Friday, April 20, 2007

Comics: Doll versus doll.

Let's review the brilliantly simple premise behind the Devil's Due Publisher series Hack/Slash: Cassy Hack, the "final girl" survivor of a slasher rampage, now spends her time dressing in skimpy Goth/punk outfits and dispatching slashers. She's got a sidekick named Vlad – a mountain of a man who was a slasher in training before Hack liberated him from his would-be mentor. Think of the series, which began as a group of haphazardly released one-shots several years ago, as the Misfits to Buffy's Third Eye Blind. It is good spirited and sly, but straight forward and unabashedly violent; it skirts self-parody without lapsing into postmodern narrative tricks; and though it constantly risks utter absurdity, its love for the trappings of the horror genre prevent it from lapsing entirely into teen-soap territory.

Most importantly, it is fun. Let's not forget that.

In fact, my only on-going complaint with the comics was something the comic makers didn't have much control over: Due to the rights and franchises involved, Cassy Hack and Vlad couldn't go up against the familiar slashers we all knew. Mostly our intrepid slasher-slayers went after original killers or tongue in cheek clones of famous slashers. This was okay, as far as it went. But we wanted a real dust up. If you're going to create characters who kill slashers, eventually the reader is going to demand we see how they measure up against Jason, Freddy, Leatherface, and the other murderous madmen who are the touchstones of the genre.

Finally, this month, Cassy and Vlad got to mix up with a franchise fiend. In a special one-shot issue available at your finer comic purveyors, the duo cross paths with the demonically diminutive Chucky.

The plot actually ties-in into the continuities of both franchises. The central villain, a religiously inspired maniac who intends to "save the soul" of Cassy Hack even if it means causing the mortal coil a stupendous amount of damage, is a returning character from the Hack/Slash one-shot "Girls Gone Dead." In that previous one-shot, Cassy defeated her by setting her on fire. Ouch. Now extra crispy and bent on revenge, our mad villain wants out of her charred body and into the body of Cassy's gigantic and powerful partner. If only there was like a voodoo amulet that could . . . oh, hey, wait! Enter a dismembered Chucky, sitting in the evidence room a North Hollywood police station after getting the business end of an axe at the close of Seed of Chucky. Our villain revives the Chuckster, heads down to New Orleans, sets a trap for our heroes, and swaps bodies with Vlad. Ultimately, Chucky and Cassy join forces to get Vlad back into his body and retrieve Chucky's magic amulet.

It is a goofy contrivance, sure, but no more forced or goofy than the plot twists that drove Universal's old school monster mash-ups. Just picking it up you've pretty much admitted you're reading it for the opportunity to watch Cassy and Hack mix it up with Chucky. How the writers get us there seems somewhat irrelevant.

The combo works fairly well. The past few years have seen numerous movie psychos make the transition from film to comic. Avatar produced of collection of poorly received issues based on New Line's trinity of horror icons: Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface. Ultimately, these made the jump to DC with mixed, but mostly positive, results. Chucky, perhaps one of the silliest slashers ever created, makes the transition well. He is still quick with the cheesy puns and pop culture references, but his comic book persona seems smarter and more deliberate. After watching him play henpecked hubby and clueless dad, there's something cool about watching him get back to his gleefully murderous roots. While Cassy and Vlad prove the equal of the famed cinema slasher in the carnage department, Chucky ultimately steals the book. He fits well into the strange, darkly comedic, semi-parodic world of Hack/Slash and he adds to the bloody fun.

The book has some flaws. The story feels compressed. The book jumps suddenly from one scene to the next and the lack of transitions seems sloppy. It almost seems like the writers had a mini-series in mind and, last minute, things were trimmed down to a single 40-some page one-off. This becomes especially weird in the last scene, where Cassy goes from recovering from injuries in a hotel room to a final fight with Chuckles in a swap without so much as an explanation of how our two star characters ended up there.

Still, it seems foolish to quibble about such details when one of the major characters of the book is a homicidal children's doll. We're not talking Proust here. Hack/Slash has been about delivering reliable horror tinged kicks to genre fans, and in this Hack/Slash versus Chucky does just what it is supposed to do.

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