Monday, 16 January 2017

Fury MAX: My War Gone By (#1-13) PART ONE

"My name is Nick Fury.  I've had a bullet in my head since nineteen forty four. I can't seem to die.  Don't even seem to age much. I fight and fuck like a goddamn demon. I lick up war like it was sugar.  These are the things I've done for my country" - Nick Fury

This thirteen issue maxi-series written by Garth Ennis in 2012 to 2013 under the MAX imprint is something of a magnum opus for him.  Ennis is a student of military history and this series takes Fury through the post-Korean war military antics of the US goverment and CIA and uses the popular character to force us to face up to the upsetting facts behind them.  There are no superheroes here, no S.H.I.E.L.D, no LMDs, this is a Nick Fury purely of our history - the only concession to fantasy is that after WW2 he no longer ages he just gets more grizzled at time moves on.  So he is given a small supporting cast with which to show the ravages of time and a book that starts out as an angry one gradually turns into a heartbreakingly sad one as well.  The framing device is Nick Fury in the present day (2009 I think, roughly by the dates given in the book), holed up for days in a hotel room, dictating his memoirs into an ancient tape recorder. With a gun, the occasional three prostitutes and seemingly non-stop amount of booze to hand, it gives the feeling that this is also a last will and testemant.  This is another hefty and densely written volume that I have had to split into two posts just because there is so much information on the CIA and US military's cack-handed deeds abroad in it.  His artist is Goran Parlov, who illustrated the final two Punisher MAX volumes and the Barracuda miniseries with him.  Parlov has a nice and distinct style not uber realistic, but not too cartoony either.  I like his work a lot, and also for once the reliance mostly on widescreen panels works, giving the whole thing a steady and relentless pace and the feeling of a war on film slowly unfolding before you. 

We start in 1954, with Fury meeting another CIA agent called George Hatherly in French Indochina. There job is to watch the place, because if the French lose their grip, "[they say] the whole of South East Asia will go communist".
Fury and Hatherly meet in 1954
Hatherly asks if he isn't better informed being the agency's station chief out there.  Fury says he thought it was all about the blood debt owed by World War II, but it's all Empires  and colonies, "business as usual".  Hatherly says he missed WWII he was just a little too young.  Fury says someone thought he must have done something wrong to end up here.

They look at the US flag fluttering over the embassy. Fury asks what it means to Hatherly. Hatherly says he wouldn't believe him if he told him.  Then there is a ruckus inside the bar the are drinking outside of.  A woman is being attacked but doing an awesome job of defending herself.  Fury intervenes and gets the man to stop and get lost.

The woman introduces herself as Shirley and she is here as a secretary with a Congressman's party.   She says she was fed up with all the "nancy boys" at the US embassy and went exploring, "never know who you might meet" she grins.
And Shirley makes her mark on Fury too.
Later Fury and Hatherly are at a party thrown for the Congressman.  Fury grumbles that he's not on a fact finding tour, but a vacation.  Hatherly says maybe not, Congressman McCusky is seen as something of an up-and-comer and very anti-communist.   McClusky is then introduced to Fury.

McCusky introduces him to another man who goes where he's sent and can get things done, a French Major called Lallement.  While they talk Shirly says to Hatherly that Fury is "hating every minute of this isn't he?"  Shirley says she knows why Nick Fury is assigned to this "little jewel."  A friend in the typing pool told her.

He was involved in a big retreat in the Korean War. Some units got cut off from the rest and brass wrote them off.  Fury had other ideas and led an attack that rescued all the men and "ended up in so much shit he was lucky to get even this job".

We cut back to Lallement, Fury and McCusky.  Lallement says "Dien Bien Phu" is under siege but they think they can hold it even though France is not the power it was.  Lallement says he is convinced that if France loses Indochina, Cambodia and Laos and the rest will turn communist.
Talking politics at Pug's party.
In two days time he will be escorting a convoy to Son Chau and would be honoured if Fury came with him to witness what they have been up against.   He says bluntly to hold Indochina they need more US backing, their forces are stretched while the enemies grow stronger.  Fury tells Hatherly that they are flying out tommorrow and he will need to check out a weapon.

Hatherly wishes Fury and Shirley a good night and leaves.  Shirley smiles that he is a "sweet boy".   Fury asks her where she learned to handle herself in a fight like that. She says she grew up on the South Side of Chicago.  She says that where "Pug" McCusky found her and said "a figure like hers and an aptitude for shorthand were an unbeatable combination".  Pug's being spoken of as a possible Vice President.
Arriving at Son Chau
Then we cut to the convoy riding out a couple of days later. They are driving through Viet Minh territory and they arrive at the Son Chau fort.  "Hell of a place to have to defend" says Fury. Talking to one of the soldiers it is discovered that the Colonel supposedly in charge has left.

The leiutenant on duty reports they have been mortared every day for a month.  Thirteen dead, twenty wounded.  Ammo and supplies are critically low.  Lallement says he has bought them as much as he could.  Then they hear a cry, it is sergeant Chef Stienhoff, a German Foreign Legionnaire who is throwing around a couple of men in a defensive position.

Steinhoff and Fury chat for a bit, Steinhoff has respect for Fury being as he was in the Airbourne Division.  Then they discover Steinhoff was with the second SS Panzer division and if the West German army reformed they wouldn't want him, "I killed too many Jews".  This makes Hatherly turn and say "what?"

The next chapter begins with Shirley and Fury having wild sex.  Fury says they came back after two days because Hatherly met someone he didn't like, and "I figured I bring him home before he got himself killed".  She asks about the report he's going to write and when Fury hesitates she asks if he thinks she's "fishing for Pug?"
Fury and Shirley start their affair.
She laughs and says she's not and when Fury confesses that what he wants is to be where the war with the Soviets starts, she says they have the bomb now and this sort of thing he's engaged in now is probably something he's going to have to live with and they start having sex again.

Then we cut to Fury sitting outside a bar talking with Pug saying "the French can't hold". Pug asks if more support would help, but Fury says it's "good money after bad."  He says the soldiers on the ground are doing a good job, but the commanders seem to think this is a good old fashioned colonial war and it's not.  They are stupidly not taking the enemy seriously.

Fury: "The Viet Minh aren't a rabble of sneaking little backstabbers.   They're a well-organised battle-tested army doing exactly what they should: fighting superior forces with guerilla tactics".

Pug says but if the French are superior..?  Fury says that their bases are built in all the wrong places and he doesn't think Dien Bien Phu can hold out despite what Lallement says.

Fury says that the Viet Minh emerged four years ago and killed five thousand French soldiers, leaving their heads on spikes along the road. Pug says he appreciates Fury's straight talk but folk back in Washington still want to support the French because of the fear they'll all go commie.

Fury: "Congressman, I don't know if it's really a question of communism. This is a European colony in Southeast Asia; if you treat people like shit eventually they will buck".

Pug starts to say he'll keep needing a man on the ground as the situation develops then Shirley turns up, she brightly hands Pug a message while secretly passing one to Fury which says, "Hatherly on flight to Hanoi this A.M."
Hatherly off getting into trouble.
We then jump to Fury arriving at the Son Chau fort where Hatherly had gone back to. He had wanted to kill Stienhoff but had just got himself badly beaten instead. They have to stay overnight, and Fury manages to sort it so what happened with Hatherly won't leave the base.  Then when Steinhoff appears and accuses Hatherly of being crazy because all he did with the "kikes" was line them up and shoot them, Fury punches him very hard in the face.

Steinhoff isn't floored though and punches Fury back saying he's better than Hatherly.  He knocks Fury off his feet and when he gets up punches him again.  The Major in charge tries to call Steinhoff off but Fury then hits him across the back of his head with an assault rifle. Now Steinhoff is floored and Fury starts to choke him. They wrestle on the ground when suddenly the Viet Minh attack.
The Viet Minh attack.
They mortar the base then charge inside it.  The defenders barely have time to arm themselves and there is chaos and blood and fire and smoke.  Hatherly takes a bullet to the shoulder but the defence is successful and the attackers repelled, for now.  However they get news that Dien Bien Phu has fallen.  There is widespread panic as things are slipping out of France's grasp.

Lallement says that Fury is stuck there for now as Son Chau will almost certainly be attacked next. Fury goes to see Hatherly lying bandaged up.  Steinhoff is standing over him saying he thought Hatherly was brave and could have been a real "Hitler Jugend".  He leaves Fury with him, and Hatherly says "he has no idea there is anything wrong with him, does he?" Fury scowls and says it's time he talked "the facts of life" with Hatherly.

Later they are sitting outside watching the French aeroplanes futilely bombing the nearby area. A relief force probably isn't coming, so Hatherly comments "that's why we've got Nazis on our side". Fury says they didn't all get hanged at Nuremburg.  Hatherly says they are evil and should be wiped from the face of the Earth.
The unfairness of war.
He says he's going to submit a report on Steinhoff to the State Department, but Fury says it'll be buried.  "He's a monster" says Hatherly. "He's a minnow" responds Fury.  The war has been over for nine years, can't he see how the new pieces are falling into place?

Hatherly says Steinhoff doesn't deserve redemption and Fury says he doesn't understand, Steinhoff doesn't want to redeem himself, "he wants to keep on fighting.  Because he's a soldier and it's all he knows".  Hatherly asks if he sympathises with him.  Fury angrily says of course not and asks what the fuck he thought he was doing coming all the way out to confront Steinhoff? 

