Thursday, 27 August 2015

Prophet Book 2: Brothers (#27-31, #33)

"It's all been going on without us" - Hiyonhoiagn

So here we have the second volume in the reboot of Rob Liefeld's Prophet character where the current writer and artists have mined diamonds out of the unappealing mulch of his Extreme comics stable (although I realise I am still keeping Liefeld in diamond encrusted gold baseball caps by buying his studio's comics, so perhaps I am history's greatest monster, not him?).  The first book pulled an interesting bait-and-switch by following John Prophet as he is awakened from cryogenic sleep and sets off across an earth changed by hundreds of years of alien colonisation to reawaken the millions of cloned John Prophets seeded across the defunct Earth Empire.  It turns out that this John Prophet is not the main protagonist as the Earth Empire, which controls the cloned John Prophets via giant-brained "Empire Brain Mothers" are in fact the bad guys of this series.  The heroic John Prophet, a wild bearded old man who is able to resist the Empire Mother's telepathy via a special helmet and his own strong will only put in an appearence at the end of the first book.  Now this volume follows him as he begins to put together his resistance band against the awakened Empire, having defeated them in the past, in a marvellously imaginative pulp sci-fi storyline.  You might be wondering why the numbering of the issues is so high, that's because the series picked up at issue #21 (long after the first twenty of Liefeld version fell into disuse), but no knowledge of what came prior to that is needed.  Also two issues have been swapped to make the trade paperbacks flow a little better. Hence the missing issue #32 here, will actually be covered in volume three.

Old Man John Prophet sits and remembers his war brothers and his lover Yiala (a reptile woman), while sitting on the back of a giant space worm as it wends it's way through space. He survives the months aboard by eating food caught in it's "digestive web".  He reaches his destination, the "Pod Reefs" and jumps off and into cool water, where he catches something to eat later. Then he begins his search amongst the tree-like roots that make up the pods.

"For a moment he feels older than the ancient Kinniaa whose body he climbs".

He reaches some other aliens living on the pod.  He asks for "Brother Hiyonhoiagn", a small four leggged root like creature from his previous memories.  He is attacked, but it is short lived, a root detaches itself from it's main part and it shows him through the wooden halls, the world "made out of the bodies of their forebears."  Through his protective crown he can hear their minds dreaming.
Friends reunited.
Finally he reaches Hiyonhoiagn, he reaches out with his mind and they touch. Hiyonhoiagn detaches himself from the wall and greets him:

Hiyonhoiagn: "It's you John.  Unchanged by all these seasons."

John asks him what became of their brothers, Hiyonhoiagn says they are "long dead" but his own "roots grow with yours."

They travel deep into the pod and Hiyanhoiogn hands him his sword, but it is broken after so many years of disuse.  He also hands him the cyborg Diehard's arm, and by using this they can locate the rest of him.  Diehard is another Liefeld creation, first as a member of the superteam Youngblood, later Alan Moore gave him some history by making him a member of his pastiche of the JLA in the pages of his run on Supreme.

They walk out to a ship graveyard to find something to travel in.  They are attacked again and the root that first greeted John is killed.  John saves Hiyonhoiagn and takes him on his back, he jumps towards an abandoned Empire "Sanctury Starship" and unlocks the hatch by hurling his Empire Knife (that he picked after killing the Prophets in Book One) and it opens just in time.
Blast off inside a worm.
The ship is swallowed by a giant space worm, but John jump starts the engines and it goes to warp inside the worm, ripping it in half.  John is now properly mobile and it is time to unite Diehard and look for aid in their battle against the Empire.

Some time later, their ship travels through space and John listens with his unguarded mind. Reaching out he feels the millions of John Prophets:

"Tied to the cruel whims of their Empire Brain Mothers.  On a thousand alien worlds, the Empire breathes".

He puts his crown back on and goes through the ship.  They have accrued a store of alien food and drink over the past weeks.  He also feels Hiyonhoiagn's pain.  The root that was killed helping them was his child.  He burns himself with firewater to forget. 
John and Hiyonhoiagn chill out for a while.
They sit together and contemplate how much of Diehard they have collected.  They are only missing his head and extra "warbody" now.  They land on a planet where his head is located as they leave the ship it is through a film of "shipskin".

Narration: "It coats them in a micro-thin layer to bind them to the ship and protect against foreign bodies."

The insect inhabitants are speaking the Empire language and wear the mind controlling blue "dolmantles" of the Empire.  They meet with their leader, a Qid-Pid, who says they have the head but a "trade must be made."

Diehard shows them to his head and they reunite just as Hiyonhoiagn is attacked by a dolmantle.  Diehard releases the crystal energy in his body that hits everything "not grounded".  It kills the dolmantles, and Qid-Pid pathetically drapes it's dead one over his shoulders.

Narration: "Old Man Prophet stares at the creature.  So frightened of it's own free will.  He would sooner die than be like that.... again."
Diehard almost completed.
They hurry back to the shop and pilot it to where Diehard's warbody is.  It is under dolmantle control and maintaining the cage of an "egg" - a weapon of mass destruction.  Diehard uses the combustible firewater to burn the dolmantle off his warbody and takes it back to the ship, while the egg rumbles into wakefulness...

The action then cuts to a chapter about the Prophet with a tail, who was introduced in book one.  He is fully under Empire control and part of a squadron of Prophets escorting an Enmpire Brain Mother through space, clad in pink, protective flying suits.  They find themselves travelling through:

Narration: "A 300-year war, raging between hundreds of different species.  Born into this and dying in this.  Entire lives spent knowing only this gargantuan ship war."

As they fly through, Prophet's suit is punctured and he falls into a star barge where slaves harvest food under the suffocating control of the Over-mind.  Prophet awakens to that control, but the control of the Empire Brain Mother is stronger.
The call of the Brain Mother.
He saves a small alien from being attacked by the slave drivers and the alien takes him to a small band of rebels, one of whom is a mushroom creature who blows spores in Prophet's face which frees him from all mind control.  It says it recognises Prophet from long ago where he saved their people, though the flashback seems to imply it was Old Man Prophet who did it, not this one with a tail. 

Whichever Prophet is was doesn't matter now, his arrival has goaded them into action.  he meets his fellow free minded individuals, a motley band.  And they start to plan.  They go back to slave work while they make ready and slip the anti-mind control spores into the "omni milk" all the workers drink for sustenance to weaken the Over-mind's control.

