Death Is What Happens While You’re Making Other Plans-Exiles Part 2

Despite the fact that we have had two great articles from Emily Scott and Darry Weight, I know that you guys have been chomping at the bit for the next part of our look at the saga of Malibu’s Exiles!  Well, leave what is left of the bit and get on over here, Legions of the Unspoken, as we are ready for another gander at the amazing world of The Ultraverse!

Later this week I’ll be posting a terrific interview with Tom Mason that deals with the Exiles; I promise you, you can’t wait to look at  this one, kids!  Before I get further into the last half of The Ultraverse’s most ill-fated team, I want to dedicate the rest of this look at Exiles to the late Steve Gerber, who was one of the most brilliant writers in comic book history.  There are very few people who could bend comic books to their will in the way Gerber could, and it is truly an honor to be looking at his work here.

Exiles really changed the game, folks, and I think that it is one of the last major surprises in superhero comics.  I find it to be quite an accomplishment in and of itself that they were able to keep the planned demise of The Exiles a secret.  If this book had launched even a year later, it would have been nearly impossible. Thunderbolts almost accomplished a big reveal, but I think it was just barely ruined.  Wizard, Stan Lee, and Marvel almost pulled a fast one on us in regards to The Sentry, but I think The Sentry had been on stands for .08 seconds before we all knew of their ruse.  I asked Tom Mason about how retailers reacted, but you’ll have to wait for the interview for that information!  Ain’t I a stinker?

I am not as big a stinker as that brat Timmy, who has gone and become a monster called Mastodon.

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No big deal, just doing reps with this car.

Of course, Timmy is not the only Mastodon of the 90’s, or did you forget about Big Van Vader?

Now You Remember.
Now you remember.

Of course, Timmy would probably a bigger threat than Big Van Vader due to, you know, being a giant super strong monster and all.  He confronts the Exiles in a manner that threatens them all, and it forces Ghoul to break with the plan to save Tinsel!

Also, the lady behind the Exiles get shot, which is as good a metaphor as any for how her world and plan is crumbling all around her.

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The customization on Ghoul’s sky-cycle must have cost a fortune, and it must have been done by some guy that the folks on Pawn Stars brings in as an expert on custom sky-cycles.

 Dr. Rachel Deming, though, thinks that for some reason having a giant pre-teen monster running all across town is a bad idea for whatever reason, so she breaks off the Exiles’ assault on Malcolm Kort’s office to chase down Timmy, who is a little jerk.  You know who else was when he was Timmy’s age?  No clue?  Here’s a hint?  DEAN COMPTON.

First though, she got shot, and since Mastodon’s powers so far are being really strong and having cool tusks that resemble an even cooler mustache, we can safely rule him out as the shooter.  That most likely means that the shooter is one of Kort’s goons, and which goon has the most guns?

Why that would be Bloodbath, kind sir.

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Do you think Deadeye is envious of Ghoul’s customization on his sky-cycle? Deadeye’s looks sort of plain in comparison.

Tinsel and Ghoul have their own issues, though, because ever since Ghoul broke ranks to help out Tinsel, they have both pretty much been in peril from the moment Tinsel showed up with the Exiles.  I love how Gerber keeps having the characters make the wrong decisions and showing us the consequences without being too obvious about their inexperience.

The temptation to give away their inexperience in thought balloons must have been heavy, but by avoiding that, Steve Gerber shows us the most dangerous form of ignorance; the Exiles are bad at being superheroes, and not only do they not know that, but they don’t even know that they don’t know that!  That’s the kind of thing that gets people killed both in real life and in The Ultraverse.

Before either of them can be killed, though, Ghoul and Tinsel fall into the clutches of Malcolm Kort, who just wants everyone to know that he isn’t the problem here. Rather, it is all the fault of Dr. Deming, who has all the issues while he is pretty much super perfect in the same way your siblings seemed to be when you were a teenager and you had just missed curfew.  They could do no wrong; you could do no right.  Malcolm Kort thinks he does not have to worry about the former.

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Just to talk more about wrestling, based on his shoulder pads alone, Bloodbath could be a member of the Road Warriors; I mean, admit it, Road Warrior Bloodbath has a nice ring to it!
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The biological waste just sounds like a fancy way for Malcolm Kort to say toilet.

