Written by John Edward Betancourt
It's no secret that I have been absolutely enamored by IDW's comic book revitalization of Tales from the Darkside and with good reason. It's a faithful follow up to an iconic show, paying respect where it is due, but all the while adding new wrinkles to the mythos along the way. Because of the quality that has gone into this, it made today's review a difficult one, because the fourth issue of this stunning series...is also its last.
Yes, since the rebooted series never reached the airwaves there are only so many scripts that Joe Hill penned, and we have come to the last of them from that pile and well...they most certainly saved the best for last. Because not only does 'The Window Opens' wrap up the whole 'Black Box' storyline, it prepares us for something far more nefarious and in a way...perhaps explains this whole universe to us in the process.
This go round, we meet a young girl named Joss Waldrop and she's new to the neighborhood. On a seemingly boring day, Joss is terrified at the brief glimpse of a man appearing and disappearing before her while she's behind the wheel of her car, forcing her to run off the road and smash into a mailbox and apologize profusely to the family inside the house for damaging their property. But the quirky heads of the household think of an easy way for her to make up for her mistake, just babysit the kids tonight and all will be well. But little does Joss know, the two children in this household have discovered the gateway to the Darkside on their tablet computers...and she will be in for one incredible night of terror as they begin to play with reality and the horrible things that lurk in the shadows.
So, out of the four 'episodes' that IDW published, this one is my favorite by far. It ties all four stories together by revealing that Briterside's notion of control has completely backfired and unleashed an evil upon the world in Big Winner. Reality is no longer what it seems and the parallel world of the Darkside is ready to claim lives at will. That means in a roundabout sort of way, this final book serves as a prequel to the whole mess, that the horrible tales we enjoyed so long ago are people like Joss, trapped in a world they cannot explain where awful things happen on a regular basis and Brian Newman is more or less the patient zero of it all. It's a stroke of genius and all origin story aside, the story inside this issue is equally as impressive, filled to the brim with chilling visuals as the children's ideas come to life and my particular favorite is the tentacle creature that emerges from the bedroom.
However, despite this awesome finale to Joe Hill's run as Maestro of the Darkside, I am definitely sad to see this series come to an end. Tales from the Darkside was an influential television series, one that paved the way for the horror we enjoy on television today, so to see it resurrected, in any form was a big deal to me and no doubt to horror fans everywhere and one can only hope that Joe's incredible work on this series inspires someone to resurrect this series on television in some form or fashion because it's clear from these four issues, there are plenty of scary places that we can still go in this universe and at the minimum, I certainly hope that IDW decides to pick up this series as a regular run with a variety of different writers giving life to new and terrifying stories from the scariest places of our imagination. But for now, this good thing has come to an end and what better way to say goodbye than with the chilling reminder that...'The Darkside is always there, waiting for us to enter...waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.'
Written by Joel T. Lewis
If you've read any of my previous articles on comics you know that I subscribe to judging a comic book by its cover. My bent and paper-cut fingers rifle through scores of backed and boarded issues and I stop: captivated by a color scheme, a brooding figure, or, in the case of Trencher, utter bedlam.
Image was a different ball game when it came to comics especially in the early 90’s. Content creators had their character’s copyrights, creative control, and could operate independent of corporate big-wigged fingers in their comic’s pie. Image produced unique comics like Spawn and the Savage Dragon, and churned out characters like Shadowhawk and Supreme who were more reminiscent of Marvel and DC properties. Trencher is a property that did not have the staying power of Spawn, Supreme, or the Savage Dragon, but it is a good example of the freedom that a creator had in the early years of Image Comics. Whether the results of that freedom are brilliant or misguided is a question I have not settled when it comes to Trencher.
Trencher is an exterminator of sorts. He sends wrongfully reincarnated souls back to Hell after scenery smashing combat in which both he and his prey leave bits and pieces of themselves in bloody heaps all over the panels. Trencher has an impressive healing factor and a sassy Dispatcher’s voice wired into his head as he goes after a thug with vine-like nose hair, a vomit-themed creature called the Hurler, and four separate reincarnations of Elvis Presley. Trencher is as wacky, violent, and gross as you could hope for however, the artwork and the style of narration of the issues make the comic unreadable. The first issue is so overwhelming and cacophonous that the eye is fatigued within the first few panels as cityscape and hero-villain violence meld and twist into indecipherable soup. You cannot track Trencher from panel to panel: as he tumbles and fractures, spilling flesh, blood, and wreckage all over the pages you're never sure of his position or which direction the next blow is coming from.
