachter" mans "butcher."  This nifty piece of faux propaganda -- complete with a drowning mother and child -- is cool enough just on the surface level, but it also serves to clue us in to just how powerful Janni Nemo and her crew are.  Not just any old pirate is made the subject of state propaganda marketing.

I love these credit pages Moore and company do for their League books.  Always inventive, always fun.

'Zat look like a face to you?  Looks like a face to me.

Here's page one, and it makes plain what the cover is hinting at: that The Roses of Berlin is set during WWII.  It's a rather bold maneuver for Moore to have the first page be entirely in German.  It won't be the only page to feature that language; by no means.  Some people will be frustrated by this, but I just sort of pummeled my way through it, and was surprised to find myself picking up a word here or there.  By the way, if you're wondering why Hitler is being referred to as "Hynkel," that's because the 1940 Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator parodied Hitler with a character named "Adenoid Hynkel."  Moore uses fictional characters in his League books, so he subs Hynkel in for ole Adolf, right down to replacing the swastika with the insignias used in that film.  (Incidentally, if you want to know what's being said on this page then I would recommend you check out Jess Nevins' annotations.)

Here are pages 2 and 3, which feature a great deal of appealingly bloody violence against Nazis.  Kevin O'Neill is really bringing the grue, there.

The basic plot is that Janni and Jack's daughter, Hira, is reported to be a prisoner of war along with her husband, which prompts Captain Nemo to pay a little visit to Berlin to try and rescue her.
  
That's really all the setup you need.  As you might have expected, the result is grand fun (for the reader, if not for all the involved characters).  I think that I prefer the previous Nemo book, Heart of Ice (reviewed here), but if so, it's by a slim margin.  Both are fantastic.

While we are on the subject of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I wanted to mention something else.  One of the issues of that comic includes a reference to the Stephen King short story "Jerusalem's Lot"!  It comes at the back of issue #3 of the second volume, during a sort of travelogue section recounting Mina's journey through the Americas.  Let's have a look (I'm too lazy to type the entire section out):





The fact that Moore has tied "Jerusalem's Lot" into a larger Lovecraftian context, and then tied the entirety into the Extraordinary Gentlemen universe, just delights me.  The amount of imagination on display in the travelogue sections of these comics is staggering.  They are a topic for another day, though.  My point was, because of this "Jerusalem's Lot" reference -- which I'd forgotten about until stumbling across it during a recent reread -- I now have all the ammunition I need to claim that reviewing all these Alan Moore comics is a perfectly acceptable task for a Stephen King blog to undertake.  So there!

Let's now turn our attentions to another "new" comic by Moore, Miracleman #4:




We had a fairly in-depth look at the first three issues of this reprint series last time, and while I'm not going to necessarily go as in-depth here, I think it's well worth our time to have a look at the first few pages of this issue.  Comics don't get a whole lot better:


The art here, and throughout most of the issue, is by Alan Davis, with new coloring by Steve Oliff.

Bearing in mind that this script is nearly thirty years old, of course, but: does it seem likely that Mr. Cream would refer to himself as black?  Is he rubbing his race in Mike's face, and therefore empowering himself?  Or is this merely a bit of racial insensitivity on the part of a thirty-years-ago Alan Moore?  (Incidentally, later in this issue, we get a brief moment of Marvel censorship: the word "nigger" is used, except in this reprint, it isn't; "n-----" is used instead.  This gives me some concern as to how certain future events in the series may be handled.  I'm not a proponent of using the word "nigger" all willy-nilly, but if it's used with purpose by a storyteller, which I'd say it is in this particular comic, I'm against censoring it; and if Marvel will censor that, I wonder what else they might be willing to censor...)

It really doesn't get much better than that top panel, as far as I'm concerned.  Alan Moore would put a curse of some sort on me for saying this, probably, but dadgum I wish somebody would make Miracleman into a movie so that this particular sequence could be committed to film.  And when and if it happens, it had better happen EXACTLY like this.  A series of shots in which the camera is locked down, with MM walking toward it, all sorts of attacks happening that faze him not in the slightest.  And if that moment of his sparkling essence being reflected, horribly, in the eyes of an enemy's gasmask is not reproduced, I'm asking for my money back.

Another terrific use of Miracleman's reflection, this time in Cream's glasses.

The interrelated back-and-forth of the editing doesn't seem like all that complex an approach in 2014, but if I am not mistaken, it was a great deal less common in the early eighties.  Used well, it can be extremely effective, in comics or in filmmaking.


In some alternative universe, Stanley Kubrick lived, and made a Miracleman trilogy in the early 2010s.  He spent nearly a billion dollars making it, hired Alan Moore to write the screenplay, tossed that screenplay out and rewrote it himself, and died shortly after the third film was released, possibly as the result of dark magic employed as vengeance on Moore's part.  He won a posthumous Oscar, but, oddly, got snubbed by the BAFTAs.  Despite Moore's objections, the trilogy was extremely faithful, and it was hoped that Kubrick would consider doing a second trilogy -- based on Gaiman's followup arcs -- as a sequel.  Alas, it was never to be.

