Friday, October 06, 2006
Comics: Despite what the song says, Freddy isn't dead. But you could be forgiven for thinking so.
Sometimes you just don't know how good you've got it, 'till it's gone.
Case in point: The Avatar Press comic titles based on New Line's trinity of slasher icons.
In '05, Avatar Press, one of the many indie comic presses that thrives in the market niches un-served by Marvel or DC, started producing several mini-series and one-shots based on the Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises. These comics were, for the most part, pretty lame. I felt the writing was uninspired, the art sub par, and the scares non-existent. The TCM series, which I was most excited about, not only takes place in the revamped universe of the remake, but it suffers from the sameness that plagued the actual film series. How many times are we going to see this family kidnap a girl to add to the brood? The Nightmare books were less creative than the films that inspired them. Liberated from the necessity of having to actually produce dream sequences under the tight budgets of the films, the dream worlds in which Freddy lives and hunts should be more amazing than ever. Sadly, the thread of darkly joyous surrealism that ran through the film series was hardly on display in the comic. Only the Friday books really pushed the character – which is odd if you consider that, as a character, Jason offers perhaps the most limited dramatic range. A plot involving Jason taking on a paramilitary unit designed to capture and destroy him and a story which pitted the contemporary Jason against his futuristic Jason X counterpart were entertaining. Still, even these titles suffered from mediocre art.
What Avatar did do well was gore and the covers. The creators on the Avatar series were not afraid to spill blood and viscera by the bucket-loads. In fact, I would have to say that, in many ways, the gleefully sanguine manner in which these artists approached the destruction of their titles' supporting casts out-did the source movies. The covers, too, were exemplary. Each Avatar title came in several cover variants, almost all of which were wonderful portraits or action shots of Freddy, Jason, or Leatherface. In fact, if anybody from Avatar reads this, I would happily purchase a collection of just the covers. They were brilliant.
Overall, though, despite the bloody contents and the cool covers, I was actually excited to hear that New Line had dropped Avatar and, instead, licensed their legendary properties to DC comics. I hoped that DC would take these famous monsters of film land and actually make something truly worth reading out of them.
This week, the first issue of DC's new Nightmare on Elm Street series was published on their WildStorm imprint. The first ish makes me realize what a good thing we had goin' with Avatar. DC's Freddy is to Avatar's Freddy what post-Army Elvis was to pre-draft Elvis. DC's Freddy, while perhaps more polished, has been tamed. The story is, as far as Nightmare plots go, just serviceable. New kids come to town, one dies, the other learns about Freddy. Certainly, there is a level of genre "sameness" to slasher flicks, but the series that produced the "Dream Warriors" plot could give us something more creative than this. Perhaps worse, the gore is gone. We've got a body count of two. One girl gets the business end of Freddy's glove (off panel) and ends up in blood stained bedding. Another kid gets torched. Freddy ties him to a one-armed-bandit style school desk on top of a pile of books, pours gasoline on him, and then sets fire to him with a match. That's it. For a character in series known for constantly elevating the bizarreness of its methods of dispatch, the deaths in the Simpsons spoof of the Nightmare series were more creative.
In retrospect, even with the QC issues, Avatar's various creators brought an anarchic and disreputable joy to their work. Sure characters were under-drawn and backgrounds were, at best, impressionistic. But the split skulls, torn limbs, and flying guts were intense. Each issue of Avatar seems like it was rushed to get to the good stuff – the crazy, horrific celebration of all the stuff you're not supposed to see. Avatar's books were alive with a rebellious spirit that, while hell on the quality of the books, evoked the sort of maniacal, illegitimate, gory thrills that are the draw of the films. In contrast, DC's book plays it safe. It's a generic work meant to protect brands and sell a product. This new Nightmare might be about the marauding ghost of a pedophile child-killer, but trust me when I say that DC has taken great pains to ensure that nobody could possibly be offended by their Freddy.
Music critic Greil Marcus once said that the moment punk rock was no longer worth censoring, it wouldn't be worth listening to. The same is true of splatter horror. The moment slasher flicks aren't unnecessarily excessive, they aren't worth being afraid of.
Really, the only good that can come out of this is if we get something like a Batman versus the TCM family comic.