Thursday, 27 October 2016

Dragonball Book 5: The Red Ribbon Army

"From now on you must blaze your own trail! You need to discipline and train yourselves" - Kamesen'nin

This is my cut n'paste intro for my end of month indulgence (if I feel like it) as I make my way through all forty-two collected volumes of the enduringly popular and influential manga Dragonball. The series used to be split into the fantasy and whimsy filled Dragonball and the more serious, sci-fi orientated strip it became after sixteen volumes known as Dragonball Z, but now the series is being released under the one "Dragonball" title again; uncut and with a spiffy new translation.  The series first ran in the famous anthology magazine "Shonen Jump" from 1984 to 1995 and was written and drawn by Akira Toriyama (It has been translated here by Mari Morimoto and adapted into English by Gerard Jones, the western publisher is Viz Media) and pretty much set the standard for the similar shonen manga and anime that came after like Bleach and Naruto.  It follows the adventures of the kindly if somewhat sheltered and simple "Son Goku" as he trains, goes on adventures and enters competitions all with the aim of making himself a stronger and better fighter.  Along the way he accrues a colourful cast of friends and rivals in a world where humans live alongside anthropomorphised animals, dinosaurs never died out and tiny capsules can contain vehicles and houses to be easily carried around.

[Note:  This manga is "unflipped" so must be read from right to left]

Previously On Dragonball:  After the hunt for the dragonballs was over, Goku parted from his new friends to go and train to become a better martial artist under the tutelage of the perverted old Kamesen'nin (Kame for short).  Joining him was a young buddist monk called Kururin and they initially had an antagonistic relationship before bonding through nearly a years worth of training.  Kame entered them in the Tenka'ichi Budokai or Strongest Under the Heavens tournament to finish their training on a high note and they easily fought their way through the qualifiers to the final eight and fought in front of the crowd which includes their friends Bulma, Puar and Oolong who are also there supporting Yamucha who has made the final eight as well.  Kame himself has also entered in disguise as "Jackie Chun" because he doesn't actually want his students to win in case it stops them wanting to improve their skills.  In book three everyone was knocked out of the competition except for Kame and Goku, and during the competition Goku's tail which got snipped off in an earlier volume, suddenly grew back.  This will be important later.  Thus began the final and an epic fight between them that we return in the middle of.  And now the continuation.
Kame's lullaby attack.
Goku keeps running rings round the increasingly frustrated Kame so he decides to bust out a big attack.  He stands and waves his arms and slowly sings a lullaby.  Goku is transfixed and falls flat on his face, fast asleep.  The announcer starts the count, but Bulma (one of his friends) in the audience has an idea and just as the count reaches nine she yells "Goku!! Dinner Time!!!!" And Goku jumps to his feet in before the count hits ten.  He scampers round looking for food but the announcer tells him he gets to eat when the match is over.

Goku knocks Kame down using his "Janken" (Rock, Paper, Scissors) attack, so Kame gets up apologises to him saying he is about to lose.  He's going to use a move that only Goku's adoptive grandfather had experienced.  He puts his hands together, draws power up until he glows then fires a stream of light at Goku and it envelops and starts to crush him with it.  It is the "Bankoku Bikkuri Shou!!!!" attack.

He demands Goku say "mercy" and he'll let him down.  Goku refuses, and gets squeezed harder.  Yamucha (another friend) shouts that "you fought well!!! Now give it up!!"  Goku listens and starts to stammer out "M... Mer..." when he looks up and sees the full moon in the sky.  And now he's got his tail back that's bad news, because if he sees a full moon now he'll transform into a mindless, destructive, giant, raging ape.  Which is indeed what happens.
A surprise ape!
He breaks out of Kame's attack easily and starts destroying the combatant's waiting area attached to the stage.  Kame doesn't know what to do because he doesn't want to forfeit the match by leaving the stage.  Kururin tries to get through to Goku, but Yamucha shouts that it's no use and that when he sees the moon this is what he becomes.  So Kame realises he only has one option.  He puffs his body up with maximum power and fires a HUGE Kamehameha blast.

When the smoke clears, the giant Goku ape is gone.  Everyone accuses Kame of killing him, but actually he blew up the moon and Goku's is back to normal though stark naked.  Goku has no memory of what happens when he transforms, a little confused he borrows Kururin's uniform so he can fight on. Goku goes back out into the ring and says he's so hungry he can't fight.  Kame says he'll be vulnerable to his last Kamehameha, but only manages a little poof of energy.  He's much weaker now.

Goku cheers, fires a kamehameha at Kame, followed by a kick which knocks him flying.  Thinking he's knocked him out of the ring he starts to celebrate but Kame managed to jam one foot into the stone edge of the ring and is still a few inches about the ground.  He climbs back in noting Goku's attacks are weaker now as well and they both size each other up for the final attack.

They then run at each other and deliver a flying kick to each other's heads.  They both sail through the air and land hard.  The announcer starts the countdown but neither of them manage to stand when the ten is reached.  But there can't be two winners, so the first one to climb to his feet, smile and say "I did so win" takes the glory of first place.
The final strikes.
Goku manages to get to his feet, smile and say "I... I d...did..." and he falls backwards completely out.  Kame makes it to his feet, grins and says "I.. did... so... win!!!" and so "Jackie Chun" becomes the official winner of this years Tenka'ichi Budokai Tournament.  But as he looks down at Goku he thinks:

Kame: "My legs are longer dear boy. And so in the end my kick struck deeper than yours.  And that is the long and short of it.  But you made me proud... No one has ever pushed the invicible old master this far before."

Goku wakes up and doesn't seem to bothered by losing "oh well" he says, then asks if he can fight Jackie Chun again when he's trained and gotten stronger.  "S.. sure" says Kame.

Kame gets his prize money of 500,000 zeni and goes into the combatant's waiting area where Kururin and Goku are wondering if Kame watched the matches like he said he would. As they leave Goku groans at how hungry he is.  In the bushes, Kame rips off the wig he was wearing and puts on his shades and hat and meets up with the others.   He tells Kururin and Goku they fought "magnificently".  He's very proud of them.  Kururin wonders if Goku might have won if he'd been less hungry.  Goka says "nah" the old guy was great.

Kame: "That's right!  As great as you may be, there will always be someone better!  There are many more warriors more powerful still!!  The way of the warrior is not so easy that you can now be satisfied with today's performance! Your true training is only now beginning!"

The boys smile in agreement.   As a reward Kame will treat all of them, including Bulma, Yamucha, Oolong and Puar to a slap up meal.  This proves to be his undoing because Goku has something else unnatural about him, his appetite.  He can easily eat enough for thirty people and does so.  The bill for the meal comes to 470,000 zeni.  Alas all the prize money gone.
It's a joke now, but his huge appetite is another clue he isn't quite of this planet.
After dinner Goku says he is going to search for the Dragonball that belonged to his grandfather.  The four star ball.  Bringing the seven Dragonballs together summons a dragon who will grant one wish per year. When a wish is made, the seven balls fly off to random parts of the planet, fortunately Bulma (a teen genius inventor) created a radar capable of finding them, and she gives it to Goku.  He packs up his stuff and summons his magic flying cloud Kinto'un and all his friends wish him a safe journey as he flies off to begin his search.

Sometime later Goku gets close to one of the balls on the radar and lands Kinto'un. However he is not the only one searching for the magic balls.  An organisation called "The Red Ribbon Army" is also looking for them and they even have dragon radar of their own although their radars aren't as sophisticated as the Bulma built one and can only give a rough idea of a balls whereabouts so a ground search has to take place.
Kinto'un and the Dragon Radar in action.
There are several squads all searching in different places, Goku has arrived where the "Silver" squad led by Colonel Silver is looking. The soldiers are hunting when Goku comes racing up, feels behind a rock and finds a ball.  Sadly it's the six star one, but he is going to hang onto it anyway. The two Red Ribbon army guys point guns at Goku to take the ball from him but he knocks one out with a contemptuous leg sweep and dodges the bullets from the second and punches him out as well.

