Monday, 25 April 2016

The Punisher MAX Book 9: Long Cold Dark (#50-54)

"It had been thirty years since I last knew the terror of being a parent". - Frank Castle

After a gayer than usual month here at the Fop, lets check in with that poster child for heterosexual male dysfunction, good old Frank Castle to finish the month off with.  I probably shouldn't be so flippant, this is an incredibly powerful arc that finally causes Frank to seriously question why he does what he does.  It is also tremendously brutal, and although Goran Parlov's artwork is a little more "cartoony" than the grittier artists of the series before this, it still results in some grotesque and uncomfortable physical violence that's hard to look at in places. So be warned.  This story sees the return of Barracuda whose first appearance in volume five I couldn't cover because it's out of print and costs a fortune.  Briefly he's a African-American bounty killer and assassin who'll do anything for a big payday, and in their last meeting Frank injured him badly enough that he lost the use of one eye.  So in this arc he's focused on purely on revenge.  He wants to really hurt Frank and events conspire to give him the ability to actually achieve this.  Another thing one needs to bear in mind, the passage of time since the events of volume four is around a year and a half, why is this important?  You'll see.  Doing the artwork for issue #50 is legendary artist Howard Chaykin, I loved his eighties work but he is very styalised and his attempt to fit with the tone of the Punisher results in some pretty weak stuff.  Nevermind, the writing is superlative. 

We start at the home of Yorkie, a retired British soldier who we met in books two and seven. His wife is dead, he's been shot in the stomach and is bleeding out.  Barracuda is after something he can use against Frank that he knows Yorkie has.  However Yorkie tells Barracuda he is no match for Frank.

Yorkie:  "He's going to kill you...because you're a joke in spite of it all.  And he's the most dangerous man that ever walked this earth."
These words will haunt Barracuda as the book continues, but for now he shoots Yorkie dead having got what he came for.
Barracuda kills Yorkie.
Then we join Frank.  At the end of the last book, Frank had an emotionally damaged woman shoot herself in the head while raping him after she exacted vengeance on the people who betrayed her.  I like to think that shook him enough to explain his unsettled state at the beginning of this book.  He's had the dream he always dreads, not the nightmares, the happy dream.  Of a man who never served three full tours in Vietnam, nor went through the trauma there that will be elucidated upon in the final book (and the prequel to Punisher MAX, the miniseries "Born").  A man who never went to the park with his family that fateful day in 1977, who never held his dying children, who never ended up in an unwinnable war against crime. A father and grandfather. A man who is loved and who loves back, the dream is "perfect".  It's the worst dream he ever has.

We then get a few pages of pure gun porn as Frank goes out to some land he owns far away from civilisation, somewhere he could "disappear" bodies for good.  As he target shoots he contemplates how the rhythm of the shots help take his mind off his dream and he mentally gives us the history of the various guns he is using to shoot with.  The dream however is still bothering him sometime later when he hears of a meet up in a hotel of various gangland bosses looking to carve up what's left of the mafia's holdings and decides to pay them a visit.

As the criminals talk and Frank hides under the floor, they realise they have all be tricked there.  The Punisher is fearfully mentioned but it isn't Frank's doing.  Then the lfit arrives and opens and reveals Barracuda who starts killing everyone.  Suddenly Frank notices a bomb counting down next to him and he has no choice but to leap up and into the gun fire, "exactly as he wanted."
Frank doesn't see them as moral equivalents.
Frank uses one of the gangsters as a human shield and makes it out to the roof where he is knocked flat by a rigged gun.  Barracuda comes out and blasts him with enough shotgun pellets to knock him out but not kill him as they are due "a long goddamn conversation".

Later Frank comes to, shackled to a chair with Barracuda looming over him.  Barracuda says his revenge plan was initially to capture Frank and torture him, but he realised Frank wouldn't give him the satisfaction that way and it would be "a 'anticlimax".  One day he got an anonymous email from persons unknown listing "known associates of Castle".  Yorkie was one of them.

Barracuda wasn't sure how Yorkie could help him but when he paid him a visit and threatened his wife "faggot gave you up in 'bout a second homie."  Yorkie had a letter in his safe about ex-CIA Agent O'Brien (see books four and seven), who Frank had initimate relations with both times they met.  Yorkie had written to her sister to tell her O'Brien was dead.  Her sister wrote back saying O'Brien had always been fucked up and at least she was now at peace.  But did he know how to get in touch with Frank Castle?  She had something to tell him.

Barracuda leaves the room gleefully saying how long he's been waiting for this moment.  And he brings out a baby in a child seat.  A baby girl.  Frank's daughter.
Barracuda taunts Frank, telling him to beg for her life.  He holds a knife to her cheek and demands Frankbeg and plead for her, "music to my muthafuckin' ears."  All that Frank is thinking about is his murdered family calling his name.  And then we cut to him waking up in hospital, bandaged with and arm in plaster and in police restraints.

He thinks back to what happened.  In a rage he snapped the cuffs holding him and hit Barracuda very hard.  They went down punching each other and Frank bit Barracuda's cheek ripping the flesh in the process.  Barracuda stabbed him in the side and then bashed him with a chair knocking Frank out of the window and onto a passing police car.  So now he is under arrest.

He tells the policeman in charge they need to let him go, because Barracuda will cause all kinds of collateral damage coming after him.  His request is refused, the doctor then tells all the cops to leave the room.

Frank: "I didn't mention the baby.  I couldn't let them turn it into a manhunt.  I either stayed between the two of us.. or else he'd kill her."

Barracuda is at his friendly neighbourhood junkie doctors having his cheek wound seen to.  The doctor makes the unfortunate mistake of noting Barracuda got his ass kicked.  This causes Barracuda to recall Yorkie's words about him being a joke and in a rage he breaks the junkie doctor's neck.
Frank, somewhat inconvenienced.
In the hospital, the doctor tells Frank he believes him about the threat Barracuda poses to the hospital.  He unties him saying "I won't allow that to happen in my hospital."  He gives Frank a hypodermic full of sedative saying he can use it to escape.  Frank sedates him and when the cops outside come in to check what's happening he sedates another and cuffs the last one.  Then he leaves the hospital and makes it home where he passes out for a while.

Later he searches online and finds a broadcast of O'Brien's sister pleading for help in finding the kidnapped child, her name is "Sarah".  Frank realises that between him and Barracuda each will be wondering how to draw the other out.  He suits up and starts driving to O'Brien's sisters, thinking of Barracuda that he'd have the same idea and "knowing coldly certain, that he couldn't fail to get there first".
Sarah's family appeal for help.
Barracuda is on an aeroplane feeding Sarah.  He tells the curious pilot that he practically raised his little brother and sister, but one's dead and the other is a crack ho, "but what the fuck you gonna do, you know?"  The pilot asks him if the baby is his.  Barracuda scowls and says he is asking a lot of questions.  The pilot quickly changes the subject.

Frank remembers his family.  How they got him through Vietnam, "they were the only light in all that darkness."  But the real war was back home where he lived and his family showed him that in the worst possible way.  After all this time was he ready to face the parental fear all over again?

At O'Brien's sister's house, Barbara says she is going stir crazy and goes to the mall.  Frank uses this opportunity to drop a mobile phone and a note in her bag.  Barracuda is also in the area, he tells Sarah he isn't getting attached to her.  She'll live long enough to fuck her dad up real good then "you ain't gonna last no longer 'n that."
A clandestine phonecall.
Hiding in the laundery from, Barbara speaks to Frank on the phone.  She says the cops don't know he's the father as O'Brien made her swear not to tell anyone, especially not Sarah herself. Unfortunately she let slip enough information to Yorkie for Barracuda to put the pieces together.  Frank wonders is she though he might have taken her.  But Barbara says:

Barbara: "She said you were the only man on earth she believed she could really trust."

And her trust was not something she gave away lightly.  Frank says he needs her help in drawing out Barracuda, she needs to leave the house with her family, make a big scene about it and he'll confront him there.  So she does so, and the police surveillance goes with them leaving the O'Brien house empty.  That night Frank breaks in and is closely followed by Barracuda holding a baby shaped bundle in his arms.