Hatherly dodges the question by saying Fury did the same.  Then they discuss the previous nights battle and Hatherly admits he might have hit one of their own.  Fury says the same. Then a helicopter arrives to take Fury back home, but Fury insists Hatherly is flown out instead.  Just before the helicopter takes off Fury growls at him, "let this be the last time your conscience gets the better of you. Clear?"  And Hatherly is gone to safety.

There is going to be a supply drop that afternoon so they'll be ready for another attack.  The long term?  Things aren't looking so good.  Then the ammunition dump goes up.  It wasn't hit by a plane, it was sabotage.   Then they spot a suspicious looking soldier walking towards the command tent, before they can stop him, he blows up.  It hits Fury, Lallement and Steinhoff full force.

Lallement is mortally wounded, Steinhoff and Fury manage to pick up weapons as the base is overrun with Viet Minh. Fury realises it is hopeless and stops fighting as Steinhoff is beaten to death by the enemy soldiers.
The fort is lost.
Back at the embassy, Pug admits his frustration that Hatherly came back and not Fury as the French have written off the Son Chau garrison now.  Pug says he imagined great things in Fury's future.  Shirley says some people are beyond politics and can't be "tamed".    She goes to the balcony and sends a kiss on the wind to Fury before accepting the offer to stay for a drink with Pug.

Back with Fury and against all odds, he is still alive.  The leader of the Viet Minh who now hold the base introduces himself as "Captain Letrong Giap".  He says he regrets Lallement's death as he had respect for him, and has respect for Fury as well.

He tells Fury they have won the battle and maybe now the war as well.  But he fears for the future fate of his country being held by outsiders:

Giap: "... this is not a place that the west can come and work out its frustrations.  Not without incurring a terrible price in blood.   This is not French Indochina Fury.  It is not French anything.  This is Vietnam".

And he allows Fury to leave and along the road are all the heads of the garrison's soldiers stuck on spikes.   Fury looks at his broken pistol, then starts silently walking.
Nick Fury is spared.
Then we jump forward to Cuba, as Fury sits in his hotel room with three sex workers sleeping on the bed next to him, he keeps on dictating. "Cuba.  Christ.  What a clusterfuck that was" he says.

Fury: "It was the agency at its most stupid and most arrogant.  There were so many hidden agendas that the right hand lost sight of what the left was doing from the get-go... but it got me where I wanted to be: right back in the goddamned frontline".

With Indochina proving conventional wars couldn't be fought anymore and both sides having enough nuclear bombs to fry the planet several times over, it was clear the battles were going to be via proxy wars.

So the US, the Soviets and China picked their countries and psychopaths backing them with arms and training or installing psychopaths of their own. The main problem was too many of the likes of him had started in "special operations" and had convinced themselves they beat the krauts and Japs by stealth alone, "we were a stiletto to the heart not the baseball bat to the head the army kept blindly swinging".
Next up: Cuba.
Really though the war was won by the grunt in the trench, or the navy gunner who kept on firing at the kamikaze pilot, the kid who climbed into a B-17 for his last mission and came home with his guts spilling out, "again and again, for what seems like forever".

But special forces would find evidence for missions they were needed to carry out just to sell the notion they really were special, "and somewhere along the way we got the idea there was nothing that we couldn't do."  Then the flashback begins, 1961 Fury and Hatherly are running exercises training anti-Castro Cuban forces in Guatemala.

After an exercise, Fury complains to Hatherly that he doesn't like the idea of not going with the soldiers when they launch their attack on Castro.  Hatherly says the US can't be seen to be intervening.  Fury points out the aircraft they are supplying haven't been disguised properly, "devil is in the detail".
Training and supplying anti-Castro Cubans.
Hatherly says he should be in D.C. planning this sort of stuff.   Fury just says they've rushed the plan they do have. That's because the best Cuban pilots are in Russia training in MiGs and when they get back this airforce won't last five minutes. Also the hope is the invasion will spark an uprising but Castro is getting more popular by the minute.

He says he told all this to Pug but it was in front of one of the leading anti-Castro Cubans.  Not very diplomatic. Then he asks Hatherly why he seems so happy.  Hatherly says his wife has just given birth to a son, he's a father now. Fury says he can have the week off while he goes to Miami to speak with Pug about the invasion.

Then it's more wild sex with Shirley time as they take a bath together. She teases him about him getting her to use her influence on Pug to get what he wants.  She also tells him Pug is pretty much a shoe-in for Senator now.  She says if the Cuban thing works out he was a tireless crusader against communism, if it doesn't, he was just here for the marlin.

She says this is the last time they can sleep together, Pug has asked her to marry him.  This takes Fury aback somewhat. She says he is nice and treats her well.  She is fond of Fury but they both know he's not the marrying kind and she takes her leave of him.

We then cut to Pug and Hatherly chatting in a Miami bar, Hatherly is travelling home to D.C. but his plane broke down so he is waiting for a replacement.  He congratulates Pug on his nomination. Pug asks him for his candid opinion of Fury.  Hatherly says he's a war hero and a brilliant soldier, he saved his life and there is nothing Hatherly wouldn't do for him. Pug says yes a war hero, but of what war?  A colonial one that wasn't their's to begin with? He says Fury needs to draw the attention of the right people at the right time.
Fury is given the go ahead to assasinate Castro.
Next day Fury meets with Pug and the anti-Castro Cubans on Pug's yacht. Fury suggests The Bay of Pigs as the best landing area for the invasion and goes to point out the good and bad points of it.  But Pug interrupts saying the Cubans know the details of the operation, they are here to get a look at him.

One of the Cubans says Kennedy is living in a fantasy, "whoever heard of a discreet invasion?"  Another says the important thing is their airforce wipe out the Cuban's one.  The bearded Cuban says the enemy should lose its head, Castro is a coward who will run back to his bunker they say.  "Assassinate Castro" says Fury. That's exactly what they want, no stupid CIA messing about with poison, "we want a man who will look him in the eye and put an end to him".

Pug cheerfully says Fury will get Agency permission to do so and Fury agrees.  He and Pug go for a walk, Fury says Hatherly better cancel his week off, this is a two man job and Hatherly is an excellent sniper.  He could probably use a radioman as well.  Pug comments it's getting less "deniable" by the second.  They arrive at the pool where Shirley is swimming, she gets out and leaves them to keep talking and Pug grins at Fury saying "that's mine".

We're back to Fury in his hotel room, he says that there was supposed to be a diversonary landing away from the Bay of Pigs but it was cancelled.  The air strikes didn't wipe out the Cuban planes and that the resistance should have been warned so it could time an uprising with the invasion, they were never told.  Still two days after the invasion, he, Hatherly and Elgen the radioman were dropped into Cuba.
The attack on Cuba is in full swing.
While that is happening the failure of the Bay Of Pigs invasion is taking place and the Anti-Castro Cubans are not happy by the way things are turning out.  Pug tries to reassure them as they get more aggressive that they should trust the people on the ground.

Fury and Co. set up in a building with a clear line of sight to where Castro is projected to be, Elgen tells them there could be a problem: no one is answering his hails.  Fury tells him to keep trying.  Curfew is keeping the streets deserted, but Fury is suspicious about all the empty government buildings.

They hijack a Cuban military vehicle and the man tells them Castro is taking charge of defence personally.  So they drive out there and witness the air battle which the invaders are losing.  Things on the ground are confused but Fury says Castro will be at Giron, they have a choice.  Keep moving in the open or take the swamps.

Hatherly can't believe what's happened to the men they trained.  Fury says taking out Castro might make things easy for the next lot. Then they are discovered and attempt a getaway from the soldiers.  They escape and climb onto a nearby buildings roof, they can't fight their way to Castto so they are going to wait for him to come to them.

Fury: "He comes down here. He starts crowing for the cameras.  That's when you blow his goddamn head off."

Listening in on the fiasco are the Floridan Cubans.  They tell Shirley to fetch Pug as they look on grimly. Pug however has done a runner.
Everything goes tits up.
The invading infantry are mowed down leaving the sea red with blood.  Fury says to Hatherly to get ready. He gets Castro in his sights and then they are spotted.  A Cuban tank blocks the shot and Hatherly misses.  Fury hits the tank driver and it careens out of control into the building they are standing on, which partially collapses.  Fury takes a rifle butt to the back of the head and everything goes dark.

He comes to and he, Hatherly and Elgen are tied up together and being told outright there isn't anything that won't be done to them. The man standing over them wants to know who fired the shot aimed at Castro.  He has one of the invaders strapped to a table with his head in a vice, "think it over.  Take your time" he says.

Back with Shirley, she is trapped with the Florida Cubans who want to know where the hell Pug has gone.  They realise he fucked them over because the CIA botched the invasion.  Shirley says it's time for her to leave, when one of them tries to stop her, she strikes out at him but he punches her in the face and knocks her down.  She crawls away and gets a gun from her handbag and points it at him telling him the safety's off.

Cut back to Fury, the man with his head in the vice has had it crushed so his eyes are bulging out and his bones are crushed but he is still alive. Nick lashes out yelling at them and is beaten down.  As the Cubans leave them to stew, Fury says he's testing a theory that the Cubans haven't hit them in the faces yet. His theory is the Cubans want a show trial so are keeping them alive for that reason.

