Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Punisher: Welcome Back Frank (#1-12)

"Nothing stops me.  Nothing" - Frank Castle.

Time for more Garth Ennis I think, we haven't had him on here in a while.  Now regular readers of this blog will know I covered Ennis's seminal Punisher run on the mature readers label MAX.  However that was not the first time he wrote for good old Frank Castle, he was actually hired to write a reboot of the character in the mainstream Marvelverse in the year 2000 coming off the back of his acclaimed DC Vertigo series Preacher.  The reason it's called "Welcome Back Frank" was that the Punisher had fallen into a notorious Dork Age. Frank had killed himself then an angel had brought him back to kill villains and earn his way back into Heaven using his supernatural guns.  Unlike the awesome "Franken-Castle" storyline, Angel Punisher was desgined to be a permanant change for the character but was so derided by fandom that Marvel quickly decided a rethink was needed and Ennis was brought in to return the character to his roots and make him a viable character again.  And he did this with aplomb, dealing with Frank's rejection of his Angel self and God-given mission in a few pages and then threw him into a storyline in which he takes on the worst of the New York Mafia that won back the crowd for the character and lead to Ennis being allowed free reign during the rest of his run and on Punisher MAX as well. The artists for this story are his Preacher collaborator Steve Dillon on pencils and Jimmy Palmiotti on inking duty.  As this storyline is twelve issues long I have split it into two posts. Let's crack on shall we?

We begin with Frank at a drug deal where he has killed all but one of the particpants who he holds a gun to and says "and get a haircut" too.  Then he leaves and the man excitedly recounts what happened to someone over his mobile phone which was that Frank came in all guns blazing and he's been left alive and oh he now has a tonne of money and all of the drugs enough to set them up for the rest of their lives! Then he senses Frank behind him and realizing what's about to happen, says farewell.  Frank breaks his neck, doses the cash and guns in petrol and sets it all ablaze and walkes away.
Spacker Dave and Mr. Bumpo.
Later he returns in his civilian wear to where he is living.  A small set of flats each one inhabited by a different person.  There's the massively facially pierced "Spacker Dave" who sits out on the stoop all day.  The very obese "Mr. Bumpo" and "Joan" a very timid young woman.  He says hello to all of them and returns to his rooms thinking he uses the alias John Smith"whatever works."

He ruminates that he's back to acting alone, no "Microchip" no fancy ammo, no battle-vans, no surveillance, "just the basics".  He been gone a while, "the scum in the city need a wake-up call and here it comes."  And we cut to the local morgue where the bullet ridden burned corpse of Frank's victim is having revenge sworn over him by his brother "Bobby Gnucci".  Frank enters the morgue and the coroner asks him for one hundred bucks to see the body too.  Frank stuffs him in a locker.

He enters the room and the mobsters tell him to get lost, but Frank goes for his guns, "first they do is freeze.  Like always.  So number one's a freebie."  He opens fire with his shotgun saying the rest he "pays full price for".  The bullets fly and he takes them all down finishing them off with a grenade.  He tells them he has a message, "listen".

Walking away from the scene he thinks they need to remember the terror every time they picked up the phone "because you knew I was out there".  The message is one for all scum but the Gnucci's are a good place to start.  He queues to get into the Empire State Buiding as he reflects that Sticky Eddie was the dealer who liked to choke rivals in their own blood.  Brother Bobbie was a date-rapist.  And Carlo is "Ma Gnucci's number one son."

He's been tailing him since he left a club, he can't have heard about Bobbie yet.  He's taking a woman to the one-hundreth and fourth floor, deck closed tonight apart from a select few.  Carlo slips the manager an envelope and takes a woman up there, he disables the manager and follows them.  He sneaks in telling the woman to shush.
Welcome Back Frank indeed.
Carlo turns and she's gone but the window is open. Confused he leans out and the Punisher grabs him from above  and ties him up before holding him above his head.

Frank: "I caught a glimpse of Heaven once.  The angels showed me.  The idea was I'd kill for them.  Clean up their mistakes on Earth. Eventually redeem myself.  Tried it.  Didn't like it."

And we see him pitch Carlo off the building.  He then thinks that he was taken up to see his wife and daughter and son all finally at peace.  "Then I was cast down", back into a world where rapists, psychos, perverts a brand new evil every minute spewed out as fasts as men can think them up.  The world where pitching a criminal dwarf of a skyscraper to tell the criminal scum was a sane and rational act, "the angels thought it would be Hell for me.  But they were WRONG.  Welcome back Frank says New York City".

We begin the next chapter with the police commissioner on the phone to the mayor as he demands the police turn up the heat on the Punisher reminding him that incriminating photos exist of him and the commissioner on a fact finding tour in Las Vegas.  After he signs of one of the cops says "Gnucci's must be turning up the heat."  The commissioner grumbles that putting his best men on the case will get laughed in his face, then he suddenly says "wait a minute.  Get me Soap."

Then a man called Joe, cousin to Ma Gnucci goes to a meeting in Little Italy to inform the men there that the N.Y.P.D. has been enlisted to do all they can to find the Punisher and when the cuffs go on, "one of you gentlemen will cancel The Punisher's ticket."  Listening to them discretely is Frank, having a meal with a sex worker as cover. He hands out envelopes of cash and then tells them to come back tonight and they'll have all the weapons they need.  Frank gets up to leave and tells the sex-worker to forget this ever happened.
Detective Martin Soap.
Back at the police station a down trodden looking man called Martin Soap is beng told by the Captain that his run of bad luck with cases is about to run out as he's going to be put in charge of finding and arresting The Punisher.   After the meeting he mopes about how the hell he is supposed to find The Punisher when "every cop in the department loves him."  He shown to his office by the Lieutenant whic is jammed full of files in boxes, he's told he's heading up a task force who are going to be meeting him at the crime scene.

Frank stalks his prey, which are the men handed those envelopes.  The first to die is " Harry 'Neck' Thorton".  It is said he outshot four State Troopers, "dodged a bullet.  But not thirty" as he opens up on him with his machine gun.  Then there is "Eddie Lau", expert martial artist, Frank knows a little, but his favourite is "splat fu" as he pushes Lau in front of an underground train. Then there is "Tall Joe Small".  Sniper who capped fifty guys in Desert Storm.   As he runs him over he thinks that the trouble with that was was that it wasn't Vietnam a war where "you don't fight dirty. You do things that make dirty look good."

Soap arrives at the scene of Carlo's death and meets a nervous looking man called "Buddy Plug. Most people call me Bud.  I'm the rest of the taskforce."  Soap tells him they got given the case because they don't have a hope in solvng it.  It's the Captains way of the Captain saying "you got it boss and drop dead to the commissioner simultaneously".  He says well it can't get any worse.  Then Bud reveals he's not a cop he's a "Behavioural Psychologist."
Back at Frank's place, Joan presents him with a plate of cookies saying she baked too many and didn't want them to go to waste.  Frank thinks if he takes them she might come back and want to talk.  He doesn't take them and she has a nervous breakdown on the spot.  So he takes them.   As he sits sharpening his knife he eats one and thinks they are actually pretty good cookies.  He leaves going past Mr. Bumpo getting several pizza's delivered and Spacker Dave out on the stoop.

It's ten-thirty and Joe is waiting for the three now deceased hitmen to come.  Joe looks out his side windown grumbling about how unproffesional they are as Frank dispatches the man in the driver's seat next to him.  Joe looks back round and is rendered speechless on seeing him sat there.  He tells Joe to lose the piece and to put his boss on speaker phone.  Ma Gnucci picks up and asks who the hell it is and Joe stutters it's him and The Punisher.

Frank tells her that he thought he let her know his plan so she could plan her funeral in advance, "I got your sons.  I got your killers.  Now I've got your "man-behind-the-man".  Or the "man-behind-the-hag in your case". Then he tells Joe to get out of the car currently speeding down the freeway.  Joe wails that he will die, he's got to gve him a chance.  Frank points a gun at his head so Joe tumbles out of the car, survives the initial impact on the road, but is then run over by an eighteen-wheeler.