Not gonna lie, this page made me feel uncomfortable in conjunction with Tinsel’s ultimate fate.  All of the Exiles die (although some get better), but only one gets threatened with sexual assault, sexually assaulted, and then brutally shot to death by around a dozen bullets.  If you guessed that that member was Ghoul, I’d call you a sick freak, but I’d so so with a smile as to let you know that I appreciate your humor.  If you guessed Tinsel, I’d say you are more than well aware of the tropes in comic books where these  sorts of horrendous things happen to women.

To be fair, this doesn’t fall right into the trope due to the fact that this doesn’t happen to her so a man can feel something (although Ghoul has what appears to be at least a minor league crush on her, and after he survives the group, he is haunted by the demise of The Exiles, but it is ALL of them, not just Tinsel), but it still is disconcerting to me.  I think that writers (primarily male ones) do not understand that rape and sexual assault are not just “another evil thing” that evil men (or women) can do, but it is instead very off-putting.  I think we are coming around on that, and this isn’t just something that male writers do.  I was able to interview Devin Grayson last year, and  we discussed when she had written a scene where Dick Grayson got raped in Nightwing.  She then described it as “non-consensual, but not rape,” which is sort of like saying that “we landed troops in their country and occupied it, but we did not invade their country.”  Devin expressed regret over not only saying that, but she also was sorry she had included the scene at all because she did not understand just how traumatic victims of rape, sexual assault, or abuse can find scenes like this.

I do think this is a product of the times, and I don’t think Steve Gerber meant anything by it; it does not detract from the enjoyment of the story, but I also think the story would still be just as good without the sexual assault due to the fact that Tinsel gets brutally killed.  Her death is the most brutal and in some ways the most tragic.  Of course, I also have to give Steve Gerber the benefit of the doubt in that he could have just been going straight for the jugular, which is that the most evil of evil men and women would encounter neophytes such as Tinsel, and he is just showing us the logical and most extreme ramifications of superhero activity.

While all this is going on, Mastodon (TIMMY) is squaring off with the rest of The Exiles at the mall,. where some of the coolest balloons this side of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade are residing.  I mean, you could look at The Exiles fighting Mastodon, but damn, there’s Freddy Krueger!

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Godzilla and King Kong are also hanging out. I wonder if they despise being put next to Freddy, as they are just destructive by their nature, while Freddy is evil and does stuff like kill Johnny Depp.

Deadeye does the sensible thing here and fills Mastodon full of tranquilizer darts; I also assume that he hit his target exactly where he wanted due to his awesome cybernetic eye.  Yes, I am still hung up on that, and yes, I always will be.  Of course, some might say that since the Exiles want to train him, attempting to talk him down is the sensible thing.  I’d disagree, but I’m not Dr. Deming, so I am not running this team.

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Deadeye spends a lot of time worrying about the cops, which is understandable since they are tearing up malls and stuff, but in my mind, he is also worried due to a shady past as a rogue agent; how do you think he became a cyborg?

While all of this is happening, Amber Hunt is starting to get really antsy back at the Exiles’ base.  I feel like antsy is sort of a trite way to put Amber’s feelings, since she is waiting on the doctor to come back so the doctor can keep her from dying of the Theta Virus.  Facing death deserves more than just some dude saying, “Why are you so antsy?  I mean, it’s just your life.”  So her antsiness, which is not a word, by the by, is certainly well deserved.

I have anxiety.  Really bad anxiety.  Like anxiety so bad that I think whoever is reading this is angry that they did not get to read it sooner or because it isn’t as good as someone reading this thinks it should be.  I’d like to apologize to those readers now, but that will just make me apologize a whole bunch.  The point of this diatribe on anxiety is that I can only imagine how I would feel in regards to this situation, and I have NO REASON to fear as much as I do.  Amber Hunt, on the other hand, is going to die.  She needs this treatment, and she needs it soon.  So her reaction to the situation is the only normal one; she calls a different lady a skank.

What could possibly go wrong?  I mean, it's just a super science machine and you just were bored in high school biology.
Is rhinoplasty easy? Is it the first thing a doctor learns? Like if you’re in medical school, do they measure how good you will be based on how much you struggle with rhinoplasty? Why do I hope that is true so badly?

