ďThe Cold Hand of VengeanceĒ
Writer: David Lapham; Brian Azzarello
Artists: Eric Battle (p), Prentis Rollins (i), Guy Major (colors); Cliff Chiang
Publisher: DC Comics
Kevin T. Brown
Well, that was unexpectedÖ. Then again maybe not. This is a mess of an issue. I should have realized going into it that this was not going to be a ďtypicalĒ Spectre story. Perhaps I canít let go of the past, but as far as Iím concerned the Spectre will always be what was written and drawn by Michael Fleisher & Jim Aparo. Creators today who do a Spectre story should always refer back to those stories. To me, that is a ďtypicalĒ Spectre story. Theyíre classic and perfect examples as to how fear can be used and intensified by not showing all the blood and gore. I suppose the most disappointing part of this story was the fact that blood and gore was used to make the story seem ďscaryĒ and for shock value.
I keep reading and hearing how good of a writer David Lapham is, but Iíve yet to see it. For DC, he had a horrible and extremely drawn out 12-issue run on Detective Comics, and now this title. If I never read another Lapham story, I probably wonít miss much. In the beginning of this story, I thought he was allowing Crispus Allen to follow the foot-steps of Jim Corrigan by allowing Allen to be a detective once again, albeit as someone different since Allen is dead. However, heís just a ghost making comments that arenít being heard by the police at the crime scene. So why bother? To further show the reader Allenís frustration? DC already gave us 3-issues of that in Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre. Time to move on.
As I mentioned above, it seems that instead of actually trying to write a story that can scare readers, Lapham went for the blood and gore. Thatís not scary. Itís a crutch. Itís the inability to come up with something creative in which to shock the reader. Yes, you can use blood and gore to scare, but in this case itís just there: Oh, look, thereís a body who was handcuffed to a steam pipe. Hey, a body in the hallway of an apartment building with blood spatter all over the place. Oh wow, cool, a body hitting a car as blood sprays everywhere. Nope, not scary, just extremely gratuitous. I hope colorist Guy Major got a good deal on the color red. And one other thing that really irritated me about this story is the absence of Spectre himself. Yes, Allen appears in numerous panels, but thereís only 6 panels (PANELS, not pages) in which the Spectre actually appears.
One of the stronger aspects of this issue is the art by Eric Battle & Prentis Rollins. Itís unfortunate that theyíre saddled with such a story. Plus I donít think this is the kind of story that plays to Battleís strength as an artist. If anything gets me to pick up the next issue, itíll be his artwork. Hereís hoping after this mini-series is done that DC gives him something far better to draw.
The other thing that will probably have me picking up the next issue is the ďDr. 13Ē back-up written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Cliff Chiang. Itís a effort by two of the best creators working at DC. Plus how can you not enjoy a story that not only brings back Dr. Terry Thirteen, but also brings back Andrew Bennett? Iím really looking forward to seeing how this story plays out.
Overall, we have a mixed bag here. If you love blood and gore, this is your book. If youíre a fan of the Spectre, I suggest ignoring this title. This is not the Spectre. This is all about shock value. Now if DC dumped the lead story, instead making the ďDr. 13Ē story the lead and expanded on it, then this title would definitely be worth recommending. Otherwise, I can think of better things to spend my $3.99 on.
Plot: Daddy, we arenít in Vertigo anymore, are we?
Comments: Well, that was at least the last place I saw Dr. 13, back when he was scary, and not just dense and prurient. The conceit here is that the bad doctor is surrounded by the supernatural, but doesnít believe in any of it. Heís a ďseptic,Ē as a French college buddy has dubbed him, which is about the level of bathroom humor both stories in this misbegotten issue stick to. In a dream sequence with so much potential to be spooky (were Chiang not in an inexplicably retro and polished mode that abandons the expressiveness he can usually achieve), we find the bad doctor in bed with a Christina Aguilera type in a corset, before we realize (on the same page) that she is his daughter. Incest is creepy, not funny, and the sexualized poses Chiang puts her in after that as she and her father discuss cannibalism and funny nicknames like ďPeanut Ē are distasteful at best. I canít see the story beyond these pointless lapses.
Meanwhile, the first story finds our new Spectre, detective Crispus Allen, raging impotently about a murdered slumlord in a roach and rat-filled building, while various punks out of a Clint Eastwood movie menace a poor nuclear family. Allen canít discern who sawed off the villainís hand and then stabbed him to a bloody mess in the hall, but we do have time to suggest that the wife and very young traumatized daughter might be ďpartied withĒ by the gang that has trespassed their very insecure apartment.
