Sunday, September 17, 2017

September Sucks: Crimson #1

Someone had to get all religious on us

"Dawn to Dusk”
Story concepts – Humberto Ramos, Francisco Haghenbeck & Oscar Pinto
Script – Brian Augustyn
Pencils – Humberto Ramos
Inks – Sandra Hope
Ink assist – Chris Elarmo
Colors – Alex Bleyaert, Ian, Hannin, & Robert Ro of Badoss
Letters – Amie Gremier
Editor – Scott Dunbier
May 1998

Crimson was a poor selling vampire title out of the Cliffhanger! imprint of Wildstorm/Image comics. I’ve collected near the entire series twice over from nothing more than bundle packs. Every time I’ve opened a pack of thirty comics to find another stack of Crimson I ask myself what the book is and why these near-mint copies keep appearing in the Crapbox.

After reading through the first issue and doing a little research on the book, I can now share with you my findings.

Crimson mixed lots of religious overtones into a story of a young man infected with vampirism who is destined / prophesied to one day eliminate all the blood suckers from his world. The book is written by Brian Augustyn, a seasoned pro at writing superhero books who helped Mark Waid usher in one of the best eras in Wally West/Flash’s title. The penciller is Humberto Ramos, also no slouch in the art department who had been charting a different speedster (Impulse) for several years.

Sounds like a sure-fire winner, right? Except for a couple of things: Ramos pencils are divisive. He has a certain cartoony style that not everyone finds appealing, so right away the book had some detractors before issue one even hit the stands. But Ramos had just as many fans, given he would go on after Crismon’s 24 issues were over to pencil the Spectacular and Amazing Spider-Man books for decent length runs.

In my own personal opinion, Ramos isn’t someone I would use on every title. He works well with young books where we don’t need complete faithfulness to physics or anatomy. It’s not every hero story that can pull off characters with giant Keane kid eyes, for one thing. And then there are body proportion things that, for some, cross the line of good art / bad art. On this particular title – for me, I thought Ramos’ work did the job needed. It set a mood for the series that didn’t take itself all the way seriously yet still allowed some of the pathos of waking up as an immortal parasite would have on a boy.

The other issue was the tale itself, which we should just dive into at this point. We have a small, personal tale of a boy who becomes not only a vampire, but THE CHOSEN ONE destined to fight and kill all vampires so the logical start to our story is…

…The Judeo-Christian DAWN OF CREATION! Okay, follow this with me here people…mythologic world building is FINE in its PLACE. But that place is NEVER page one through five of your story. We will go through these, but suffice to say SO Much information is conveyed without any human connection to it that this “history lesson” feels exactly like that: a lesson where we need to take notes of names, places, tribes and alliances because we are boning up for a quiz. 

The human element is what we are here for. Start there. Sprinkle in the history later. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes and you have a great meal. Don’t put all of this out on the plate raw and uncooked, with no melding it to people we care about and feel are important.

*sigh* Rant over. Carry on with this.

So we go through the whole “seven days” thing, except we add literal dragons which are called Chalkydri for some reason…

…and we get on with God making mistakes and screwing things up before man ever sets foot on the Earth. I am certain all of these creatures will come into this story about vampires later as justification for HOW we have beings that drink blood to survive and have magical powers, but right now? Right now, I really don’t care for this world building exposition. And we aren’t done yet.

No, we go through the war of God and the Devil first. I have to admit that even though these are empty, emotionless panels that don’t really draw me into the story, Ramos is doing an amazing job on the pencils. None of this looks like his standard “big eyes” work and if the artistic style had remained here, I think the book would have been better received. As it is we have one more page of this fantasy-Bible puree before we start the actual story proper, and that part feels way more like standard Ramos.

We shift over to the Devil’s corruption of Earth and watch Ramos do more impressive stuff. Really, all around the inking and colorists have done a great job, I just wish this history lesson came within the confines of a human story. Because right now it is really removed from any kind of personal struggle.

Even when two named characters are shown hooking up, of a sort, we don’t feel a connection. The scale has been too big for us to feel these two will have any effect on the world being introduced.

And if you thought that transition was a bit rough, prepare to have your teeth jarred out of your head as a simple page turn and we have skipped over the whole of human civilization to today. All of this time hopping done via two text boxes. 

Our destination is a group of four young boys, out on the town and about to make a wrong turn into disaster. Of especial concern is Alex, who just had a fight with his girlfriend Julie.

The abrupt shift in time and location is also accompanied by a change in art style for characters. All of these boys are Keane eyed and overly smooth. This is Ramos’s normal style and I wish it hadn’t made an appearance here, as I was hoping that we might the a more horror centric look for his stuff. At least we end up with vampires that look like the following gang of bikers.

That’s not so bad, and I will admit that the black pasties on our lead female make me smile uncomfortably. Sadly for the kids, they are caught and drained, with “X-Boobs” nabbing Alex. 

This quickly goes from “that oddly twisted kinky fantasy I have but don’t tell anyone about”…

…to that “Complete and utter nightmare of your friends being torn to shreds while you are helpless to do anything but watch.

