Thursday, November 5, 2009


Look out, comic book world. It’s the amazing debut of the first new creation from comic book superstar Todd McFarlane since SPAWN.

SPAWN was Al Simmons, a super bad-ass, top-secret government killer who died, but came back to life as a supernatural hero with a Venom-like living costume (which McFarlane also helped create) and had to help protect his former wife, who in an ironic twist, was now married to his former best friend!

Well, forget everything you knew up to now! Here’s HAUNT. As David (I think it was David) Kilgore, he was a super bad-ass, top-secret government killer who died, but came back to life as a supernatural hero with a weird, gooey, Venom-like costume – and has to protect his former wife, who in an ironic twist, has some kind of history with his own brother! …who is the person Kilgore is possessing and turning into HAUNT!

Okay, maybe that sarcasm was a bit stronger than necessary. But really, McFarlane hasn’t been doing any actual comic creating in over a decade and this is the new idea he’s come up with in that time? Look, back in the days of Todd McFarlane drawing Spider-Man, I thought he was THE awesomest artist EVER. But even then, I could tell his writing was a little dodgy. I could even tell his art was a little dodgy, but it was always filled with ink-loads of “awesome” detail. So it seems like a winning idea to bring in a really good writer write his book for him and have a solid artist do the pencils (Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley respectively, both of the INVINCIBLE book I raved about in my last post) - and let other long-time Spawn artist Greg Capullo do the page layouts, and McFarlane adds his inks and the final result should have that McFarlane feel but with real quality underneath. But this has way too little Kirkman-Ottley and way, way too much McFarlane-Capullo – whose contributions seem completely phoned in. I mean, halfway through issue 2 it looks like they’re just using Ottley’s pencils, darkened by the colorist, without any inking at all! In case you doubted my assertion that McFarlane’s contribution here is half-assed.

A bit more on what’s in this comic. First of all, no characters display any depth or personality. Living Brother Kilgore is a priest who’s gone bad! He visits prostitutes and has stubble and smokes cigarettes! (sorry, those cannot be considered personality traits) Dead Brother Kilgore is a merciless killer, who’s maybe kinda good! At least, he kills a guy that he considers bad! (that also does not qualify as a personality) Have you noticed that other decent superhero origin stories usually involve some kind of emotional element? Batman’s parents are killed and he couldn’t do anything to save them, so he is filled with righteous vengeance. Spider-Man’s parent is killed and he could have done something to save him, so he is wracked with guilt. Haunt is killed over some vague secret document thing and now he kills bad guys because he feels like he probably ought to help his wife. Does he love her? No evidence to suggest that here.

So Dead Brother Kilgore possesses Living Brother Kilgore and makes him barf up some gooey ectoplasm-costume which covers everything but his chin. Even his upper teeth and lip are covered by the barf-costume, which means that when he talks it must sound like the mean sister with orthodontia from South Park. It looks really dumb. Then he slaughters a bunch of bad killer spies (different from our “hero” … how?) in the messiest manner he can – even though he could have just strangled them - AND in issue 2 he has to call in a guy to clean up the mess. (compare this ho-hum scene to the downright gripping use of gory violence in INVINCIBLE)

I still sort of hope that this book could turn out okay, but I really just wish Kirkman and Ottley had made up their own new thing and not bothered to collaborate with McFarlane here. I mean, look at the 2 covers above. The first is the cover to issue 1, drawn by McFarlane. The second is Ottley’s alternate cover. Which would you send to press? At least in Ottley’s cover you can see that Haunt has a symbol on his outfit, not just a mess of McFarlane-squiggles, and you can sort of figure out what’s going on with his silly barf-mask, and his living goo-power looks like it at least has some form to it, and not like he’s just jumping through a big splash of milk like he’s Dark Count Chocula in an X-treme cereal commercial. (I will leave it to others to speculate on what else that substance might be)

I can’t recommend this, but I guess I’m sticking around for another issue or 2. If it improves, I’ll let you know.

UPDATE: It just occurred to me that since this blog is run by noisy music people, I should put a music analogy into my reviews. This comic book is like if you heard that Eye from the Boredoms was forming a new band with both Brians from Lightning Bolt, then you listened to their album and it sounded like "Chinese Democracy."

Monday, November 2, 2009


This comic made me sick. No, seriously. I had to lay down after reading this. I’ve had movies make me feel that way. Usually it’s sustained, realistic, and brutal violence that gets to me. But this is the first time I’ve felt that way reading a comic book, which I didn’t really think was possible (the realism, y’know). This is also probably the best issue of any comic book that I’ve ever read. For what I think is the first time with a comic book, I actually forgot that I was reading something and felt like I was just seeing it happen.