While Amber Hunt deals with being on the precipice of death, Ghoul is also dealing with being on the precipice of death.  Or at least, he is dealing with being on more of a precipice of death than he usually is.  Kort has tossed him into the garbage disposal, and he is rightfully none too happy about it.

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It looks like a 90’s Nickelodeon show exploded. Who’s got the Gak?

Ghoul manages to stay alive because he is already sort of dead.  I could look for hours at the random debris in that slime wave.  The skull bothers me less than the bunny somehow, which I think makes me a bad person.  I am sure that someone already found me to be a bad person, though, since I love 90’s comics so much.

Ghoul makes it through this, and even though I compared it to Nickelodeon Gak earlier, now I think it is more like ooze from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The secret of this ooze, though, is that has empty beer bottles floating in it.

Back where the rest of the Exiles are trying to capture Mastodon, Dr. Deming is learning the folly of attempting to talk out one’s problems in a superhero comic book.

What?  Rationally talking to the preteen who just got transmogrified into a horrific monster didn't work?  How could that be?
What? Rationally talking to the preteen who just got transmogrified into a horrific monster didn’t work? How could that be?

The biggest reason why I wish the Exiles had lasted longer is due to the fact that they could have had an awesome crossover with Freddy Krueger who would have been seeking revenge over being senton splashed by Dr. Deming, whether it was her fault or not.  I mean, she can’t talk the kid into calming down, so I see no way she could ever convince the King of Nightmares that this offense was not of her doing.

Also, I find it awesome to see her glasses falling off.  I am a sucker for stuff like that.  Mastodon gets away, but Deadeye’s tranqs start to kick in just in time for one of Kort’s robots to see him trying to get away.

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With the amount of tranquilizer that Deadeye shot into you, you’re not about to be sick, kid; you’re probably about to die.

The book starts to get very real from here on out, as Tinsel is now subjected to Bloodbath’s predilections, which are all nefarious, sick, twisted, and depraved.  Tinsel seems like a wonderful woman, and I think my biggest regret is that we learn nothing about her before she is eradicated by one Bloodbath.  Despite knowing little about her, she is fascinating, and so her death hits hard.  Especially because of this build-up, where Tinsel spends the last few moments of her life being sexually assaulted and hunted down.

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I wish that this scene didn’t start with what appears to be Tinsel laying provocatively on the bed, seeing as how all of this is against her will.

Exiles #3 - Page 25

The next image basically represents the series.   Despite Tinsel’s last great act of defiance, it was too late her for her, just as it is too late for all of The Exiles.  The image is brutal, even for the 90’s, and I don’t have an issue with that.  This is almost certainly the outcome when folks bite off more than they can chew in dangerous situations.  When you constantly tempt death and don’t really have the training or skill to do so, you eventually die.  It’s that simple.

I also think there is subtext here, in that we are shown this brutal scene in order to fully grasp the powers that The Exiles were grappling with and how ill-prepared they were for it.  As we see Tinsel gunned down, we somehow know deep inside that while Bloodbath pulled the trigger, the real murderer is Dr. Deming, who stubbornly refused to see that her team was not ready for confrontations like this.  You realize that life, even life in a superhero universe, just isn’t fair.  Neither is death.

Exiles #3 - Page 26

Brutal.  That’s really all I can say.  There’s no doubt that Tinsel is gone, just as her life and superhero career started.  This time, the bad guys won.  The bullets seem to take up the entire page, as they enter and exit her chest, head, and basically every body part except her knees and feet, and with how Bloodbath is, I am not sure he would not just go and shoot them up after the fact.  A moment of silence for Tinsel, folks; she truly deserved better.

We’ll finish Exiles up in part 3 later this week!   Guess what?  EVERYBODY DIES.

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THE KIRBYVERSE! AN UNLIKELY SEQUEL TO THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK BY DARRY WEIGHT

“…a bunch of guys trying to get into Hell but the Devil won’t let ‘em, ‘cause they’re not all bad. So they try to go out and do bad things, which turn out to be good!”

