Saturday, October 28, 2006
Comics: Damned if you don't.
Now this is what I'm frickin' talking about!
This week, Oni released that first issue Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's five-issue limited series The Damned. It was another crowded week on the horror comic shelf – besides the usual tangle of zombie titles, this new work was going up against the gorgeous first issue of the new vampire series Impaler, the Showcase Phantom Stranger, and Dynamite's guilty pleasure Army of Darkness vs. the Reanimator TPB collection – and, having missed advanced press on this thing, I almost passed it by. And that would have a cryin' shame because it has, in the space of a single issue, jumped to the top of my read list.
The Damned is a creative fusion of horror comic tropes and 1920s gangster flick trappings. It follows the story of Eddie, a man with a most unusual curse. Eddie has a hard time staying dead. When he gets whacked – as one does when one is a gangster – he croaks just like anybody. But, should somebody touch his body, Eddie's fatal wounds transfer themselves to the toucher and Eddie is up and walking again, some new scars the only sign of his latest demise. Personally, Eddie's sick of the whole thing, all he wants is to be left dead so he can rot away in peace. But local gang boss Alphonse Aligheri, a horned demon with a fondness for natty suits and the finer things in life, needs Eddie. See, somebody is trying to queer a profitable peace treaty between the demon and a rival gang boss. It could be anybody: an out of town player making a move, a rival gang, somebody in his own organization. Eddie's the only guy he can trust because Eddie's been dead for the past three days and couldn't have been behind the trouble. Aligheri makes Eddie an offer. If Eddie fixes this little problem, Aligheri promises to quit digging him up. Eddie, eager for his true and final rest, takes the job.
There are superficial similarities to Dracula vs. Capone, which also serves up a tale of supernatural monsters and pin-striped gangsters. However, that series is really little more than a fun excuse for monster mayhem and tommy-gun trouble. It's a clever, but strictly light-weight project. The Damned is stronger stuff. In many ways it resembles the fully realized (if not fully revealed) criminal underworld fantasies of things like the superlative 100 Bullets. The dialogue, while full of tough-guy genre staples, is fresh and sharp. The characterizations are built on a bedrock of genre archetypes, but then twisted and reworked until they've got new life.
The black and white art is good. Though not as stylistically arresting as the neo-noir of Miller's otherwise knuckle-draggingly lame Sin City, it uses a naturalistic look to help make the strange and bizarre elements of this particular world seem everyday. It also deploys subtle cartoonish elements to great effect. The impossibly lanky Eddie, his face criss-crossed with scars from untold numbers of offings, is immediately visually appealing.
To top it all off, the first issue is a double-sized, commercial-free dealie for just $3.50. When other comics are bloating up on ad pages and charging us extra for it, this is a sweet little deal. Smart, good-looking, fun, cool, and cheap – if this was a date, you'd be all over it by now.
Damn good stuff.