Anyways, yeah, wouldn't it be cool to visit that universe for just long enough to get some Blu-rays?

Back to this universe, where all we have are these awesome comics.  Not a bad consolation prize.

Here's what happens next:
  • We -- and Miracleman -- meet the "monster" Sir Dennis refers to.  It almost certainly won't be what you think it's going to be.  And if it is what you think it's going to be, then good lord, what made you think of that?!?
  • A reference is made to a supervillain named "Phineas Fiske, the creature with the cobalt brain."  Google indicates that such a character never existed outside of that one sentence, which seems like a doggone shame to me.
  • The same can, and should, be said of "Dr. Panic and his Phantom Robot," who make their one and only appearance a few words earlier in the same sentence.  Gods love ye, Alan Moore; gods love ye.
  • A superhero delivers a pimp slap.  No, not to Evelyn Cream, you racist.
  • Miracleman learns the truth.  It is, essentially, a massive retconning of the entire Miracleman (or, if you prefer, Marvelman) mythos.  It is also about as effective a retcon as I can imagine; the only other one that comes close -- and, in fact, is roughly neck-and-neck with it -- is the retcon job Moore did on Swamp Thing a bit less than a year later.  Both are genius; sheer bloody genius, and if I ever have one single idea even half as good, I'll consider mine to have been a life worth living.
  • "Imagine the megadeath potential of such a creature in an international conflict."
  • Miracleman learns who was behind all of this.  He doesn't take it well.
The issue also contains a couple of reprints: "Saturday Morning Pictures," a story that appeared in Marvelman Special #1.  (And again in a Miracleman 3D one-shot a few years later.)  It consisted of a framing device in which a couple of lowbrow cleaning men go into the devastated bunker that MM has torn up to finish cleaning it.  They find some of the videotapes -- we haven't mentioned them, have we? -- of Marvelman/Miracleman's "exploits," and watch them.  Moore wrote the framing device, which was essentially just a structure to enable reprints of old Mick Anglo Marvelman stories.  This 2014 reprint has included the framing device, but -- understandably, though disappointingly -- has not included the Anglo originals.  A framing device that frames nothing is a sad creation.

Second, there is a Warpsmith tale called Ghostdance.  It's cool, but I feel like I'd enjoy it more if I knew more about the Warpsmiths.

Apart from that, there is some art-gallery sort of stuff, all of which helps the $4.99 price tag go down a bit smoother.  I don't begrudge it, though; this reprint series is a hugely worthwhile endeavor, and if Marvel needs $4.99 per month from me to make it happen, then $4.99 monthly they will get.

For our final trick of the night, we're going to take a look at more Moore, this time turning our attention toward the beginnings of his association with Image comics.  This came via Todd McFarlane's Spawn, beginning fairly early on, with issue #8:




I don't know a whole heck of a lot about Spawn.  I never read a single issue of the comic untilI read these Alan Moore ones I'll be covering today.  I did see the movie when it came out in 1997; it was fairly awful.  I also saw a few episodes of the HBO animated series, which were occasionally on at a friend's place back in college.  I didn't pay much attention to them, but my memory of them is that they were competent and intriguing; just not quite intriguing enough to actually capture my interest.

So make no mistake about it: I came to these issues as a means of doing upkeep on my Alan Moore sycophancy.  When I read them, I knew almost nothing about the backstory of what was going on.

In some cases, such as "In Heaven," the story that #8 tells, I was not even quite sure whether I was missing backstory or not.  It begins like this:


This back-and-forth editing approach is not entirely dissimilar to what we saw in Miracleman a little while ago.

Heaven probably would not be my first guess, even if I didn't know that Hell plays a prominent role in Spawn.  Even if that bit on page one about killing 28 kids slipped past you, this probably ought to tip you off that something with this guy is very much not right.

"Kid's cute, though."  *shudder*

So, that's the setup.  Billy Kincaid, whoever he is, has awoken in what appears to be Hell, and has almost immediately fallen in with a band of similarly confused "survivors," one of whom may well be a potential future victim.  Of sorts.  How victimized can you be if you're already in Hell?

The art here is courtesy of Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, whose name is one I've been hearing for decades now without gaining much in the way of actual familiarity with his work.  Based on what I'm seeing here, I'm . . . ambivalent.  I can't quite call it good, nor can I quite call it bad.  Put a gun to my head and demand that I be more decisive, and I'd say that it's good.  At the worst, I think you'd have to say it's effective.


I'm less able to roll with this page.  I don't mind a little cheesecake once in a while; it's just that I seem to have a different idea of what's hot than, say, Todd McFarlane does.  Ahhh, BUT . . . I make that judgment from a place of also making two assumptions: (1) that McFarlane was the person determining what Kimberly looks like, whereas Moore's script could have specified it; and (2) that Kimberly's look isn't serving some purpose in a way that plays with my notions of what cheesecake of this nature is, and what it means.

There are other things going on here besides Kimberly's tits and abdomen, of course.  Does it seem odd that Jessica seems to know what's going on?  When you die, then wake up in Hell, and some little girl is telling you "There's ten dead lands," that's probably going to lead to nothing good.

