Archive for June, 2014

I take a look at issue #5 of George Romero’s “Empire Of The Dead” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


If it seems like it’s been awhile since we looked at a new issue of Empire Of The Dead around these parts, that’s because it has — the fifth and final segment of the first arc in George Romero’s printed-page zombie epic (officially titled in the copyright indicia as George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Act One #5) is a good few weeks late in maintaining its purportedly monthly schedule, but now that it’s finally here, let’s not waste any more time, shall we?

I’ve remarked previously about how this first arc seems more and more like pure set-up the longer it goes on, and I’ve wondered aloud about just how the father of the modern zombie genre was going to bring all the disparate subplots he was working on together in time for at least something resembling a decent climax by the time this issue was over, but I…

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I was of two minds going into the latest DC Universe straight-to-video animated feature, Son Of Batman — on the one hand, I’m a tremendous fan of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s sprawling, multi-year epic upon which this movie is based , and why not? It’s supremely good stuff. On the other, well — when you condense a story that took that long to tell down to roughly an hour and 14 minutes, something’s bound to be lost in the translation, right?

As it turns out, my concerns were pretty well-founded. To put things as succinctly as possible, director Ethan Spaulding’s adaptation isn’t just hopelessly truncated, it’s also hopelessly messy.

It’s not entirely — or probably even primarily — his fault, of course : this was definitely a pretty poor choice of “source material” from the outset, given that it relies so heavily on audiences warming to Batman’s heretofore-unknown son, Damian Wayne, over time. And time is one thing these DCU flicks don’t have a lot of. So I think I’ll give Spaulding a pass for his role in this debacle — after all,  at the end of the day, he was tasked with a pretty thankless job. I’m less forgiving when it comes to some other folks, though, so let’s get into that — as well as the requisite plot synopsis —  now, shall we?


For those unfamiliar with the essentials, the basic set-up for Son Of Batman goes as follows : some years ago, Batman/Bruce Wayne (voiced here by Jason O’Mara, who’s no Kevin Conroy by any stretch and never manages to be very convincing either in or out of the cape and cowl) was drugged by Talia Al Ghul (Morena Baccarin, who does serviceable work here) and basically functioned as a one-night-stand sperm donor. The result of that less-than-blessed union was a baby boy, Damian (Stuart Allan, who does what he can with a lousily-written part), who was raised from birth to eventually take over the League of Assassins from his grandfather, Ra’s Al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito, who sounds like he’s mailing it in), but this little family plan goes astray when Ra’s is killed by Wilson Slade, a.k.a. Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson, who also turns in less-than-inspired work), who has his sets set on usurping control of the League from the Al Ghul dynasty. Sensing things are probably getting a bit too hot for Damian (especially after he takes out Deathstroke’s eye in combat), Talia decides to unload the murderous little tyke on his old man for awhile, and it’s up to Batman to essentially “de-program” the junior psychopath and turns his — what shall we call them? — talents toward the cause of good.

All that’s probably more than enough material for a movie right there, but Son Of Batman  makes the mistake of lumping in various other storylines Morrison had going in and around this time, as well, and that’s where things get messy. The subplot involving Kirk Langstrom (Xander Berkeley, whose work stands out noticeably from the rest of the pack here) becoming Man-Bat and being strong-armed into creating an army of similar creatures never really manages to engage viewers, nor does its attendant “mystery” as to how and why established Bat-villains like Killer Croc have suddenly become steroid-pumped super-monsters. It’s all just too damn much.


The real tragedy about shoe-horning all this excessive material in, though, is how the filmmakers are consequently forced to give short shrift to Damian’s character development. Morrison’s original story had our little Bat-tyke slowly transform from being an unlikable, untrustworthy little shit into a semi-responsible, even-more-semi-mature youngster who earned his way into taking on the role of Robin. In the movie version, he just flips a switch after fighting Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Sean Maher (who does reasonable enough voice work, but dear God — what’s with that horrible costume?) and assumes the mantle of his daddy’s masked sidekick more or less instantaneously. To say this sudden shift doesn’t work so well would be the understatement of the century.

