Identity Stunt #4

 

Writer: Joe R. Khachadourian

Artist: J, Briscoe Allison (artwork), Juancho Velez (colors) A. J. Scherkenbach (Lettering)

Publisher: Markosia Enterprises (December 2018)

 

Here comes the final act of the film.

Flip your collars up, push up your sleeves and tighten the straps on your cut-off gloves.

If you’ve got a toothpick or a match-stick in your mouth, bite down hard on it.

Adjust your aviators or your ray bans and check your clips.

It’s GO time!

If you’ve just hit the play button on your VCR after a long pause, the shit has hit the fan.

Sami Nasser is knee deep in crazed acolytes. His lady love, Tracy, has joined the dearly departed, and his daughter Alyssa is in the menacing clutches of Dominus Smith as he stands at the cusp of seeing his plans come to fruition. Sami has back up though, Beatdown and Knuckleball are right in the mix. Making this issue an all-in brawl as well as a race against the clock.

Will Sami save his daughter in time? Will Beatdown stop Dominus for good? Isn’t Sami Beatdown? Did dominus lie to us all? Will Knuckleball get his own spin-off?!?!

If you want answers to the big questions in this review, look elsewhere. Spoilers are evil, and Sami Nasser said to always punch evil in the face.

If you want nitpicking and criticism exit stage left as well. No series is flawless. But if you’re not down with the action-packed fun and insanity by now you need to wake up, go back to the start, and read it again. Hell, grab it in trade form while you’re there. This series is a rare thing. An easy read with depth and punches in equal measure. It wears its tropes and influences on its sleeve and charms you into strapping in for the ride.

Joe Khachadourian shows, from the first page, that he’s a writer who can consistently deliver character and dialogue with honesty and authenticity. He can also deliver on some sharp twists and turns and has maintained mastery of pace throughout this series.

Beatdowns hard-boiled dialogue really would make Frank Miller’s god damned All-Star Batman smile.

Briscoe Allison needs to do a team book next. He needs to be on all the books from now on. Making all the money to boot. I was impressed early by his Maduereira-like style and his detailed eye (honestly there are so many Easter-eggs to watch out for in this book), but this issue also makes a strong case for his gift for panel layouts and sequential story-telling powers.

The movie literacy of this series has been one of my favorite things. There are A-team references and Butch and Sundance lines to spare in this issue. But their use in a story set in Hollywood’s stuntman scene, in a series that is an impressive entry into the buddy/action genre, are deployed with brains and precision.

Yes, there are clichés running rampant in Identity Stunt. But clichés become endearing and stand the test of time for a reason. The creative teams employ of the clichés in this issue show that they understand that.

But there’s also originality born from exploring these clichés. Knuckleball both encapsulates and benefits from this particularly. When they make a movie of Knuckleball, my favorite asshole in a uniform, the tagline must be “oh you’ve got to be fucking kidding me…”

The ending is tight enough while still leaving a few loose threads for the sequel.

Everyone knows these types of films are made to have sequels.

Lethal Weapon. 48 hours. Rush Hour. Even Bad Boys. All the best ones should have sequels.

Catch your breath boys.

Cauterize your wounds and hit us with Identity Stunt 2: Stunt Harder, soon!

 

Doomsday Clock #7

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: Gary Frank (pencils/ inks), Brad Anderson (colours) Rob Leigh (Lettering)

Publisher: DC Comics (November 2018)

 

In no way is this issue of Doomsday Clock a jumping on point for the series. If you’ve just joined the action then all I can guarantee you are gorgeously rendered illustrations, sharp dialogue, and a lot of questions. That goes double for you if you have no idea of the source story this series builds on. Watchmen (the 1986 series that deconstructs super-hero storytelling) is such a watershed moment in comic book lore that it extends beyond the medium. Doomsday Clock is a series that integrates the characters of the Watchmen universe into the current world of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. Delivering it to readers garbed in equal measures of mystery, noir, and realism.

The issue opens with a condensed history of the original Green Lantern, then expands out to unite all the key players introduced by the series thus far. Saturn Girl, Johnny Thunder, and Rorschach (all characters of questionable sanity) are met by Ozymandias (also someone whose sanity is unstable). These four then rescue Batman and The Comedian (who you could also say are both at least a little insane) from the torturous clutches of The Joker, The Mime, and the Marionette (so insane that I feel I owe the others an apology).  Dr. Manhattan disrupts the gathering and whisks some characters away. He reveals some shocking truths and leaves the arc of each character upside down and in disarray. What we get essentially, is a smart, inverting, and entangled display of Joseph Campbell’s refusal of the call.

I mentioned the gorgeously rendered illustrations and I emphatically stand by that. Gary Frank has been drawing comics since the early 90s. He has never fallen below excellent. His clean lines and comedic expressions eventually developed into a realistic style, instrumental in controlling storytelling pace. He conveys emotion with a sense of purity often overlooked in comics. You forgive the book its continued delays if the reason for them is so that Frank can tug on one more heartstring or make that last hair on the back of your neck stand to attention and salute.