Just as we are getting serious about the horror of this situation, Alex has to remind us that the author of this story thought it would be good to give the victims the names of Donald’s nephews. Not too cool. What is cool, is help arriving at the last moment before Alex is made into stew meat.

Alex’s savior knocks out one of the M-Bats and the rest scatter. 

He scoops up Alex just as another guest arrives. A guest that isn’t as forgiving to the vampires.

Little red riding hood puts one in Eightball’s center pocket, in what must be a “no-coming back from” kind of wound.

Page turn and we are out of the action, but in a brief, wood-framed (why?) flashback sequence of Alex’s fight with his parents before leaving that evening. There is a jarring aspect to being thrust into backstory of the character this way, after so much has happened, without any clue that is the books intended destination.

I can see why Crimson was a poor seller. It isn’t the art or the plot, so much as the sequencing they chose to tell this story being a mixed up affair that would confuse readers more than draw them in. I’m saddened by this a bit, because I think there is a neat tale in here that just needed a co-plotter to curb back whomever was driving this runaway bus. The art certainly isn’t to blame, even with the …big eyes thing.

Then we get Alex pushing away Julie too, who I am certain will show up in later issues along with the struggle to figure out how this event has changed their relationship.

Then bingo! Alex awakens in the present, naked on the floor of a dilapidated church. His benefactor has been caring for him as the ground around him is litter with the bodies of dead, bloodless pigeons.

And the trite scene plays out where the wiser character tries to explain what Alex has become. Alex runs away because he doesn’t want to believe it is real and we the audience get to yawn because we’ve seen this part too many times to count. 

*sigh* Cliché. Also dontgooutthatdooritsdaylightstill…

…and aww. Knew that would happen. Yet, even after all this EVIDENCE. Alex still acts like he hasn’t been turned into one of the living dead. Our mysterious protector guy with his red scarf of “NO” tries to explain again, but Alex just books after being a foul-mouthed little snot to him. 

 Because he is running around Central Park at night, he bumps into a vampire again, but this time he’s a helpful, friendly one.

Meet Joe, the “cool” vampire. He’s keen to show Alex the ropes and the ropes include chomping down on a few people, although in Joe’s defense, he only goes after drug dealers and criminals. Sort of like Batman only emphasis on the Bat part. 

Oh, at he tends to suck all the blood out of the guys he catches. That too.

This is too much for “in denial Alex,” who rushes home trying to get back to his normal life. An impossible thing, given his change in living state. Heck he’s even been gone so long that there are missing posters up for him that look worn. Still he heeds none of what anyone has told him about “the hunger” and makes it to the fire escape outside his sister’s room…

…just as that need for blood kicks in full strength.

And as Alex drops helplessly to the garbage strewn pavement below, we take our exit from the first issue of Crimson.

So there is a bunch of things here we’ve seen before: chosen one prophecy, new vampire that doesn’t believe he is one, war between immortal personifications of good and evil. I mean this issue took a bunch of trite, cliché bullcrap and put it in a blender. The comic that came out isn’t anything to write home about.

However, I’m interested enough to read one more issue. Might be a waste of time but I’d give it a shot. This is fairly a C+ story which makes in about par for the Crapbox. My hope is that they elevate their tale in the next issue. If not, I have about two years worth of Crimson that will be making its way to the recycle bin.

Friday, September 15, 2017

September Sucks: Children of the Night #2

The music they make here is pretty tone-deaf

"Midnight Rush Hour”
Written – Dan DiDio
Art - Peter Palmiotti and Barry Blair

Every once in a while I run across a book by someone before they became famous. In most instances, these books show an unpolished greatness or the promise they would fulfill in later endeavors.

But not in this case.

Yes, the name you are seeing up there is none other than THE Dan DiDio, current Co-Publisher of DC Comics and recipient of Wizard’s first ever “Man of the Year” award in 2003. DiDio has done lots of different things over the years, including writing for the cartoon show ReBoot and the comic Superboy for a six issue run in 2002. Then he got bumped up to Vice President-Executive Editor of DC’s whole blamed shooting match. The rest, as they say, is history.

But back in 1992 he was still working as a writer for some of the independents, including this four issue mini-series called Children of the Night for Night Wynd (yes, the 90’s) Enterprises, a spinoff of Barry Blair’s Aircel line.

Blair and Palmiotti do an awful job on pencils/inks in this black and white travesty and DiDio proves to have no notion of what makes a good story. We begin our tale with this inappropriately dressed young lady running into these two baggy-pants youths who are spray-paint marking the subway line with their gang tags. 

I must confess to liking neither Blair nor Palmiotti’s art styles individually, so none of the graphics in this will cut any ice with me. Not the teen tagger's goofy faces, nor the way the youth to the left looks like he has his pants around his ankles so as to expose himself to this raven-haired lingerie model. A model who looks completely out of place on a subway platform.