He starts spouting threats again, but Frank calmly asks if Barracuda replied to the anonymous email sender.  When Barracuda says no, Frank thinks to himself that it means that person doesn't know about Sarah.  Thus satisfied he tells Barracuda:

Frank: "That's all I wanted to know.  I'm going to kill you now."
Would he really do it?
Barracuda glowers and puts a gun to the bundle and pulls the trigger. Frank shows no outward emotions.  His insides go light and fill with ice.  His heart stops beating.  But then he realises Barracuda wouldn't just destroy the only leverage he had over him.  They both go for their guns.

Frank: "He was bigger, younger, stronger.  It was nice to find out I was faster."

And Frank lets loose a volley that hits Barracuda in the shoulder and knocks him down. Frank stamps on his head until he knocks him out and the bundle is revealed to be a doll.  He then takes him to his car and chains him up then applies jump leads to his testicles.

Frank: "And I'd been turning the key in the ignition for fifteen minutes and he'd shit all over himself and the world was a beautiful place."

After forty-five minutes of this, he asks where Sarah is.  Barracuda manages to whisper she is in a parked car in a lot close by.  Frank forces Barracuda into the boot of the car and drives to her.  When he lays eyes on her, "if you have to ask, you'll never know."  He checks the car over and finds plastic explosive attached to her car seat and he doesn't have his bomb disposal gear with him.
Barracuda's horrible childhood relived.
Inside the car, Barracuda is having flashbacks to his father inflicting emotional and physical abuse on him as a child.  The memories are so intense and painful he manages to break the chains holding him.  He takes the weapons from Frank's car and opens fire on him. Frank is able to pick up Sarah's chair as the bomb is wired to it not the car.  He uses Barracuda's weapons to shoot back, then when he hears police sirens, he flees the scene hoping to draw Barracuda somewhere more isolated.

Frank: "And I wanted Sarah out of there.  Hearing her scream through the firefight made me sick to my guts.  Like all her terror and confusion was on me.. and in a way it was. She was precious beyond gold and I couldn't have her hurting for another second."

As he runs into the forest he reflects that in the past week she'd been kidnapped, drugged and surrounded by carnage.  "My world was an abbatoir. Everyone it touched it cut to ribbons, whether good or bad."  He starts disarming the bomb when Barracuda comes up behind him and attacks.  He kicks Frank's gun away and starts beating him with his fists, "he'd gone the kind of place you don't come back from.. this time he was the one with madness on his side."

Taking a terrible beating, Frank manages to grab a hold of the pliers he was using to disarm the explosive.  He gets hold of Barracuda's nose and rips it clean off.  Given temporary respite, Frank picks up Sara and runs into the nearby elementary school.  Delirious Barracuda flashes back to a life full of violence, from school student to soldier and he makes his way into the school.
A fleshwound!
Frank hits him with a fireaxe and severs his arm.  Then he buries the axe in Barracuda's chest knocking him down.  He picks up the machine gun Barracuda had, and as Barracuda remembers Yorkie's warning again, Frank pumps round after round into him until he is nothing but fine pink mince.  Frank picks up Sarah and thinks:

Frank: "I thought about what I'd look like through her eyes.  An animal.  A monster, standing in another's blood."

He disarms the explosive, and finds himself unable to keep his usual amotional distance.  She has bought back all his parental feelings and made him feel like a human being for the first time in a long while.

He checks himself and Sarah into a motel and reflects on O'Brien.  How in the end she couldn't stand to be in a world where bad men lived.  And maybe she didn't want to inflict her "fucked up" life on the kid.  Frank spends the day with Sarah then calls Barbara to tell her she's safe.
Just one day with his daughter.
He returns Sarah to her and reiterates she must never be told who her father is. "Lie to her.  Save her life.  Don't give her cause to contact me."  He offers money to support her, but Barbara refuses saying her sister left her well provided for.  Then she asks Frank what her sister was really like.  "She was strong and she was sad" replies Frank.  But he also remembers a morning when he watched her watching the sun rise over the desert mountains in Afghanistan where she seemed at peace.  Memories like that he tries to kill, but perhaps she can do something with them.

He drives home and he realised that no matter what kind of life he tried to build with Sarah, the Barracuda's of this world would always be out there and some thing would need to be done about them.  His war would never end.

Frank: "The sun slipped away behind me.  The last sliver seeming to pause on the horizon then succumbing to the black.  And I drove on through the shadows of America.  Through the long, cold, dark night that I've made of my life."
*inelegant blubbering*
Oh my heart, it hurts.  By that last line I had tears streaming down my face, I have never known an author so talented at building up and paying off an emotional arc than Garth Ennis.  He's deconstructs the idea of the macho man as much as he relies on the trope straight and while volume ten is a fine book in and of itself, that one finishes the story of Frank as a soldier.  This is the culmination of the story of Frank as a man locked in a hell of his own making.  Making him a father again was a stroke of genius and really uses the ability of a non-official MU canon take to bring in such massive events for a character to deal with. It says something for Ennis's incredibly humane style that even a character as revolting as Barracuda is given a tragic backstory that while it doesn't excuse what he is, allows you to find some sympathy for him amongst the violence he enables. Frank's realisation that to his daughter he must seem like a monster is a powerful one, and yet there is still a desire to connect with her as he spends one day alone with her.  But he has to take her out of his life, to protect her from him and his compulsion to exact vengeance on the world of crime.  He knows this means his life is empty without violence now and he knows he made it that way.  She represents a second chance he can never take, a future that he cannot be a part of.  And that self-knowledge is his tragedy.  The whole series was slowly putting the pieces in place for this masterpiece, what follows is more of an epilogue as you'll see next month when I finish the series off (chronologically speaking anyway).

Oh and if you're interested in checking out the Punisher MAX series, they are now being reissued as thick trades containing a couple of arcs apeice, and including "Born" in volume one as well.  This has had the knock on effect of dropping the price of one of the two arcs I was missing, so once I am done with volume ten next month, I shall jump back to volume five - "The Slavers" and hopefully volume six "Barracuda" and the prequel "Born" will similarly become available at cut price.  I hope my whining about the cost of the series helped a little in getting these reissues out. But I am probably being big headed, heh.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Saga Book 4 (#19-24) NSFW

NSFW:  Smokin' hot spider sex!

"This is the story of how my parents split up" - Hazel

Noooooooooooooo!  I don't think I have ever been more invested in a fictional couple and really, desperately want everything to go well for them than I am for the pairing of Alana and Marko.  Two aliens from either side of a war between their races, Alana is a winged female from the planet Landfall and her husband Marko is a horned male from it's moon Wreath.  They have been locked in a war for a long time and both of them were soldiers. When Marko surrended having become a pacifist he was put in Alana's custody as a P.O.W.  They bonded over the book "A Nighttime Smoke" by W. Ozwald Heist and ended up eloping and had their daughter Hazel at the start of book 1.  As both their sides wish to cover up their relationship, they have been on the run ever since in their wooden spaceship with a ghost babysitter called Izabel and Marko's mum Klara currently travelling with them.  Landfall sent the TV headed Prince Robot IV to track them down.  In turn, Wreath hired a "freelancer" called The Will, who has a giant cat who knows when you are lying, liberated a six year old sex slave he named Sophie from a brothel planet and ended up teaming up with Marko's ex, Gwendolyn.  At the climax of book 3, Alana, Marko, Hazel, Izabel and Klara were hanging out at W. Ozwald Heist's place when Prince Robot IV appeared.  Then Gwendolyn showed up as well demanding Marko heal The Will who had been stabbed by a mind controlled Sophie and who she had fallen for and in the crossfire Heist was killed and Prince Robot IV ended up with amnesia.  The final page revealed a time-skip of nearly two years as Hazel was now a toddler and so their adventures continue as Marko and Alana's relationship gets tested like it has never been before and is as ever wonderfully written by Brian K.Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples.
The Robot Princeling is born.
We start with a page showing just the incredibly dilated vagina of Prince Robot IV's wife as her TV headed child starts to emerge.  And ow, I'm told it hurts enough having a human shaped child with a round head.  Giving birth to a cone headed child?  I'd demand a C-section.  I have to assume that the Robot people have much longer pregnancies than others as she was pregnant in the previous book before  time skip confirmed by both how old Hazel is and how old Sophie is now as well.  Although it doesn't feel like Prince Robot IV was gone for that long either, and the scenes with the Robot family aren't flashbacks either.  Sorry for the tangent, it may get explained in a later volume, we shall see.