He flies off, but one of the men calls Colonel Silver who rushes out with a bazooka and fires upon Goku.  It hits Kinto'un and the cloud dissipates and Goku falls to the ground.  Colonel Silver then demands to know how Goku can find the balls so easily and why.  Goku refuses to tell him anything so Silver takes his jacket off and gets ready to kick Goku's ass.

He charges at Goku and snatches the bundle with the ball in it.  But Goku grabs it back.  He goes to attack Goku and Goku kicks him hard in the stomach which doubles Silver over in pain. Then Goku jumps up and kicks him in the head, knocking him out cold.  Goku then goes to look in the nearby house for a capsule that might have something to fly in it (capsules are small cylinders that hold anything from a small house to a car to an aeroplane which pop into being when the tip of the capsule is pressed).
Colonel Silver is no match for Goku.
He finds some capsules and opens one and gets a robot.  The robot tells him which capsule has a plane in it and also that it can fly it.  So off they go.  We then cut to the leader of The Red Ribbon Army, Commander Red who is angry they aren't making any progress finding the Dragonballs.  Then he is shown a map with the rough locations of the balls on and that the ball Colonel Silver was searching for is heading north towards General White's area.

Commander Red yells at Colonel Silver over the phone when he finds out what happened and sentences Silver to death.  Meanwhile in the plane, it's starting to get cold.  Commander Red orders General White to take care of Goku and get the ball. The robot completely freezes up and the plane crashes into a snowy landscape.  General White's forces go out to look but a young girl drags the unconcious Goku back to her home and mother.

They wrap Goku up by the fire and he gradually comes around. She tells him he is in Jingle Village, he explains he what happened, that he was looking for Dragonballs and the Red Ribon Army attacked him.  Outside some of White's soldiers spot the drag marks in the snow and follow them.  Inside the house Goku ponders what the Red Ribbon Army want the Dragonballs for.
A quick summary of the Dragon Balls.
When Goku explains to the girl and her mum that bringing the seven balls together summons a dragon who will grant one wish, the mother says they must be plotting something evil and need a wish for it to go ahead.  The Red Ribbon Army are holding Jingle Town's mayor hostage in Muscle Tower to force the villagers to help look for the ball in this area.  Goku says as thanks for helping him, he'll go and rescue the mayor.

Then some soldiers kick open the door, so he knocks them out.  He races out to get the rest but is driven back by the cold.  So he is given some warm weather clothes to wear, then runs off to Muscle Tower ready for a fight or two.  The soldiers outside fire upon him but he uses his staff to reflect the bullets and knock them out.

White: "Ho! Not bad for a kid.  Pity he'll never be able to conquer the top of the tower... heh heh heh".

Goku walks into a room full of men.  They are no match for him though and he knocks them all out and moves up to the next floor of the tower.

That floor contains a huge man called "Full Metal Jacket".  Now he is in the warm, Goku ditches his cold weather gear so he can move more freely.  He and Goku set to, and although Goku keeps knocking him down he keeps getting back up.  Goku hits him with all his strength but Full Metal Jacket takes it and punches Goku into a wall. Goku recovers and headbutts F.M.J and again knocks him down, but he gets up and then fires a rocket at Goku from his mouth.
Versus Full Metal Jacket.
Goku dodges it and fires a huge kamehameha blast at F.M.J and blows his head off revealing wires underneath. Thinking he's killed a human, Goku says "I did a bad thing.  Um sorry".  But then F.M.J attacks sans head and knocks a surprised Goku around.  Goku says he's going to give it all he's got but F.M.J's battery runs down.  Victory to Goku.  He heads up the stairs to the fourth floor and the "formidable ninja.. Sergeant Major Purple".

This floor is a full on village, with grass and trees, houses and a pond. "There's an outside inside" says a confused Goku.  Then some knives come flying at him which he dodges and the unseen Purple taunts him that he won't even see him before he dies and hurls shurikens at Goku who dodges them too.

Goku picks up a stone and throws it in the direction the shuriken came from and hits Purple in the face, knocking him from the tree. "Beginner's luck" says Purple, Goku says it was not luck.  Purple says it must have been, a mere child couldn't have deduced his location.  Then he drops some smoke bombs and hides again.

Goku walks up and picks him out rather easily as he is hiding behind a US flag. Purple tells him to count to thirty and then try and find him.  Goku gets as far as nineteen before his lack of education causes him to turn and ask what comes next and he sees Purple about to hide under a fake rock.  He tells him to count again and tells him what comes after nineteen.

Goku counts to thirty, wanders about and spots a bamboo pipe sticking out of the water. He runs into the nearby house and grabs a kettle and pours boiling water down the pipe and Purple comes flailing out of the water.  He composes himself and says "now see what happens when you scald a ninja".
A crap ninja.
He comes running at Goku who runs at him, Purple tosses some caltrops down.  Goku picks them out of his feet and puts on wooden clogs and chases Purple laughing as he does so.  Watching over a CCTV camera, General White can only facepalm at what is going on.  And that brings this volume to a sudden end.

As per usual, this was a lot of fun.  What's interesting about Dragonball is that so much of Goku's character is meant to represent the constant striving to be better than you have been before.  Not so you can laud your achievements over others, but that you can be humble and proud of yourself for overcoming the obstacles in your way.  Goku might have lost the Tournament but he doesn't treat it as a setback or as a failure, he knew he did the best he could and most crucially, he knows he can do better.  He's the embodiment of the human need to always be the best you can be and if you aren't satisfied with that best, strive harder. That the manga always wraps these serious messages up in exciting tournaments and ever more difficult and colourful baddies is Toriyama's genius.  Many mangas have done it since, but he blazed the original trail.  The goofy sense of humour makes it a serious guilty pleasure for reading as an adult, but the art is always fantastic, full of energy, spirit and fun.  No two Toriyama designed villains look the same, and as the story blooms into full on fantasy whimsy there are some real corkers to come.  But for now it's mainly humans and the humanoid animal people of Toriyama's world versus Goku.  Guns are useless, believe in yourself and if you're lucky you'll get to make a wish at the end of your quest.  Volume six to come early next year.

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Demon Book 1: Hell's Hitman (#40, #42-49, The Demon Annual #2) PART TWO

"About to take my name in vain?  That'll bring you extra pain" - Etrigan

So, where were we?  This is the second half of my look at the first collected volume of Garth Ennis and John McCrea's run on The Demon, which took place during the 1990's.  The Demon in question is Etrigan, a "rhymer" from high up in hell's hierarchy who over a thousand years ago had his soul hitched to that of a morose fellow called Jason Blood by Merlin because reasons.  Blood has never aged since, the pay off is merely having his entire existence made a misery by Etrigan who he switches places with by saying the words "Gone, gone O form of Man. Rise the Demon Etrigan" (or varations thereof).  This allows Etrigan access to the mortal realm to deal with various villianous devils, monsters, ghouls and other evil paranormal shenanigans which he does for his own amusement.  Although in the current arc, the two angels running hell at this point in time (see The Sandman arc "Seasons Of Mist" for why) have appointed him "Hell's Hitman" giving Etrigan more legitimacy (as if he cared about that!).  He's currently teamed up with Tommy Monaghan, a human hitman with x-ray vision and telepathy and are taking on a demon called Asteroth who has just summoned Gotham's city demon, "the Gothodaemon".  This post completes that arc, then Ennis can't resist going back to his first love, which is military stuff.  How does that involve the paranormal?  You'll see (it's genius though).  And we wrap up this volume with the birth of Etrigan's child down in hell which seems to be part of another plan to ruin Jason Blood's life that has included "interfering" with Jason and his now ex-girlfriend Glenda's safe sex and getting her pregnant too.  Now we're all caught up, we can begin.

The gigantic Gothodaemon is now striding about downtown Gotham and no one notices, it fits right in.  Oh I'm being silly, mass panic ensues as well as more murder, multilation and suicide than normal as it affects everyone within range, "it holds a city full of hate inside, and everyone it touches feels a vile, persuading whisper...As some say YES."
Etrigan and Tommy
Etrigan and Tommy observe the Gothodaemon from the top of the cemetary hill.  Etrigan explains to Tommy how it is born from all the hate and fear in Gotham over the years, turning it into a city that taints the ground it's on. Tommy laconically notes:

Tommy: "Kinda interesting how much it looks like a bat, huh?"

