This week’s new offerings are without a doubt the strangest group of comics in a long while. Sure, every now and then the indie companies throw out a Zaucer of Zilk, or a Multiple Warheads, and surrealist comics are nothing new, but this week we have no fewer than five stories that are mysterious, unreal, or downright hallucinatory. Plus, there’s a new Sherlock Holmes offering that’ll have Doyle fans captivated, more new super hero fare from MarvelNOW!, and a YA homage that’s downright distasteful.
David O’Barr returns with a new series about his most famous creation, The Crow: Skinning the Wolves #1. This book has an unusually dreamy, almost quiet feeling, as if the dark snowy nights depicted here have muted everything going on. Frankly, that’s quite a feat, considering that what’s going on is The Crow spirit raising a man from the dead in the midst of The Holocaust. The unnamed Crow in this series is presumed to have died while locked in a train car, en route to the concentration camps. When the Train arrives, and the prisoners are unloaded to face their grim fate, even more hell breaks loose from within. This new Crow has opted to skip the face paint, but does have a bird sidekick with whom he can talk, and incredible physical abilities. Mostly, the book reads like a nightmare within a nightmare, poorly plotted but loaded with gory visual imagery. That, combined with it’s utterly unappealing setting, makes it seem like an excuse to romp around in violence, without a lot of redeeming value. It’s a big drawback that the Crow isn’t personalized; while we certainly feel his pain for being subjected to the horrors of The Holocaust, his anonymity makes it hard to understand and feel for him, unlike the way fans have been able to relate to previous Crow characters.
IDW Comics’ second offering is perhaps the most surreal of the bunch this week, which is saying something. The Hollows #1 is an unusual post-apocalyptic tale set in a world inhabited by soul-sucking undead known as The Hollows, where mankind has taken to the trees. Huge genetically engineered mega-trees now rule the skies of the planet, and in their branches mankind have built new cities, far above the nuclear decay and radioactive contamination that has created The Hollows to begin with. Or so they’d like to think. Craig, a scientist in this brave new world, has grown discontent with the attentions of his wife. He longs to explore the ruins of old Tokyo, far beneath the tree city where he now lives. Instead of opting for the jetpacks used by many post-war scavengers, he has invented himself a set of mechanical bat wings. Soon, however, he crashes and meets a young girl and her pet – a strange, two-legged, upright, skinless dog-creature – living in a world he thought unlivable. The discovery of humans living on the surface leaves him flabbergasted, but not nearly as flabbergasted as I was trying to read this comic. Sam Keith’s art is both fantastically intricate and childlike, with the feel of an unholy collaboration between H.R. Giger and Shel Silverstein. This is a visually fascinating book, but the story is incredibly full of holes. Why does a high tech scientist have to scrounge for groceries in the rotted wasteland? Where ARE all the jet-packs he speaks of (we never see them), and ultimately, why should we care what happens to Craig and his new found friends? Sadly, the story gives us little reason to.
Image Comics also has a tale of weirdness for us this week with Change #1, a frame within a frame story that’s difficult to follow from the very first panel. It opens with the rambling dialogue of Wallace Maya, a rapper more commonly known as W-2, only to reveal we are peeking into the screenplay of his attempted crossover into film, “W-2 versus Lovecraft.” His screenwriter, Sonia Bjornquist, has had enough of his ramblings and decides to go back to her old job, which is stealing cars, apparently. After getting arrested, she is forced to see her psychologist again, only to be brutally attacked by him while some unnamed police officers watch from a surveillance van. Meanwhile, W-2 discusses the rewrites to his script at what appears to be a funeral for a dog. All the while, the entirety of the events of the comic are being observed from outer space by the returning astronauts from the first Manned Mission to the moons of Jupiter. Confused? You certainly wouldn’t be the only one. This is the third story that lead nowhere this week, and while W-2 is attacked by cultists after the dog funeral and the space vessel gets closer and closer to Earth, a lot of readers might be thinking, “Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea?” It’s tough to see really, and a rare miss from the folks at Image comics.
The weirdness continues, with a touch more clarity, in To Hell You Ride #1, which appears to be a Native American supernatural adventure. Written by Lance Henriksen (yes, that Lance Henriksen. Bishop.) and Joseph Maddrey with art by Tom Mandrake. To Hell You Ride is a story of Native American legend made manifest in the real world of modern day Colorado, in the person of Seven George, a down on his luck Native American man known more commonly in his one horse town as “Two Dogs”. His tale begins after flashbacks regarding warriors shooting arrows off of cliffs, then sacrificing themselves to their won shots below, right in the heart of white encampments in order to pass on a curse to them. Years later, the unfinished business of cursing those who would ruin the earth and steal away the ways of the People is being unwittingly carried out by Seven George, whose grandfather, Five George, once helped a local Sherriff find a lost and murdered little girl with the power of his magic. Of the several unusual stories so far this week, this one has the most coherent feel, as if it is merely prelude to a larger mystical event that will take place in this unnamed small Colorado town. Seven George, a unemployed drunk with a sketchy legal past, is an unlikely medicine man and hero, but he’s now seeing the visions of his ancestors after finding a black arrow in a tree, and his story is the only one of these so far that might be worth following. Still, this is another book that seems to be caught up in mysticism and flowery voice over, without enough solid plot structure to keep us interested, or enough of character development to make us care about the people in the story.