Frank notes that Ma Gnucci is screaming blue murder now.  He'll take the guns for himself and ditch the limo in the Hudson river, "almost the end of a rich, full day."  We then cut to a young Catholic priest taking a confession from a gangbanger who tells him all sorts of sordid things.  In a rage he grabs an axe and chops the gangbanger to bits in the Confessional yelling that he'll absolve him all right. When he is done he snaps out of it and says "Oh God forgive me.  I've done it again".
Hector Redondo does his thing.
Next chapter begins with Frank deciding he needs to thin out the army Ma Gnucci has around her.  He goes to a wiseguy bar and shoots the cars parked outside.  When the Gnucci soldiers come rushing out they get what's left in the belt of his assault rifle. Then he unleashes a flame thrower and burns some more.  He then runs saying the flamer is lousy for a prolonged firefight, to much of  a risk in it taking a bullet to the tank.  But he runs into a building and those following see the lift go down.  They race down the stairs to catch The Punisher and open fire as the lift opens, which only has the flamer in it and the die in a firey explosion.  "That's my boys" thinks The Punisher.

Back with Soap, he is reading Bud's psychological profile of The Punisher which is full of the usual psychobabble.  Soap says to him,"don't take this the wrong way Bud... but what does all this actually mean?"  Bud says he thought it would help understand his motives.  Soap says they know his motives, "he kills criminals because he hates them. It's not exactly brain surgery"  He wants more on his methods so Bud should look into that in finding where he'll strike next.  And he leaves the office with an upset Bud left behind.

Cut to the priest.  His name is Hector Redondo and a daft old woman with poor eyesight comes in to clean the church even though it's the wrong say.  She sees the blood and thinks Hector spilled the communion wine and despite Hector telling her she's here on the wrong day she is mostly deaf too and gets to work cleaning up.

Frank returns him, greets Spacker Dave, see's Mr. Bumpo getting a new toilet delivered and tells Joan he liked the cookies.  Inside his rooms he thinks about Ma Gnucci's brother standing trial tommorrow, this time for a crime he didn't do.  He has the slickest defence lawyers in the city and we see a newspaper telling us it's Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson on his case.  He wants Dino dead before Ma Gnucci because Dino would "bathe New York in blood."  So his real problem now is Matt Murdock and "the Guardian Angel that follows him everywhere".

Back with Soap, he returns to his office and finds Bud has committed suicide by hanging himself from the ceiling using his tie. The Punisher is waiting on a roof close to the jail. Apparently Murdock made mincemeat of the prosecution.  Dino is on his way back to the jail in an unmarked car.  He arrives in seven minutes and dies in ten.  He realises as one of Daredevil's billy clubs bounces off the wall next to him that he'll need every second.
heh heh heh "fap".
Daredevil asks if he ever stops.  He knows Dino Gnucci is a monster but he should fall according to the law and not shot down like a street dog.  Frank says he knows these speeches of his by heart. So Daredevil jumps down and starts pummeling him.  Frank thinks that he's giving him the first round which is easy because in a straight fight he never stands a chance against him.

He thinks that Daredevil is not the enemy but he's sick of his self righteousness and he deserves "a wake up call".  He rigged an ultrasonic device an hour ago and it goes off overwhelming Daredevil's supersenses.  Frank then punches him out.  Daredevil wakes chained securely to a post and a gun taped to his hand.

Frank: "One bullet.  One shot.  Once chance to stop me killing Dino Gnucci. It's time for that choice you were telling me about."

He's got his back to him and he's wearing kevlar, so it'll have to be a headshot.  If he doesn't shoot he has a death he could have prevented on his conscience.  If he does shoot he's a killer. 

Daredevil asks what kind of choice is that?  Frank says "the one I make every time I pull the trigger." Dardevil says he won't kill him.  Dino Gnucci is a dead man then says Frank.  Daredevil begs him saying Dino deserves to be taken off the street for something he's done.  We have laws otherwise the society they have built is completely worthless. "The thought of Dino living one more minute is enough to drive me insane" responds Frank.  Daredevil cocks the hammer, "that's the spirit" says Frank.
Daredevil given an impossible choice for him.
Daredevil keeps begging Frank to not put him in this position but Frank starts commentating on Dino getting out of the car. Finally Daredevil says "God forgive me" and pulls the trigger  But the firing pin had been removed.  Frank assassinates Dino then punches Daredevil out saying the chains will be gone when he wakes up.  The chapter ends with Hector praying to God for guidance to help him with his psycotic episodes.  Then another gangbanger walks in saying he has some "real bad sins" he wants to confesss to and Hector's face contorts in rage saying "of course my son.  For I am The Holy."

The next chapter starts with Soap's captain reading out Buds suicide note that all his life he felt rejection all his life in many forms and Soap's was the last straw.  "Jeez Soap" laughs the Captain, "what did you say to this guy?"

Cut to Frank taking a bullet to the side, ribs and shoulder thinking "that's the sound of my luck running out".  He was scoping out Ma Gnucci, getting a look at her security teams, he wasn't even going to hit her tonight.   But he was discovered and he only has a forty-five and the man who saw him had a sub-machine gun, "my night goes downhill from there."
Ma Gnucci.
Ma Gnucci gets out of her car and orders her men to kill him, "he killed my sons!  he killed my brother!  I want his head!". Three armed men follow the trail of blood into the closed Central Park zoo. Frank hides thinkng the shot to his ribs is the killer.  He realises he's going to have to use what's to hand to kill them and it's the one who made him who walks through the door.  Frank leaps out quickly grabs him and upends him into a tank full of pirahnas. Who start to tuck in.

When the other two men come in first thing they see is the stripped, bloody skeleton of their comrade.  Frank goes deeper into the zoo and finds a snake which he gets to squeeze the life out of one of the other men.  Ma Gnucci catches up demanding to know what they are up to.

Back at the precinct a Lieutenant called Molly Richthofen pokes her head around Soap's door telling him to call her Molly, "I'm the first piece of luck you've had all day."  She lights a cigarette and says he's the departments biggest loser and she's it's biggest embarrassment, "want to prove everybody wrong, crack both cases and then take over the world?" 
Molly, meet Soap.
Soap asks about the whole "biggest embarressment" thing.  She says she refused to sleep with the commissioner which she said at a press conference when the mic was still on.  As a special thankyou he's assigned her to take down the Gnucci family. Which is a farce as half of city hall and the department are in bed with them.  She is a taskforce of one.  And as the Punisher is working his way through them, they should team up.

We return to Frank, he thinks that he has to close this down soon as he's lost too much blood and the cops will be here soon.   He climbs into the polar bear enclosure taking another hit as he does so.  He looks around at something he can use as a weapon and spies the bears themselves.  One wakes up and he punches it hard in the face then quickly climbs out to escape the now enraged bear.  Ma Gnucci and the final goon have climbed in after him and the bears turn on them.  Frank looks back to enjoy the sight of them getting ripped apart, "oh yes.  It's one of the greats."  Then he scarpers as he hears sirens in the distance.

Hector is burying another murdered gangbanger and prays to God again saying God has forsaken him, he could have fought ths madness with His strength but He ignored him and now several people are dead by his hand. Hector asks for anything that could be taken as a sign of what to do now.  A newspaper then blows in his face with a headline about The Punisher and Hector takes that as the sign he needs, "now I see.  I am no longer alone."

The chapter ends with Molly and Soap arriving at the Central Park carnage site.  Molly thinks that it looks like her problems are all over. "So much for the titanic team-up" says Soap.  But then they see someone being taken away in an ambulance.  The cop there says the three creeps are dead, "Ma Gnucci is still alive."
The somewhat diminished Ma Gnucci.
We cut to ten days later.  Ma Gnucci is back home minus arm and legs and hair.  One cousin asks how she is doing and she orders him shot in the head for asking a stupid question.  When the man queries this she asks a second man to shoot both of them in the head. When they won't she demands a third man to kill all of them, and despite their pleas, he does so.

Ma Gnucci: "Ten days ago I was fed to a pack of polar bears.  Anyone doubting I mean what I say would do well to remember that.  Clean up this mess and let's get down to business."

Her goons tell her that finding The Punisher has always been impossible.  So she puts a ten million dollar bounty on his head.

Back at Frank's home, Mr. Bumpo is being taken to hospital via a hole in the wall as he had a coronary and they couldn't get him out through the door.  He tells Bumpo to take it easy and returns to his rooms.  He's been recovering from the bullets that hit him.  But tonight he's going looking for trouble.  Ma Gnucci living was a shock, "old witch is blessed by the devil himself."  Then there is a knock on the door.  He holds a gun behind his back but it's only Joan saying she baked too many pies.

