Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ugly American's Bloated Halloween Part 4: Spawn the animated series!

When the Ugly American was just a hideous-looking little stunt tricyclist, he had less than zero time for traditions. Perform a prescribed action you may or may not want to do simply because you did it before??? The height of ignorance. And boredom. The young Ugly American was an innovator, not a conservator.

As my virility migrates south and my odds of developing any number of terminal illnesses starts climbing north, I become more and more interested in traditions. Maybe it's because I like the idea of setting aside time to remember things past, because someday that will be me. Maybe it's because as I get older, I'm building a greater respect for things that last. Maybe I'm just becoming a bigger, softer asshole. I don't know.

What I do know is that I have a couple of movies that I watch every Halloween. It's my version of tradition. It's not a chore, it's....comforting. It helps that both of them are outstanding films with solid replay value. Those two movies are The Crow and Trick R' Treat. I imagine the first is quite familiar to most of my readers, and the second mostly unfamiliar, and that's a shame. We'll get to both of them in the next installment of the Ugly American.

This time, I'm going to tell you about a prospective new addition to the Halloween tradition. It's horror based. It's comic bookey. But would it be good enough to make the Halloween tradition cut? Let's find out.....

Spawn: The Animated Series (1997-1999)

The animated Spawn series ran for three seasons on HBO, if you can believe it. I had vague recollections of it being a little buzzy when it first premiered. It must have garnered some interest, since it was picked up for two more seasons. But as for the episodes themselves? I couldn't remember.....anything, really.

Upon watching them again in 2013, I know why. The scientific explanation for my failure to latch onto any solid memories of this show is because it is "not good". Oh, the production quality is there, even down to the DVD packaging. The case is solid metal, you'll break your foot if you drop that case on it. The animation itself looks fantastic, albeit DARK. This was the late 1990s, when cel animation was still the norm, thankfully. Anything digital causes my brain to simply check out and leave me cold. I think the only digitally animated show I can watch and enjoy is the short-lived MTV Spider-Man series. But I'm getting off track.

So yes, the show looks good, and the show sounds good. They got Keith David to do Spawn, (you may remember him voicing Goliath on Gargoyles) and Michael McShane does a wonderful rendition of Twitch. There's nothing unprofessional about it.

I was surprised at just how spiritually dark the show is, even given the fact that HBO was unlikely to restrict them much. Al Simmons is depressing to look at, and depressing to listen to. He mostly sits by himself and moans things like "Who am I?" for no particular reason.

For sport, he sits idle while maniacs and former acquaintances murder homeless people around him. He can see it happening, and he almost always exacts some kind of vengeance when it happens. But he can never be arsed to prevent any Bum Abuse. Sometimes he abuses them himself, verbally shredding innocent people who are inexplicably interested in being friendly with Simmons.

Spawn exhibits no sympathy or empathy for anybody apart himself, his wife, and his daughter. He exhibits no interest in doing much of anything to improve his plight. Mostly he whines, moans, and kills people if they don't leave him alone. He's not an interesting or likeable character, which is a problem.

Then there's Clown. Hoo boy. At one point he snatches a picture of Wanda away from Spawn, fires his hand down his pants, and then just starts tugging. That's the kind of show we're dealing with here. And that's almost interesting, if relentlessly maudlin.

Todd McFarlane is the blessing and the curse of Spawn. No corporate entity would take the chances that he does with that IP. Masturbatory clowns? Never going to be drawn from a corporate well, but Todd is free to do what he likes, and some of that feels almost novel and fresh.

In fact, if I were to point one shining element of the series, it would be McFarlane's intros. Before each episode, a camera creeps up behind a doodling McFarlane, at which point he turns around and presents some thematic questions before advocating that you turn the lights off. There are usually skulls and potions about. It's all very spooky.

He comes off as a bit douchey and too serious about the whole thing..but you know what? He's also captivating. You learn more pertinent information about the Spawn mythology in those fleeting moments than any ten episodes of story content. He clearly has a clue about what he wants to do and what's driving his story, and he's genuinely passionate about it.