That is Jack Kirby (on March 14, 1993) speaking about his new series, Satan’s Six. Not that there is any problem attributing that quote. Who else but the King of Comics could sell a premise like that? For more on that particular series see Emily Scott’s article focusing on these “rejects from Hades… because they couldn’t do anything bad!” This is “Indie Month,” so let us discuss the rest of the line that proved to be the last major work from the medium’s greatest creator and the chrome-foiled cards that came packaged with it.

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Can you tell this came out during the Gimmick Era? If you cannot then look agai- Wait, what…?
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THEY COINED THE TERM! I already respect this comic line more than the New 52.

This is one of the few occasions such synergistic marketing made sense, as the publisher was Topps, the trading card company, still in business today years after “Fleer” and “SkyBox” went the way of the Hologram Card. I was confused after learning that the King’s long reign ended at this company, but that was his greatest gift, always leaving the reader with no idea what would happen next.

Jack Kirby passed away in 1994. I imagine it was not just The New Gods’ Black Racer that greeted him but all of his characters, lined up to send off their curmudgeonly father figure. You have seen the movies, you have bought the toys. You know his work even if you have never seen it before. If you found this blog by accident and have decided to stick around, you probably have at least one friend who corrects you when you say, “Stan Lee created all of these characters, right?”

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“Look at Mr. Smiles over here. Where’s your wife, old man? What a Class A pre-vert.”

After years of toiling away for everyone else, Jack made his move. Topps Comics was the new guy on the scene, during the height of the comics boom, and they wanted to see what designs and characters the King had squirreled away during the years that came after he realized Marvel and DC were never going to cut him in on the real action. You may remember this tactic as exactly what is happening right now, more than two decades later. Every time you read Avengers or X-Men and realize that it has been a while since you have seen anything truly new, jot down the date and look at what that same creator had coming out from a company where they took home the rights to the books. I imagine the headspace was the same.

What did Topps get to spend all of that hard earned trading card money on? The Secret City Saga! The sprawling, four-colored epic that would usher in the next era of superhero comics. Or at least that is what everyone hoped. The end product itself is remarkable but not for the reasons it should be. Comprising a five issue mini-series (beginning with a #0, which I imagine someone had to explain to Jack without coming across as Funky Flashman) and three one-shots, each of which introduced a new character of Jack’s own design, the saga is one complete story with the promise of more that, technically, never came. Kurt “Maximum Security” Busiek (because of that book I own every single Marvel issue from December 2000) attempted a few follow-ups including, “in the tradition of the X-Men,” the “TeenAgents” and Dynamite’s “Kirby Genesis” from a few years back.

The original issues boast talent on an unprecedented scale. Though the designs (and most importantly the copyrights) are Jack’s, the first thing you see is Walt Simonson’s cover for the inaugural issue. He is joined by Roy Thomas’ script and Steve Ditko’s pencils. They were not just successors in the industry that were honoring the work of their hero but were Jack’s peers getting another shot at storytelling in the way they knew how, an oasis amidst the grime n’ grit that we all recall fondly. Even the next generation gets in on the action with the daughters of Marvel Bullpen regulars Artie Simek and Sol Brodsky showing up in the credits. This thing reads as if it were a pitch for a series about the Third Act of the greatest creators from the Age of Marvel Comics that are not Stan Lee. Even “The Man’s” presence was felt in the form of Jim Salicrup, the series’ editor, doing his best Stan impression on every non-story page. Have to fill those pages somehow and there certainly were no outside advertisers in these things. Plenty of house ads though (I may hunt down Jurassic Park before I watch Star-Lord take down Devil Dinosaur next Summer).

So why did it fail so miserably?

To say that the Secret City Saga detonated on the launch pad would not be fair, but when the first character we meet in 1993’s Bombast #1 is a black teenage junkie running from “The Crack Man,” you can see why this does not appear on anyone’s Top Ten Lists for the decade in question (not that it has ever been collected). He is joined by the manipulative, careerist newscaster, one of two female characters, and the heroes themselves, who are as white (and in at least one case, as blonde) as any of their European descended super-peers, regardless of the fact that they are from Chicago 15,000 years ago (a fact we are reminded of again and again in case that is something you are likely to forget). Glimmers of what could have been show through with Glida, the Nightglider, drawn and dressed more practically than her peers at any other company at the time.

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Not “The Crack Man” but I am pretty sure someone grabbed one of the reimagined NFL designs Jack did in the seventies. At least I hope they did.