And then there's Claudette, who -- like Kincaid -- clearly believes she is in Heaven.  Here's how that works out for her:


I'm less ambivalent about this splash page; it's solid.

The news isn't as bad as it looks; this robotic monstrosity is a "soul-trapper from the sixth sphere," and they keep souls as pets.  This year, according to Jessica, it's singers; last year, acrobats.

Over the next few pages, the others are taken one by one, in different fashions, each according to various aspects of their personalities.


By this point, if you're like me, you're pretty worried about what's going to happen to this kid.  But, like, they're already in Hell, so whatever is going to happen, it can't be good.

I'm thankful for it being done relatively tastefully, but there is more fat-dude nudity in this issue than I really need to see.  I get enough of that in my shower; I don't need it in my comics.  (To be clear, I myself am the fat man in the shower; there aren't other fat dudes in there with me.  In Hell, there might be.)

Ah...!  Now it makes sense.  Every one of the other souls was taken by some manner of temptation, so it works pretty well that Kincaid would be taken in this manner.



From here, The Vindicator chases Kincaid around for a while, which is cause for Alan Moore to tell us what is going on in each of the ten spheres.  It all culminates with Kincaid being enveloped by the same sort of neural parasite that Spawn himself wears as a costume, which is evidently the fate of everyone conquered by the Malebolgia.  Whatever that means.

And so Kincaid finds himself forced to spend eternity looking much the same as the horrible creature who -- unjustly, in his mind -- killed him and sent him to this place.

The whole thing has a bit of an EC vibe, and because of that, is also vaguely reminiscent of Moore's Swamp Thing days.  It's nowhere near that good, of course; this is basically just a one-shot detour, both for Moore and (seemingly) for Spawn, so naturally it doesn't have the richness that Swamp Thing had.  But it isn't bad, by any means; taken just as a sort of EC riff, it works fairly well.

I was curious as to what sort of backstory I was missing out on, so I did a wee bit of research and learned that Billy Kincaid was a pedophile serial killer whom Spawn put an end to in issue #5 of the series.  So regular readers of the comic would have seen this as an epilogue of sorts, and it probably would have been a pretty satisfying one.

Research indicates that the real contribution Moore made here, though, was in coming up with the idea of the "Phlebiac Brothers," the siblings of Violator, one of the comic's main characters.  That seems like an awfully big idea for a one-shot writer to have come up with for this issue, but when said writer is Alan Moore, I guess the odds become greater.  It may be that Moore and McFarlane came up with the concept together, or that McFarlane came up with it and Moore merely fleshed it out; I do not have answers to these questions.  In any case, this is Vindicator's first appearance, and the other Brothers will show up in Moore's next Spawnverse comic.

Which, as it turned out, was the three-part miniseries Violator.






Appearing about fifteen months after Spawn #8, Violator was Moore second substantial work for Image (1963, which you can read about in Bryant Has Issues #28 -- coincidentally, the same post where I reviewed the first Nemo book -- had come and gone by this point).  Given how unceremoniously 1963 ended, it seems a little surprising that Moore came back to do anything with the company.  I'm sure there's more to the story, and research might even be able to clarify what it is; but no time for love, Dr. Jones, we're pressing on full-steam.

It would be tempting to assume that Moore did his first Spawn issue, as well as this miniseries and the various issues that followed, purely as work for hire.  And for all I know, that is precisely the case.  If so, he'd hardly have been the first comics writer to resort to hack work; and he certainly would not have been the last.  Doing a job for money is nothing to inherently look down upon.  Who among us hasn't had to take a job just to bring in a paycheck?

It's what you do with that job that matters.

And with Violator, I think the worst you can say about it is that it is competent.  So, at worst, Moore got the job done.

But I think it's a better miniseries than that.  If I were a Spawn fan, I might be willing to go farther; I'm not, and I find The Clown (a.k.a. Violator) to be a thoroughly repulsive character with whom to spend sixty or so pages.  Given that pair of truisms, the fact that I enjoyed the miniseries at all must be saying something good about Moore's work.

We begin with what appears to be an unidentified group of demons looking down on Earth, but we soon find out that these are the Phlebiac Brothers, trying to locate their brother, Violator. It doesn't take them long:




What has The Clown done to get on the bad side of these mobsters?  I have no earthly idea.  Is the miniseries picking up from some plotline found in the main Spawn comic?  Or is this a purposeful in-media-res on Moore's part?  Neither would surprise me, but I have no idea which answer is correct.

Either way, The Clown is able to take one of the enforcers over into the water with him when they pitch him in, and is then able to get the man's gun away from him.  He blows the thug's brains out the back of his head, which enables this next page to happen:




If that makes you chuckle at all, then good news: you're almost sure to enjoy this miniseries.  If it repulses you, then I advise you stay far away.  If you land somewhere in the middle, then welcome to the boat, friend; looks like you and me got somethin' in common.

