Sunday, December 04, 2022

Sunday Splash Page #247

"Wedding Bell Black", in Hitman #50, by Garth Ennis (writer), John McCrea (penciler), Garry Leach (inker), Carla Feeny and Heroic Age (colorists), Patricia Prentice (letterer)

We looked at Tommy Monaghan's origin in Ennis and McCrea's run on The Demon, but today we're looking at his own ongoing series. I'm pretty sure Hitman ran for more issues than every other book starring Bloodlines characters combined, even if it wasn't much of a superhero book. Monaghan supposedly tried to develop a market as a hired killer of super-powered folks, but he spent as much time killing dumbass mob guys in suits as he did fighting demons from Hell or anything like that. 

John McCrea makes it all work. His regular people look like regular people. Saggy chins, big noses, ill-fitting clothes, stupid expressions. People glowering in menace or sneering in contempt. But he can also exaggerate when need be, whether he's drawing a multi-limbed demon from Hell, or a radioactive Santa, or Sixpack dropping a noticeable load in his drawers at the sight of said demon. He can draw dinosaurs and pretentious vampires, conjoined twins where one is a rotting corpse, morbidly obese people being used a bullet shields. Whatever Ennis needs, McCrea's got it covered.

I've not read Preacher, or really much Ennis outside this and his Punisher stuff, but I feel like this is his best, in terms of being able to mix tone. There's the large amounts of violence, which is sometimes played for laughs, and sometimes for horror. McCrea's versatility shines here, as he can do the slapstick aspects of the violence, like "Nightfist" leaping in through a window and being shot to literal pieces by an army of goons. But he can also handle the moments where the violence is meant to be sickening or sad, usually by only hinting at it. When Tommy and Natt find Pat in his bathtub, McCrea never shows us what exactly Johnny Navarone did to Pat. But we see a bathtub full of blood, we see Pat's pale skin and bloodshot eyes, and how quick Natt is to leave when Tommy drains the tub. The fact Tommy considers shooting Pat a mercy.

Ennis and McCrea work in a lot about how guys interact, not only busting each other's chops (especially everyone giving Hacken shit), or how they're constantly finding something to compete over, but also in how their own ideas of what being a man is means they aren't any good at telling each other how they feel, and the things that leaves unsaid. Again, McCrea's very good at making Tommy and the others seem human in the expressions and reactions, whether they're cracking up, swooning over Catwoman, or trying to process grief and anger.

I think one of my favorites, besides the double-page splash above, which is Tommy dealing with loss, comes in issue #36, when Tommy's learned the truth about his parentage, and confronts the man responsible for wiping out his family. Tommy's anger just bubbles off the page in how he's gritting his teeth and jabbing towards the guy (and us) with his finger. Then he shoots the guy, and there's a panel of us looking up and Tommy's distant, just watching. After he shoots him once more, McCrea draws Tommy as a dark outline, the only color the smoke from the gun barrel, as Tommy remarks, 'This is gonna piss me off forever.' That quiet acknowledgement that he hasn't ultimately been able to help or solve anything.

Monaghan's an interesting character. A killer-for-hire, but one with lines he refuses to cross. A guy more than willing to use his X-ray vision to check out a lady, or his telepathy to figure out her favorite food to improve his odds on a date, but also with enough decency to apologize when he fucks up, and to not make fun of his on-again, off-again girlfriend Tiegel when she admits she's virgin. To ultimately tell Tiegel she ought to get away from him, because he's only going to fuck up her life. It's something that gets commented on by a lot of other characters, how confusing they find it that Tommy can be perfectly willing to casually murder people, but even if a lion is threatening his life, he won't kill it, or how carefully he looks after the people he considers "his." Containing multitudes, and all that.

The whole series is Tommy steadily getting himself into bigger and bigger messes, surviving by the skin of his teeth or dumb luck. All the time, the people around him are getting whittled down. They die, or they get the hell out because they see the writing on the wall. Tommy talks about making a big payday and moving to New York, leaving professional killing behind, but it always has the manner of a dream to it. Something he talks about while sitting on the couch staring at the ceiling. Maybe someday, but, with apologies to Creedance, someday never comes. Maybe if Tommy didn't have his rules, he could get away, but he does. So he stays, and every attempt to dig himself out of a hole that started with his first appearance in The Demon Annual, just gets him in deeper. It's a little like GrimJack in that regard, the messes just building on each other and building on each other. Tommy killed his way into this, but he can kill his way out.