Finally they spring into action, a huge fight between the freed slaves and slavers ensues as Prophet and his band fight their way to the bridge.  They arrive there, though not without losses and Prophet slays the Over-mind with one blow.  The psychic backlash kills everyone but the rebels on the bridge.
Death of the Over-mind
Narration: "The Earth Empire Mother calls to John, but through the mind freedom of the spores, her words no longer hold him.  Outside the ship, the war continues."

Now we are introduced to a female reptile-person.  An assassin called Rein-East, destined to become one of John's crew.  She is preparing a hit on the leader of a rival clan - The Jinnah.  After making her way into the stronghold she comes to Jinnah-Guttum.  Who is hung and wrapped up to sustain his youth-life.  One of his aunts arranged his death at Rein-East's hands, "small revenge for what they did to her clan."  She kills him with one clean strike, then lashes out again in anger and cuts his head off.  Then the "Bothria" appear and capture her.

Back with the starship Insula Tergum, Diehard is working on his body.  He tries to recreate his once human face, but scratches it out in frustration.  Hiyonhoiagn has rooted into the ship which is sentient and tells him stories of all the wonders it has seen.  John meanwhile is practicing cutting drips in half with his blade to keep his combat skills sharp.
Prophet and Yiala in the past.
Finally they arrive at the "Scale" homeworld. John remembers his time there, how he fell in love with a storyteller called Yiala.  Soon his feelings for her "outweighed any mission."  They went to live in the "tower garden of history" and "this life with her was the best he had ever known."  But the Empire attacked the Scale and he chose to fight them again with Yiala by his side.  Back in the present:

"Centuries ago now  He still reaches for the Yiala's scale he'd worn round his neck.  Gone now."

He and Diehard travel down to the planet and are greeted by the new ruling clan, the Jinnah.  They pass Rein-East, imprisoned in a bubble that will eventually consume her.  John starts to give his warning about the resurgance of the Empire, but then a four-armed man appears with Empire markings and accuses him of being a traitor to the Empire.  They are betrayed by the Scale.

They are surrounded, Rein-East calls to John to free her so she can help fight.  John throws an explosive which bursts the bubble and she joins them.  In the melee, John cuts one of the four-armed man's arms off.  Then Jaxson, the roboty thing from book one who was searching for John arrives on the scene of battle.  His mind touches theirs and he blasts his way through the Empire ship, crippling it and giving the others time to escape back to the Insula Tergum.
The gang's all here.
The ship travels towards the floating dead body of the titanic Ixpolinix, so huge he's been colonised by aliens opposed to the Empire who mine his corpse for the resources of blood, meat and bone.  Curled up amidst the floating remains is a being that is related to another member of Youngblood - Badrock.  John and the others are stopping there for supplies before they go to meet the woman army, the "Babel-Horologian".

Jaxson, Rein-East and Diehard go into the colony to trade. John keeps his distance from Rein-East "she reminds him too much of the life he lost."  As he wanders the ship, a mysterious voice calls his name. 
He follows it's summons out onto the planet and, with Diehard shadowing him, comes across a strange fourlegged being with a mask on.  Prophet calls him "Troll", yet another ex-Youngblood member.  Troll says he's been watching him, and warns him:

Troll: "Now, if you can survive today before Empire destroys the ground you stand on, then we'll need to find Badrock."

Then he vanishes.  Before they go back to the ship, John and Diehard spot an Empire pod nearby.  They mentally call for Jaxson, who rushes to their side, telling Rein-East to take the supplies back to the ship. 

John has tracked the trail of the Prophet from the pod and has found a patch of earth freshly dug and filled to prevent being followed.  Diehard and Jaxson dig down and find an Empire Prophet there armed with a bomb powerful enough that it would have blown Ixpolinox to pieces.  Diehard kills the Prophet's brain but not the body so he can safely remove the bomb, and Jaxson takes it into space where it explodes harmlessly.
Diehard deals with the exploding Prophet.
All stocked up, they carry on to meet the women army.  In his quarters on the ship, Diehard works with the parts from the slain Prophet:

Narration: "For the first time in thousands of years, a human heart beats within his chest."

While they travel, Rein-East and Jaxson play a game as Hiyanhoiagn spectates.  Then they arrive at the ruins that were once "one of the bright centres of the universe".  A giant tadpole creature accidentally phases through the ship and gets stuck.  Rein-East makes to kill it, but John stops her and calms it telepathically allowing it to disengage without further harm.

They fly their ship into a huge ship of the Babel-Horolegion and are met by a female being called Dion Neien.  She splits herself into two, so Rein-East and Diehard can visit The Lady Probable's body and John and Jaxson can go to her centre.
Supreme, now only a power source.
Dion takes Rein-East and Diehard down to the Lady's core and one of her "power keys" which turns out to be energy generated by the being known as "Supreme".  Supreme was Rob Liefeld's rip-off of Superman who enjoyed his most well thought of run under the pen of Alan Moore.  Diehard remembers his civilian name, "Ethan Crane".

Meanwhile Jaxson and John travel further into the Lady Probable's core.  She speaks to them directly, she tells them they battles one of the Empire's "flesh forms" and captured a piece of it.  It has remained dormant until now, and it is crying "they come!"  Prophet wonders if this is related to Troll's warning that something worse than the Empire is out there...

Then the sister ships are attacked.  John and the others hurry back to the Insula Tergum and blast off out of the main ship which is blasted to pieces causing a huge shockwave that causes the Insula Tergum to crash on the nearby planet.

Narration: "The old man can still feel the psychic wave of pain... in the face of that pain he can do nothing.  He feels the slaughter of the Babel-Horolegion continue."
The Insula Tergum takes a hit.
And that brings the second volume of the Prophet reboot to a close.  Once again I have to praise the imaginative world building, the fascinating reimaginings of once lame characters and the enjoyable team of characters assembled by John to begin taking on the mght of the Empire, plus the hints that there might be something even more troublesome than the Empire out there.  The artwork helps give the alien worlds and their inhabitants atmosphere and the lightly sketched histories give them depth as well. It mixes sweetly inimate scenes of the team bonding with epic ones of space combat easily. Also the choice to mediate much of the story via third person captions helps give the story an "alienated" feel that comes over as quite fresh and really works for the tale being told.  We also get our first glimpse of Old Man Prophet's past and the sadness he carries around with him gives him even more gravitas. Basically this is another slice of superb pulp science fiction storytelling and if that's a genre you're at all interested in, then you need to check this series out pronto.