The last of the weird bunch this week is at least a cohesive story, thankfully, and isn’t really a new #1 at all. Caligula: Heart of Rome #1 is the sequel to 2010’s Caligula from Avatar Press, by famed horror writer David Lapham (Crossed, Ferals). It follows the exploits of Laurentius, a Centurion in the Praetorian Guard in Rome, 48 AD. Several years before, Laurentius discovered the mad Emperor Caligula was in fact a man possessed by a demon, leading the hero on an adventure to kill him. While the Emperor may have died, the demon Caligula secretly lives on, killing and dismembering lowly Roman citizens repeatedly over the years, all to torture Laurentius. Now, having lost patience for this madness, Laurentius and his friend Julius, who has lost his olive farm and now runs a string of gladiators, must reunite to find the monster among the hedonists, madmen, and villains of the upper crust of Roman Culture, all while being wary of the son of the demon, Nero. This is a wild adventure/horror tale, with all of the sex and depravity of HBO’s Rome combined with the supernatural horror of Joe Hill’s Locke and Key. Images here are extremely NSFW, mind you, as shocking horror is Lapham’s bread and butter, but the comic is a guilty pleasure read from start to finish.
In more grounded fare, Dynamite Comics presents a new Sherlock Holmes tale in Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon #1. Holmes and his trusty friend Dr. Watson (drawn here as swarthy and dark haired, almost appearing Greek rather than English) have only recently finished up a case of a murdering identity thief when old friends of Watson’s invite him and the famous consulting detective to dinner. Their night of revelry is shockingly interrupted demonic attack, that of legend the locals know as Spring Heel Jack. Is this a horrifying legend come to life, or yet another diabolical plan by a very human criminal? Only Holmes’ keen eye for observation may provide the truth! This has all the feel of a good Holmes story, and is almost refreshing in it unoriginality. This isn’t Holmes in the 21st century, or Holmes in outer space, or Holmes in the 5th dimension. It’s just classic Victorian detective fiction done very well in a comic setting, and it’s a welcome change after the rest of this week’s unusual fare.
Of course, there is always the spandex crowd, and it’s almost a breath of fresh air this time around. At least, it would be, if either of the offerings from Marvel were particularly fresh or original. The first is Cable and X-Force #1, yet another new chapter in the lives of the various X-folks after the conclusion of the massive Avengers vs. X-men crossover from earlier this year. Here, some of the rogue elements of the X-men Universe, led by the fan favorite time traveler Cable, are banded together to take the fight to the villains of the Marvel Universe that the regular heroes can’t or won’t tackle. Sadly, this is becoming a theme with Marvel (see last weeks Thunderbolts revamp), and it makes you wonder what the “regular” superheroes are really doing. With all these anti-heroes running around, fighting criminals too nasty for the likes of Captain America, Iron Man and Wolverine, one has to wonder just how low the Marvel Universe has sunk? Our heroes here, including Cable sidekick Domino and old time favorite Colossus, are branded criminals by the Avengers themselves, with the promise of explanations down the road. Inside all this is a nice father/daughter story between Cable and Hope Summers, the supposed Mutant Messiah, but Hope isn’t really the star of this story, which is too bad, as her relationship with Cable as she matures is the only compelling part.
Marvel’s last offering, Avengers Arena #1 is the most despicable, largely because it’s so unoriginal it openly proclaims that the concept was stolen by the villain, X-men second tier baddy Arcade, from “a couple of kids’ books I read in the Pen.” It’s essentially a young Avengers/Hunger Games mash-up, as Arcade kidnaps the teenage members of The Avengers Academy. (Teenagers, I might add, I had never even heard of as a regular comic book reader, with the exception of the teenage female Wolverine clone known as X-23.) Arcade pits them in a death match against each other, promising that only one of them will live, and he’ll kill them one by one unless they all begin to fight each other to the death. This is a concept so utterly ridiculous that even the young Avengers-to-be realize it, openly proclaiming Arcade “the Worst Bad Guy Ever” and stating that they simply will not participate in the game solely because they’ve been violently bullied. As put so eloquently by Hazmat, a young girl whose super power makes her so toxic she can’t have real relationships with boys who aren’t physically indestructible, “We’re really going to lineup for your idiot Death Match because you beat us up some? We’re teenage superheroes, dumbass! We get beat up ALL THE TIME!” There’s an ending that’s supposed to be dramatic, followed by a preview of next issues cover that’s an homage to the famous cover of The Lord of the Flies, but this book is woefully bad and barely deserves to be compared to The Hunger Games (which is offensive rubbish to my taste, in the first place), much less other legitimate literature. Once again, those emulating the classic novel by William Golding have clearly missed the point that humanity stripped of the construct of society will revert to it’s more animal nature. Golding used children as a metaphor, while here the are used and abused much more literally and shamefully. The murder of children and innocents is never to be condoned for mere shock value, in my opinion, and Avengers Arena is a misguided attempt at cashing in on pop-culture phenomenon that should have gone away long ago.
Thankfully, that’s it for this week, a poor showing all around, and we have to wonder if it will get better next week. Until then, keep reading!