It's a book that can have a two-part story titled "Zombie Night at the Gotham Aquarium," and a one-off issue where a hired killer helps out Superman when he's feeling low, and neither issue feels out of place. It's one of my favorite series, period.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Saturday Splash Page #49

"Fish Fight," in Untold Tales of Spider-Man '96, by Kurt Busiek (writer), Mike Allred (penciler), Joe Sinnott (inker), Steve Mattson (colorist), Richard Starkings and Comicraft (letterer)

I'm pretty sure this is just an Annual Marvel didn't deign to call that, for whatever reason. The story idea (credited to Paul Dini), is that Spidey is ticked after the Human Torch showed him up again and decides to wind Johnny up by asking Sue Storm on a date. Sue, annoyed by Reed being his neglectful self and Johnny dismissing her grievances about Reed, accepts (to Spidey's complete shock). The date itself is kind of a dud, other than Allred drawing Spidey wearing a bow tie made of webbing. Sue keeps talking about Reed and Namor, leaving Spidey wishing he was out with Betty instead.

Johnny, lacking the smarts to know when to let things go, flies out to the sea and tells Namor that Sue's been abducted by Spider-Man. Namor decides to White Knight and cue a big fight that nearly results in Jonah and Betty getting hurt (and JJJ blaming Spidey.) Namor really ought to have drowned Johnny after that, but at least Spidey gets a last laugh on the Torch.

The highlight of this comic might be the back-up story, which details the difficult life of Pat Olliffe, as Kurt Busiek keeps calling him with ideas about the obscure characters he wants to use, and Olliffe having to scrounge through comic stores all over Pennsylvania to find a comic with the characters to use as a visual reference. It's not a story that I suppose would work today, since you could probably find an image online easily enough, but it does remind me of poking through the phonebook for any comic stores in the area so I could hunt for issues of whatever series I wanted to find. Groping about in blind desperation.

There was another Annual the next year, that introduced a new character named Sundown back in the Silver Age setting. The story continued in that year's Amazing Spider-Man Annual, set in the present day (meaning, 1997) when Sundown is released from prison. Tom Lyle draws both parts of those, which makes for good visual continuity, but Lyle's art doesn't really fit the Silver Age aesthetic of the first part.

Might as well mention the -1 issue here, set before Peter's born, on Richard and Mary Parker's last mission as secret agents, where they have to rescue a certain scruffy Canadian secret agent with odd hair from Baron Strucker. Drawn by John Romita Sr., though, with a back-up feature by Fred Hembeck!

Friday, December 02, 2022

Random Back Issue #97 - Power Man and Iron Fist #59

First time for Power Man and Iron Fist on this feature! We open on Luke and Danny's pictures next to a slumlord's on the front page of the Daily Bugle. Luke is none-too-pleased, pointing out that while he and Danny did work for the guy, they also ended up busting him. Luke figures Jonah Jameson is still peeved at that time he hired Luke to bring in Spidey over Gwen Stacey's death, and Luke ultimately fed him the money. Also, Danny calls the Bugle a 'reputable paper'. Still so naive.

Looking on the bright side, their secretary Jennie figures this will help business, as 'shady firms' will offer them jobs because they worked for this guy. I mean, as long as the check clears before Luke and Danny send them to jail. . .

Colleen Wing shows up, fresh off a job for her and Misty Knight, because Danny's taking them to dinner at some fancy high-rise place and he's gotta get cleaned up. Except as soon as they get to his apartment, Danny's under attack! The fight goes on for a while, Danny reflecting he's gotten sloppy fighting street thugs alongside Luke, right as he loses his footing. I feel like that came up a lot, Danny feeling he was slipping because he wasn't fighting other martial artists very often. Or maybe he just sucks. Colleen rushes to help (without actually drawing her sword), and gets disarmed by - Bob Diamond. Uh, sure.

Bob helpfully explains he was part of the Sons of the Tiger, but because he acted like a macho, jealous prick, he's been keeping his distance lately. He and Danny spar because it's good practice for both of them. Considering Bob dismisses the possibility Colleen could have cut his leg off, and Danny implies he lets Bob win, they both need more training on keeping their own egos in check.

Anyway, fancy dinner. Colleen's kind of spoiling it by worrying about the cost, or more accurately, that Danny doesn't worry about the cost. Danny admits he just likes the view. In the midst of that, a man with very red, very curly hair shows up, wanting to wait for the ambassador of Halwani. The staff are about to throw him out, when Danny comes up because it's someone he met back in his solo book. Someone Misty is not happy to see, because Alan Cavenaugh was a bomber in the I.R.A., and Misty, of course, lost her arm to a bomber, albeit not Alan or anyone from the I.R.A.