Soon thereafter, a new character enters the scene:





My curiosity got the better of me after reading this miniseries (which includes quite a lot of The Admonisher); I felt like I needed to know more about who he was.  He, on the one hand, seems a bit like a spoof of The Punisher, but filtered through a distinctly Image Comics look and feel.  Was he intended as a parody character by whoever created him, or was Alan Moore simply using him that way?

As it turns out, The Admonisher never existed before Alan Moore created him.  And unless my (admittedly cursory) research has faield me, he never showed up again after this miniseries.

Which seems like a shame, on the one hand; but on the other, what possible use could he have ever been put to that would top this:




The art here comes courtesy of Bart Sears, whose work I am not familiar with outside of this issue.  It's pretty great, though.  You will note that The Clown's hand is still stuck in the head of that one unlucky mob enforcer.  Alan Moore gets the credit for that, but Sears probably gets credit for the fact that the eyes seem to be looking up in shock at The Admonisher as he busts through that window.  Funny stuff.  Sick; but funny.

From there, The Clown and The Admonisher fight inside a mall for a bit, and a great many bystanders are wiped out in various bloody and horrifying ways, all told with a decent amount of glee on the part of Moore and Sears.  This might offend some, but given that the two combatants in the scene are The Violator -- who is, quite literally, an agent of Hell -- and The Admonisher, a killer-for-hire, it makes sense to tell the story this way.  Neither of those two cretins would have the slightest bit of care for the people around them, so why should the comic do anything more than stay in their perspective?

The issue ends with Violator's brothers showing up, having decided to step in and lend their "fallen" sibling a hand.

There is some behind-the-scenes material after that, and I can't resist posting the two Moore-centric pages for your edification:


Hardcore Moore fans will know that he began his career both writing and drawing a few cartoon strips.  Maxwell the Magic Cat is probably the most famous, but there were also a couple of weirdo mindblowers called Roscoe Moscow in Who Killed Rock N' Roll and The Stars My Degradation.  The latter two have never been collected, so far as I know, but the wily can track them down online, if a spot o' piracy won't cross yet eyes none.  Moore's gifts as an illustrator are considerable, and while they probably won't be mistaken for high art, they certainly are effective.  I'm not sure how extensively Moore has done these sorts of thumbnails during his career, but part of me suspects there might be oodles of them.  What a tantalizing thought that is...!

If you have any real familiarity with Moore's work, then odds are good that you've heard people talk about how detailed his scripts can be.  Sometimes, he might write a page's worth of description for a single panel, that panel being one of nine on a single page of the comic.  With that in mind, seeing what he did on these two sample pages for this Violator script might give you an indication of how serious he was taking the job relative to his normal work.  But lest you accuse Moore of hackery, bear in mind that minimalist scripts like this were once -- and may still be, for all I know -- the standard within the comics industry.  So Moore might have been engaging in hackery compared to his own general standards; but if so, his version of hackery is to "stoop" to the level the rest of the industry lived at on a regular basis.



Issue #2 picks up right where the first one left off, but I have to note something before we proceed to the actual content.  My apologies for the failure of terminology that is about to head your way.

The first issue was printed -- as was Spawn #8 -- on a newspaper-esque type of paper, very much like (if perhaps not identical to) the type of paper I think of as old-school comic-book paper.  The second issue, on the other hand, was printed on slick paper of the sort that is still in use in most (if not all) modern comics to this day.  I always sort of wondered when that transition from one type of comics paper to the other happened, and now I know: it happened between issues of Violator.

In this issue, the battle rages on, and we learn a bit about Violator's origins:


Dr. John Dee was a real occultist, one who would be referenced again in Moore's work at least once (in Promethea).  It seems possible that this miniseries coincides roughly with the time in Moore's life when he himself began developing a serious interest in magic and in the occult, and it's interesting that even in such a relatively minor point in his career as Violator, he is working some of those issues out.



The art really pops in this issue, especially the colors by Steve Oliff (whom you might remember from being namechecked earlier in this issue as the guy doing the recoloring on the Miracleman reprints).  Was the new printing paper responsible for this?  It seems likely.




Say, do you remember earlier, when I was talking about Trillium and wrote the following sentence...?

"This issue, by the way, features a use of the rarely-used sideways-double-splash-page, which always delights me."

It was true then, and it's still true now, because Violator #3 has one, too:


 


Spawn kind of had to show up at some point, I guess.

The art here is not by Bart Sears, but by Greg Capullo.  Capullo, you might recall, is the current artist on Scott Snyder's Batman, the latest issue of which we discussed just a while ago.  It's funny; this post seems to have a few echoes in it.

Once the confrontation with Spawn is concluded, the fight with the Phlebiac Brothers resumes, and, of course, The Admonisher shows up again.  Violator is able to triumph, tricking his brothers into thinking they've killed him; and The Admonisher, not quite ready to give up the fight, actually follows them into Hell, apparently never to be seen again.

My overall opinion of Violator is that it's a gruesome, amusing diversion, with some good artwork.  If I were a Spawn fan, maybe I'd be more impressed by it than that.  But I'm not (though I reserve the right to someday morph into one), and so while I enjoyed reading this miniseries, it didn't have any particular impact on me.

