Last Week’s Comics 1/11/2012

Fatale #1

(Image – writer: Ed Brubaker; art: Sean Phillips)

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have racked up quite a catalog of work in recent years. Beginning with Incognito, the duo started presenting more noir-style tales with gritty visuals, manly dialogue and visceral violence. Everything about the stories made them feel less mainstream than Brubaker’s other work, like his ongoing Captain America run.

Fatale tells the story of a man, Nicolas Lash, and the mysterious Jo, a woman whom he meets at his author-godfather’s funeral. Nicolas is trying to piece together an early manuscript and the strange connection between his godfather and Jo’s grandmother. Alternating between the present and past, Fatale has the feel of a true noir piece set against a background of occult and the world of H.P. Lovecraft.

The occult part of this story hasn’t really made itself visible yet. The book opens with Nicolas at his godfather’s funeral, where he meets Jo. Later, as Nicolas looks through his godfather’s house, he finds an old manuscript written three years before his first novel was published. At that moment, two men who resemble Major Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark arrive (and wouldn’t you know that the story involves Nazis too!). Jo pulls up just in time to save him, but then a plane tracks them down and causes the car to crash. When he wakes up, missing a leg, Nicholas opens the manuscript and begins reading about the mysterious woman whom Jo called her grandmother. It seems Nicholas’ godfather, Hank, was a reporter, and he’s meeting Josephine to find out about a murder and a corrupt police department.

Additionally, a series of gruesome murders occurs nearby and when Detective Walt Booker shows up, he sees headless men in red robes, as well as the frozen, horrified faces of several others. There’s also another victim hanging upside down over some mystical symbols. Josephine has a connection to this man, but it’s not clear yet. As the issue ends, Walt cuts open his hand to summon the “Tohts,” who reappear to see what he needs. Apparently, Walt wants to make a deal.

I loved this issue. Upon reading it a second time, the creepy feel of the murders dominated my senses. While Nick’s interactions with Jo are interesting, and clearly essential to the story, it’s Sean Phillips’ art that engaged me the most. As Walt and his buddy search through the house, Phillips utilizes the beam of their flashlights as a window into the horror that took place. It makes for very uncomfortable visuals and a truly disturbing setup.

Nick’s godfather is also presented as a man getting involved in something that could only lead to ruin. He’s a family man, married and waiting for his wife to give birth to their first child. But his thoughts keep returning to Josephine, as she has a hold on him – partly because of her story and partly because she’s the beautiful femme fatale around whom the story revolves.

Brubaker and Phillips have the tone down perfectly and once again work well together. Fatale has the feel of a great detective piece, coupled with the darker and more obscure elements of the occult. But because it also deals with Lovecraft, one can only guess as to how and when Cthulhu will make an appearance.

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Action Comics #5

(DC – writer: Grant Morrison; art: Andy Kubert)

So Grant Morrison is tackling the Superman origin story. Everyone knows the tale. Born on a doomed planet and rocketed to Earth, baby Kal-El, crashed in a remote Kansas field just as a Jonathan and Martha Kent were driving by. They rescued the infant, took him home and raised him to be the hero everyone would one day know as Superman. One would assume that if Grant Morrison were writing about the origin of Superman, the purpose would be to alter it for a new generation or to make some shocking change (like Straczynski did when he destroyed Krypton with a terrorist act). Much like with the origin story we all know, Morrison sticks to the standard Superman beginning and delivers a very unvaried issue.

The issue starts with the destruction of Krypton, and you know the rest from here. The major changes in the story occur first when Jonathan Kent tries to trick the army by showing them a dead ram dressed in a space outfit and then at the end, when Superman returns with whom I’m assuming is Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy. Apparently, they’re seeking the Anti-Superman Army that has stolen the rocket that brought Superman to Earth.

Like much of Morrison’s writing, I found this to be a choppy issue that bounces between ideas too quickly. Filled with random panels that must make sense to Grant Morrison, Action Comics #5 tries its hand at explaining how Superman came to Earth. I don’t know enough about Superman lore to be able to distinguish the major differences, but one thing Morrison tries to emphasize is how desperate the Kents were to have a child. Filled with some backstory, the end of the issue highlights Martha and Jonathan’s struggle to conceive and how a preacher told them the story of Abraham and Sarah, a biblical couple who didn’t have a child until they were almost 100 years old. Like a prophet, Superman descends to Earth and happens to fall into the caring and favorable arms of the world’s two most altruistic and upbeat people. It also seems that the Anti-Superman Army is a new creation, a plot device specifically intertwined with this arc. Their purpose has yet to be revealed, but based on their nefarious dialogue, I don’t think they’re out to help Kal-El in any way.

