Friday, November 17, 2006

Comics: A cut above.

Previously in this humble little blog, I reviewed the first issue of DC/WildStorm's new Nightmare on Elm Street series and bemoaned the wussification of a title that, when it was home at the upstart indie press Avatar, was messy fun. To recap the situation for those who are just showing up: indie press Avatar had a deal with New Line Cinema that gave the comic publishers access to New Line's trio of slasher icons. Avatar produced several mini-series based on Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The Avatar books were clunky, but the covers were great, the action gory, and, all and all, the books were simple, gross fun. Earlier this year, somewhat unexpectedly and without much fanfare, New Line pulled their franchises away from Avatar and handed them to the much larger DC, home of Superman and Batman. DC's first New Line franchise series, Nightmare on Elm Street, hit the stands in October. The book was a big disappointment. The story was no better than anything Avatar produced and the art was worse than Avatar's. More significantly, the blood and violence had been tamed and toned down to the point where the book lacked any of the energy and force of the source material at its best. Given this lame first outing, I did not have high hopes for the other New Line series.

The great thing about low expectations is that they are easily exceeded.

Shipping well ahead of schedule (the cover has a January '07 ship date on it) is the first issue of DC/WildStorm's new The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series and, unlike the lifeless Nightmare series, this one shows real promise.

The new series takes place one year after the events in the TCM remake of Hopper's classic. While I'm somewhat disappointed that the new series seems to have effectively become the new canonical ur-text for all future works, I'm not going a bitch and moan here 'cause New Line's got to promote their franchise and complaining that economics trumps taste (especially when were talking slasher-flick inspired comic books) is a waste of breath. After Leatherface chopped his way through a couple of cops in a supposedly secured crime scene and then vanished, the massacre at the Hewitt house became national news. For a year, local law enforcement gathered mountains of evidence, but was unable to find and apprehend the Hewitt family. Determined to give the outraged nation some sense of closure, a group of FBI cold case investigators shows up to take over the case. That's the plot so far. Simple, reasonable, and effective.

The art is suitably Rabelaisian. Along with the requisite blood and decay, we get vomit, trucks full of human remains, and generic sub-Deliverance levels of backwater squalor. The layouts can sometimes be inadequate to communicate the action and the line work is a bit sketchy (was there a rush to ship early?), but these flaws are relatively minor. The coloring has a drained look, which I feel is not a flaw as much as it is a nod to the sun-bleached colors of the original film.

The writing is crisp and efficient. Unlike the dialogue in the weirdly PG Freddy-themed series, these characters are allowed to swear, which is nice. Despite being set in the revised TCM universe, there is a nice nod to the original classic: the lead agent of the FBI team is named Hopper. All and all, a good little package that is a solidly pleasant read. Perhaps the best thing about the new series is the determination to expand the story with going into wild tangents. One of the major flaws of the Chainsaw franchise has been the relentless sameness of the plots. A group of kids, car trouble, saw, bad cop, dinner, escaped final girl, the end (or is it?). This basic plot showed up several times in the films and formed the basis of the Avatar series. By pitting the Hewitt family against armed and trained FBI agents who know what the Hewitts are and are gunning for them, at least we're promised a new sort of conflict. I understand the importance of fomula conventions in any genre, but the effort at variation is appreciated.

After the misstep that was the Nightmare series, this TCM adaptation is a massive improvement. On the strength of this debut, "Screaming" is officially going to upgrade the DC/New Line effort from "cause for regret" to "cautiously optimistic." Worth checking out, especially for fans of the franchise.

For the record, though, I still hope we get the Batman/Hewitt family cross-over.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... an observation, dear fellow:
Considering your previous post some time ago complaining about a comics world run amok with zombie titles, it just occurred to me that you're being a little inconsistent by dreaming of another BATMAN title. Aren't there a gazillion of those, too?

Seriously, though, I'm really neutral on this topic. But I thought that was kind of funny, that's why I'm being a pain-in-the-patootie/devil's advocate and mentioning it.

Curiously, I can't see this match-up. Which is weird because you know how I go off on plot scenario tangents at the drop of a hat.
Although, I maybe see a Bruce Wayne as tourist in hell, all his bat stuff not with him as he blunders unwittingly into Chainsaw Familyville. Although, I stole this: my inspiration is a Frank Miller story he did for Daredevil, where Daredevil, out of costume, is the mysterious stranger who enters this sinister
desert town where the law means nothing (how Yojimbo-ish! I haven't actually read the story but I wonder if Kurosawa's take on D. Hammett was the inspiration for Miller's DD tale. Which was kind of cool. So I thought that might be a neat take.

Or, a ridiculously goofy idea for shock value: Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon and his daughter, wheelchair bound Barbara are in Texas as part of some law enforcement convention/charity function. Wayne is Gordon's guest. Somehow, the trio's path crosses with the Family's.
Things go badly. Bruce, tied up, actually has his face sliced off by Leatherface. Barbara gets hung up on a hook in the kitchen. Um, something happens to her father, too.
I guess I'm just a sadistic bastard here.

CRwM said...

I guess the number of Batman titles doesn't really get to me as I don't really read them. My superhero intake is pretty slim these days. You're right though, as common as zombie books are, will anything ever compare to the dominance of the cape and cowl crowd?

For my Batman/TCM mix-up, I was thinking that the Hewitt family could take up residence at a Wayne Industries meat processing plant. In exchange for the Hewitts terrorizing the union, the plant's managers let the Hewitts "process" certain troublemakers. The union leader writes Wayne to tell him something strange is going down, but before Wayne can get back in touch with her, she's Hewitt chow. The Dark Knight Detective goes to investigate. Cue chainsaw.