The Princess is safely delivered of a boy, the midwife calls him Prince Robot IV but the Princess says he won't be that until it is confirmed her husband is dead.  We then get a brief history of the Robot planet which orbits bith Landfall and Wreath and has allied with Landfall.  The planet is run by a royalty and mostly populated by "commoners". We are shown a new character, a janitor cleaning the floor in the palace.  He is then told by the midwife to go in and clean up the mess from the birth.

Then we cut to the two year old Hazel who is bouncing around in a park on a planet called Gardenia, an "ugly planet with gorgeous weather."  Marko is watching over her, his face swathed in bandages to hide his identity.  A Gardenian woman comes up to him and speaks in Wreathian.

Marko: "It's nice to donkey me?"

She apologises saying she is learning the language from self help tapes.  Marko admits he cheats using a translation ring.  He says he is happily married to a soldier from Wreath, "obviously".  He says he thought Gardenia was neutral in the Landfall/Wreath war  She replies that she supports them against "those winged bastards".  At this Marko gets up to leave, before he does she asks if his daughter is the "crazy one" and hands him her card saying she runs a dance studio and maybe Hazel would like to burn off some excess energy there.  Marko says "I'll think about it."
Marko's amazing disguise.
We then join Alana who has got a job working for the "Open Circuit" which is a theatre troupe whose performances are viewed remotely by VR helmet.  She is going by the name "Zipless" and is keeping the fact she is from Landfall a secret.  Someone heckles her performance in a romantic scene and she breaks character and berates him.  Another actor zaps her through the scenery for this.

After the show, the director fires her.  But relents when the set designer - an ex of Oswald Heist - called Yuma says she'll quit as well.  Alana begs saying she has a baby at home. "Then stop acting like one" says the director and gives her one last chance.

Back at the rocket ship, they have acquired a large walrus like creature which is Hazel's pet.  Alana returns home and asks if the hot water is fixed and is aghast at how much the plumber wants to charge them.  She is annoyed when she finds out Marko did the risky thing of taking Hazel to the park, which is hypocritical as she is broadcasting herself everyday albeit in diguise.

Marko: "Can we please fight about this in the morning?"

Before things can escalate, Hazel appears and demands a "squish", which is a hug between the three of them which she is in the middle off.  They oblige telling each other they love them, then we get the bombshell about them splitting up.
Lalalalala can't hear you!
We then join the amnesiac Prince Robot IV who is being graphically sexually serviced in Mama Sun's brothel.  Her assisstant is worried about letting him stay when he is clearly unwell and has a new child back home.

Mama Sun: "Nothing drives a man to new pussy faster than seeing a kid come out of the old one."

We the  join Marko being woken by Hazel.  Alana is already gone to an early morning tech rehearsal.  After Izabel discorporates due to the sun, Marko picks up the card for the dance studio which reveals the Gardenian woman to be called Ginny.

At the Open Circuit, during a salary related argument, Alana gets zapped out of a window, although she falls safely onto a mattress.  Two of her colleagues walk up saying they are "killing it" today.

Alana: "Not to be a dick, but can we please stop using battle terminology to describe us playing make-beleive?  There's an actual war happening right now."

The others speculate on her military experience, maybe she was a conscript or maybe she was a freelancer.  Alana deflects them saying "we're not soldiers, we're entertainers."  Yuma then appears and says no, "we're drug dealers."
So cynical Yuma.
She says that the Open Circuit is a pacification tool.  Alana replies that the good shows changed how she thought about things like poverty.  Yuma responds that she didn't actually go out and do anything about it did she?

Yuma: "Some art might have the power to change people, but the Circuit can only ever change the way we feel, and never for very long".

Alana asks why she is still there is she feels this way.  Yuma gleefully replies "because I adore drugs".  Ozwald tried to change the world with his words and it just got him killed.  She thinks it's better to make people blissed out, even if it is only temporary.

She is high right now and so are half the troupe.  Alana demands some drugs too and Yuma gives her a dose of something called "Fadeaway" which Alana consumes and immediately starts tripping on.
Alana on drugs.
Back with Marko, he is at the dance studio with Hazel and Ginny.  They chat and Ginny reveals that her husband is on the road most of the year working construction.  Then Hazel points at her and says "her is ugly".  Marko scolds her and apologises to Ginny saying they really have been trying to get Hazel comfortable with diversity.  Ginny is offended and asks Marko to dance with her.  He initially refuses, then agrees and when she asks his name he says he is called "Barr" (his dead father's name).

On the Robot planet, the Princess is sitting with her baby.  The janitor appears and reveals a sword concealed in his mop.  Terrified she begs him not to harm her son.  He sits down and says he would never harm a child, because he was a father once.  But his son got diarrhea and as a commoner he wasn't covered by insurance and so his son was not treated and died horribly.  The Princess apologises to him, but he rams the sword through her face killing her.  He takes the baby and tells him his name is "Dengo".
Dengo is a prick.
Dengo: "You have a very, very important job.  You're going to help every last child in the Robot Kingdom regardless of bloodline... a future king deserves more than allies.  He needs an audience."

Back with Alana, she is complaining about having to shill a crappy breakfast cereal in the show.  She chomps down some more Fadeaway.

Hazel: "Mom never talked about this stage of her life much.  She'd just say that kids don't need to know everything about their parents.  But sooner or later we all find out anyway."

Marko is round at Ginny's house along with Hazel and the walrus thing which is called "Friendo" and the are playing with Ginny's daughter "Ecca".
Hand off him Ginny.
Ginny asks if Marko's wife fought against "the wings" with him.  But Marko stays silent and looks uncomfortable.  He tells her that "Alexis" is working for the Open Circuit, he doesn't see her much and she doesn't tell him about her work either.  Ginny puts a hand on his knee and says:

Ginny: "A healthy marriage needs a few secrets right?"

Before things can get more unfortable for Marko, Hazel wets herself.  So Ginny won't see her strapped down wings, Marko takes her home, but says he'll be back tommorrow at the dance studio.

Hazel: "From the moment it is formed, a family is always under attack.  The trick is figuring out which threats to deal with first."

We then join a blood soaked Dengo with the Princeling strapped to his chest taking over a ship single handedly.  He kills the last of the crew then changes course, new heading: Gardenia.

On board the wooden rocketship, Klara is still obssessing over Oswald's books.  She hates them but reads them to pay tribute to his memory.  Then Alana arrives home and informs them she has had a raise.  She is still a bit spacey from the Fadeaway.  She goes into the bedroom and Marko grabs her saying "I need you.  Right now".  They make love while Hazel narrates that Alana told her that married sex was the best, and she shouldn't expect fireworks like in Oswald's books from her first sexual experiences.
A fitting end to a reprhensible character.
Then we return to Prince Robot IV who is snapped out of a dream of his wife and child.  He is surprised to be in a brothel and Mama Sun tells him her legal counsel informed her he should be told about the death of his wife and the kidnapping of his son.  When Prince Robot IV asks when his son was born, she says it was twenty-one days ago.  Without saying a word he blasts a hole right through her.  Her assisstant begs him not to kill him saying he can help him get to his ship.  Prince Robot IV says he knows who he needs to go and see, he needs to see his father, King Robot.

Izabel is using her illusion powers to entertain Hazel.  Klara comes in speaking Wreathian which means both translation rings are out of range.  Hazel understands her though saying she's worried about Alana and Marko.

At the Open Circuit a performance is in progress. Alana is fed a line and blanks and improvs a line instead.  The show ends and when they are alone, Yuma yells at her for using a line from one of Oswald's books and that someone might make the connection between her character and her real self.  Alana thinks she is being over cautious.  But one of the audience was the journalist investigating Alana and Marko's story before being warned off by a Freelancer and he does make the connection.

On the Robot planet Prince Robot IV meets with King Robot.  He says he will hunt Dengo down, but the King tells him no, he's already got the Royal Guard looking.  He chews the Prince out for failing to catch the "Landfall traitor" and damaging relations with Landfall because of it.  The King says he's had enough of the Prince's "increasingly hideious behaviour".

King Robot: "You were a good boy once.  We will never know where we went wrong".

He then sends the Prince to his room like he was a small child.  As the Prince leaves he bumps into Landfall Special Agent Gale, back from mopping up the Prince's mess on Sextillion.  He offers the Prince a way to find his boy, because he respected the Princess. He reveals that Landfall has had secret surveillance transponders placed in all the Robot planet's fleet so they can track the ship Dengo stole.
Prince Robot IV back home.
On Gardenia, Alana is dropped off back at the rocketship by a collegue who gives her some more drugs before taking off.  She turns and sees Marko standing behind her.