They talk and Hatherly on finding out Elgen is married says he's going to confess and do whatever they say so the two of them can go home.  Fury says "Hatherly, we're supposed to be deniable".  Pug won't help get them back.
Caught by the Cubans.
Elgen tells Hatherly he'll contradict every word if Hatherly tries it.  He take responsibility for the shot and "so help me God.  I will make them kill me". He says they came here to help free these people, "that's the point of this country.  To make things better".  He says they can't weaken or fail or it's back to kingdoms and empires.

Later that night the three of them are dragged out to a pier, someone is thrown in before them and sharks immediately rip him apart. Then Elgen gets thrown in.  In a rage Fury knocks down his captors and bites the leader's nose off. Hatherly kicks a couple in the waters as well. They cut each other loose and go to rescue Elgen.

Shirley meanwhile has caught up with Pug. He apologises saying he didn't think they'd turn on his secretary. He says he had to start protecting himself from the fallout from the Bay of Pigs immediately. She tries to walk out on him and he wheedles, "Don't leave old Pug alone in the world. It's a cold, cold world to be alone in" he says and she stops and looks pained.

She sits and takes a drink while he complains that the CIA didn't seem to have been very well organised and "it's coming out that they might have told him one or two little white lies". He says the President isn't a teamplayer having cancelled the follow-up airstrikes. Shirley just drinks in silence.

We rejoin Fury, Hatherly and Elgen.  They are on a small boat, Elgen is in a very bad way, he's lost both his arms. Hatherly tries to comfort him, but Elgen looks at Fury and Fury looks back, then kills Elgen with a pistol shot to the head.  Hatherly screams at him, "what about his wife?".  Fury just says "she'll get a folded flag.  She'll never have to know".  The wind will take them to the Florida Keys by tommorrow.
Fury makes an hard choice.
And that brings my look at this half of the collection to a conclusion.  I have thoughts about Nick Fury I'll share in more detail after the rest of the book, because coming up is the big one - Vietnam - and a guest appearence by Frank Castle.  Fury's messy exploits in French Indochina and Cuba make for compelling reading and Ennis has created a very human set of characters to orbit round the Eternal Soldier that is Nick Fury.  Hatherly the kindly young man and expert sniper.  Shirley the tough but vulnerable to anxiety about the need for stability in her life.  And Pug the not yet quite detestable politician using anti-communist feeling to ride his way up through the US political establishment.  As usually there is a sense of authenticity to Ennis's writing and as usual he doesn't judge the soldier on the ground carrying out the orders of those more politically motivated types above them.  Check out part two in a few days time as things gradually fall apart for everyone.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Daredevil Book 2: West Case Scenario (#1.50, 6-10)

"You're a good man Matt. A lot like your father" - Maggie

Time for more Daredevil action with the Mark Waid penned acclaimed Marvel Now run.  Art is by the fantastic Chris Samnee.  Daredevil here is a littl different than he has been in the past, instead of being based in New York, he's in San Francisco.  This because he revealed his true idenity and was disbarred from practicing law in NYC.  Not hiding behind a secret identity has its advantages,  Matt Murdock seems more stable and at peace with himself than he has for a long time.  His law partner Foggy has gone into hiding while he recovers from cancer because Matt revealing he was Daredevil has painted a target on Foggy.  Matt also has two new women in his life, his law partner and girlfriend Kirsten McDuffie and the mayor Charlotte Hastert.  Another advantage of revealing his identity is that he can consult with the cops and be useful to them as a human forensic tool.  This volume contains what appears to be a "What If?" style story that takes place in the future and has Matt with a son.  Then his mum gets herself involved in a diplomatic incident which Matt must resolve and finally the sinister Purple Man is back, how can a man who's commands you MUST follow be beaten?

OK, first issue and it's a look at a (possible?) future for Matt Murdock. Daredevil the comic had it's 50th anniversary and this was the commemorative comic.  It begins with him sitting on a bench, ruminating on how age has only intensified the gifts he has.  He's holding a gift, it's a crown with the note saying "Happy 50th Counsellor" and the box has the label "Enjoy your reign" and it's then revealed he's in the middle of a crowd of people, all of them having lost their sight.
A city of the blind.
It begins with him pulling his son away from his books and making him come and train with him.  Matt notes that he's become just like his own father, he tells his son he needs to be "active and social" and partake of sports.  "There's more to life than mouldy old books" he says.

His son, Jonathan has inherited Matt's supersenses, it hit the poor kid like a storm and it took Dr. Valeria Richards sometime to bring him down to normal.

Matt: "He still jumps at every noise, still flinches at every contact.  Every second of every moment he's like a Jack-In-The-Box with one note left to go."

The doorbell goes and Jonathan jumps in fright, but it's only "uncle Foggy" come to visit. Matt's wife won't be with them tonight, "mayor stuff".

Foggy tells Jonathan that Matt became mayor not long after he moved to San Francisco.  And even handed the Daredevil identity to "you-know-who" (I don't know who) alhough he reclaimed it when he was done mayoring before retiring when Jonathan was born.  Matt says if he hadn't of been elected who wouldn't have met his wife, then he pauses and suddenly his senses pick up chaos going on outside which Jonathan reacts to as if he is in pain.
Matt's son Jonathan.
Then Jonathan goes blind.  And Foggy, looking at the TV, says he's not alone.  Matt is about to leave to investigate but Jonathan cries "don't leave me!" so Matt doesn't and hugs his son.  A watching woman outside says "oh for god's sake."

Later when Jonathan is asleep Foggy and Matt discuss the situation.  72% of the city has been rendered blind.  Then Matt hears his name being called via his supersenses and leaves, this takes us to him sat on the bench holding the crown.  There is a small communications device and a woman speaks to him over it telling him to open the other package.  It has the Daredevil uniform in it.

He puts it on, then Foggy calls him saying he has found out what caused the blindness.  It's an eye-drop like dispenser that people use to put in liquid "cyber-optics" which are what people use to connect to "the Worldstream" to stay connected 24/7.  Matt is annoyed that Jonathan used them, he told him not to spend his life behind a heads up display.

He knows who hacked the feed, the crazy "Jubula Pride."  Daughter of his old enemy The Owl.  He has tracked her down and smashes into her office screaming "you hurt my son!"  She says he's an ingrate who should be flattered by what she has done, "I worked hard to build this world for you!"
Jubela takes on Daredevil.
He detects a radioactive power source and realises she planning to expand her target area than just The Bay.  They fight and she is angry he retired when he has a kid. She says he was master of this city and she can make him "king of the world".  When everyone is blind, they'll look to him for help.

Jubula: "That's my present to you!  I'm going to give you back your courage!"

She says he's giving him the chance to be the father he never had, but Daredevil knocks her aside and says he'd be lucky to be anything like his dad.  And that the one thing they have in common is they both died young.

He starts smashing the radioactive power source.  As he hits it, liquid splashs on his eyes, but it seems to be working and it powers down.  Things go black as he thinks "I saved my son".

Then we jump forwards to Matt with a guide dog.  He has gone properly blind now, no more supersenses.  He talks with his son who wants to stay home reading, Matt says it's fine and walks away thinking he'd like to see some "spark of courage" in him.  Then suddenly a car nearly knocks him down but Jonathan dives forwards and tackles him out of the way.   He holds his son and tells him "I love you so much".  And the story ends.
Jonthan shows his inner hero.
Then there is a short and rather moving text story written by Brian Michael Bendis (whose Daredevil run is one of my favourite runs in all of comicdom) which is a letter written to Matt by one of his million wives, which ends with us seeing Bullseye coming to kill her. Then there is a short and very silly story about how Matt managed to deal with the time he pretended to be his own twin brother and "kill him off" so to speak.  And that brings the anniversay issue to an end and we return to the series proper.

It starts with Daredevil thinking about recently getting caught up in a crossover.  He admits he's pretty useless in these mass brawls, but one thing that happened to him was he and many others got flashes of scenes they had otherwise repressed or were too young to remember.  Matt is super disturbed by his because it shows him an image of his father with his face contorted in anger looming over his cowering mother, he's holding Matt and has his fists balled.  Matt is being super-emo about it, and is kneeling on his fathers grave using mud to cover up the words "A Good Man" on it.
The offending memory.
It's made him question everything he remembers about his dad.  So he goes to find his mum who is a nun in a New York convent, who left when he was very young to ask her about it.  But when he goes to her convent he finds she isn't there.  He manages to track her down to prison, which was hard from him with his lack of lawyerly privileges in New York now.  He has to call in a lot of favours to get to see her.

She hasn't been charged, just arrested for an act of civil disobediance.  She and a couple of other nuns broke into a base that was storing chemical weapons, having exhausted legal methods to bring this to people's attention, they illegally went and graffited all over the walls hoping their arrests would highlight what was going on there.

But they have been treated like illegal combatants, paraded before a military tribunal and then told they will be extradited to Wakanda.  The charges are unknown and when their time she tells Matt "the Lord watches over us.  Have faith".
Matt's mum Maggie is some serious trouble.
Matt keeps looking into it, even going as far as asking SHIELD what it's about, and they just tell him it's a federal matter.   But everyone on a federal level says it's a municipal matter, "it's like a Kafka novel" he thinks dispairingly as he fails to even find out what they have been charged with.