Etrigan: "That's the kind of awkward question most folk would rather you not mention..."

Then Etrigan makes a beeline for where Asteroth is as Tommy deals with the gangsters and holy warriors he has protecting him.

Exhausted by the ritual, Asteroth staggers out of the church he was summoning in. The Gothodaemon is still wandering about, the police car that first catches up with it is told to just follow and observe.  Glenda is also following because despite everything she still loves Jason and wants to make sure he's alright as she knows he'll be mixed up in all this.
Asteroth in trouble.
Etrigan chases Asteroth back inside and Asteroth starts bricking it because he has no power left to put up a fight.  Etrigan gloats about how much fun he's going to have torturing Asteroth.  He has to bring him back down to Hell now he's the official Hitman for it, but at least he can stretch the ride out so he can have more fun and then punches him in the throat and kicks him in the balls to get started.

Etrigan stands over Asteroth's prone body and laughs, which is cut short by the Gothodaemon breaking through the roof and grabbing him.  Tommy sees this can thinks, "guess I can kiss my fifty-thou goodbye".  But he carries on wasting Asteroth's minions.  One of the warrior priests thinking Tommy is demonic too sprays him with holy water. This of course does nothing except annoy Tommy because the shirt was clean on that morning and he unloads on them.  The police arrive and the gangster coningent attack them, and get a similar, ballistic response back.

The Gothodaemon demands to know if Etrigan is trying to stop it.  Etrigan just wants to know what the Gothodaemon wants with him, that Etrigan has not yet done anything to it.  The Gothodaemon says for someone who feasts on evil and bathes in hatred, Etrigan is a "delicacy".

The Gothodaemon: "Five hundred years ago a man built his house here.  He was the first citizen of Gotham.  His wife was second.  That night he drank to celebrate and strangled her to death.  And I was born".

It says that every night the evil carried out in Gotham City trickles down to it and it bathes in it, a half millenia of hatred.  And Etrigan is "nothing" compared to that, which is an unwise thing to say to put it mildly.
Etrigan takes down the Gothodaemon.
We then get a lengthy rant by Etrigan as to why this is not the case.  Etrigan's been alive a lot longer than that, "a hundred-thousand years or more - I've not felt the need to keep score".  He was there when humans lived in caves, and has always hated those who sought salvation.

Etrigan: "In God's sweet love men can rejoice - but I ne'er heard his Blessed Voice, speak out and offer me the choice to drink his Blessed Wine... For that's my place within His game, to be cast out and get the blame, for all these mortal acts of shame.  You know what I say?  Fine."

He then unleashes his flaming breath while explaining to the Gothodaemon as it begins to disintegrate under the searing attack that he not the Gothodaemon is the "King of Hate!"  The Gothodaemon shrinks and disperses and Etrigan returns to Asteroth still lying on the church floor.  Etrigan gleefully tells him the Gothodaemon wasn't much of an opponent and now he's going to torture Asteroth all night before he returns him to hell.

Tommy has also finished off the mobsters and holy warriors, the police have arrived on the scene at this point so he shoots the guns out of their hands and makes his escape.  Dum and Dee think with Asteroth and his mob gone they can take over the Gotham crime scene, but when they bump into the police arrivals that rather puts paid to that idea.  Glenda has also found the place, she calls "Jason?" outside the church front door.  But only hears "No" from Etrigan as a response and she sadly leaves.
Asteroth humbled.
Down in hell a naked Asteroth is kneeling before Remiel and Duma.  His head is lowered, he mumbles that whatever they want to do to him, "it could never be as bad as what Etrigan did."   Remiel says that they aren't going to torture, Asteroth is an arch-fiend and belongs in hell.  But he is going to have to deal with a change in stature and start working off his sins again.  Duma hands Asteroth a mop and bucket and he shuffles off to start cleaning hell's lavatories.  Grim.

Etrigan is sitting on a rooftop talking to himself.  He expresses his joy that Glenda's pregancy is going to result in pain for her, and send Jason insane.  He then revels in his new job:

Etrigan: "It's not just Gotham now you see -  there's  whole wide world out there for me - Where I can hunt and slaughter demon strays. If there's a body count as I'm about it - even better! Come! Let's shout it! Etrigan the Demon's here to stay!" 

And that rounds off the "Hell's Hitman" arc.  Now let's move on to "Haunted Glory" which is Ennis's way of slyly getting a military story into a series about demons and magic.  It stars one of those wonderfully zany Silver Age creations, a Haunted Tank.  No really, the Haunted Tank was a WW2 Allied forces tank linked to the ghost of a Confederate general called Jeb Stuart, who Alexander the Great (!) sent to be a guardian of his two namesakes  Lieutenant Jeb Stuart and the tank he commanded, the M3 Stuart.  The comic was called G.I Combat and the Haunted Tank first appeared in it in 1961.  The comic was cancelled in 1987 and it fell into comics limbo (the General being a Confederate might have explained why people weren't in a rush to feature it) but it has had some notable appearences since then, this three part tale being one of them.

This first chapter is drawn by fill-in artists, Denis Rodier and Wayne Faucher. A quick introduction to the Haunted Tank then we join two Germans.  A younger one called Bergen and an older one called Von Raddel.  He'd been a drooling vegetable since WW2 when he was hit in the head by a bullet from a Russian soldier during a battle outside Kursk where he and his platoon of men had been ambushed and massacred.  Bergen had revived his memory and self by showing him a swastika.

Now they are going to revive Hitler's dream, although they have plenty of fascist support already in Europe, Bergen's organisation "Wotan's Fist".  Now he wants muscle that Von Raddel can supply. Von Raddel takes out a necklace with a pendant on it and suddenly the dead Nazi soldiers rise up from their battlefield graves.
Nazi zombies.
We then cut to Jeb Stuart meeting his wartime buddies in a pub near Amarillo, Texas.  They are Rick Parsons, Arch Stanton and Slim Kilkenny.  The reminisce that although their tank chalked up a huge number of kills, the ghost only spoke to Jeb and the rest of them have a hard time believing the tank was haunted.  Then Jason Blood appears and tells them he needs them.

In Limbo, General Jeb Stuart is reliving his Civil War glories to himself when Etrigan appears and tells him to come with him and "fight the war that never ends."  The revival of all the Nazi soldiers has "torn down the walls that keep Earth safe from what's below", and because magick has bought them back, magick will be needed to fight them.  The General says he knows his duty, "the haunted tank shall rise again".  And it drives itself out of the yard it had been left to rot in.

Back with Jason Blood, he tells Jeb and friends that they are needed to crew the Haunted Tank one last time.  It arrives outside much to their surprise and Jeb looks pleased to see it.  Back with the Nazi's, the zombies have been loaded into a aeroplane and they are heading for America.
The Haunted Tank and crew reunited.
Von Raddel tells Bergen how the undead Nazis were made.  They took the "brand of the Triskele - the three legged swastika - and they would be immortal".  Then they were all massacred at Kursk and Von Raddel was rendered unable to summon them back to undead life.  Bergen says "now you can build your better world."

Returning to the Haunted Tank, Jeb sees the General who vouches for Jason. They agree to crew it again, despite Jason's misgivings as to Etrigan's motives.  The Nazi plane flies into a US army base in Texas, it came in under the radar and the Americans scramble to be ready for when it lands.  It disgorges hundreds of zombies and they find their weapons useless against them.  They are massacred and Von Raddel and Bergen find tanks and lots of them.