Marko: "So you do drugs now.  That's new."

Alana makes excuses, saying she does it to get through the "soul crushing job" she does to support them all.  And also, "who the fuck is Ginny?"

Marko says she is just someone teaching Hazel how to dance.  If that's the case, why has he been saying her name in his sleep demands Alana.  Marko deflects saying has she ever done drugs in front of Hazel. "So what if I have?" snaps Alana and Marko hurls the bag of groceries at her.

He is immediately contrite but the damage is done and Alana in a cold fury tells him to get the hell away.  Cringing he runs away, while Klara and Izabel look on shocked and distressed.
A Bad Thing happens.
At the Open Circuit, Dengo arrives and kills an actor and the director when they won't immediately acquiesce to his demand to put him on the Open Circuit because they don't actually physically control the broadcasts.  He points his gun at Yuma who babbles she can't give him airtime, but she can give him something more valuable instead.

With nowhere else to go, Marko goes to Ginny's house.  He explains to her that he had a fight with his wife and really wants to make it up to her.  Ginny invites him in for some tea.

Hazel: "A lot of people who came into my family's life looking like heroes ended up acting more like villains.  I wish I could say the opposite was also true, but that was pretty fucking rare".

Prince Robot IV finds the ship Dengo used and ignores the corpses but finds a dirty nappy which to his relief proves his son is alive.

Yuma meanwhile has totally sold out Marko and Alana to Dengo.  He is disbelieving that the two enemies could have procreated, but Yuma tells him exactly where to find them.  He is still unsure how their "half-breed" child could help his cause if she exists.  Yuma says that if he was able to broadcast the moment he started talking about politics, ninety percent of the audience would switch channels.  But if he talked about sex, especially the idea the war between Landfall and Wreath was a sham because they have been fucking behind the Robot Kingdom's back, that would be revolutionary.  Dengo considers this idea, then shoots her anyway, before deciding it might be worth checking the story out.
Yuma throws Alana and Co. under the bus.
Back with Alana, she tells Izabel that her father used to knock her mother around so she has zero tolerance for that sort of shit.  Izabel drily says one of her parents had the same policy regarding drugs.  Alana sulkily says she has no idea what she went through as a soldier, before Izabel points out that she is in fact dead, and do you know what she dreams about?  Her ex-girlfriend.

They loved each other, her name was "Windy" but she was into one of her planet's super judgemental religions and it eventually caused Izabel to break up with her.  Two days later Izabel stepped on a mine and the last thing she thought of before she died was that she'd never feel Windy's breath on her neck again.

Izabel: "How pathetic is that?  I needed to get blown in half before I realised what a good thing I had?  Yeah life is complicated.  But it's also fucking short."

She turns and goes back to the ship.  Alana takes another dose of Fadeaway.  At Ginny's, she and Marko almost kiss, then Marko spots Hazel's toy doll she dropped at the studio earlier.  He realises he needs to return it.  He tells Ginny she's been a good friend to him and leaves.

On the rocketship Hazel is crying for her doll.  This sets Alana off who cries she just wants things back the way they were.  Then the intruder alarm goes off and Dengo looms in the doorway and grabs Hazel before anyone can stop him.  He starts to justify himself, but Alana just says "Blast off" and the sudden G-force causes Dengo to drop Hazel.  Klara attacks him and they wrestle but Dengo gets the upper hand and holds a gun to her head.
Dengo goes after Hazel.
Back on Gardenia Marko can only stare at the sky in despair.  Then Yuma staggers up to him and says to him "I never knew what a cowards I really was".  Prince Robot IV also comes striding up and says to Marko:

Prince Robot IV: "Fucking of course.  I should have known you were behind all this."

We then return to Oswald Heist's planet, Quietus where the little mole like alien called Ghus is being questioned by female Freelancer The Brand accompanied by her dog Sweet Boy. She shows Ghus a picture of The Will and asks if he came to the planet.  Ghus says he hasn't seen him.  Then he comments that he was hoping she was looking for the people he traded Friendo to.  When he describes them The Brand says to herself, "fuck me, Alana and her 'family' were really here".  She shows Ghus a picture of The Will's ship, Ghus saw that but only a woman with horns came out of it.
Gwendolyn and Sophie.
We then cut to said lady with horns, Gwendolyn.  She is defending the now nearly eight year old Sophie as she checks through some files.  She takes all the guards out and Sophie shows her the file she has found "formula 9763, just like our snitch said."  Then one of the guards gets up and knocks Gwendolyn out, he is about to sexually assault Sophie when Lying Cat appears.  Yay, Lying Cat!

The Brand and Sweet Boy arrive where Gwendolyn parked The Will's ship.  Gwendolyn, Sophie and Lying Cat return and The Brand disarms Gwendolyn while Sweet Boy fires a tranquiliser dart at Lying Cat.  The Brand demands to know why Gwendolyn stabbed her brother. 
The Brand immediately proves to be a cool character.
Sophie says it was her that did it.  The Brand is disbelieving at first but Gwendolyn explains it was an accident, that Sophie was under the influence of a powerful hallucinagen at the time.  Sophie says they are going to fix it as well, they have the formula for a powerful healing exlixir now.  The Brand decides to take some vacation days and help them out but Sophie can't come along.

Gwendolyn says Sophie became her officially sanctioned page last year and they are staying together.  She checks the formula and says one of the ingrediants is "dragon semen" so it looks like they'll be visiting a planet called "Demimonde".  The Brand says that's where The Stalk came from and we get a lovely and not at all soul scarring image of The Will and The Stalk having sex.
You're welcome.
After briefly checking in with The Will, still in a coma and being groomed by a nurse.  We return to Quietus.  Yuma, who survived her wounds appears to Ghus and asks if he can use his empathic link with his animals to track down Friendo.  When Ghus wants to know why we end on an image of the somewhat battle scarred Prince Robot IV and Marko.

Marko: "Sir, we need your help finding our families".

And that leaves us on another massive cliffhanger.  Brian K Vaughan treads a dangerous path with ease in this volume.  By showing Alana and Marko's relationship  being tested so hard it breaks, he manages to show faults on both sides and show exactly why they are behaving the way they are. When Alana sobs she just wants things back the way they were you must agree with her.  They are imperfect people in a shitty situation who are betrayed by those close to them, something's gotta give.  But I'm glad Marko is shown actively searching for his family and teaming up with Prince Robot IV is another of those odd-couple relationships BKV likes to give us.  With our last image of Alana being her looking on in horror as Dengo holds a gun to her mother-in-law's head, I can't wait to see how that situation is resolved.  Dengo is an interesting character, he's a gigantic asshole who has done reprehensible things but you can see how the loss of his family has utterly broken him. Family is a big theme of this volume, whether it be the dysfunctional professional family of the Open Circuit, Alana and Marko's disintegrating one, Prince Robot IV's lost one, The Brand and her estranged brother or the knight and squire one of Gwendolyn, Sophie and Lying Cat we get families and familial relationships of all types.  And it's these bonds that keep the characters relatable helped no end by Fiona Staples fantastic art and Vaughan's relaxed and colloquial dialogue. Saga continues to be utterly compelling and I am actually dreading the fact I have almost caught up with series now because after volume six is released in July no doubt with another sadistic cliffhanger it'll be a long wait until the next trade.  Join me in a couple of months for volume five.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Dead Space: Salvage (OGN)

"I swear, If I make it out of this, I am blowing the goddamn whistle" - Schneider

Haven't done a videogame tie-in for a while now, truthfully finding ones worth spending money on is getting harder, but if you ignore the franchise destroying game Dead Space 3, the Dead Space stories usually delivers for me.  I covered the prequel comic to the first Dead Space game here, and this comic takes place immediately after the first game.  For a quick reminder of the plot of the main series I'll just recycle a little from my intro to the last comic: Dead Space (the first game) saw you as a space engineer called Isaac Clarke, whose ship is damaged after it receives a distress call from the "Planet Cracker" mining ship the Ishimura. He is sent aboard to repair the Ishimura and get it moving again while both investigating the disappearence of the Ishimura's crew (and the colony on the planet below) and simultaneously fending off mutated, alien zombie creatures.  It turns out those alien zombie creatures are the crew, resurrected and deformed by an alien artefact called "The Red Marker."  This Marker is also the focus of a particularly zealous religion called Unitology who worship it as a means of bringing them together in peaceful coexistence, while it actually causes madness and death to those close by, and finally brings those dead back to life as homicidal "necromorphs".  This graphic novel like the previous trade has an interesting art style this time making use of heavily painted, photographic likenesses and floating text rather than speech bubbles.  It takes a little getting used to but helps conjure up a horrific and tense atmosphere as the team of illegal miners and scavengers called "The Magpies" and the military team sent by the Earth government race to be the first to claim the Ishimura and the Marker that they believe to still be inside it.