Here's the problem - somewhere along the way, Todd McFarlane got it in his head that reminding an audience they don't know things about the story is a story. And it's not. That's the opposite of a story. He still hasn't figured that out, by the way.

I guess we'll never know for sure, but if I may engage in a little story forensics, I blame the Hobgoblin frenzy of the mid-to-late 1980s. You remember the Hobgoblin craze in Amazing Spider-Man, right? I know Remy does! The Green Goblin was dead and gone, Peter had all the Osborns accounted for, so who in the world was this jacked-up asshole in the goblin glider throwing exploding pumpkins at Spider-Man? Nobody knew. For a LONG time. Spider-editor Jim Owsley (now Christopher Priest) kept the secret so well he wouldn't tell Jim Shooter. Sales rose, people were talking, and it was all over the mystery of the Hobgoblin.

Well, McFarlane comes onto ASM not long after that. He had been doing work for awhile, sure, but it definitely had to be in his brain. If you want to draw an audience, you dangle a mystery in front of them. That's what people want. That's what sells!

Unfortunately, what Todd forgot was that the Hobgoblin mystery was built on a foundation of hundreds of issues of meaty goodness, not obscure ghosts. The mystery worked because the psychological base was so juicy.

Quick impression of Gwen Stacy's spine for you:



That's why Peter Parker and his audience cared about the Hobgoblin. There was a tangible, gripping history there. Spawn has none of that. Who is Al Simmons? I don't care. He's a mopey jerk. And a government hit man before that. Yuck.

And if I don't care about the main character, how many tons of apathy do I have toward the diabolical Jason Wynn, his missing gun shipments, and his plans for the White House? Those threads comprise about 40% of the plot, and they generate zero interest particles. I couldn't explain to you why those elements are in there.

I suppose those conspiracies connect to the main story because they put Wanda and her new beau Terry in jeopardy. But we have no idea who these people are, because Al doesn't really remember them, so who cares? Or maybe it's a cautionary lesson about government corruption?

It's hard to know what the lessons of Spawn are. I feel like somewhere deep below its nougat filling, Spawn wants you to know that there is no fate, and that you can always choose a redemptive path for yourself. You can almost sense that somewhere around chapter 2,354 Todd wants Al to find a way to break his pact with Malebolgia, disrupt the plans of hell, and then wait in heaven for Wanda and Cyan to return to him.

If that's the case, Spawn is taking a really bizarre path in getting there. Occasionally this cat named Cogliostro shows up and irritates the shit out of you. By the way, the only way you'd know the guy's name is Cogliostro is by reading the end credits, because he certainly doesn't advertise that fact. It's a mystery, so that it makes it interesting, right? (slaps palm with forehead)

Cogliostro knows everything you as the reader/viewer need to know in order to understand and care about the Spawn story. He reminds Spawn (and you) of this each time he appears, and revels in keeping all of those treasures to himself. Here's an encapsulation of an actual conversation between Spawn and Cogliostro in a dark alley:

SPAWN: Piss off, old man! I'm busy brooding!

COG: You're about to make one of the most important decisions in your life and the future of earth, and you'd better make the right choice!

SPAWN: Uhhhhh! So annoying! What are you even talking about?

COG: If I told you, it wouldn't even matter.

At that point you just kind of throw your hands up and concede defeat. That's not a narrative, it's a skeleton of a narrative so lacking in manners that it outright tells you that it will never have any meat on its bones.

Precious little of the skeleton makes sense, by the way. As the Spawn story is constructed, the Hellspawns sign a pact with Malebolgia. Apparently something about this process invariably produces amnesia, at which point Malebolgia sends them to earth so they can bitch about how non-compliant the Spawns are. What??? He doesn't remember making "the deal", why would you be surprised that he's not living up to it? And the only information you as the audience would know about "the deal" is from Todd's intro, not the story itself. All the "story" does is remind you that you don't know what happened, and neither does he. It's madness.

If you show Simmons make the deal to be the Devil's muscle in exchange for being re-united with his wife, and then watch him pop up five years later when she's already moved on, NOW you might give a crap about things. Particularly if you establish a real loving couple first. And it would help the audience invest in the character if they know more than Spawn, but are unable to help as they watch him get pummeled by forces out of his control. They might even identify with such a character.