The next chapter begins at the American Fort Cahaill.  The last of the soldiers have been killed and the Nazi zombies are crewing the tanks under Von Raddel's control. While the Haunted Tank's crew get inside, no mean feat when one is fat and the other a paraplegic, Jason demands to know from Etrigan what he wants with, "four geriatrics and an obselete tank." Etrigan says you need magic to fight magic and he can't destroy the Nazi zombies on his own.  Angrily Jason says the words and Etrigan manifests. 
Jason is unhappy as usual.
Back at Fort Cahill, Von Raddel lays out his plans after Bergen tells him of the support he has in Europe.  The plan is to take out the Americans so they won't intervene when they rise up and take control of Europe.  They will travel to Washington DC, and turn it into rubble.  With Washington DC razed, the US will become isolationist and "will not heed Europe's call for help."  He puts on a headset which connects him to all the vehicles and tells them to start moving.

Etrigan is waiting for the fuel trucks which are traveling by road while the tanks roll across the desert.

Etrigan: "' Deutchsland uber alles' eh?  We'll find out if that's true today! This might wreck their well-laid plan. This demon fights for Uncle Sam."

He sees off an attack by some of the zombies following on foot. Then we join Jeb and the gang in the Haunted Tank rattling across the desert.

They come across Etrigan and are freaked out, but The General says Etrigan is on their side.  Etrigan points out the fuel tanks to them and so they will target them first.   Between the shelling from the Haunted Tank and Etrigan's fire breath, the fuel tanks don't stand a chance and explode.

Bergen and Von Raddel are waiting at the refueling rendevous point and Von Raddel looks for them with a telescope and sees their smoking remains.  He finds a town close by they can refuel at, and also kill everyone living there because he's in a bad mood.  He spots Etrigan laughing his head off and says he can deal with him, he summons the devil folk of "infernal valhalla" and the ground opens up under Etrigan and he is pulled down. The Haunted Tank crew are on their own and only they can save the town.  "Mount up" says Jeb.
Dragged to Nazi Hell.
The General says he'll go and get Etrigan back, while they take on the Nazi zombies.  Etrigan is nailed to a giant swastika in a special "Nazi hell!".  The "Aryan Inferno" ruled by those who "preach the Gospel of Hate."  They protect those who fight under the swastika.

Back on Earth the zombie crewed tanks fire upon the Haunted Tank but all miss.   They are lined up in a neat row, and approaching them under cover of all the smoke, the Haunted Tank drives up a ledge and her crew drive it over the Nazi tanks with Jeb dropping grenades inside each one as they go blasting them apart from the inside.

Von Raddel screams at the zombies to destroy it and they fire but hit each other because zombies are pretty stupid.  Bergen stays out of the way next to the truck that is full of napalm, saying to himself "this is a nightmare."  The Haunted Tank keeps jinking and the Nazis keep missing it.
Unconventional tanktics.
Down in Nazi hell, the leader wants to know why Etrigan wars on them. They split humanity apart and make them blame each other for their weaknesses, "for what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world... and then have no one to spit upon."  Etrigan just tells them to "credit me with some bloody taste" than to ally with them.  Then the General comes to the rescue.

He fights the Nazi demons as Etrigan pulls himself free of the nails holding him. Etrigan punches they leader then grabs him by the neck and nails exactly how pathetic they are, he says they are not the Kings of Hate, because:

Etrigan: "This is the thrust behind thy ranting: 'He's brown! She's red! His eyes are slanting!' 'Thank god we're better off than her! Those foreigners are worse than curs!' ' My life's become a pile of crap  - it's that guy's fault for being black!' ' They come over here and take out jobs!' 'Of course they do you lazy slobs!' Let Etrigan show you the light:  That isn't hate... it's naught but spite".

And he rips the demon leader's head right off. Then he climbs onto the back of The General's horse and they depart Nazi hell back to the war going on in a Texas desert.
The General to the rescue.
Von Raddel spots Etrigan's back and has a tank fire on him.  Etrigan survives of course although partly torn in half.  He climbs into the napalm truck, and kicks Bergen out so hard he takes the door with him. Then he drives it into the remaining tanks and they all explode with an earth shattering kaboom.

The Haunted Tank has become stuck and the crew are staring to bail, but one is stuck and the other needs someone to carry him.  Von Raddel in the last tank bears down on them, they only have one shot, but they make it count and Von Raddel's tank is destroyed although Von Raddel is thrown clear, which allows Jeb to finish him off with the machine gun.
'Tis but a fleshwound.
They then get out of the tank at their leisure and meet up with Etrigan who congratulates them on sending the Nazi's back to hell, "and though 'tis time to end our story.  I'll never forget our haunted glory".  He tells them to hold their heads up high and they leave the Haunted Tank in the desert quickly covered up in drifting sand so no one can claim it for scrap:

Narrator: "She is old now.  She is old, torn and beaten, and she lies beneath the desert skies a thousand miles away from home.  She carried four young men to war, and all they asked of her was that she'd bring them through... and everytime she did.  Her time will come again".

Damn, it says something about Ennis's writing that he can hit me in the feels over a bloody tank!  The final chapter in the collection is a done-in-one story told in voiceover by a P.I called Joseph D. Gunn (this also is drawn by a fill-in artist called Neil Dobbyn).  He's composing a letter to someone called "Pete".  He has the "craziest" story to tell, and it started that night when he was tracking down and threatening someone for non-payment of debts.  He then spots the weird, goofy pink thing (which does seem to be actually called "Thing") going into an off-licence. 

He follows and sees it buy a couple of cigars and a bottle of Jack Daniels.  When it leaves Joe asks the person manning the counter to tell him about it and doesn't he find it odd.  The man says it's nothing compared to all the superheroes and aliens and huge demons kicking about Gotham.  Joe then follows Thing back to Jason Blood's flat.
Harry the cushion spills the beans to Joe.
He lurks outside listening and looking through the keyhole.  He hears Harry the cushion mocking Jason's moodiness and when Jason leaves to go into another room, Joe breaks in and threatens Harry into spilling everything he knows about Jason.  When he hears about the power Jason has he thinks he could make use of them somehow.

He peeks in at what Jason is doing.  There is a pentangle on the floor and Jason is looking through a magic mirror.  He sighs at the image of a pregnant Glenda and laments he can't protect her from Etrigan.  He then uses a little of his blood to bring a small imp to life. It climbs up on his shoulder and Jason commands it to follow Etrigan who is currently in hell and spy on him.  The pentangle on the floor will act as a gateway.

Joe then barges in pointing his gun at Jason.  He says Jason will work for him now which makes Jason smile in pity.  Joe advances on him saying if he doesn't he'll shoot Jason.  He is standing in the middle of the pentangle and Jason says "gate".  And it starts sucking Joe downwards, he fires a wild shot and destroys the imp on Jason's shoulder, before falling into hell proper.

He comes face-to-face with Baytor the demon of madness.  Etrigan arrives via a horned beast and is told the birth of his son is imminent but the mother, the Lady Smegma is dying.  Etrigan doesn't care about her, she was a means to an end, getting a son.  Joe follows him and hides behind a curtain in the delivery room.  Smegma says the baby is too big, she can't push it out. 
Etrigan's son is born.
Etrigan flashes his claws and threatens a demonic caesarean section.  It's not made clear if he does do that or Smegma is frightened to finally push it out, but Etrigan's son is born and Etrigan says what great pleasure he'll get from unleashing him on Earth.  He holds it up, and off panel, we don't get to see it.  Joe, unfortunately for him, does.

Joe: "It was a nightmare.  It was every disgusting thing you could imagine.  And it was changing itself all the time.   Shifting and warping, unfolding more and more gross bits from inside itself...BUt worst of all was its face ... it's awful,  terrible face... when it turned round and looked right at me."

Then suddenly Joe is transported back to Jason's flat via the pentangle.  In shock he yells at Jason "do you know what that bastard thing's done?"  Jason beseeches him to tell what he saw, but Joe just runs back to his office.