It starts with a nightmare.  Captain Benedict Malyech of the Magpie ship "Black Beak" is dreaming of monsters.  He is woken by his second-in-command Julia Copland who informs him they have found some asteroids with valuable mineral desposits in them.  On the Magpie ship "Hunter's Moon", Captain Jessica Li is informed of the discovery by Malyech who says he'll inform the other two ships, "The Sunset" captained by Gatura Okeke and "The Liberte" captained by Bellevin.
Li and Schneider.
Li asks her second-in-command Stefan Schneider how full the "Nest" is, he says it's at 85%, the Nest is a large ring being towed by them that when they "lay eggs" in it ie: bombs, sends out a shockwave that softens the asteroids up for the mining of their resources.

Just outside the asteroid belt is a government blockade, incoming is a ship containing Defence Secretary David Chang, he is informed that the Ishimura still hasn't been located, there is "particle inteference" and as the system has been off-limits for two hundred years they have no long range scans.  Chang says he has no classified scans either and the listening post went dark weeks before.  The man he is talking to says maybe the Ishimura has been destroyed.

Chang: "Don't even think it.  The Marker was on that ship and if I leave  without it it, some teenage punk will have his feet under my desk before I even reach earth orbit."
The Magpies at work.
Inside the asteroid belt, the four captains discuss mining the asteroids and the blockade, which they don't think they'll be able to get past with the shock-ring.  They wonder about the planet Aegis VII, which had an illegal "planet-crack" performed on it, Li think this means the government won't stick around for long after they investigate it.

Schneider: "Hopefully enough to rip CEC a new asshole.  Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys."

They then get to mining, activating the shock-ring and sending out an energy pulse.  While they work, they chat.  Bellevin says the government and CEC is full of Unitologists, so "maybe Okeke and Malyech could give them the secret handshake to let us all through the barricade."  One of them retorts that the church isn't like that, then Li tells them all to shut up. "I'm already sick of your voices" she says testily.

On board the government ship, Chang is greeted by a mysterious scar-faced individual known only as an "Oracle".  The Oracle says he is permitted to intefere in military and civilian operations when they involve their priorities of "retrieval and secrecy.  Especially secrecy".

While the miners mine, they banter with each other.  Schneider hacks the comms to display a text message on everyones screen that says "Okeke + Malyech 4 Eva".  Then some strange inteference starts showing up, they activate the shock-ring again but a huge energy backblast hits it and Bellevin's ship sending it careering off towards the blockade.
The Ishimura appears.
Li sends her two crew members in small shuttle like ships to chase it down and they grab it with tethers that slows it down long enough for Li's ship to catch up and stop it drifting any further, the crew are lost however.  Li says the shock-ring has been vaporised so time to cut their losses, then Schneider says he has identified the ship that appeared with the energy wave, it's the Ishimura.

Li tells Malyech to do a flyby of the outside, while she, Schneider and Okeke go and look inside.  They scan the ship and see it is badly damaged with quarantine in place all over it.  Malyech tells them the hull is "shot to crap" and it's only good for salvage now.  Copland says they should ransom it to the CEC or Earth government.  Malyech says that wouldn't be a good idea as most of them are criminals with open warrants, they'd just be thrown in jail.  Then he spots some odd spikes sticking out of the hull.
The mysterious spikes are spotted.
Inside the others find a right old mess.  The walls are smeared with organic matter which is 70% human.  Schneider worries that they did this with the shock-ring:

Schneider: "There's been cases before.  Bad shock-points that smear the crew all over the walls... did we kill the planet-cracker's crew?"

Li says of course not, the ship hasn't supported a crew in a very long time.  They start making for the bridge, repairing malfunctioning doors as they go.

Malyech suits up and floats out of the ship to investigate the spikes.  He realises it might have something to do with his religion then he has a vision of him kneeling by the Marker and being consumed and transformed by it.  His crew reel him back in and take samples of the spikes.
Malyech hallucinates the Marker.
The others walk through the ship assessing the damage and the possibility of salvage parts of, seemingly unconcerned about the "slaughterhouse" they are travelling through.  Schneider checks his radiation detector which he sets to verbally update him automatically when the rad-count rises.

Li asks Okeke if he thinks the ship can be repaired, or is it scrap?  Okeke says "scrap" but either way it's worth a fortune to them.  They should break it down into parts while they wait for the blockade to lift, then hire another Nest and transport the bits away in secret. Schneider wonders if the Ishimura is why there is a blockade and has a bad feeling about all this.  Li says she's not going to lose a big payday because "you're freaked out."

They go to the bridge where they'll meet up with Malyech and his crew.  On the bridge they discuss what they know.  Something mysterious is happening on the planet nearby, the Ishimura and the CEC performed an illegal planet-crack, the logs are gone due to the system failures on board.  Li wonders how this ended up killing the crew.  Then Malyech appears and shows them the spikes, Okeke immediately recognises them.

Malyech: "You're looking at pieces of a holy artifact... shards from a Marker!"

He says the goverment must be there to shut the system down and cover up the existence of the Marker like they did two hundred years ago.  Li says they can ransom these to the Unitologists for big money.  Angrily Malyech slaps her, shouting "Heathen!"
Dissension in the ranks.
Li punches him out and tells someone to find the brig and put him in it to calm down for a few hours.  Copland is angry at this and yells at her not "showing your peers some respect".  Copland accompanies the man carrying Maylech to the brig as Malyech rambles about them not understanding.  They put him in the brig and as the door closes he turns and looks at Copland oddly, then says "goodbye."

Up on the bridge, Schneider has managed to extract some of what's left of the ship's records and discovered that they pulled an entire Marker off the planet. Okeke asks if it is still aboard and Schneider says "far as I can tell - yeah."  Okeke says they can't let the government get their hands on it.  Then they are alerted to the fact Copland has stolen some of the Marker fragments and is heading towards the blockade, "the bitch is going to sell us out!"

Li says they have to repair the ship so they can get a Nest to move the Marker with.  She sends Okeke and his crew to engineering to try and repair the shock-point and leaves Schneider and the others on the bridge checking for government ships.  She is going to go and see if Malyech has come to his senses.
Copland meets the Oracles.
On board the main government ship, Copland shows the fragments to Chang who takes her to The Oracles.   He leaves her with him as she says they can make a deal, right?  While The Oracle interviews her, her source vector is traced and they pin-point roughly where she came from inside the asteroid belt. 

Chang sends a small military crew to board the Ishimura and arrest the Magpies.  The Oracle finishes speaking with Copland.  He says she did the right thing coming to him.  She asks if "I get a reward or something?"  The Oracle's ring glows and she slumps forwards dead in a pool of blood, "..or something" he says dispassionately.

Inside Malyech's mind he is speaking to "Bellevin" (one of the hallmarks of being affected by the Marker is seeing and hearing dead people).  Malyech says he needs "something to make him whole."  "Bellevin" responds, "you already have it."  And Malyech transforms into a necromorph.  Up on the bridge Venschiff suddenly attacks the others in a fit of paranoia and Schneider has to knock him out.
Malyech transforms.
They get access to more of the ships logs and discover the whole colony and ship went crazy from the Marker.  Wenbo says "so it's fucking with us, too?"  But Schneider says it's odd because the Marker isn't on the ship anymore, then he looks at the fragments and realises they might be all that's left of it.  He radios down to Li about the attack and says Malyech probably won't be getting better anytime soon and also that "something big" happened aboard the ship.

Li keeps hearing something moving near her but can't see what it is.  She says they probably have about an hour before the government get there, so if they can't repair before then, they should make themselves scarce.  Then the being that was Malyech spears her through the chest with his long knife like appendages, as Schneider desperately calls her name over the comm-link.