Here is where the reach of the King is felt. I am not sure where the line between Thomas and Jack’s contributions is, but some of the ideas feel quite familiar. Every fifteen millennia the Human Race is replaced. We men of today are the Tenth Men and the superpeople of the story are of our forebears, the Ninth Men. No civilization yet has been spared the ravages of “The Darkstorm,” but the last one at least tried to save whatever came after. Without getting too muddled in the nonsense, the Greatest Military Heroes and the Finest Scientific Minds were sequestered away, in a Secret City built far beneath what is now Chicago, to wait for the next inevitable collapse. Big ideas, sprawling across the page, with more new characters and gimmicks than you even realize upon first read? That’s Jack Kirby. This story sits on my shelf next to “The Fourth World” and “The Eternals” where it feels right at home. There is a sense of grandeur, a broadening of scope, on display here that most superhero stories simply do not bother with (either because their creators cannot or will not for fear of leaving us poor readers behind). To explain what I mean, I should begin with my entry point, Captain Glory.

Captain Keltan was an epic warrior of the Last Age. He fought “The Primitives” (by which I think he means whatever we are descended from) and won Glorious Battles! He was, as the Ben Grimm-esque Bombast keeps reminding him, a Commissioned Officer, and so a little of the Lower East Side kid bleeds through once again. Keltan means “glory” in the sing-song language of our garishly garbed antecedents. This is also the name the aforementioned newscaster christens him with. Such discrepancies, the origins of the characters’ names and what exactly they are trying to accomplish in the modern world, are commonplace. I am not sure how tight a ship was being run, but Topps Comics did not survive the nineties, so that may have something to do with it. Keltan is the type of Captain America figure that Jack has been peddling since the forties, and that is not a bad thing. Keltan wants what he wants and that is the best for everyone no matter what the personal cost. He understands the burden of leadership and of wearing that sweet freakin’ mask.

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If this image had not been the cover to a Jack Kirby Collector magazine I would think that someone had just penciled over an old Captain America cover.

The Ninth Men’s principal city-state was Gazra, a wonderland in complete harmony with the natural world, though in relative isolation. This is not the case for all of the Other Previous Men, some of whom were far more advanced than us. Jack always reminded us how small we can be and how to strive for more. This particular ancient civilization had no time for mechanical or artificial structures. They did just fine without them, providing ongoing conflict when the heroes are thrust into the Modern World. They did have vibrant, beautiful colors that we apparently shun. The type of bold, primary colors that only seem to work in the world of comic book superheroes (even their movie counterparts never seem so bright by comparison).

Glory is a man who is, just about, the last survivor of a way of life everyone he meets from here on in will never understand. He dresses as if he were wrapped in a nation’s flag, its ideals and hopes. He is the best of what was, and even the tone of his voice is enough to sway characters who cannot understand him to his cause. He even has incredible “super” strength from all that time spent in “genetic hibernation.” Jack may not have had the chance to really develop Superman while he was working at DC but some of what he could have done seems to have made its way here. One of the interesting storytelling devices used is that the three main characters never learn English. There is no throwaway line about why the language barrier has been breached nor is it merely ignored altogether. It is acknowledged and dealt with in some creative ways. The alien nature of superpower is retained.

Though this is a new shared universe, Officer “Savage” Dragon makes an appearance, and a few of his early adventures are mentioned in passing. Dragon, for the uninitiated, has met damn near everyone in his long superhero career. Taken holistically, in a St. Elsewhere snow globe kind of way this would mean that a fair chunk of this universe has been witnessed since. Salicrup actually mentions, in one of his off brand Stan’s Soapboxes, that he personally believes there to be only one “uni”verse (hence the name), and as far as he is concerned nothing should bar the Ninth Men from meeting the Justice League or the Avengers. Being an avid fan of The Multiversity, I prefer packing away each world into its own little box. The first brush with superpower this world has comes from a variety of age-old superpeople showering the world with naturally grown super-weapons and technology that dwarfs our own in creativity and brilliance. The characters we are introduced to are only a small cross-section of the ones that have survived, and an entire Super City resides beneath Grant Park.