Obviously,  a tighter (and frankly less ambitious) focus would have benefited the proceedings here to no end, and while biting off more than you can chew can sometimes make for one of those overly-sprawling, but agreeably risky, ventures we all know and love, in this case that’s just not in the offing. Son Of Batman (which I caught on DVD from Warner Premier — picture and sound are both quite nice, but apart from a trailer for another forthcoming animated Bat-flick extras are non-existent ; perhaps the Blu-Ray offers a bit more) plays out like a poorly-researched, unevenly-performed Cliff’s Notes take on a monumental, character-defining work that ends up feeling depressingly small and hopelessly abridged. Think of an animated version of one of those old Reader’s Digest condensed books performed by a cast who’s only marginally interested in what they’re doing and you won’t be too far off the mark.


Still, if you’re new to this story,  on the off-chance that this flick doesn’t totally put you off the material bastardized to make it, might I humbly suggest picking up either the Batman And Son and/or Batman : The Black Glove  hardcover or trade paperback collections by Morrison and Kubert — they’re infinitely more satisfying,  and, who knows ? You may even walk away from them liking Damian Wayne — something this movie never really gives you the chance to do.



Tell ya what, friends — Boom! Studios is a publisher that’s been on an absolute roll lately. Suicide Risk is the best monthly comic that no one’s talking about (and honestly one of the top five series being published today), new ongoing monthlies Dead LettersThe Woods, and Evil Empire are all off to incredibly promising starts, zombie four-parter The Returning just concluded its uneven but intriguing run, and the six-part revisionist superhero story Translucid is flat-out blowing my mind. Image had better be watching its back, because Boom! is muscling in on their niche market for intelligent, well-constructed indie books produced by ambitious, upstart creators with a vengeance. It’s getting to the point where I’m ready to add every first issue  with their logo on it to my pull list, and i’m not exactly known for my brand loyalty.

Continuing that strong trend is writer Cullen Bunn and artist Vanesa R. Del Rey’s The Empty Man, which debuted this past Wednesday and is positively brimming with the kind of tense, foreboding atmosphere that fans of horror comics love. It’s not without its flaws, sure — the cliffhanger ending seems to sort of thrust itself into the proceedings out of nowhere and it’s not even entirely clear just what the fuck it’s even portraying, for instance — but on the whole my gripes with the book are small and pale in significance when compared with what Bunn and Del Rey get right. If it sounds like I’m hopelessly hooked already, that’s because I am.


Like any good mystery, the opening salvo of this six-issue series begins with a lot of disparate elements that we assume will come together by the time all is said and done, we’re just not sure how that’s going to happen yet. We’ve got a scene featuring an obscure fire-and-brimstone religious sect meeting in an old gas station for Sunday services that incorporates elements of both tried-and-true Christian holy-rollerism (check the preacher’s sermon in the page reproduced above) and new age-y symbolism (what’s that weird triangular logo they display all over the place about, exactly?) to kick things off, but before you know it we’re five years down the road, and that little fringe evangelical sect ain’t so little anymore : they’re all over the TV, preaching the kind of “end is nigh” message with which we’re all so depressingly familiar. The damn thing is, though, they just might be right : that’s because there’s a new plague sweeping our fair land, one dubbed the “empty man disease” by the media, that features, among other attractive symptoms : violent fits of rage, suicidal dementia, incredibly vivid and horrific hallucinations, and gripping panic attacks — all followed by either death or a catatonic, “empty,” comatose state of near-lifelessness.

I know, I know — it sounds like a shitload of fun, and I’d love to figure out how to sign up myself, but the causes of the syndrome remain entirely unknown despite the best efforts of the joint FBI/CDC investigation team tasked with getting to the bottom of things. Far all the time, effort, and resources expended on “empty man,” the simple fact remains that no one knows where or when it’s going to strike next. One thing’s for sure, though — wherever and whenever it does, you can bet that some annoying member of one of the “murder cults” that have sprung up in the wake of the outbreak will be there, genuflecting at the altar of the epidemic and telling all of us poor, lost heathens about how “empty man” has been sent by God to usher in his glorious return. Or something like that.


