Fear Itself Prologue: Book of the Skull
by Ed Brubaker, Scot Eaton, and Mark Morales
What’s up with this Brubaker dude, and why can’t I stop freaking talking about him this week, anyway? Well, in this case, it’s because I’m planning on picking up Matt Fraction’s upcoming big splashy crossover thingie Fear Itself, and this is, as the title so ostentatiously tells us, a prologue to that. And since it’s written by Brubaker and not one of Marvel’s third-tier script-bots, I figured it might actually be important. And while I’m not entirely convinced of that… It is a fun little villain comic, wrapped around a fun little Invaders comic. And since the Invaders was my favorite comic on Earth for a year or two when I was in elementary school… I’m okay with that.
The story involves Baron Zemo and Sin (the Red Skull’s daughter) busting into one of the Skull’s forgotten secret bases to retrieve a mysterious book of mystic something-or-other that she’s planning to use in an undisclosed evil plan, and a flashback to when the Skull himself obtained that book back in Dubya-Dubya Two. There’s some entertaining-if-uninspired punching and shooting and a little vaguely Lovecraftian mumbo-jumbo, then Bucky blows off a Frost Giant’s head with a grenade and we wrap. Nothing to rave about, but I dug it.
Of perhaps more interest than the story, though, is the way Sin comes into her own as a character here. She’s always seemed a lesser creation to me. A ginger nightmare to be sure, but nothing about her has ever screamed “classic villain.” But she was recently disfigured rather horribly, so that her head resembles her father’s famous mask, and in this issue she’s also taken on his fascist fashion sense. So now she comes off like some kind of cross between the Abominable Dr. Phibes and Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. It’s a nice pulpy sort of look for her, and as she steps up to fill daddy’s jack-boots, I’m willing for the first time to buy that she can actually pull it off.
That’s a magnificent bit of bad guy rehabilitation there, and for that alone this book rates more than the middling grade it might score otherwise…
by John Rozum and Frazer Irving
I’m gonna tell you straight-up: I bought this book solely for the artwork of Frazer Irving. I don’t buy funnybooks for the artwork very often, but for Irving I’ll make an exception. And he doesn’t disappoint. This book has every bit of the weird-ass charm and moody day-glo palette I’ve come to expect from the man. Never has a super hero comic thrown so much pink on the page, to such good effect, as this one.
If you can really call Xombi a super hero book. I mean, I think it is. There’s no spandex or anything, but it’s about a guy with nano-machines in his body that keep him alive and healthy, to the point of bringing him back from death. Thus the title, I guess, though I couldn’t really say for sure; this is the first issue I’ve ever read. But if it’s always been as bizarre as this was, I may have to track down some back issues.
Some people might say that it was “weird for weird’s sake,” and I couldn’t really disagree with them on that. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though, really. Weird-for-weird’s-sake is a valid form of entertainment as far as I’m concerned, especially when a writer throws as many ideas at my brain as Rozum does here. The first two pages alone are a freaking litany of Dadaist horrors, my favorite of which I will quote for you now:
“The Startling Parade! An occult organization commanded by oppressive rod puppets papier-mâchéd out of discarded religious and political tracts.”
There is nothing about that sentence I don’t like. And the whole issue’s like that to some degree. To enter the world of Xombi is to enter a world where the Catholic Church employs super-nuns to battle the occult, [SPOILER] and maintains 1:18 scale prisons in the basements of old buildings. A world haunted by the twisted ghosts of children whose Halloween costumes failed to frighten off the evil spirits, and something called Rustling Husks, which (as I just found out through the magic of the interwebs) are the spirits of insects that died after getting stuck between two windows.
Sometimes it gets a little too cute for its own good. There’s a reference to a book that infected its reader with semi-colon cancer, for instance, that just kind of made me cringe. And the Snow Angels are a threat I couldn’t take entirely seriously in spite of the deadly danger they apparently pose. [/SPOILER]
But in spite of those excesses, I was utterly charmed by this book. It feels like those strange absurdist strips you’d sometimes find lurking in old issues of 2000 AD. Stories that were exciting because of the startling ideas in them, regardless of whether they made any damn sense at all. And that, in fact, is why Xombi works, too: it’s glorious nonsense. And, of course, with such pretty pretty Frazer Irving artwork to go along with it… I’m sold. Give me more!