Friday, September 22, 2017

September Sucks: Tie-ins, Part XXVI: Angel #19

Beyond Buffy and into a fandom I have no clue about

"Aftermath, part 2”
Writer – Kelley Armstrong
Pencils – Dave Ross
Inks – George Freeman and Dave Ross
Colors – Charlie Kirchoff and Lovern Kindzierski
Letters – Robbie Robins
Editor – Chris Ryall
March 2009

I’m a bad nerd.

There, I said it.

I’ve never watched Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Not to the extent that a nerd is supposed to, given the strength of its fandoms. I’ve tried numerous times. I’ve owned the first season on DVD for years and I’ve watched a total of ONE episode from it. I believe she was even on Netflix for a bit and I kept going “I’ll get around to it..” and never did, now she’s gone.

I did catch the silent episode where no one talked and thought it was fantastic, even if there were undoubtably in-jokes that flew over my head. Missed the musical episode, though. Dang it!

As for Angel, her off again-on again-off again romantic interest, he was even farther off my radar. And Angel got his own TV series. That means that in addition to the seven seasons of Buffy I would have to get through, there were five additional seasons of Angel to make it past. I’m not certain I have the time before the end of September to do all of that.

In accordance with the above, this review will be a fairly uninformed one. Did I ever see an episode of Angel? Yes, and it looked like the goofiest TV show that I’ve yet to encounter. It had actors in demon-head makeup and three-piece suits sitting around boardroom tables talking about … I really don’t know because the visuals were just so jarring I couldn’t pay attention.

I’m going to go with “the Buffy universe is very odd” and leave it at that.

This issue, occurring right after Joss Whedon got into the comic universe version of Angel and “fixed” things to put them back on track, was actually a decent story that made sense even without knowing the copious backstory that these characters must have. The dialogue is written well, the plot easy to follow and the art clear and understandable.

We jump right into this one with a naked woman trying to stake our favorite hunky-man vampire Angel while he’s asleep.

Make that “while he looks like he’s asleep”. Seems our assassin has a tougher job in store for them than they expected. Angel’s made many Demon Lords mad at him according to his inner monologue and this isn’t their first attempt to kill him. Some part of me worries we are going to get into goofy demons wearing suits, but right now the book isn’t going down those roads.

Where it is going is this fight with a skivvies-wearing Angel facing a naked hottie who jumps around the room like a cat. After a bit the old banter…

…and a bit more banter…

…we get down to the girl making Angel an offer to save them both a bunch of trouble.

Seems the young lady owes a debt to one of the Demon Lords and instead of giving him Angel’s head, she’d like Angel to help her take him out. But if she can’t lay a finger on Angel, why should he help…

…ulp! Okay, so she’s been fooling around this whole time.

Meanwhile two of Ange’s cohorts are running down a crazed rat-eating woman at some other part in the city. Sort of like demon-vampire-busters or some such. Really don’t ask me why, I didn’t watch the series remember. What I do know is after she ducks into an abandoned building, the pair follow only to be confronted by some major heavies.

That library card bit is kind of cute.

Anyhoo, they do some karate demon-butt kicking until the male character gets grabbed by the head, and then this magical girl named Gwen steps in from out of frame and saves his ass.

Which of course makes him mad because of some past I’m not looking up where they were in Hell or something and I’m sure betrayal and heart break and whatever happened. Because she helped out, the blonde asks her to stay, however.

They make it back to see Angel and his new pal “Desdemona,” who ends up going to “change” out of Angel’s shirt while the four regular cast members discuss how much they don’t trust her. She returns slightly different than when she left…

…oh-kaaay! So the giant spotted leopard drops the clothes and picks up a sword that I can only assume is +2 against demon slaying and heads out the door. 

The others bicker about Gwen back and forth before assigning her the duty of looking up just what exactly Desdemona is from their library of D&D monster manuals. I’m betting on rakshasa.

While Gwen looks we get this neat little interlude of Angel and Desdemona crawling through the Demon Lord’s air ducts.

Unfortunately, Angel did not bring the shirt.

Dez says it doesn’t matter and that it usually works better this way. She then distracts the Demon Lord while also letting him know that his doom is sealed.

And she allows Angel to fight off the guards (without killing them), while she does away with their boss…casually dropping hints that she is doing so while in the employ of another Demon Lord.

As the guards scatter, Angel plays out his part by attacking Dez, a ploy that will ensure the hirelings start a war between the Demon Lords to determine who paid for Dez to off this particular leader. It’s kind of a smart setup here.

Angel leaves the compound and bumps into his junior squad on the way in to help. He escorts them back to their base while fending off questions about where Dez is (he has no idea, they split up) and about how they are all dealing with the events of being in Hell (which I don’t have a clue about).