Obligatory Rob Liefeld Mockery Corner....

If you're curious as to what all these characters looked like originally here are some images to fill you in:

Diehard looks pretty similar to his original form as seen here.

Looks quite different, also this isn't actually a Liefeld drawing but has all the Leifeldian aspects to it.  Ugh, it's pretty embarrassing.
This is a relatively recent Liefeld drawing, see how much he's learned in over 20 years of being a professional comic book artist.

So far all we've seen of Badrock are his relatives, the curled up space giants.  When he was in Youngblood he was a kid who was still growing.  The reboot series seems to be saying he grew to small planet size.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Blacksad (#1-3) NSFW

NSFW:  Image of furry boobs!

"I was breathing in a vicious atmosphere of hate, vengeance and corruption" - John Blacksad.

Time for more anthropomorphised animals this month, but of an all together more adult variety. This time it's a Spanish comic by writer Juan Diaz Canales and drawn by ex-Disney animator Juanjo Guarnido (English translation by Anthya Flores Patricia Rivera).  This volume collects the first three stories published during the noughties; "Somewhere Within The Shadows", "Artic Winter" and "Red Soul".  It is set in an America of the late nineteen forties and using the techniques of noir has the titular private detective John Blacksad investigating crime in a city riven by racial tensions and communist paranoia and so on.  However this detective is in fact a humanoid cat.  All the characters are humanoid animals and they are imbued by the astounding art with incredible expressiveness, it really is one of the most beautifully drawn and painted comics I have ever read. As foreigners writing about some very specific American issues of the mid-twentieth century Blacksad the character is able to bring their outsider's perspective to them.  Like his hardboiled pulp inspirations Blacksad is a lover, a cynic, morally grey and can handle himself with his fists and a gun most of the time.  While the stories might not be entirely original, setting them in what's usually a "cutesy" world of anthropomorphic animals gives the stories a freshness and approachability they might lack if it was just a human pastiche of noir tropes.  So without further ado, lets dive in (and I apologise for how freaking long this is, I couldn't find a way to split it up sensibly, sorry! Enjoy the pictures at least).

SOMEWHERE WITHIN THE SHADOWS - This first story begins with Blacksad (who likes to talk like a hardbitten PI in his thought captions) having been summoned to the murder scene of a beautiful woman lying in bed.  He is asked by the dog detective Smirnov if he recognises her, he does.  He asks in return if they found anything, any clues at the murder scene about what happened.  Smirnov says no.  Blacksad says he hadn't seen her in a long time, as he leaves Smirnov tells him to heed his advice and "keep his muzzle out of this case."  Blacksad tells Smirnov to "go to hell."
Blacksad remembers Natalia
He retires to his shabby office and remembers the woman who's name was Natalia.  He first met her when she was frightened because someone was sending her tonnes of flowers and death threats. He dealt with the problem and they fell into an affair shortly thereafter.  But she was an aspiring actress:

Blacksad: "And nobody's perfect, and perfect love doesn't exist. Circumstances took over and tore us apart."

He looks out over the city and thinks to himself that the murderer is out there somewhere and will pay for what he did, even if he hadn't seen her for a long time.

He first visits a gorilla called Jake who was her bodyguard for a while.  He fired her after some different private security was arranged for her.  Blacksad asks Jake if he remembered any specific threat to her.  Jake say no, but she had a lot of "admirers" if you know what I mean.  Jake said she didn't seem to miss Blacksad at all, and Blacksad leaves without a further word.

He breaks into the office of one Leon Kronski, an writer who appeared to be her last lover. His flat is a wreck, like he left in a hurry.  The cleaning lady arrives and when Blacksad questions her she said she didn't see Leon leave, but someone told her he was going away for a while, she doesn't remember his name but she does remember "his bulging eyes".

Blacksad then visits the office of a raging asshole of an agent.  He is furious that Leon has gone missing.  He doesn't know where Leon is either, but he was told he was going away by "a fellow with bulging eyes". 
He does indeed have bulging eyes.
After leaving him to his yelling, Blacksad notes he is being followed by a man with... bulging eyes.  He's a lizardman dressed all in black who comes at Blacksad with a knife.  Blacksad can handle himself in a fight and wrestles the man to the ground.  But before he can get any information from him, he sucker punches Blacksad in the stomach and escapes, leaving Blacksad cursing for underestimating the fellow.

The action then cuts to a shadowy figure contemplating his collection of beetles.  The lizardman is reporting to him and the shadowy figure makes veiled threats against him about what happens when you cease to be useful.  He says he'll take care of Blacksad.  The lizardman leaves and the shadowy figure sends his other man, a weasel fellow to follow him saying the lizardman has something of his.

The weasel shadows the lizard through the streets until the lizard gets to a bar full of other lizard and reptile like men.  He hands something over to the bartender and asks if he can slip out the back.  The bartender says they'll deal with his pursuer.  The weasel bursts into the bar and is quickly surrounded by lizardmen, "hairy guys like you are not welcome here."

But the action cuts back to Blacksad before we can see what happens to him.  He is in a strip club which he ponders that Natalia would have only gone to to please Leon.  The pig bartender remembers Leon and the beautiful woman he was with, but hasn't seen them in a while.  A ratlike man sitting at the bar says he can give some information to Blacksad "for a price of course."

He leads Blacksad, despite Blacksad's cat-like repulsion towards him, to a graveyard.  There he shows Blacksad a grave with "Noel Krisnok" on the gravestone.

Blacksad: "My search had come to an end in front of a sinister riddle.  Noel Krisnok was an anagram of Leon Kronski.  Two names for one corpse".
The fate of Noel/Leon discovered.
Blacksad wonders what caused his death, was it loving the wrong woman?  The ratman has disappeared and suddenly Blacksad is flanked by a bear and a rhino.  They beat the everloving shit out of Blacksad and ask him if he's got the message.  He tells them "fuck you" and they knock him out.