File this issue under the “meh” category. It’s not a particularly strong one as Superman’s origin has become as ubiquitous as Santa Claus’. If anything, Morrison makes Jonathan and Martha seem like God-lovin’ country bumpkins who happen to be in the right place at the right time. I expected to see a twist on the origin tale, but things appear almost exactly the same. Zod and his crew make an appearance, as does the Phantom Zone. The latter appears to be weakening, if not completely destroyed, by the end of the issue, so readers don’t really have to guess too hard at the identities of the Anti-Superman Army.

That said, I’m always up for a Legion story, so we’ll see how this plays out. But I’ve found this issue to be like much of the other Superman reboots – disappointing.

———

Ferals #1

(Avatar – writer: David Lapham; art: Gabriel Andrade)

Bannen’s Book of the Week: My favorite creature features involve werewolves. Lon Chaney Jr.’s makeup in The Wolf Man led to many sleepless nights and bad dreams. Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf will go down in history as one of the best werewolf stories ever told. So the foundation work has been laid by previous writers, and Ferals picks up where others have left off. Like any piece, though, the subcontext of the story acts as the vehicle for the werewolf. Animalistic and primal, werewolves represent the base fear of chaos – a lack of self-control. Filled with similar motifs such as alcoholism, divorce, physical abuse and murder, Ferals relies heavily on its character development to drive home the story of a depressed detective and the failing Minnesota town over which he presides.

Ferals opens with the interior of a rustic trailer, the inside decorated with blood; a severed hand holding a coffee mug is the only leftover from the body. Sheriff Dale Chesnutt stands in the doorway surveying the damage, while the victim’s ex-wife, Jackie, stands behind him, cursing his death. It seems her abusive ex-husband, Mark, didn’t pay child support or anything else to help her and the kids. Mark’s body is eventually found, with certain parts stuffed in his mouth.

As Mark’s best friend, Dale feels a little remorse and takes it out on the townsfolk when he gets hammered in their local watering hole. There he meets the mysterious Norwegian bombshell Gerda, and after a bathroom rendezvous turns violent, Dale slinks off to the home of his best friend’s ex-wife (whom it turns out he’s been secretly seeing). The next morning the werewolf attacks, and when Dale goes to help Jackie, he ends up with some pretty ferocious scrapes on his back. At the end of the issue, two men come to Dale’s aid as he lies bleeding in the snow.

Using the bucolic setting of a secluded, snowy village, Ferals highlights the small-town setting that many people have come to associate with loneliness, poverty and depression. Much like the primal rages of the werewolf, Dale expresses similar depraved actions, like punching a woman in the face while having sex with her. His alcohol problems dominate the majority of the comic, and as a main character, he has more flaws than a cheap diamond. But Dale also represents the new breed of anti-hero – readers can relate to the need to present oneself as a figure of authority, while at the same time trying to deal with one’s own immorality. Much like those who fall into a depression, Dale has the ability to change – but he needs the will to do so.

The ongoing mystery revolves around the werewolf, so I’m sure we’ll get the reveal much later in the series. Also, as any lover of werewolf lore knows, once bitten or scratched by a werewolf, one becomes a werewolf. Dale, it seems, is going to sink much further than we’ve already seen.

David Lapham does an excellent job of making his characters losers. I didn’t feel a connection to any of them, so even when Jackie is mauled by the werewolf, I felt nothing for her children (even though Lapham makes it a point to show that Jackie is a good mother). She’s a victim of her circumstance, but she’s not innocent enough to be pitied. The same goes for Dale and pretty much every other resident of Cypress, Minnesota. Much like the visuals in modern horror movies, Gabriel Andrade’s work doesn’t shy away from blood or nudity. The pervasive feeling of isolation makes the comic an unsettling read, and at no time does it feel safe for the characters – especially after the wolf makes its appearance.

I wouldn’t say Ferals is a great comic, but it has enough going on to make for an engaging read. Ferals has all the elements of a great horror story, and now I’m intrigued enough to see how they play out.

Plus, werewolves scare the hell out of me.

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