A bit less than a year later, Moore returned to the Spawnverse for two miniseries that ran concurrently: one which pitted The Violator against another Image hero, Badrock; and one which put Spawn himself in a rather tight spot.  We'll look at them in that order.



Violator vs. Badrock ran for four issues, a 25% increase over Moore's last mini for McFarlane, which indicates that things must have gone relatively well on Violator for all parties.

Now, before you ask: no, I do not particularly know anything about Badrock.  His Wikipedia page leads me to believe that my gut-instinct reaction to reading this mini was the correct one: to assume he was a knowing ripoff of homage to The Thing from Fantastic Four.  This is probably a simplistic, and possibly even an incorrect, way of looking at things, but if so, I'm zen with it.  For all intents and purposes, while I was reading this comic, I simply pretended Badrock was The Thing.  If that approach is demonstrably wrong, and you can argue -- complete with specific examples relating to Badrock's history -- why that is so, then hit up the comments and tell me all about it, and I will happily consider revising my approach.

Until then, I'm treating Badrock as a Ben Grimm clone of sorts.

The first issue of the miniseries opens with a police van that is allegedly transporting a mobster, but this turns out to be a sham; it's a sting operation designed to trap Violator, who apparently has been killing mobsters left and right.  When he attacks this transport and begins to go after the mobster in the back, the "mobster" turns out to be Badrock, who attacks the demon and gives some other operatives time to tranquilize Violator.  They are led by a buxom blond woman who looks as if she ought to be in a Whitesnake video, but is actually Dr. Sally McAllister, a, uh, doctor of some sort.

Moore has not forgotten his trademark wit, which was in abundant evidence in his previous Violator miniseries:


It's clobberin' time.

I have to say, I like Badrock.  I mean, why wouldn't I?  I like The Thing, so if you create a Thing-like character, it stands to reason that I'd like him, too, at least if you do a half-decent job of writing him.  Which Moore does.  (He did an even better job at paying homage to The Thing in his Marvel-pastiche series 1963, with a character named The Planet.)  So yeah, Badrock is fun here.  Is he as fun in other writers' books?  I cannot say.  But if the stars align just so, I'm not opposed to reading more of his adventures one of these days.

Anyways, Badrock is on loan from Youngblood -- which is evidently an Avengers-esque superhero team Rob Liefeld created for Image -- to the company Dr. McAllister represents, the "Whiteside-Parsons Institute" (which is named, Dr. McAllister tells us, for a noted occultist named John Whiteside-Parsons).  Now, as far as I can tell, this Institute does not have any presence in other Image comics, so I am tentatively assuming McAllister and the Institute are Moore creations.  My brief Googling of the topic immediately led me to discover John Whiteside Parsons -- better known, apparently as Jack Parsons -- was (A) a real person, (B) a prominent rocket scientist, and (C) one of the founding members of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Later, he became involved somehow with L. Ron Hubbard, and became a follower of the same occult philosophy that had been founded by Aleister Crowley.  Guys, seriously; I can't make shit like that up.  Wish I could.  You know who can?  Alan Moore.  But evidently, he didn't; he's merely appropriating Parsons for use in this here funny-book.

Moore would later write a short biography of Parsons in comic-book form, with art from Melinda Gebbie.  I had no idea such a thing existed, but it was called "Brighter Than You Think," it evidently was a Cobweb story intended for Tomorrow Stories that the publisher refused to put out, and it eventually appeared in an anthology called Top Shelf Asks the Big Questions.  Speaking of big questions, here's one: did Bryant immediately place a copy of that book in a virtual shopping cart for later purchase?  Answer: yes, he did.

None of which has anything to do with the point I planned to make a couple of paragraphs ago, only to be sidetracked by semi-fascinating research results: that Badrock immediately gets the hots for Dr. McAllister and tries to find a way to start working some of his charm:



This refers, of course, to the events of the Violator miniseries.  Youngblood does indeed appear in it briefly, although I don't think you ever see Badrock himself.

As the spurned rock-man continues conversing with the buxom-yet-cold beauty, the plot begins to reveal itself: the Institute wants to find a way to exploit the interdimensional portal system that seemingly operates to link Earth with the world Violator comes from.  For scientific gain, yeah, sure, but also for financial gain, that filthy lucre, those fat stacks.  Problem is, they needed a way of opening the portal.  Hence, the capture of The Violator.

Before long, this happens:





This, Violator explains to Badrock, is an angel.  The angel Celestine, to be precise.  She is bad news:




Celestine appears to have been a Moore creation; this was her first appearance, though if my research is correct, she showed up again in a few other Image books.  You can almost hear Alan Moore yearning to write some sort of series that exploits the ideas of a character like this in her sordid past with the Egyptians and Sodomites.  Hell, I'd read that . . . if Moore wrote it, I certainly would.

It is on this ominous note -- in which an angel's arrival to slay a demon is demonstrably bad news for everyone in the vicinity -- that the first issue ends.  It's a surprising detour, and an effective one.