They get back and are all mean to Gwen, who’s been researching her little heart out.

Meanwhile, Dez appears to be trying to score some clothes from this homeless person. I like the art here, especially the top right picture of the leopard.

She shape-shifts back to human form and steals his clothes. I figure she eats the guy too, but no. Instead she heads back to Angel’s compound for an unexpected run in with the trio and Gwen.

She delivers the guy to Angel, although who he is and why Angel wants him isn’t brought up. What is brought up is WHAT exactly Dez is becomes a topic of conversation.

Dang it! I guessed wrong too.

The Angel squad take the kid back to the hospital and one of the doctors (I think) approaches our vampire guy…

And if this standoff isn’t kind of eerie, what the chap says to Angel certainly is. As well as the fact that this guy appears to be an “actual” angel.

Well, crumb. This was a pretty decent story that I would love to follow up on. I’m not sure if it is the comic book format or what, but everything about this book works for me. The cast is intriguing and the plot fun and shows to be linked to a larger ongoing narrative that I would like to explore. This was a good pick up.

Now I just have to find about three months to get up to speed so I understand it better.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

September Sucks: Crimson #1

Someone had to get all religious on us

"Dawn to Dusk”
Story concepts – Humberto Ramos, Francisco Haghenbeck & Oscar Pinto
Script – Brian Augustyn
Pencils – Humberto Ramos
Inks – Sandra Hope
Ink assist – Chris Elarmo
Colors – Alex Bleyaert, Ian, Hannin, & Robert Ro of Badoss
Letters – Amie Gremier
Editor – Scott Dunbier
May 1998

Crimson was a poor selling vampire title out of the Cliffhanger! imprint of Wildstorm/Image comics. I’ve collected near the entire series twice over from nothing more than bundle packs. Every time I’ve opened a pack of thirty comics to find another stack of Crimson I ask myself what the book is and why these near-mint copies keep appearing in the Crapbox.

After reading through the first issue and doing a little research on the book, I can now share with you my findings.

Crimson mixed lots of religious overtones into a story of a young man infected with vampirism who is destined / prophesied to one day eliminate all the blood suckers from his world. The book is written by Brian Augustyn, a seasoned pro at writing superhero books who helped Mark Waid usher in one of the best eras in Wally West/Flash’s title. The penciller is Humberto Ramos, also no slouch in the art department who had been charting a different speedster (Impulse) for several years.

Sounds like a sure-fire winner, right? Except for a couple of things: Ramos pencils are divisive. He has a certain cartoony style that not everyone finds appealing, so right away the book had some detractors before issue one even hit the stands. But Ramos had just as many fans, given he would go on after Crismon’s 24 issues were over to pencil the Spectacular and Amazing Spider-Man books for decent length runs.

In my own personal opinion, Ramos isn’t someone I would use on every title. He works well with young books where we don’t need complete faithfulness to physics or anatomy. It’s not every hero story that can pull off characters with giant Keane kid eyes, for one thing. And then there are body proportion things that, for some, cross the line of good art / bad art. On this particular title – for me, I thought Ramos’ work did the job needed. It set a mood for the series that didn’t take itself all the way seriously yet still allowed some of the pathos of waking up as an immortal parasite would have on a boy.

The other issue was the tale itself, which we should just dive into at this point. We have a small, personal tale of a boy who becomes not only a vampire, but THE CHOSEN ONE destined to fight and kill all vampires so the logical start to our story is…

…The Judeo-Christian DAWN OF CREATION! Okay, follow this with me here people…mythologic world building is FINE in its PLACE. But that place is NEVER page one through five of your story. We will go through these, but suffice to say SO Much information is conveyed without any human connection to it that this “history lesson” feels exactly like that: a lesson where we need to take notes of names, places, tribes and alliances because we are boning up for a quiz. 

The human element is what we are here for. Start there. Sprinkle in the history later. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes and you have a great meal. Don’t put all of this out on the plate raw and uncooked, with no melding it to people we care about and feel are important.

*sigh* Rant over. Carry on with this.

So we go through the whole “seven days” thing, except we add literal dragons which are called Chalkydri for some reason…

…and we get on with God making mistakes and screwing things up before man ever sets foot on the Earth. I am certain all of these creatures will come into this story about vampires later as justification for HOW we have beings that drink blood to survive and have magical powers, but right now? Right now, I really don’t care for this world building exposition. And we aren’t done yet.

No, we go through the war of God and the Devil first. I have to admit that even though these are empty, emotionless panels that don’t really draw me into the story, Ramos is doing an amazing job on the pencils. None of this looks like his standard “big eyes” work and if the artistic style had remained here, I think the book would have been better received. As it is we have one more page of this fantasy-Bible puree before we start the actual story proper, and that part feels way more like standard Ramos.