But not this character and not this series, unfortunately. It's a lot of darkness, and child molestation, and shooting, and altogether too much interest in government insiders and conspiracies you couldn't possibly care about. But it's definitely Spawn. Is it worth watching? I recommend viewing the Todd intros and skipping the rest.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bloated Halloween part 3 - Afterlife With Archie!

Afterlife With Archie # 1
Script: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art: Francesco Francavilla

Just a quick heads up...I'm going to spoil the crap out of everything, so if that's a problem, stop reading this and then sprint to your nearest LCS to grab a copy of this book.

It is the greatest of all understatements to say that I had high expectations for this comic. A good story can be crushed by those kind of lofty demands. Perhaps my review is complete when I tell you that the first issue of Afterlife With Archie satisfied all of my unfair preconceptions about what it could and should be, and exceeded most of them.

This is a really, really, really good comic book, and a nearly perfect horror comic.

I talked about this comic for a bit on the latest installment of Chronic Insomnia, and I placed most of the credit for AWA's success with Francesco Francavilla. My thinking has crystallized a bit more in the few days I've had to sit and ponder.....and while I still believe that Francavilla's efforts are the lynchpin, I shorted Aguirre-Sacasa just a little, and I mean to rectify that here.

The primary obstacle to Afterlife With Archie is the fact that every fiber of Riverdale's being strains against darkness and horror. Neither the characters, nor the tone, nor the history of the concept want anything to do with Somber Town or Disturbing City. do you do it? How do you build a fort of dread out of cheesy smiles? How do you get a modern audience to invest in your world when there's a guy with a crown on his head in the scene? A yeomen stands no chance of crafting a structure that will stand up to the audience's disbelief, and a master craftsmen would look at the materials, furrow their stately brow and pass, wouldn't they?

But if you had to do it with those tools - what's your plan?

Well, here's what Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa did: Firstly, he made the incredibly brave/bizarre decision to play it straight, and hew closely to the zombie classics. It's hard to overstate the balls it takes to attempt something like that. If you were worried about the book treating the material seriously - put those worries to bed.

This is a pure horror book. It's dark, it's apocalyptic, there are moments of Kafka/Cronenberg level body horror. The comic begins building dread with the first page and never lets you off the hook for a moment. There is no ironic winking to the audience, self-deprecation, or "aw shucks" smarminess to rescue you from the sense that things are going terribly, terribly wrong and you're not sure you want to see how wrong but goddamnit you have to turn the page to watch it happen any way. If you like George Romero, you'll love this comic.

So what tools does Aguirre-Sacasa have to use? Well, trouble in Riverdale often begins with its resident jerk and bad seed, Reggie. In this case, the end of the world begins with Reggie's ill-advised decision to drive home after a few too many drinks.

His impaired driving takes him on a collision course with Jughead's lovable pooch, Hot Dog. And he dies.


In order to get zombies, you're basically stuck with two options - science or magic. Well, the Archie house has licensed Sabrina the Teenage Witch. So Jughead takes Hot Dog over to Melissa Joan Hart's house to see if there's anything to be done. It makes sense. Not logically, of course. You've seen Pet Cemetary, you know how this works. But grieving hearts don't engage in high-level thinking, they only know the hurt of loss.

The witches examine Hot Dog and declare him a lost cause. Had he still been breathing, they could have coaxed more life into him. But once a creature has passed into death...only necromancy brings them back, and that is strictly verboten. For good reason.

Sabrina is a good friend, though, and can't bear to see her friend in such pain, and do you see where this is going? Of course you do, because you've seen this story before. If you want to assign five demerits to Sacasa for borrowing too much and innovating too little, I will understand. I forgive it in this case because it makes so much sense, both in terms of plot and character. I believe these people might do these things in those situations.

Sabrina grabs her Necronomicon and tells Jughead to grab a shovel. They bury Hot Dog, Sabrina chants the incantations....and then comes another wave of building suspense. The comic is constantly reminding you that you have X hours before the end of the world begins. Hot Dog comes back, but he isn't quite right. He bites Jughead. Then Jughead isn't quite right.

