Monday, March 12, 2018

Warlock 5 #15



Fantasy February and Magical March!
Warlock 5, Part 3
Warlock 5 #15

 
…that forces us to tap out.

"Still, Be Like A Mirror”
“Creator” – Barry Blair
Writer – Charles de Lint
Pencils – Patrick McEown
Inks – Jim Somerville
Editor and Letterer - Mike Charbonneau
Editor-in-Chief – Barry Blair
July 1988

A month goes by.

Issue number 15 sits in my pull box now and I have to make a decision. I flip through it in the store. It’s the same crappy art as issue 14, but as I look into my LCS store owner’s face I take pity on him. He didn’t cause my beloved Warlock 5 to suddenly start sucking with all the power of a Dyson vacuum. He isn’t to blame in all this.

I buy the damn thing rather than have him do the walk of shame and place it back on the new comics shelf. But I make certain to cancel it from my pull list. I’m not paying full price for crap comics.

As I walk out of Heroes, I can’t help but wonder what happened. Who IS to blame for all this. Likely I would never know. Likely none of us ever will. But I can tell what I’ve found. I can speculate and cast aspersions and make up shit from limited information. Because this is the Crapbox and I don’t claim to know the truth. Not even a little.

And what do I think? I think Barry Blair, for all the good things he did at Aircel, did not create Warlock 5. He claimed rights to the title possibly due to the contracts Gordon Derry and Dennis Beauvais signed with him. This was far from being the 1990’s boom of creator’s rights and Blair’s company put out the book. After Derry and Beauvais left, Blair could take complete ownership of the concept if he cared to, which he did.

The questions that come from this are: Why did they leave? and Why did Blair keep the book going after they left?

Again, I have no real concrete answers to this. What I have is idle speculation drawn out of a quote from Dennis Beauvais’ web page bio. In it, he states

“In 1986 I was approached by a friend to see if I’d be interested in creating comics. Got together with his best writer Gordon Derry, we brainstormed and came up with the basic premise to “Warlock 5.” The story itself was developed over time as we created approximately 15 issues. It was a small black & white publication that drew a lot more attention than we anticipated. That recognition led to my acquaintance with the people at Dark Horse comics and offer to create Aliens…”

There’s a lot to unpack in that quote.

First and foremost is this unnamed friend who approached Beauvais. Could that have been Blair? Did Blair introduce Derry and Beauvais? It seems likely given that Derry is called “his best writer” as if this person is the EIC of Aircel comics. Again, speculation.

Secondly, if Blair had anything to do with the creation of the premise for Warlock 5, it isn’t brought up here. According to Beauvais, two people were responsible for the concept of the Grid and the Warlocks, and those two people were himself and Gordon Derry.

Lastly, they weren’t done. Derry and Beauvais had 15 issues scripted (and perhaps ideas for layouts too) of which we got to see 13 issues completed. Finding this out really makes you wonder what Derry and Beauvais’ two missing issues would have contained, doesn’t it? I know it makes me a bit frustrated. Maybe we would have gotten some better closure to this storyline.

Now you might judge me unfair for taking Beauvais’ quote as the literal truth without giving Blair his moment to tell us what happened. So I’m reviewing this specific issue to do JUST that. Because at the back of issue 15 was this one little blurb…



I’ll save you the squinting and head tilting:

What Happened to Gordon and Denis?



The question on everybody’s mind! Some readers have been asking what Aircel Publishing has done with Gordon Derry and Denis Beauvais. The truth of the matter is the fact that Gordon and Denis suddenly announced their resignation to us after issue #13. We at Aircel felt that our obligation was to our readers so we decided to continue the publication of WARLOCK 5. We quickly hired Charles de Lint to write the book, and Patrick McEown to do all the pencils. Seeing how this was a sudden jolt to all of us, we were caught off guard. We literally had to put together #14 in a matter of two days. This probably explains the rushed artwork in that issue. As you can see through from this one, we have had more time to spend on the artwork and therefore there is a noticeable improvement. Please bear with us through this tumultuous experience. We will endeavor to do our best to see that WARLOCK 5 maintains the high standard you have come to expect. We will also be giving you a full explanation in the near future. We promise!

A lot of hints to what occurred there too, but none of it conclusive.

First off, Blair is stating that the pair quit. Not only that, but flat out walked in without any warning and quit. Right after issue 13. That seems a bit…unlikely. It’s true enough that Beauvais would move from this book right over to Dark Horse’s Aliens mini series that would do so amazingly well for him. And I don’t know Beauvais on any personal or professional level, so it is possible both him and Derry were not attached to the property in any emotional way. This could all have spun out exactly as outlined above.

But…That doesn’t seem likely.