We join him as he finishes his letter to Pete.  He writes that the idea of that thing coming to Earth is more than he can take.  Etrigan is bad enough news, but his son would make life not worth living.  He signs off, takes his pistol, puts it in his mouth and blows his brains out.  The End.  And on that somewhat depressing note we come to the end of this collection.
Joe can't live with what he saw.
I'm so pleased The Demon is getting released (there's another volume to come), it's been a good year to be a Garth Ennis fan what with this coming out and the omnibus editions of The Punisher Max putting that superb series back into print.  John McCrea remains the perfect artist for rendering such grotesqueries, the two fill-in artists are OK, but it's notable how they render Etrigan as a yellow human with bat ears.  John McCrea however really makes Etrigan twisted and beastlike and a true demon to be feared.  Of course this is not a "for mature readers" so his most appalling acts have to be done off-panel and alluded to like his epic torture of Asteroth and the possible ripping of his son out of Smegma's womb and her subsequent death.  The Haunted Tank story is quite a serious treatment of a whimsical concept, Nazi zombies are definitely one type of zombie you'd never tire of killing.  Tommy continues to make his mark with his takedown of most of Asteroth's protective detail.  I have covered the series that he starred in a while ago on this blog and I mourned it's untimely death then, so getting new "Hitman" material is a real treat.  Now Etrigan has a son, is that going to be linked somehow to Jason and Glenda's kid?  And will we ever get a proper look at it?  I actually like the Lovecraftian touch of having it described without us getting to see what it is leaving us to imagine something truly appalling, especially as it's enough to drive a man to suicide when he laid eyes on him.  Anyway,  I'm looking forward to the next volume which I hope to find in my stocking this Christmas, at any rate expect a look at it early next year.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Demon Book 1: Hell's Hitman (#40, #42-49, The Demon Annual #2) PART ONE

"That's the wonderful thing about evil, you see.  There's absolutely nothing to hold you back" - Asteroth

Well this is my two-hundreth book covered for this blog so to celebrate here is some vintage Garth Ennis and a look at the first volume of his run on DC's The Demon series back in the 90's.  Ennis was in the middle of a well receieved run on Hellblazer when the opportunity to take on writing duties for a second series came up.  Unfortunately it was all superhero stuff, which folk should know by now, Ennis is no big fan of.  Then a chance to write The Demon came up, he jumped at the chance and along with artist and regular collaborator John McCrea he gave us his take on Etrigan, a demon who is bound to the soul of an immortal man called Jason Blood.  Jason Blood can summon Etrigan to take his place on Earth with the rhyme "Gone, gone O Form of Man.  Rise the demon Etrigan" and is replaced by a yellow, cat-like demon with great power who speaks entirely in rhyme.  Created by the legendary Jack Kirby, Etrigan fell into disuse until Alan Moore, as part of his general revamping of DC's magical characters in the pages of Swamp Thing, bought him back and made him popular again.  Ennis writes very positively of the impact Moore's writing of Etrigan had on him in his introduction to this collected volume and his whole run is dedicated to showing just why Etrigan should be feared and respected as he had undergone some badass decay in the Alan Grant run which came before.  We also get the introduction of Tommy Monaghan in The Demon Annual Bloodlines special.  I've covered the whole Hitman spin-off series before on this blog, but will include the recap of his introductory issue again so the rest of his appearances in this book make sense. Also as ten issues in total are collected here, I've split it into two parts which means the short "Hell's Hitman" arc will be resolved in my next post.  There are some leftover plot threads and characters from Alan Grant's run on the book, which has not been collected, but Ennis incoprorates them gracefully into the storylines rather than do a full continuity reboot.  Jason Blood/Etrigan are also now based in Gotham City, a wretched hive with opportunities for helltastic fun aplenty. So without further ado, Ennis and McCrea's The Demon (if you're wondering where issue #41 is, it was a fill-in involving neither Ennis or McCrea).

The book begins with a biker gang invading and descrating a church.  The leader, Johnny Basterson makes an offering of his soul to summon a demon called "Brandor".  Johnny convulses then reveals to his gang that Brandor is now in control of Johny's body much to their delight as this will make their gang the top one now.
Heeeere's Johnny, I mean Brandor.
Next day, Jason Blood investigates the church and finds evidence of the demon summoning, so he summons Etrigan to take his place and investigate.  Etrigan uses his magic flame to summon another demon from hell to give him information.  As he does so he remenisces about his time leading a gang down in hell.

His summoning brings forth a demon called "Rectomm", leader of an opposing gang and somewhat pissed at Etrigan for slaughtering his gang, eating his brother, fed his mother to the Hell Gerbils of Acheron and stole his girlfriend.  He calls Etrigan a "Felcher" and I can't believe Ennis managed to get that reference into a PG rated comic!

Etrigan punches him a few times and threatens him with more violence if he doesn't give up who has taken over Johnny.  We then cut to Brandor/Johnny and his gang riding through Gotham on their way to the cathedral.  On a roof is Etrigan watching:

Etrigan: "But there's hellspawn in Gotham - I must do what I can - 'cause this towns for no demon.. save Etrigan".

He goes to the cathedral where Johnny/Brandor plan on opening a gateway to hell.  Usually a holy place would be somewhere Etrigan cannot go, but because Gotham is such a faithless town he can enter.
One way to exorcise a demon.
He knows Brandor from his old gang days, and flies down and starts killing the gang members with his hands and his flame.  With them all dead, Johnny/Brandor makes a run for it on his motorbike.  He runs Etrigan down with it and makes another pass, but Etrigan recovers and grabs it, then reaches into Johnny/Brandor's mouth and pulls Brandor out:

Etrigan: "You've had your fun with your messing about.  But now it is time to get the hell out."

Etrigan then bites Brandor's head off and turns his attention to Johnny.   He blasts him with his flame, burning Johnny to a crisp while quipping, "here comes the toast rider."  Back in hell, the biker gang resign themselves to more boredom, while on Earth a grinning Etrigan walks away from the fires his flame attack caused, "don't leave priests dead and churches defiled.  Or you'll meet one who is truly wild."

Now The Demon Annual #2 and it's a Bloodlines special.  Bloodlines was DC's 1993 line wide attempt attempt to create a whole batch of XTREME '90's heroes.  As we see in this chapter, aliens feeding off people's spinal fluid accidentally trigger superpowers in a small minority of people instead of killing them.  The roster of heroes it produced was pretty lack lustre, only Tommy "Hitman" Monaghan made any kind of an impact getting his own brilliant series a few years later.  The rest of the Bloodlines heroes fell into obscurity and were bought back to be killed by Superboy Prime in Infinite Crisis.

Tommy gets his spine chomped.
Tommy is introduced waiting to perform a hit, but before he can, one of the aliens called Glonth attacks and kills his mark, then comes after Tommy and slurps his spine too.  But Tommy survives and is rushed to hospital, he awakens to find his eyes are now black pools and that he can see through people down to the skeleton and is overwhelmed by their thoughts (he later gains control of these abilities and can turn them on and off at will).

Tommy escapes the hospital and goes to his friends Pat's house to get tooled up.  He then declares himself "not Tommy, Pat.  Hitman".  But this ID is rarely used again.  He's tends to be referred to as "a hitman" rather than "the Hitman" which he later declares an embarrassing name in his next appearance in The Demon: Hell's Hitman arc and it would be dropped completely along with the red scarf he wears for his own series.

The man he was going to kill before it munched his and Tommy's spines was a mobster called Rober Dubelz. His conjoined twin sons Moe and Joe was revenge on the monster and Tommy and pit out a contract on him.  Tommy decides to crash the funeral and deal with the twins.  As he observes the guests arrive he sees Jason Blood, trying to read his mind leaves him shaken.  Glonth then crashes the wake and so does Tommy. 
Glonth vs. Etrigan
Jason switches places with Etrigan and starts to fight Glonth hurling insults at him constantly as they hit each other with cars and so on.  Tommy's battle spills over into Etrigan's and he gets knocked down, but manages to rally and kills Joe Dubelz one half of the twins before also turning on Glonth. 

Glonth now outmatched, flees, while Moe Dubelz bellows that he'll have his revenge on Tommy. Tommy and Jason Blood both leave the funeral and Tommy tries to read Jason's mind and is shocked at what he finds.

Jason Blood: "It's not always a good idea to go peering into the dark.  Sometimes you might not like what you see."

Tommy: "And sometimes, Mr. Blood.  Sometimes, you ain't got a choice."

