Curse Words Holiday Special #1 (Image Comics)
by Charles Soule & Mike Norton
After the fun I had reading Hellboy: Krampusnacht, I thought I’d delve into another holiday-themed comic for amusement, and the Curse Words Holiday Special popped up on my radar. Now, while I haven’t read any issues from the regular series, I figured this would be an accessible gateway into the property. It turns out it was and it wasn’t. While the premise here is clear enough — a dark, fantasy future is ruled over by a powerful magical entity and his wizard minions — this one-shot doesn’t give one a sense of what the regular title is all about. As such, this comic is low on plot and therefore has to focus on the oddball, villainous characters that populate this psychedelic future. Soule succeeds in conveying the characters’ corrupt and twisted nature — which means there’s really no figure in this book for which the reader can cheer. Everyone is so… off-putting. It’s like the book is is a DayGlo, candy-coated convention of ugliness. Soule’s distortions of holiday traditions for this weird world are creative and colorful, but several of them are rather… well, gross. And that’s the point, I know; it just wasn’t my thing.
OK, is it me, or is Mike Norton the hardest-working person in comics? His name pops up everywhere. Not only is he a prolific artist, he’s also an incredibly versatile one. While his style is recognizable at times here, he’s definitely adapted it to fit in better with the property crafted by regular series artist and co-creator Ryan Browne. I was actually reminded of the style of Kieron Dwyer here. The pace of the story is rather chaotic, and aside from a couple of characters, I never got a strong sense of the designs here. The beast created for the characters’ holiday feast is effectively disturbing — too effective, actually; it’s quite disgusting, just as disgusting as its purpose. The weirdly bright colors by Addison Duke and Ryan Browne (at least against the background of corruption at the forefront of the story) help to reinforce the unnatural tone of the story, with the juxtaposition of a holiday celebration with the treachery and sadism that defines these characters. 4/10
Dark Nights: Metal #4 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion
“This section is reserved for stories that should never be told.” Dream/Daniel/Sandman is referring to a burning area of Lucien’s Library in the Dreaming, but it’s starting to look as though Dark Nights: Metal ought to be included in that section. There are so many elements in this script that don’t sit well with me. The use of Dream in the DC Universe never feels right, and that’s especially true with this appearance. Transforming Neil Gaiman’s landmark creation into a cosmic element in a super-hero continuity feels like it cheapens it. Yes, I know Sandman occasionally featured DC super-heroes and villains during its run, but while they worked in the context of that series, the Dreaming elements don’t fit in here. We also get the return and reintroduction of the ill-conceived, despotic Onimar Synn on Thanagar and a classic alien Justice League foe that’s talking like a frat boy now, for some reason. The heroes’ mission is constantly in flux, and the piling on of antagonist after antagonist has gotten rather ludicrous. There are elements I’m enjoying; references to classic characters of the past are fun at times, and it’s clear that the ultimate goal is to bring the DC Universe and its characters as a whole to a brighter place more in keeping with its traditional origins (though that flies in the fact of several of the harsh-looking titles that are set to spin out of this event book).
There’s a lot of energy and personality in Greg Capullo’s artwork, and some of the new designs he offers up here are fun. His interpretation of that aforementioned Justice League villain is more grotesque and organic in appearance, for example, and the monstrous protector of the World Forge in that cliffhanger moment looked cool.. But Capullo’s bombastic style is ill-suited to convey the Dreaming and its ruler, and his Lady Blackhawk design near the end of the issue seems far too derivative of his Talon characters from the “Court of Owls” storyline from Batman from a few years ago (which may be intentional, I know). 4/10
Hercules: Wrath of the Heavens #5 (Titan Comics)
by J.D. Morvan, Looky & Olivier Thill
This is the final issue of a limited series, and I had no idea what to expect from it. Honestly, my expectations were low; Hercules is such an overused mythic figure in comics, I didn’t think I’d be finding anything new. Man, was I wrong. After reading this comic, I did some research and discovered this is an English translation of a French comic titled Hercule, and that fits, because the Euro-comics look and vibe runs strong throughout this issue. Despite the fact I was only getting the tail end of the story, I was completely captivated. Writer J.D. Morvan takes the Hercules myth to a sci-fi setting in the far-flung future, and it works incredibly well. Hercules’ labors are set against a backdrop of the military industrial complex and politics, and it’s a fascinating, challenging and mature read. Sex factors in heavily in this chapter of the story, but there’s nothing tender about it. Sex is a weapon in this plot, as much a part of the war machine as guns and generals. The credits page provides enough background for new readers such as myself to be able to appreciate the plot. This limited series ends on a cliffhanger along with a key revelation, and I was eager to see what was to come next. I’ll definitely be watching for the next series (I can only assume another is forthcoming). I also need to seek out the four previous issues in this run.
As strong as the writing is here, it’s nothing compared to the richly detailed artwork. Fans of other, more established European comics talent, such as those who reached North American audiences in the 1980s through Heavy Metal. Looky and Thill’s work here strikes me as a cross between the styles of Gary Frank and Jose Ladronn. The detail is immaculate. They convey a grimy future, as harsh as the events that unfold here. The main characters are impossibly beautiful, even when we finally get to see the true, alien form of one of them. The dull greys of the backdrop contrast wonderfully with the brilliant blood reds of the violence and the sun-bright yellows of neon elements and manifestation of superhuman powers. I was also thoroughly impressed with the meticulous designs of the tattoos that adorn so many of the characters. The design for this sci-fi interpretation of Mount Olympus is seen only briefly, but it makes a powerful impression. My only gripe about the art is how the cover image spoils a key moment later in the book; it wasn’t a wise editorial choice. 9/10