Monday, 26 September 2016

The Light And Darkness War (#1-6) PART TWO

"In the beginning oh son of the wise...there was nothing... in the end also, there is nothing.  All that passes is but a dream, my son... a dream of light and darkness." - Zip

The story so far.  Paraplegic Vietnam vet Lazarus Jones ends up in a coma after a car crash.  His soul finds it's way to a star system called Abaraxis where a aeons long war is being fought between the forces of Light and Dark.  Warriors from Earth's wars find themselves drafted into the battle on the side of the Light and Lazarus finds his old crew, Captain Engle, Huff and Slaw in command of a stone barge and they welcome him back to the fray even though he isn't quite dead.  A powerful agent of Darkness called Lord Na attacks and takes control of the planet of Black Gate.  Laz and co. manage to get the ruler's daughter Lasha out just in time and she and Laz hook up, realising they have known each other across a thousand different lifetimes of fighting the dark.  Lord Na has figured out a way to defeat the Light for good, he has made contact with an arms dealer on Earth called Odom and demands more modern weaponry.  To take the weaponry over to the other side, he gets Odom to employ Nikola Tesla's nephew who has created a machine that can link the two dimensions up. Laz's team decide on an all out attack on Lord Na before he can bring the weaponry across but end up going through a dimensional rip and winding up on Earth.  There Lord Na's men take control of an attack chopper and shoot the barge causing it to crash into a building, we left it on that cliffhanger and now the conclusion.

Lord Na: "In the beginning oh sons of destruction, there was darkness. In the end also there is darkness.  The darkness is real... the darkness is all that is."

As a pitched battle between Lord Na's forces and the lightsiders takes place, Lord Na declaims some more about the "purity of the night".
The lightsiders beat a retreat from the mortal world.
Outgunned by his forces, the lightsiders withdraw leaving Laz's ship still stuck in the side of a building in the mortal world, located in Odom's South African weapons depot.  They have the Tesla machine used to stablise the hold between dimensions, so although one of Lord Na's commanders Mangler is piloting a modern attack chopper it doesn't try to destroy them.

There alien engine/communications device, Zip is dying.  He manages to pull the ship out of the side of the building and it crashes to the ground.  Zip then disintegrates leaving a small book behind that Laz picks up.

Engle: "Fifteen years he fought with us.. and he was built into the ship 200 years before that."
Zip, the ships navigator and communications enabler, passes on.
They investigate the bunker and find several more attack chopper including one identical to that which they flew in Vietnam, handily all fueled up and ready to go. So they start it up, and attack Lasher and the deadsiders in their chopper.

Meanwhile Nikola Tesla is being visited by Leonardo Da Vinci.  Leonardo is practically worshipped by the lightside, technology, much to Tesla's disgust, has not been allowed to progress past Leonardo's level.  He says that the acquisition of modern weaponry by the deadsiders means that they need Tesla, one of the rulers with him says "the Galaxy must bring forth a new generation of military machines.  Can you help?"
Leonardo ain't too proud tah beg.
Tesla says warfare has been the last thing on his mind, he's been trying to improve living conditions "in this backwards galaxy" which has always been met with official resistance.

Leonardo Da Vinci: "It is time for everything to change, Mr. Tesla.   It is time for the galaxy to make use of your talents... and to honour you as it has honoured me."

Tesla thinks to himself that they came begging when they realised they couldn't stand up to weapons of pure energy. Then we join Lord Na saying that in in honour of his new arsenal he is declaring today a holiday.  He orders the attackers on Black Gate wiped out and his slaves worked to death.

Meanwhile back on Earth, the four man crew is refamiliarising themselves with the helicopter controls.   It comes easily to them and Engle comments about Vietnam, "God how I loved that war". 

Back in with Lord Na, he asks for Nicky, the nephew of Tesla and his psychic girlfriend Delpha to be bought to him.  He demands Nicky build him another Tesla machine .  Nicky refuses saying he is an American citizen and "my government will have something to say about this".  This doesn't bother Lord Na and he orders his second-in-command Fasher to escort Nicky to his quarters with a copy of "The book of the Great Darkness" to read. He has Delpha to himself now and offers to share a glass of wine with her.
Lord Na tries to seduce Delpha.
In South Africa, Laz and his team manage to bring down the chopper filled with deadsiders.  They flee the wreckage before it explodes and Laz takes Odom, who was riding the chopper hostage. Engle demands Odom provide them with weaponry:

Engle: "I want guns Mister. Lots of 'em. I want ordinance an' I want lasers  like ya gave ol' Na. I want some heavy shit!"

Lord Na in the meantime is attempting to seduce Delpha.   He says as soon as he saw her he knew she was a "very special person".   He says she has great insight and does it tell her how he is "helpless... before your beauty.. and freedom?"  She says she'll trust him if he returns her to Earth.  Lord Na says by the next day Mangler will have reopened the gate and she can go back if she wishes.

He leaves her alone and she reflects that her connection to the "Vietnam warrior" helped her resist Lord Na's charms.  Meanwhile said warrior, Laz and his crew have loaded up with ordinance and fly the Huey back through the dimensional gate but the Huey wasn't built for dimensional travel and nearly shakes apart.  They make it though and plan to go back for another supply run.

Tesla is trying to contact his nephew via a vision, and Delpha is able to channel him so his message gets through.  He says to Nicky he has an idea for for a weapon that he needs Nicky's help with.  As the lightsiders collect more choppers and weapons from the South African depot, Laz and the others make their final run and bring the Tesla machine with them.
Taking the machine through the rip unfortunately backfires on Laz.
Suddenly there is a flash of green light, turns out dragging the Tesla machine into its own energy field was not a good idea.  Then we see Laz standing on his own while a prayer echoes around him. He is shot in the eye with an arrow and falls, only to wake up from his coma with his wife Chris praying for his return.   She is exstatic he has woken up but he just wants to go back to the fight saying they are alive "but I'm the one who's really dead now."

Lazarus Jones: "For a single hour I dreamed hope.. rebirth... new legs to carry me into war.  The war of dreams...the woman... even love is dead."

Bitterly he reflects that none of it was real, his friends aren't alive/dead and fighting, Lasha doesn't exist.  As Chris fusses over him talking about mundane things, he moodily wallows in self pity, "I'm just a legless asshole... doomed".

Then he demands his dope, when Chris says she threw it out in case the police came. He sends her for some emergency stuff he has stashed elsewhere.  She leaves and he reaches into his shirt for some matches and finds Zip's book tucked in there.  Zip appears in his mind saying he will read the book to Laz who must destroy it when he is done.
Zip begins his story.
As Zip recites the story of the history of the relationship between the Light and Dark, it overlays images of Laz's crew piloting the Earth attack chopper in a battle against the deadsiders.  They are having trouble with it, it doesn't seem to want to work properly in this dimension and Laz was their expert in fixing things up.

Back with Nikola Tesla and Leonardo Da Vinci, Tesla is still a little affronted he is being asked to build a powerful modern weapon when his attempts to modernise the society has been looked down on in the past.  Practically through gritted teeth, the leaders say that although the council has "great displeasure at your thoughts" they have no quarrel with someone who can "advance the cause of war."

Tesla says there are probably other scientist who have crossed over who have been afraid to speak out, but no matter, he has discovered "a curious physical truth about the galaxy".  The atmosphere of the planets are supercharged with voltage and he and his nephew can use this to amass huge charges.  Nicky designs something called a "Voelkel gate" to focus the charge and have built the "Tesla Energy Accumulator" which he is now showing the leaders.
Two Teslas are better than one.
He says in return for this he wants to be able to publish the "knowledge which can transform this backward society".  He is told no, that it is not allowed, but Tesla says even Da Vinci has seen the need for progress.  The Tesla cannon (hey that's a weapon you can use in Fallout 3, cool) is sent to Engle to help in the liberation of Black Gate.

The leader of the fleet, Lepp is also on its way to Black Gate.  Engle pleads with them to wait for a while, that Lord Na's new weapons will destroy them.  His advice is shot down as Lepp seems to think weight of numbers will work in their favour.  "How many worlds have you captured?" he sneers and cuts the connection.  Engle decides to enact a plan using their own captured weaponry, they'll attack full on while blowing up the tunnels underneath the planet.  Then Lasha has a vision of Laz, "I see him! he's alive!"

While Zip continues to tell Laz about the Darkness, Lord Na and Delpha speak with each other. Delpha says she has not accepted Lord Na, she and Nicky want to leave immediately.  Lord Na says her face says otherwise, why did she put on such a skimpy costume?  Delpha says it's because his man took her clothes, "believe me, all I feel towards you is fear."

