HIDDEN TREASURES: Still finding books worth the search

Asylum

JOHN CARPENTER’S ASYLUM (Storm King, June 2013) www.stormkingproductions.com Created by John Carpenter, Thomas Ian Griffith and Sandy King. Written by Bruce Jones. Art and cover by Leonardo Manco.

A new book showcasing the fantastic art of Leonardo Manco would be reason enough to pick up this book.  There’s also a great story behind the gorgeous art, which continues the photo-realistic style employed by Manco most recently on Radical Comics DRIVER FOR THE DEAD.  The title of this series would seem to indicate that the story takes place within a mental institution.  Instead, this is a very good tale of satanic forces and exorcism.  John Carpenter’s text piece near the back of the book best describes it: “There is no greater villain than Lucifer and no greater challenge than the darkness of man’s soul to explore.”

If DC/Vertigo’s Hellblazer/John Constantine ever spent time as a Catholic priest, he would be Father Daniel Beckett - - who will remind you of the Hellblazer in several ways.  Beckett is a former soldier with Iraq War honors.  He was also an ordained priest prior to his armed service, and may have chosen to enlist to avoid a church-sanctioned trial for his role in an exorcism during which a child died.  Now he chain smokes, sleeps around, and works behind the scenes as a demon tracker with guidance from the older, wheelchair-confined Father Leone, his apparent mentor.  Beckett finds himself paired up in pursuit of a fleeing demon with Detective Jack Duran, a non-practicing Catholic who no longer believes in God.  Together they try to find and stop family man William Jackson (now possessed) before his demonic side causes serious harm to his wife and young son.

Despite the wise-cracking and cynicism expressed by both Beckett and Duran this is a serious story with many dark elements.  It’s a mature, adult-oriented approach to the subject matter that pulls no punches or sugar coats its subject.  Not for the squeamish or superstitious reader.

ASYLUM is the debut title from Storm King Production Comics, headed up by writer/artist/film producer Sandy King (also the spouse of director John Carpenter). No other titles have been announced at this time, although the bio does mention that Sandy King is a fan of comics who has been looking for an outlet for her art (animation experience) and storytelling skills and promises an expanding group of collaborators.

TALES FROM WILLIAM F. NOLAN’S DARK UNIVERSE #5 of 6 (Bluewater Productions, June 2013) William F. Nolan & Jason Brock, story.  James Bolton, art on The Pool.  James Croasdale, art on Starblood.

Dark Universe 5

          The penultimate issue in this mini-series arrives with two more juicy and unsettling tales.  This is going to make a worthy trade paperback after the final issue is released sometime in August.

  A veil of dread hangs like a weighty blanket of humidity over “The Pool”.  The art complements the mood nicely, with subtle and light coloring/shading to give things an unreal effect.  A couple arrive at their new home and discover a concealed but inviting pool near the back of their estate.  The short and simple message here is never buy a new property before a thorough inspection by professionals.

If you become confused reading “Starblood” just remember that the opening and closing pages are the framing device and contain the guts of this story.  Otherwise, the dialogue may confuse you as well as the jumping back and forth from various scenes.  The strange (but interesting) art from James Croasdale also challenges the reader to interpret what is seen.  Both story and art seem designed to induce bouts of madness.  It’s a glimpse of future society, a cross-section of social live and mores, in order to see how humankind has progressed (or not).  Trust us, it all becomes clearer on the last page.

SUICIDE RISK #1 (Boom! Studios, May 2013) Created & Written by Mike Carey.  Art by Elena Casagrande.  SUICIDE RISK #2 (June 2013)

suicide 1                    suicide 2

Trust Mike Carey to put a different spin on the standard superhero tropes.  It’s good to see what he’s capable of doing with a pure creator-owned property versus writing for a licensed property ( a team book) where he needs to be mindful of not making any serious changes to characters.

This starts out as an internal affairs investigation into a confrontation between super-villains and the local police force - - five criminals with powers versus thirty or more regular cops.  The casualties were “seventeen cops dead, twelve wounded and fourteen civilians murdered. . .”  Officer Daniel Leo’s father-in-law later asks “how can a beat cop throw down with gods and monsters?”  Leo’s feeling responsible for his partner’s losing an arm during the skirmish and his negativity towards the futility of the situation leads him to take decisive action.

That action being the major premise of this book - - a world where superpowers aren’t inherited, mutated, or the result of chemical or other accidents.  You want some powers you just pay for them. That’s exactly what Officer Leo intends to do.  This world is populated almost exclusively by super-powered villains.  Why no heroes, you ask? Because (timeout for a Carey message here) “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  Those who start out with heroic intentions become corrupted and switch to the darker side.  Those whose intentions stay noble get crushed because they are vastly outnumbered.  So, why wouldn’t the police department recruit some members to get the super-powers so they have a better chance of winning against the super villains?  Couldn’t they offer some incentives and closely monitor their recruits to make sure they don’t turn? . . . . . . . . You know, you ask too many damn questions!  This is a comic book, for chrissake.  Can’t you suspend your disbelief a little to accommodate the story?

Ok, back to Officer Leo (let’s just call him Dan.  Ok with you?)  He wants the powers so he can take down the five who crippled the police force and left his partner armless.  To buy the powers you need to find an “enabler”.  Apparently, not everybody has the capacity to handle a power and buyers need to be “tested” first.  Daniel passes and gets what he wants, which is off-the-charts lightening powers (and then some).

But powers have consequences, and Daniel is no quick study.  He struggles to control his new abilities; and every time he attempts to use them he’s “a suicide risk.”  His nose bleeds.  Strange things begin to happen around him.  He’s having a hard time concealing this from his family, and feels guilty for not confiding in them.  He makes excuses for his absences while he conducts a one-man search for the five wanted super-villains.  He finds one of them in Issue #2 with near disaster results.  This is interesting stuff.  I’m sure Carey is going to play up the human element as things progress.  I also love some of his names for the villains and their powers.

X #1 (Dark Horse Comics, May 2013)  Story by Duane Swierczynski.  Art by Eric Nguyen. Colors by Michelle Madsen.  Letters by Richard Starking & Comicraft. X #2 (June 2013)

X1                    x 2

Just in case you missed it in the X #0 prequel, this debut issue opens with an elderly patrolman for Arcadia dock security discovering the scene of the carnage from #0 with lots of dead bodies and lots of blood.  The police try to cover it up and burn down the building.  After all, many of the crooks who grease their palms were involved and they’d prefer to keep it out of the press.  Too late.  A female web blogger, XOXO, “the last muckraker” has inside information on what happened and posts it online.

Her investigation continues as she tries to figure out who X will target next.  The police have figured it out and they set a trap for X.  More bullets.  More blood.  That’s what I’m starting to count on X to provide me and help scratch that itch on the dark side.  If you’re not satisfied with what THE PUNISHER is up too lately and long for the good old MAX days, then you can count on X for the blood and mayhem you secretly (or not) desire.  XOXO (a.k.a. Leigh Ferguson) and X meet and she helps him out of a tight jam.  Now they are both wanted.  But he’s not sharing his identity or plans with anyone, including her (and us).

Did I forget to mention the explosions?  The bleeding?  The human bombs?  Mutilation at knifepoint? Leigh gets an answer (of sorts) but it’s not a welcome sight.  Ok, that’s a wrap.

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