He wakes later and still groggy, stumbles home but somehow ends up sleeping in a police cell.  His brain is still ticking over, and he realises that to eliminate and erase a man's indentity would be something only a very rich person could do.  He falls asleep and awakens in a depressed mood.  Smirnov comes to the cell and tells Blacksad straight that he had him "arrested" for his own good.

Smirnov says his investigations have taken him to a very high place and he has been told to bury the case.  He has no choice but to comply:

Smirnov: "I'm out of the game, but you're not.  This is my proposition: eliminate the murdering son of a bitch and I'll personally cover your back."
A surprised Blacksad asks why?  And Smirnov says he likes to believe in a better world where "even the powerful pay their debts".  Blacksad walks home and thinks he needs to find the man with the bulging eyes.  But when he reaches his home, waiting inside is the lizardman he seeks who punches him and then holds a gun on him.

He shows Blacksad the weapon that killed Natalia, sealed in a plastic bag with "the prints from his dirty fingers signing the crime."  He's a blackmailer who got ahold of the murder weapon and believes Blacksad to be a blackmailer too.  Before the conversation can go any further, the lizardman is shot through the chest.  He falls and Blacksad grabs his gun and shoots the man outside on the fire escape, killing him.  It was the ratman he met in the bar.

The dying lizardman says to Blacksad that he "endured all kinds of humiliation" but thought he'd got even one day.  He says he got the chance when "he" started seeing Natalia.  Unfortunately for her and Leon, she wasn't a one-man woman.  And so Leon was killed:

Lizardman: "And with the same cold blood he personally killed his own girl without so much of a flinch, he blew her brains out.  Because Ivo Static is a sore loser."
The villain revealed.
He dies, leaving Blacksad contemplating the name he had been given.  He decides to pay a visit to Ivo Static, who's office is located atop a huge highrise block of offices.  He was the kind of person "rich in priviledge and poor in moral fibre."  The office is being guarded by the bear and rhino, but this time he is ready for them and beats them down.  Then he goes to confront Ivo Static.

Ivo Satic, another reptile-like man, congratulates him on getting thus far and calmly offers him a job as a "handyman" while staring down the barrel of the gun Blacksad has pointed at him.  Ivo says everything is negotiable and writes Blacksad a cheque for one hundred thousand dollars.  Blacksad retorts that money:

Blacksad: "It can't bring the dead back to life and it can't quiet the conscience of those needing vengeance.  Can't even stop me from killing you."

Ivo laughs and says Blacksad won't pull the trigger because his conscience won't let him.  He lacks what is needed to get as far as he has - "cold blood".
The villain killed.
And Blacksad shoots him through the head killing Ivo instantly.  The smirk Ivo had on face just beforehand being the straw that broke the camel's back.  Smirnov closes the case, putting Ivo down as a suicide.  At the police precinct are the beaten up bear and rhino who both say Blacksad was at the office when Ivo died, but Smirnov says Blacksad was home when it happens, oh and also they are going to be interrogated about the deaths of Natalia Wilford and Leon Kronski.

Outside Smirnov says to Blacksad that he doesn't feel good about what they did.  Blacksad says that's the downside of having a conscience.  And he leaves thinking to himself.

Blacksad: "From that day forward, that has been my world.  A jungle where it's survival of the fittest - where people act like animals.  I had chosen to walk the dark path in life and I am still on it."

And that brings the first episode to an end.

ARCTIC NATION -  This episode looks at the stupidity of racism which is especially problematic in the rundown area of the city known as "The Line."  Blacksad is investigating the disappearence of a young girl called Kaylie.  Her teacher is the one who hired Blacksad, her mother hasn't even reported her missing.  It's been attributed to the "Black Claws" gang.  Blacksad says he'll find Kaylie.
While hate is preached, Blacksad meets Weekly.
Later Blacksad arrives on the scene of a white hate group, with an inflammatory speech about white superiority being given by a white dog (the story calls him The Fox in places, but he looks like a dog to me).  And other animals with white pelts are giving out unpleasant white supremacy leaflets.  A stoat-like reporter called "Weekly" who has been bugging Blacksad asks him to come share a drink with him and they repair to a nearby bar.

While they enjoy their drinks, the white dog and a couple of his white gang members come into the bar and point out the "no coloureds allowed" sign to an old, blind crow sat at the bar.  Then they turn their attention to Blacksad, who cheekily asks if the white of his chin is enough.  There is a short scuffle that ends with one of the white supremacists being thrown over the bar, and the white dog demands the barman "call Chief Karup".

We cut to Blacksad and Weekly in Karup's office, he is a pure white polar bear.  He accuses them of being anarchists and gives them a lecture on his idea of the law before tell them to take a hike, they aren't welcome in The Line.

Later Blacksad is at a drive-in unenthusiastically watching a film.  He's actually here to meet Kaylie's mother, Dinah.  She does indeed proposition him while he is in his car, he says he'd like to meet her somewhere private so he goes to her flat after the show and talks to her there.

Dinah: "You must think I'm some sort of monster for not reporting Kaylie's kidnapping.  But believe me, I have good reason not to trust white 'justice'".

Blacksad says justice is supposed to be blind.  But Dinah says there is a war going on in The Line and the way things are going, coloured people are going to lose.  But "vengeance is a dish best served cold."  She then says she was previously a maid working for Harup and the way he looked at Kaylie made her "blood run cold."  Finally she breaks down over Kaylie being in the hands of "some pervert".
Dinah, with an important marking on her chest.
Blacksad comforts her, then asks if she had a relationship with "old man Oldsmill's son?".  She angrily slaps him and calls him a sonofabitch.  The next day Blacksad reports this to Weekly and asks if his sources are reliable.

Suddenly the newsagents they are in is invaded by a gang of black gang members.  They knock out the shopkeeper then turn their attentions to Weekly.  They want him to run a story that says they didn't take Kaylie.  They say Karup's scapegoating them to cover up for Oldsmill and "that retarded son of his again."

The gang leader then turns to Blacksad and goes to paint his white muzzle black.  But Blacksad says to him  "you put so much as a freckle on me and I will end you."  And points a gun at the gang leader's stomach.  The gang leaves, saying Weekly better do as they ask.