I may as well tell you now: I loathe that cover.  Lest you consider me unmanly, let me clarify: I love boobs.  Even in cartoon form, I love 'em.  However, the pair that Celestine is sporting here are just plain silly.  Rob Liefeld, who drew this cover, has a history of that sort of thing.  Alan Moore comics kinda don't, though, and unfortunately, penciler Brian Denham follows Liefeld's lead and draws Celestine more or less the exact same way throughout the entire issue.  And his depiction of Dr. McAllister isn't much better, to be honest:



 
All of which (A) makes this feel like something that really doesn't quite fit in with Alan Moore's aesthetic sense and (B) annoys me and (C) pisses me off.  This is not the sort of stuff I want from my comics.  I can take a little of it, especially if it's got a purpose behind it; but these specific examples are too far.

This is not a prudish reaction.  I simply don't like the enormous-fake-tits look, and I kind of don't know why anyone else would either, and comics that seem to hint toward the idea that that is what women can and should look like are a bit of a blight on the industry, in my opinion.

But that's just me.

And, for the most, Alan Moore.  Which makes the artwork here doubly surprising, and disappointing.  I am going to tentatively assume that he had no control over the direction the art took, and bowed to the wishes of Liefeld and Denham and McFarlane and whoever else at Image might have been in a position to overrule Alan Moore.

Art aside, this issue is fairly good.  Violator talks Badrock into releasing him so that he -- a veteran of angel-fightin' -- can defeat Celestine and save them all.  He immediately betrays Badrock, who gets his ass handed to him by Celestine when Violator -- in his Clown guise -- points her his way.  Violator then rips the angel's heart out, which in many bouts would be a deciding blow.  If I may resort to an eighties wrestling analogy: if Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka had ripped out "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan's heart, then it's a "W" for Superfly and an "L" for Hacksaw, no question.

No so in the case of Violator vs. Celestine.  She gets up after a bit, and does a surprising thing: she uses herself as a power source and zaps the entire building that houses the Institute into Hell.




As if merely being in Hell isn't bad enough, Badrock soon finds himself having to fight off huge spiders, multi-tentacled squid monsters, and one of those huge robot-lloking things that showed up in Violator.  And as if all that weren't bad enough, Violator's four brothers show up.  Badrock rights them all off, and actually stuff one down the throat of one of the other ones.  There are many opportunities for wisecracks from one party or the other, and and Moore passes up few of them.  Some of the jokes land, some don't; you can't occasionally feel Moore straining a bit, which is atypical of his approach (except, arguably, in some of his more blatantly parodic works, like some of the Tomorrow Stories stuff).

Much of your opinion about this will be determined by your opinion of Violator and the Phlebiac Brothers themselves.  My tolerance for them is fairly low.  They are, for the most part, a one-joke act: "we're so evil that we literally live in Hell, but we crack jokes all the time, and some of us are really dimwitted."  The joke wears thin quickly.




The fourth and final issue mostly focuses on Badrock's attempts to get Dr. McAllister to safety before Celestine's life-force drains out, thereby causing the Institute to return to Earth.

The resolution is kind of unsatisfying, but there are some decent yuks along the way, I guess.




And so ends a decidedly minor entry in the Alan Moore canon.

Our second miniseries is Spawn: Blood Feud, a four part tale that finds the titular hero fighting a difficult battle against a new adversary: a monster hunter.

The story itself began with a six-page prologue, "Preludes & Nocturnes," which appeared as a backup in Spawn #32.




In it, a costumed villain named The Curse -- who, if context is to be believed, has recently been defeated by Spawn -- is tortured by the above-mentioned monster hunter, who is by no means averse to accepting a blatant lie from The Curse, provided it is a lie that reinforces what he wants to hear.  For example, an answer to the question of how many children The Curse has seen Spawn drink blood from.  Truthfully speaking, the answer is "none."  This is not exactly what the monster hunter wants to hear.  What he wants to hear is something more along the lines of "dozens."




I get that it's probably a "me" thing more than anything else, but . . . I tend to just not like the visual sense of the Spawn universe.  Spawn wears this flowing red cape that is all tattered and there are chains and spikes and whatnot, and to my eye, it just sort of looks like a blob of nothing.  And its not nothing; it's an excess of "something," but one that, for me, ends in the same result.  I find most of the demon designs to be similarly busy-to-no-good-effect.

Just thought I'd get that off my chest.

Now, let's have a look at the way this miniseries kicks off:







The art here is courtesy of Tony Daniel and Kevin Conrad, and just when I'd gotten those songs from Muppets Most Wanted out of my head, there's Kermit, being mutilated as an innocent victim of what appears to be a rather vicious murder.

Who could possibly be responsible for these killings?


Again, this mostly looks like a buncha nothin' to my eyes.

Spawn?!?  But . . .but . . . he's the good guy, ain't he?!?