More to the point, we open the book and as readers, right way we are looking for a protagonist. Vampires clearly don’t make the best of those since they tend to kill other people just to sustain their own life. There’s a lot of moral issues with them, UNLESS we can justify their satisfying their hunger for human blood. We are looking for a reason these two goofballs should deserve to die. Maybe they are gang bangers who hurt neighbors, rape women and murder rivals. If something like that is established then we can root for the vampire.

But that isn’t this book. That isn’t this book at all.

No, in our book the lady vampire says something mildly suggestive to our dumbfounded duo, which one of the teens gets isn’t quite kosher and runs off…

…allowing her to do this to the other teen.

Yes, she throws him in front of an arriving train. That’s where this book is going. Not only that, look at the amateurish stylings of how the subway car is rendered smashing the youth. I feel like we are in Rabid Rachel territory again, and I’m not far off.

The art is horrible and the story… well, it goes downhill as fast as you would imagine. The passengers note that there was someone smashed under the train, but no one saw the vampire lady do the deed. We later learn there is a train conductor on this train and he neither stops the train to report the accident nor sees that it was a homicide. To prove that no one cares about the murder taking place, they just allow the lady vamp to waltz right on their car with them.

 I thought at first due to the prominent placement of the vampire lady on the cover this would be some kind of redemptive arc or that she would play out as an anti-hero of sorts. Instead, she is the villain of this piece and there is no one in it that you can mark as a hero or root for.

Take a look at these folks. This misfit crew will be killed off one at a time by the vampire. All of them. That’s the entire story of the book. I know what you are thinking and yes, BETTER hands it might have been something great. A psychological drama unfolding as each person realizes the danger they face and maybe some confusion as to who the killer actually is. It might have been crafted into a story about real people we cared about. Instead it is just a series of badly drawn panels in which a vampire kills random people.

We start again thinking that we will have a “bad” guy in the form of this lewd racist who makes sexist remarks at the vampire woman.

The vampire woman goes and sits beside him, which he takes as a come on.

Then a series of close up panels of the guy’s face, which makes no sense in context of the story. And then suddenly he follows the lady to some odd area between train cars which don’t exist in subways, to my knowledge.

And she bleeds the guy out while the other passengers make rude or crude remarks. 

But don’t think this will end with the vampire being all silent and careful…

…Not when she busts the door to pieces with his dead body and tosses him back down the length of the car. Subtle.

One of the passengers has the conductor (who totally missed this chick tossing the guy onto the platform back on like page four) stop the train, leading to this unintentional bit of comedy as the artist takes out all the seating and just throws the cast’s bodies against the train window. 

Then the conductor comes back acting all bad-ass and I think we’ve got our protagonist.

…and as he runs away, I realize I’m wrong. Jerry quickly jumps in, realizing they are fighting some crazed killer. 

Sadly, it is a short realization and badly drawn. (Yes, I laughed at "Jerry, nooooo." bit. So stupid.) The vampire REALLY goes after the conductor now, who has locked himself in the cab and is frantically calling for assistance.

She kills him and the old Jewish guy calls her an animal, which elicits this exchange.

Ugh, well there’s some character motivation for you. I’m not sure what it means, but that’s what DiDio is giving us as character motivation. This is so awful that it is a waste of good paper.

An officer shows up on the train (where was he several murders ago) and tries to shoot Nadia.

And that does no good except murder the Asian women behind her and make holes in her coat. This leads the passengers to realize they should just get out of the train and run. Ideally, if they could get out of such a poorly written, badly drawn comic that would be an even better suggestion.

One crazy old mad decides to buy them some time, pulling a knife out. It is of sufficient size to make Crocodile Dundee happy but that has to be illegal to carry on a subway.

And she yanks his heart out. *sigh* This is getting boring and predictable.

We finally get a few lines of dialogue out of two of the victims, enough lines to actually feel like they have personalities…

…then we switch to the cops who have heeded the radio warnings of the train conductor and are awaiting the car on the platform…

…and then the first set of fleeing passengers show up, just in time for the vampire to throw the train into motion again, as fast as it will go.

This leads to one of the most poorly drawn splash pages that I’ve ever seen, with body parts strewn about in mad disarray and the train car doing something that makes it look like it has jumped the tracks into a brick wall or something. Oh, and everyone on the train or waiting at the station apparently dies from this.

Everyone but this one bum on the train who has been asleep the whole entire time. Nadia lets him go because she has no real character in all this, and this was something DiDio thought would make a good ending.

And there you have it.

The art ranges from “acceptable” in a few panels to horridly flat and kiddish in the rest. It is telling when a two-panel action-splash which is supposed to be a huge “oh wow!” moment is pulled off in such a manner that you feel embarrassed for taking the book off the rack.

Not to mention that story. Upsetting, isn’t it. I keep coming back to our lack of a clear protagonist.  As soon as we think Nadia might be removing the more twisted and harmful members of our society, she starts killing random people for fun. Her motivations for doing so are never explained nor even explored. The entire story reads like something a teenager would write. One dimensional characters and a pointless plot with no payoffs to any of the violence we witness.

And that’s the guy that’s been in charge at DC for the last decade or so. Makes you want to take a nice long look before picking up his DC Dark Matter Sideways series this month, huh?