The potential here is as much a Genesis story as anything in ongoing superhero stories. As much as I would have liked to have seen this world again, either in Image or some expanded Dynamite verse, I wonder what these ideas would have been like had they found their way into an issue of Fantastic Four or Jimmy Olsen. I would never decry Jack and his heirs the chance to profit from the work that, literally, consumed his life, but years later I feel bad that these ideas are unused with no one to speak for them. They could just as easily be ignored by Marvel along with the First Family over in that sandbox. At least there we would have had a chance to see where this would have gone.

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We hardly knew ye. To think, you could be getting Converged into Battleworld if you had played your cards right!

The Democrat pictured here was revealed to be a shape-shifter (named I-kid-you-not “Shiftor”) who collapsed beneath the burden of having to impersonate a man occupying such a potentially duplicitous job. Shortly after he sacrificed his life in a noble gambit to stave off an awful, prolonged death and get back at the man who cursed him. I imagine this made cover artist, and noted Objectivist, Steve Ditko quite content. This series is a product of its times no matter how much it attempted to call to mind an earlier era and still remain timeless. President Clinton plays a major role in the story and each issue comes packaged with Collectible Trading Cards. I know this because that fact was advertised on each cover. That was the selling point here, as much as the creators and promise of “Action Adventure!” in case you were wondering why this series did not recently celebrate a Milestone Triple Digit Issue Number alongside its peers Spawn and Savage Dragon.

The villains and heroes alike look as if they were designed for a toy line that was never made. Each villainous member of “The Renegades” makes sure to shout his name and remind the boys and girls at home what his special ability is. Bombast can throw things “really well” and even Nightglider has her patented glide-suit. They come off as toy ideas that even Masters of the Universe would have passed on, and I am pretty sure the primary foe, General Ordiz, is supposed to have the lost hidden technology of an eighties recording devices on his chest.

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He cuts well is what we are saying, and, yes, that is Dave “Watchmen” Gibbons’ sign-off just beneath.
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Yeah, that is Bill Sienkiewicz. These issues are worth hunting down with their original polybags just to see whose name is attached to the trading cards.

Another problem is that not enough time had passed so that the bad could be forgotten. There are many adaptions of Darkseid’s invasion of Earth and “The Coming of Galactus!” but what we never see is a bold retelling of the time the New Gods went up against Don Rickles or Reed Richards berating Sue Storm for “being a woman.” Context is important because as it enters into its Act 3 the Secret City Saga goes completely off the rails. Not content with merely hinting at the advanced back stories of the characters we meet briefly (more than I have ever seen in an issue of Youngblood), and making sure that I had to read the Wikipedia entry on Mayor Daley, the Secret City Saga decides to plug a longstanding plot hole in Western Literature when it answers, as an issue’s cliffhanger no less, what exactly Lewis Carroll meant by a Boojum.

I cannot speak for the man but I am pretty sure this is the best comic to ever feature his work, though its main competitors are whatever covers Zenescope Entertainment produce and Alan Moore’s Victorian Era fanfic The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (which has devolved into clever tricks to get around paying for the use of copyrighted characters, because why would he of all people have a problem with that?). The intentionally nonsensical creature is actually a mythical creature of the Ninth Men’s age whose sudden appearance shocks them as much as the normal humans watching the spectacle unfold. Someone mentions a famed “Dr. Snark” and his psychic abilities and then, in typical Kirby fashion, an unimaginably powerful shape-shifter speaking gibberish takes down a living machine that has existed since the dawn of time that has transformed into robot named Genetitron.

For all its faults, I will miss this book.

The Secret City Saga is only part of the larger Kirbyverse which went on to include other properties that Jack held onto. Silver Star, late of Pacific Comics, joined the fray as did Captain Victory. You may remember him from such series as that one where the writers involved tried desperately to retain his greatest selling point (he is Orion of New Genesis’ son, Darkseid’s grandson) without incurring the wrath of the Gentr- I mean DC! Silver Star’s new series had one issue see the light of the day, same with the re-titled “Victory,” though both promised more to come. The artwork is a clear departure from the SCS. Maybe this was a move meant to increase sales but I am not sure. To go along with the theme, the latter title even had an honest to goodness variant cover, hallmark of a book that no one will ever regret buying. The artist is one of the few that needs no introduction and can, literally, be recognized instantly from afar.