I failed to notice this the first time I read the comic, but there are actually two different voices on this page: the dialogue (by which I mean thoughts) in the circular sections is coming from Spawn's suit, whereas that in the rectangular (square?) sections is coming from Al Simmons, the guy inside the suit.  Either way, you don't necessarily expect to see this coming right after that three-page slaughter-of-innocents that opened the book.  The implication, obviously, is that Spawn -- or, perhaps, Spawn's suit -- is suddenly hungry for human blood.  Which, if you recall the "Preludes & Nocturnes" prologue, might give you pause.




I genuinely hate the art on that page.  Especially the final panel.

"Sangster," by the way, turns out to be...




The victim of more lousy art?  Yes, indeed.  But, also, he's that monster-hunter guy from "Preludes & Nocturnes."  You probably figured that out long ago, though.

Speaking of figuring things out, Al Simmons is figuring out that something may be hinky with his suit:





Spawn had only been around for three years at this point; throwing a wrench like this into the gears was a pretty cool plot development, I suspect, and I wonder if it was McFarlane or Moore who had the idea.

Sansker gets everyone riled up about Spawn, of course, and then there are more killings, which seemingly happen while Al is dreaming again.  As the issue ends, he is in hot water, surrounded by fresh corpses on the one hand, and cops with guns and many suspicions on the other.




We open with:




Are there two legs there, or is that one long leg that he's using as a hoverboard?

Alright, alright, yeah, I get it; I'm being a bit one-note on the subject of the art.  I'll do my best to overlook it for the rest of this post.

As the plot thickens, Spawn is attacked by Sansker, who seems perhaps to be a bit more than a monster hunter.  They duke it out for a while, and Spawn is able to get away.  He determines that his suit is the problem, so he takes it off -- which is not as easy as it sounds -- and locks it in a trunk, which he then sinks to the bottom of the river.  Then some hobos put a stake in his heart:




Pretty good cliffhanger, that.




Apologies for breaking my own self-imposed rule, but how much more dynamic is that costume-free Spawn?  So much cleaner, so much more evocative.

As this issue opens, the hobos are confused as to why the "vampire" didn't turn to dust.  So they douse him in gasoline and set him on fire, assuming dust must be the logical outcome if they let him burn long enough.  Al isn't inclined to let that happen:




He runs off and jumps in the river.  He's still got his suit's thoughts in his mind, which is a disappointing turn of events, as far as he's concerned.  Things only get worse when he runs into The Clown.  Or at least, that's the initial assumption.  But as it turns out:







Meanwhile, one of the two detectives -- the skinny one, not the fat one with the Elvis hair -- is busy discovering out that "Sansker" is actually Jean Sans-Coeur (aka Heartless John), a centuries-old demon hunter who is, in actuality, a vampire his own self.  The way this revelation is handled, it almost seems as if Heartless John is a pre-existing character; but this appears to not be the case.




You will notice that the cover to this issue indicates that Al reunites with the costume.  The cover is not misleading in that regard.

Now, here's a weird thing.  Remember earlier, when I talked about the different types of paper used in the comics?  You know, the whole thing where Violator #1 was newsprint and Violator #2 was slick paper?

Well, the first three issues of Blood Feud are slick, and #4 is newsprint!  This strikes me as odd.  There is a story of some sort here, but as to what it might be, I do not know.

Speaking of story, the story of "Blood Feud" turns out that it was Heartless John killing all those people.  This is not exactly a world-shaking revelation, but it's handled fairly well; Moore can do this sort of thing in his sleep.  In this instance, he might well have done.  The whole thing turns into a big fight between Heartless John and Spawn, which may only be an excuse for this panel to happen:


I know Moore doesn't tend to go in for these sorts of things, but it strikes me as nearly unforgivable that there is no sound-effect balloon accompanying that foot on its travel through that cop's midsection.  Would it have killed Moore to ask for one single SPLORT to be put in there?

Now, that happened one of two ways, either of which is funny: (1) Sans-Coeur hand to angle his foot just right to allow the toenails to rip through the flesh and entrails and whatnot, or (2) he just used so much power that the whole foot went through, turned long-ways.  If the former, it almost certainly meant a weird sort of semi-ballet stance was involved; if the latter, it almost certainly means that the man's entire spine went flying out of the wound.  Either way cracks me up.  And also makes me think I might need counseling of some sort.

The whole thing ends in anticlimactic fashion: Heartless John turns into a lizard-vampire-monster thing, shrugs off some sunlight with bold words, and then just sort of leaves.  I think maybe the idea is that he needed to take a little bit of magical energy from Spawn in order to sort of recharge his batteries...?  Or something...?  Either it doesn't make much sense or I didn't read closely enough.  Or, conceivably, both.

It's a decent miniseries, with some good beats and some bad art; but it does not, in the end, go much of anyplace.

Moore had one additional Spawn miniseries left in him, a crossover with the WildC.A.T.s; but we will cover that next time, when we look at Moore's WildC.A.T.s run.  Or, more likely, the next time after that.  Either way, not today.

Otherwise, though, he had only one remaining sojourn into the Spawnverse:




Titled "The Freak," the story for this issue was written by Todd McFarlane, who ten evidently turned the actual scripting duties over to Moore.  There are, to my knowledge, very few instances of Moore doing that sort of work-for-hire, which theoretically makes "The Freak" an interesting detour for anyone who's doing a full exploration of his work.