Later Weekly and Blacksad are on a stakeout outside Karup's house.  Weekly says he got his nickname from only appearing once a week at the newspaper offices to file his stories.  Blacksad leaves Weekly on lookout and goes to see the mysterious Oldsmill, who turns out to be a rich, white tiger with a massively retarded and in-bred son.
Oldsmill and his dopey son.
Blacksad tells him he's been hired to find Kaylie and if Oldsmill's son is involved.  Oldsmill points at his son and says "who would want to sleep with that reject?"  Oldsmill says Kaylie might turn out to be Karup's daughter as he was married to a black before.  "But then, everyone makes mistakes".  He calls Dinah a "lowlife" and when Blacksad asks what's wrong with being a lowlife?  Oldsmill responds:

Oldsmill: "Let's just say they soil everything.  Before they arrived this place was a model neighbourhood, and now look at it.  Unemployment and misery for everyone."

A coldly angry Blacksad leaves with a parting shot at Oldsmill's son saying sometimes a little mixing isn't such a bad idea.  Meanwhile, Weekly's surveillance of Karup's place pays off as the white dog turns up and Weekly sees him nailing Karup's wife through the window.  He later tells Blacksad he followed Karup's wife to a diner, where she met up with Dinah.  He couldn't fully hear what Dinah said to her but he did hear her say "she's my daughter, I won't let her suffer."
Karup and wife in public.
They speculate that this means Karup might be involved with Kaylie's kidnapping.  Blacksad goes to Dinah's house but finds only her dead body, stabbed to death, possibly with a weapon like the sword Karup keeps framed in his office.  Blacksad confronts Karup outside church.  The white dog threatens him, but Blacksad asks him if "Romeo" was more concerned with protecting Karup's wife. He then asks the congregation:

Blacksad: "And how about the rest of you?  Are you sure Chief Karup is the best person to take care of your sons and daughters in the choir?"

We then get to see Karup later on, teaching the choir of little white children.  The white dog brings him a newspaper with the headline "Suburban Scandal".  Karup rips it up and tells the dog to "gather up the boys at our usual place."  They are going to teach Weekly and Blacksad a lesson.  The dog asks if he believed Blacksad and what he said about him and his wife.  Karup responds by punching him hard and beating him some more, before ominously saying "I haven't killed anyone... yet".

Later Blacksad is searching for Weekly who has gone missing.  He finds the old crow, Cotten, trying to pawn Weekly's camera and threatens him into telling him where Weekly is.  At Karup's home Karup angrily accuses his wife, Jezebel of giving up to the white dog what he's been denied so long. 
Karup and wife in private.
She says that their's is a marriage of convenience and it "looks like you've found something to console you."  He punches her, but she says he can't throw her out of the house as he needs her to keep up appearences.  Enraged beyond belief he yells at her to get out of his sight.

Blacksad is led into what he assumes is a trap, but is actually somewhere close by to where the next actions will play out.  Weekly is being held by a crowd of people in pointy hooded robes with a noose and burning cross there as well.  A figure in a scarlet robe appears, but before anything happens to Weekly, the white robed figures attack the scarlet one and rip the robe off him revealing Karup underneath.

Blacksad hears the commotion and disguises himself in a spare robe to spy on what's going on.  Karup is asked by the white dog to explain what Kaylie's blood stained dress was doing in the boot of his car.  They accuse him of her kidnap and murder and also interfering with their children.  They place him in the noose, he protests his innocence, but they judge him guilty and hang him.
Karup is judged by his hate gang.
Weekly's turn is next, but before they can hurt him, Blacksad swings down and knocks over the burning cross setting the place alight.  In the confusion, Weekly and Blacksad manage to get away.  Chasing them, the white dog is confronted by Cotten who says he'll tell them about how he and the white dog were behind the kidnapping.  The dog shoots him and leaves him for dead. 

Blacksad and Weekly find him though, and he takes them to an abandoned aeroplane hanger close by where Kaylie is sat shivering inside a plane.  Blacksad picks her up and says she's safe now.  Cotten said he helped the dog do it because he promised to take him to Las Vegas.  He dies peacefully with Blacksad saying he'll take him now.
Kaylie found safe and sound.
A while later Blacksad reflects that The Line's police didn't investigate very fully, they blamed everything on Karup.  Blacksad doesn't want the dog to get off lightly though and goes to see him, but finds him dead.  He gets ready to attend Karup's funeral, but Weekly gives him a tip-off that gets him excited.

Jezebel gives a eulogy for her husband while Blacksad watches from a distance.  Then she goes to Dinah's grave, lays a rose and puts her head on the gravestone and cries.  Blacksad comes up to her and without warning, rips open her coat and dress revealing a black marking on her chest same as the white one on Dinah's.  It turns out she and Dinah were sisters and Karup was their father.
A secret relationship revealed.
He'd been married happily to a black woman, but when the moved to The Line, the decay in the neighbourhood caused their marriage to break down and finally he threw her out seven month's pregnant.  She gave birth to her and Dinah, but was left frail and died when they were young causing them to swear revenge on their father.  Blacksad says, "So you comitted the insanity of marrying him".  An arranged marriage of convinience, Jezebel says it was so she could keep an eye on him and also enjoy his frustration at not being able to lay a hand on her.

She seduced the dog, finally given a name - "Huk", and used the rumours that Karup had a thing for children to use Kaylie to frame him.  Huk killed Dinah when she seemed on the verge of telling all, and in revenge, Jezebel killed Huk.  Later Blacksad and Weekly go and visit the teacher who set the whole investigation in motion  Blacksad tells her:

Blacksad: "Don't ever give up, Miss Grey.  We need people like you to make sure our neighbourhood can grow up without prejudice or hate."

And the story ends with Kaylie throwing a snowball and hitting Weekly with it.  Back in the car, Weekly 'fesses up that his nickname actually comes from him only changing his underwear once a week.  This cheers Blacksad up immensely and he roars with laughter.  The end.
What lies in Kaylie's future...?
RED SOUL - It starts with a poker game.  A rabbit loses big, but grabs his money and makes a run for it.  Blacksad grabs him and returns him to the game where he hands his cash over reluctantly.  Blacksad muses on the dangers of gambling and how he'd been hired by "Hewitt Madeline", the tortoise at the poker game table as a bodyguard.

He returns, with Madeline to his home city where Madeline wants to buy some art.  While in the gallery he bumps into Smirnov, the cop from part one, and his wife and two kids on a day out.  Blacksad smoothly intoduces himself to Mrs. Smirnov and she invites him and Hewitt for dinner.  Blacksad must decline and they bid each other goodbye.