Geoff Johns, honestly the torch bearer for DC superhero mythology, re-establishes that he is a brilliant writer. Layered, constantly innovative, and without limits. This isn’t just hyperbole or pandering to an industry heavyweight. Geoff Johns breathes love and veneration into every detail, every word, of these characters. He bows courteously to the original Watchmen series, treating it with the reverence of someone entrusted with minding a Faberge egg. But he also builds on its mythology, explores the psyche of today’s society, and works beautifully to exist both inside and outside of the comic book medium. The book feels like it comes from the same Reaganomics-driven-post-Nixon climate that Watchmen was born from, yet it also exists simultaneously in our world today.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you can jump on to Doomsday Clock with this issue and find yourself in the middle of something special. A legitimate event comic.

If you do, you’ll put it down. You’ll run to wherever you get your comic book fix from and pick up the previous issues of the series.

Hurry, before it’s too late.

Before the Doomsday Clock hits midnight.

 

Deadly Class #35


Writer: Rick Remender

Artist: Wes Craig (pencils / inks), Jordan Boyd (colours)

Publisher: Image Comics, Inc. (June 2018)

 

Do you cringe at the memory of the late 80s?

If you’re not a fan of that decade’s movie tropes; smash- mouth action, over-the-top violence, and deliciously bad stereotypes, then stay away.

If you read it despite my warning, then you’re about to be converted. Baptised in blood.

This is the conclusion to the four-part opera of violence that has been Love Like Blood.

The kids of Kings Dominion are on the run and fighting to stay alive.

What’s Kings Dominion?

It’s the Hogwarts for the criminal underworld that this series centers around. The handful of students it focuses on are the Breakfast Club with guns, knives and deep criminal tendencies.

The Love Like Blood storyline sees the cast cornered like rats in Mexico trapped in the crosshairs of a yakuza power struggle. The issue opens with a showdown between original cast members (and previously presumed dead) Marcus and Maria and main series villain Viktor (Ivan Drago’s steroids on steroids). Last issue’s bare-knuckled, broken-toothed, beat down has reached a climax with Marcus primed to shoot Viktor dead. But in a surprising turn of events he instead reasons with Viktor. A very raw conversation follows about duty and whose footsteps we choose to follow in as we build our own identities.

Following this, Marcus and Maria link up with the rest of the students in the nick of time, saving them from crazy hillbilly Brandy, only to again face imminent death at the hands of the yakuza. The outcome of the face-off sees life lost, trusts broken, fences mended, and the characters leave more scarred and broken than before. Does anybody walk away from this story unscathed?

This is a series where the stakes are always sky high and out of reach. While there’s not really been any significant lull in the two-plus years’ worth of issues, the conclusion of Love like Blood is another peak for the series.

The theme of forgiveness and the hints of redemption and sacrifice in this story don’t just play with our emotions. They sadistically torture them. The heart and earnestness in the writing, amidst the blood and betrayal, is a testament to how well-crafted the characters are and how much agency each is given to speak with.

The pitch of the action is at scarlet fever for the entire issue. It’s matched by a pace that is at cardiac event levels. It’s unbearable and at the same time impossible not to be utterly transfixed.

I cannot talk about Rick Remender’s writing and Wes Craig’s separately. They work in perfect synchronicity to elevate each other. The sheer trauma conveyed in the story is a product of this. Is it on the faces of each character? Or is it in their voices? It’s THAT hard to call.

Jordan Boyd’s colours, however, do deserve a spotlight. The colourist adds so much to the story with such a simple palette. It comes across as so virtual, so tangible and hard-hitting, that you’d swear your knuckles were just as bruised and battered as the characters by the end.

Bruised and battered. That’s exactly how this issue will leave you.

Bruised and battered and begging for more.


 

Daredevil Deadpool ’97 Annual

 


Writer: Joe Kelly

Artist: Bernard Chang (Pencils) Jon Holdredge (Inks)

Publisher:  Marvel Comics (September 1997)

 

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to dig up the past.

Sometimes you should just let a sleeping dog lie.

But because Daredevil season 3 is about to hit Netflix, because Typhoid Mary is enjoying her spotlight on Iron Fist’s second season, because there’s an inexplicably undying love for all things Deadpool: because of all these reasons I decided to dig up the past and wake up the sleeping dog that was this single issue.

The basic story has Deadpool develop twisted empathy for Typhoid Mary and track her to New York. She’s there to hunt Daredevil, the man she believes responsible for all her woes. Deadpool hopes to encounter Daredevil first so they can have the classic comic book team up and get Mary the help she needs. Daredevil is skeptical but sides with the less psychotic (no really) Deadpool. The conclusion sees all three use a battle (because this is still 90s comic book storytelling) to work through their issues and tie the story up in a neat little bow. It leaves nothing for the next writer to build upon and no reason for the reader to continue following these characters other than for completions sake (because, again, this is still 90s comic book storytelling).

