INT: My Conservatory, A Fire Crackling Merrily, My Crab-Butler MR. SCUTTLEBUTT In Repose, Knitting Himself An ADORABLE NIGHTCAP In His Wee Crab-House
CASEY Sits In A Chair Made From A Whole Sea-Bear, A FEZ Rakishly Askew, Swirling A Snifter Of DR. PEPPER Cuvée 1967
*minding my own business because I know what’s good for me*
Y’know, generally speaking, I stand by my earlier assertion: “zombie planet in Setting X” is a bad and lazy premise! For me, anyway. Because I am as tired of zombies as anyone; if zombies are someone’s particular thing, fair play to them, godspeed. THAT SAID: goddamn Tom Taylor is good at writing comic books, and it is known that a master can do more with weak material than a lesser creative can with supplies of higher quality; see Michelangelo being intentionally stuck with a block of shit-grade marble and producing David, or, conversely, what J.J. Abrams squatted down and extruded all over the moviegoing public after tearing The Last Jedi apart with his teeth like a fucking animal.
“So then, after spending two movies setting Rey up as a staff-user, I’m gonna give her a dream where she has an evil twin-blade staff-lightsaber, then give her TWIN lightsabers from her two Jedi mentors, then have her struggle with the potential for good and evil within herself, and THEN, you guessed it: have her make her own stupid yellow lightsaber for some reason. What? No, why would she combine Luke and Leia’s twin ones into the first non-evil example of a staff-saber in the film canon to show the reconciliation of her Jedi training and Palpatine blood, and so of the Light and Dark sides of the Force and the dissolution of that false dichotomy? Why would I do that? That would make Casey HAPPY.
THE PREMISE, friends and neighbors, she is a simple one: Darkseid, father of Orion and Mister Miracle, ruler of Apokalips, He Who Is…wins. He captures Cyborg, calls in a favor with Death and extracts the missing half of the Anti-Life Equation out of his fucking eyes, and finally succeeds in dominating all sentient life in the un–wait. Remember when he summoned Death? Well, turns out, if you ask a mechanic to help you move a couch and make him stop doing a transmission replacement to do so, you’re gonna get goddamn transmission fluid all over your couch, and the boss is coming over for dinner in half an hour, and you haven’t even started the roast yet! Some of these are metaphors. Some are just me being hungry. Some are hard-earned lessons from mechanics that it has been made very clear to me I am not friends with anymore. Regardless, the upshot is that Darkseid badly miscalculated, which is actually pretty hilarious for a guy that’s been trying to conquer the universe with math since time began, and we are all screwed because the Anti-Life Equation is now self-replicating, is visually transmissible and injects itself into any eyeballs that see it, and worst of all, it knows how memes work. It instantly kills Cyborg, and Darkseid, AND DEATH, then uploads itself into the fuckin’ space-internet or some shit and zoops over to Earth to begin the final calculation and zero out all life in existence, everywhere. WE ARE NOW ON LIKE PAGE SIX.
It, uh–it does not get more hopeful from there, and in fact things get worse in every imaginable way with incredible speed and intensity and it does in fact appear that the end is extremely fucking nigh (despite the presence of at least one sequel series and two spin-offs, all of which are intriguingly actually written by Taylor as well). Heroes and villains die in droves, absolutely no one is safe, and in a scenario we’ve all become eye-rollingly familiar with given the deluge of zombie-media in the past fifteen years, Taylor manages to draw real drama, real danger and real pain out of characters that are supposed to be above, beyond or immune to that sort of thing, including a genuine tear-inducing moment with that Clancy Brown-voiced motherfucker Lex Luthor, of all people.
DCeased also does a good job at introducing the uninitiated (or just confused, like myself) to the major players in the current iteration of the larger main-ish DC-verse, including several who are getting their own series even as we speak, such as Wondergirl and Jon Kent, the Superboy, which is actually also being written by Taylor himself and whose books I’m eager to check out once the trades drop. Tom Taylor: A BUSY MAN.
DCeased is a great exercise in asking “What’s the worst possible thing that could happen right now?” and then making it happen twice at the same time; it rules and I recommend it.
Score: 8.5/10 Uncles Who TRIED TO TELL YOU That Facebook Would Kill Us All
From The World Of Black Hammer: Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy
If I’ve done my math right, this is the first time I’ve mentioned Black Hammer here, and there’s a reason for that: I am nowhere near qualified to talk about how goddamn great Black Hammer is. Go read it! It’s dope as hell, and then you’ll see what I mean.