Artists (and I’m using the “big A” artist word here, the one that includes writers) typically like to see their vision of a thing realized. More than a paycheck (although that’s important too), Artists don’t usually quit in the middle of a project. Especially a successful project and one that they haven’t completed. That’s where those missing two issues come into play. Why would they quit if they had two more issues scripted?

Well, money could be one big motivating factor. I’ve got lots of Aircel books in the Crapbox and none of them approach the level of quality that Warlock 5 attains. It was likely one of Aircel’s biggest sellers, a leap of intuition made more likely by existence of a trade paperback (which I own a copy of) of the first five issues (that subsequently lists the book as “a creation of Gordon Derry and Denis Beauvais). For all the issues of Elflord out there, I don’t find that series getting a trade paperback. But the Warlock 5 Graphic Album is in my hot little hands.

They were big enough to ask for more money or a bigger cut of the profits and perhaps they did, were denied, and they walked. Just business.

But if that was the case, why continue the series? I mean to make money, obviously. But why continue with Charles de Lint as your writer. He isn’t known for much now, but I recognized the name. I even remember seeing his books in stores. I never picked one up, mind you, but I’m sure he had readers. Why pull in a novelist that would ask for big compensation possibly on the level of your outgoing talent?

And you are now paying three people (penciller, inker/finisher, and a letterer) for art chores when you were just paying for Beauvais. I can’t see that as being cheaper no matter how you slice it. The money angle doesn’t add up. Or at least it doesn’t add up by itself.

Creative control is another big factor in this. Blair took the reigns as soon as the pair were out. He claimed a “creator” credit, which is odd given that prior to issue 14 his name had never appeared even as an editor or publisher. Not to mention that this issue sets up the exit of our five original Warlocks. I don’t have issue 16, but the Crapbox provided the ones after and they have been ejected from the book, their positions filled with five new Warlocks that Blair and de Lint could personally take credit for.

That feels very much like they are afraid of being sued for copyright infringement.

Whatever happened between Blair and the creative team responsible for those 13 impressive issues, the audience came out as the losers. Because where there was astounding art, what we got was this…




Someone using the office photocopier to scan a black and white picture of a Manhattan skyline and then scrubbing a charcoal pencil above it.

And in place of the five characters who we tended to care about in odd ways, rooting for one or more factions to defeat the others, we go this all powerful druid witch person whose ramblings go on for six boring pages…



…all of it pointless ramblings, scene-setting we don’t need because we understand these people and the world they inhabit better than the new writer of this book does. Or maybe we understood the world Derry created better than we want to understand what de Lint is trying to change it into. A place where the grid has a “protector” who can determine if the Warlocks are worthy of the power the grid invests them with.

And one who meets with floating Native American shaman to discuss the fate of those five characters the audience has grown to love, hate, and respect over 13 issues.



It has changed from a book where Beauvais’ pencils would be the tether between pieces that looked like standard comic book art to stuff that looked to have come from the pages of Heavy Metal magazine and morphed into a book where one page is Blair’s Elflord and the next is someone trying to capture Beauvais’ wordless beauty…



…and failing badly. That’s supposed to be Zania sneaking into the sewer. No, she’s not pregnant. Yes, I know she doesn’t have her signature mohawk.

Oh, here’s her replacement. He looks as uninteresting a character as they come. Where the original Warlock 5 were dramatically different in every way that characters could be rendered, this is the first of Blair and de Lint’s replacements for them. This is “Kicks” and get used to his aura of blandness.



Zania uses the sewers to come up inside her church (I assume. This is the Blair era of no backgrounds) and start up her grid. Compare this to issue two, where Zania plays three keyboards in the middle of a moldering Baptist church, while the undead ride motorcycles around the pews and drink hard liquor through rotted lips and stomachs so holed that the liquid just spills right out of them and the camera pans wildly overhead amidst the smoky forms of evil spirits. 



No, Blair. This issue’s art doesn’t come close in form or concept to what Warlock 5 was. It is lazy. Uninspired. Unimaginative. It has no soul and no power to move the audience. Whatever transpired between the parties, carrying on with Warlock 5 because he owed it to the audience is a sad joke at this point.

As Argon has his burnout friend take him to a warehouse of spare bodies, his replacement comes out of hiding as a telephone pole. Seriously. A telephone pole. Not something cool like a dragon. No. 



Argon gets the kid to reattach his head and then…doesn’t kill him because THAT would be in character for the killer robot terminator. And heavens knows, we don’t want anyone acting in character.



Outside that badly faded copy of the COPY (no other excuse for how this house keeps getting lighter with subsequent issues) of Tanith’s house stands a figure that looks a bit like Cable. Because that’s what Warlock 5 needed was to keep up with the X-Men.