As Engle slips his ships under the "arc" to get to the palace and the others lay charges in the tunnels underneath, Lord Na purges Laz's influence from Delpha's mind.  "I've freed you from his influence.. he was the weak one" he says.  When she feels lost without his strength, Lord Na says she has her own strength.

He then sends her on a "Journey into my vastness".  She sees images of dead worlds, monstrous beings and war.  He says she should pity him, for he is filled with emptiness and an "infinite sadness".

Lord Na: "Sadness beyond all joy in the death of multitudes.  Ravaged by a rip in his being.. his wound that has bled for a thousand years.  Perhaps Na's wound can be healed... by Earth flesh joined to darkness intangible."

Delpha just responds that his visions are sickening her and his words are making her die.   He says that together they both can be healed and she can rule with him.  He then thinks to himself that despite herself she is intrigued, but she doesn't realise she is interacting with a projection and we see the back of a being sat in on a throne saying his real face is "broken by an ancient affliction". Will she still lust after him when she sees his real self? She screams at him to stop murdering her, but he embraces her struggling form saying she was his before time began.
The real Lord Na watches his seduction of Delpha from afar.
Then the lightsiders begin their all out assault on the palace.  Delpha, who is feeling Laz's prescence again is to be locked away and drugged as Lord Na says "I feel her working furiously to undo the benediction I placed on her."  The attack isn't going without a hitch.  The super attack chopper they bought over refuses to work.  Engle beats himself up for making such a bad call to bring it over and lose Laz in the process.

The stone-ship that Lasha is commanding crashes, and it looks like she might be dead.  But Delpha sees her, and notes that she too belongs to the warrior Lazarus.  She reaches out to her, hoping Lasha can give her strength to escape the dark lord's hunger.  As the battle rages outside, Lord Na commands the laser cannon is mounted on his command ship.

Nicky finds the woken up Delpha who says Lasha is alive and can help them.   On cue Lasha appears to lead them out of the palace, but Lord Na and Lasher stop them.  He gloats that she has come home to meet her fate.  "Are you still looking for your damned father... or is it that legless asshole you want?"  And this penultimate chapter ends with Zip commanding Lazarus to "destroy this book".
Lasha comes to rescue Delpha and Nicky, not entirely successfully.
The final chapter begins with Laz in a semi-coma again.  He is asleep and dreaming but can't be woken up.  He's been put on a drip with his wife Chris watching over him.  Lasha meanwhile goes to attack Lord Na, but Lord Na fights back and mortally injures Nicky. "Most fools die to come here... young Tesla came to die" he gloats.  Nicky's "light body" rises from his dead body and Lord Na demands "give me the woman!"

Then an apparition of Laz appears and tells Lasha to get out of there with Delpha, but Lord Na stabs through him and hits Delpha.  Lasha then grabs a hold of her as Lord Na laments they could have been "the only free ones." He tries to banish Laz's spirit saying he doesn't belong.  Then he takes Nicky's lightbody back to the citadel to know "the innocence and purity of absolute might".
Laz still between dimensions helps Lasha escape.
Outside in the battle, Huff says his light-eyes can see an image of Laz, standing out in the middle of the battlefield looking sad.  Back with Lord Na, the laser cannon has been mounted on his command ship.  Engle and crew manage to get within spitting distance of it before being shot down.  Lasha meanwhile has managed to get the badly injured Delpha onto another stone ship.

Lasha is unable to heal her wounds and as Delpha slips away she says they belong to Lazarus, they are sisters and now she has nowhere else left to go. And she dies.  On board Lord Na's command ship he is told the Galactic fleet will be there in an hour, which pleases Lord Na as he wants to strike a decisive blow against them.  Once that is done, he'll abandon this planet and make a new beachead on a neighbouring one.

Lord Na: "But just for today Na will cause their blood to rain from the skies."

As the fleet approaches Black Gate, they have Tesla with them and his powerful machine.  Then they come under attack.  On the planet surface, Lasha is directing the battle against Lord Na.  She goes to attend to her own wound and wonders if she'll ever touch Laz again.  Then the legless apparition of Laz appears again, he says Zip told him he is made of light and if she puts all her thoughts into bringing him across, he can travel over.  She does so but he keeps being pulled back to his mortal body.

Laz then finds himself in a strange place, Zip is there, he has transcended himself, "as must you" he says.  He says if Laz wants a new light body he must fall through the "Mentep Gate of Vision".  That way he can deal with the self-doubt, the fear that clamps his heart and fall through "Hellworlds made especially for you".  Laz enters the gate.
TMI Lord Na!
As Lord Na's ship starts decimating the attacking Galactic fleet, he senses what Laz is doing.  Tesla's machine is having something of a hiccup as Lord Na begins to proclaim his victory:

Lord Na: "I am darkness.  I am the perfection of death.  I am the war that never ends.  I am the black mirror of defeat and desolation.  I am the dark mind that consumes the warrior's will.  I am the hammer of pain.  I am the despair of the doomed.  I am the sword of judgement."

But before he can continue, Tesla gets his machine started up and obliterates Lord Na (or a least this projection of him).  Fasher takes over the attack and the battle continues.  Engle, Huff and Slaw managed to escape the destruction of their chopper and hook up with Lasha who says Laz is free, but gone forever.
Lord Na finally defeated.
They scale the "arc" to sabotage it and let the attacking fleet through.  Engle is working on the scaffolding when suddenly Laz, fully manifest with legs appears.  They finish the sabotage and retreat and Engle asks where the hell Laz has been? "Took some R&R stateside Cap'n... tried to get right back.. had trouble making connections".

Returning to Lasha, he asks her about Delpha, and Lasha tells him she is dead.  Then they activate the bombs and blow the arc to hell and the remainder of Lord Na's fleet is mopped up. We see Lord Na, in his true old and ugly form.  Nicky is with him.  Lord Na says he could have loved Delpha as Nicky never loved her.  But a voice from inside Na says:

Mystery Voice: "Enough!  To speak against me is to intiate your own destruction.  There can be no punishment for you... no chastisement of any kind.  For you there is only nothingness.  You have ceased to exist".

And Lord Na dwindles away.  Meanwhile Laz now lives in two worlds conciously.  He is kissing Chris and Lasha at the same time.  He says to Chris she must think he's crazy, she says she knows he's crazy:

Laz: "Crazy like a Light Warrior.  Who's pushin' back the Darkness.  Forever".
A girl in each dimension?  You lucky dog Laz.
And that brings this epic to a close.  The collection has more treats in store though. Tom Veitch has written a long article giving a full background and history to the galaxy and the non-stop war between light and dark, as well as Da Vinci's influence on it.  It makes for fascinating background reading and shows that the backdrop could have comfortably accomdated an on-going series.  Steve Bissette a well known American artist/writer (most well known for me for his work on Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run) also contributes an essay about the making of the series with short biographies of Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy.  It's another most welcome piece of added value to a marvellously presented collection.

So, overall, this was a story worth waiting for.  Cam Kennedy's artwork is magnificent, and suits the "stone-age sci-fi" aesthetic beautifully.  My one complaint is more a case of personal perference for more decompressed work, I'd like to have seen the same material stretched across a couple more issues with some downtime here and there.  But I can hardly complain it having so much story crammed into one miniseries.  That makes it feel even more like a 2000AD story that found itself being published in the USA by mistake.  The general themes of the story, of a Valhalla for Earth's soldiers where they can fight a war where there are no shades of grey and the bad guys are obvious is a fascinating one. And cheekily throwing Nikola Tesla into the mix as a man frustrated by the primitive conditions he knows he can do something about adds a little levity to an otherwise heavy story.  The ending is a weirdly happy one, Chris doesn't lose her husband, Lasha doesn't lose her lover, Laz gets to exist in both worlds finding redemption as a light warrior while still being a husband to the woman who has cared for him for two decades.  This is a very dense work, and very much a labour of love for Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy who would go on to work together on an acclaimed comic series set in the Star Wars expanded universe after this.  If you're at all interested in the work of either writer or artist this is well worth checking out, and worth it if you're interested in science fiction war stories as well.  Cracking stuff.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Light And Darkness War (#1-6) PART ONE

"War is heaven" - series tagline

Imagine, gentle reader, a time when a comic book fan who didn't reside in the USA would never be sure if they could get their hands on the more obscure comics coming out over-the-pond.  That was my big frustration in my years of hunting up and down in Manchester's two Odyssey Seven shops (alas no more, were taken over by the all conquering Forbidden Planet) for the issues needed to fill in gaps in my Cerebus collection, as well as all the fascinating looking mini-series and stuff from the various indie companies in the years of the late 1980's to early 90's.  The Light And Darkness War was actually bought to my attention by a 1989 Channel 4 TV programme called "The Day Comics Grew Up" a serious look at mature works such as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, The New Statesmen and this six issue series, The Light And Darkness War.  It also bought anime and manga to my attention as well as an nice bonus.  As the first issue of The Light and Darkness War was released in autumn 1988, it was already over and done with when the TV show piqued my interest and so I only ever found one issue (no.4) in the back issue bins.  I was very taken with the art by veteran Scottish artist Cam Kennedy, but it was hard to judge the story, by Tom Veitch on the basis of just one issue.  It has taken nearly three decades but I finally got my hands on a beautiful re-issue of the series by Titan books (even though the original was published under the Marvel Epic imprint), with a hardcover and lots of "extra features".  So it's been a long wait to experience the book in it's totality, will it live up to expectations?  Ah, read on...