There are also swarms of roaches and attacks by angry spectral rats (though why theyíre angry at their one protector isnít so clear), and even the Spectreís vengeance is rendered so confusingly you donít even get that righteous thrill youíre supposed to when the guilty are punished. Because, apparently, thereís still a rape going on in another apartment that the Spectre doesnít care about.
Vulgar, pointless junk.
Ah the Spectre, how youíve changed.
Iím a big fan of the original Spectre, Jim Corrigan. I loved the idea of a murdered cop acting as the emmisary of Godís vengeance, an Azrael if you will. The Hal Jordan Spectre never worked for me, and I never liked Day of Vengeance simply because it contradicted the definitive Spectre series from Ostrander and Mandrake by saying the Spectre did not need a host to interact with the world. Well, the Spectre has a new host, and I canít get into him either. I never read Gotham Central, and I barely followed Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre, so I put my faith in David Lapham to give me a reason to care for the new host, Crispus Allen.
Going with that, I didnít really have a problem with Allen. Actually, I didnít have a single impression about him. This issue gives the reader basically no information on Allen, nor any insight into what kind of person he is. Instead, the focus is more about a boring murder mystery taking place in an apartment complex in the slums of a city. And thatís where it loses me. Allen, instead of really acting all ďVengeance of God-yĒ until the last pages, simply walks around trying to figure out who killed the victim. Yes, he was a homicide detective, I get that, but heís dead. It is established in the first pages that no living people can hear Crispus unless he taken on the Spectre identity. So, all the talking he does throughout the whole game serves as pointless exploitation and basically to have him do something until he can enact some Biblical style justice.
The apartment building the story takes place in is full of criminals and domestic disputes, and the characters from the building really add even more confusion to the mess. The father with a troubled household acts guilty for some murderous act, but it apparently isnít the one Allen is after. Okay...weird. In fact, the nut case that really did the crime sort of came out of left field. As boring as the father was, he would have been a better choice for the killer than the real one. Then thereís some criminal neighbors who decide on that night, for whatever reason, to invade the familyís apartment and commit various nefarious acts. No real motivation or anything. Sadly, the last page means that at least one more issue will revolve around this incredibly boring setting.
The best thing to come from this debut issue is the art. Eric Battleís pencils are somewhat varied in places; his art gets cartoony and oddly proportioned when not drawing close ups, but itís the Spectre drawings that are the best. The opening splash page with the Spectre hovering over the apartment complex is simply wonderful. The Spectre is given a real presence and endows a certain amount of fear for a character in a green speedo with a goatee. Yet, itís not even Battleís pencils that are the best thing; itís Guy Majorís colors. He manages to throw in multitudes of tones, brightness, and shadows in every play. It added a nice vibrancy to an otherwise bland comic, both story-wise, and artistically.
The much better part of the comic was the backup story starring Doctor 13. I was completely unfamiliar with the character when I read the story, but I got a great idea of who he was and what he does in the first few pages: a skeptic out to prove magic and demons donít exist. Totally the opposite of my world view, but Brian Azzarello manages to make the story compelling and exciting at the same time. Now, after a bit of research, it turns out our starring Doctor is dead as of Seven Soldiers: Zatanna, but Iím not really a Morrison fan, so Iím happy that that miniseries is a bit contradicted. Story wise, the Doc and his very teenaged daughter Traci go to the French Alps to investigate a plane crash where the survivors were brutally attacked by some monster. The Docís strong opposition to the paranormal provides some funny exchanges, but the real draw was the art. Cliff Chiang gave the backup a Darwyn Cooke-like style. Itís cartoony, in a good way. The only odd sides are a dream sequence, in which the Doc imagines his daughter coming on to him, and the ending, but for the most part, itís a great read. True, the character appearance at the end threw me for a loop (the blood suckerís a personal favorite of mine, and he certainly is out of character here), but Iím looking forward to what Azzarello does with him.
All in all, Tales of the Unexpected is off to a rather lackluster start. While the art is colorful and moody, the story is all but dead (no pun intended). If you are an avid Spectre or Crispus Allen fan, Iíd say get it, but if not, well, keep the three dollars. The backup provides a nice change of pace and a good little adventure, but Iím not sure I want to spend all that money just for the backup.
Steven G. Saunders:
First off, I'd like to say that the title of this book is very apt. Tales of the Unexpected, indeed! See, I thought it was just going to be a collection of horror stories or something. I suppose thatís what I get for not looking up what Iím going to read in advance. Iím glad I did read this issue though, as I wasnít let down.
Tales of the Unexpected #1 provides two stories: the first half being the beginning of a murder/morality tale involving The Spectre, a hero of yore (and today, Iím told) whom Iím not all that familiar with (sorry); the second half is the first part of a story involving one Dr. 13 and his daughterÖ if he has appeared in any previous story, I have no idea.