Molly and Soap go to a bar called "Lucky's".  He says it's nice and quiet and the food's cheap. Molly says that her guess will be that Ma Gnucci will hole up while her people hunt The Punisher.  She'll be hoping they get to him before he gets to her.  So if the stake out her place they can be there on the spot when The Punisher shows.  They sit back, watch the massacre and step in and rest whatever is leftover.  She asks if Soap is in or out with this plan?

Before we see his answer we're back with Hector murdering another confessor.  The mostly blind and deaf old woman comes to do the cleaning and Hector tells her outright he killed the man for beating his wife and taking cocaine.  She doesn't register that and goes to clean up. Hector smiles and thanks God for showing him The Punisher, "for showing me I'm not alone."

Elsewhere in a corporate boardroom meeting for Worldwide Investment Corporation, a rough looking man with a mask appears and tells them his name is "Payback".  He accuses them of having millions of gallons of blood on their hands and when one protests he shoots him.   He say they invested in a company that built substandard aircraft and many people dies in a plane crash as a result.  A lawsuit closed down a Kentucky factory cost a thousand people their jobs, and the town became a crime ridden slum.
Another vigilante, Payback.
They set up shop in Taiwan with some of the lowest standards on the planet and colluded with local authorities in the murder of over a hundred union organizers killed by death squads. They are criminal scum, "lower than the filthiest hood on the street!  You are guilty! And now it's time for Payback".  And he fires on them with a submachine gun.

Somewhere else in a nice neighbourhood a masked vigilante called "Elite" is patrolling the street.  He sees some drug dealers sitting in a car saying perhaps they could find somewhere else to deal drugs. They tell him to drop dead.  He responds that crime is minimal here, property values are very high, he won't let them conduct their business within a ten clock radius. "I want you trash to leave because you lower the tone." 

Then he shoots them all in the face with a silenced pistol and walks off thinking "peasants". He bumps into a woman whose dog is urinating on the pavement. He introduce himself to her as Elite and then he shoots the dog saying it's a nice neighbourhood so lets keep it that way.
And Elite.
Back with Frank, he's been walking the streets all night but all is quiet. He says Guiliani has a lot to answer for in bringing the crime rates down.   Then a mugger appears, Frank deals with him by jamming him head first into a garbage can and decides he's as healed as he's going to get.

Frank: "Tomorrow I finish the job I started.  Here I come, Ma.  Ready or not."

We then cut to Ma Gnucci and the first bit of good news for her.  A stuttering man has be brought to her saying he's got information on The Punisher, "he lives right across the road from me."

The weasely man goes onto say he was coming home from his job at an adult bookstore and it was late because they close at midnight.  And he glances up to see a dude staggering down the street, he see's the Skull shirt and the blood and realises that it really is The Punisher, "an' I just about wet myself."

The weasely man then carries on saying he say him cross the street, fall down a few times then go into the building opposite his.  He watched him come and go for a week wondering what to do about it and then heard of the ten million bucks reward.  She says the ten million is for killing him, if his information is true it's worth ten thousand.  She sends Billy and Benny with him to check it out, if he's wrong "make it a messy one."

There is now a double page spread of the news broadcasting a report on the killers who have cropped up since The Punisher came back in the scene.   It reports on Payback and Elite's murders as well as the mysterious deaths of all the Catholic criminals marked on their foreheads with the sign of the cross.  Vox pops seem to show support for the killers, The Punisher most of all except for one who says they are a "bunch of fascist lunatics!  The Punisher's the worst of the lot."

Inside a helicopter are two executives from the company Payback is targetting.   The C.E.O admits that everything Payback said was true and they need to stop him before people start looking into their company more closely.  But as they fly they see Payback with a rocket launcher and he fires on the helicopter, destroying it.

More gang members arrive on Elite's patch intending to show him "what time it is." But using a sniper rifle out of his bedroom windown he headshots all three of them.   He then stashes the rifle in a secret compartment in his bathroom while conversing through the door with his kids.

Billy and Benny and the weasly guy are parked up outside his home. Inside Frank has packed up a bag full of guns saying it's the night he closes the Gnucci family down for good.  His car is parked a block over and he thinks this is a good time to leave as he is getting to well known here. He leaves the house and the two goons confirm it is The Punisher.  They call Ma and she says to follow while back-up arrives, the weasly man gets his money and goes.

Soap and Molly on stake-out start playing a game where one says a film title and the other has to give a film that starts with the final letter and so on. They see the Gnucci's start to leave and Soap wants to follow them.  Molly says that they are unlikely to get him, so best to stay fixed on Ma Gnucci and anyway they can't do what even a bunch of tactical units can do.  So the sit and carry on with the game.
Punisher giving as good as he gets.
The Punisher is under heavy fire, thinking that they came out of nowhere.  He tosses a brick of plastique at them to clear out some in the resultant explosion.   Then he starts with the automatic weapons.  He thinks of the song of the 'sixty as one he remembers from a long time ago.

Frank: "Of fireteams dug in on the breaks between the paddy field tracer lasering the jungle night.  Of hueys screaming through the void... of Lieutenant Castle getting short and hating it, wanting 'Nam to last forever.  A lullaby come all the way to New York City".

His shots find their targets, but one fires a rpg at him and forces him down an alley. He only has his forty-five pistol left now.  He notes a bullet to the chest the kevlar took.  The rest of the goons still left standing come after him he punches the first in the throat and gets out his knife and stabs him.  He takes another to the chest that goes through his kevlar.  He approaches the final man standing and as he fires on Frank just walks towards him and breaks his neck.  Then he collapses next to him and blacks out, prone in the alley.
Frank passes out.
Cliffhanger! So it's a different take on Frank than we've seen from Ennis before in Punisher and Fury MAX.  There's much more of an element of humour and the grotesque more like you would find in Preacher and The Boys.  Sometimes you want an in-depth look at Frank's psychological motivations and sometimes you want to see him punch a polar bear in the face. The resolution of Franks Angel Punisher era is beautifully dealt with.  Some writers would spin that out to a whole arc, but Ennis in his no nonsense manner dimisses it in a couple of pages.  Hell on Earth is actually the Heaven the Punisher wants to do his work in, and he really does get to work in this storyline.  Given Ennis's distate for most heroes who aren't Frank or Superman, Daredevil was treated very fairly in his appearance, with Frank admitting he doesn't stand a chance against him in a straight fight and only wins by using his brains and cheating.  Having Daredevil pull the trigger was probably quite a controversial move back when the comic was first published as he's another hero with a "thou-shalt-not-kill" reputation.  But Frank put him in that position to prove a point and saying that he can't live if Dino isn't killed is pretty much his whole mindset laid out right there.  Soap and Molly are fun characters, Soap rather meekly goes along with her cunning plans to let The Punisher and the Gnucci's war it out until they can step in at the end.  We'll see how this plan plays out in the Part Two of this storyline up in a few days time.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Prophet Book 5: Earth War (#1-6)

"Now follow me, brothers.  We are nearly there" - FreeJohn

And so finally we come to the end of the acclaimed Prophet reboot, which took a bunch of uninspired Rob Liefeld characters created in the 90's and spun them into a wildly imaginative sci-fi storyline.  I've covered the four preceeding volumes and it's too complicated  a plotline with many different branches to fully rehash in this intro but basically the war in space had finished with the conclusion on the main series and the Earth War miniseries we're looking at here ties up various loose ends on well, Earth.  A huge army of aliens opposed to the Empire Brain Mothers and their reawakening of the millions of clone Prophets that they telepathically control seeded across thousands of worlds, has gathered on Earth for the final battle.  Our main characters are Old Man Prophet the man who commanded the army who beat the Empire first time around and his comrades the techno-organic robot Jaxson, immortal android Diehard, the tree-like being Hiyonhoiagn and the female reptilian assassin Rein-East.  They hooked up with several other Johns who had found their own ways to resist the mind control of the Brain Mothers at the end of the series thanks to some alien spores they were beneficially infected by, this included the gay male assassin John-Greenknife, the female scout John-Ka and a warrior FreeJohn grown on a world that required him to have a tail.  At the end of the main series the Empire stole the nucleus egg of something called "The Red Pain" which will also be making an appearance in this miniseries.  So time to wrap up Prophet for good it seems.

We start with "Jung Brother Hiyonhoiagn" flying across the remains of an Imperial Fortress which has been laid waste by an unknown foe. He communicates telepathically with Old Man Prophet saying whatever it was it has come and gone.  Inside a bubble of "shipskin" Old Man Prophet tells him that his mind is open if he finds anything. As he floats the skin shields his mind as he links his thoughts to his "crew-brothers".
Old Man Prophet.
He reaches out mentally across the vast homeworld of mankind, he wants to locate the nucleus egg of the Red Pain that an Empire Prophet seized a month ago.  The power would be disastrous in the hands of the enemy Empire, "a power capable of enslaving the myriad intelligent races that now call this system home."