And the Annual ends.  It's a great intro for the character of Tommy, and establishes characters and plot threads that get picked up three years later when Tommy gets his own series.

The "Hell's Hitman" arc starts next in Jason Blood's flat, on the sofa are two living cushions Harry and Katarina who are a couple (these are leftovers from Alan Grant's run).  Katarina wonders why Jason is so broody, Harry says that it's because of Etrigan.  Currently Jason is defying Etrigan's request to manifest and help him take down a demon called Asteroth.

Etrigan: "So pay the piper Jason Blood! Or I'll turn thy mind to boiling mud! I'll scream all night, and then all day - 'til for a rubber room you'll pray!"

But Jason calmly calls Etrigan's bluff saying if he drives him mad he won't be able to say the words that allow Etrigan to walk the Earth.  He doesn't want Etrigan fighting an arch-demon in Gotham because of all the collateral damage he'll cause.
Jason, the cushions and Etrigan.
Etrigan says he's "the good guy from hell".  And Jason gives in and says the words.  Katarina wonders why they work together and Harry says both have been looking to find a way to be free of each other for a long time, ever since Merlin first joined them together.  Then they smooch.

We then cut to Asteroth, a demon in a natty suit who knows Etrigan is coming now. His human right hand man draws his gun for taking on Etrigan but Asteroth has a better idea of how to deal with him, guns being useless against demons.  He orders the "commandos" to be put in position.

Etrigan in a hooded cloak, is attempting to go undercover to get information on Asteroth's whereabouts in a bar.  But everyone in the bar pulls a gun at the mention of Asteroth and the barman fires a shotgun in Etrigan's face.  Which does nothing to him.  Etrigan burns the flesh off the mans arms then tears his way through the bar.  When everyone is either dead or unconcious, he neck-lifts the barman and questions him again.

Etrigan wants to know where he is and what he is doing and why everyone was protecting his anonymity. The barman says Asteroth moved in a couple of months ago and has been undertaking some twisted killings as he established himself in the underworld.  He is located in a place on "twelfth and third", so Etrigan sets off to confront him.
Remiel and Duma.
Now, this comic takes place while Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series was still in main DC continuity and so currently Hell is being ruled by the angels "Remiel" and "Duma".  Duma doesn't speak at all.  They are watching things unfold and Remiel says Etrigan is going to make a mess of things, but this means he'll be more receptive to the offer they'll make him.  Duma says nothing.

Remiel: "By the creator! Why did I have to be exiled with him?  What was wrong with the Angel of Intriguing Converstation?  Or even the angel of amusing anecdotes? Even the Angel of Scrabble would be better than this!  But nooo I had to end up with the Angel of Silence!"

Heh.  Now we return to Etrigan who makes his assault on Asteroth's base.  But Asteroth has prepared.  There are priests and choirboys there, the priests throw sharpened crosses and holy water at Etrigan and the choir sing, bringing him pain in his head.  Asteroth masquerades as an honest businessman who has made big donations to a televangelist's church to get this holy protection.

Etrigan, stabbed by the crosses and with patches of skin melted off by the holy water, manages to blast his way out before his head gets chopped off.  On his knees outside, he says the words, "G...g..gone Oh wretched Etrigan... Take refuge now in form of man".  And he returns to hell with Jason Blood back on earth.
Holy commandos give Etrigan serious pain.
Remiel and Duma approach the somewhat angry Etrigan and say they want to give him a job. They want him to actively hunt demons and ghouls etc that are on earth.   First take down Asteroth then go after the rest, be "Hell's Hitman".  Etrigan is extremely taken with the idea, especially as it's going to make Jason Blood's life more miserable than it already is.

We then cut to Jason bidding farewell to a man called Randu, saying Etrigan's new role means he's lost all hope of ridding himself of him.  He tells Randu to take Harry and Katarina and leave, "goodbye old friend".  Now he has to inform his sort-of girlfriend Glenda, which he does via an ansaphone message, telling her to never call or come to his home again, "don't look back."
Etrigan triumphant.
As he stares miserably out of the window, he says the rhyme "No future now, in form of man... so rise triumphant, Etrigan".  Etrigan leaps from roof to roof as he gloats and says the hell's hitman job will give him carte blanche to cause as much devastation as he likes.

Etrigan: "And Asteroth fills me with mirth! He thinks he'll bring Hell on Earth? He doesn't know me very well - for I'm the one!  I'll give 'em hell!"

We then cut to Asteroth musing about how tommorrow he's going to finish the summoning of Gotham's demon, "the blackest of the city-demons" by creating the final part of the "Lodestar Daemonique" and that he will then have his "Hell on earth."

He's interupted from his reverie by the Reverend Frukker, it's his "Church of the Blessed Televangelist" Asteroth has been donating large sums to which has gained him the holy protection he used against Etrigan.

We then see Glenda trying to get in contact with Jason Blood, but instead she is faced with Etrigan.  And he has some news for her; she's pregnant.  When she and Jason slept together, although they took precautions, Etrigan intefered and now she's up the duff with Jason's kid much to Etrigan's glee as he has yet another way to make Jason's life a misery.
Glenda gets the good/bad news.
We then see him taking a group jacuzzi in hell with his fellow demons, including one readers will recognise - Baytor.  As Etrigan gloats at how he's ruining Jason's life a lady demon appears.  She is "The Lady Smegma" a triple buttocked demoness.  And she and Etrigan have been intimate as well, and she too is expecting a demon child now.

Etrigan: "For Blood is lonely, cold and hurt, as low as he can go... But, Etrigan was never one to put on half a show!  A thousand years of hate have I, a charnel rose that's bloomed... and I plan to see this man well and truly doomed!"

Back in the mortal realm Tommy Monaghan is using his mind reading skills to win at poker.  Etrigan comes calling, Etrigan wants his help in taking on Asteroth.  Tommy says he'll do it for twenty thousand dollars, which Etrigan reluctantly agrees to and they make plans to hit Asteroth the next day.

Back with Glenda and she finally gets to talk to Jason after letting herself into his flat. He tells her that he's cutting ties because of Etrigan becoming Hell's Hitman which is going to mean increased danger to those around him.  She blurts out that she's pregnant, which renders him speechless.  Then he says it makes no difference.  He can't break his link with Etrigan though he's searched everywhere for a way to do it that won't result in his real age of one thousand, one hundred and fifty-seven years suddenly catching up with him.  Even though Glenda loves him, he can't even bring himself to hold her now.
O Jason U so moody.
Tommy meanwhile is looking for some extra information on Asteroth and finds the villains Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee being menaced by a gang which he takes out.  Dum and Dee helped Asteroth get established but then he dropped them, Tommy takes them for a drink while they fill him in some more.

Etrigan is back on earth and goes to Jason's flat where Harry the cushion is back without Katarina.  Apparently she fell in love with Randu's couch, so Harry had Glenda bring him back to Jason's place.  Then Etrigan feels something in his cloak's hood and yanks out a goofy looking creature which hitched a ride back from Hell.

In Noonan's bar, Dum and Dee are telling Tommy about all the places Asteroth has had people buried in concrete with symbols scratched in the concrete afterwards.  They've been placed all over Gotham all equal distance from his base in the centre.  Tommy read their minds and finds out they want to take over once Asteroth is dealt with and they'll kill Tommy as well.  They ask to come along and help and Tommy agrees knowing to be ready for them once it's all over.
Drinking with Dee and Dum.
We then see Asteroth with a map of Gotham which he has drawn a five pointed star.  Each point is where the "sacrifices" have been contained.  His right-hand man asks who he wants for the final sacrifice and what's it all for.  Asteroth says to get anyone, it doesn't matter, and he's doing this to awaken "The Gothodemon."

Tommy, Dee and Dum investigate the site of where Asteroth had one bunch of people buried in concrete, it has weird symbols scratched in it.  Tommy uses his X-ray vision to confirm there are bodies inside, "better call The Demon" he says.