When you think about it, it absolutely had to be Jughead. Who else but the character defined by his depraved, gluttonous eating? This is what I'm talking about when I say that I underestimated Aguirre-Sacasa's input. Part of the reason why the book is so air-tight is because he found a way to take those seemingly impossible ingredients and create a savory dish without cheating. That's the character: grotesque eating! Sacasa found a real zombie story in the available materials, without changing or denying any of them.

Once the stage is set, he ratchets up the tension. Sabrina's infraction is instantly discovered. This isn't Fantasia, where the apprentice gets swatted on the behind with a broom for his hijinx. Sabrina's elders remove her offending mouth and then park her into another dimension for a year to cool out for a bit! That might be the moment where I completely submitted and said "Holy shit, this is for real!"

It's all for real, and it all feels "real" because Francesco Francavilla makes you believe it with his incredible art. I'm not sure what else to say about it other than to declare the obvious - looking at these pages is like walking into a classic horror film.

The angles, the lighting, the coloring...I don't know what it is. I don't have those goods in my analytical tool box. The lines aren't strictly evocative of anything I can point to. It doesn't photocopy Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead. It doesn't precisely look like those things, but it indisputably makes me feel like I felt while watching those things.

Aguirre-Sacasa brings a kind of poetic sense to the story, but it's Francavilla who sells the authenticity of the horror. This is Eisner-worthy stuff. No, I'm not even close to kidding about that.

Bottom line here is that if you have any interest in horror at all, this is a MUST buy. If you have no interest in horror, this comic is so good it might just swing you over and is a MUST buy. It's $2.99, people, you can feel good experimenting and rewarding the effort.

It even feels like a real comic when you hold it in your hand, because the cover stock is thicker than most anything published these days and has a little "grit" to it. Kudos to the folks at Archie for going all out and paying attention to even the production value.

It's even interesting in a Market Spotlight kind of way. AWA is a direct-market only book, they don't want kids at the grocery stores grabbing this off the shelves and scarring their souls for life. So these might be the scarcest Archie comics in well, ever.

In the back matter, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa tells the origin story of the comic, and cites the zombie variant to Life With Archie # 23 as the inspiration. That makes it an instant classic, and if you should find one at your LCS, I would grab that with gusto. And then sell it to me. I desperately want one of those!

What this reminds me of, oddly enough, is a speech that Alfred gives to Bruce in Batman # 24. (side note: Batman # 24 is a piece de resistance, tour de force, instant classic, and slap any other superlatives you care to on it because it deserves them all) He tells Bruce that he needn't worry about his identity being discovered because deep down, people want to believe that something eternal like The Batman can exist. Now, if you're a fraud, people will reject that and delight in tearing you down. But if you have the skill to sell it, people will delight in submitting to the show.

Francesco Francavilla will have you a believer. Go get this comic.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Ugly American's Comfortably Bloated Halloween, part 2: More Werewolves!

Werewolf By Night # 14
Script: Marv Wolfman (no, I'm not kidding..that's his name)
Art: Mike Ploog/Frank Chiarmonte

Last week the Ugly American tackled some modern mob-type werewolves, and they were pretty darned good. If you want to travel to the center of my heart, though, it resides in a magical land called the Bronze Age.

I think a lot of people forget - there was a significant chunk of time when you couldn't publish profitable comics without the Comics Code seal of approval, and they had pretty much outlawed all horror elements from the medium. So in the 1970s, monster books were a delicious forbidden pleasure, and Marvel eased back into the genre with a pile of creature books like Tomb of Dracula, Frankenstein, Man-Thing, Zombie Tales, and of course Werewolf By Night.

The Marvel monster books were tame in comparison to the pre-code EC material that drove the genre underground, but still great fun. In the case of Werewolf By Night, the protagonist Jack Russell uses the wolf as an unwitting tool against evil. That's how you got around the code, of course - you kept the blood to a minimum, and you made sure the bad guys were getting the worst of it.

While the code did limit some of the overt sex and violence, Werewolf by Night brought healthy dollops of both in a very attractive package. My favorite cover in the series is # 14, with a classic Mike Ploog werewolf facing off against the diabolical mage Taboo and his lovely assistant Topaz caught in the middle. Delicious!