He decides he needs to look for "a distraction that would help clear his head". And picks up a leaflet on a debate about nuclear power.  Hewitt and he leave the gallery and Hewitt complains about the price of the art he was offered.  Then he invites Blacksad to a club with him, but Blacksad says he's going to the debate.
Otto Leibber the owl and Samuel Gottfield the dog.
We then jump forwards to the end of the discussion.  A dalmation is presenting it while an owl stands at the lectern having given his speech.  Blacksad assessess the dalmation thus:

Blacksad: "If you believed what was written in the press, Samuel Gottfield was a lot of things.  Young, rich, handsome, full of life, idle communist.  After a show like that I could've added another.  Asshole."

Blacksad is actually there to see Otto Liebber the owl.  They embrace and Otto says he's "all grown up" now.  Samuel Gottfield drags Otto off in a hurry as anti-communists hurl bricks through the window.  He invites Blacksad to a get together at "our place on tuesday" and against his better judgement, Blacksad goes.

He wants to see Otto again, the man who built a charity mission where he lived as a kid growing up.  Now Otto is one of "twelve apostles", leftist intellectuals who gather together under the umbrella of Gottfield's philanthropy.

Blacksad walks amongst the intellectuals at the beach party.  And spots a beautiful woman, Alma Mayer, a writer.  Gottfield has got so hammered he tried to walk on water.  Blacksad and a couple of others rescue him from the water and drag him off back to his house while he rambles away.
Alma Mayer.
Then a monkey called Laszlo starts laying into Otto, saying he's a hypocrite for being a pacifist who was also "father of the bomb".  A small owl, called Otero says he's just jealous he's not the one up for Nobel consideration.  Laszlo marches off saying he doesn't care about the prize, he only hopes the academy "won't make the mistake of putting an imposter up on a pedastal."

The party breaks up, Otero who was still wet is given Otto's hat to keep him warm.  Later Otero is alone in his home and a crocodile appears behind him and holds a knife to his throat, before killing him off panel.  A couple of days later at Gottfield's house he is watching with great concern TV coverage of a rooster - Senator Gallo - who has a list of members of the communist party in America.

Gallo: "If we must, we'll go from house to house and will search every dark corner, and we will leave no rock unturned, until we find and crush the scorpion of communism."

Blacksad and Alma are there also, Alma wants Blacksad to find out who killed Otero.  She's afraid the rest of the "apostles" are also targets.  Blacksad wonders what an intelligent woman like her is doing with the likes of Gottfield, she says he promised her "a romantic honeymoon by Niagra Falls".  Blacksad makes the same offer, but she laughingly turns him down saying she is "spoken for."  Blacksad borrows a copy of her book "La Fontaine Today" and leaves.
Sergei Litvak, Russian painter.
He visits a dog called Sergei Litvak who is an artist and was at the party.  He says that there was resentment that an exiled, Spanish Republican like Otero was head of the American Medical institute. "So you think he was murdered for political reasons?" asks Blacksad.  "No.. by some anti-communist lunatic" says Sergei and gets back to his painting.  As Blacksad leaves, he tosses down Otto's hat to return to him.

Blacksad arrives on the university campus and reflects on his own brief time as a history major, before being expelled for bad behaviour.  He meets Otto Leibber in a room after he's given a class.  He hands Otto back his hat and says he thinks Otero was killed by mistake and the real target is Otto, but because Otero was wearing his hat a mistake was made.  They reminisce for a bit, how his charity mission helped Blacksad. Out of gratitude, Blacksad decides to become Otto's guardian angel.

Keeping watch on him pays off when he sees the crocodile plant a bomb outside the carpark Otto is about to drive out of.  Blacksad rushes in and yanks Otto out of his car, saving him from the explosion.  Blacksad then attacks the crocodile who manages to escape.  A dishevelled Blacksad says to Smirnov, who is now on the scene that he accepts his wife's offer of a dinner invitation.
Blacksad battles "Ribs".
He brings along Alma and after the meal, he and Smirnov go out onto the balcony to discuss the bombing.  The crocodile they have identified as "Ribs", one of the police's most wanted.  They are also having trouble figuring out the make up of the bomb.  Meanwhile a saddened Otto is walking through the rough part of town, and when he comes to a church, now in ruins, he cries.

Blacksad returns home, pondering his theory that it was a professional hit.  Laszlow is waiting for him with a shotgun, but Blacksad manages to disarm him.  Laszlow says he is part of an organisation that hunts Nazi war criminals and he shows him photographs of Otto standing next to Hitler, he was responsible for the bomb targetted at Otto.

The action then cuts to a cowed Gottfield being interrogated by Senator Gallo.  Gallo wants him to tell him all about who the "enemies of our nation" are and threatens him with death in a roundabout way if he doesn't play ball.  Gottfried does spill the beans and anti-communist round-ups begin.  However Blacksad manages to get Alma away from her captors.
Gallo bullies Gottfield.
He takes her to the journalist, Weekly's place.  Saying he needs her to lay low for a while.  He kicks Weekly out and returns to Alma.  Because no dame can resist Blacksad for long, they kiss.  The next day they have obviously had sex.  They discuss the situation.  She says Gottfield had become increasingly obssessed with the prospect of nuclear attack.

Blacksad: "The damned fool.. If he's so sure the planet is going to be destroyed he should take advantage of the beauty around him."

Alma asks if he fears the end of the world.  Blacksad says only if it happens before he can take her to Niagra Falls.  They embrace.
We then cut to the artist Litvak being visited by the F.B.I.  They try to make him talk but he says he is too old and too sick to be threatened by them.  They inject him with truth serum, but this just kills him.

Blacksad finally goes to confront Otto, who is standing in an aquarium.  He says:

Otto:  "The other day while I was standing in the ruins of my father's church, I came to a horrible realisation:  My life has been one gigantic mistake.  A failed project".

He says he gave up on the neighbourhood too soon and things got worse.  He went back to his home country to create a better world, and it ended in catastrophe.  He chose the wrong side and his homeland is now "a great heap of smoking rubble".