Etrigan is currently in Jason's kitchen talking with Harry the cushion, he also has the weird, goofy thing stuffed in the microwave and is repeatedly frying it (it's immortal). He's punishing it from escaping from hell via Etrigan's hood, but the thing says he wasn't supposed to be in hell in the first place. 
Asteroth practising his eeeevil act.
Etrigan then leaves and we cut to Asteroth in his demon drag, declaring "quiver mortals as I eh..?"  He's interupted by his right-hand man and quickly turns back into a man in a suit.  "Don't you ever knock?" he says petulantly.  He tells him to gather the Choir Commandos and bring them Saint Jack's cemetary, then to round up every low-life he knows for extra protection.  He's going to raise the "Gothodaemon" and after that it won't matter who knows what he is.

Meanwhile Reverend Frukker is giving mass, and lined up is Etrigan who grins and blasts all the ministers and so on standing round the Reverend.  When Frukker says this is holy ground and he shouldn't be here, Etrigan sneers a religion based on squeezing money out of it's congregation is not holy.

Then he grabs Frukker by the nose and tells him Asteroth is a demon.  Frukker doesn't believe him, Etrigan just says:

Etrigan: "If this demon's word you doubt then seek your charming buddy out... you think he's just a business boss.  See what he thinks of the Holy Cross."

He then transforms into Jason Blood and asks if this is where he makes a donation. Later Tommy over hears the right-hand man recruiting criminals to help out.  He decides to take them out and flings the right-hand man through a car window and jams a pistol in his mouth.

Tommy says nothing as the man tries desperately not to think about where the final showdown is taking place.  But the location "St. Jacks" leaks out and grimly Tommy pulls the trigger decorating the car interior with blood.
Interrogation, Hitman style.
We are then told every city has a demon.  Built on Indian bones and fed blood until it almost choked.  I wonder if the writer of Gotham By Midnight had this story in mind when it had Gotham menaced by a monster made up of the resentment of the dead of Gotham.  Very similar idea.  We are then shown a montage of people murdering others and the Gothodaemon "laps it up."

We then have a quick check-in with Jason and Glenda, she yells at him for putting on his cold self to her. Then says the baby and she will do just fine. "You know the way out" she says as she turns away.  He leaves, thinking how much he wants to say he loves her and will protect her from Etrigan, but he knows not to make promises he can't keep.

He becomes Etrigan again, who prowls the roof tops towards St. Jack's cemetary.  Already waiting there are Tommy, Dee and Dum.   Etrigan arrives and shoos Dee and Dum away, then yells at Tommy for getting drunk on the job and tries to cut the money he's going to pay him to five thousand.  "The deal was twenty" insists Tommy.

Then Frukker shows up and races towards Asteroth.  He holds up a crucifix to him and Asteroth is merely bemused.  Frukker stammers in embarassment and Asteroth leads him inside the church, then Frukker hands the crucifix to Asteroth who absently minded takes it.  And his hand and arm burst into flame.  "A-ha!" says Frukker.  "Oh-ho!" says an furious Asteroth who transforms and punches Frukker so hard it breaks his neck and kills him.
Asteroth's true nature discovered too late.
Asteroth then has him buried in concrete as the final sacrifice.  Out in the graveyard Etrigan realises his plan has gone wrong (the other holy people didn't see Asteroth transform like he wanted) and rehires Tommy who puts his fee up to thirty-thousand.  Etrigan tells him to take out the commandos and Tommy blasts them to bits with a grenande launcher.

Etrigan is pleased by this, someone runs in to tell Asteroth what has happened but he says it doesn't matter.  The final sacrifice has been accepted, "The lodestar is complete! The gate is open! Rise the Gothodemon!"  And a huge black shape rises over the church.  "Fifty-thousand!" says Tommy and here on that cliffhanger we take our leave for a while.  To be continued.
The Gothodaemon arises...
Now THIS is how you depict Etrigan.  If you suffered through my posts on the Demon Knights trades you'll recall I had a huge bone of contention with how Etrigan was portrayed.  Either a dupe of Madame Xanadu or Lucifer's butt monkey, he came across as a somewhat dim thug who's visual depiction sexed him up and made him way to human looking.  Ennis and McCrea gives us an Etrigan that loves making people's lives a misery especially Jason Blood's, here a man who's long life has been ruined by his joining with Etrigan.  McCrea's depiction is all spikes, sinewey muscle, and curling capes, and his poses are angular, awkward  and animalistic.  Etrigan's rhyming isn't as eloquent as Alan Moore's version, but I get a kick out of a more pop culturally aware Etrigan myself.  The introduction of Tommy Monaghan would of course go on to be much more important when he got a series of his own (and Etrigan guess starred in one arc), he makes a nice foil to Etrigan, able to go to places Etrigan can't and help do his dirty work for him.  Ennis handles Remiel and Duma amusingly although with respect as well and annointing Etrigan "Hell's Hitman" gives the following stories structure and goals after the intial Asteroth arc is done with, and I'll be wrapping that arc and carrying on with the rest of the collection in my next post in a few days time.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Dead Space Liberation (OGN)

"This is just not my fucking day" - John Carver

And so we come to the final comic in the Dead Space videogame exapnded universe and thanks to the failure of Dead Space 3 it's unlikely we'll be getting any more in the future.  This one takes place between Dead Space 2 and 3 and gives us background on Carver, the co-op character from Dead Space 3.  Now if you've read my previous looks at the Dead Space comics you might be expecting another moan about Dead Space 3 and how much it sucked.  But no, I changed my mind.  Didn't expect that did you?  My mistake was to treat it as a horror game, when really it's much more of an action game.  Readjust your expectations and it's actually pretty good, despite the last piece of DLC torching the franchise and rendering all of Isaac's struggles for naught.  And if you're wondering what the hell I am talking about well here's what the Dead Space franchise is all about: 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".

The first Dead Space comic was a prequel, Dead Space Salvage was set just afterwards.  Dead Space 2 (game) saw a "Black Marker" induced outbreak on a huge city complex on Titan called The Sprawl, and Dead Space 3 (game) saw an investigation into the real motivation of the markers which was to create and bring enough necromorphs together to form "Brethren Moons" which then begin attack Earth in the final moments of the Dead Space 3 post-game DLC to the horror of Isaac and Carver who thought they had saved the day at the end of the main game.  Phew, that's a lot of backstory for a series of games about space zombies, I've had to summarise a story in a couple of paragraphs that takes place across four games themselves, three comicbooks, two anime films and a novel of dubious qua-li-tee.  So lets enjoy our final visit to the franchise with this story, by the same team behind Dead Space Salvage, writer Ian Edginton and artist Christopher Shy.
John Carver.
We start on the planet Uxor and EarthGov sergeant John Carver is having an argument with his wife Damara over his commlink.  She works with the Black Marker they have there (if you're wondering why people keep making Markers despite them being the cause of space zombies, it's because they're disguised as generators of free energy as this Earth civilisation is desperate for renewable energy) when suddenly the Marker shield is pulled back.

Damara urgently calls him back and tells him to grab their son Dylan and get down to the blast shelters.  Then someone fires on the Marker, exposing it.  An EMP pulse follows.  Carver desperately tries to call into Central but gets nothing.  Then a ship that was in low orbit falls from the sky, the EMP pulse having taken them out.

Carver starts making his way to the Marker to find Damara and Dylan.  Necromorphs have started to be born and he has to fight his way through.  He makes it inside and says to himself:

Carver: "God.. if you're watching over this hell... I never asked you for anything in my life... I'm begging you now.. let them be safe."

He hears some people ahead and stops to listen.  They are Danik, a high ranking Unitologist and his minions.  They sabotaged the Marker, but the crashing spaceship wasn't in their plans.  Then over Carver's commlink comes someone slurring, "Jjjohn..." and the Unitologists here that and capture Carver.
Captured by Unitologists.
They tie him up and beat him to find out who was working on the Marker.  John manages to spit out a "Your mom" reply.  Danik is unamused and tells him minions to shoot him, but then one of them discovers who he is and that his wife is one of the scientists they are after.  This incites a rage in Carver and he manages to bust his way free and runs off to find his wife and kid.