How do I adore Mike Ploog's art?...let me count the ways. First of all, his wolf creature is BAD ASS, ready to rip, and a powerfully lithe figure. A lot of guys want to communicate power through size, (and that can work, of course) but what a great choice Ploog makes to eschew that in favor of a more natural figure. Look at the way he's posed the Wolf, especially with the right arm in a posture that human beings just don't take. Green pants aside, that's a beast you do NOT want to mess with, and you don't need the monster bulked out to convey it.

Ploog is communicating everything you need to know about the character through the eyes. The Wolf and Taboo have the narrow menacing eyes, and Taboo's overly-developed arched brows take him over the top. Topaz has the overly-large manga style eyes, partly because that character's heart is about to pound out of her chest, and partly because it's an old trick to establish a warm openness to the character.

A couple other items strike me about the art in general, and that cover in particular. LOVE the Kirby Crackle floating out of that cauldron in the back, classic 1970s! I like the accentuated chubby fingers on Taboo, as well. I guess I wouldn't describe Ploog's style as "cartoony", but some of the features are a little exaggerated (in the best ways) and it tends to soften things a bit.

Again, the publishers have the code to deal with. You don't necessarily want your art team to take a "John Buscema on Savage Sword of Conan" approach. It would be gorgeous, but it would feel too real...not safe enough. In my opinion Mike Ploog's pencils are perfect because he's revelling in the horror elements without skeeving you out in a Crossed sort of way. That's not a knock on Crossed, mind you, there's absolutely a place for that book. A 1974 spinner rack at a 7-11 is not one of those places, though.

The story is easy to grasp and recapped nicely on page one. The basics are these - Jack Russell is cursed to become a Werewolf By Night, and he's currently in possession of a book of dark sorcery called The Darkhold. Taboo wants it for nefarious purposes, Jack doesn't want him to have it. Jack is kind of swaying his assistant Topaz over to the side of angels, and Taboo has somehow transported the mind of Jack's hated stepfather into a monstrous golem.

Let the battle begin...ding! ding! To up the ante, sunrise hits the venue in the middle of round five, and now Jack has to battle Algon without the benefit of The Wolf to help.

That's the tip of the iceberg...there's a ton of story in this issue. I won't be handing out any spoilers here, but I can tell you that tension abounds in this issue. Neither Jack nor the Wolf like Taboo very much. Topaz is torn between the devil she knows and a possible life with Jack she may not fit into. Jack likes Topaz, but how in the world could he ever trust her? Jack is always at odds with the Wolf. (although sometimes he slips up and says "I" in the voice overs when the Wolf is acting) He can't stand his stepfather, because he killed his birth mother. But he can't just let the guy get stuck inside a monster, either, can he?

The key to the old (and also the new) Marvel books is that relentless wave of dramatic tension. Things rarely work out perfectly for these characters, there are always urgent and generally relatable problems to be solved. I feel like I'm out of control sometimes. I think the girl I like is really terrible for me and has daddy issues. My stepfather's mind is trapped in a magical killing machine. Nobody is building to an "event" here, where everything we know about Jack "changes forever". It's a story about a guy with interesting problems, and he tries to solve them.

And by the end of the issue, some of those problems have clean resolutions. Some of the problems have become more complicated. Then we're on to the next thing, which in this case is a trip to Transylvania to square off against Dracula himself. Stuff is moving, baby! That's Bronze age Marvel comics at work.

But wait...there's more. You'd be getting your 20 cents worth just with the Marv Wolfman story and Mike Ploog art. But what if I told you that the Record Club of America was offering 6 LPs or 5 cassette tapes for only 99 cents, with no further obligation to purchase anything else? The correct answer is: JACKPOT!!!

They weren't offering any musical dregs, either, my friend. We're talking about epic material like Helen Reddy, Donny Osmond, and Three Dog Night. Now those are treasures.