He confesses that he's been feeding Litvak nuclear secrets so the Russians could build their own H-Bomb and maintain a balance of power.  He hysterically grabs Blacksad and says he's made another colossal mistake and now has "no time to fix it".  Blacksad pushes him away and leaves quickly and without a word, leaving Otto a broken man.
Otto having a breakdown.
He goes to Litvak's studio and finds him dead.  He then realises that the painting he was doing contained all the information under the paint.  He goes to the docks where the painting is ready to be shipped to an exhibtion in Russia.  He changes the shipping labels so it will go to Australia instead.

He goes to pack for going away with Alma, when the F.B.I pick him up.  He is taken to an interrogation room where Gallo is waiting for him.  They wan't to know where Liebber is hiding.  Blacksad refuses to help so they say they will frame him for Litvak's murder.  He and Gallo exchange significant looks then we cut to a free Blacksad arriving at Gotfield's house.

Gotfield is manically digging a hole for a fallout shelter.  He tosses Blacksad his house keys and gives him a safe combination.  When Blacksad goes to check the safe he finds a list of people who in the event of the nuclear war, would be rushed to safety and they all support Gallo, "Project Noah".  Blacksad had guessed as much during his interrogation and used it to blackmail Gallo into releasing a false report of Liebber's suicide, which we see Alma reading in the paper while waiting for Blacksad.
Blacksad hands over some insurance.
The list Blacksad inimates he has, would embarrass Gallo and so he let Blacksad go, but not until after two weeks of interrogation, so he missed his date with Alma and although he looked desperately for her, he never found her again. He also passes the list onto Weekly and says not to publish it unless something happens to him.

Blacksad: "Cupid had played another fast one on me...but at least somewhere Liebber was safe".

He receives a letter from Liebber, which Blacksad reads over images of Liebber overseeing the rebuilding of a German town and teaching children again.  He thanks Blacksad for all he did for him.  The episode finally ends on an image of the book Alma left at Weekly's with a message to Blacksad written on the inside cover:

Alma: "Don't say it's superstition.  Say instead it's that Old Black Magic called Love.  Alma".
Alone again...
And that brings this collection to an end.  It really is a superb book, the use of animals isn't just something that'll appeal to furries, it's a fascinating choice with them being so emotive and thanks to the beautiful art fit right into the noir storylines with ease.  The post-war era of America is superbly rendered, a lot of research must have gone into getting the cars and buildings and little details just right.  And it deals with big issues like racism and communism with the perspective of a bemused outsider being factored through the loner that is Blacksad.  He himself is a very attractive creation, and I don't just say this as an owner of a black and white cat!  His reluctant heroics and powerful intelligence drive the plots forwards as he slips quite comfortably into the role of the Raymond Chandler style private detective, both a lover and a fighter.  There have been two more Blacksad adventures since this collection of three were first published, and I shall be covering them on this blog before the year is out.  It's rare that European comics get translated and released into the English market these days sadly, but Blacksad is definitely one of the most worthy of having been done so.  This one cool kitty is well worth your time.  Got it?

[If you want to see more gorgeous Blacksad art check out my look at the next volume in the series "A Silent Hell" and the final one so far: Amarillo]

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Dead Rising: Road To Fortune (#1-4)

"Time to start drinking more, hey, Frank?" - Frank West

Everyone! It's videogame tie-in time again!  No, wait come back, this has zombies in it!  Everyone likes zombies. Yes, even you madam.  Anyway, I'll let you all into a secret.  I can get a bit obssessive when I game.  And earlier this year I got completely obssessed with Dead Rising 2 and it's "alternative universe" re-release, Dead Rising 2:  Off The Record.  And I played them for weeks, which considering all you do is kill zombies using everything from chainsaws to motorbikes to chainsaws welded to motorbikes, you would think the repetition would get a bit much.  Achievements,  I blame chasing those buggers. Ahem.  This comic is set between the first Dead Rising game which saw an zombie outbreak in a shopping mall being covered by a journalist called Frank West, and it's sequel Dead Rising 2, which saw an outbreak of zombies in a casino being dealt with by a motorcyclist called Chuck Greene who had a zombie infected daughter whose symptoms are kept at bay by a medicine called "Zombrex".  This story focuses mainly on aspects of Frank's faltering career post zombies that would be elaborated on in the non-canon Off The Record, as well as detailing how Chuck's daughter got infected and giving more information on the sinister doings of pharmachutical company, "Phenotrans", who are behind the temporary zombie cure "Zombrex".  To kick things off, as I haven't played the first Dead Rising I'm going to be hugely lazy and quote the comic's quick summary of events in it.

"Frank West, a freelance photographer, is looking for the "scoop of a lifetime" and thinks he found it when he heads to the Willamette Parkview Mall in Willamette, Colorado to cover what he believes to be a riot. The truth, however, is far more horrifying when the riot turns out to be a full scale zombie infestation. With his journalistic instincts overriding his fears, Frank enters the mall and is soon fighting for his very life alongside other humans trapped inside the sprawling complex.  As the zombie threat grows so to does Franks knowledge of who is behind the disaster. - it is a deliberate outbreak caused by Carlito Keys as  revenge for the infestation and ulitmate destruction of of his South American town Santa Cabeza by U.S Special Forces following failed U.S. Government experiments in the area."

Now see I could have been even lazier and scanned that paragraph in. But I typed it with my own fingers just for you.  Now let us crack on with the story proper.
Fancy a bite, Frank?
We join Frank in the middle of a nightmare about the events of the end of the first game.  Trapped in a tank, surrounded by zombies, Carlito's sister Isabela who joined up with him to battle the special forces unit that wiped out her town and was there to wipe out the mall to, to cover things up.  Using heavy weaponry, Frank blasts a path out, but at the last minute a zombie rises up behind him and noms on him and Frank wakes up.

He mumbles about the booze supposedly helping him with the bad dreams and goes to the bathroom cabinet where he injects himself with Zombrex, the anti-zombification drug.  Listening to the radio he hears a report from a Rebecca Chang who is being dispatched to a suspected zombie outbreak.  She reports that military containment is tight and she can't get any information from them about what is happening.
Frank gets serious.
Frank calls his agent, Clay and asks if Rebecca can be a guest on his show.  His agent breaks the news that his show has been cancelled.  He suggests Frank do more informercials to keep the cash coming in.  Frank is not pleased.

Frank: "Dammit, I've got a Pulitzer prize and a New York Times bestselling memoir, man!  I've been in wars zones and survived a full on zombie attack, for Christ's sake!"