The credit doesn’t all go to this single issue, but really to the work of writer and creator Robert Kirkman, and artist Ryan Ottley, over the course of the INVINCIBLE series. This is a superhero comic, which fully embraces all the craziness that comes with that: bright costumes, aliens, time travelers, giant monsters, etc. But Kirkman knows that you’ll care about what happens in the story if the characters feel real and if you start to think of them as real humans. (Even when they’re invincible aliens.) The premise goes like this: Mark Grayson/Invincible is the son of Omni-Man, who is basically Superman (with a mustache) except that it’s revealed (in issue 12 or so?) that he isn’t here on Earth to protect us, but to prepare us for his planet’s conquest and enslavement of humanity. Upon discovering this, Invincible turns against his father and is beaten nearly to death by him, until Omni-Man suddenly decides not to kill his son and leaves the planet.

So INVINCIBLE is fantastical and fun, but sometimes it gets really, really real. And that’s what happens in the 3-issue battle that climaxes in this issue, 64. You remember that Superman vs. Doomsday fight? The one that led to the “Death of Superman”? Try to imagine what such a fight would really look like. You have 2 people who are so indestructible that the only object which can harm each one is the other’s body. One of them is completely intent on killing every person he can, and the other one is the only thing that can stop him. It would not look like a pro-wrestling match. It would not end like the Superman story, where both characters fall over with a few rips in their clothes and slight nosebleeds. It would get very bad and very ugly.

Conquest, one of Omni-Man’s race (the Viltrumites) shows up to eliminate Invincible and kill as many people as necessary to conquer the planet. Their fight stretches over 3 issues, but like any good story, it's not just an extended action sequence. In the first part it's established that Invincible looks to be far outclassed by his opponent's strength, and also that Conquest has no intention of letting up, but intends to kill Invincible and then as many others as he can, mainly because it's what he enjoys doing.

And then I missed an issue! I picked this one up and immediately saw that things had started to get really bad. Right on page 1, Invincible looks severely beaten, one eye swollen shut and with a bone sticking out of one leg. His girlfriend and fellow superhero, Atom Eve, a character who has also been developed since issue 1, lies at his feet with what looks like the entire lower half of her face pulverized. That's exactly what Conquest did to her in part 2 when she showed up to help, then put a hand clean through her body. Yikes! I was surprised by how upsetting this was, but then, Atom Eve had really become a fleshed-out character, and you could really feel for Mark/Invinvible, because he reacts like a real human would: with shock, horror, grief, and rage.

This issue really puts Invincible to the test, and shows us why he's being called a "superhero." Having "powers" is cool, sure, but the heroes who are really compelling are the ones who can accomplish what seems genuinely superhuman. When superhero stories are well-written, they are about the hero overcoming obstacles that are not just tests of physical strength, but mental and emotional strength. It's about events that challenge and change them. Invincible's defeat of Conquest feels like a really superhuman acccomplishment, and goes way beyond what I think most people would be capable of. When the bones break and pop out of one arm, he hits Conquest with the other one. When grabbed in a bear hug, he takes a gruesome bite out of Conquest's shoulder. When his other hand is crushed, he begins headbutting Conquest in the face, again and again and again...

Some of the shock of these events comes from Ryan Ottley's art. Like the stories it's depicting, his work usually looks bright, clean, and slightly cartoonish. It's easy to overlook the level of detail and realism he puts in - until something like this is happening. At the end of this fight we're left with a close-up of Conquest's smashed face that would be suitable for a grindcore album cover. And though I don't want to give away all the surprises, if you pick up new issues you'll find that Atom Eve survived and yes, it does make sense and is based on previously established facts about her abilities. I closed the book and immediately started feeling ill. Afterwards I asked myself if the creators needed to take things that far, but I decided that the answer was "yes." If you accept the fantastic premise, this would be the all-too-realistic outcome. Kirkman wanted to have us feel what Invincible would be going through. That final image of Conquest's smashed face would surely be burned into his mind, which is why we got a big, gory close-up of it.

INVINCIBLE is my favorite superhero book right now and I give it my highest possible recommendation. Even if you're not a fan of gore (and really, I'm not either). Honestly, it only happen rarely in this book, which is smart because then it has the intended emotional impact. It's probably also a good time to start reading, as the story builds from here to the inevitable(?) war with the Viltrumites.