Friday, December 30, 2016

Razorguts #2

Post-Apocalyptic mutant animals, cloned pseudo-Nazi Stormtroopers, and bondage-clad lobotomized sex slaves.
(and that's not all!)

Writer – Barreio
Illustrator – F. Solano Lopes
Translator – Sonya Jones
Letters – Heather Kennedy
Art Direction – Jim Blanchard
Production – Jason Lutes
Edited – Ryder Windham
Publishers – Gary Groth and Kim Thompson
February 1992

This is the second time I've written this review.

The first time was for the original Crapbox, a series of reviews all of which have been reprinted here on the forum boards of Rotten Tomatoes website. The sub-forum the original Crapbox was on got deleted in the late 2000's along with all its content. Lucky for me, I created the articles in Word files that were saved to my local hard drive. However, after the destruction of almost two years of work, I decided not to repost the Crapbox in another forum for fear it would vanish once again.

To my knowledge, the Razorguts #2 review was the only thing in the blog that didn't make it out alive. I must have written it online and not made a backup copy of the text.

That means I have to take another stab at this one, and brother! out of all the comics to have to wrap your head around a second time, Razorguts has to be the most bizarre head-trip that I've ever had the discomfort to review.

Written by "Barreio" who is most likely Argentian writer Ricardo Barreio and drawn by Columbian artist Francisco Solano López, Razorguts is a mature adventure tale of resistance against an evil overlord. Let's begin with the basic story premise and you'll see how wild this one gets.

Our setting is The Ministry, the future sanctuary of all mankind, a towering skyscraper that reaches up into the upper atmosphere. I don't have issue number one, so I really have no clue on the how or why it came about, but for some reason our descendants build this monumental structure that stretches up into the sky. And once complete, they sealed themselves in. At some point, a brutal dictator and his scientist allies take over.

Now that you know where the story takes place, I'm going throw you in with Carl the Kid, one of the worker drones in The Ministry. Not having issue one I can only surmise about how exactly this came to pass, but Carl's girlfriend Susana was taken as a sex slave by the trollish evil dictator of The Ministry.

Carl has taken up with these guys called the MOFATA, who are plotting against the dictator. And the method of us find all this out is something that pops up from time to time in the book: the handy-dandy exposition box.

See that third panel breaks the forth wall and directly addresses the audience to explain a specific story element. It isn't distracting as that might seem. Most of Barreiro's placement of these is handy providing info we the audience needs to correctly understand the action going on. Occasionally they provide story that enhances one or more of the characters.

But let's leave Carl the Kid as he ventures down the giant structure's elevator shaft in search of weapons of some type to use against the vile overlord…and turn now to poor Susana at the top of the giant edifice

She is being groomed for sexy time by two not-at-all-clad lobotomized sex slaves. And I have to say this is done in a very creepy and effective way that both titillates and horrifies. Lopez does a great job of conveying the twisted beauty of this story and I am glad that his hand is the one charting the images used. He is a skilled artist who can handle character models as well as backgrounds and settings with the same degree of intricate inkwork.

Like this sequence of panels here of Carl being menaced by something coming down the shaft. That first panel is amazing and we have barely scratched the surface of what Lopez can do.

We move for there to confrontation between Susana and her captor. It begins with some not-so-subtle foreplay. Or make that threats of abuse against her if she doesn't capitulate. 

Ugh, he's such a repulsive troll. I hate that guy. He keeps after her until she gives him a little cat scratch fever across the face.

Make that a LOT of cat scratch fever. Like epidemic proportions. He vows to disembowel her with his bare hands and instructs the other sex slaves to hold her down while he does it. As they move too comply, Susana makes a fatal decision.

And as she plunges to her doom, the building tries to save her, even though she's already dead from cardiac arrest. All it does is end up adding insult to injury, and a plot point that will be picked up later on.