He becomes Daredevil and investigates the facility the nuns targetted, but it's been abandoned.  Matt considers the Black Panther a friend, but he's disappeared and Wakanda is being ruled by his sister.  Hawkeye reminds him Wakanda has an embassy in New York, so Matt goes and sits on the roof and lets his supersenses go into full scan mode.

He hears a conversation between a Wakandan representatve and a US General.  They discuss how the Wakandan's cleared the base and the Wakandan tells the general he did an exemplary job containing the media.  The general is uncomfortable about hiding this from his superiors but he is given a memory stick with schematics of some of their weapons on it.
You are too late Daredevil.
Daredevil bursts in and snatches the memory stick saying he'll release it to the media but the Wakandan says he was expecting him and sets off a high frequency device that overwhelms Matt's senses.  He beats him up and takes back the memory stick, then he hurls Matt out of the window telling him he's too late, the nuns are already on their way to Wakanda as the base was Wakandan soil legally, they have the right to try the nuns themselves, "they left and hour ago".

We then cut to Daredevil leaping out of a SHIELD aeroplane over Wakanda, after a mysterious box is tossed out as well.   He lands safely but is quickly captured and bought before the Queen.  She tuts at him saying she expected someone more "cunning, formidable, unless...you're awake".
And Daredevil knocks out the men holding him and stands before her.  She leaps forwards and attacks him, while they fight he thinks on how he planned to get captured so he'd find her faster.  Then he says to her that he knows she is dealing with a corrupt US general called "Eaglemore" and that he knows the nuns were drawing attention to illegal weapons being held in defiance of International Law.

She says the weapons and research are to keep Wakanda strong and the extradition of the nuns was her defence minister's idea, but she rubber stamped it.  The women would bring embarrassment to Wakanda "If I declare that to be a crime, then it is".  Then Daredevil stops fighting her saying he didn't plan on rescuing them via brute force, he going to "lawyer them out."
Matt gets his lawyer on.
He knew his word against Eaglemore wouldn't work, so he surprised the general, bound and gagged him and put him in the box that was dropped into Wakanda with him. He trashed Eaglemore's office and made it so people would know he was missing, booking him a flight to Wakanda as well.

Now the place is going to be swarming with investigators hunting down Eaglemore, who have probably dug into his dirty dealings as well. The Queen could stand with Eaglemore, but won't, he's a sacrificial lamb:

Daredevil: "Just be aware that it's going to be harder to throw him under a bus if you can't produce his kidnap victims."

The Queen pauses.  Then orders the release of the prisoners.  They meet Matt outside by Queen Shuri's personal airship.  But Shuri then tries to arrest Matt for entering Wakanda illegally.  However Matt's mum stands in front of him as the guns are all aimed at him.  Then Shuri is told US soldiers are approaching and she has no wish to explain a dead nun to them.  Matt is free to go with them.

On board the airship, Matt explains about his memories.  He finally asks her the question he's been dying for the answer to, why did she leave? "To save you" she says.  Then the whole story spills out of her.  She was suffering from severe post-natal depression after his birth which turned into a full blown psychosis and she became severely paranoid:

Maggie: "I began to suspect that Jack was working against me.  That he was purposely negelecting me for you. That you were sent here to tear us apart... that you were both laughing at my torment."

And she attacked Jack as he held Matt, but she slipped on some spilled spaghetti and fell, Jack loomed over her his face contorted for a brief second, then he became distressed and concerned.  But Maggie just ran, even as he tried to stop her.
Maggie tells Daredevil the truth.
He kept looking for her, but she was taken in by the local nuns and became one, staying close by Matt so she could watch him grow up from a safe distance.  Thanks to her faith in God and counselling she became at peace with herself and was able to redirect that energy "towards a bigger, better world."

She asks for Matt's forgiveness for never wanting to tell him the truth.  Matt says there is nothing to forgive and that it explained a lot.  She was dealing with a chemical imbalance and it wasn't her fault.  She says she still thinks she failed him.  He responds that she pulled herself out of depression by sheer force of will and became a source of good for the planet, "we should all fail so tragically".

They finally reach home and she is still apologetic.  Matt says they need to talk more, and she says it would be nice to have her son back.  Matt says he'll also be her lawyer "because you clearly do not understand the statute of limitations".  And they hug warmly.  End of this storyline.
Mother and son sharing a moment.
Next up, a tangle with Zebidiah Killgrave or The Purple Man.  Viewers of the 2015 series Jessica Jones will know that he's a man who can make people do whatever he wants just by telling them too and he's a pretty evil guy.  The story begins with four purple skinned children breaking into another kids home.  Before his mum can call for help, Killgrave appears and whispers that with the loss of her child she has nothing to live for, and she jumps out of the window of their high up flat as Killgrave laughs, and the her son's skin starts to turn purple too.

The next day Matt and Kirsten are walking through a zoo.  She's trying to get him used to identifying all the different animals.  He kisses her saying he's never had a girlfriend with this level of interest in his job.  She then tells him her dad has asked them over for lunch on his yacht and despite her dislike of her step-mother, she wants to reconnect with him like Matt has with his mum.

We then cut to Matt have a charming time with Dana, the step-mother in question, much to Kirsten's annoyance.  They have a pleasant meal and Matt thinks how impressed he is with her father and how down-to-earth he is for a rich guy.  Then "he goes and ruins it" when he tells Matt he has a proposition for him, the autobiography of Dardevil which he's going to hand him an eight million dollar advance for.
Kirsten's dad makes Matt an offer.
Matt doesn't reject the idea out of hand, aware as he is of how his and Kirsten's law practice is struggling.  As they get into a cab after being dropped off at the dock she says that Matt is falling under her father's spell.  Matt says he'll sleep on the idea.  Then Kirsten tells him he's had a message from the Deputy Mayor who wants Daredevil to come over to the Tenderloin district.

He's been called to the scene of the "suicide" of the woman earlier.  The neighbour has got the perp on video but he keeps saying he can't say who it was and if anyone asks... and he grabs the cop's gun and puts it to his head.  But Daredevil knocks it away in time and says the man's vital signs were redlining, he isn't in his right mind.

They check the video on the man's phone and discover it's The Purple Man.  What does he want with a child wonders Daredevil.  Then we cut to Killgrave sitting with the five kids at his feet saying he's always wanted a loving family. He says thanks to his gift he never knows if people are speaking to him from the heart or if their words are hollow.
The Purple Man and his kids.
But the children can give him unconditional love because the five of them together can't be mind controlled by him.  He asks them if they love him.  They are silent.  He yells "Love Me! That isn't an order!".  He asks if they can resist him?  They say they can now and he suddenly gets up and is forced by them to walk out of the house and in front of a train.  After it hits him, the kids then decide to go an explore San Francisco.

The kids walk down the street leaving a trail of panicking people behind them.  The youngest one is "leaking fear" and doesn't seem happy with the situation.  Then they spot a cop car and one of the girls says she wants to drive it.

Meanwhile Matt is out with Kirsten and Foggy who is in a fat suit disguise.  They are discussing his possible autobiography.  While Kirsten and Fogy agree with each other that Matt doesn't have the way with the written word he has over the spoken, he reveals he's accepted the advance and the book will happen.  Foggy says he's concerned because Matt has a lot of sadness in his life and he'll have to relive it, Matt reassures him he can "handle the emotional churn".

Then he hears the speeding car and nips into a public loo to change into his Daredevil costume. He finds the car and stops it by getting into a manhole and attaching one end of his hooked billy club to the ground and the other to the cars axle as it drives over which then rips the front wheels off and brings the car to a halt.
The kids having a wild ride.
The kids get out and use their mental persuasion powers to get the people close by to attack Daredevil while chanting "leave them alone".  In the morgue Killgrave wakes up, his body is shattered but using his persuasive powers on himself, he manages to get up and walk out.

The cops arrive at the scene of Daredevil and the Purple kids, but Daredevil realises they are just more puppets for them.  The cops then fire on Daredevil and he leaps away to a nearby bridge and realises they are the next generation who don't even need to speak to make their victims do what they want.

Daredevil: "They radiate pain, and grief, and rage, and loneliness, and despair and there's no fighting it".

Incapacitated by the overwhelming sorrow he feels lets the kids push him off the bridge.  He thinks to himself that "happy Matt" is just an act and he can't pull it off anymore.  "I can't move. I can't breathe.  I can't do anything".  And as he lies curled up in the foetal position, Killgrave appears and stands over him.

Daredevil:  "This is what depression feels like. Imagine... the people who mean the most to you in the world.  They're reaching out to you with love and concern.  But you can't reach back. You want to, but your arms won't move.  YOu know you should call out, but it's an effort to draw breath".

As darkness envelops his soul,  Matt goes on to describe depression as a living thing that is always hungry.
A depression stricken Daredevil and the nearly fatally injured Purple Man.
He thinks that he hasn't felt this way in a long time but a few minutes with the Purple kids has brought all his "half-buried shadows" back up and amplified them.  The kids have moved on but he's still incapacitated by the feelings, "I am utterly alone" he thinks to himself.