Here's the setup:











I don't really like much of anything about this.  The dialogue is florid to the point of being poisonous; and while I get that that's the joke -- it's a sort of ironic thing, you know, because he's just this dirty old hobo, but he speaks with such eloquence...! -- it's no less irritating for it.  Not all jokes are funny.

I'm also going to resort of art-bashing again.  The pencils are by Greg Capullo, whose work I mostly like; but here, yeesh, no sir, no and thank you.  The inks are by Todd McFarlane, so maybe we can blame the art's shoddiness on him.  Or maybe you like the art.  I don't, although that reveal of Spawn is pretty cool.

As the story progresses, Spawn and The Freak attack the site where the supposed experiments were conducted upon him.  Did such actually happen?  Is The Freak merely a crazy person?  Seems like maybe it's a little bit of both.  The script is vague on that score, but not in an especially interesting or compelling way.  The Freak himself is merely annoying, and Spawn spends much of the issue seeming -- for better or worse -- like his dupe.

This issue must surely be one of the lowest low points in all of Moore's canon.  There aren't many of those, either; but I got almost nothing out of this particular tale.

We'll continue our look at Image-era Moore next Bryant Has Issues, and the good news about that is that the comics we'll examine then -- WildC.A.T.s (as previously mentioned) -- are substantially better.

So until then, insert catchphrase here!

4 comments:

  1. I read Pearl Jones as Pearljam both times and had to stop to backtrack.

    Good points re: nicknames. I get a kick out of aliases for the most part, but I understand what you mean. I prefer to create as many layers of artifice between my internet self and the real world as possible, but I don't make any special effort to hide my real name. (Walter Heisenberg.) This is all to set up my next comment, which is: I draw the GD line at McG. I took a personal, ridiculous stand on that one years ago, and it's one I still observe. Thanks to McG, I know where my boundary is, now, so I suppose I should be thankful.

    Man, that Tarzan stuff is fantastic. I've read more about Joe Kubert's art (and the fluid, clear-line storytelling going on there, panel to panel; I love the old artists - the good ones - so much) than I've seen, unfortunately, but those pages and panels are great. And I had the exact same reaction to that ape/lady panel, for what it's worth. If this was a Roddenberry-directed affair, I'd make a lot more out of that.

    I love reconnecting with this kind of stuff from the personal past and having that zolt. (And on the cheap? Even better!)

    Those back pages of LXG are sometimes baffling but always fascinating. I've yet to read the new one's. (And I completely forgot about that Jerusalem's Lot reference - that opens up a whole horde of possibilities. Hopefully Alan and Stephen can marry their kingdoms together. And Kubrick can direct the Moore-helmed Miracleman trilogy from beyond the grave.

    Although I've made my peace with it over the years, I have the same sort of reaction to that 90s Image stuff as I do to McG. I feel I'm legitimizing it just by acknowledging it and have to leave the premises. Very few exceptions, but it just repels me. I have read and enjoy (well, I like "Heaven" and enjoy moments of) the Spawns that Moore wrote and can even stop hating the art enough to admire a few panels here and there. But I just hold my breath, mainly, and have to take frequent breaks. I agree that the later stuff is what I'd point to as the low point in Moore's output. Everyone's got 'em, and here's his.

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    1. Yep. And as low points go, that's not particularly low. I mean, his worst stuff is good enough that it's tolerable. That says a lot.

      "If this was a Roddenberry-directed affair, I'd make a lot more out of that." Heh. Yeah, no doubt. I'm actively trying to stop myself from trying to build a collection of those Tarzan comics. Mainly because I'm already building too many collections. But one of these days, it's liable to happen; they seem too good to pass up.

      Hey, man, I'm with you 100% on the McG thing. It just infuriates me for no reason I can quite articulate. And I'm okay with that.

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    2. Totally. He could be the next Stanley Kubrick, but I'd never know. And I refuse to know. There are just some lines I can't cross, and a director named "McG" is right there. I should probably have the same problem with Ice T, but he got in while the window was still open, I guess, so if he directed something, I wouldn't necessarily be repelled.

      I think it was a couple of years back, Back Issue did an issue all about Tarzan, and that was my first exposure to his long and storied comic book history. I really had no idea there were so many Tarzan comics. I had the same reaction - must get these! I won an auction of some (here's another, on the cheap, should anyone be interested:

      http://www.ebay.com/itm/LOT-OF-22-DC-COMICS-TARZAN-OF-THE-APES-UNTAMED-LORD-OF-JUNGLE-KORAK-FAMILY-/281303647933?pt=US_Comic_Books&hash=item417f0106bd

      Anyway, I'm just now remembering that oh yeah, I've got a dozen or so of Kubert-illustrated Tarzans in the closet. I need to dig those out. I know I got them, read them, and enjoyed them, but I think I put them away without ever reading them a 2nd time. So... off the edge of memory.

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    3. Must . . . not . . . click . . . on . . . eBay . . . link . . . !

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