He senses a chill and the distant sound of cracking like ice.  He feels minds, strong and alien, pushing through his defences. Through all his shields they speak to him, "human. We can help in what you seek.  Expect us. Soon".  Old Man Prophet pulls himself back and leaves the shipskin.

He returns to his parked ship, it was taken from the Pirate Lords of The Body City and "flown to the green hills of Earth".   He walks crouched through corridors made for shorter beings.  He sees "new friends in a new home."  It's the first time he has lived with other Prophets since the last war and he is having to learn not to see them as just the enemy.
FreeJohn contemplates Earth.
He climbs to the top of the ship and sitting on the roof is FreeJohn, who says "strange. To know this world and yet be so unsure if it is new to my eyes."  FreeJohn asks why Old Man Prophet is still wearing his helmet aren't the "Basidian spores" enough to guard his mind?  Old Man Prophet says he has little trust and the last time he unmasked he thought the war was over.

FreeJohn: " I see those around, this world and all I've seen of space corrupted by the Empire that grew us. If war is the only tool we are given to turn the tides. Then war we must."

Old Man Prophet sees his own ideals reflected back at him with clarity.  He looks down and sees John-Ka sparring with Rein-East.  He mentions that they should expect the visitors he made contact with soon. "Friend or foe?" asks FreeJohn. Old Man Prophet says it remains to be seen.

He says he doesn't like the idea of putting more faith in God-beings "but what other choices are mortals given?"  The armies are counting on them to lead so lead they must. The armies have gathered in a huge tent city, today there is going to be a competition between champions for the honour of their clans and entertainment of their comrades.

John-Greenknife gathers wood to feed their living starship.  He feels more at home in the tent city than amongst his own clones. Suddenly he comes across a strange scene, "blind monks chanting to a poly crystalline child".  John-Greenknife runs to alert Old Man Prophet and FreeJohn. It seems their allies have arrived, "crystal priests from the far west".  They have come to talk of war but have found revelry and have their own champion for the arena competition the mass group of waiting aliens have decided to have..
The Crystal beings prove their strength.
So the contest begins and the Crystal Priest's champion defeats all, there are no deaths as it did not need to spill blood to show its power.  Afterwards they have a summit with the Crystal-Blessed inside a "Qid-Pid" Starship.   To defeat the Man-Empire they must take the communication towers, but the Priest-King notes they have too few in their army to achieve that.  They want to get rid of the Man-Empire too and they also know where it keeps its secrets, the Red Nucleus.

FreeJohn asks what they want in trade? The Priest-King says their goals are one.  But they need the King's brother "High Kumandan Osmeka" killing as his hatred for humans has blinded him.  In order for their armies to join theirs he needs to be got rid of to clear the way. They put all the information in a crystal ring.  Old Man Prophet says Diehard will go, but the King says a human is needed for a mission so delicate.  So John-Ka volunteers.  She is handed the crystal ring and asks if she will kill him with this or her blade which delights the King.
John Ka accepts the misson.
She climbs aboard Hiyanhoiagn and they fly off. Waiting outside the camp are the "pilgrim-cities of the Crystal-Blessed" marching to the crystal's call.  The King watches them. They seek the freedom of the tower to better commune with the All-Crystal, the Empire is enemy to all.

We then see inside one of the towers.  A lone Star Prophet carries a precious cargo.  It is "the nucleus-heart of the Red pain's living nebula."  The Brain Mothers there say it must be kept secret.   Elsewhere the four-armed "World Raper, High Arc Lord Multi-Muitox" is finishing off some resistance to the Imperial Sword.  He appeared briefly in an earlier episode, Old Man Prophet cut off one of his arms which he replaced with a steel one to remind himself who did it.

John-Strykhnos arrives, his most trusted eye.  They go inside Muitox's ship to be safe from prying minds.  The John tells him that something passed through the towers that the All-Mother's would keep for themselves.  Muitox shows him repurposed clone tanks, growing Prophets of his own that will be free of Brain Mother control.

Moitox asks where the item is now?  John tells him they have taken it to "Mentis-Keep".  He consults with his tank grown psychics which are strong enough to hide his ships lower rooms from Imperial minds.  They tell him to strike now, "on your word we will open the way".  Muitox tells them to do so and their minds push out as one.  He finds a lone Brain Mother and kills her and takes her crown shield and puts it on.  Hours later his ship reaches Mentis-Keep, a sanctuary for Earthbound Brain-Mothers.
World Raper, High Arc Lord Multi-Muitox
He gets out of his ship along with his own Prophets.  He is greeted by a Brain Mother's projection of her young girl self and he tells her she has no power here.  The Wolf-Rayet traitor (Old Man Prophet) was the only one who grew his own soldiers he says.  He is taking control of the Empire:

Muitox: "Our Empire.  You parasites will no longer be needed."

Then a fight breaks out between Johns who are on the Brain Mother's side and Moitox's FreeJohns.  Muitox's clones cut a swathe through the Empire Johns, "the Brain Mothers are no match for cold steel." He is drawn to the nucleus and he alone reaches the room it is in, "calling him to it.  It is a pain that hurts to not be part of. With a touch.  It consumes him".
We then return to Exmere, the psychic self of a long gone Brain Mother who has been cut off from the communal mind and has been journeying through the system alone.  But suddenly she feels something, Imperial minds united in pain, "a cry from Earth".  As she gets closer she sees a red mass made up of a "multitude of torn minds, screaming in unison.  Screaming with unfocused red rage".

It sees her and she blasts her way through it to find one mind in the middle stronger than the others, which interests her. She travels deeper and finds Muitox lost within the nucleus' power.   Her mind form touches his and pulls it into focus, "it is an all consuming focus that devours the weaker minds surrounding it.  The red rage quiets into a calm."  And the thing that was once Multi-Moitox opens his thoughts to the Red Mother Exmere.
Muitox and Exmere meet in the Red Pain.
Hiyonhoiagn flies west through the cool midday air, then drops his cargo, John-Ka in a cocoon of pink shipskin. Her destination is "Yuinaika" the stronghold of the southern anti-human armies.  Behind the walls is the target High Kumandan Osmeka.  There is an unguarded entry point just as the Crystal Priest promised.  The shipskin can't go further with her and she climbs into the tunnel alone.

Inside she finds Diehard, and Rein-East too.  They flew in before sunrise and Rein is asleep right now.  John-Ka asks is Old Man Prophet didn't trust her? Diehard says "you he trusts.  You wouldn't be here otherwise.  It's the Crystal Priest he has far less faith in."  John-Ka takes out a brand new "brainfly" she grew for this, they act as scouts for her.  They then check the crystal ring and see that in a day's time the target will be out in the open.
Checking the plan.
He sits back and tells her the whole mission stinks as bad as John suspected.  The place they are in now was emptied out for them, he can see blood on the floor.  He nibbles some food and when John-Ka says she didn't think he ate, he says he took on some new parts, "long ago I had my own tongue".  He notes that the Prophets' taste things differently from how old humans do.  She says the rations taste fine to her.

Later Rein-East wakes up.  She looks around for Diehard who she has a bit of a crush on, John-Ka says he went out a few hours ago.   He is walking the streets leaving bits of him behind as sentries.  He sees some Crystal-Blessed walking past towing a huge crystal.  The air becomes heavy with the psychic weight of the shard, "this mission is a spark in an already combustible situation".

He returns to John-Ka and Rein now somewhat skinny of body, his body parts will stay in contact with him and he hands them each a body part to hear through.  John-Ka gets into position as a crowd gather for the High Kumandan Osmeka.  Diehard through his bodyparts watches the armed Crystal-Blessed move towards the tower.   His arm tells John-Ka to pull off his finger, she does so and his hand goes walking off on its fingers.  She sees through her drone-fly's eyes. Finally the target comes into view.
Diehard uses his body to link them up.
He has a line of captured Prophets and a being armed with an executioner's axe.  His voice is just gutteral screams to her vat-grown ears.  She says she can end this now, it's "no way for Prophets to die."  Diehard tells her to wait.  Through th drone-fly's eyes she sees the first John get his head cut off.   Then Diehard's finger says she must get out of the tunnel now.  She brings the drone-fly back but also sees Kumandan Osmeka's head explode in gore. "That wasn't me!" she shouts.