Lazarus Jones: "'How many women and children didja kill in'Nam? - That's what the idiot said. 'Hey jerk' I said 'what about the bodybags full of arms and heads.. and boots with the feet still in 'em? -- What about the guys who left their guts stuck to the decks of the Hueys? 60,000 just like you' I says 'cept they were heroes and you're crap!'"

And with that we are introduced to Lazarus Jones, who lost his legs twenty years ago in the Vietnam War.  He is being pushed in a wheelchair by his wife Chris to the Vietnam War Memorial to see the names of the rest of his chopper crew who died in the attack that resulted in his injuries.
Laz remembers the dead.
As he traces his fingers across the names he has a long flashback to that fateful day.  His crew was made up of Captain Engle, Huff, Slaw and Laz.  They prepare their copter for a sortie and fly into an ambush.  We then get a symbolic scene of the four men's spirits walking into the light, Laz goes gladly but yet "it told me to go back."
Souls set free from the bonds of flesh.
In some distress Laz falls from his wheelchair and other veterans come help him.  Laz beats himself up for what he is doing to Chris, first with the smack addiction he bought back from Vietnam, then the drinking he used to kick it with.  Ten years ago he started having vivid dreams about fighting with his war buddies against a foe using weapons that looked like they came from the stone-age. Then the dreams stopped, but in a funny way he missed them. He's driving himself and Chris home when suddenly he blacks out and crashes the car.

A mystery voice says to his spirit, "I can take you to your friends Lazarus Jones.. or you can go back.  The choice is yours." Lazarus doesn't want to go back if it means losing his legs again.  The voice says he is  on "the edge of the outer darkness.  In a star system called Abraxis"  A stone barge appears and the voice says Laz can join his friends if he wishes.  Laz calls to them and finds himself on the surface of the planet with his legs intact.

He rushes forwards and Engle, Slaw and Huff who are piloting the barge pick him up.  They are happy to see him and it seems time moves differently for them as they ask if he died in the war.  Laz said the war ended in 1974 and "we lost".  The others don't seem too concerned.  Slaw says "grab some ammo.  I'll teach you how to kill the dead."
Reunited in the afterlife.
After a short fight with another flying barge which they win, Engle takes Laz down below to meet the strange little blue alien called Zip, a "Mentep" who powers their barge and acts as their subspace communicator.  He holds the "power of Urumm, the Source in me".  He cannot heal the flesh wound Laz just picked up as Laz isn't fully dead.  His body is in a coma back on Earth.

Then their ship flies to a palace in a place called Black Gate they are supposed to be investigating. They are greeted by a woman called Lasha, daughter of Nethon the governor.  While they wait for an audience with the governor, Lasha warns them that they should leave, there is darkness in the air. He father is sick with it.
Meeting Lasha.
Nethon receives them but is confused and rambling, mistaking Engle for an old friend.  His doctor says it's time for his elixir, then asks Engle how things are at "Galactic" and that he's sorry they came all this way for nothing. Then he orders them taken prisoner.  Fortunately Lasha comes and helps them escape via some underground tunnels and Engle says she is to come with them with her help they can deal with the darkness infestation.

The traitor reports to a Lord Na, saying the prisoners escaped.  No matter, Lord Na asks if the planetary chiefs have assembled, when told they have he says, "now I begin the subjugation of these light-cursed worlds".
Lord Na.
On board the ship, Laz and Lasha recognise each other from... somewhere before. She is able to mend his wound and they exchange significant looks while back in the mortal world Chris watches over the comatose Laz saying she's lost him for good hasn't she?

Narration: "A galaxy of light.  One of the myriad of universes men go when they die... a warrior's galaxy... ensnared in a 10,000 year struggle with the infinite darkness that surrounds it.  What lives in the outer darkness?  Nothing.  What moves in the outer darkness? Warships... bearing primitive weapons carrying soulless warriors named Deadsiders...storming a light world called Black Gate.  A military outpost in a star system called Abraxis... here living men - who died in Earth's bloodiest battles have been born to fight again".

On the planet Black Gate Lord Na has revealed himself, criticising the gathered "servile captives of the light".  He says using the power of darkness he has been liberating souls.  A planetary chief called Blood says only a "simpleton would give fealty to you".  Lord Na zaps Blood with his powers and Blood starts praising him.  A fight breaks out amongst the watchers and Lord Na's guards and the lightsiders are captured and enslaved.  Watching this from afar are Slaw and Huff who go and report back to Engle and Laz.

Lasha's information on the planet paid dividends and they have found an old fortress their sky barge can lurk behind.  Using the blue Mentep they get in touch with Galactic who are in the middle of a battle.  They report the situation at Black Gate which they think might be being prepared as a beach head for a major Galactic strike.  Engle wants a full defence fleet but command can't spare even one as they are on a major push into the "Dark Regions". Engle and crew will have to resort to hit and run until reinforcements can arrive.
Sexy time for Laz and Lasha.
Lasha and Laz menawhile start to get to know each other... intimately.  Neither seem bothered by the fact Laz is still alive and married back on Earth.  As they make love Laz says "we go way back don't we Lasha?"  Talking of Earth, Lord Na has a way to ensure his coming victory over the lightside.  His necromancers have made contact with a Satanist on Earth called Odom who is a weapon manufacturer.

Lord Na asks if they can bridge the gap between worlds.  They can't but someone on Earth has built a machine that can.  We then join said Earthbound scientist Nicky, the nephew of Nikola Tesla and his girlfriend Delpha a psychic channeler.  Using Tesla's theories, Nicky has created a machine to "exteriorise the contents of the concious and subconcious minds".  Meanwhile Delpha is getting images of the light and darkness war in her dreams.  Both are somewhat dubious about each others abilities, but love each other in an "opposites attract" kind of a way.
Nicky Tesla, Delpha and a brief guide to NikolaTesla.
Meanwhile Lord Na appears to Odom who is surprised to find that he wants a favour from him. He shows Odom an image of Nicky and his machine saying it will transport the weapons to him, "do that and I will give you everything".
Back on Black Gate, Engle has a plan to get more men.  They are going to raid the slave camps.  Laz and Lasha meanwhile have gone to attempt a rescue of Lasha's father.  They sneak past the throne room where Lord Na now sits and find Nethon in a cell being fed upon by giant worms.   The doctor appears and says Lord Na would like to see the "dutiful daughter".  She kicks him in the stomach and Laz guns down the rest.

Lord Na however appears and kills both the treacherous doctor for being weak and Nethon to wound Lasha, then lets Lasha and Laz go, telling them to take back the message to "make the game more interesting".  He wants to test his army, he wants to feel some real resistance against him.
EPIC BATTLE THEME PLAYS.
Engle and his crew attack a slave barracks, a thrilling battle occurs and they manage to liberate the place along with vehicles and ships.  However when Laz and Lasha return, Laz has the bad news they overheard about Lord Na getting weapons from Earth and how powerful they'll be in comparison to the stone-age tech they have now.  They decide on an all-out assualt on the palace the next day, sacrificing themselves if necessary before things can get a hundred times worse.

We then rejoin Nicky and Delpha.  Odom has offered Micky a huge salary to come make his machine for him.  Lord Na tells Odom:

Lord Na: "... his device has stimulated the vibrational channels that were active in ancient times.  Reopening the physical link between Earth and the Afterworlds!"

He tells Odom to watch Nicky and Delpha and when the time comes, take them prisoner.  Nicky is showing Delpha his nearly complete machine which he has unoffcially nabeed some lasers to complete, but she says there is something "really frightening about this place" and that her channeling in which she sees "the Vietnam guy and the woman" has got more intense.
Lord Na and Odom the arms dealer.
But she helps Nicky try his machine out, letting him place a headset on her. She has a vision of people coming towards the lab, then Odom arrives and accuses him of bouncing images to the CIA in Langley.