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I did not have the heart to remove the watermark as sadly my copy is the standard issue and only that site seemed to be aware of this.

This issue saw print at about the same time that Jack Kirby passed on, leaving behind a richer legacy than any I have ever come across in fiction, regardless of genre or medium. We cannot know how involved he was with any of the “Kirbyverse,” never mind the Secret City Saga, but what we do know is that the last comic the line published had a variant cover by Rob Liefeld. This issue promised “the end” on its cover, but it is a poor one (my favorite sendoff is the Jack inspired portrayal of Dan Turpin in 1998’s “Apokolips… Now!” from Superman the Animated Series). If you can see past the trappings of the series, there are a few gems worth knowing about, but if nothing else look upon these books as a cautionary tale. We have no way of knowing where we will arrive but it is not always a place of our choosing.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions: Satan’s Six by Emily Scott

Welcome back to Indie February here at The Unspoken Decade! If you missed Dean Compton’s great look at Exiles in Part 1, I suppose you’ll just have something to look forward to once you’re done with this, Part 2, which delves into Topps Comics’ Satan’s Six! This comic is part of the Kirbyverse, made up of multiple titles released simultaneously that develop unrealized designs and concepts of the King himself, Jack Kirby. Darry Weight’s look at the whole of the Kirbyverse is coming up next in Indie February, so hopefully this glance in will whet your appetite for the whole enchilada!

Of course, that endeavor would probably be more likely if I had more positive things to say about Satan’s Six…

Before any fans of this work go reaching for their torches and pitchforks, as thematically appropriate as it might be for this comic, I should make the disclaimer that I won’t be wholly critical. There’s a lot of fun to be had reading Satan’s Six, and it injects a lot of humor into a traditionally horror setting. It’s got a great premise. All of the good so far, sure, but even from the first few pages, I would swear Satan’s Six is actively trying to get me to dislike it. For example, the word I kept coming back to in describing the art is abrasive:

Abrasive
I hope your eyes have not been too seared to continue reading.

The color palette is loud and garish, proportions distorted and grotesque. Much of the action is so heavily stylized that I can barely tell what is depicted in multiple panels. I’m sure some of the off-putting effect is intentional to reinforce the hellish subject matter, but the comic is so, well, just unpleasant to look at that I spent most of my time reading it going, “Gaaaaah” in my head.

My impulse to make that noise is helped not at all by the fact that of the three or four facial expressions characters make in this comic, one of them looks exactly like they are making that noise too. Seriously, this face:

Face 5appears over….

Face 4and over…

Face 3and over again.

Face 1

The whole comic, however, does not look like this. Several pages were drawn by Kirby himself, which would be great (both because well, it’s Jack Kirby, and because they’re the only pages that don’t feel like the top layer of my eyes are being scrubbed off) if it weren’t for how awkwardly they are shoehorned in: the narrator basically just says not to mind the style change, this being hell and all.

This is not the only instance where the comic suffers from what I can’t decide is either lazy writing or attempts to be more clever than it actually is. The narrator herself, a Guardian Angel First Class of the Comic Book Division, is problematic in this vein, but before I get too deeply into those shortcomings I should probably, you know, say what the comic is about. I will kill two birds with one stone by showing some of Kirby’s work on the project and getting the premise across:

I will let you decide if that's lazy writing or cleverness.
I will let you decide if that’s lazy writing or cleverness.

Pretty great premise, right? Being raised in a Pentecostal church, a denomination big on the fire and brimstone, I have always been fascinated by depictions of Hell and demons and different takes on the afterlife in general. The idea of a group of people trying to make it out of Limbo by winning souls for Hell is a great twist (made doubly great by them constantly messing up because they’re not evil enough), and the comic works best when it hews closest to this simple but brilliant idea. Where it starts to lose me is when they reach for the heavens.

I told you that the narrator, Pristine, is a guardian angel from the Comic Book Division, but what I can’t tell you is what purpose it actually serves to make her so meta, unless it is to highlight the gimmicky nature of the comic. She could just as easily be the guardian angel to these characters without explicitly telling you they are comic book characters, and I kept waiting for this breaking of the fourth wall to have a greater payoff than, say, allowing writer Tony Isabella to use the first six pages of Issue #2 to recap Issue #1 through Pristine.