She clambers onto the tunnel's outside roof with not a moment to spare as armed guards arrive.  Diehard against his better judgement frees the Empire clones.  He asks if they are ready to fight their way out and they say yes.  He tells Rein to get out quietly too, they'll all meet up at sundown.  John-Ka drops some gas bombs and Diehard and the Prophets battle their way through.

He sees Rein fighting too and joins her along with John-Ka who jumps down to where they both are.  A crystal warrior appears and slices up the Prophets.  Diehard, Rein and John-Ka manage to escape though.  They re-enter a tunnel underground and travel out of the city.  They sit and wait for all of Diehard's body parts to make their way back to him. He says to Rein as soon as he is whole they will travel back and warn John, "the priest's betrayal bodes ill for this war."  John-Ka sits apart with her brain-fly examining the crystal ring she was given.
Old Man Prophet chats with the treacherous Crystal-Priest.
We return to Old Man Prophet and the army, bolstered by the Crystal-Blessed, is on the march to war at "Thailli Vah".  Old Man Prophet is wearing a blue gelatinous thing round his neck called a "dolmantle".  It belonged to John-Greenknife's lover, the John Prophet who was first awakened on Earth and who activated the revival of all the Prophets everywhere, but who was killed at the end of the previous book after gaining self will.  John-Greenknife has given it to his "new father".

The towers come into view. The Crystal-Priest says that before the Man-Empire returned, generations of the Crystal-Blessed devoted their lives to rebuilding these towers.  Repairing centuries of damage and preparing the world for the All-Crystal. But the Empire slayed many, only some survived in the southern mountains. There is a loud humming sound the Crystal-Priests chant round the Crystal-Beasts until suddenly they metamorphosise into Crystal Titans.

Elsewhere far from the caravan, great hives of creatures are being upset and they are devouring one another.  They are being overridden by an outside mind.  The Red Pain nucleus with Exmere and Muitox is responsible, he says these animal minds are not enough to dull the pain.  Then he feels something calling and it must be heeded.  "Lead on Muitox" says Exmere.

The army assaults the towers.  Beneath the combined might of the Crystal-Blessed and the Free Armies, "the defences of the Earth Empire crumble."  Muitox and Exmere pass unconcerned over the battle, but they don't go unnoticed as Old Man Prophet senses a familiar Red Pain. The pain draws Muitox towards the towers focus, the entry to "bleed space".   His physical body is consumed to fuel the massive telekinetic output that drives them on, "only the power of Multi-Muitox and Red Exmere's will keeps their physical forms intact."
They reach the tower's apex and break into bleed-space.  The Red Egg pushes farther, farther than living flesh can survive.  In a final desperate act they reach out with their minds to retain their link to the Red Shard and pass beyond the bleed.  The Red Egg returns to its birth dimension, "an ur-space beyond reality.  Where physical forms cannot follow".  Muitox and Exmere's psychic selves float in the both with their hands on the Red Shard.

Back on Earth, Diehard, John-Ka and Rein-East have made the rendezvous with Hiyonhoiagn but he's been injured by the Crystal-Blessed.  He tells Diehard to fly back and warn Old Man Prophet of the deceit.  So he leaves.  Hiyonhoiagn then says more are coming, they are tracking them via the crystal ring they gave John-Ka.  So he uses some shipskin to attach to the ring and float it away to divert those following it.

They will have to take the long way back to avoid their pursuers and John-Ka's brainfly shows her the Crystal-Blessed have found their trail.  The only option is to cross what looks like a sandy expanse but which is actually a creature grown by the Hoxiplotl as feeding temples for their cult.  John-Ka and Rein must lie on his back and make no noise while they quietly cross.
A stressful crossing for two of them.
Hiyonhoiagn makes his way silently across while John-Ka and Rein relax and enjoy the ride.  Suddenly John-Ka's stomach makes a loud rumble. And Hiyonhoiagn has to quietly side-step an appendage that shoots out to feel around for them.  Thankfully it doesn't find them.  The pursuing Crystal beings are not as subtle and the tentacles rip them apart.  Finally they make it across safely, "I would wish to never do that again" says Hiyonhoiagn.  But now they should keep moving.

We return to Muitox and Exmere suspended in blackness holding onto the Red Pain nucleus.  They discover form which appears around them and a giant female figure appears and says "few transcend Earth space" to them. She is Glory, another one of Rob Liefeld's creations.  She is a half demon demi-God who was conceived as a Wonder Woman rip-off and got a reinvention of her own a few year ago which I covered here and here.
She holds out her hand to them, taking the Red Pain shard back. She says that here "I create new universes of my own". 

Narration: "Atop Glory's true titanic form, minds open.  They perceive beyond Glory into the vastness of ur-space.  They see the All-Crystal.  Vast, filling the void between universes.  Its power - and hunger - is overhwelming."

Back with Hiyonhoiagn, he is air-bourne again with Rein and John-Ka sleeping on him.  But they come under attack from a Xoan Vercia which launches missles at them.  John-Ka's brainfly deal with it but it was just a scout.

Down below the Xoan Krliah are feeding their Empire prisoners to Pit Larva.   John-Ka is angered at this sight and has to fight her anger to recall her brain fly.   Rein says to her that change is hard.  John-Ka says in the past she would have gone to war for those Empire lives.  Rein says she was prepared to die for revenge when she met this new family, "I think this life is better." They fly on.

In ur-space Exmere says she senses the crystals hunger for something.  Glory says they are massing where the membrane between ur-space and their world is thinnest.  Soon they wil break through and remake the world in their own image.   Muitox says "Bah! They will fail! The Earth is timeless!"

Exmere pleads with Glory says she knows she has left the Earth behind but she should consider what would be lost to the crystals now.  Glory tells her the Earth once meant much to her, "I would allow it if only for nostalgia."  She and Exmere open their minds to each other.  We see Glory's arrival on Earth a very long time ago.  Exmere born with the love of Earth "imbued through the song of her sisters." And we a montage of panels covering both their histories with Earth as Exmere takes over Glory's mind.
Red Exmere takes over.
Meanwhile on Earth now, the army have carved their way up to Thailli Vah. Old Man Prophet leads the assault on the tower and at the top they find the tether holding the "G.O.D satellite" in place.  But suddenly it transforms into "The Eye of All - gatekeeper to the Imperial afterlife". A legend now real and deadly. FreeJohn says if it can kill it can die.

But the Crystal-Priests start up a chant and the apparition ends up trapped and it's vessel destroyed as the "chant shakes the air like hammer against steel."   Old Man Prophet says it was just a psychic projection of a war-mother that he was too superstitious to see through.  FreeJohn says they all were and now it is time to attack the satellite itself, the shipskin surrounding them allowing them to fly up to it.

FreeJohn and Old Man Prophet reach the inside and fight off the Prophets in there.  Old Man Prophet honouring his side of the bargain as the crystal worshippers honoured theirs teleports the Crystal Host inside.  The Crystal Host walks with them to the war room and tells them that finally they will cut open the Bleed and welcome the All-Crystal into this universe.
FreeJohn saves Old Man Prophet.
Old Man Prophet says this was not what they agreed.  So the Crystal Host stabs him through the arm telling him "do not struggle against the inevitable".  FreeJohn grabs the sword hanging close by that was believed to belong to the original Prophet and cuts off Old Man Prophet's arm which was turning to crystal.  Elsewhere Diehard is racing back to them.

FreeJohn attacks the Crystal Host but it sends out a wave of projectiles.  Old Man Prophet manages to deflect them but FreeJohn isn't so fast and he dies, stabbed through the throat.  Old Man Prophet says he deserved better.  The Crystal Host says his matter like Old Man Prophet's will be transmuted as it can feel the All-Crystal passing into this space.
Glory SMASH!
Diehard cuts his way inside and blasts the Crystal Host. Hiyonhoiagn also speeds back with Rein-East and John Ka as the Bleed opens to ur-space and the All-Crystal within.  But something else comes through.

Narrator: "After thousands of years, the Amazon and demon-born super-being Glory returns to Earth, slave to Red Exmere's control. As the towers shatter, so too breaks the All-Crystal's portal to Earth-Space."

Diehard grabs Old Man Prophet and flies him to safety, they feel the Red Pain as they fly down.  Glory gains control of her mind again, catching the Red Pain shard that gave Exmere her power of control.  And with that, the Pain is and she is gone.