The others decide to go and find her.  They open the bridge door and are faced with shreiking knife-tentacled death.  All but Schneider is killed by the necromorphs as he manges to fend them off him for now.  He calls Okeke and tells him to take his crew and evacuate, but the necromorphs kill them as well, only Schneider is left out of all the Magpies.
Schneider is all that's left.
Two Oracles arrive secretly onto the ship, having flown in on a stealth ship.  They aren't fazed by what they see and think that reanimation having begun will make their mysterious "job" easier.  The military crew approach the Ishimura and hail Schneider telling the Magpies to surrender.  Schneider says he knows they are after the Marker, so if they allow them to keep the ship for salvage they can have it.  Would they like to meet in the cargo to discuss it?  The military agree and pilot the ship into the bay.

The Oracles realise Schneider spoofed his transmission and is actually on the bridge.  They decide not to inform the military of this, their deaths will buy them time to reach the bridge themselves.  The soldiers disembark and scan for the Marker.  When they realise it and no one is there, they are attacked by a huge number of necromorphs.
The military are surprised by the necromorphs.
Schneider is busy killing some himself when quarantine kicks in and his little radiation detector informs him verbally of the rise in the rad-count.  Schneider then sees the Oracles approaching and their stealth ship on the monitors. As the last of the military is killed, the Oracles think that Schneider can tell them where the Marker is. 

They arrive on the bridge and can't find him, but they find more of the Marker fragments that pretty much tell them the Marker had been destroyed.  They change their priorities to finding Schneider to prevent him going public with what he knows.  Schneider has escaped the bridge quarantine by putting on an mining exo-suit and going outside the ship.

However necromorphs can survive a vacuum, and the Oracles are in hot pursuit.  Suddenly a huge necromorph rises up in front of him, but the Oracles gun it down.  "Guess they want me alive for now" thinks Schneider and he uses a hatch to go back inside the ship and heads for the shuttlebay.  Unfortunately the Oracles know the layout better than him and cut him off and they confront each other.
Schneider and the Oracles meet.
Schneider holds up his radiation detector and bluffs that he has remote piloted the shock-ring into the Ishimura's engine bay and set it for maximum blast radius.  The Oracles say he doesn't have the balls.  Schneider responds that his crew is all dead, the Marker is in bits and if they don't kill him he'll rot in jail for the rest of his life.  he literally has nothing left to lose.  He wonders why they are chasing him, not killing him.

Oracle: "We need to know what you know.  What you saw."

Schneider: "You could have just asked".

Oracle: "You don't possess the language to tell us."

Schneider says the monsters are part of it, it makes people crazy and turns them into space zombies.  The Oracle says the monsters are an unimportant side effect.  The other one says the knowledge Schneider has now, "is worth a fortune".

Schneider tries to barter the Marker fragments for his freedom when his radiation monitor pipes up about the increased rad-count and reveals his bluff.  He darts through a hatchway and shuts it on the outstretched arm of one of the Oracles severing it.  The necromorphs close in on the Oracles, "too many.  We are screwed" one of them says.
Serves you right Oracles!
Slumped on the other side is Schneider who think the same.  Then he notices the severed arm's hand is hold a gun so he uses it and fights his way to the stealth ship and pilots it out of the Ishimura.

He hails the blockade and David Chang is put through to him.  He gives him the co-ordinates to the Ishimura, "as far as I am concerned you are welcome to it."  Chang demands he stop and await an escort, but Schneider says no one has authority over him.  The stealth ship is "pretty cool" and has a small shock-point engine.  He wishes Chang luck with the Ishimura, "you'll need it" and he blasts away at uncatchable speed.  The end.
Schneider escapes in the stolen ship.
So overall this was pretty good as a piece of world building for the Dead Space universe.  Elements such as the Magpies and the Oracles haven't shown up in the games, but fit in well enough with what we know about the mythology around the Markers, the necromorphs and the government's covert attempts suppress the Unitology religion.  While Anthony Johnston's writing doesn't set things on fire, he does a good job showing how greed can lead to disastrous consequences and makes lead character Schneider likeably cynical and intelligent.  Christopher Shy's art won't be every one's cup of tea but for me I thought it had the real quality of nightmare to it, filling the ship with dank shadows to hide unspeakable horrors which is just like the first game.  If you're not madly into Dead Space then give this a miss.  But as a piece of expanded universe fiction it's of high quality by the standards of the genre and well worth a look if you have a deep interest in the franchise like I do.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Midnighter Book 1: Out (#1-7)

"These people think they don't know fear. But they don't know me" - Midnighter

OK, now regular readers might remember that I've already covered Book One of The Midnighter's Wildstorm series (a surprisingly sensitive five issues penned by Garth Ennis), but this is the DCYou Midnighter, new series, newly single and carving out a place for himself as a solo hero.  I must say when I first heard he and his lover Apollo had been split up I wondered if this was some dastardly attempt by DC to "de-gay" him.  I needn't have worried, to be frank after the incredibly chaste and angsty relationship he and Apollo had in The New 52 series Stormwatch, seeing The Midnighter hit the Scene, clubbing and dating and shagging hot blokes is really fun to read and while obviously things don't get too sexually graphic, I was surprised at how raunchy he is being allowed to be. So well done DC you finally made it into the 21st century with your portrayal of an out and proud gay man heading his own series, and you haven't even slapped a "For Mature Readers" warning on it either.  In case you're reading this and don't recall much about The Midnighter, he's a genetically enhanced human with a brain like a computer capable of analysing every possible outcome of a fight in a split second plus superhuman healing abilities.  He also enjoys his "job" perhaps a little too much, he's never happier than when he is breaking heads although he's on the side of good thankfully.

This newer version of Midnighter first appeared in the Grayson (Dick Grayson having been "outed" as Nightwing now continues his work without a secret identity) series where a new backstory that is elaborated on in this volume was given to him.  The collection begins with a sneak peak from the Nightwing/Oracle mini that was part of the Convergance crossover, where we see him defeating aliens who are transporting into human bodies.  But that's only a few pages and somewhat lacking in context so I am skipping past it to begin with the series proper, just noting that has been included if you decide to pick this trade paperback up.  Onwards.
On a date with Jason.
The story begins proper at "The God Garden".  Someone has managed to get past security, the person running the place - The Gardener - tries to defend herself but the unknown person zaps her away and says they are here to take all "these wonderful, brutal, innovative treasures."  Then we cut to Oakland where Midnighter is out on a date with a man he met via his somewhat twisted online personal.

They flirt, then Midnighter's senses tell him an attack is imminent and he tells his date to get down.  In teleport some "Modorians" who want the Modorian "traitors" hiding in the USA and the restaurant is now their hostage.  As their leader rants, Midnighter gets changed into his superhero garb and tells them:

Midnighter: "Beaming in here, you must think you're pretty great.  But I have a special computer in my head that lets me see every move you're going to make...I won the moment you spoke out of your sphinchter of a mouth".

He goes on to say by letting him talk he was given time to allow his eyes to heal and he lays a brutal beatdown on them.  One of the hostages says "awesome" as he looks on.
Midnighter in action.
We rewind a bit to Midnighter at a seedy bar called "Al's Masse".  Al asks him where Apollo is, and Midnighter says they broke up.  Al commiserates, but Midnighter says it was his idea, "he's better off."  In the present, Midnighter has used his teleportation door technology to take his date Jason to Moscow.  Then they go to his "inner sanctum".

Jason: "Can anyone gain access?"

Midnighter: "No, there's a rigorous physical examination".

Jason says his life is ridiculous, a door that can go anywhere is crazy.  Midnighter says his apartment is the hub and that apartment is grown from "undifferentiated urban cells.  Superhero housing".  Jason decides to make a move and sexy times ensue.
Fredric Wertham is spinning in his grave.
Jason wakes up the next day to find Midnighter sleeping on the floor, after a few years on the streets he never got used to beds.  As Jason makes breakfast, Midnighter says to him:

Midnighter: "I'm a fighter.  I fight for normal people but will never be one.  I'm not a hero.  Some people can't handle that."

Then he slaps a GPS/Communication patch on Jason so he can be one of his "assets", reporting to Midnighter if they see anything out of the ordinary.  Jason understandably reacts a little freaked out at being tagged and asked if his last boyfriend had this done to him.