At first I thought that I was just too tired to decipher what artist Keith Giffen intended for me to see on the page so I closed the first issue a few pages in and got some sleep. The following day I returned to find that Trencher was just too over-stimulating to process. I did endure long enough to read all four issues in the Trencher series and to his credit, Giffen tones his style back a few clicks with each issue, making the fourth of the series much more accessible. This dialing back came too little too late as the fourth issue was to be the last of the Trencher series and to be honest, I'm not sure if I could have powered through a fifth.
Trencher is a comic like no other that I've ever read: one whose artwork overwhelmed any attempt at narrative clarity. Not that narrative clarity is absolutely necessary to enjoy a comic but even when a narrator is unreliable or a storyline is unclear, it shouldn't be impossible to discover what the story is because of the artwork. Though they inspired this reaction from me, I treasure my issues of Trencher. No comic has made me think more deeply about how I read comics, why I enjoy comics, and to what lengths I'll go trying to find purpose and clarity in a comic.
Written by Joel T. Lewis
With all the continuity shake-ups of the DC universe over the last 10 years or so it has been a daunting task to enter that comic book universe for me. With 'Flashpoint', 'New 52' and now 'Rebirth' there have just been too many titles shuffling too many threads of too many storylines for me to grab ahold of anything with any confidence. Then I heard about All-Star Batman. The first issue was described to me as a madman’s road trip with Harvey TwoFace and Batman. Sign. Me. Up.
Two-Face may have gone too far. In the aftermath of a Gotham-wide spout of acid rain leaving thousands of Gothamites suffering from severe burns, Batman decides to take Two-Face across state lines to an unknown location rather than letting him manipulate the criminal justice system again. This scheme was suggested by Two-Face’s other personality Harvey Dent who wants to be rid of Two-Face once and for all. But, little does Batman know that Two-Face has put out a bounty on Batman, threatening to reveal every scrap of dirt he's accumulated on the citizens of Gotham if someone doesn't prevent Batman from relocating Two-Face. Seconds after this is revealed the BatPlane is shot out of the sky and a quick aerial hop turns into a road trip scenario. Cue a roadside diner brawl starring Batman, Killer Moth, Firefly, and Black Spider complete with some killer Batman quips and chainsaw sculptures. Rest assured I am not exaggerating and it is glorious.
The artwork is sleek and crisp, and villain and hero alike leap off the page as you read. I was particularly struck by the character designs for the Fly, Moth, and Spider themed villains as they flew through panels and window panes. Being bad never looked quite so good as Batman trades blows with Black Spider. Also the hooded Two-Face that we meet aboard the BatPlane builds up tension and mystery that pays off in a big way when he is finally unveiled on the ground. His sheet mask mirrors how he sees the world: there is a thin veil of humanity that everyone hides behind. Underneath that thin veil, like his thin sheet, lies a dark core capable of monstrous things.
Apart from nailing the philosophy and tone of Two-Face’s character and the killer twist at the end of the issue, All-Star Batman captures the spirit of a road trip that I sincerely hope continues throughout the series. You feel like you've been in this roadside diner, and driven passed tacky chainsaw sculptures like these on every cross-country outing your parents dragged you along for. If this issue is any indication there is a lot to be excited for in the coming months as All-Star Batman continues. It's not often that we get to see Batman out of Gotham, in broad daylight , and in such intimate proximity to one of his most dangerous foes. Writer Scott Snyder gives us all that and more as the panels unfold with cinematic timing; jumping between the present and just before slowly revealing more details of the plot.
Further, Snyder’s take on Batman breathes new life into a character that can be a bit one-note at times. Too often we are presented with a dark and brooding Batman who carries the weight of his crusade for justice in every panel, but Snyder gives us a hero who seems like he actually enjoys being Batman and that’s quite refreshing. He quips, he innovates, and he is present during combat in a way that I haven’t seen before. Typically Batman will dispatch a room full of goons with surgical precision and an emotionless demeanor whereas All-Star Batman is almost as talkative as Spiderman. I haven't read a Batman comic in quite a while but boy is it good to be back!