Dead of Night: Devil-Slayer (2009)

“They look like zombies. They’re dead, right?”

“No they are undead.”

“Oh yeah? Then let’s see if we can make the undead dead again.”

Dead of Night: Devil-Slayer #1 cover

This book collects the four issue mini-series which is one of three published by Marvel on their MAX imprint in 2008/9 featuring modern versions of horror characters from the Marvel Universe – the others featured Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night. This one was written by horror author Brian Keene with art from Chris Samnee. Keene is a new name to me but has written a library full of books on his own. Samnee’s work I know from Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale and Thor: The Mighty Avenger – and he is currently doing art duties on Daredevil.

Dan Sylva is returning for a tour of Iraq after leaving the army but finding that his girlfriend had left him and that there were no job opportunities at home. His first mission is to investigate a site where a captured American soldier is possibly being held. Dan discovers the soldier, and a lot of the civilians who had also gone missing recently, prey to a bunch of demons – both in demonic form and masquerading as part of the mercenary Bloodstone unit. With the help of a magi, Isaac, Dan alone escapes and learns that some demons and angels are plotting to bring about Armageddon early using war zones to hide their ritualistic murders. Dan learns that his uncle was a devil-slayer and that he is the next in line to assume the mantle and prevent hell on Earth.

The blurb on the back of the book says:

A radical re-imagining of Marvel’s premier horror icon!

which is not a good start as I had never heard of the character before – which in a way is not surprising as I am much more of a DC/Vertigo fan than I am a Marvel one. I much prefer the DC/Vertigo take on horror, magic and the supernatural. The original character was created in 1977 by Rich Buckler and this series marks an updating and rebooting of the character. Gone is the cheesy superhero costume to be replaced by fatigues and shemagh.

It would appear that the reboot did not lead on to any further series which is a bit of shame as I quite liked this book. It still had a long way to go to match the rich Vertigo universe but it had some promise. I liked the grounding of the horror within the human conflict and the conspiracy between demons and angels, although well worn, could have legs if handled correctly. The last page in the book showed how the story could be expanded out to involve corporations, religious leaderships and governments – again familiar targets but full of potential if tied to current affairs. Perhaps a missed opportunity for Marvel to try and muscle in on some of DC’s action.

Penguin: Pain and Prejudice (2012)

“Mr. Cobblepot, sir. I-I’m glad you brought me here so I could apologize again in person. Of course, I’d never think to be rude to someone of your … … stature.”

Cover to Pain and Prejudice collection

This book collects the five issue mini-series of the same name and a one-shot Penguin story from the first Joker’s Asylum series. The main story was written by Gregg Hurwitz with art by Szymon Kudranski. Both are new to me but Hurwitz is a thriller writer who has also done some comic book work including Batman, Moon Knight, The Punisher and Wolverine. Kudranski is currently the artist on Spawn from Image comics. The short story was by writer Jason Aaron and artist Jason Pearson.

The main story sees the Penguin doting over his frail mother and showering her with expensive gifts that have been brutally stolen from their owners. After her death, Oswald fills the lack of love in his life with the friendship of a blind woman who can love him back without judging him on his appearance. His idyll is shattered when Batman comes to call investigating the theft of various pieces of jewellery.

These stories show some of the background to the character of the Penguin. The boy and man that loved and was loved by his mother but who was reviled by his father and teased and victimised by his brothers. Someone who just wants to be accepted for who he is despite his appearance. The main story has more detail given that it is longer but the story rambles without much logic or direction as far as I am concerned. Being shorter, Aaron’s story is much tighter and tells a similar tale of teasing and abuse creating a manipulative monster in adulthood. I liked the art by Kudranski without being blown away but some of his work on Spawn, as highlighted on his blog, is truly spectacular.

Roadkill (2008)

“Bitch, just give it up already.”

“It’s gotta end here, bitch.”

“I don’t know you well enough, but if they say you’re a bitch, then I’ll trust ’em on it.”

Roadkill cover

This 80 page graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics was written and drawn by the Fillbach Brothers, Matthew and Shawn. This is the first work of theirs that I have read – though I do have another, Maxwell Strangewell, in my to-read pile. They also produce a web comic, with writer Ed Hawkins, called Roninspoon Theater.

When a research project to genetically modify animals for super growth is compromised by a mutated, zombie byproduct, one of the researchers escapes with a giant rabbit before the facility goes into lockdown. Unfortunately the rabbit gets loose and is run over by a truck whose occupants are looking for roadkill to augment the burger meat at a local diner. Unfortunately, again, eating the meat of the genetically modified animals turns people into the aforementioned mutant zombies. Enter Jim Kowalski who works for Illuminati Trucking Inc., a mysterious firm fighting evil and the supernatural, and is sent to investigate the incident. Jim has to fight mutated cockroaches, deal with a death cult and clean up the mess left in the local town.

This is a fun, comic story featuring larger than life characters and outrageous circumstances. The artwork is quite cartoony in style but this complements the comedic nature of the story. The characters are well worn stereotypes but the energy of the increasingly bizarre story carries all before it. I look forward to reading Maxwell Strangewell.