But he isn't, Killgrave is beating him with a plank of wood.  Killgrave can barely speak but he commands Daredevil to put up a struggle, Daredevil thinks that he can't, that he wants to sink into the comforting blackness.  Then Killgrave says "show me some fear".  And that triggers a response in Matt because if he knows one thing, it's how to fight fear.

He kicks out and smashes the plank and knocks Killgrave down.  He commands himself to move, to fight inertia and manages to stand and bunch his fists.  "OK that's a start" he smiles to himself.

Later Kirsten is sitting in their law office going through the red bills and talking to her dad when she hears Matt come in through the window and goes to help him. He tells her that he was forced off the bridge and beaten by Killgrave.  Kirsten helps patch him up and asks if he is OK and that he seems "off." He says he's fine, then worries about not being able to find the kids before Killgrave does.  He asks Kirsten where a kid off the leash would go in San Francisco, she says "too easy!"
The kids having more fun.
And we cut to the kids in a indoor amusement arcade called "Rough and Tumbles".  They have ordered everyone out and are running amok inside.  One of them climbs to the top of a slide and Killgrave grabs him saying he's been a "bad boy".  Then he goes to get another one saying he tracked their "spoor of emotion" and they are forcing him to isolate them because they only have power together.

Then Daredevil appears and hits him with a flying kick.  Killgrave says "drop dead" and Daredevil feels his heart clench, but he resists him.  Killgrave leaves him, and Daredevil finds one of the kids, the youngest, and tells him to be brave and tell him where the music is coming from.

The kid shows him, and Daredevil says into a walkie talkie, "now!".  The cops come bursting in and before Killgrave can command them, Daredevil turns the music up full blast, they can't hear him.  Daredevil then punches him hard and knocks him out.  He leaves while advising the cops that when they find all the kids, to keep them far apart.

Later he is discussing the aftermath with Kirsten.  They have returned to normal, not purple anymore either.  Some of them don't have a family to return to, Kirsten says she's contacted a school that deals with "gifted youngsters".  She says she knows the kids must have done a number on Matt's head, but he says he's fine and kisses her goodnight as he returns to his flat.

He gets into bed and hugs the pillow hard.  Then he reaches for his phone and calls Kirsten saying he just feels like talking, she doesn't have to come over or anything.  She tells him she never left, and she is sat outside his flat's door.  He opens it and she says "thanks for letting me in".  End of volume two.
Some cases hit harder than others...
I think one of the reasons I find Daredevil so appealing is his constant struggle with internal demons as well as external enemies.  Unlike so many other heroes he has a real "inner life" and one I can relate to as a sufferer of bipolar depression.  The part where Matt is overwhelmed by depressed feelings is one of the more accurate I have read in any medium and I like that it's something Matt is personally and previously acquainted with rather than a neuro-typical person being overwhelmed by something they have never felt before.  I wonder if Mark Waid has experience himself, at the least he did his homework, the way it affects Matt physically as well is something people who never have to deal with depression never seem to understand.  When getting out of bed to eat or go to the toilet feels like climbing Everest and you can't even raise a hand in your own defence, that's depression.  It links in quite nicely with the story of Matt's mum suffering post-natal depression and as depression can be inherited when Matt says that it explains a lot he feels like him realising why he's had the feelings he's had.  The fact that Mark Waid can wrap all this stuff up in exciting superhero stories as well shows what a talented writer he is and Chris Samnee rises to the challenge of depicting a troubled and mentally distressed Matt Murdock.  The 50th anniversary stuff is OK, there is some interesting stuff about his relationship with his father that prefigure his angst on acquiring the memory his dad might be a domestic abuser in the main series, but it does make me think how it's a shame most comic characters aren't allowed to age, or stay happily married, or have kids.  So many potentially interesting avenues that go unexplored to keep the characters in stasis.  Ah well.  Overall, good and strong stuff.

Monday, 9 January 2017

30 Days of Night: Red Snow (#1-3)

"If we're going to survive those...things, we'll need a real plan and leadership" - Charlie Keating

More vampire shenanigans now, with co-creator Ben Templesmith on art and writing duties in this tale of historical bloodsuckers in this 2008 three-parter set during World War 2 on the Eastern front.  You probably know the score by now, but I'll recap:  30 Days of Night refers to the Alaskan town of Barrow, which experiences a month of darkness every winter and one year a group of vampires take advantage of this to nearly wipe out the town in a feeding frenzy.  They were defeated by Sheriff Eben Olemaun who injected himself with vampire blood and killed their leader and driving the rest off before turning to ash by the side of his wife Stella when the sun came up.  Stella Olemaun became an expert in vampire hunting but ended up bringing Eben back who bit and turned her, but the two of them went on to become Barrow's undead protectors.  Stella's research on vampires told us that they can pretty much only be killed by completely destroying the head, burning up or prolonged exposure to U.V. light.  Holy symbols, stakes through the heart etc don't work.  We also found out through her that vampires share a linked conciousness and often seek to "turn" people because their long lives render them lonely and desiring of companionship.  This story, being set long before the events of the original Barrow assault shows us that vampires have been around a long time and have always sought to take advantage of human strife, bloodshed and places lacking in light.

It starts with a German called Klaus who has lost and eye staring out across the snowy landscape.  Another Nazi commiserates with him, and Klaus says it is freezing cold, "vermin" shoot at them constantly and they have to drink the "donkey piss" vodka.  The other Nazi who is called Trabant says the fuhrer will acknowledge them as heroes when all this is over.
Klaus the Nazi
Klaus says Tranbant seems very sure of himself.  Another Nazi SS Officer Hoeppner butts in saying they "swore a scared oath to the fuher".  He does not want to be here where it is dark for two months, he'd rather be fighting at Stalingrad or Moscow but he does what he's told:

Hoeppner: "He has chosen us to liquidate the slavs and Jews.  Kuchlerlebensraum.   For the glory of our fatherland the people must have room to breathe."

Klaus says he hasn't forgotten his oath and he knows there is not a man there who would not die for the Fuhrer. 

They spot a village in the distance and decide it needs "clearing". This will make pushing onto Murmansk easier.  Hoeppner believes that when the Soviets lose access to western aid they "will fold like a deck of cards" because they aren't made for fighting.  They make for the village.

Inside one of the village houses are a couple, a goat and a young son and older daughter.  They reassure each other that if the Germans come they can use the network of escape tunnels they have access too.  The man - Stefan - gives his son a gun and tells him how to use it.
You grow up fast in wartime.
We then join a Russian unit also close by.  In this unit is a Russian speaking Englishman. His name is Charlie Keating but the Russians just call him "Englishman".   Orlov one of the Russians says it is pleasing that Charlie's Russian is so good, he hates having to use English, "much better than that muck in your tongue" he says.

Galchenko interrupts saying Orlov is uncultured and the Russians really do appreciate the British help with their war effort.  He's been show Murmansk where the Nazi's were beaten back and they have mostly been killing off Nazi anti-partisan squads.

Then they come across some bodies ripped to bits.  Galchenko says angrily the Germans are animals who would eat human flesh rather than starve.  They see a panicking Nazi fleeing and the mounted Cossacks go to ride him down. The Naiz tries to sputter out a warning, but before he can he gets his head sliced off.  They spot more Nazis in the distance and give chase.
Vampiric evidence.
At the village the other Nazis have arrived.  They break down a door and a young boy appears.  Hoeppner shoots him in the face.  The father screams he'll kill the Nazis but is killed himself.  They are then to round every man up and shoot them by firing squad while the women and children all in one building. 

A bespectacled Nazi called Baum grabs one of the women and takes her off to rape her as the men are murdered.  After the men are shot, Hoeppner orders the building the women and children burned using their flamethrower.  Klaus looks down in what looks very much like shame.

The three Cossacks chase several Nazi's through a snowfield which starts sucking them down like quicksand and they are all pulled under.  In Stefan's house, the Russians come knocking and he goes out and greets them.  Galchenko praises the "stout Russian worker" who carries on and aids with the fight.  Charlie has more important concerns, do they have any tea?  "You English and your tea" says Galchenko.  A storm is coming so they all go inside.

But the storm brings monsters.  A small girl baring her vampire teeth is leading a group of vampires made up of soldiers from both sides, including the Cossacks.  Inside Stefan's house, Galchenko is suspicious of how they have so much food and drop heavy hints he thinks they might be "war profiteers".  One of the men goes to take a piss outside and when he opens the door he is shot in the face by the Germans.

Stefan's son, Nikolai wants to join the fight.  Orlov tells Charlie they are most like being attacked by a lost SS detachment looking to butcher easy targets.  Charlie isn't encouraged by this. As the Nazis dig in and fire on the house they spot the vampires walking towards them.
Vampires on the march.
Then Baum shoots the girl twice but bullets have no effect. The Russians spot the Cossack vampires in the distance thinking they might be reinforcements.  But the Cossacks are not on horseback.  The Baum stands frozen saying "I shot you" as the vampire bears down on him, and he gets a well deserved chomping by the little girl.

Hoeppner yells as Trabant to clear a path, Trabant says he's trying but "these things east ammunition".  There is a frenzy of flame and bloodshed as the flamethrower unit tries to kill them.   Hoeppner is about to be killed and Charlie shoots the vampire in its head and saves him.
Baum goes down.
When asked why he did that, Charlie says those things will come for them next, they need as many people alive as possible.  Galchenko roars that they will not cooperate with the enemy, then a pair or arms bursts through and grabs one of the Cossacks.  "The Englishman might have a point sir" says one of the soldiers.  Galchenko folds and then Charlie, who speaks German as well calls the Nazis into the house.  There is a rush of confusion as the vampires try to follow and in it Stefan get dragged off by the vampires who have his daughter, before they are beaten back but the house is damaged in the process.