Alan, picking up on the vibe from across the room, gets the hell out of there. Danny proceeds to see whether he can jam his foot in his mouth defending Alan before Misty lodges her bionic fist there instead when a bomb goes off. The explosion blocks off the only exit and starts a fire, so Colleen, Danny and Misty have their work cut out trying to keep people from jumping out a 16th story window rather than wait for rescue. Misty's also not loving that the explosion is bringing back memories of losing her arm, so, bad day all around for her.

What's Luke Cage up to? He's losing at poker to his pal D.W. when the report comes over the radio. Luke hustles over and is able to override the controls on the elevator enough to reach everyone, but it won't be able to take them back down. So Luke hefts a big old fountain and dumps it on the fire so they can exit through the floor. Once on the street, Misty immediately accuses Alan (who stuck around and begged Luke to help his friends) of being the bomber. Without reading the next issue to double-check, I'm going to say Alan is not the bomber.

{8th longbox, 90th comic. Power Man and Iron Fist #59, by Jo Duffy (writer), Trevor von Eeden (penciler), Al Gordon (inker), George Roussos (colorist), Diana Albers (letterer)}

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Some New Things to Love in February

Not a lot of new things, mind you, and they were confined to a few companies, but there were a few things.

From Red 5, there's Fallen, a six-issue mini-series by Matt Ringel and Henry Ponciano, about an immortal warrior who serves Zeus, acting as a P.I. looking into the murder of a god. I think Ponciano's the cover artist as well, and if so, I like the look of it. Whatnot Publishing has only been in Previews a few months, and seems largely defined by getting well-known artists to do variant covers. Case in point, the solicit for Liquid Kill touts Toni Infante being a new cover artist before it tells you anything about the book or creative team (Max Hoven and Aaron Crow as writers, Gabriel Iumazark as artist). Liquid Kill's concept sounds at least intriguing. A militia of vigilantes searching for their leader fighting some horrible monster. Sounds a bit like Predator, or something along those lines.

The other three were from Scout Comics. Kesel and Hahn have another Impossible Jones one-shot. There's also Deadfellows, by Kody Hamilton and Ramiro Borallo, about a guy stopped from killing himself by a ghost in his apartment, who tries to befriend the ghost. The other book is TC Pescatore and Luciano Cruzado's Junction Jones and the Corduroy Conspiracy. I feel like I've seen other Junction Jones books, but my quick search revealed nothing, so *shrugs*. I don't know if I'll get either of the latter two books, but they're at least Maybes.

There's only one thing out of the rest of my books that's ending in February, and that's Sgt. Rock vs. the Army of the Dead. The cover suggests Rock's fighting amped-up, undead Hitler. Aw yeah, punch his jaw off like the Black Panther did to the Red Skull that one time!

Everything else is still in progress. Tiger Division will be on its penultimate issue, while the Mary Jane and Black Cat mini-series is up to issue 3, even as Dark Web appears to be wrapping up. The Wasp and Northern Guard mini-series will both be on issue 2, if I buy either one. Nature's Labyrinth is up to issue 4, and Grit N Gears is up to issue 3, although I'd swear the length of the mini-series increases with every month. It was 6 issues last month, now it's up to 7. Is this some sort of bait and switch, or is the story getting away from the creative team?

Deadpool and Fantastic Four are on issue 4, and it at least appears Ryan North is going to explain the smoking crater that made everyone hate the FF. Better than Zeb Wells dragging that shit out, what 15 issues so far, on Amazing Spider-Man? Moon Knight is all the way up to issue 20, while Immortal Sergeant and Darkwing Duck would both be on their second issues.

Overall, it's potentially a busy first couple of months, assuming these books ship on time, but there's at least 4 or 5 of these I might skip, and I haven't seen the first issue of Nature's Labyrinth of Grit N Gears to judge them on. Deadpool's not entirely safe, either. So it's in flux.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Black Friday (2021)

Look, it's a movie about, among other actors, Bruce Campbell and Michael Jai White as employees in a big toy store on Thanksgiving during an apocalypse. I'm not made of stone!

The movie takes a few minutes at the start to outline the broad strokes of a few of employees. The nervous guy in his early 20s with a crappy family who is germophobic. The divorced dad in his 40s that acts like he's 20. The useless manager (Campbell) and his kiss-ass assistant manager. It's not much, but it's enough to set up relationships and conflicts to come into play when things go wrong.

Which happens quickly. The movie's only 85 minutes, they don't have time to waste People waiting to get in already look sick, but the employees are used to that on holiday sales. But then someone attacks the germophobe and he dumps one of those 12-foot high cages they store the big bouncy balls in on them and things go south. The employees are in disarray, but the movie avoids too high of an initial body count by having the affected be up to something rather than rampaging and killing. It's not clear what or why, but none of these characters are the sort that would be able to figure that out.