To prove he's not a spy, Nicky demonstrates the machine to Odom. He puts on the headset so he can show you what a person is dreaming.   He envisions soldiers from the Light and Darkness war fighting.  Odom says it's "quite marvellous".

We get more images of the fighting and the antique weapons of war the fighters use.  As Nicky marvels at all this being inside him, another voice intrudes saying "who would have imagined that my work would reach its utmost fulfillment after I am dead?!"  It's Nikola Tesla who has "survived" his death by crossing over into the afterworld he was investigating just before he died.
Nikola Tesla lives (sort of) take that Edison!
Nikola says he scoffed at such a place when he lived but can't deny he's now in a very real place.   He says he is in a "rather backwards galaxy" and to continue his inventing he has had to start from scratch creating electricity from the rawest of materials.  he used his machine to join up with Nicky's and establish the link.  He tells Nicky that this universe has eschewed the "wonder that is electricity"

Nikola Tesla: "The barbaric science of Da Vinci and his followers is held in high esteem here... I was told 'don't upset the old ways'. It was decreed that his contraptions were divine revelations.  To move beyond them was forbidden."

He says he is a heretic who speaks out against their "stupid war."  But he is told they have always been at war and it's good for the Galactic economy.  Bitterly Tesla fades away and Lord Na appears yelling "My weapons Odom! I am under attack!"

Odom says he he was told he had six months, but Lord Na threatens to destroy him. Meanwhile Nicky and Delpha are amazed that someone has been able to physically cross over. We then cut to Laz's team and the rescued slaves attacking the Black Gate palace where Lord Na is based.

As the battle ensues, we get a conversation between Lasha and Laz, he says when they made love he saw they had made love a thousand times before, "we're older than your father.  We've been fightin' this war... together... for thousands of years."  The barge works it's way through the palace, battling as it goes.
The barge of the dead returns to the mortal world.
Lord Na says he wants his weapons and also he wants to take Nicky and Delpha back with him to see if living flesh can survive the trip back to his dimension (he being dead means he's been able to make the journey himself).   As Laz's barge gets deep into the palace they find the dimensional rip Lord Naz has travelled through and they pilot the barge through it and arrive on Earth.

Delpha recognises Laz, "it's you isn't it?  You're real". Lord Na manages to make his getaway back to Black Gate with the weapons Odom has provided him while Odom's men fight the light warriors.   Odom leaves behind a squad of men who commendere a military helicopter in order to better fight the light warriors who have captured the Tesla machine.

Slaw asks Laz how he feels being back on Earth.  Laz says it's weird, knowing his comatose body is 8,000 miles away.  Then the darkness warriors attack in their helicopter, hitting the stone barge and causing it to come crashing down which brings the first half of this series to a cliffhanger ending.
And crashes into a building, well done guys.
I've choosen to split this into two parts because it would get ludicrously long otherwise.  I'll hold off on some of my thoughts until my conclusion to part two of this look at the miniseries, but I'll say right now, Cam Kennedy's artwork is amazing.  There is a rough hewn and very "2000AD" feel to this mash-up of science-fiction, fantasy and war story.  Not surprising as Kennedy was a veteran of such series as a similar future war take on Vietnam, "The V.C.s". We've only had three issues so far and it's been chock full of incident with some truly epic set piece battles.  If I have one criticism it's a purely subjective one, the pace is so breakneck and the plot so full of incident it might have been nice to slow down a little in places to explore more the reuniting of the dead men with Laz and also his growing relationship with Lasha.  Throwing in a guest appearance by the dead but crossed over Nikola Tesla and his somewhat grouchy frustrations with the war being fought with Leonardo Da Vinci level tech is actually pretty funny.  There is an honour to the Light and Darkness War as it is being currently fought, and Lord Na, by going to the kind of person inciting and prolonging wars on earth to supply him with modern weaponry is seen as a truly evil act, even if making the arms dealer a Satanist is a little on the nose.  There is plenty of extra stuff in the collection, it kicks off with an interesting introduction from a retired Naval commander whose father fought in Vietnam and who makes the point that this story came a long when men's service in Vietnam was being reevaluated from the pariahs they were seen as at the time as people understood more about PTSD as well as the complicated set of loyalties and emotions that are found in those who served their country during an unpopular war and their difficulties in reintegrating into "normal" life, especially those with dreadful physical injuries.  I'll be winding up this look at the series in four days time, as well as a look at the other bonus features this collection includes.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Clean Room Book 1: Immaculate Conception (#1-6)

"I hit the shit trifecta.  I lost my fiance.  I lost my baby. I lost my will. Someone owes me. And that thought is keeping me alive" - Chloe Pierce

With the cancellation of the fantastic DCYou comic, Secret Six (again), I'd have not been surprised if Simone had stuck two fingers up at DC and vowed never to work for them again after the way she was treated by them these past few years.  And she is no longer writing superhero comics for DC after a long career doing so (although she has dropped hints on her tumblr lately that she is writing a "big two" character again, so...).  Anyway she hasn't completely cut ties with them as she has created this horror comic for DC's adult orientated Vertigo label.  This comic sees Simone really stretching her writing muscles into a new genre for her, does she carry it off?  Of course she does.  Clean Room is the story of a journalist called Chloe Pierce investigating a not-Scientology-honest style cult called "The Honest World Foundation", one that resulted in the suicide of her boyfriend who was obssessed with the book written by a second rate horror fiction writer Astrid Mueller that functions as the cult's bible.  Chloe is determined to get answers from Mueller about "The Clean Room", a top secret sanctuary for cult members where your deepest fears and worst memories are relived.  Along the way we are treated to some truly disgusting visions of creepy monsters that are somehow linked to the cult, and it allows the artist to go wild with some grotesque designs that are reminiscent of the works of Junji Ito I have covered here previously. The artist is John Davis-Hunt, and I really like his clean, crisp artwork. This is the sort of horror art I'd like to have seen in the Hellraiser books.  But I digress, so lets take a look at the first collected Clean Room trade.
Chloe attempting suicide.
The story begins with a flashback to Astrid as a young girl thirty years ago, going to church in Germany with her parents and brother who is teasing her over her toy bear Klaus.  Nearby two men get into a truck, one of them, a man called Jonas Kemf seems pretty angry about something and when he ends up hitting Astrid (who sees a monster briefly) with the truck, he reverses back over her.  Astrid wakes up in hospital where her parents are watching a news report about Jonas being badly injured when the by-standers took bloody revenge on him, gouging his eyes out we find out later.  Astrid asks to see her papa.  When told he is standing right by her hum, Astrid say:

Astrid: "Mama?  Why is papa's face made of snakes?"

Smash to black. Then we get another flashback, this time to Chloe as she attempts suicide by drowning herself after losing her fiance Philip to a self inflicted gunshot.  She wakes up in hospital, restrained to prevent her harming herself.  Her "rescuers" were the three kindly brothers who are her neighbours.

Chloe: "They pulled me out. I told them I was grateful because I didn't want to make them sad... sometimes the truth hurts the people with the best hearts the most."

She says all the right things to get her restraints taken off.  Then one day a nurse offers her a copy of Astrid's book "The Honest World" saying it changed her life.  Chloe sees blood drip on it then sees a full on hallucination of Philip with half his head gone.  "And after I started screaming, they put the restraints back on, for a while" she recounts.
Chloe has an unwelcome vision of her dead boyfriend.
After she gets out of hospital, she starts digging into Astrid's work and organisation, looking for answers as to why her fiance killed himself.  Once Astrid wrote "poorly regarded horror novels".  Now she is "the most powerful individual in that weird twilight industry between self help and religion."

Chloe goes and finds a homeless man called Mikey who used to be a friend of Phil's.  She tells him she wants to know all about "the Blue Utopians", but Mikey yells at her to leave it and that he has been inside "the Clean Room".  It looks like a room but shows you "everything". 

Mikey: "She says it's for helping.  Just a few questions, right? It's worse than hell.  Worse than emptiness.  I'm afraid of her more than Satan, Chloe".

He pleads with her to leave things well alone.  Astrid took his drugs and now he hears voices all the time.  Chloe leaves him thinking Astrid is "done playing God with people.  Let's see what fucking havoc a journalism degree can really create."

After a month of pestering, she finally sets foot in the Foundation's headquarters.  She isn't going to be speaking with Astrid, but a severe woman called Killian.  Killian greets her and says that she can offer Chloe an exclusive look at the office, but Chloe says the lack of Astrid's signature perfume tells her this isn't her office.
Killian and a very dirty demon.
Killian sits and starts talking to her, but Chloe sees a huge, grotesque monster rear up behind her and drowns out Killian's voice with some filthy sexual innuendo.  Chloe ends up backed away on the floor and it disappears, Killian seems unsuprised at Chloe's recoil.  She calmly says Chloe needs to go to a hospital, she's "unwell".