What connection, if any, these disease-worshipers have with that first cult from page one has yet to be explained — as does the rise of that initial group in conjunction with the disease itself — but the questions are posed in a subtle yet compelling fashion in Bunn’s understated, eerily effective script that does a crackerjack job of setting an admittedly unfamiliar stage. He’s more about the task of putting us all in the right frame of mind with this first chapter, and even though the bulk of the issue is concerned with the kind of police procedural that often becomes a bit too cut-and-dried once he introduces us to our main protagonists (who are, as you might expect, partners on the task force investigating the outbreak), to his credit things never become dull or overly bogged down in “shop talk.” Events move along at a brisk and steady clip and the work of our erstwhile “disease cops” becomes increasingly immersive with each page.

Del Rey’s art complements the story without completely stealing the show — but damn, it does come close, especially toward the end, when events take a turn for — wait, that would be telling! Like a lot of horror comics today, there’s something of an  Alex Maleev influence that’s readily apparent in this book’s sketchy, heavily-textured style, but there’s also plenty of individual identity on display here, certainly more than enough to give this series a look that can be safely classified as “all its own.” It’s a dark and uneasy world we’re shown here, fleshed out with dark and uneasy imagery, and you’ve gotta tip your cap and say the writer/artist pairing on this one is just plain perfect for the sort of material that they’re dealing with.


Last but not least, Bunn has come up with a terrific little tag-line for the book — at the scene of every murder/suicide/mass slaughter/take your pick related to the disease, the phrase “The Empty Man Made Me Do It” has been found scrawled on a wall (it also appears on this issue’s back cover, as well). It may seem like a small thing, but snappy little catch-phrases like that can go a long way toward building a kind of instant audience identification with a fictional world — after all, aren’t we all still asking “Who Watches The Watchmen?” some 30 years later? Do not underestimate the power of a pithy turn of phrase, my friends.

And whaddaya know? It’s a meme that’s spread from the printed page to the real world in no time flat, because “The Empty Man” has made me want in for the full six issues already.


Before getting into the hyper-opinionated shit that will divide all you lovely readers into “he sure is talkin’ sense” and “what is this guy — fucking nuts?” camps, let me start by making one statement we can probably all agree with — Kevin Smith’s whole shtick got old a long time ago. Seriously, dude, we get it : you’re the big version of the little engine that could. You came from nothing, and with even less than that for a budget you hit it huge with Clerks. It was funny. It was irreverent. It was tasteless. It was edgy. It was sophomoric. It was lewd, crude, and rude. And it’s still, by far, the best thing you’ve ever done.

You weren’t finished trying to catch lightning in a bottle again, though. A series of reasonably successful follow-ups ensued, until you supposedly closed the book for good on your “View Askewniverse” with the self-congratulatory Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. You were on to new horizons. You were growing up. You wanted to talk about things other than pot smoking, fucking, comic books, and how awesome Star Wars is. The thing is — when your forays outside of all that didn’t work out, you came back with Clerks II, which was a pretty pale shadow of its predecessor, all things considered. That flick did reasonable, though unspectacular, business at the box office, but it seems to have given you another way to try to “reinvent” your flagging career — namely, you’d bifurcate yourself.

There were enough fans of the “View Askewniverse” who’d fork over cash for anything and everything with your name attached to it, so you decided to keep them all happy by basically being all over the internet all the fucking time. From podcasts to blogs to YouTube to your own 24/7 online channel, you’ve just been everyplace. AMC got on board your gravy train by giving you and your pals a TV series, Comic Book Men, that continues to endure despite being whittled down from 60 minutes to a more palatable 30 and being shunted into the most remote regions of their post-prime-time schedule. You became a fixture at comic conventions and various other trade and memorabilia shows. You amassed an army of online supporters who would show up to defend you from even the most minute criticism, and when they weren’t doing the job vigorously enough, you’d defend yourself. In short, Kevin Smith became an industry. And hey, not to worry, whenever anybody had the temerity to point out that your ego seemed to grow in proportion to your ubiquitousness (a word I probably just made up), you’d have a well-timed,  good-natured, barely-self-deprecating jab at your weight at the ready in order to show that, hey, you were still a regular guy who wasn’t too full of himself.