I chose this page because this is a 90s comics site, and what could be more 90s than a beeper?
I chose this page because this is a 90s comics site, and what could be more 90s than a beeper?

None of this criticism is to say that the character doesn’t work at all. When the winking at the reader is toned down and she is merely meddling with our anti-anti-heroes’ plans, she is quite entertaining. For instance, while the Six are assisting a professor who has sold his soul to stop an ancient archaeological find of his from breaking free and taking over the world, Pristine reminds Frightful that if any of the Six should die saving someone, they’d likely go to Heaven, forcing him to intervene. There’s something sinister behind her wide grin, the inversion of the angelic and demonic does its best to add back a satisfying layer of complexity that the meta-ness subtracts.

Had this comic gone on longer, these two would totally have been someone's OTP.
Had this comic gone on longer, these two would totally have been someone’s OTP.

The rest of the characters would have benefited greatly from a longer run, since they are thoroughly one-note in their introduction, but that doesn’t stop Satan’s Six from having some legitimately emotionally affecting moments. The third issue centers on one of Dezira’s old flames, everyone’s favorite hunchback Quasimodo, cutting loose from Limbo to save her from the Devil’s trickery. His own penance was almost up, and his act of self-sacrifice earns him an automatic ticket to Heaven, a sweet ending in a place I didn’t expect.

Of course, that sweetness is somewhat tempered by other weirdness going on in this issue, including a plot in which Quasimodo becomes a movie star after running into Lloyd Kaufman from Troma Entertainment. It’s a completely random-feeling and wonderful cameo, and the story gets in some nice satire of Hollywood, but like a lot of things in this comic, its many disparate elements feel like they were tossed in a blender, mixed up, and thrown at the wall to see what stuck rather than carefully thought out. There’s a haphazard feel to these proceedings that sometimes work and sometimes don’t but always make me feel frantic.

Just to further illustrate how many inconsistent parts make up this Frankenstein’s monster of a comic, I’ll mention, but not go into any great detail about an unfortunate incident involving Dr. Mordius drinking a potion of his own concocting and turning into a dog. On its own, that transformation wouldn’t be so bad, but the “what the fuck?” quotient is upped when he is chased around by another, amorous dog. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got to say about that…

Doge
Yep, that happened.

How about we look at another page of Jack Kirby’s, just to cleanse the ol’ palate?

Kirby Cleanser
That’s better.

The fourth and final issue in its initial run also tells a pretty emotionally satisfying story in which Harrigan schemes to negate a former colleague in crime’s contract with the Devil, but once again, the sweetness is undercut by a pretty silly gimmick. This time it’s another cameo, one that could actually make more sense, given the hellish backdrop of the story, but is somehow integrated worse into the story than freakin’ Lloyd Kaufman.

JasonThe gist is that Odious Kamodious, the demon who made the deal to send the Six back to Earth, is unhappy with Freightful’s performance as Team Leader and threatens to replace him with Jason Vorhees. Everyone fights for a bit and then Odious sends Jason back to Hell, but not before hanging a lampshade on the gimmick. Once again, I don’t know if this is supposed to be clever, but it just feels half assed. They could have legitimately inserted Jason into a story a million better ways, which I know to be true because one of Dean’s favorite things to do is talk about Jason showing up to machete irritating people, and it’s always more entertaining than this diversion.

Sigh
I should not be this inclined to call a comic named Satan’s Six cutesy.

I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time criticizing Satan’s Six, but the more I’ve written about it and read sections of it again, the more I actually like. It’s worth reading for its premise and humor alone, and given more time, I think it would have suffered less from its gimmicks, since the non-gimmicky stuff seems so outweighed in only four issues.  It’s frustrating to read something that doesn’t live up to its potential, but its flaws make it almost more intriguing than if it were just good, which is probably why I took up so much space discussing them. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like Satan’s Six, and sometimes that’s the most ringing endorsement I can give.

Something else I enjoyed about this comic were the mini comics that closed out each issue, my favorite being one from Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre. (Such a great name.) Wolff and Byrd turn up again in the main story of Issue #4, and at the end of Issue #1 they defend a demon summoned and abused by a professor. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite context-less panels ever and remind you one more time to be sure to come back for more of the Kirbyverse as Indie month continues!

Tenure