All of that allows for the cast to try different approaches. Escape, then lockdown, then a different escape. Each of these splits the characters up into different groups, which allows them to bounce off each other in different ways, highlight their personality traits and how they act as the pressure increases. So it has elements of a zombie horror movie, in that the unaffected are sometimes the biggest threat to each other. Who starts pointing fingers, who turns coward, who does something shitty and tries to justify it after the fact?

It's also a bit of a comedy, in a Sam Raimi, Ash vs. Evil Dead sense (I'm the font Amazon Prime uses for the title on the menu screen is the same as Ash vs. Evil Dead). The characters sit around at one point, discussing how long they've worked at "We Luv Toys" and what the job means to them. They're alternately sad and funny, although mostly sad. People trapped in more than one sense.

The violence certainly has the Raimi excess to it. The affected gradually turning more horrible-looking, weird jaws and pointed teeth. Lots of corn syrup blood and people defending themselves awkwardly with whatever they can find. Whiffle Ball bats, bolt cutters, a broken champagne bottle.

Monday, November 28, 2022

What I Bought 11/23/2022

I tried, as much as possible, to stay the heck out of stores over the weekend. Can't deal with the Christmas surge. Had one comic come out last week, and not nearly as many books coming out this week as I was hoping, so let's look at what we got.

Sgt. Rock vs. the Army of the Dead #3, by Bruce Campbell (writer), Eduardo Risso (artist), Kristian Rossi (color artist), Rob Leigh (letterer) - Oh, so now Rock's decided he likes the using the flamethrower against undead Nazis. You should be more concerned with process than results, man!

Last issue's nosing around was just recon. Now Easy Co. knows where the factory is, knows the layout, knows they need better weapons to deal with the revived Nazis, and know that Hitler's personal physician visits there. A couple of quick pages to introduce some new firepower, such as an automatic shotgun and a tear gas launcher, and we're back to the guys skulking around at night.

I expected that once they were in last issue, the story would just rush forward from there. Rock and the others trying to destroy the factory and adjust to finding Doctor Morell on the fly. But it makes more sense that they'd report back and get proper tools for the job. Can't afford to screw up the mission. I'm a little surprised the skirmish last issue didn't put the Nazis on high alert. Especially since they wouldn't have found any dead American soldiers. Wouldn't that be a concern, that someone saw your secret factory and lived to tell?

Anyway, the issue flips back-and-forth between the squad led by Bulldozer, responsible for making Morell rabbit and destroying the factory, and the one led by Rock, responsible for tracking Morell. Each run into their share of complications, so Risso and Rossi get a chance to draw Nazis get their heads and limbs pulped by shotguns, or having an entire brick smokestack knocked on them with a bazooka. Rossi's limited colors work pretty well with Risso's heavy use of shadows. Some nice panels of the Nazis emerging from darkness, only teeth and eyes visible, or Jackie Johnson grinning maniacally as he fires one of those shotguns.

I think the thing that feels off to me about this Sgt. Rock is I'm used to Kanigher or Kubert giving Rock almost a constant internal monologue. Their stories were essentially written from his perspective. Campbell's ditched that approach entirely. There's no thought balloons, not even any internal narration boxes. And this Rock's not particularly chatty, which might make sense, being a hard-bitten man of few words, and most of those consisting of barked orders, but it does make things feel a bit thin in places.

The part where he and Jackie find their truck surrounded by Nazis and Rock's order is to, 'lean into it!' while leaping from the truck with his shotgun ready, felt very appropriate to the character. The action scenes catch that desperation the old comics had, but in a different way.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Sunday Splash Page #246

"On the Road Again," in Highwayman, by Koren Shadmi

Highwayman is a series of stories about a man named Lucas traveling from place to place. Lucas can't die, for reasons that are explained late in the book, and so his travels cover thousands of years, as both humanity and the planet gradually die away.

Each chapter is in a different place, at a different point in the journey, and Shadmi uses a different main color for each one. An overwhelming orange-red in Chapter 4, "Sizzle". An orange-peach in Chapter 2, when he hitches a ride with some girls going to an absurd party in the desert. The further the story goes, the grittier and bleaker the colors get. Not necessarily darker, but a sickly grey-green, or just a dull grey of a dead world.

Lucas remains distant from most of the people he rides with, rarely even looking at them while they talk with him. Just stares out the window as the world goes by, as if the answer to why he's like this will be posted on a billboard somewhere. The people he meets are usually awful, indifferent to the suffering of others, so maybe it works out that Lucas doesn't care too much about their fate.

It's not all like that. Shadmi does add a few kinder people along the way, and Lucas does try to help others. But the recurring theme is the kinder people get crushed by the cruel ones, and Lucas ultimately can't help anyone. That's not what he's for.