You don't see too much of that in today's comics. Mostly because nobody makes cassette tapes any more. You get a lot of house ads in today's comics, and you get some video game ads. I like the old books better with horrifyingly stupid Hostess comics, and Sea Monkeys, (never had the balls to order them) or 7,312 green plastic army men for $2.00 is always good as well. I definitely ordered several billion of the green plastic army men. Were they more likely to get caught in the blades of the lawnmower, or my trachea? Pretty much a coin flip. Why was I sucking on military men with telescopic rifles, any way? Best not to ponder that, I think.

Let's change the subject and check out this Mike Ploog splash page, huh? Look how he's got the story elements of the panel lined up perfectly in that classic "Z" pattern that your eye (unless you've been reading manga your whole life) naturally wants to follow. You almost don't need the captions to figure out what's going on.

Taboo has called on the spectral avatar of his assistant Topaz and shot her mystically into Algon, who already has a disturbed mind inside. Ploog went trippy with the psychological battle; I think Algon's pained expression in the bottom left corner is just priceless. I think that's the kind of panel that the old Marvel Method invited an artist experiment with.

A full script writer might attempt something similar, but I think they're going to get it wrong more often than not. Both styles have advantages, but the older I get the more I see the value in the give-take-give approach. The writer designs a solid blueprint, the artist constructs it with real trench know-how, and then the writer takes that solid structure, sees how beautiful the construction team makes it, and then adds a little koi pond or tasteful rug to really bring the room together at the end. Sometimes when the blueprint guy tries to do the drywall...the whole thing comes down. Or looks ugly.

I love pretty much everything about these Bronze age gems, if you can't tell already. I like the letters page and Stan's soapbox. And hey, you didn't think Stan would let a page go by without a little cross-promoting of other Marvel titles, did you? Well, he doesn't. My favorite in this issue is a Conan advert letting you know about an upcoming tussle with "Thusla" Doom. And if you think he's bad news, you should see his cousin Thulsa. That guy was so formidable they had to get the voice of Darth Vader to play him.

Anywho. Halloween is a good excuse to revisit these treasures. If you're not occasionally going back and diving into some older comics, you're doing yourself a disservice.


Nothing in this life could possibly prepare you for how awesome Afterlife With Archie is going to be. The first issue hits stands this Wednesday, October 9th!!!! No mortal is worthy to review such a macabre masterpiece....but lucky for you The Ugly American is prepared to venture where angels fear to tread. I'll be back with a full review soon!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Ugly American's Comfortably Bloated Halloween, Part 1: Werewolves!

When the Ugly American was just an ugly little boy, Christmas was the Cadillac of holidays. Christmas carried the ultimate trump card - a guaranteed assload of presents. And because you knew the presents were coming, there was the added bonus of sinfully painful anticipation. That's pretty tough to top.

But now that the Ugly American is an old man with ever more faltering plumbing and ever more crotchety joints, I have to say that Halloween is king. Carbohydrates? Yes, please! I like the more authentic sanctity of spirits, and fear barely held at bay. I don't know how much of Christmas has anything to do with sincere religious belief. That whole scene is so plagued by rampant commerce and political correctitude....all the vitality has been stripped out. I think a lot of people, even people who publicly would declare otherwise are afraid of ghosts in their guts. That, I like. I like the notion of acknowledging, facing, and making peace with monsters. Halloween is one of the few holidays that doesn't mind being sexy, either. What's not to like?

So all this month, The Ugly American is doing Halloween....a comfortably bloated Halloween. Let's talk about werewolves, shall we? YES!

Kiss Me,Satan! # 1
Dark Horse Comics
Script: Victor Gishcler
Art: Juan & Eduardo Ferreyra

Kiss Me, Satan! is the story of Barnabus, a fallen angel looking to make good by protecting a coven of comely witches from a pack of werewolves.

Story-wise, I really enjoyed the fact that Kiss Me stayed true to the old K.I.S.S. formula: Keep It Simple, Stupid! So many of these types of stories end up falling flat these days because they are primarily concerned with not telling you the story. The point lately is make a lot of jump-cuts out of time and dribble little crumbs of stuff that might be a story later on.... but in the meantime here's some people you don't care about doing things you don't understand.