Angrily Chloe says she wants to see Astrid and the Clean Room now because they are implicated in the death of her fiance.  Killian says she needs to be careful about what she writes.  Chloe responds that journalists "have a way of being sued, broken and destroyed when they write about her."  But you see, Chloe has nothing left to lose.  And then Astrid and her minders walk in, "let's chat shall we?" Astrid says.
Astrid (centre) and minders.
The next chapter begins with a pair of cops investigating a death.  The victim is the homeless man Mikey and he's been tied in a knot. This is odd enough, but the junkie hang out he was found in has been scrubbed clean, no prints, no forensic evidence of any kind.

Back with Astrid and Chloe, Astrid asks how they can fulfil Chloe's "wants".  Killian says she should escort Chloe out of the building, she is a "pre-emotic" and not there in good faith.  Astrid agrees and starts to leave, but Chloe shouts after her:

Chloe: "Why do you have a private cemetary? Why are your disciples discouraged from outside contact?  What are the Blue Utopians Ms. Mueller?"

Astrid pauses then agrees to talk privately with Chloe.  They drink tea and Chloe tells her about her fiance's suicide after following her cult.

Astrid asks how selfish she thinks her grief is.  Does she find that people speak highly of her dead fiance?  Chloe says yes they do and she feels like she is not allowed to be angry at him. Then the questions take a weird turn, Astrid asks if she misses his erection and how long was it before she masturbated after his death. Then Chloe sees the obscene talking monster again. Astrid takes a hold of her and asks her what she sees, Chloe lies and says she didn't see anything.
Another filthy fiend vision.
Astrid then shows her the chessboard she has which has a varient of chess on it, it involves more rooks than usual and they are turned upside down.  "The inverted rook is called a Wazir and is only allowed to move one space at a time.  Barely stronger than a pawn".  Then she agrees to let Chloe into the Clean Room.  Chloe is completely decontaminated, right down to having her labial piercing removed and dressed in jumpsuits she and Astrid go inside.

Inside is a patient called Walter Fennister.  He's been having trouble sleeping.  Astrid keeps questioning him and he admits that he can't sleep because he is afraid.  He's afraid of "the White Monkeys" which his mother told him would come and eat his penis even if he just touched it to pee.  And after it grew back, they'd eat it again.

Then suddenly the white room is replaced by the image of a graveyard.  Chloe thinks she is hallucinating, while Astrid mercilessly forces Walter to admit that he wanted a pair of children to touch his penis and when they refused he killed them by slashing their eyes out.  "Why are you making me remember all this?" he says angrily.  Then the graveyard recedes and they are back in the white room.
Inside a memory in the Clean Room.
Astrid tells him to sleep well.  Chloe is outraged that she is letting a child murderer go. "I'm afraid that is not my jurisdiction.  He is clean" says Astrid.  Chloe swears she'll bring the organisation down and marches out, Astrid says to herself that she was hoping they could be friends.  Later that night, the White Monkeys come for Walter and as they attack his screaming form we cut to Astrid saying, "Sleep well Mister Fennister. Sleep well".

We then jump forwards to another session in the Clean Room.  Astrid has an assisstant called Terry this time and they are going to be treating a man Joe Wei.  Terry is unsure why, the man is a "Frell" who registered nothing on the "meter".  Astrid merely responds that "Everyone's a nobody Terry.  Until they are not."
Time for another "patient".
Joe Wei has a strange problem. He doesn't like to step on the ground and only allows himself to take one hundred and seventy one steps a day. He lost his wife over this obsession, "she couldn't take the counting". He says heaven isn't in the sky, it's on the ground and every step you take is "walking on the screaming faces of the angels."

Then we cut to Chloe's house.  Someone or something has broken in. Her three neighbours go in and confront the person as to what they think they are doing in there.  The person has it's back to them and just goes, "Booooop".  Meanwhile Chloe is angrily filling her car with petrol at a filling station, still furious over her experience in the Clean Room.

Back in the Clean Room, the room receedes and is replaced with an image of the countryside, with Mr. Wei fishing, then we see the trauma that ruined his life.  He was abducted by aliens.  At Chloe's house the creature who broke in reveals himself to have a horrible, wicked witch style face and he beats up the three brothers and throws one through the window before leaving.
The mysterious intruder.
At the petrol station, Chloe's card has been refused.  The station attendant tries to extort a sexual favour out of her to pay for her gas, but then suddenly Killian appears and breaks his arm, before tossing him some money onto his prone body.  She then invites a gob-smacked Chloe for ice cream and waffles.

In the Clean Room Joe Wei is being shown having experiments performed on him.   Astrid says she wants to see who is doing this to him. At the cafe, Killian is tucking into her ice-cream and waffles, Chloe isn't so keen.  She thinks the organisation got her credit card stopped because they are "stropping" her, which is how they deal with threats to them. Killian says the road she is on doesn't go anywhere good and she has a proposition for her:

Killian: "We grab two bottles of whatever passes for wine in this redneck rodeo.  We find the nearest hotel with the fewest bugs.  And then we fuck 'til our brains fall out."

Unsurprisingly Chloe doesn't take her up on this offer, then a news report comes onto the TV in the cafe with a story of an actor called Rand Tanner who has been found dead by his own hand.  As he was considered one of Astrid Mueller's success stories, this is bad news for the organisation and Killian takes her leave of Chloe to go do some damage control but not before telling her she finds her "obscenely attractive".
Bad news for the Foundation.
She leaves a confused Chloe mumbling "what just happened?" and Killian screams down the phone that Astrid needs to be pulled out of the Clean Room now.   But Astrid is having a breakthrough with Joe Wei, when she demands to know if there is anyone else inside him she should address, he gouges his eyes out and says "it's Jonas Kemf Astrid. How are the legs?"

Jonas Kemf takes over the luckless Joe Wei.
Fifteen years ago in Norway, Astrid visited an inventor called Doctor Hagen, who is something of an eccentric.  She asks him to build her a "Cloudbuster".  His payment will be a man and a woman stripped naked, who will stand and let him appreciate their nudity for one hour a day although he can't touch them, "do we have a deal Doctor?"

Back in the present, as Killian flies back to HQ she rages at the news coverage of Rand Tanner's death.  Another woman called Capone says she can shut the reporter up.  But Killian says she has other ideas of what Capone, a "rook" now can do. And it needs to be something drastic as people are turning in their memberships at their outreach centers in large numbers.

Killian calls Chloe, hoping to get her to agree to help them.  She'll get her interview with Astrid, her "pick of the jobs" just so they can get a fair message out.  They'll be her best friends in that case.

Chloe: "Fuck you. Fuck your favour. And fuck Astrid fucking Mueller."

"She's thinking it over" says Killian to Capone.  "Clearly" says Capone drily.  Chloe arrives back home to find her neighbours alive, though looking rather beaten up.  They tell her about the... thing they found in her house.  Chloe tries to warn them off helping her again but they say they always will because they are her neighbours.
Chloe's neighbours refuse to stop looking out for her.
Back in the Clean Room Jonas is taunting Astrid, who doesn't rise to his bait.   She asks what his real name is, he says there was a whole section in the library of Alexandria about him, but he made them burn it.  Back at Chloe's house she gets an ansaphone message from the paper she works for saying she's been let go.  This saddens Chloe.

Chloe: "I was so proud the day I got that job.  Screw Superman, I always wanted to be Lois Lane".

Suddenly she hears a voice asking her where all her knives are.  She checks the kitchen drawer and none are in there.  The voice tells her to check the bathroon and all the knives are in the bath standing point up.
Umm.. Ew.
Back in the Clean Room, Jonas grabs hold of Joe's face and pulls it until it is upside down and he is speaking through an eye socket.   He says that her making the Clean Room impregnable was a challenge and that the only way "for one of us to get in... is if you invite us in".  He threatens Astrid and Terry in a panic, shoots him in the face.  Astrid's calm demenour breaks:

Astrid: "Do you know what you've done, you imbecile?  You've doomed us all Terry.  You've killed us all."

Back at Chloe's house she asks the voice if he is with Astrid's people.  It says no it's "one of the others."   Chloe asks what it wants, and looming behind her it says, "I'm supposed to help you kill yourself."
Joe/Jonas "killed" by Terry.
At the cult's HQ, Killian is still fretting about the negative publicity around Rand Tanner's suicide. She wants Astrid pulled out of the Clean Room, but Astrid has more important things to be dealing with.   Since Terry shot and killed Joe Wei/Jonas Kemf she's been waiting, saying Jonas is "house hunting".