The Spectre story is nicely done. It stars Crispus Allen, a dead cop (a homicide detective, actually, killed in Gotham Central #38) who then became host to the eponymous Spirit of Vengeance (Infinite Crisis #4, I think). Like I just stated, I donít know much about the Spectre or his background, despite his very name being featured on the cover (which is simply yet brilliantly done by Mike Mignola & Dave Stewart) in a font larger than the TotU title itself. If I were smarter, I would have just researched it a bit before reading. Instead, I decided to read on and find out for myself what this Spectre character is all about. It seems that Crispus Allen is looking for someone to confess to committing a homicide. Once that happens, the Spectre takes over and does nasty things to said murderer. Now, Allen is a ghost (yes, I didnít read the issue where he was killedÖ research!). I didnít quite realize this part-way through the storyÖ I mean, I knew he was dead, because itís all right there in a caption box on the first page explaining it to anyone who cares to read. But somehow, that didnít clickÖ But once it did, well, the story became that much cooler. The other characters obviously ignore Crispus Allen, because they donít know heís there. Ah-ha! Sure, he can interact in some minor ways with the environment around him, but heís pretty much a helpless observer. That is, until the perpetrator of the grisly crime-scene heís wandering around at the start admits culpability, then the Vengeance is on. There are other story elements introduced by way of the building and its tenants where the killing occurred and those elements certainly seem intriguing. More on all that will follow in future installments of Tales of the Unexpected.
I highly enjoyed David Laphamís writing. His delivery of story is completely on the money, and he handles the character banter well. As for Crispus Allen, Lapham paints the picture of a man tormented by the need to bring about justice and his being able to see but not interact much. I really feel for the main character right away, and will continue to do so. The art is crisp yet dark in look, noir in tone yet disturbingly vibrant. Battle, Rollins and Major really pull it off here, and the art is most certainly as important as the story. It provides this gritty feel without being too muddled and murky. How Crispus is depicted is excellent, I thought, because it complements the writing in such a way that not only can I read his torment but I can see it, too. The whole thing reminded me of a horror/mystery comic book with a superhero of sorts. This was a great story, and I look forward to part two.
ďDr. 13Ē didn't resonate with me as much as The Spectre. This is not to say that I hated it, or even disliked it, I just felt the pacing could have been a bit better and honestly, I didnít like the narration font (personal gripe, I guess, but thatís just meÖ I may change my mind about it in the future). Still, it was impressive enough, especially in the way that it was rather humorous and quirky. Dr. 13 is an investigator of the paranormal, which he deems as bunk. His good buddy, the premiere of France, calls him in to examine a plane wreck in the French Alps where the survivors (who had been stranded a long time) reported members of their number being abducted and butchered. Nice, eh? Dr. 13 shows up with his smart-ass daughter, and they get into a tangle with a monster. Now, it sounds pretty cut and dry, but the highly amusing way in which the monologue is given to us is priceless. I really liked the ďour in- uh -ancestral homeĒ line as well as the bit at the beginning about prologues. Itís what really makes the story, for me. Dr. 13 appears to have issues. I mean like an entire subscription and everything. Between his not wanting to believe anything paranormal (considering his occupation), having weird dreams about kids burning books andÖ, ahÖ, erotic dreams about his female offspring, it would seem to me that the good doctor definitely has some things to work out. As a matter of fact, I think that the main story in this installment is either (1) incidental; or, more likely (2) is whatís going on in Dr. 13ís head. Or maybe a bit of both. I didnít expect this kind of story, for sure. But Iím okay with that. Chiangís art goes along with Azzarello's storytelling in a good way. Itís very 1950s or 1960s looking to me, or retro-looking at any rate and it really fitís the pulpy feel of the story. Perhaps ďDr. 13Ē could be a bit tighter, but this is only Part One. Iíll bet if the writing and art maintains decently then the story might be actually better as a whole than its individual parts. Speaking of parts, next issue will bring Part Two, so weíll see. I expect good things at any rate.
Overall, Tales of the Unexpected #1 was a fun book. If you like reading suspenseful, pulpy, quirky and dark stories, then this issue should please you greatly. The Spectre carries my opinion as a whole, but I would like to see where the ďDr. 13Ē story goes. And to think I almost didnít get this issue in time for review. It would seem that it sold out right away at the local shop, and if it werenít for the kindness of one of the wonderful staff-members giving up their copy, then I wouldnít have gotten my grubby mitts on this issue without searching for it (thanks Paula!). Now that Iíve read it and rather liked it, I would say that it might have been worth searching for.
If you pick it up, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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