Not so, here. The character is instantly identifiable. He's a noir template hard-boiled thumper. Nothing too fancy there, but the thing that Gischler did with Barnabus is soften him with a hint of self-doubt. On the outside he's all confidence and posturing, but internally he wonders if he's bitten off more than he can chew, and makes tactical mistakes. If he's just hyper-confident, that gets a little grating. I can deal with spending time with Barnabus.

We've also got character motivation we can comprehend quickly. Of all the angels that rebelled against God, Barnabus is the one guy trying to win his way back into the fold. The deal is, he works for God now until the Almighty decides he's paid his debt. When is that? His contact (a ridiculous, pudgy little cherub named Julien) says he doesn't know. One gets the feeling that Team God might just be yanking his chain.

So Barnabus is stuck doing grunt work for a God that might never come through on his end of the deal, and meanwhile the minions of Satan don't take kindly to anybody breaking the union picket line. The angels don't accept him, the devils are pissed off that he's breaking ranks, and the werewolves he's been repeatedly shooting in the face don't seem particularly pleased with him, either.

Point being, after the first issue I know exactly who this character is, I completely understand what's motivating him, and there's tension everywhere because it's one man against (at least) three worlds. How rare is it these days to find a comic that sets the reader up so well? Keep It Simple, Stupids!

Which is not to say that there aren't any mysteries or subtleties involved. Barnabus has a little MacGuffin of a necklace with an attractive Goat of Mendez on it. It does some special stuff for him, we're not sure what just yet. We don't know anything about what prompted Barney to pursue heaven again, or how his contract work with God started.

Also undeveloped to this point is the idea that "New Orleans is a werewolf town." So far what it means is that the werewolves are abundant and in control, basically operating like the mob. They run prostitution and protection rackets, and other supernaturals presumably know that they enter New Orleans at their own risk. I think this comic graduates from "good" to "great" if Gischler can really flesh out that "werewolf town" aspect fully and show us how a city would uniquely develop under those circumstances. I don't think that's on his agenda, though.

The plot hammer works like this - Cassian is top dog of the New Orleans werewolf clan, and his wife Meredith has a little puppy-bun in the oven. Or does she? A witch with a mechanical Cthulhian eye
is brought in to determine if the baby carries the Mark of the Lycanthrope. No mark, no succeeding the pack leader. And in this case, Verona (who should definitely be voiced by Brad Bird in any animated adaptation) has bad news - no werewolf Mark for junior.

It's implied that if the child can't succeed the father, then pack leadership becomes a free-for-all bloody battle for the crown. Of course when Cassian works this out in his head he kills everybody in the room, and then determines that the only loose ends left to cut off are Verona and her apprentice witches.

So Cassian sends his trusted cadre of werewolf thugs out to assassinate Verona
and her crew, and Barnabus for some reason is contracted by heaven to protect them. Let the hijinx ensue!

And ensue they do, in all the glory that Juan Ferreyra can muster, which turns out to be quite a lot. I like the strong jawlines and facial expressions. I don't ordinarily notice the coloring in a comic, but I sure did in this case. All of the action sequences have a kind of blurred, painted motion effect that I was completely enamored with. Toward the back end of the book, there's a chase sequence that happens at night, and I really enjoyed the lighting effects and the ambience of that as well. In the credits, Eduardo Ferreyra is listed as providing "color assistance". I'm not sure what that means, but if it has anything to do with brushing out those blur lines, I'm way into his work.

I wouldn't describe Kiss Me, Satan! as a gore-fest, but the ample action displayed does not pull punches. Listen, when you pick up a werewolf comic, you're going to want a requisite amount of clawing, biting, and slashing wolf creatures. Satan does not disappoint in any of those categories. This is a comic with an eye toward hitting the accelerator in all phases. It sets up quickly, things move forward with minimal dawdling, and when the punches come they land hard.

If you were looking for something akin to Sandman, then I would pass on Kiss Me, Satan! If you were looking for straight horror, I think you're barking up the wrong tree. If you like high-action noir, you will feel very much at home here. You've got a flawed/damned protagonist blasting werewolves and rescuing dames...I love it!

Next up.....more lycanthropes when the Ugly American tackles Werewolf By Night # 14!