One of the few things about it that I am able to praise to the extent that it deserves is how its system of spinoff titles has evolved. One of the reasons that comics, especially superhero comics, are thought of as having a high barrier to entry is that in order to understand what the hell is happening to any real extent, you frequently need to do considerable supplemental reading in other titles in orders and articulations that can range from counterintuitive to fucking labyrinthine.
Silly me, thinking that more than a goddamn third of the story of Blackest Night would take place in books with those words on the cove! What a maroon!
In the process of looking for that I actually discovered that there exists a website dedicated specifically to collecting and collating this information for the readers, which on the one hand is really cool and convenient and they are doing the Lort’s work, but on the other, like, doesn’t the existence of this and the fact of its necessity point to a pretty enormous problem in structure and marketing, and in-built secondary cost and time-sinkage? Cross-title pollination is one thing, and I’ve certainly discovered a lot of cool stuff that way, I’m just saying I shouldn’t have to watch A Very Brady Sequel, The Wire, Arrested Development, a specific episode of Late Night With Jimmy Kimmel and six other things Detective John Munch has shown up in just so I can enjoy him in Law & Order.
That scathing rebuke of an industry I enthusiastically support aside, Black Hammer does the opposite: It has one ongoing core title, and at count eight side-titles (past and present) orbiting it under the World of Black Hammer umbrella, all of which are great in their own right and provide valuable context but are, in the strictest sense, optional to those who only want to read the main series. This is clearly intentional; Black Hammer is, at its heart, an attempt to take what Marvel and DC have taken 60 years to learn the hard way and do it right, on purpose, from the beginning and in a way that won’t fall apart when it naturally grows and expands. Black Hammer is the shared comics universe you’ve wanted all along, but didn’t know you needed. It’s also diverse as hell and assertively LGBT+ positive in ways that feel natural and, when they stand out at all, really just underscore that those things are actually necessary for a world that feels real, because any other arrangement asks us to believe in a world that is naturally white or male or straight or whatever bullshit and and suspend the natural sense of disbelief that tags that as patently false and unrealistic, and that nonsense is exhausting. The real world has people who are different from you but are still people, get over it and join the party, and that’s the world Jeff Lemire is creating one page at a time.
BUT ENOUGH WELL-EARNED PRAISE FOR DARK HORSE AND JEFF LEMIRE, THAT PRINCE OF THE WORD-BALLOON. What the hell is a Skulldigger, and I have been ASSURED that there is no such goddamn thing as a boy, girl, other or N/A skeleton, so what’s the friggin’ deal? A FAIR HOWEVER MANY QUESTIONS THAT WAS.
Black Hammer isn’t afraid to openly harvest from the rich history of comics it’s inspired by and attempting to spiritually reboot, and as a result many of its characters are, on paper at least, clear deconstructions of, homages to, or combinations of classic heroes, and this is no exception: Skulldigger is equal parts Batman and Punisher and so, as you might imagine, gets QUITE A BIT of vigilante murder under his belt before the day grows much fuzz on its cheek. The cops are not fond of him, and the way he caves in peoples’ ribcages with a solid-steel skull on a chain! But they are even less fond of his nemesis Grimjim who, being essentially the Joker if he was immortal due to demonic possession, is just as if not more murderhappy and doesn’t even wait for people to deserve it first! You can imagine the bind they’re in, but it’s tough to have time for ethical conundra when Grimjim is setting in motion his plan to kill the entire city for funzies. Luckily Skulldigger has no such compunctions and is prepared to do a GOOD BIT MORE than is necessary to save the city, and along the way will collect an apprentice with a tragic past he absolutely does not want but can’t friggin’ get rid of, the kid’s like a fly that won’t stop landing on you.
Now, all of this sounds tropey as hell, and it absolutely is, but the genius is that it uses well-understood tropes and story shapes to build a framework–a skeleton, if you will–that could almost run the distance all by itself, but instead they actually fill it with life and memorable characters we can actually care about and a deeply thoughtful meditation on the cyclical, viral nature of violence and trauma and what it means to make a choice to either pick up or set down a weapon when it’s responsible for who you’ve become. If you’ve been looking for a story that’s not just well-built but is actually trying to say something with the tools at its disposal, look no further, because Black Hammer in general and Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy specifically are for you.
Score: 9/10 Skull Helmets That Don’t Look Distractingly Like Hellboy’s Face Even A Little, I Swear
you are coming down with me, hand in unloveable hand