Stefan's daughter shows them the hidden tunnels they can hide in now the house is no longer secure and the Russians and Nazis climb down. Stadler is ordered to set the room on fire as they move down.  Outside the long haired vampire says to the little girl vampire if this is it.  The little girl vampire thinks then says:

Little Girl Vampire: "I think not...Find them.  The village was already half deserted, we will be left hungry if we do not gather the rest.  Let none survive".

Hiding in the tunnels the soldiers try to figure out what attacked them.  Nevsky, a Cossack says he used to hear stories about creatures like them at the Northern Steppes.  Orlov says they are their punishment.  Or maybe the Nazis punishment, he hasn't heard a thankyou for saving them.
Charlie takes charge.
Charlie tells Hoeppner that these "animals" helped save him. There is some awkward introductions then there attention is taken by a soldier who was bitten and is trying to resist vampification.  He fails and his mouth bursts open full of bloody teeth, Stadtler can't use the flamethrower down there so Hoeppner says he's "my responsibilty" and cuts the man's head off with his knife.

Galchenko: "This is hell... this is just like hell... we're all going to die."

Charlie comments he didn't think communists believed in God. Rosa, the two women of the house now says there is a truck close by.  Charlie assures them they'll take them with them. Orlov says he'll have Rosa show him where the ammo is, Nikolai will show Charlie where the truck is.

There is plenty of ammo which Rosa assures Orlov was all going to the Soviet cause.  She is upset about the loss of her husband, Orlov says he cares for nothing except Stalin.  Then the little girl zombie appears. Before he can aim his rifle, she flies at his throat and rips it out. Rosa can only cry as she realises she is next.

Charlie hears her screams and goes back.  He finds the little girl hunched over Rosa's body.  He fires at her and knocks a hole in a fuel tank.  He lights the fuel with a match and sets her on fire.  She runs away and dives into the snow to put herself out. Her "Big Brother" asks her if it is his turn and she says they are playing "nasty games" and she wants them dead like now.
Tragedy strikes for Nikolai
Nikolai followed Charlie and finds him over the body of his mother.  She isn't dead but she'll change.  Nikolai knows what to do and takes Charlie's pistol and shoots her dead off-panel.  He then comes back to Charlie and says:

Nikolai: "I want to kill all of them Englishman.  Those things.  The Germans. All of them".

The vampires are making vampires of what remained of the villagers.  When they are done, they will chase down the soldiers in the tunnels.  The little girl says she "turns them into things of beauty" and likes having new friends to play with.

Back at the base in the tunnels, Charlie chews Hoeppner out for not providing support.  He says he could't care less about the "vermin and their spawn".  When Galchenko discovers Orlov is dead, he says he's the ranking officer.  But Charlie says "like hell" and a poll from the Russians and Germans left show support for Charlie's plan.
A plan is agreed on.
They put the escape plan in action, Stadtler uses his flamer to clear a path. He gets bitten though.  There is a general melee of fighting, and Stadtler begs to be killed before he turns.  Koeppler fires into the flamer fuel tank strapped to his back and there is a huge explosion.

Galchenko says it should buy them some time, but flaming vampires rush out of the conflgration.  One reaches Charlie, but before he can be bitten, Nevsky cuts its head off. They run for the truck and quietly Hoeppner says to Trabant that it will not hold them all.  They need to kill off the Russians. Hoeppner then shoots one to get started.  Trabant stands and looks at him, then kills the other one with them.

Hoeppner leaves him there and goes to commandeer the vehicle.  Charlie has managed to get it started, though it's too late for Tranbant who kills himself before he can be vamped by his attackers.  With Hoeppner on board the truck bursts through the garage wall and squishes several vampires.  Then Hoeppner shoots Galchenko in the head.
Never trust a Nazi.
Then he grabs Nikolai and throws him out.  In a rage Charlie flies at Hoeppner and knocks him out of the truck.  Then Charlie asks Nevsky to turn around and get the boy. Nikolai comes around and immediately is attacked.  Charlie runs to his aid and kills the vampire but sustains a serious chest wound in the process.

He tells Nikolai that Nevsky will see him right and take him to the next town.  It's the end for Charlie and he doesn't want to turn, so he hands his gun to Nikolai and tells him "you know.. what you have to do now."

The vampires congregate and the little girl says they won't get far, "there will be many more before this winter is over anyway."  Hoeppner wakes up and finds himself surrounded by vampires and with only a knife to defend himself with. "Let's get this over with" he says grimly and that brings this installment to a close.
Cue Bolvian Army Ending.
The art is as ever, brilliant.  And Templesmith shows some talent as a writer as well constructing a claustrophobic base-under-siege story where your allies inside are as dangerous as the monsters attacking outside.  We now know that vampires have been around feasting on darkness bound towns and villagers for a long time.  Unlike the people of Barrow after the first attack, their victims haven't been able to use technology to fight back.  And under the fog of war, whole towns can be wiped out; either eaten or vamped and nobody would expect a supernatural reason for it.  One thumbs up I am giving Templesmith as a writer is he makes and effort to mention character's names every now and then and uses props like hats and glasses to differentiate further.  Having read a couple of entries in the series where this doesn't happen and the characters all look the same has turned it into a real pain to write up.  But you can look forward to me moaning about that next month.  Anyway this is another chilly tale of vampires and humans and a great entry in the series overall.  You can buy it as a trade paperback, or find it in Omnibus 2 like I have.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Gotham Academy Book 2: Calamity (#7-12)

"C'mon, we're monster hunters!  We need you! We're a team!" - Maps Mizoguchi

*reads intro to the previous post on this series. Gets depressed*  No, I'm not over the end of the DCYou that Gotham Academy was one of the instigators of, but let's ignore that for now and enjoy the next book in the series about the titular Academy, a private boarding school funded by Bruce Wayne and thankfully popular enough that it's survived the scorched earth of the DC Rebirth.  Our main characters are the mysterious Olive Silverlock and her best friend the gloriously enthusiastic and geeky Mia "Maps" Mizoguchi.  Then there is the rest of their "Detectives Club", the somewhat snooty girl Pommeline, wheeler dealer boy Colton and the laid back brother-to-Maps, Kyle.  Their club is to investigate the links between the Academy and Arkham Asylum after they found clues relating to that in book one as well as looking into any other strange goings on.  Olive has a dark secret that her mum was in Arkham Asylum before it collapsed, and Olive herself has exhibited some strange behaviour most notably when she was found walking into a fire that closed off part of the school when she was staying there over summer. It looks like she might have caused the it and she was rescued by the brooding student Tristan who is a were-bat, but she doesn't however remember why or how she did it.  The last book ended with Damian Wayne, Bruce Wayne's son enrolling in the school ostensibly to keep an eye on things.  So time to find out what happens next. Written by Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher and beautifully illustrated in a western manga style by Karl Kerschl.

Before we get to the Calamity arc proper, we get an issue shining a sppotlight on uber nerd Maps which is drawn by Minjue Helen Chen in a similar style to Karl Kerschl's.  We begin in her English literature class where they are studying "The Raven".  She however is drawing up her ideal "Serpents and Spells" RPG group and writes the name of Eric in her book using the quill pen she liberated when they did some light theiving of the headmaster's office in book one.

Mr. Scarlet the teacher asks her a question about the text and she is unable to answer.  As Mr. Scarlet lectures her Eric lunges at him, only to be tackled by new boy Damian Wayne. He then tells Mr. Scarlet:

Damian: "These children are right to rebel against the teaching of such useless drivel Scarlet... they should be strengthening their bodies, preparing to defend themselves  for the day some villain decides to raze this decrepid academy to the ground".

Maps is awe-struck and crosses Eric's name out of her book.  After class she goes to find Olive, but finds Professor MacPherson there instead getting some things.  Maps hopes Olive is OK and says she wanted to tell her about the new kid in class.  MacPherson tells her he's called Damian Wayne.
Damian and Maps get stuck together.
She goes and watches him working out with a staff, and writes "Maps Mizoguchi + Damian Wayne" in her book with the quill.  Suddenly she finds herself drawn to him and grabs his hand.  They are then unable to let go of each other.  Before she can undo it, a raven swoops down and snatches the quill out of her other hand.

Maps drags Damian to see Pommeline, who has become a bit of an expert on magic.  She figures out that when Eric attacked Mr. Scarlet earlier because she wrote his name with the quill he was under a magic spell and the quill was attempting to "protect" her.

Damian refuses to believe it's the magic quill, he thinks he's being targeted because he is a Wayne.  Suddenly Pommeline pushes Damian through the window taking Maps with him.  He winds up hanging off the sill with Maps underneath him.  Fortunately he has a grapple gun on his belt. She fires it at a opposite roof and they swing across to safety.
Maps has an idea.
Then Kyle appears and attacks Damian, he swings Maps at him and knocks him out, "that was my brother you just made me clobber you jerk" says Maps.  Maps remembers Professor MacPherson's dog "Ham" was chasing the raven earlier, perhaps he can sniff it out and get them the quill back.