In LA, an actress called Chrissy settles into a relaxing jacuzzi. Much to her surprise she is joined by Capone.   Capone lays out the terms of the blackmail they are going to subject Chrissy to.  That she is pregnant with Rand Tanner's child (even though she barely knew him and it's her fiance's kid), and that this will help Astrid out of a pickle, even though Chrissy isn't a member of the organisation. But it's a two-way deal, if Chrissy plays along, she'll have her pick of film roles. Her fiance will have to go, but that appears to be a sacrifice Chrissy is willing to make as she reluctantly agrees (not that she had much choice).
Another possession as Spark inhabits one of her neighbours.
Chloe wakes up on her bed having passed out at the reveal of the monster who is supposed to help her die.  It admits it couldn't bring itself to kill her and that it's appearance is distressing her so it possesses the body of one of her kindly neighbours, Rene Haverlin.

In the Clean Room, another possession takes place.  This time Jonas Kemf finds a new home inside Terry. He asks her what time it is, then tells her:

Jonas/Terry: "It's harvest time Astrid Mueller.  Harvest time in the meat hospital. For every last fucking one of you vermin."

Astrid says she's going to walk out of the room right now, but Jonas says he can't allow it.  So Astrid calls the people monitoring the session for Terry's "lifebox".  Meanwhile more bad news over Rand Tanner's death, every Hollywood member is cancelling their "reading" that week.

Chloe wakes up having passed out again. The being inside Rene called Spark suddenly gets serious, he tells her she has to run, that "he" is coming.  But it's too late, and we see the back of a man coming up to her door.

In the Clean Room, Terry/Jonas point Terry's gun at Astrid saying he wants to enjoy this.  Astrid, unruffled says:

Astrid: "Prohibido tirarse de cabenza.  And Maddy Rivera's first two-piece".

This transforms the Clean Room into a swimming baths and we see Terry's worst nightmare play out.  When he was a teenager he was minding his younger brother at the swimming baths. Distracted by Maddy Rivera's skimpy bathing suit he didn't stop his brother diving into the too shallow pool and breaking his neck.

Terry's worst memory activated.
She tells the distressed Terry/Jonas that she doesn't choose Rooks for their invulnerability.  She needs a way to break them if needed, she leaves "a crack in the tea-cup." Confronted by an image of his dead brother, Terry falls screaming to his knees, Jonas gone from him.  Astrid calls for medical quarantine and also for a suitable replacement for his position.

There is also good news that Chrissy has gone public with her pregnancy supposedly being Rand Tanner's baby. The celebrity's are back on board and Killian sardonically notes their "flu must have cleared up. A goddamn regular miracle cure."

Terry lies curled up on the floor of the Clean Room, he mutters "It's all over Astrid.  The surgeon is coming.  Everything is falling.  Everyone is falling".   At Chloe's house,Rene/Spark tells her the surgeon is here and they have to go, "he's like a hurricane of wrong.  The things he'll do.  His tools..."  But Chloe is defiant, she needs to know what is going on, why Philip killed himself, so "Rene" touches her forehead and shows her.
Philip has the truth revealed to him.
We then get a flashback of Philip receiving a memory stick with a message from Astrid on it. It will play once, then delete.  As a level-5 "post-Emotic" he is going to be told the true history of the world.   She says that after her childhood accident she could see parasites riding people.  They are everywhere and there is more, but her voice fades out and we just see Philip's increasingly distressed reactions.  When it is over, he takes out his gun and blows half his head off saying to himself, "I'm sorry Chloe.  Turns out I didn't want to know."

Astrid asks Terry where the Surgeon is, and he says he's with Chloe. And when she answers the door it is to a pleasant and friendly looking old man, who politely tells her he's put them in a "pretty pickle" and may he come in?  He tells Chloe he was one of the doctors who first treated her when she tried to commit suicide.  He tries to convince her she is just having delusions and touches her hand saying he can get her into hospital for some aftercare.

Astrid gets annoyed with Killian who should have been keeping an eye on Chloe.  The Rand Tanner situation was "nothing".  Chloe agrees to go with the Surgeon and goes into the bathroom to get some things. But she arms herself with two knives from where they had been left in the bath.  Astrid rushes to contact Dr. Hagen, as Chloe, egged on by a monstrous vision, stabs both knives into the Surgeon's head.
An impressive No Sell there.
Astrid asks if he has finished his Cloudbuster, he has but hasn't tested it.  Astrid says can he aim it?  Hagen says yes. The knives in the Surgeon's head don't affect it, but he does drop his kindly facade and attacks Chloe. Rene/Spark then hits the Surgeon hard enough to break his neck, but this doesn't slow him down and he and Chloe start to run.

Chloe's phone goes and it is Astrid who asks to speak to the Surgeon.  He tells him to leave Chloe alone, she has a Cloudbuster and it is pointing directly at his home "somewhere directly above Barcelona, isn't it?"  She says if he doesn't leave Chloe's now she pull the trigger on his existence.  So the Surgeon retreats for now.  "What are you?" asks Chloe as he leaves.

The Surgeon: "Are we aliens or demons, is that what you mean Chloe Pierce? Overlords or Angels? We are none of those things.  We are inmates".

And with that he is gone.  We finish this volume with Chloe, her three neighbours, Astrid, Capone and Killian all at Philip's graveside.   Chloe asks why Astrid sacrificed her weapon for her.

Astrid: "Because you access the dead.  I know you do.  I can lose a Rook Chloe.  I cannot lose a Queen".

Chloe starts to tear up at the realisation all of Astrids horrible theories are true.  Astrid asks if she wants a hug and gets Killian to do it for her. And it ends with Chloe thinking with determination that "this is nowhere near over."
So many questions, can't wait for the answers!
This is a fantastic series right out of the gate.  It sets up compelling mysteries, peoples it with fascinating characters and garnishes it with the kind of assured, naturalistic dialogue Gail Simone has a gift for.  We're given several strong female characters, all crucially strong in different ways, from the icily calm Astrid, to the firey Killian to the determined, brave and vulnerable Chloe.  The concept of The Clean Room is a clever way to get some real body horror going, impeccably drawn by Jon Davis-Hunt and we've already been shown that the monsters of this series are going to come in many shapes and forms and not all of them bad guys either. There is an interesting layering to the organisation Astrid runs, while on the surface it's very much a Scientology alike cult, Astrid herself seems to have more nebulous and so far mostly unrevealed motives for why she set it up, she seems to have identified a world full of monstrous threats and is using her organisation as a cover for fighting them.  People who find out the full truth it seems either ascend to the cult's higher eschelons or like Philip, kill themselves once the repercussions of their new knowledge sinks in.  With Chloe and Astrid in an uneasy truce, the story has new impetus and places to go and I am very much looking forward to the next collection.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Harley Quinn Book 2: Power Outage (#9-13, Harley Quinn: Futures End #1, Harley Quinn Invades Comic Con International San Diego Special #1)

"Are you sure I'm a superhero and not a stripper?" - Power Girl

Time for more larks and japes with DC's Deadpool, the pansexual, fourth-wall breaking, kleptomaniac, comedic sociopath, Ms. Harley Quinn.  She started life in Batman: The Animated Series as Harleen Quinzel, the psychiatrist who treated the Joker and fell in love with him before embarking on a life of crime with him.  Now having split from him she is carving out her own quirky path in the DCU as Poison Ivy's casual girlfriend and sort-of hero in her own little corner of the DCU which doesn't seem to involve her being a member of the Suicide Squad like she is elsewhere.  Last volume she inherited a large building in New York's Coney Island which plays host to various weird businesses like a famous killers waxwork exhibit and a burlesque show and their various live-in tenants including building security manager Big Tony.  To pay the taxes on the place she faked some references and is working as a therapist again, she also was a member of a roller derby team but got thrown out for execessive violence.  She was however given a card with contact details for a more underground "Skate Club" which she'll be joining in this volume. She also teamed up with an elderly Jewish special agent called Sy Borgman who reappears in this volume. This volume continues her New 52 storyline with an interruption from the DC line-wide series "Future's End" which sees her teaming up with "Mistah J" (the Joker) again temporarily, but don't be fooled by the cover, he's only in one "what if" story set five years in the future.  This volume also has her teaming up with Power Girl and this is where the Harley Quinn and Power Girl miniseries I covered a few months back fits in too.  Finally there is a Comic Con Special and a Secret Origins chapter which I'll be skimming over.  Writing partnership Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti are on word duty with a variety of artists contributing the pictures. So without further ado, it's Harley time.