We shift over to the Devil’s corruption of Earth and watch Ramos do more impressive stuff. Really, all around the inking and colorists have done a great job, I just wish this history lesson came within the confines of a human story. Because right now it is really removed from any kind of personal struggle.

Even when two named characters are shown hooking up, of a sort, we don’t feel a connection. The scale has been too big for us to feel these two will have any effect on the world being introduced.

And if you thought that transition was a bit rough, prepare to have your teeth jarred out of your head as a simple page turn and we have skipped over the whole of human civilization to today. All of this time hopping done via two text boxes. 

Our destination is a group of four young boys, out on the town and about to make a wrong turn into disaster. Of especial concern is Alex, who just had a fight with his girlfriend Julie.

The abrupt shift in time and location is also accompanied by a change in art style for characters. All of these boys are Keane eyed and overly smooth. This is Ramos’s normal style and I wish it hadn’t made an appearance here, as I was hoping that we might the a more horror centric look for his stuff. At least we end up with vampires that look like the following gang of bikers.

That’s not so bad, and I will admit that the black pasties on our lead female make me smile uncomfortably. Sadly for the kids, they are caught and drained, with “X-Boobs” nabbing Alex. 

This quickly goes from “that oddly twisted kinky fantasy I have but don’t tell anyone about”…

…to that “Complete and utter nightmare of your friends being torn to shreds while you are helpless to do anything but watch.

Just as we are getting serious about the horror of this situation, Alex has to remind us that the author of this story thought it would be good to give the victims the names of Donald’s nephews. Not too cool. What is cool, is help arriving at the last moment before Alex is made into stew meat.

Alex’s savior knocks out one of the M-Bats and the rest scatter. 

He scoops up Alex just as another guest arrives. A guest that isn’t as forgiving to the vampires.

Little red riding hood puts one in Eightball’s center pocket, in what must be a “no-coming back from” kind of wound.

Page turn and we are out of the action, but in a brief, wood-framed (why?) flashback sequence of Alex’s fight with his parents before leaving that evening. There is a jarring aspect to being thrust into backstory of the character this way, after so much has happened, without any clue that is the books intended destination.

I can see why Crimson was a poor seller. It isn’t the art or the plot, so much as the sequencing they chose to tell this story being a mixed up affair that would confuse readers more than draw them in. I’m saddened by this a bit, because I think there is a neat tale in here that just needed a co-plotter to curb back whomever was driving this runaway bus. The art certainly isn’t to blame, even with the …big eyes thing.

Then we get Alex pushing away Julie too, who I am certain will show up in later issues along with the struggle to figure out how this event has changed their relationship.

Then bingo! Alex awakens in the present, naked on the floor of a dilapidated church. His benefactor has been caring for him as the ground around him is litter with the bodies of dead, bloodless pigeons.

And the trite scene plays out where the wiser character tries to explain what Alex has become. Alex runs away because he doesn’t want to believe it is real and we the audience get to yawn because we’ve seen this part too many times to count. 

*sigh* Cliché. Also dontgooutthatdooritsdaylightstill…

…and aww. Knew that would happen. Yet, even after all this EVIDENCE. Alex still acts like he hasn’t been turned into one of the living dead. Our mysterious protector guy with his red scarf of “NO” tries to explain again, but Alex just books after being a foul-mouthed little snot to him. 

 Because he is running around Central Park at night, he bumps into a vampire again, but this time he’s a helpful, friendly one.

Meet Joe, the “cool” vampire. He’s keen to show Alex the ropes and the ropes include chomping down on a few people, although in Joe’s defense, he only goes after drug dealers and criminals. Sort of like Batman only emphasis on the Bat part. 

Oh, at he tends to suck all the blood out of the guys he catches. That too.

This is too much for “in denial Alex,” who rushes home trying to get back to his normal life. An impossible thing, given his change in living state. Heck he’s even been gone so long that there are missing posters up for him that look worn. Still he heeds none of what anyone has told him about “the hunger” and makes it to the fire escape outside his sister’s room…

…just as that need for blood kicks in full strength.

And as Alex drops helplessly to the garbage strewn pavement below, we take our exit from the first issue of Crimson.

So there is a bunch of things here we’ve seen before: chosen one prophecy, new vampire that doesn’t believe he is one, war between immortal personifications of good and evil. I mean this issue took a bunch of trite, cliché bullcrap and put it in a blender. The comic that came out isn’t anything to write home about.

However, I’m interested enough to read one more issue. Might be a waste of time but I’d give it a shot. This is fairly a C+ story which makes in about par for the Crapbox. My hope is that they elevate their tale in the next issue. If not, I have about two years worth of Crimson that will be making its way to the recycle bin.