So that was one part of the new Smith business paradigm — complete domination of the nerd-verse 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The other part was to to keep one foot in the door in Hollywood with a series of lackluster comedies like Cop Out (now’s probably not the best time to criticize anything Tracy Morgan’s been involved with, sorry about that, but it really is a stupid flick) and Zack And Miri Make A Porno. I think we can all agree nothing too memorable there.

Still, in 2011 you seemed to come out left field with something truly different — a return to your self-produced, low-budget, independent roots in an entirely different genre. Leaving comedy, of both the milquetoast crowd-pleasing and vulgar “stoner crowd” variety behind, you unleashed Red State, a semi-topical horror flick that played things pretty straight and showed a more obvious Romero and Hooper influence than your previous work had ever hinted at. For the first time in a long time — probably since Clerks, truth be told — you appeared to be willing to take a chance. to step outside the comfort zone you immediately established for yourself upon your ascent to the big time. To risk criticism and even ridicule by giving audiences something nobody was expecting, all in an effort to prove you weren’t some one-trick pony who could only, essentially, do variations of the same thing over and over again.

And you know what? I was so sick of to death of even seeing your name by that point that I just blew the thing off.


That’s probably tremendously unfair of me, I know, but “Kevin Smith fatigue” is a syndrome I think almost all of us are suffering from. Still,  yesterday I noticed that Red State is now available on Netflix (sorry, no DVD or Blu-ray specs included with this review) and thought, what the hell?  It’s got a first-rate cast (seriously, this flick is packed to the gills with talent, as evidenced by the fact that even established actors like Anna Gunn and Kevn Pollak are on hand in, essentially, bit parts), promised at least some level of socio-political commentary, and hey — I wasn’t doing anything else, anyway. So I settled in and gave it a go.

Right off the bat, it’s obvious this really is a different kind of Kevin Smith movie — laughs are few and far between (which is also true of many of his latter-period comedies, but that’s sort of beside the point), and there’s an energy and immediacy to the proceedings that I was thinking had become foreign territory to the director. It’s reasonably suspenseful, includes some terrific performances, and has a pleasing “hungry young filmmaker” vibe to it. Smith does, in fact, prove that he can branch out into other genres successfully with this one, and in that respect, you’d have to consider Red State to be something of a success.

But ya know what? The whole thing ended up falling kinda flat with me anyway.


It’s probably not for lack of trying, though — in fact, it’s for trying too hard : specifically, trying too hard not to piss anyone off.  Is this the same Kevin Smith that used to litter his scripts with jokes about donkey-fucking and necrophilia? Because despite its semi-politically-provocative title, Red State works overtime to make sure that nobody of any political or religious persuasion will take exception to it, and in the end, it’s that gutless,  ball-less need to to be inoffensive that really sells short all the first-rate work that folks have done here.

For those who aren’t familiar, here’s the set-up in a nutshell : three horny loser high school buddies (played by Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, and Michal Anganaro) answer an online ad from an older woman seeking a foursome (who turns out to be Melissa Leo, in a typically strong performance) and head out for her trailer. Along the way they sideswipe a car wherein the local sheriff is getting a blowjob from another guy, but split the scene before they can even suss out what’s happening because they’re so eager to get laid. Turns out all is not as it appears to be once they arrive, though, because their hot-to-trot cougar is actually anything but : she drugs their beers and when the randy youths wake up, they find themselves prisoners of a cult-like extremist religious fringe group known as the Five Points Trinity Church, led by fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks, who absolutely fucking nails his role).

Not to worry, though — “help” is on the way on the form of the local ATF field office, led by special agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman, who always turns in superb work), who have been monitoring the crazies at Five Points for some time for assembling a sizable weapons cache and are now ready to make their move. But are they going in to rescue our no-longer-quite-so-randy schoolboys, or to commit mass slaughter and cover the whole thing up?

Parallels to both the Westboro Baptist Church (Cooper’s outfit are infamous for picketing the funerals of gay folks) and the siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco are more than obvious here, and one would think Smith was sitting on top of more than one political powder keg with material of this nature, but wait — didn’t I just gripe about how safe he plays things? Indeed I did, so perhaps now would be a good time to elaborate on that.