Midnighter says no, because it was Apollo a superhuman who he clicked with right from the start.  But Apollo hated Midnighter's involvement with The Gardener and the loyalty he felt to her.  Midnighter, twisted as it is, still considers her family.  Then he is called away by her.
The God Gardener.
He finds her dying and is annoyed that he is going to have to clear up the mess of the theft from The God Garden.  But that's not all that was stolen, The Gardener had a dossier on Midnighter's life before she erased his memories and that's been taken as well.

Midnighter: "And someone walked out of here with it.  Good.  He won't be walking for long."

Back in Oakland a woman called Marina is mourning the loss of her husband.  Then a mysterious figure gives her one of the weapons from the God Garden.  He tells her "Windcrest foods" knew about the fact they might poison people with a rare exotic allergy, like her husband, but they pushed for release anyway.  "Acceptable risk" they said, now with her new weapon she can get revenge.

Back at Al's Masse, Midnighter and Al are playing pool, Midnighter says Jason friend-zoned him after the whole tagging incident.  Then he is called away again.  Marina has been given the power of the "six killing words" and is storming Windcrest foods taking out security on her way to the boardroom.  Midnighter confronts her and she knocks him out briefly with one of the words. She reaches the boardroom and stands on the table ranting at them.

Marina: "You intimidate.  You settle out of court.  But this is how I settle.  Here and now.  There are always faces at the end of your business conditions."
Marina out for revenge.
Midnighter comes around and abseils in through the boardroom window.  Then we jump forwards a day to Midnighter with a man called Matt who was the one who said "awesome" in the restaurant shoot-out.  They are in a bar in Moscow holding hands.  Some thugs come over and tell Midnighter and his "girlfriend" to leave.  Midnighter smashes them through a table.

He then tells Matt how he dealt with Marina and we return to the day before.  She tries to use one of the words on him but he has blocked his ears (by ripping his eardrums out).  He knocks her down and the Windcrest board thank him and ask him to restrain her.

He however, starts breaking their limbs saying they will pay for everyone who she hurt today's medical bills, they will seek the lightest sentence against her and they will publically accept responsibility for why this happened, "because if you don't, I'll know, and I'll bring her back."  Then he cuffs her and takes her away.
On a date with Matt.
Back in Moscow, Matt is impressed.  They go to the "Izmailovsky market".  Midnighter says he and Andrew/Apollo used to go all the time.  He likes to watch people and eat the barbecue there.  Matt says he hopes he measures up, Midnighter responds, "you can. You do.  I'm just being stupid."

Matt: "We're owning moments together.  Do them with someone before?  They're ours now.  Hostile takeover."

He goes on to say anyone not impressed by what the Midnighter means is the real idiot.  "It can lose it's lustre" says Midnighter.  We flashback to him fighting with Apollo.  He admits his civilian identity "Lucas Trent" is just something he made up, he has no knowledge of his past before The Gardener erased his memories.  Apollo is furious that he has been lying to him, but Midnighter kisses him then leaves saying he knows how this fight will end.
Fighting with Apollo.
Marina is in jail but is now one of Midnighter's assets and can talk to him.  He is in an underground carpark, she say she never saw the face of the person who gave her the technology.  Then Midnighter says he is excited and it's revealed he is surrounded by many identical attackers.  "I guess I do know when my birthday is" Midnighter says.

The beings introduce themselves as "Multiplex" and Midnighter gets ready to fight them.  Cut to a few hours earlier.  Midnighter is in a nightclub with Jason, Al and Matt.  Matt is dancing and Jason encourages him to join him, but Midnighter chickens out and stays at the bar with Al.  Al says Matt is a good guy,  and "it's good to see you back on track."  Midnighter grins.
Out clubbing.
Later he visits a woman called Mrs. Riley.  He heard her daughter had gone missing and wants to talk about "beating inventively and repeatedly the people who took her."  Mrs. Riley invites him in and tells him she never came home from school one day and the police didn't care when she reported it to them.  He reassures her he'll get her back.

He finds a human trafficker and tortures the information on who took the girl out of him.  "The Zardiis" screams the man.  The stolen God Garden technology is being used to transfer the "life force" from one body to another, powered by the "raw material" who is the girl.  Midnighter busts in and crushes them all and frees the girl who is scared of him.  Midnighter says no one will hurt her now, but "what about the old man and the costume guy?" she asks.

The costume guy turns out to be Multiplex who Midnighter destroys every body of.  He discovers the old man there as well, he begs Midnighter to leave his face intact for his grandchildren's sake.  "They already know you're a prick" retorts Midnighter and kills him.
Multiplex no match for Midnighter.
He delivers the girl back home.  He reasssures her that no one will hurt her now.  He went through the same thing as a child, kidnapped and experimented on.  "I.. didn't have a me to fight those people" he says.  She invites him in for a midnight snack but he declines saying "hopefully you'll never see me again".

Midnighter and Matt do some nearly naked cuddling.  Midnighter asks Matt if the blood still on him puts him off.  Matt says his mother was a doctor, "I don't run at the sight of blood."  Later they are dressed and standing on the top of the building.  Matt says he chose to contact Midnighter and he'd do it again.

Matt: "Think I didn't expect baggage?  You are programmed for only fighting.  You give a damn.  That's why I'm here.  Not for sugar coating.  And not everything has to be a fight."

Midnighter remembers the last time he saw Apollo.  He says to him that "I don't know how to be me without you".  He says he still loves him, he just needs time.  Apollo turns his back and leaves.  We return to Matt and Midnighter who says he wants the file on his past. 
Apollo and Midnighter's last coversation.
Matt says it doesn't matter who he was, what matters is who he is now.  Next day we join Dick Grayson doing his secret agent thing until the Midnighter shows up and gets him in a choke hold saying "it's date night".

Some drunken Russian douchebros go to a secret location to pay top price to stake a "vampire".  A being chained, starved and pleading.  When they kill it they hi-five each other and say they are heroes.  Midnighter, Grayson meet another of Midnighter's assets, a man called "Evengeny Maxsimovich Baraanok" who tells them about "Noi Akakyevich" and his "thrill-kill" club.

Later Midnighter and Grayson go into a Russian sauna where the young men are.  Midnighter wants to know who attended the "Inn of Guire Grande".  The men attack them but Midnighter and Grayson eaily beat them and they confess to having gone.  As they leave Grayson says didn't they know this already? "Not the point Dick.  It's the journey" says Midnighter.
Later that night the head vampire feeds on a homeless person.  Some more young men arrive to kill a vampire, chained to a wall and pleading for its life.  Then Grayson and Midnighter burst in and take down the guards.  The lead vampire grabs Midnighter and seperates him from Grayson.  Midnighter says he's not a real vampire, he can see the cellular enhancements.

Midnighter: "Thing is you might not be a vampire, but you can die like one".

He smashes the vampire in the head, it summons a hoard of rats that Midnighter deals with.  Grayson appears and warns Midnighter the vampire is back up and Midnighter slices it's head in half which finally takes it down.
Rescuing the "vampires".
Midnighter has a chat with a bored Marina.  He and Grayson freed the unwilling vampires.  The tech from the God Garden was able to weaponise folklore. "Humans treated with reprogrammed Martian cells, mimicking vampirism".  Grayson hoped he could reverse the process but the cells were booby trapped and the vampires all burn up.  "Sounds like you've got more work to do" says Marina.

In a Russian bar, Grayson says he managed to ping Akakyevich's nano-signature and knows where the cells were made.  We cut to Akakyevich talking to some military looking types, he says his vampires were a lure that worked perfectly, what he is really after to sell is Midnighter's computer brain, "coming soon" he says.

After a jog, Matt speaks with Midnighter over the phone.  Midnighter and Grayson are taking out some of Akakyevich's goons.  "You bought back up?" says Matt in surprise.  "He's an intern at best" responds Midnighter. Akakyevich meanwhile is down in his labs with his human/animal hybrids being tested.  He says that Midnighter and Grayson are "behnd schedule" so he uses the device from the God Garden that controls the teleportation doors to switch on but block an area round where the lab is.
Battling the beasts.
Midnighter detects it's been turned on and finds the place they can't door into.  It's an unmapped Metro station so they go to catch a train there.  Midnighter cuffs himself to Grayson to make sure he does things his way.  They get on the train then off at the unmapped stop and are greeted by the "beast battalion".

Grayson: "Look at these things.  If I die handcuffed to you I'm going to kill you."