Afew days later everyone has gathered on the starship "Insulam Reverti".  Old Man Prophet and Diehard sit together and Old Man Prophet asks Diehard if he thinks of Earth as his home.  Diehard says the place he knew hasn't existed for a long time, "and where I felt most at home was not even that."

They invite Rein-East to come sit with them because they are talking like "old men" and Old Man Prophet begins to talk of what he remembers of the Scale homeworld. And with that the story comes to an end.  There are several pages of flashbacks and flashfowards but otherwise we have finished this series off.
Time to reminisce, it's an ending for now.
I'm truly sad this series has come to an end.  It was a slice of truly original and imginative hard SF pulp science-fiction and there was and is nothing quite like it in the rest of comicdom.  The main writer Brandon Graham and the team of artists have created a story where it doesn't matter if you don't follow it 100% you just get carried along anyway as the weird and wonderful unfurls before you.  I could have read about the exploits of Old Man Prophet, Diehard, Rein-East, Hiyonhoiagn and John-Ka for a long time.  As it is we do get a slight Deus Ex Machina with Glory's intervention destroying the Crystal threat, but it was nice to see her again and I am happy that she took the form of her reboot self, not the awful Rob Liefeld look.  I'm not sure why this exists as a seperate miniseries and not as the culmination of the main series, but there we are. I've spoken of the art and I'll say again that I love it for it's unusual look and it suits the content of the series completely, kudos to the art team of Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milogannis Ron Atkins, Grim Wilkins and Sandra Lanz.  Overall I'll say this is a series you'll want to keep coming back to, it is a densely written story that never talks down to the reader and expects you to accept everything it throws at you as it world builds even as the series comes to an end.  This was truly an object lesson in how to take a lot of embarrassing characters created during Image's first few years and reimagine them to show how Image has moved on in the years since.  Wonderful stuff and I am sorry to say goodbye to it and all the characters as they are now.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Scalped Book 10: Trails End (#56-60)

"You belong here Dashiell.  And you know it.  This is who you are. It's time you stopped running" - Red Crow

And so we come to the conclusion of the sixty issue Vertigo series Scalped about the fictional Prairie Rose Indian reservation.  In the previous volume the tribal leader and casino owner Red Crow had decided to shut down his criminal drugs empire after reconnecting with his spiritual roots. FBI agent Dashiell Bad Horse,  undercover on the rez to catch Red Crow committing murder, finally was able to arrest him when Red Crow shot and killed his second-in-command Shunka who was trying to kill Dash.  Red Crow had taken Dash under his wing and was grooming him to be a tribal leader after him, but all Dash wanted was to do his job and get off the rez he hated.  The reason he was there was that FBI agent Nitz blamed Red Crow for the murder and scalping of two FBI agents in the 70's who were mentors and friends of his.  Actually the real murderer was a man called Catcher, who also murdered Dash's mum Gina when she confronted him about outing him as the real murderer.  He went on the run after escaping jail in the previous book when a prisoner managed to grab a gun and shot and killed several people including Wade, Dash's father.  Dino Poor Bear also committed murder when he shot Sheriff Karnow in the back of the head, having become embittered by his unrequited love for Carol, who is now part of the Poor Bear family studying the traditional ways under Granny Poor Bear. So Red Crow has been arrested, but it's by no means all over, so let's wrap things up.
Dash arresting Red Crow.
We begin with the bloody and battered Dash forcing Red Crow to walk through the Prairie Rose police station before locking him in a cell.  Red Crow demands to know why, why is he doing this? Bitterly Dash says it's so he can do the one thing he's been wanting to do since he came back, "leave" and he walks away.

We then jump to eight months later.  Agent Nitz wakes after enjoying a night with several sex workers and greets the day with a big grin. Red Crow's casino is shut down  and deserted still by order of the FBI. Dino Poor Bear and friends drink beer under a poster asking for information regarding Sheriff Karnow's death and Maggie Standing Rock is addressing a crowd of people and reporters about some positive news she has.

She introduces the new Sheriff, Franklin Falls Down, who pretty much deserved it after all he went through. And he starts with a Lakota prayer.  Which cuts to Red Crow in his cell on his knees praying. He's called to see his lawyer and the lawyer says he hopes he was praying for a miracle "because that's what it's gonna take to get you out of here".
Eight months later.
Back at the rez, Dash is spotted by some reporters and one of them asks him about his role as the agent at the heart of the scandal that has engulfed the rez, "you have been call a hero by some and a traitor by others" how does he respond to that?  Dash brushes her off saying he's an ex-FBI agent, he quit and he meets up with Maggie saying "I'm a distraction.  I shouldn't have come."  But Maggie says to hell with them, he shouldn't let them run him off the rez.

They watch Falls Down digging into the ground and Maggie asks what he thinks.  He says Falls Down will make a great sheriff. She says he will but that's not what she means.  They are breaking ground for the erection of the "Gina Bad Horse Memorial Community Centre and Powwow Grounds" which Dash paid $80,000 for.  He tells Maggie, "I think she would have loved it.  That's all that matters."

Back with Red Crow and his lawyer, they go over the charges.  The money laundering and corruption ones can be made to go away, but in three days time Dash is going to testify that Red Crow shot Shunka because Shunka had become disgruntled and tried to kill Red Crow.  Red Crow looks angry saying what he did was save Dash's life.  His lawyer says "Yes.  Well, in retrospect... perhaps you shouldn't have."

In the crowd at the site of the new community centre, Granny Poor Bear sees Carol looking at Dash and asks if she is going to talk to him or just stare all day?  Carol says that "there's nothing I miss about the way I used to be.  Nothing at all".

Granny Poor Bear: "I know that.  But you ain'y in jail neither.  He's changed, just like you have.  That's easy enough to see. Took him damn long enough though didn't it?"

Carol goes looking for Dash, but sees him and Maggi kissing passionately and so she leaves them alone and walks back to the crowd.
Dash and Maggie.
Red Crow's lawyer says Dash is the key.  If they can call his credibility into question that will make all the difference.  He asks Red Crow if there is anything they can use against him.  Visions of Dash high on drugs and his murder of Diesel, the undercover FBI agent who killed a woman and her twelve year old son, flash up.  Red Crow says, "I'll have to think about it."

It's night and a man has taken Dash to the skeletal remains of Festus, Catcher's horse that he shot in the head.  Dash checks the site saying "I'm not looking for a horse.  I'm looking for te dog that killed it."  But it alls seems to be in vain as he visits the graves of his mum and dad and apologises for not finding Catcher.

At Maggie's place he lays out his investigation but tells her there's been no sign of Catcher on the rez for eight months.  Maggie say she guesses that means he's leaving, but he holds her chin and says:

Dash: "Now why would I wanna go and leave... when I was just starting to like it here."

And they kiss.  Red Crow's lawyer reports about Dash that he left the FBI, donated the money to build a community centre and has moved in with Maggie.  Guy is squeaky clean, even goes to church.

He goes on to say to Red Crow, who is pissed about Dash lying about leaving the rez, that he needs an answer regarding smearing Dash.  Red Crow says "no". He tells his lawyer to figure out a way to get him out of prison without messing with Dash.  He says he's protecting the rez by protecting Dash.  His lawyer says he'll die in jail, "maybe... but at least I'll do it like a goddamn man and not a dog" says Red Crow.

Speaking of dogs, Dash wakes to find several wild dogs in the living room.  One of them drops a human bone by his feet as he chases them off.  We then cut to the rest of the pack and they have uneartherd a skeleton in The Badlands.  It's Diesel's.
Diesel's grave.
Red Crow is sitting alone in his cell reflecting that every warrior knows there are battles you can't win.  Sometimes no matter how hard you fight "you're going to lose. You're going to fall.  You're going to die.  And ultimately all you can do is die with dignity".

Red Crow: "I know that. I accept it.  But I refuse to simply wither away. I will not slowly rot.  I will not crumble.  Yes I will die in prison.  But I will die with dignity."

On the way to the showers another prisoner hands off a scalpel to him. Once inside the showers he starts speaking Lakota until all the other prisoners file out leaving him alone.  And he starts to cut his wrist.
Red Crow starts to commit suicide.
Time to find out what Catcher has been up to, and surprise surprise, he's been killing people.  He has one of the ex-members of the Prairie Rose tribal council who fled after Red Crow's arrest, tied up and at gunpoint.  His wife unconcious on the floor.  He's killed the man's kids already, and then shoots the wife because of what they did as the tribal council, making themselves rich while stealing from the people who elected them.