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When we’re first introduced to the lunacy that is Five Points by way of an info-dump lecture delivered by the high school civics teacher, we’re told that they are an embarrassment to the state (in true “let’s-not-alienate anyone” style, the Red State this film is supposed to take place in is never actually mentioned by name — although it was filmed in the bluest of “blue states,” California), that every mainstream conservative group in the nation has disavowed them, and that even the fucking Nazi party considers them “too extreme.” So, hey, if you’re a Republican, or a Libertarian, or any other sort of conservative, don’t worry — Smith’s not taking aim at you, despite his movie’s title. You don’t even have to worry that he’s got a beef with you if you’re a goddamn Nazi.

Must be those pesky Westboro Baptists of “God Hates Fags” infamy who he’s criticizing, then, right? Not even. In a phone call with his superiors in Washington, special agent Keenan takes great pains to point out that these folks are even more extreme than Fred Phelps’ clan, and that the Westboro loonies, for all their faults, are peaceful, non-violent, and aren’t known to be building up an arsenal of any sort. So, hey, rest easy — if you stand outside of funerals with signs that say “Thank God For AIDS” and what have you, Smith doesn’t even have the guts to criticize you. The Five Pointers are a new, completely fictitious, in-no-way-based-on-any-actual-religious-or-political-group extremist outfit. It’s like he’s going out of his way to completely excuse and exonerate any and all actual people, organizations, or belief systems. All of which is plenty timid in and of itself, but when one of the kids who’s fighting for his life exclaims “but I’m not even gay!” (therefore, ya know, he doesn’t deserve to die) we go from a flick that’s way too timid to a film that’s flat-out offensively timid.

So, like, who are the actual, real bad guys here? The dastardly federal guv’mint? It looks that way for a minute when the ATF are getting ready to shoot first and ask questions later. Why, the bastards even manage to get the last of our teen trio killed (whoops, spoilers!), but Smith even lets them off the hook — it’s the closeted local sheriff who starts the gunfight, not the Feds, and in the end a truly weird plot twist prevents them from implementing a Waco-style massacre, so hey — no harm, no foul on their part, either. If you’re getting the idea that Smith’s working around the clock to de-politicize a script that ought to, by all rights, be highly combustible, give yourself a gold star (and — heh — five points).

And that’s the real tragedy of Red State in a nutshell : in so many ways it does everything Smith wanted to do by ably demonstrating that he’s a talented filmmaker who doesn’t need to pigeonhole himself. It has performances that range from “pretty damn good” to “amazingly strong” (even Oscar-worthy in the case of Parks). It has the potential to make liberals happy with a pointed critique of the extremist vipers that even the “mainline” conservative groups are still willing to get in bed with politically (some of the signs you see at Tea Party rallies are almost as offensive and outrageous as those you see at funerals the Westboro members are protesting at, for instance, and there are far fewer than “six degrees of separation” between the late reverend Phelps’ church and the Kansas state Republican power structure) and to make conservatives happy with a critique of heavy-handed federal government over-reach. It convincingly portrays the nightmarish reality of a siege situation and has a kind of urgency and authenticity to it that can’t be faked. And along the way it constantly undercuts itself by steadfastly refusing to actually criticize any actual persons or institutions and by letting everybody, from Fred Phelps to the ATF and all points in between, off easy. It has multiple targets in it sights, takes dead-accurate aim, and then refuses to fire a shot.

Not to worry, though — I’m sure Smith’s forthcoming Clerks III will make even Red State look like brave, “edgy” film-making. Having taken a shaky step outside the nest and stumbled, ol’ Kev is going back to the safe confines of regurgitated familiarity. Expect the entirely expected.

I take a look at “Maleficent” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens


Is it just me, or is this year’s summer blockbuster season incredibly front-loaded?  Not only did it get off to a ridiculously early start in April with the release of Captain America : The Winter Soldier, but it seems that, with the notable exception of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, which is slated for a July release, everything that I was interested in seeing came out prior to the Memorial Day weekend — which was, in years past, the time when Hollywood’s blockbuster onslaught usually began.