And it was right about here, where the book killed the love interest of the protagonist that I really felt we were in for a totally different kind of ride. The art, sex, and violence of the story reminded me of the "good" kind of Metal Hurant/Heavy Metal tales. The harsh nihilistic bent of this comic fits right in with those magazines, and I kind of dig it.

Shifting back to Carl the Kid, who has problems of his own. Getting down the shaft ends in hatch he can't get open. Barriero and Lopez take a break from this to show us what is approaching him in a half-page aside, and again I found this break in the narrative to work in context of the story. It is world building and background dumped on the audience. I should hate it, but it makes the story more understandable, so I don't.

Carl escapes the beast in a series of panels that emphasis action and suspense. Lopez knows how to work a layout. Even without reading the words, the intent of each panel is evident.

After Carl's escape from the beast, you'd think the guy would catch a break. Unfortunately you are wrong. Because around the corner is a squad of genetically engineered Nazi-like SS Stormtroopers and really, don't ask me how they got here (although through panels later Barriero will explain exactly that). Oh and he encounters them right before finding his path leads to a doorway with a rather ominous sign.

Which means he has to press on through the very dangerous electric snake room…

…with the guards in hot pursuit. The frying pseudo-Nazis are almost worth the price of admission. Look at these panels.

I was going to say "Of course Carl survives" but then I remembered this book recently slew his love interest in one of the most "she sure is dead" kind of ways. So maybe his chances aren't that great. Except he and two guards make it through unscathed.

The first of those guards falls victim to Carl's inventive use of razorblades on the elevator cable.

He falls to his death while Barreiro does this forth wall breaking aside where he apologizes to the audience first and then goes into an almost page long description of how the guards are "made". I am still digging this background stuff as it makes the story deeper and more understandable (even as it also makes it more outlandish).

The final guard chases Carl in a series of panels that are astoundingly good, but I am resisting posting because at this point EVERYTHING art-wise in the book is astoundingly good. But here goes a few of them.

Love the black face on the guard in that last panel, with the implication that he isn't the true evil, just another faceless drone in the cogs of a much worse machine. Carl tricks him with a spear and then we have a reveal I didn't expect: Susana makes an appearance!

Love the anguish and true emotion in those final panels. And then this series of panels where he gives her the only kind of burial honor he can. And while the exposition at the end isn't necessary, it still works in context.

Carl is next chased by like a million rats. He barricades himself into a room with…well, see for yourself.

That's right: preserved accountants. They died at their desk and are still in the same upright position as if they were working. This book is just freaky.

Then we break with the story in progress to tell the tale of how the scientists genetically engineered two "super-ferrets" to take care of the growing rat problem.

Then to explain how the female, who was pregnant, took up residence in the wrong file room drawer…

…and gets on the wrong side of the leader, who kills the female but the male escapes. And in escaping becomes…

…the leader of the rats in a rebellion against the evil dictator…

…which precipitates the creation and release of the giant spider penises yet ends with the animals all dying of radiation poisoning and WHY is this part of the story if it affects it in zero ways? I don't know, but I enjoyed the crap out every last panel.

The book ends with Carl continuing his journey, using a rope to scale the outside of the building.

I enjoyed this WAY more than I expected. The art was fabulous and the story so strange that it intrigued me.

So what are we working with here? An insane premise. A wonderful artist. A distinctive writer. A plot that defies expectations. And believable characters worth investing in. I have to mention that the book only lasted four issues, which probably was enough time to complete the story of Carl and his attempt to subvert the system.  

If any of that appeals to your sense of the weird or you like Heavy Metal type fiction, definitely check these out.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Harley Quinn Holiday Special #1, Part 2

Harley's back half is a bit uneven.

The back half of Harley Quinn's first Holiday Special is two tales with very different art stylings. One of them is from possibly one of the best art deco pencilers ever to walk the Earth and the second is … well, not to my taste. I'll let your own eyes make up your minds on these two. We start with at tale called…

"Get Yer Cheer Outta My Ear"
Writer – Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist – Brandt Peters
Breakdowns – Amanda Conner
Letters – John J. Hill
Colors – Paul Mounts
Editor – Chris Conroy
Group Editor – Mark Doyle

I have never heard of Brandt Peters before, and If I am honest, I really wish that was still the case. Maybe I'm being too harsh? Perhaps. Perhaps my beef is really with Paul Mounts color pallet that turns this entire story into one garish nightmare that bleeds color in a neon hue radiance blinding to behold.