When MacPherson hears about the spell's effects on others she says it reminds her of a place near where she grew up in Scotland called "Inishtree".  Damian says there is Castle Wayne there, where his ancestor "Contarf Wayne" lived.  MacPherson says there have been tales of black birds secretly ruling Inishtree for ages.  As well as an incident where the towns children ran amok.  They were later found to be under the influence of a type of Avian Flu.  Batman thought the threat was over when the Wayne castle hawks sprang into action and all the black birds eggs were smashed, but the birds that laid the eggs were never found.

Maps says the quill must be made from the feathers of one of those birds, "it's a demon pen!". Damian refuses to believe that, but thinks it's an odd coincidence.  MacPherson and her dog come along to help them find the bird and the quill.  But outside are a possessed seeming Pommeline, Colton and Kyle.  Using the grapple gun they escape again and find MacPherson and her dog.  Then they spot the erstwhile bird.

Damian hurls a batarang at it.  The bird drops the quill and Mr. Scarlet appears and picks it up.  He says the quill carries Avian Flu which their friends have been exposed to.  Damian says it's a curable science problem, Maps says it's the quill's magic. Them being stuck together proves it.

Scarlet says they were never bound together, they made a choice.  If the release their grip now they'll be free of each other.  Which is what happens much to their confusion.  "I thought we made the perfect team" says Map's sadly.  Then headmaster Hammer appears and tells them he wants to see them in his study.
Damian gives Maps a gift.
He quizes Maps about the quill, but Damian says it was him that took it not her as it's maybe a Wayne family heirloom. 

Hammer: "I consider it a good day when I expel a Wayne from my academy.  It's been years since I had the pleasure.  You truly are your father's son Damian.  And I'm sure, like him you find your own unique path outside these great halls".

As he leaves Maps chases after him and shows him her book she had dropped in the cemetary, their names have been crossed out which she thinks released them from the power of the quill.  Maps then thanks him and he responds by giving her a batarang saying she might need it some day before departing.   Her excitment is shortlived however when MacPherson appears to tell her some bad news about Olive.

We then cut to the rainy funeral of Olive's mother.  Maps wants to go and comfort Olive but Kyle says to leave her alone in her grief for now.  However he goes on to watch with narrowed eyes as Olive and Tristan speak to each other. In the car home Maps says to Kyle if he can imagine what it must be like not to have a mom anymore.

Kyle stays brooding on what he saw, he goes to tennis practice where he is out of sorts then spots Tristan spying on him through the fence.  He sneaks off and follows Tristan who is visiting one of the science teachers, a Doctor Langstrom.  Kyle peeks in on them as they converse about a mysterious third person, Langstrom says "I may have to delay research into your condition to contend with the fallout" as Tristan takes his top off.
Tristan the Man-Bat.
Langstrom then says he is sorry for what Tristan is going through.  Tristan changes into a Man-bat form and says "nothing to be sorry for, Doctor".  This causes Kyle to recoil and flee.  He runs to Olive's room in a panic and tells her she has to stay away from Tristan. Olive thinks he is jealous,  Kyle says he's just worried about her but she responds:

Olive: "Sure that's fine.  But you know what you can't do? Tell me who I can and can't hang around with".

Kyle blurts out that Tristan is a Man-bat, but Olive just tells him to grow up (she already knows this as seen in volume one).  She stalks off to a Guidance Appointment.

Then Map's voice comes from the wall, she is lurking in one of the secret passages and overheard the whole thing and thinks it's terribly exciting.  Kyle wants to use the tunnels to get to Tristan before he sees Olive.  She is at a counselling session, which Kyle and Maps listen in on briefly before moving onto Tristan's room.

He catches them in the act though and Kyle confronts him saying he wants some answers.  Tristans responds by transforming and flying out of the window.  They follow him to the graveyard and finding him lying injured on the ground, he pleads with them to take him to Doctor Langstrom, he can't be out here tonight.

Doctor Langstrom examines him saying it looks bad and that they need to get Professor McPherson.  Olive goes to get her, while Kyle goes to find Olive.  She is standing by the lake and when Kyle tells her about Tristan she gets very concerned.  She has been crying and when Kyle tells her there is more to Tristan than meets the eye she responds, "it's.. it's not him I should be telling you about.  It's me."
Olive and Kyle smooch.
She confesses that she caused the fire in school over the summer break and she doesn't remember how or why.   Her mum was in Arkham Asylum for starting fires and now the same thing is happening to her, "are they going to lock me up to?"  Kyle reassures her she won't and they kiss.   Then Olive breaks it off saying it was a mistake. 

She tells him to go and she'll follow right behind, as he shuffles of despondently she suddenly spots a letter floating in the water. She picks it up and it turns out to be a postumous letter from her mum which says Olive was taken from her and surrounded by people who would hide the truth from her, "but always remember.  I loved you".

Then Maps appears behind her along with Pommeline, Colton and Kyle.  Pommeline demands to know what Olive has behind her back, but Olive won't show her the letter.  Maps tells Olive there is a monster on the campus terrorising people, this looks like a job for their Detective Club.

They go to where Tristan was attacked and find a clue, a patch of what looks like wolf hair.  Colton says he can analyse it in his secret lab to confirm what it is. The lab turns out to be a trailer, tricked out with all sorts of scientific equipment.  Maps refers to it as a "lair". Colton says it is not a lair, he calls it "Monte Carlo".

He then discovers it is indeed wolf hair and Pommeline says they have a werewolf on their hands.  She fills them in on werewolf mythology, she says ancient curse, Colton wonders if it could be a virus.  She says whatever it is they need silver to protect themselves with. Then they notice Olive has disappeared.
Colton and Pommeline join the investigation.
She has returned to her room and found the spooky looking girl, Katherine in there.  She is Map's roommate and she rushes off when Olive discovers her.  She goes to check her favourite poster and an envelope with her school admisson papers floats down.  There is stuff in there about her mum being a costumed villain, which is news to Olive.  She says "this is impossible" to herself.

Maps charges, in hears her and says "nothing is impossible Olive!". She has a silver necklace for her to protect her from the werewolf. Olive thanks her and tells her about Catherine being there.  Maps starts dragging Olive off to confront the were-wolf but Olive wants to go and speak with Professor Strange first.

She demands to know more about what she read in her school admisson notes about her mum being a "costumed freak" and that Olive needing "watching over".  She says she thought she was here on a Wayne Scholarship, but actually she's been placed there. Strange says only headmaster Hammer knows the details, and also has special interest in another student, heavily implied to be Tristan.

Olive and Maps then go and visit Tristan, he is laid out being treated by Doctor Langstrom.  The kindly Professor MacPherson is also there.  Olive plaintively says her mum was a villain, and why didn't she tell her?  "Oh Olive love, it's complicated" says MacPherson.  "When is it not?" says Olive sadly.

She goes and talks with Tristan and tells him how they have both been placed at the school to have an eye kept on them.   Tristan says Batman bought him here, the old science teacher "Milo" was supposed to treat him, but instead he used Tristan's DNA to turn others in to what he is.  Doctor Langstrom is "racing against the clock to find a way to reverse..." and he gets cut off by a huge werewolf crashing through the window.
Werewolf!
It shouts, "Milo cursed me!  Now I'm going to curse you!"  Olive bashes it over the head with a stool and Tristan hurls himself at it and both go crashing back through the window and land outside.  Maps looks down and says did anyone else notice it was wearing "coach Humphry's uniform?"  Langstrom says he is too late with an antidote, but Colton has appeared and says maybe he can help with that.

The Detective Club run downstairs and find Tristan hurt and alone.  They hear a howling coming from close to the gymnasium.  Their plan is to take the tunnels to the gymn, evactuate the building, spray silver paint everywhere, drop a net on him, bash him with a silver plated golf club, then when he is unconcious, place charms around him to turn him back.

Maps: "What could possibly go wrong?"

They run to the gym, but the werewolf is lying in wait.  He confronts Olive when suddenly a strange ghostly figure appears behind her and exhorts her to use her fire powers.  It tells her to burn the wolf, burn the school, burn Gotham to the ground.  She starts to power up, then Colton appears and stuns the wolf with a stun dart.

The others ask what Olive did, but she can't remember.  Colton then says it was him who took the wolf out, which has reverted to the form of Coach Humphrey.  The dart was filled with antidote he concocted with Langstrom, "Just saved the day.  No big".

With Milo gone, no one was helping Humphrey keep his animal side in check. Langstrom and MacPherson find them and take a befuddled Humphrey away.  As the Detective Club walk back to their dorms, Pommeline says she needs to talk to Olive privately.

She says she stole the note Olive's mum wrote to her.  Olive is angry at this breach of privacy, but Pommeline said she has done some digging on the "Calamity" person her mum was.  She then says she was only trying to help, but then Olive sees the same ghostly figure on the school stage and it sets it on fire.

Olive and Pommeline rush out, Olive says that was her mum.  Pommeline says it wasn't her mum and starts to say their mothers are connected, but gets cut off leaving a juicy plot thread dangling for now.  The drama teacher - Simon Trent - comes rushing out too and Pommeline says seeing a ghost means time for another investigation.
Simon Trent laments while Katherine watches.
Katherine comes up to him and says she still be in his play.  Olive interrupts her and says she'll be in it too, this pleases Mr. Trent who walks off with his arm on her shoulder while Katherine just glowers.