The story begins with one of Harley's tenants, Madame Macabre who runs the crime waxwork show visiting her son Mason in prison.  He caused the accidental death of the Mayor's son-in-law in a bar brawl, and so is looking at some serious prison time.  His mum says not to worry and when their visiting time is over, gives him a full on kiss with tongue, which she uses to pass over what looks like a razorblade to him.
My kind of show!
Then we join Harley getting dressed up to take part in the burlesque show which she is doing to fill in for a regular whose been called away. Big Tony gives her a quick history lesson on burlesque, it's like Commedia Del'Arte but with "more va-va-voom".  This show is based around cheesy 50's sci-fi.  She going to be the sexy alien who seduces the astronaut and kills them.

Harley: "So at the end of the show I get to kill the astronaut...? That is soooo cool".

Big Tony: "No Harley.  No one dies.  No one gets hurt.  It's all for show."

Big Tony leaves and Harley admits to Queenie who runs the show she was just teasing him and she does know the difference between reality and make believe.

The show begins and Harley takes the stage dressed as an alien.  Another woman is playing the astronaut.  They both take off their bodysuits to reveal something altogether more skimpy underneath, and times comes for them to kiss.  Harley is unsure, so the other woman whispers that she should pretend she is Harley's boyfriend.  This sends Harley off and she starts ranting about all the crap The Joker did to her.

She tosses the other woman into the crowd and a brawl starts up.  Harley apologise to Queenie them leaps into the fray with glee, although she gets knocked out and wakes up in the back of a cop car in handcuffs.  But instead of taking her to the police station, he takes her to his house.  Inside is loads of Harley Quinn memorabilia and a large guilded cage which he puts her in.

Turns out he's not a cop, he's her biggest fan and his name is Edwin.  He killed an cop and stole his uniform so he could lay hands on her.  Harley asks what's going to happen next.

Edwin: "Well I didn't think this out past getting you here and into the cage. I guess I was hoping I could treat you well enough so you'd fall in love with me and we could live happily ever after."

He gives her some more modest clothing as they chat.  He says he works part-time at a comic store and when the others there dissed Harley he locked them up in a cage in the cellar.  Harley slips out of the cage after a while, saying she could have escaped back in the car but she was curious about him.   She gets him to lie on the couch and starts psycho-analysing him.
One way to deal with stalkers.
She says obsession is about possessing another person and not accepting failure or rejection.  She isn't rejecting him, but she isn't going to feed his obsession either.

Harley: "I want you to check yourself into a special clinic and see a doctor.  You do this for me for a nice lengthy period of time and I will give dating you a shot.  You have my word."

So he ends up being cheerfully carted off in a straitjacket.  She then decides she has unfinished business and finds the three comicbook store works in the cellar.  She takes them to the Brooklyn Bridge and sits them on the guardrail and asks them to repeat what they said about her.   Two of them lie and say they are a big fan of her... assets.  The third rather suicidally she wasn't his type and he wouldn't date her for a million bucks and he gets kicked off the bridge for his trouble.

She then goes home and gets changed, it's time to find out about Skate Club. She drives there and meets up with Sy Borgman and enters a crowded arena where the show is about to start.  Meanwhile back at her building complex, Mason has broken out of prison and is giving Big Tony a hug, he's going to be shacking up with his girlfriend but will still work at the building.

Then we return to Skate Club.  The set-up is that a pair of roller-skaters take each other on in no-holds barred combat using weapons scattered round the arena and people place bets on who will win. After battle between two other women, it's time for Harley to battle. He opponent is a very tall woman called "Maria Monsterella, The Massapeque Murderer".  Harley's former skate team all express sorrow for Harley, "She made me laugh" says one wiping away a tear.
Harley bites off more than she can chew at Skate Club.
Sy tries to change his bet on Harley but it's too late.  The bout begins and Maria kicks Harley clean across the arena, which stuns her.  Then suddenly we find ourselves on an alien planet.  Two aliens are debating how to deal with an attacker who "has the power of the Gods behind her".  They are bad aliens who have been found out by this mystery woman as annihilators of another planet.  They release a huge monster who punches the unseen woman hard and sends her flying through space.  The huge monster then squishes the two who let it out.

Back at Skate Club, Harley is getting a pounding.  Maria is declared the winner, but Harley recovers and using Sy's explosive toothpaste, blows Maria up.  Unfortunately as victory was already declared, she still lost, but at least regained her self respect.  Sy and Harley's skate team go for a late night meal on the boardwalk, then he takes his leave of the women. They bump into Mason (newly escaped from jail) briefly and Harley seems quite taken with him.

The girls decide it's a perfect night for a midnight swim and go skinny dipping.  There is some teasing from Harley pretending to be a shark and there is much merriment.  They get dressed and leave Harley alone as she enjoys the night.  She sees a falling star, which falls on her.  And the mystery woman is revealed as.. Power Girl.  Completely unconcious and at Harley's mercy.
Power Girl makes an entrance.
But before she wakes up, there is an interlude with the Future's End issue.  If you want the details of the event it has a wikipedia article devoted to it.  The premise of this comic is that all comics not directly tied in did a story looking at what possibly might be happening to their characters five years in the future.  And for Harley that means a reunion with ex-boyfriend, The Joker.

After a plane crash, Harley wakes up washed up on the beach of a desert island.  A dog is investigating her and Harley commands it to find her beaver (no it's not rude, she has a stuffed beaver called Phil who she chats with and he chats back).  The dog races off and doesn't come back, Harley sighs and starts building a shelter.  But she does find Phil, now a stripped down skull after a tangle with a shark.  She decides to wear him round her neck so she won't lose him again.

Then suddenly she is surrounded by tribesfolk who lead her to their village and treat her like a queen.  She doesn't know why, but she doesn't let that stop her enjoying the attention.  One who does speak English says it is time to take her to the "God-King" and he leads her to... The Joker.  She flies at him and gives him a huge snog.  Then she punches him saying she thought he was dead.  He commands that the banquet in his honour takes place and he fills in Harley on what happened to him.
A warm reunion.
He makes reference to some noodle incident that he decided to lay low after, he found out about the island and took it over. He says he got them doing "crazy stuff" for a while but even he began to feel "ashamed" and stopped it.  Nah, not really, and turns out the tribe enjoy a good knife fight as much as he does, although the lack of caped crusaders is starting to make him feel bored.

He would get the tribesmen to dress up as various heroes and battle him, but as he says, "it's like moving out of New York and then ordering bagels.  Eventually you crave the real thing".  They are interrupted by the tribe headman saking if they are enjoying their "final meal?"  This takes Harley aback, but The Joker says it's because they are going to get married tonight at sundown.  Harley seems pretty into the idea.

After putting on her somewhat skimpy wedding atire she is taken out to the temple on a litter.  Phil isn't keen on what's happening, he says the Joker keeps treating her like crap and she keeps taking it.  Harley says, "this time it's gonna be different, I can feel it".  She says it'll be a marriage of equals and they'll enrich each others lives.  When Phil says that makes him want to puke, she tosses him to the crocodiles.

The ceremony takes place, but there was just one teeny little detail she and the Joker weren't told.  They are to be sacrificed in the volcano immediately afterwards. The Joker gets angry saying he thought it would just be Harley making the jump.  He says she deserves it for her hanging around with superheroes and that he "hates do-gooders".  She punches him and from an alligator stomach, Phil says "I told ya so."
The happy couple.
They both punch the headsman into the volcano and it starts to erupt.  They share a kiss then get blasted back out.  Harley winds up back on the beach and so does a dead crocodile who just happens to have Phil nesting in its exploded torse.  Harley sighs and picks him up and asks if her "pitifully, perfidious, puddin' made it?"  Phil replies, "does it matter?"  Harley guesses not.  Then Aquaman and says she looks far from home and he and his dolphins will take her back, to Coney Island.  And that brings the Future's End issue to a close.  Now back to Harley and the unconcious Power Girl.

Harley calls on Big Tony and Mason to help carry Power Girl back to her apartment.  Power Girl in case you didn't know is the Earth-2 version of Supergirl.  Here, enjoy this wiki page on her so I can get on with the story. They lie her down on Harley's bed and check her for injuries as delicately as they can when suddenly she comes around.  She has amnesia though and quickly passes out again.  Harley spots an opportunity for mischief.

She goes downstairs and gets Queenie to quickly run up two Harley themed superhero costumes.  She changes into hers and wrestles Power Girl out of her costume and into the new one.  Power Girl wakes up, takes a few steps and her new costume completely rips and falls off her.  Harley quickly offers her the old one back, Power Girl is very confused about what is going on.  Harley tells her that she is called Power Girl and Harley is her teammate.