Midnighter says these are mutated humans but have no higher brain functions anymore, "gruesome golems."  Grayson wonders why they have been sent to greet them if Akakyevich wants them to come right to him.  "It's called showing off" says Midnighter and they kill all the monsters ending with a huge "werewolf".  Then they bust down the lab door.

Akakyevich greets them and shows them the telekinesis powers he got from the God Garden.  He makes Grayson and Midnighter fly up and smash through the ceiling into the room above which breaks the cuffs.  Midnighter says he detected Akakyevich's TK implant and used his ego to get him to throw them exactly where he wanted.  He is able to disable the door block and teleports down behind Akakyevich and kicks him in the head, smashing the TK implant to bits.
Taking down Akakyevich.
Akakyevich angrily says that Midnighter is nothing to him, "just spare parts" that don't understand their market value.  Midnighter hurls a shard of glass at him, but Grayson smashes it with one of his billy clubs saying "no...killing".  A shard still lodges in Akakyevich's spine and he collapses in agony.  Midnighter interrogates him, but Akakyevich wasn't the one who stole from the God Garden, he was just a middle man.

Later in their hotel room, Grayson and Midnighter have a drink.  Midnighter says that he respects Grayson even if he doesn't like all his rules.  Grayson admits he admires the way Midnighter never gives up pursuing something he wants.  Back in the USA Matt has prepared a Thanksgiving dinner for them both.  Midnighter says it's his first one but as they tuck in an ominous helicopter hovers behind them and a sniper takes aim at their heads.

Midnighter senses the threat and throws himself on top of Matt to protect him.  Matt kisses him and says "go get them."  Midnighter leaps through the shattered window and grabs onto the helicopter which is being flown by more of Multiplex.  He murderises them, and lands the 'copter on the building roof.
More Multiplexes get taken out.
We then get a montage of Midnighter tracking down more stolen tech while the flat is remodelled.  Finally it is finished, he grew it using the same cells as his place.  But then Matt gets a phone call, someone has beaten up his father because they saw him and Midnighter together on TV and took it out on the old man.

The door to his house in a rural area, Matt calls it a "white picket death-trap".  Matt and his father Grant hug, then Grant says to Midnighter it's good to meet "the man who is making my son so happy".  Midnighter says he shouldn't have been hurt, "that's not a reality I can allow."  We then cut to Midnighter quizzing some local thuggish types who he lays a beatdown on, finally one screams they just don't know who did it.
Midnighter chats with Grant.
Midnighter returns to Grant saying he can frighten people but they can't tell him what they don't know.  And as the people who assaulted him left no forensic traces he is stumped.  Grant says he doesn't mind if Midnighter drops it.

Midnighter: "If I'm not keeping as many people safe as possible, I'm not doing my job."

Grant says as long as Grant keeps his son safe he is content.  Matt though is having a wobble, maybe Midnighter can't protect him.  Midnighter is still confused at how clean the area is:

Midnighter: "This never happened.  Something is wrong here, everything's too perfect and I can't.. I don't.. I don't know what's going to happen."

Then a bus tries to run them down.  Midnighter tells Matt to go home and jumps aboard.  He fights with the thugs and they end up melting.  They aren't real peope, "Holt-Griffin skin" from the God Garden.  "How long have I been blind?" says Midnighter to himself.  Then he returns to Grant's house and punches the old man's head off, it explodes in green gooey liquid.
Matt is horrified.  Midnighter says now he knows what to look for he can get the people who did this, and he hugs Matt.  And Matt stabs him in the chest.  He then walks away as Midnighter slumps to the floor saying "you almost had it".  He returns in costume and is revealed as the supervillain Prometheus.

Prometheus: "You want to protect people?  Be the sword for the unheard?  So self important. So confident.  Look at you now. Time for some fire".

We get some backstory on Prometheus whose parents were gangsters who were killed in a shoot out with the cops.

Prometheus: "My parents loved me.  Justice killed them.  There's no justice in that.  I had to destroy justice at the roots."

He inherited his parents money and underworld connections, when he got older he did a Batman style training tour of the world.  He became Prometheus.  He stole the God Garden techology, his body is "hardwired to learn... I can record any skill and install it in my brain".  His Holt-Griffin skin cells blind the Midnighter's enhancements, even now.  His brain can't predict him, he has the skills of the thirty best fighters in the world including Midnighter.
Prometheus explains his evil plan.
They start to fight as Prometheus rants about the hypocrisy of heroes, "killing for the 'crime' of killing."  He wound the Midnighter up and watched him run around blind.  Now he's going to "rip out your technology and use it."  Midnighter says he won't make it easy. As they continue to trade blows, Prometheus says he has Midnighters secret file downloaded in his head.  He grew the house from Midnighter's memories.  Midnighter starts to get the upperhand.

Midnighter: "All that time you spent with me.  You didn't learn when to talk and when to punch someone in the face?"
You can't keep Midnighter down.
Then he punches Prometheus so hard his helmet shatters.  Prometheus says if he kills him he'll lose the chance to find out what his past was. "Your move fighter" he says.  And Midnighter smashes him so hard either side of his head (in a double page spread I can't scan) it looks like it gives Prometheus a pretty serious brain injury as shattered memories of Midnighter fly symbolically out of his head.  "I know exactly who I am" says Midnighter to the crippled Prometheus who manages to activate a teleport and escape.

Midnighter: "Hmph... pushover.  I wouldn't have run."

And in the debris of the house he finds a photo of himself as a teenager.  Days later back in Oakland, Midnighter is hanging out with Jason.  He is distracted and Jason says he wishes he could punch Matt/Prometheus in the mouth for him. 
Jason reassures Midnighter.
Midnighter is just sad, the second time he let someone get so close to him he was stabbed in the heart literally and metaphorically.  When he says he can't trust his judgement anymore, Jason says that just makes him as imperfect as the rest of humanity.

Jason: "I've known that all along and I'm sticking with you."

Later Midnighter has a chat with Marina who is still in jail, then we see Apollo come home and find the photo of teen Midnighter framed and left on his bed.  Then we get what looks like a sneak peak of the next big storyline involving the assassin Deadshot and we wrap up this volume with Midnighter drinking at Al's.  Al commiserates with him again, Midnighter says he never saw the betrayal coming, he didn't know that was possible:

Midnighter: "But I do know one thing.  There's one thing that will never change.  I'm never done fighting".
He gets knocked down, but he gets up again.
What an enjoyable collection of issues. It really fleshes Midnighter out in a way that hasn't really happened to him before.  His sexuality is upfront and unashamed as he navigates his way through the dating and clubbing scene making friends, finding love, getting his heart broken but bouncing back, it's all good stuff.  He's always run the risk in the past as coming over as rather one-dimensional, so contrasting his "off-duty" life with his crime fighting has proved to be a good decision on the part of writer Steve Orlando who fills the book with snappy dialogue and heartfelt moments.  The art has a nice, crisp, "gritty" feel to it and stays remarkably consistent between artists Aco, Stephen Moody and Hugo Petrus, with some good use of layouts to convey Midnighter's enhanced battle senses. Also putting him back in his pre-New 52 costume was a good move, because that stupid, neo-nineties, overbusy, chin-spiked nightmare he wore in Stormwatch was just one indication of how much DC didn't seem to "get" his character then.  He doesn't need armour and spikes, his body and mind are his weapons and his simple leather coated look is a timeless classic. His new origin and the mystery behind the theft of technology from The God Garden makes for interesting reading, and his choice to sacrifice the possibilty of knowing his real past so he can take out a larger threat is powerful stuff. His gift of the photo of his teen self to Apollo is sweet, first loves can loom very large over ones emotional life no matter how many times you fall in love afterwards.  I'm glad he is still shown caring about him, but also it's nice how he's determined to pick himself up after "Matt's" betrayal and not angst about it.  Permanent happiness might still be off-limits to major DC characters but dammit, Midnighter won't stop fighting for it.  Anyway, I'm totally sold on this series I just hope it survives the 2016 DC relaunch.

[OK so I got worried and impatient and googled if it would be continuing and... Oh Son Of A Whore, it isn't. Fuck you DC! All those nice things I said about you in the intro, I take them back! Expect some angrish about the "failure" of the DCYou when I wrap things up with a hoped for volume two, and as this relaunch decision seemed to have come about before the first wave of DCYou TPB's were released I guess I should be angriest at trade waiters like myself, because obviously our patronage means nothing in either the short or long term. Feh.]