Dash has followed the dogs and relives torturing, murdering and burying Diesel as he does so.  He gets close to the grave site but people are already there investigating it. Meanwhile Red Crow's lawyer is talking to the rez gang bangers about finding something on Dash they can use.   Dino says the problem is Red Crow doesn't hate Dash.  But he knows a way to make Red Crow hate him even more than betraying and arresting him.  At Diesel's grave site,Falls Down says's it's definitely murder unless they know of a dog that can shoot a pistol.

Falls Down asks the other man how he found the body, the man says he hit a dog that was on the road with a femur bone in its mouth and so he walked out that way and began looking. There were fifty dogs there, "it's a wonder he ain't strewn across The Badlands."  They start gathering evidence and Falls Down says he'll call the FBI when he is sure its a murder, which it totally is.

Catcher shoots the tied up ex-tribal elder through the head saying that he was no protector of the rez or its people, "that's still my job".  Then he leaves with around ten wild dogs in tow.  Red Crow is called to the phone to speak to his lawyer while still cutting his wrist.  But he decides to take the call anyway.
Abortion makes Red Crow mad.
His lawyer says he's uncovered something about Dash that might be of interest.  While he was dating Carol they had a shared drug habit he may have known about, but what he didn't know was she got pregnant with his grandchild and had it aborted.  She had it scraped out of her, "and Bad Horse cared so little he didn't even bother to show up".  This sends Red Crow into a rage, abortion is his beserk button and tells his lawyer to do exactly what he tells him.

Falls Down returns to the police station and tells his secretary to get agent Nitz on the phone.  Then he sees a package on the table, dropped off by Dino, it's got a bagged up pistol and a photo of Diesel's shot to pieces body in it. Falls Down can can only say "Jesus fucking Christ."

At Maggie's house she sees Dash kneeling in the garden praying.  He tells her he doesn't deserve her, he isn't the person she thinks he is, "I've done some very bad things." He starts trying to explain, but Falls Down appears and asks to speak with Dash in private. He tells Dash that he was sent a gun and the bullets match those that killed the person buried in the Badlands, Diesel.  And Dash's fingerprints are on the gun.

Falls Down says he is here because he owes Dash, who saved his life twice.  He's here to give him a small windown of time to do something before this murder becomes official, "time to figure things out,  To be ready to explain yourself.  Or hell... not be here at all."

He leaves and a panicking Dash says to himself he has to run, leave tonight and never come back, "Maggie.  Oh God, what do I tell Maggie."  Then she calls him in to hear a news report on the family Catcher killed, and Dash knows it's Catcher from the words he wrote on the trailer the family were in, "Maya Owicha Paka".  And Dash knows Catcher is back and he can't leave the rez until he is dead.
Nitz gets mad as a well.
We begin the next chapter with Nitz kicking a newspaper dispenser in a furious rage, probably because the paper has the headline "FBI Fiasco. Charges dropped against jailed tribal leader.  Chief Red Crow to be freed today".  Under a photo of Dash is a smaller caption saying "former agent now sought for questioning in murder investigation".  Red Crow then walks past the FBI agents to his car and sneers silently at Nitz, who rants that he wants Dash found so he can "strangle him with my own fucking hands!"

We cut to Falls Down at Maggie's farm.  She says she hasn't seen Dash and anyway why isn't he chasing Catcher instead.  He's killed nine people now, four tribal council members, three wives, two kids.  Falls Down says he is hunting him too, he's driven over more of the rez in the past two weeks than he had in the previous forty.  He hasn't been home for daysm he sleeps in an empty cell, "don't blame me 'cause I have to be here Maggie. Blame your goddamn boyfriend."  He leaves noting that one of her horses is missing... Which is tethered close by the burned out husk of Catcher's old trailer. Dash is living inside.

Dash: "During the day, I lie on the ground where my mother was murdered and pretend to sleep.  As soon as night fallls, I get to work.  Trying to salvage the wreck I've made of my life."

As he mounts the horse, he thinks that he doesn't care about clearing his name, he did do what the papers said he did.  And he'd do it again, but killing Diesel wasn't where he went wrong, "my mistake was in who I left alive".  And Catcher watches him froma ridge saying "Looks like the boy's finally come around."
Dash gets to work.
Carol is at the supermarket but she doesn't have enough cash to buy all the groceries.  As she haggles over some eggs, Red Crow walks in and they lock eyes as he glowers at her.  He buys a shovel and pays with a hundred dollar bill then leaves. 

Inside Maggie's house the FBI are tearing it apart looking for evidence of where Dash might be.  Falls Down ushers her outside after Nitz threatens her as well.  Dash then calls her on her mobile.  She says she doesn't believe what they are saying about him.  He tells her ever since he was born on the rez he found reasons to hate it.

Dash: "You gave me reasons to love it.  I wanted to thank you for that... Just promise me one thing.  Promise you'll try not to hate me,, when you hear about the things I've done.  And the things I'm about to do."

He hangs up and looking at himself in the mirror and starts shaving his hair off with his combat knife.  Then he mounts his horse and rides off.

That night he goes to the graveyard and he yells out that he knows Red Crow is there too.  He says he is not here to kill him, he just wants to talk.  Red Crow says he doesn't believe him, everything he told him has been a lie.  Dash says they can shoot each other or call it even, he put Red Crow in jail, and now Red Crow has him headed there soon enough.  They should concentrate on something more important, Catcher.

Dash says he intends to find him tonight and kill him, and he could use some help.  He says Red Crow promised him they would find her killer together and make him pay, he might be a liar, but he's depending on Red Crow being a man of his word. Red Crow falls silent, Dash takes this for acceptance but then as he walks towards him Red Crow shoots him in the shoulder.

Red Crow: "You wanna make peace?  You shoulda thought about that before you murdered my grandchild!"

Dash takes cover and shouts that he doesn't know what Red Crow is talking about, Red Crow rants that he knows about the abortion.  Dash is confused, what abortion? Then it hits him that Carol was pregnant and didn't tell him.  And his denials convince Red Crow that Dash didn't know about the abortion so he leaves.  Dash staggers on saying he didn't need him, he'll get Catcher himself but he collapses and Catcher looms over him saying "will ya now?"
Red Crow waits for the inevitable.
Red Crow sits in his empty casino with a bottle of booze.  Elsewhere Dino is making a speech to the only members of Red Crow's drug gangs left.  He says Red Crow won't be going back in business with them, he's probably getting his money and booking a flight to Mexico, "what he ain't doin is giving two shits about us.  About how we're gonna get by".

Dino: "I for one think it's time to stop sitting around waiting for scraps from the table and start pulling up a chair of our own... meaning we find Red Crow tonight.  We take every fucking dime he has.  And if he doesn't like it... we kill him."

Dash comes around in Catcher's truck.  His wound has been bandaged but he's tied up.  He rages at Catcher who tells him to stop being ungrateful, he's patched him up, given him a ride and now he's going to kill a man for him...

Dino's gang break into Red Crow's casino office.  There is money pile don the table.  Red Crow is hiding as says that it's all the money he has left, if they want it all they have to do is reach out and take it.  One does so and gets shot through the throat.  Dino orders the others to spread out and find Red Crow. 

Red Crow says that this isn't the first time Dino came into his office looking for money.  Dino says it will be the last.  Red Crow says he knew someone would come after his money he just hand't pegged Dino as the smart one.  And he comes out of cover, firing two guns and with a knife between his teeth.
Catcher brings Dash to the fight.
Walking towards the casino, Catcher tells Dash they have started without them.  Catcher tells Dash to wait here until his old pal Red Crow dies "then we'll see once and for all just how much to loved your momma".  He slips inside the casino while two of the gangbangers spot Dash.  One of them is someone Dash attacked with his nunchuks and he wants revenge.

Upstairs Red Crow is systematically taking out his attackers by gun and knife.  He shouts at Dino about saving his life when Dino lost his eye. "I never asked you to" says Dino as they back out of the office.  Then Catcher appears shooting at them saying no one kills Red Crow but him. Suddenly a pack of wild dogs come running towards the casino and attack the men who were going to kill Dash.  Dash then kicks the shit out them and as the dogs run into the casino, Dash manages to get his hands unbound. Inside he bumps into Dino and asks him what he is doing.  Dino says "I'm getting what I deserve.  Now you will too".