Oh well. I guess there’s still some stuff I have some sort of low-level semi-interest in hitting theaters, with Disney’s Maleficent being a prime example of what I’m talking about. I wasn’t “hyped” for it, per se, but on a rainy Saturday afternoon with nothing else going on, what the hell — it’ll do in a pinch. Anybody with…

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It occurs to me that I’m kind of late to the party with this one, since Hatchet III actually came out last year, but whatever — I’ve reviewed the first two films in Adam Green’s self-proclaimed “old-school slasher” series, and it’s high time I reviewed this one, as well, even if, by all rights, I probably should have seen it sooner than I did (which was just last night, for the record).

It also worth noting that, unlike my usually way-too-verbose ramblings, my reviews of Hatchet and Hatchet II were actually quite short, and there’s probably no reason to break that streak here — after all, you  pretty much know what you’re getting into with these flicks, and even though creator Green has passed on the directing chores this time to long-time camera operator BJ McDonnell, he still wrote the script and he’s on hand (in whatever capacity) as an executive producer, so things aren’t gonna be that much different.

Which, I guess, is both good and bad. It’s good in terms of continuity (the story here picks up at the exact moment the last film left off) and style (it feels for all intents and purposes like Green may as well have directed this one himself), but it’s bad news if you want something a little bit different or challenging (which, admittedly, most fans of the series probably don’t). The blood, guts, innards, entrails, and other various viscera all fly more freely than ever in Hatchet III, to be sure, and since that pretty much represents the raison d’etre of what Green and his cohorts are trying to accomplish here, ya gotta say — job well done on that score. But is it just me, or is all of this starting to get more than just a little bit stale?


Danielle Harris is back as full-time “final girl” Marybeth, and she’s given plenty of opportunity to do what she does best — you love Danielle Harris, love Danielle Harris, we all love Danielle Harris — and it’s nice to see some familiar genre faces turn up (look for Zach Galligan as the sheriff leading a doomed expedition into the swamps to track down Crowley and Sid Haig in a memorably OTT cameo) for the party, but some of the “second generation” (nice-speak for “nepotism”) casting decisions are questionable at best, like Robert Diago DoQui (son of legendary blaxploitation stalwart Robert DoQui) as a personality-free deputy and Cody Blue Snider (son of Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider) as a typically annoying twenty-something, but no real matter — when the time comes for them to meet their end, they  all do it in style, and we all know that nodoby dispatches his victims better than Kane Hooder (even if he never gets to show his face in any of his most memorable roles). So yeah — for what it sets out to do, this flick does it as well as you’d hope and/or expect.


Dark Sky Films has done a nice job with the Blu-Ray (and, I’m assuming, the DVD) release, as well —- picture and sound are both flawless, as you’d figure from a new production, and the disc is loaded with extras including a couple of “making-of” featurettes, the trailer (of course), and two feature-length commentaries, one with the cast and one with the crew, that are both pretty fun to listen to. The shoot for this one sounds like it was positively grueling, but all in all everyone’s spirits seem high as they observe their handiwork. Again, job well done here.

So what, you rightly ask, is the problem, exactly? Good question — and not necessarily the easisest one to answer, but I get the feeling that Hatchet is a franchise in serious danger of jumping the shark. We’ve got some “voodoo curse” elements thrown into the mix here that have always lurked in the background, I guess, but become more prominent “crutch factors” this time out; the laughs are a little flatter; the “old school” vibe is not nearly as novel as it once was — lots of little things, I guess. But the most prominent death spiral that Green and Co. have gotten themselves into is one of their own making, and is the toughest one to pull out of : simply put, they’re always having to top themselves.

Think about it : every single one of Victor Crowley’s murders is more bloody, spectacular, tasteless, and physically and scientifically impossible than the previous one. And when you run up the body count as high as ol’ Vic does, that means you’ve gotta find some new way to pull out all the stops about 15 or 20 times in each film. It’s worked so far, but it’s starting to wear pretty thin, and any horror series that has devolved to the point where the only reason you’re watching it is to see just how fucking crazy and outlandish the next killing will be is one that’s starting to run on fumes. Everybody is still giving it their all here, that much is obvious, but it seems like they’ve pushed the whole concept about as far as it can possibly go, and maybe even a bit further. There’s no shame in quitting while you’re still at least marginally ahead, is there? Don’t get me wrong — I had a good time watching Hatchet III. It was pretty much exactly what I was expecting it to be, and that’s just fine. But I think it’s time to let Victor Crowley take a much-deserved rest for a good half-decade or so. He’s a fun, memorable, absolutely over-the-top character, and I’d hate to see him overstay his welcome.