The rest of the gang sign up too for this production of MacBeth.  They have to double up some parts so Olive, Pommeline and Maps get to be the three witches as well.  At a rehearsal though the lighting cues go all wrong.  They go up to the box to see what's happening and the boy doing them is freaked out about seeing "the phantom".

Olive says it's not a phantom, it's her mum's doing all this.  "Calamity is back in Gotham" she says.  Maps is hurt Olive shared this with Pommeline and not her, she thought they were best friends.  Olive reassures her she still is, then Colton finds muddy footprints leading away from the scene.  Olive says but she was so sure it was her mum.

We then cut to her in Strange's office telling him she seen Calamity several times now since the funeral.   She confesses Calamity has been telling her to do "wicked" things.  He advises her not to continue her extra-curricular activities for now saying they might lead her down a bad road.
Schools ALWAYS do either MacBeth or Romeo and Juliet, and not because they are good, but because they are Shakespeares shortest plays.
But she carries on playing Lady MacBeth, she is onstage doing the "out damn spot" monologue when mud plops down from the ceiling onto her head. She dives out of the way as part of the stage roof collapses.  The Detective Club all give chase to the cloaked figure fleeing the scene.  However it escapes via the secret tunnels.

They follow the mud to Maps and Katherine's room and Maps and Olive gingerly call out to Katherine.  She screams at them with a melty face then turns into a flowing line of mud and schlurps out of the window.  Pommeline appears and points to some photos that show Katherine has a beef with Simon Trent.

They go back to the theatre and Katherine is there.  When they confront her, mud rises up around her and forms the Batman villain "Clayface".  He says Trent "stole my best roles.  Then he stole my wife."  Katherine is just one aspect of his true form, "she existed to do my bidding".
Clayface.
Then he says he would have got revenge years ago but he was locked up in Arkham Asylum.  Then he recognises Olive and says her mother was "crazy".  Simon Trent then appears and he and Clayface have a florid argument with each other.  Then Clayface punches him. Before he can do worse damage though Olive and Maps use a stream of water from a firehose to take him down.

This dissolves the mud and leaves only Katherine behind, turns out Clayface was her "papa".  As Maps and Olive leave the theatre with her, Maps offers to have Katherine over for Thanksgiving at her house.  Then Pommeline comes up and shows them a newspaper headline and it says, "Fire Deemed Arson.  Calamity Returns To Gotham City".  Olive is confused now, is her mum still alive?

Back in counselling with Professor Strange, Olive talks about her mother and how she thinks she might be alive.   She going to accompany the tennis club's trip into Gotham to go and try and search out more evidence about her mum.  Strange advises against it, but Olive is resolute.

They arrive in Gotham, Pommeline and Colton are also there.  They make their plan, Colton and Pommeline will go to Pommeline's mother's law office to dig through the Silverlock file, while Maps and Olive will go to the city's paper records office.

To top things off, Maps dons a domino mask and says "this is the best plan ever".  After some roof clambering, she and Olive get inside the building the records office is in.  They avoid a security guard and then start their search.   Olive thanks Maps for all the effort she's gone to.

Maps: "You don't need to thank me.  We're best friends.  That's what BFFs do.  Besides how would you find the records room without your Maps?".

The find the records room and handily, the Silverlock file has been left out on top of a filing cabinet.  She tells Maps to stand guard while she reads it.
Red Robin discovers them.
Then suddenly Red Robin aka Tim Drake appears.  Maps flings her batarang that Damian gave her at him.  He easily catches it and recognises it as "one of ours".  He says that makes her one of the now many Robins of Gotham City (this is a reference to the series "We Are Robin" about a gang of Batman affliated youths).

They chat about all Robin phenomenom then he says he needs to scour the record room.  Maps tries to stop him and blurts out that Olive needs more time to find out about Calamity.  This sends us into a Robin narrated flashback.  A whole block of flats was burned down.  Batman and Robin Mk.1 went and helped rescue people and came up against Calamity.  Dick managed to bring down the ceiling on her head and knock her out.

Batman had Sybil Silverlock put away, but things were more complicated than they seemed.  She wasn't the first Calamity to terrorise Gotham City.  And when it was discovered she had a daughter, Batman put her where she wouldn't grow up to be like her mum and be watched.

Then we cut to Olive reading about generations of Silverlocks all going by the name Calamity. "Is this what my future holds?"  Then Calamity appears saying now she knows the truth she can face it.  Robin and Maps realise there is a fire and go to see whats happening and see the strange ghostly form facing Olive.  Maps and Robin fight her off and she disappears saying "Olive weeeeee shall meet again..."
Calamity in action.
Red Robin says goodbye and Maps rings Pommeline to tell her what happened.  But there is bad news.  Kyle disappeared after his tennis game and has been gone for three hours now.  The police have been called.  Colton breaks into Kyle's locker to look for clues and finds a key which Olive recognises as one for Arkham Asylum.

With Katherine having been persuaded to disguise herself as Maps to keep her parents happy, Maps herself and Olive get reading to make a trip to Arkham Asylum with the others. Colton and Pommeline pull up in a swanky car, Pommeline says not to ask where they got the wheels.

As they drive up to the Asylum, Pommeline drops the bombshell on Olive that Sybil killed Olive's dad.  She tells Olive that Calamity could "really hurt you".  When Olive mumbles that her mum told her that her dad died in a car accident, Pommeline says she thought Olive knew the truth, "well now you do.  You're welcome".
The Detective Club off to rescue Kyle.
As they sneak into the Asylum, Olive demands to know why Pommeline keeps hurting her like this.  Pommeline snaps that she doesn't want one of her only friends getting burned alive and she should wait outside where it is safe because she's a liability.  Maps more gently says it is a good idea if she stays with the car and to honk if there's trouble.  They leave a somewhat crushed Olive behind.

Inside Pommeline asks if they think  Olive is really mad at her.  Colton says he'd be surprised if she ever talks to her again after the bomb she just dropped.  Pommeline doesn't know why she said what she did.  They then discuss how to find Kyle in this maze.  Maps calls his name and gets an immediate response, "Maps? Help!  I'm down here!" he shouts up through a hole in the floor.

Outside Olive sees Calamity and goes chasing after her. Maps and the others find the door to the cell Kyle is locked in.  She asks him why Calamity brought him out here.  Kyle responds that it wasn't Calamity.  The door also doesn't have a lock for the key. Then Pommeline finds the weird symbol and puts the key into the hole in the middle which unlocks the door and they grab Kyle just as he falls into the hole he was clinging to the edge of.

Olive enters the room she saw Calamity go into and sees a white wig on the table.  Then Professor Strange appears, he tells her that her mother was a patient of his once.  But she refused him access to Calamity.  "She held on to the hope of living a normal life with you" he tells her.
Strange reveals his secret villany.
He says he's been wearing her costume to try and learn more, but sees there's another way. "Take up your mother's cloak and become Calamity" he exhorts Olive.  Olive just wants to know how her mum died and as she gets angry the flames appear.  Strange talks past her to Calamity:

Strange: "Calamity is that you?  You didn't finish telling me about the tunnels.  What did you hide in the tunnels?  Calamity reveal yourself to me!"

Then we cut to the others arrving in the room which is on fire and Olive standing in the middle of it.  They ask if Strange hurt her, she just says "It was Calamity... she saved me".  They have to get out of the Asylum quick as it's starting to collapse some more.  They get outside but falling masonry takes out the car.

Maps says they can walk back through the tunnels, "What?  It'll be fun...and if we're lucky we'll stumble upon a new mystery".  We then cut to Olive talking to Professor MacPherson who says she'll be there for Olive when she wants to talk.  But Olive just thinks to herself:

Olive: "I wanted to tell her everything.  About Professor Strange, about my mum.   But I don't feel like it.  Not right now.  She thinks I need a shoulder to cry on, but actually I don't.  I actually feel good. For the first time in a long time, I feel whole."
Olive is left with plenty to think about.
The end. Ah, this is still refreshingly good stuff.  Boarding school and detective narratives are always compelling and when mixed in with the history of Gotham and the Bat-family parade of villains and anti-heroes you get a fine piece of story telling.  Olive of course takes the main spot and the series is teasing out revelations about her family at a steady pace.  But the supporting cast are great too, especially Maps who simply cannot see a bad side to anything.  Her wide-eyed optimistic enthusiasm helps stop the book falling into the trap of being overly "grimdark" even though it deals with some pretty heavy topics.  Balancing her out is the overly brusque Pommeline who obviously has a lot of affection for Olive but keeps expressing herself badly to her. Still, like the eccentric wideboy genius Colton, she is perfectly willing to drop everything and go and rescue Kyle even though it's a dangerous expedition to embark on.  And it's those bonds of friendship, some warm, some spiky that make this such a pleasant read with witty and sharp writing from Cloonan and Fletcher.  The art is superb, Karl Kerschl channels the manga style into something more westernised and it suits the mood of the writing to a tee.  There are several questions and plot threads left dangling, I don't know how much of a new beginning the DC Rebirth will force on the title, I hope it's just left to carry on as it is, if not hopefully all the dangling plot threads have been cleared up pre-reboot.  Well a girl can dream can't she?