Friday, October 3, 2008

Needs More Ezquerra

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. This time, reviews, of sorts, of Preacher: Ancient History (DC/Vertigo, 1998) and Strontium Dog: The Final Solution (Rebellion, 2008).

As I mentioned in Thrillpowered Thursday a few months back, I really don't enjoy Garth Ennis's Preacher and its uncensored, over-the-top brutality and ugliness, despite its wealth of incredible ideas. However, I decided to give a used copy of this a try to get even more Carlos Ezquerra on my shelves. The book compiles a mini-series and two lengthy special editions which tell stories of some of the main title's supporting cast. The mini-series looks at the violent history of the Saint of Killers, the first special gives us the pathetic origin of the tragic Arseface, and the last story recasts the loathsome Jody and T.C. as protagonists in a parody of an action film.

Steve Pugh is not my favorite artist, but he is perfectly suited to the violent western tale of the Saint and the incident that sent him to Hell. Pugh illustrates the first two episodes and they're fantastic, a studied mix of Western tropes and ideas that suggests he and Ennis would be well-matched on Jonah Hex. In episode three, the Saint awakes on the road to Hell. Ezquerra illustrates this episode, and man, does he ever bring his A-game. With the story now shifted from pulp Western to myth and fantasy, Ezquerra turns in some work that's so amazing that when Pugh returns for the final part and the return to the mortal world, it's an unfortunate and unfair disappointment. Still, it is a great story.

Arseface's tale, illustrated by Richard Case, is an oddly affecting parody of mid-90s suburbia, with outcast teens, uncaring parents and rock and roll. I'm not certain whether the story needed to be told, but I really enjoyed reading it, and any chance to see Richard Case at work is worthwhile. Ezquerra returns for Jody and T.C.'s story, and it's played for laughs. You can't call these two monsters "heroes," but the clever recasting of roles lets the superhumanly powerful jerks take control of a spiralling, ridiculous situation while Ennis mocks the tropes of modern action thrillers. If you enjoyed Ennis and Ezquerra's work on Adventures in the Rifle Brigade, you'll probably like this one.

Overall, I ended up preferring these escapades to the one in the main Preacher storyline. The collection is very reasonably priced, and the Saint of Killers story is so darn good that everybody should see it, regardless of your opinion of Preacher. Recommended for mature readers.

The story goes that in the late 80s, as the fight for creators' rights hit British comics, some of 2000 AD's talent and editorial and publishers all began crossing swords over royalties and loyalties, and it was decided that one of the comic's most popular features, Strontium Dog, would be cancelled and its lead character, the bounty hunter Johnny Alpha, killed. It was a traumatic event for many thousands of readers - see episode 2.6 of Spaced - and one which Alpha's artist and co-creator, Carlos Ezquerra, declined to draw, electing instead to work with Pat Mills on Third World War in the new biweekly Crisis. So Johnny's concluding storylines were taken over by writer Alan Grant and up-and-coming artist Simon Harrison.

There is probably a very good story in the mammoth, 28-part "Final Solution," but Harrison's artwork is so incredibly unappealing that we can't swear to that. To his credit, he's a novel and inventive artist, full of energy and the shock of the new. On the other hand, his anatomy and his faces are so poor, and his storytelling so confusing, that what could have been a great tale of Great Britain finding a terrifying solution to "the mutant problem" becomes a chore to decipher. It's a tragic missed opportunity.

At the time, "The Final Solution" was an even greater chore, as Harrison's workload only allowed him sporadic opportunities to complete the art, and his 23 episodes were printed in four chunks over the course of a year. There followed a thirty-week (!) break before the great Colin MacNeil was drafted to complete the story. So the last part of this epic looks remarkably superior to the first 100-odd pages. Rebellion has assembled the story in a very nice package along with three bonus episodes from old annuals and specials, including the incredibly fun story in which Alpha tries to collect a couple of bounties in Mega-City One under Judge Dredd's nose, but while it is nice to have a complete set of the original series in such nice editions, really, the only thing this book proves is that Strontium Dog without Ezquerra is like a day without sunshine. Recommended for completists.

(Originally posted October 03, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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