Then again — most of the ’80s slashers he’s based on did just that, so maybe continuing to milk this cash cow to the point where all it’s got left is a few runny dribbles is part of that whole “old school” thing they’re going for. To be followed, of course, by the inevitable “re-imagining” of the series. The Hatchet fracshise might be starting to feel a bit threadbare, but who knows? Maybe it’s only just begun.


I have a lot of faith in Warren Ellis. Granted, Transmetropolitan remains my favorite of his works and that’s getting to be a while ago now, but his other stuff has been uniformly solid and compelling in its own way, and even if his most-praised series, Planetary and The Authority, aren’t, at least in my view, the absolute masterpieces most people seem to think they are, the fact is they were better than 99% of the stuff they shared shelf space with at the time, which means they’d be better than —- ohhhhh, let’s say 99.999% of their contemporaries if they came out today. Suffice to say, when he debuts a new project, I definitely pay attention.

Right now “the other bearded fellow from England,” as he’s sometimes called, seems to be a very busy guy indeed — after laying relatively low for a couple of years, he’s got two new monthly series that seem to show him having adopted a new, more minimalist narrative approach:  Marvel’s Moon Knight with artist extraordinaire Declan Shalvey, and the one under our metaphorical microscope here today, Trees, a  creator-owned project for Image Comics done in collaboration with illustrator/co-creator Jason Howard that just hit the stands last Wednesday.

In a nutshell, Trees appears to be intent on carving out a rather unique niche for itself : a “decidedly different” alien invasion book that actually is decidedly different. The setup is a reasonably simple one, but loaded with possibility : ten years ago, giant pillars descended from the sky, rooted themselves into the ground all over the Earth, and then just stayed there. Apparently all we know about them — and don’t ask me where this info came from — is that they were searching for intelligent life, somehow “decided” that we were neither intelligent nor living, and then hung around. No one knows what they’re doing. There’s no way of moving them. They’re silent. And everybody’s doing their best, in the wake of the initial wave of devastation their landing caused, to just get on about their business in the shadow of these new apparently-permanent fixtures.


Roughly half of this first issue is taken up with an extended flashback sequence set in Rio, but in the present day the focus seems to be more on New York (and specifically some rich Wall Street asshole who’s running for mayor there) and a polar (I think) research station of some sort that has discovered that the titular “trees” are doing — I dunno, something. There’s very little going on here by way of characterization so far, and while a lot of first issues go overboard in the “pure setup” department, this one probably takes the cake, because that’s literally all that’s happening here. If this were a graphic novel — which I’m sure it eventually will be — this would better presented as some sort of extended introduction than a proper first chapter. One gets the distinct sense that the story itself, whatever it may be, hasn’t even really begun yet.


I liked Howard’s art, to be sure — it seems to be miles away from standard super-hero work and employs some nice cross-hatching and a loose, free style. In many ways it reminds me of newspaper editorial cartooning minus the exaggerated physical features. It’s somewhat “sketchy,” no doubt about it, but that fits the tone of Ellis’ script, at least to this point, quite nicely. There are some big, bold action sequences for the artist to really sink his teeth into, and he delivers the goods with aplomb. All in all, the imagery here is very well-suited to the task of slow-burn “world-building” punctuated with instances of brash sci-fi ultraviolence and adventure. You can feel the tension in the air just by looking at folks and know that when it — whatever “it” is — finally hits, Howard’s going to land a big-time hammer-blow, visually speaking.


Beyond that, though, it’s really impossible to say what we as readers are in store for — the premise seems more suited to a half-hour Twilight Zone episode than it does a monthly comic series. The “cliffhanger” ending is impossible to understand. And sense of mystery alone isn’t going to carry things for too long if Ellis doesn’t give us some actual characters to give a shit about. I really do want to like Trees — and my inner nerd is telling me that I should — but there’s simply not enough evidence to go on here for me to be able to even begin to guess whether or not I actually will.