He arrives at their quarters and sees Damara standing with his back to him, she turns and reveals she now a necromorph, as it their son Dylan.  A distraught Carver has to shoot them both.  He then puts his gun under his chin to commit suicide so he can be with them when a call comes over the commlink for Damara.
Carver's distress at killing his family.
Carver picks up the call and tells the person on the other end that Damara is dead.  The person asks if the "data stick" is still there and he says yes.  Then the voice recognises him and introduces herself as "Ellie Langford", she is with her boyfriend Captain Robert Norton, they met when they were stationed together at Haven. Damara contacted her during her Marker research:

Ellie: "She discovered that Marker tampering went way back, past Earth-Gov to the old Sovereign Colonies Administration."

Danik and his people are here to find the data she accumulated.  Her ship was in high orbit so escaped the EMP, they land and pick Carver up.  But unbeknowst to them, the Unitologists are monitoring their communications and are lying in wait.

Ellie reaches the rendevous point but Carver isn't there.   He tells her he thought they might be listening in so used her as bait.  He sees them on her flank and snipes them with a sniper rifle.  He's attacked by necromorphs but fights them off and the ship the Eudora collects him and Ellie safely.
Suddenly necromorphs.
On board with the data secure, Carver asks what it is and why did he have to shoot his wife and kid?  Norton says it's need to know only, but Ellie says he has a right to know.  Damara was working for them but couldn't tell anyone not even her husband.  As a "data archeaologist she was able able to locate, retrieve and rebuild information from countless redundant systems."
Ellie then plugs in the data stick saying maybe it's better if Carver heard it in her own words.   Damara appears on screen saying is anyone is hearing this she is most likely dead and the information must not fall into Unitologist hands.  She found evidence that pre-Earth Gov a master signal that controlled all Markers was found.

The Soveriegn government built three markers to triangulate the parent signal, then soon after purged all data from their systems about it, but she was able to repair some of it.  She found the location of the triangulation station "the Ptolemy Array" which is in the files.  She admits it's been hard keeping this secret from John, "if he knew the danger, he'd try to stop me."  But she has to do this, for their child, for all children.

Ellie says if John wants to honour her memory and avenge her, he should join up with them. He agrees and they fly to the location of the Ptolemy Array. They find it derelict with no life-signs and they board it.  Ellie manages to reboot the two-hundred year old system, John thanks her but Ellie says it was Damara who came up with the "restart protocols."
The Ptolemy array.
She starts triangulating the master signal and tells Carver his wife was a "brave and intelligent woman.  None of this would have been possible without her."  The Markers deploy and the signal triangulates.  It's too far out to "shock" (FTL travel) to.  They need to shock a beacon out first and follow that. Carver says "Keyhole station" has that facility and they leave but not before destroying the Ptolemy Array to prevent others using it.

As the ship travels to its next destination Ellie tells Norton that she has checked the data and big chunks of it are in "Marker language".

Ellie: "Without a primer we can't read them.  Robert, we need this information.  It's the largest target cache. We - "
Norton: "I know where this is going.  Save your breath.  The answer's no."

The only person who can read Marker language is Isaac Clarke, Ellie's old boyfriend.  Norton says the Unitologist  will be watching "that lunatic's" every move.  Ellie says Norton needs to get over himself.

Snippily Norton tells her to check on Carver, "that's what your into right?  Screwed up basket cases?"  He says now they have the files they don't need Carver, he has plenty of soldiers on the ship.  Ellie calls him an "asshole" and goes to find Carver.
He is sad and beating himself up about Damara and Dylan deserving someone better than him, that his inability to keep his temper meant he never got promoted and dragged her from one "shit-hole posting to another".

Carver: "I got angry, bitter for not giving them the life they deserved.  For having my boy grow up on a bleak barracks world.  For watching Damara side-line her career.  Most of all I was angry at myself for letting it happen.  I'll never see them again.  Never be able to tell them I am sorry."
Ellie comforts him as he says he'll finish what she started, it's the only thing he can do for her.

They arrive at Keyhole Station, but no one is responding to their hails.  They decide on a low impact incursion to see what's going on in there.  Inside, it turns out the place is overrun with necromorphs.  There is a mass attack, confusion and Carver sets off a grenade to take them out.
More necromorphs on Keyhole station,
Norton says they are going to go through the main access.  Carver says they should go around and Norton's plan will get them killed.  Then more necromorphs attack, and Carver says they need to do things his way. They open a door and are confronted by a huge necromorph.

Then the Eudora calls in, it is under attack from an unidentified vessel. Then a shot misses them and hits the station.  The resulting explosion seperates Norton and Carver from Ellie. She and a woman called Jennifer Santos fight off the necromorphs.  She tells Norton she'll make her way to the command room and they can meet there.
Dare to be badass Carver.
The attacking ship belongs to Danik and the Unitologists.   Danik says to keep targeting their ship while a boarding party travels to the station.  They had tagged the Eudora and the fact that it's are here means they've discovered co-ordinates.  "We move with holy purpose now" says Danik.

As Carver and Norton move through the station, Ellie calls them and says they are trapped on the hanger deck.  If Norton and Carver can get to the control deck they can activate the shock gate and she can take a sub-light flyer through it to the destination co-ordinates.  Norton and Carver are faced with another huge necromorph on the way to the control deck.  They blast it to bits and continue on their way.

They make it to Command and Control  Ellie and the others with her are in the flyer.  She has a shock beacon, when they get to Tau Voluntis (where the third game is set) she'll activate it and they can follow in the Eudora.  She tells Norton, "you're still an ass.  But I love you anyway."

On the Unitologist ship they detect the shockpoint generators cycling up. Danik says it's the "light and the way, the key to what lies beyond".

Danik: "Such a priviledge belongs to the faithful not these heretic filth.  Shoot down any ship that departs for the gate."

He's then told the station's weapons grid has just gone live and is targeting them.  All weapons fire on the Unitologist's ship.

Ellie's ship is finally prepped and after she admits to Norton that she is scared it shocks through the gateway.  The crippled Unitologist ship tries to follow, and Carver and Norton start shutting the gateway down.  They can't shut it down in time so blow the gate up instead.
Ellie departs for Tau Volantis.
The damaged Unitologist ship withdraws for now.  Carver and Norton travel back to the Eudora as the station is starting to fall apart. Back on the ship Norton says "we won".  Carver responds that Ellie is trapped on Tau Volantis, everyone on Uxor and Keyhole station are dead or worse, "how is that a victory?"
Norton says denying the Unitologists his wife's data was a victory or Uxor wouldn't have been the only world to fall. "Hundreds died to save millions" he says.  However without Damara they can't translate the Marker language, Carver asks if there is anyone else?  And Norton reluctantly says yes, a man called "Isaac Clarke".  And with that the story ends.
Isaac Clarke and a looming Marker.
And so with heavy heart I finish my final journey through the Dead Space EU.  Dead Space 3, a victim of ridiculous sales expectations sank a franchise that still had much potential and interesting stories to tell.  If you are wondering what happens next, Isaac does indeed get inviegled into joining them as they uncover the history of the Markers on Tau Volantis. Unfortunately Carver is only playable if there is two of you and so I guess I'll never be able to complete his side missions where he deals with the PTSD caused by having to shoot his wife and kid during the necromorph outbreak.  Annoying stuff.  Once again I like the artwork in this book, I run hot and cold on painted artwork, but sometimes it works for me and it does here, capturing the claustrophobic nature of the ships and the things that will come squirming out of the darkness to attack people.  I really, really hope one day the Dead Space fanchise gets resurrected.  The comics have been entertaining and have provided useful additional backstory to the games.  It seems a shame to waste a vibrant universe of bizarre monsters, religious maniacs, evil artefacts, ace female pilots and gruff soldiers but what do I know? I only, like own everything to do with this franchise, the only videogame EU in which I do so. Anyway, this comic will mean nothing to a non fan of the series (and really I commend your patience if you aren't and got this far because you're probably very confused), but for those who do like the games this is well worth a look as are the rest of the comics.  And that's it for Dead Space... for now.