We then get four panels with insight into what each man is thinking.  Red Crow thought he'd rise above the fighting one day, he was a fool. Catcher thinks that one day he killed the woman he loved, but now his last chance to make good with his ancestors is to kill the right man. Dash thinks everybody deserves to die, himself especially.  And finally Dino, fashioning a molotov cocktail out of a bottle of booze and some dollar bills thinks, "fuck every fucking one of 'em."

In the graveyard, the FBI are investigating the shots fire there.  One agent has a file that just came from the agency that Nitz really needs to see.  Nitz keeps interrupting him saying they have to find Dash.  But the agent gets through to him and says the knife wound from the tribal council member's family made by the knife of Arthur Pendergrass aka Catcher also match the knife wounds made to the two dead FBI agents back in the 70's.  As Nitz looks over the file, he is told there are reports of shots fired at the casino.  And Nitz takes off in his car alone.
The casino is now on fire and full of wild dogs as Red Crow and Catcher have at each other with knife and axe. Then Dash comes in firing two guns at once, taking out the wild dogs when they attack.  On the floor, Red Crow spies a gun amongst the coins falling from his desk and a wild dog brings Catcher his gun, and the three of them stand pointing guns at each other.

A vengeful looking Nitz strides into the burning casino, no doubt reflecting on a life chasing the wrong man, hating the wrong man, letting the real culprit go unpunished.  He is really pissed.  The three men inside all have flashes of memories of Gina then all three pull the triggers.

Catcher takes two bullets to the chest, and he realises it's all over for him.  He thinks about how he had a vision that someday he'd kill a lot of people and took it to mean he'd be a great warrior.  It wasn't what he wanted, he wanted to be a writer and "write stories about elves and dwarves and heroes on epic quests".  He wanted to create not destroy, but it wasn't the will of the Great Spirit and that was all that mattered to him.

He wanders off, while Red Crow lies on the floor and asks why Dash shot him when he turned his gun on Catcher.  Dash says that makes them even.  Dash sees Catcher walking away and imagines himself filling him with bullets and then scalping him.  But he doesn't do it, Nitz comes walking in and Dash lets him go after Catcher instead. 
Nitz and Catcher go down in flames together.
They are surrounded by fire as Catcher wonders in his darkest moments that he is just mad and killed all those people for "my own pathetic ends.  Or worse for no damn reason at all."  Nitz roars with anger and starts choking in as the fire consumes both of them.  Catcher's final thoughts are:

Catcher: "My name is Arthur James Pendergrass.  People called me Catcher.  I listened to the voices in my head.  I leave this world worse off than I found it.   I was either a prophet or a murderer.  I don't know which, but either way... I die a goddamn fool."

Dash meanwhile carries Red Crow out of the back of the casino. Red Crow thanks him, but Dash says he didn't do it for him. "I miss her too kid" says Red Crow.  Dash says he is going now, Red Crow pleads with him to stay.  He can make Dash's murder charge disappear.  He says Dash belongs here, and he need a heir.  Dash speaks Lakota to him and departs.

Three months later, there is a big funeral going on with lots of attendees.  Falls Down is there as is Maggie, she is quiet and sad and tells Falls Down she hasn't seen Dash.  She asks why he is still chasing him, Falls Down says he killed a federal agent "that doesn't just go away."  He asks if he is still on the rez, Maggie says he can't let them take him away, "it would kill him to leave this place now".  Then she clutches her mouth and stomach and runs off.

Carol watches her go, then organises the Poor Bears for going to the cemetary.  Dino's kid Angie is asking after her daddy.  Carol says Dino is "busy" right now, but she'll hold her hand the whole way.  They walk back into the main room and a woman comes up to Carol saying she thinks her son is on drugs and is stealing from neighbours and she doesn't know what to do.  Carol says she should come by the house and they'll make some tobacco ties together. She should also find out what her son is using, if she can't find out, bring some of his trash and she'll know.  After that comes the hard part but she'll do her best to help, she promises. The woman says "thankyou.  Thank you Mamma Poor Bear".  Carol walks to the coffin saying "don't thank me". And inside it is Granny Poor Bear, finally at rest.
RIP Granny Poor Bear.
We get a shot of Dino, now sporting slicked back hair and a soul patch sitting in his car while his goons bury some bodies under his orders.  Maggie returns home thinking she heard Dash.  He's not there but has left a wad of money.  The FBI appear and demand entry.  In the graveyard Dash pisses on Nitz's grave, ignores Catchers, puts a beer on Wade's and flowers on Gina's.
Red Crow's new life.
We then find out what happened to Red Crow.  He is now living off the land, he's planted a small garden and hunts animals for food.  He lives in a teepee with a wild dog as his pet, a dog he's named "Shunka".

Red Crow: "I'd forgotten how quiet it gets out here.  No slot machines ringing or shitty old cars roaring.  No FBI crawling through the walls like rats.  No gunshots.  Out here you can't hear nothing. Nothing but the turning of the Earth".

The FBI smash there way into Maggies house.  She's sitting distraught in the bathroom.  A pregnancy test next to her and it's positive.

We end this book and this series with Dash sitting on a hill thinking about all the good things he remembered about growing up on the rez, the good things he had forgotten about.
There was always good there when he chose to remember.
He ruminates that this is a place with blood in the dirt and voices in the thunder.  For runaways and the immovable. For the stubborn and the bold.  The survivors and the damned.  The full blooded and the bled dry.  The stone cold.

Dash: "I've been all over the world from one shitty corner to the next.  I've spent a lifetime trying to get as far away from this place as I could get.  I'm sorry momma.  Sorry it took me so long to realise.  This is where I belong. This is the only home I'll ever have."

He hitches a lift from a passing car, the driver asks where he is headed and Dash says "I wish I knew".  And the final image is the car driving past the sign saying "You are now leaving Prairie Rose Reservation".
A spectacular conclusion to a spectacular series.  There have been two major plot threads running through the series, firstly that a person can change, but second that your past will always catch up to you.  Dash was going to be denied a happy ending the moment he put that first bullet in Diesel.  Meanwhile it does feel somewhat karmic that Nitz, after years of focusing on the wrong man would give up his life to end that of Catcher and it's interesting that Dash stood by and let him have that revenge too when he had just as much of a right to kill Catcher too.  The insight into Catcher's mind, his doubts over the fact he might actually be mentally ill and not choosen by the Great Spirit to carry out killings in it's name, are interesting. The revelation that he only wanted to be a writer sparks some sympathy but otherwise he was a monster who deserved being shot and burned to death.  Dash had always been subtley making his peace with life back on the rez so it doesn't feel too odd that after the eight month gap he'd be as involved as he was.  Some development of Maggie might have been nice, previously she was last seen spitting in Dash's face for being Red Crow's lapdog, but I think we can infer that he arresting Red Crow would have reversed her opinion of him.  And Carol gets a beautiful ending, taking over Granny Poor Bear's work as the resident knower of the old ways. To balance that out we have Dino, now it seems de facto leader of the rez's criminal element. And I quite liked Red Crow's final fate.  Taking a lesson from Hazel and Mance's story, he now listens to the turning of the Earth. Yes he's somewhat of a Karma Houdini, but I just think his story ended the right way somehow. 

Overall this is one of the best series I have covered so far.  It was very much a character piece, building a set of people round Dash's storyline who you found more and more about as time went on.  Although the story was very grim in places, it never forgot that there was good aspects to rez life, those aspects becoming more apparent as Dash's opinions changed over the course of the story.  It didn't shy away from heavy topics like drug use and abortion, treating them without judgement but just as logical extensions of the choices the characters would make.  It didn't sugar coat the struggles and poverty experience by Indians and the opening of the casino proved to be nothing more than a way to funnel cash into Red Crow's pocket rather than benefit the rez itself.  And what of Nitz's vendetta?  We had already found out why the agents were on the rez, but his focus on Red Crow, the source of all his hatred and yet innocent of the crime he wants him punished for, proved to be his folly even though it drove much of the action during the overall storyline.  He gets balanced out by Officer Falls Down, a good and uncorrupted man who nevertheless will do the job asked of him and arrest Dash.  Dash, once he hated the rez, but as his good memories return and the place becomes almost free of criminality he can't think of anywhere else he wants to live. But now he has to, leaving a pregnant girlfriend behind too.  It's a sad ending for him, but this story has always been described as a noir and those never have happy endings for the main character so perhaps it was expected.  Anyway, I can't praise writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M. Guera enough for giving us a complex situation full of well rounded characters and exciting action.  It's another series the Vertigo label can be proud of hosting.