Harley then tells her that she has a secret identity, her real name is "Betty Burns" and her stage name is "The Bomb". 

Powergirl: "So my secret identity from being this 'Power Girl' is a strong woman in a sideshow?"

Harley: "I can get a pen and write it down for you if you like."

Power Girl asks what she wears in this secret identity and Harley puts some glasses on her. Power Girl says "you must think I'm an idiot".  So off they go to do some clothes shopping.

After purchasing several outfits between them, they sit and have a meal in a fast food joint.  As Power Girl takes a drink, her cup springs a leak.  Because someone shot her through it, luckily she is made of iron so she is just a little startled by this rather than hurt.  "Someone just shot my soda!  And my boob!" she exclaims and it turns out a pair of villains, "The Sportsmaster" and "The Clock King" are responsible as they are robbing various places in the mall.  So Power Girl and Harley strip off their coats, revealing their superhero outfits and launch into evil-battling mode.

Power Girl: "How about we do some magic and make these guys disappear?"

Harley: "The way you say that is hot."

Unfortunately for them, the pair of baddies stretch open a ring which is a portal through space and Harley and Power Girl get transported across the cosmos.
To the rescue!
They find themselves amongst an army of a variety of aliens, led by a Queen with four breasts. When asked who they are, Power Girl proudly states they are both protectors of Earth and of their galaxy.  The Queen asks her human accountant and lover, "given to me by The Clock King", if what she says is true.  The man says as it's true as far as Power Girl is concerned but as he is about to reveal Harley's true nature, Harley blows him up using a gun she managed to swipe.

Power Girl and Harley make their getaway from the rest of the aliens as Power Girl says to Harley not to kill people again.  Power Girl then starts fighting them which wakes up the huge pug dog that can talk.  He asks Power Girl if there is a way they can resolve the situation. The Queen wants Harley and Power Girl dead, but the dog is her husband the King, who was disgusted by her taking a human as a lover and after a heated argument, he eats her.

Later he, Harley and Power Girl enjoy a banquet and he tells them that the ring they came through is one-way, but there are other rings they might be able to use, as owned by "Manos Ruler Of The Infinity Rings".  So with a map to guide them and a promise they'll chuck some cheeseburgers the king's way when they return, Power Girl and Harley go to confront Manos.
The King is a friendly dog.

They find Manos and his forty-five children hanging out on their planet.  Before they can reach him though a creature that looks like a giant slice of pizza attacks them.  Power Girl goes out and fights it but Harley manages to zap it using a space laser.  Then Manos, who doesn't look at all like Thanos, noooo, comes out and says:

Manos: "Bring me the Cosmic Organ".

Harley: "Ha! He said Cosmic Organ".

While Harley and Power Girl watch in horror, he destroys a whole planet with it.  This makes Power Girl angry, she tells him she was planning on bargaining with him but after that little display she's going to defeat him instead.

Manos tries to use his Infinity Rings against her, but light-fingered Harley has stolen them off him and uses them to blast him into a skeleton, much to Power Girl's annoyance.   One of Manos's kids tells them the ring home was his "Pinkie-toe one" and they stretch it into a portal which takes them back to just after they left Earth. 
Not Thanos honest!
But the Clock King and Sportsmaster send them back through another portal.  They instantly return, but Power Girl is now in a wedding dress and Harley, in a space jumpsuit is accompanied by several three-eyed purple cats. "Thank God! That was the longest two weeks of my life" says Power Girl.  Harley says she thought "Vartox" was cute.  So what happened?  An entire miniseries set between two panels happened, which I have covered here.  Enjoy!  For now, Power Girl rips off the dress and The Clock King says "I think we're in trouble."

Power Girl punches The Sports Master so hard he pops out of his skates.   He retaliates with a "short range nuclear ballistic missile."  Harley and The Clock King get to safety but The Sports Master manages to get caught in the blast that hit Power Girl.   The Clock King uses a magic clock to turn back and freeze time and retrieve his companion, and they make their getaway.
Tease PeeGee at your peril.
Power Girl survived of course, but her hair is all wooshed back.  As she flies carrying Harley, Harley has fits of laughter and teases her over it, getting dropped a couple of times as punishment.  They arrive back at Harley's building and Harley tells her she has a show to do that night.  Still pretty confused by her apparent life, she goes for a shower.  "Can I watch?" asks Harley.  That gets a firm NO.  Big Tony notes that she'll kill them when she gets her memory back.  Harley says she thinks another blow to her head and Power Girl's memory may return and she likes being her partner.

Big Tony: "Aw. Aren't you two cute together.  Add yer pal Ivy to the mix and we got a regular sitcom".

Harley: "Let's save that for another special, shall we?"

Coming out of the shower in Harley's flat, Harley introduces Power Girl to "Edgar", an egg with mechanical arms, the newest tenant of the building.  "He used to be a villain but we cured him with love and kindness" she says of him.  Power Girl is suspicious of him though.

Later, downstairs at the burlesque show poor Power Girl is in a leotard and does some flexing for the crowd.  A stagelight falls on her and Harley and Tony get ready to run in case her memory is back, but she is still amnesiac.  Then Harley tells her Clock King and Sports Master have been spotted uptown and it's time to go defeat them.

After an interude where Harley tries to mesmerise a mugger with her butt, she arrives to find the two miscreants beaten and down.  But The Sports Master isn't finished yet and he fires an energy bolt at Power Girl, which gets him shot in the hand by Harley for his trouble.  This surprises the villains, "since when do heroes shoot bad guys?" says The Clock King.  The police arrive to take them into custody as Power Girl flies off with Harley.
It was probably an obscene suggestion, bad Harley!.
They sit together on a roof and Power Girl wants to know all about herself.  Harley spins her a bunch of fibs, then suddenly a bird craps on Power Girl and it is this that brings her memories back. Uh oh. Harley does some fast talking saying they did some proper superheroic stuff:

Harley: "Look, we were a crime-fighting team and you really liked me, even though I drove you nuts".

Harley makes her eyes big and limpid and starts crying, saying "could you ever forgive me?" Grumpily, Power Girl says "I can't stay mad at you Harley.  I just don't know what to do with you."  So Harley whispers something in her ear we don't hear, but involves the word "French" and gets Harley abandoned on top of the Eiffel Tower as punishment.  And that brings the Power Girl arc to a close.

Another interlude, this time for "Harley Quinn Invades Comic Con International San Diego Special" which is a bit of a mouthful but pretty much describes what happens.  Harley goes to Comic Con, which allows for some more playful meta humour.  In the course of the issue she snogs a room full of Joker cosplayers, de-pantses Batman, gets arrested for shooting a cop in the bum, has her portfolio looked over by Jim Lee, gets Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's autographs, and sadly also overhears an interview with DC Satan-In-Chief Dan Didio who says the following:

Dan Didio: "We'll be launching a new line of books that do not have any editorial overlooking control. We call this D-C-You.  Each creator does whatever they like with the character of their choice and goes crazy. We don't expect these books to sell at all, so we are setting the print run at 1,000 copies each."


No, no, let's move on.  Let's stay positive for now, even though this proves to me my theory that DC set the DCYou up for failure before the New 52 breathed its last.  You'll be hearing me whine more on this topic when I cover the second and final wave of DCYou trades early next year.  Anyway, after all this daftness, this volume is rounded off by a short "Secret Origins" tale of Harley and her lifelong interest in the criminally insane, culminating in her self destructive relationship with the Joker.  And that's it for another Harleytastic volume.

I just find these comics so much FUN.  The meta humour doesn't overwhelm the narratives, the jokes, innuendo and parody comes thick and fast and perhaps what I like most about it is the huge emphasis it places on female friendship.  Seriously I can't think of many other superhero comics where a whole issue would just be two women hanging out chatting and shopping.  And even before the Power Girl issues we get Harley hanging out and having a laugh with her Roller Derby team, no men in sight, nor are they the subject of the conversations.  It passes the Bechdel Test more comprehensively than any other superhero comic I can think of.  The Power Girl/Harley odd-couple friendship is glorious.  Poor Power Girl does end up looking a bit undignified in places, but she gets to be superheroic while having to cope with the crazy persona Harley has cooked up for her.  The idea of setting a miniseries between two panels is another fun idea and the Harley/Power Girl miniseries manages to be even dafter than the main Harley series if that's possible.  All-In-All you really feel Harley enjoys her life a lot, the Future's End and Secret Origins issues actually goes someway to showing how putting her with The Joker limits her, she is too wild to be a one man or woman Harley and she works much better as an anti-hero than as a villain.  I'm definitely still sticking with Harley for now, keep watching this space for the next volume in her series fairly soon.