His agent says that's as maybe, but conspiracy nuts are old news.  Now it's all reality TV.  Frank bellows down the phone at him that "Terror is reality!"  And hangs up.  This gives Clay an idea for a show and he proposes it over the phone to the unseen "TK."
Chuck Greene and family.
The action then cuts to Chuck Greene and his wife, Pam and daughter, Katey driving to Las Vegas.  His wife is a little worried about reports of zombies in the area but Chuck is confident the military has it all contained.  He is a motocross rider and he is coming to Vegas to take part in a big money event.  He is confident he will win.

Chuck: "And after tonight our lives are gonna change like you won't believe..."

We then move to a town called Coyote Springs where a zombie outbreak is indeed occuring.  The army are slowly but surely wiping the hordes out.  The commander calls in an airstrike to hit the town with.
Rebecca and her driver/pilot spot the explosion from a way off.  She persists in trying to get some information from the soldiers.  A Captain Kilduf comes out to meet her.  He says he isn't going to say "word one" to her so she better skedaddle.  She says they are sweeping zombies under the rug and is it the government or a private company paying them to do so.  She threatens to fly her chopper over the town to see what's happening, Kilduf says in that case he'd have no choice but to shoot her down so go ahead.

Outmanuvered she walks away and gets a call from Frank West.  He wants to meet up.  He says he's been wanting to get back into the field and the cancellation of his show has given him impetus to do so.  They could compare notes on the whole zombie thing.  Meanwhile the zombie rights organisation C.U.R.E has started picketing the military.  Rebecca says they can meet later, she has an appointment with a contact in Fortune City.
The organisation of eeeeeevil.
We then cut to the "Secret Phenotrans Research Facility located somewhere west of Fortune City".  The boss, Director Mallon has a scientist called Curnow bought to her by a huge security guard called Singh, he was trying to get out and take secret information to Rebecca Chang.  Curnow says his conscience drove him to it:

Curnow: "I just couldn't be a part of it anymore.  Turning all those innocent people into zombies... all the deaths.  It... it's just wrong, don't you see?"

Mallon calls him a hypocrite for being a part of it for so long.  She says the need for Zombrex has helped the company grow.  They will continue to release their bees to infect people.  They make zombies and Zombrex, a vicious cycle they profit from.  Singh then breaks Curnow's neck.  Mallon says nothing must stand in the way of "tonight's operation in Las Vegas".

Back with Frank, he and Rebecca are meeting as Curnow stood Rebecca up.  She asks him what happened with Isabela Keyes who escaped the mall outbreak with him.  Frank says Homeland Security picked her up and he never saw her again.  They both think the Keyes are being made scapegoats for something the government might have a hand in, and as Curnow's contact came from Phenotrans she also suspects they have something to do with the zombie outbreaks as well.  They decide to join forces to investigate further.
Rebecca and Frank hypothesise.
In Still Creek, Nevada, Singh throws a canister of bees out of the disguised van he is in and leaves them to do their infectious work.  We then join Chuck in the Las Vegas Arena getting ready for the race.  Pam gives him a good luck kiss and he says "see you at the finish line.  Love ya!"  The race begins and at the back of the arena appears Singh and several masked Phenotras workers, they all have canisters of bees they smash before disappearing.

The bees get to work and soon the whole arena is full of zombies.  Pam has also been stung. Chuck wins the race, but instead of celebration, when he removes his helmet he is greeted by a scene from hell.  Rebecca gets word of what's happening and calls Frank to come join her and investigate.
Not the bees!
Chuck fights his way to his wife and daughter using a variety of improvised weapons like you do in the games themselves.  Unfortunately he is too late for Pam, who transforms into a zombie before his eyes and she bites Katey hard on the arm.  Chuck has to fight her off and strike the killing blow through her brain, much to his distress.  Katey starts to feel bad and as they leave she asks Chuck:

Katey: "What about mommmy?  Isn't she coming too?"

Chuck: "Mommy?  Oh Pam... No Katey.  Mommy is not coming with us."
Zombie Pam gets a lobotomy.
Chuck gets Katey to his van and smushes his way through the zombies.  Rebecca calls Frank who is stuck in traffic with people fleeing Vegas. Rebecca says she is at the head of the que but the military already has the city blockaded.  Frank decides to drive off-road to get to Rebecca quickly.

In Vegas, Chuck drives to a 24 hour pharmacy.  He smashes the van through the front to squish the zombies lurking outside.  Rebecca and Frank contemplate the blockade and how fast it was set-up, "like they were ready for something to happen."  In the pharmacy a hysterical Chuck finds some Zombrex and injects it in a sleepy Katey.  It temporarily does it's work and stops her turning permanently.  She perks up and he gives her a big hug while apologising to her.
Katey is temporarily saved.
Back with Frank and Rebecca the military are still being intransigent.  They swap abuse with Captain Kilgore.  He knew the special forces guy that Frank fought at the end of the first game, and he threatens to cram Frank's camera down his throat if he continues to bad mouth him.  Rebecca and Frank leave and he shows her a mysterious text he got from an unknown source.  It reads:


Frank says he has no idea who it is from.  Rebecca and Jamie set the broadcast van while Frank gets ready to snap some photos.  Rebecca says that if that text message was legit, they just "got their first big break."

Inside Vegas Chuck gets himself and Katey back in his van.  They head for Still Creek, the town that was infected earlier, and where the small prequel game "Case Zero" took place.  Director Mallon listens to Rebecca's broadcast with glee.  The death toll could be as high as a million, and she calls it their "first major harvest".  As she says to Singh, the military aren't asking any questions so "who can stop us?"  And the comic ends.
You can't stop the media!
By the standards to videogame tie-in material this is another pretty good read.  I personally really like the artwork, it has a scruffy, scratchy look I find somehow appealing and really makes the zombies look gruesome.  If you haven't played either of the games, the story would be very much lost on a casual reader.  The job of this comic is to fill in gaps and elaborate on things that were only implied in the games themselves.  It sets up how the "Terror Is Reality" format was come up with, a show run by TK where motorcyclists compete to see who can kill the most zombies unleashed in an arena with their motorbikes.  We also briefly see the zombie rights activists who are a major part of the storyline in both Dead Rising 2 games.  All in all, fun stuff if you have played either or both of the games, but as a stand alone, forget it.