I was into Kelly’s Deadpool at the time, I was a pre-teen smart ass that liked reading characters who were also smart asses. The art on the regular Deadpool book was cool and innovative for 1997, and the art here by Bernard Chang was clean, fluid, well-constructed and didn’t fall too deep into exaggerated physiques that were all the rage back then. His expression work was good too. But he seemed to favor Deadpool over Daredevil and the story suffers as a result.

Joe Kelly had worked on both eponymous characters. In the case of Deadpool, his work was what rescued the character from being a Spiderman-with-guns-clone from the with-guns-clone-factory that creator Rob Liefeld was operating with impunity.

Kelly’s writing, on reflection, wasn’t yet what it would become by the mid-2000’s. His strength was comedy and super-heroics, not so much theme and character. He wasn’t right for Daredevil. The characterization is way off. Daredevil feels like a bit player in a book whose title bears his name. He should be a cocktail of Atticus Finch, Rocky Marciano, and Robert Redford. Instead, he comes off here as a cardboard stand-in with no volume.

The psychological aspects of the story are left undeveloped. There are at least two characters with which to explore themes of mental illness, adolescent troubles, and identity construction. These are missed opportunities that would have given the story more depth and substance.

A shame, because Frank Miller’s Daredevil had balanced all of this with great action. Although expecting substance and depth from most titles was a big ask at the time, there were still creators who were pulling it off on elsewhere.

In the conclusion to the story, we’re led to believe that, for the characters, digging up the bones of the past can help mend things, bringing them some absolution.

If only that were the case with revisiting the issue itself.

Preacher: The Story of You-Know-Who

Author: Garth Ennis

Artist: Richard Case (pencil and inks), Matt Hollingsworth (colours)

Publisher: DC/Vertigo (1996)

ISBN Number: 2843990572

 Garth Ennis’ Preacher series is a look at values, morality, love, and meaning in a modern world. The titular character embarks on a literal quest for God and encounters all manner of characters who embody our times. Ennis’ tells the story of one of those characters Arseface, downtrodden Eugene Root, while exploring coming-of-age themes of teenage isolation, domestic abuse, suicide, and pop-culture obsession.

Eugene’s story, appropriately, is an ugly one. He has been psychologically and physically tormented by his small-town sheriff father. His mother lives in bottles of vodka and jars of prescription pills. At school Eugene is despised by his peers and ridiculed by the teachers, a victim of daily bullying. His only ‘friend’ is Pube, a grunge infatuated teenage slacker who constantly puts Eugene down. Every attempt at social interaction is met with either neglect or ignorance by everyone. Every attempt to make a stand and assert some control over his own life falls flat. After a constant cycle of humiliation, abuse, and depression that culminates with the news of Kurt Cobain’s death, Eugene and Pube make a suicide pact, no longer able to endure their torturous existence. Only Eugene survives and re-emerges into the world, disgustingly disfigured but with a new-found optimism on life, as Arseface.

If you can get past the over-the-top use of profanity that is a hallmark of Ennis’ style, this work is both heartfelt and heart-breaking. Ennis writes Eugene’s troubles with such earnestness that you feel every kick in the gut. You can smell, taste, and hear the authenticity in the words and in the art. The art is awkward, nervous, skittish, and dark. It perfectly captures the emotional state of the characters. The colours, even in the few scenes of hope, are bleak and grimy, there’s nothing Hollywood about the world we’re in or the themes that it wallows in. The only time this atmosphere gives way to clarity is when we zoom in on the perfectly placed, emotional expressions and reactions to the events (or non-events) of Eugene’s life.

Pop-Culture permeates every panel of the book. From the musical, generation-spanning chapter headings (a musical tour bus through teen rebellion from the Beatles’ ‘a day in the life’ to Bowie’s ‘rebel, rebel’ to The Moody Blues ‘new horizons’ before finally ending at Nirvana.), to the opening and closing riffs on Forrest Gump. This book places the reader, with all their post-pubescent angst, as close to their own lives as possible. It makes sure things hit home, like a baseball bat to the ribs.

Despite the writer’s penchant for black humor, satire, and the grotesque, teenage depression and suicide and the silent sufferings that lead to it are treated respectfully and lead to some powerful proclamations. Characters rally against expectation and pressures of their miserable lives, constantly getting back up off the floor to keep searching for hope and a better tomorrow. There’s a strong message in here to think about the consequences of your actions.

The real gift of this book though is its inversion of the ugliness that lives inside everyone and that it takes something special to overcome, and sometimes that something special is a fella with a face like you-know-who.

If you or someone you know is struggling with any of the issues mentioned in this review, please speak to someone. There is hope and help available at services like Lifeline (13 11 14) or Kids Helpline (https://kidshelpline.com.au/teens/ or 1800 55 1800) is Australia’s only free, private, and confidential, phone counseling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25