Don't believe me?

Let's start with an intro to the pest that will be messing with Harley. An earworm in the physical as well as figurative sense.

Woops! I've wandered into some child's bedtime storybook. And not one that I approved of. As stories go, this will be a simple one. Harley trips carrying packages. (and oh my LORD, that has to be some bug-eyed alien creature and not a person.)

Which leads to this little critter taking up residence in her head. Let's be fair, it was probably pretty much vacant anyway.

Leading her to act crazier than normal…and it's Harley, so that gives us a huge latitude.

I enjoy the story being crafted here but there are many art panels that give me a kind of cringe. The storybook stylings are so at odds with both the other stories and there are occasional moments that look wrong no matter what. It has that Teen Titans Go flavor that just doesn't sit well with me.

She bumps into a cop….

…and that doesn't end well. The gunshot seems a bit over the top as it would likely take that cop's crotch off.

We end up with Harley visiting Santa…

…who knows exactly what to do. 

Which is good because I was already tired of this mess a page or two ago. There's a bit at the end about a Jewish deli, but I'm over it already. Just not up my alley.

"Killin' Time"
Writer – Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist – Darwyn Cooke
Letters – John J. Hill
Colors – Dave Stewart
Editor – Chris Conroy
Group Editor – Mark Doyle

Ah, yes! The incomparable Darwyn Cooke. His retro stylings and character models are so hard to beat. Even in this back-of-the-book fluff piece, his genius shines through. When we lost him mid-year (2016 was THE year of killing our dreams) at the age of 53 I was in shock. His DC: The New Frontier, Catwoman and The Spirit revamp series were amazing. His talent will be missed, so any little bit we can find of his work is like discovering buried treasure.

We begin this spot with Harley finding a gray hair. This appears to cause her great distress.

Tony makes things worse by giving her an anthropomorphized being to blame for the gentle aging one goes through.

And of course Harley takes him literally meaning someone named Mr. Tyme is about to have a very bad day. Don't you just absolutely love that first panel? I do. I love it. Lovelovelovelove Love it! There is something almost Chuck Jonesian about it. And yes, that is a word. I just made it up, but it is a word.

And speaking of words, Harley races off to the hospital to "waste time" with all the implications that has for the poor octogenarian.

 She arrives, sic's her pack of animals on everyone (I didn't know Harley was an animal lover, but apparently so) and then makes her way up to Father Time's room.

Center bottom picture of Harley's face is just perfect in many ways. It captures her spirit with a minimum of fuss and line work. Why did he have to be taken from us? Man I miss his sense of style.

Thankfully, Harley doesn't just off the innocent geezer, but instead attempts to find his timepiece so she can turn back time.

Mr. Tyme is saved by the timely arrival of his grandson and Lilly, who happens to be his great grandchild. I love the look of shock here as Harley pops up out from under the bedsheets.

The awareness that Lilly is part of Tyme's family gets Harley the exact wrong idea about her being the Baby New Year.

 Before too much can go on though, Lilly solves all our problems…

…and just like that, all the conflicts are resolved. 

Well, except for the mystery of where Harley's pets are.

And that turns out to be the sweetest ending of them all.

Great short with WONDERFUL art. I stated in part one that I didn't know what DC was doing with Harley. Being completely honest, I still don't. It appears to be just a comedy book that lacks any real import to either the universe or the character. Maybe that's just the New 52 version. Maybe it is All versions. Hard to say at this point.

However if they have any more Darwyn Cooke stories slated to appear in the book, count me in!

Happy New Year, everyone. The Crapbox may return on Friday for one last hurrah if all goes well this week. Until then be merry!