Also outside is the other new character who is a rad street kid with a skateboard. Because THAT’s the other thing we needed in Warlock 5: appeal in the teenage market. 



Inside, Tanith and Savashtar argue about opening the gate and attacking the others. A silly aside, but Savashtar learned in issue 13 that they all should work together or else risk Armageddon, but here that’s all forgotten. 



Likewise, Doomidor starts his Grid pentagram up waiting for Zania to do her thing…



…while his replacement hangs around outside his house. Strange that the writer can only come up with people from our Earth, from our reality as the replacements. This book is about to get real boring, real fast…



We learn the police have hung this inspector out to dry, who is now working with this weird-beard priest to eradicate the Warlocks…


…and we end with two pages of the druid dancing in a field while piping, all the while bemoaning that it has to be “war”.

I let it go. The Crapbox brought it back. I have four more of these, but I’m going to spare you. de Lint’s story makes the five into “heroes” and the art gets worse. (yes, that’s possible) I have no stomach for it anymore.

In issue 17 Blair posts a note that reads:

As you can see, the WARLOCK 5 dispute has been resolved. Thanks to those who stuck with us through it all. All parties involved have mutually agreed to the following terms: the title WARLOCK 5 is the sole property of creator Barry Blair. Gordon Derry and Denis Beauvias own the rights to the characters that appeared in WARLOCK 5 #1-13. Keep watching upcoming issues of Aircel’s WARLOCK 5 – the best is yet to come!

The "best" ended five issues later when the book was cancelled. Dale Keown penciled one of them, and while I loved him doing the Hulk, the crap that he drew here with Jim Somerville’s inks is some of the worst “art” I’ve ever witnessed. After that Blair took over pencil chores and the book was pure birdcage liner. If you ask to see an issue, I’ll review one of them.

Blair wasn’t satisfied. Feeling this was concept he could still milk, he came out with a second volume of Warlock 5 in 1989. The series lasted seven issues and if the covers are an indicator, the quality of this was even worse as far as art. It appears this version featured a Robocop and a werewolf and looks to be drawn by Blair himself.



In 1998, Blair tried again under the Sirius imprint to bring the title back. I have one of these four issues and I feel almost dirty touching it. Blair might only have been doing the story and Colin Chan the art, but the entire issue feels like it is filled with overly sexualized versions of children, an icky concept that even the Crapbox doesn’t want to touch. 



And last year Cullen Bunn of Deadpool/X-Men fame organized a kickstarter to fund a newversion of the original WARLOCK 5 cast, done in a very different, colorful style. The look is kind of neat, but to be honest, some of the edge is taking off the characters in the preview pages. They look to be working together, which seems counter to the ongoing infighting that Derry’s narrative worked toward. It’s a better try the Blair’s attempts, so I’m glad of it, but I prefer the original book by yards.



I will pull these books out later on and go through them. Just can’t bring myself to do it at this point. Too…SADDENED by the loss of a great story. No matter the cause: ego, money, or professional differences. We should have had more of these. They were “the good stuff.”

2 comments:

  1. Yeah, I totally didn't buy the "official" Aircel story of what happened on the book. My speculation is that Blair wanted to assert ownership of the book, that he "owned" it, and Derry and Beauvias basically said F You and left. So sad. That book was amazing for 13 issues. I also saw the Kickstarter, and honestly, I have zero interest in it. While I liked the characters and concepts of Warlock 5, what really made it unique was Denis Beauvias' art. And it was a product of its time. It's hard to recreate that feel, even if the new creators have true love and respect for the source material. I'll pass.

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  2. Many years ago (call it 1986) I had some friends who were into "Warlock 5", and while it wasn't quite my speed, I had to admit the artwork was unlike anything I'd ever seen. So a couple years later I was at the comic book store and picked up an issue of "Warlock 5" for them. Though I flipped through it and it sure didn't ... look the same. I wasn't up on the story, but I was wondering where the barbarian and the shapechanging guy had gone. But there was a cyborg of sorts, so maybe it was ... the ... same comic? "Warlock 5", I thought to myself, "I'm sure I've got the title right, this is definitely the right comic."

    Anyway, I gave the comic to the friends. They were polite about it, but the comic was not well-received.

    The thing I couldn't get over was how the artist seemed to sexualize teenagers way too regularly -- even for comics -- and I kind of wondered whether I was going on any watch lists for buying the thing. Yes there's a place for erotica, but then there's taking a perfectly good comic about were-dragons and morphing it into a vehicle for suggestive art about underage boys and girls. A quick look at the rest of Barry Blair's catalog suggests that it's a running theme with him.

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