Cut to the Chase by Emily Scott

Greetings, Legions of the Unspoken! Emily Scott here with yet another tantalizing round of telling you about a comic that never got to fully explore its potential! Come one, come all and gather ’round to gasp at the abandoned character development! Marvel at the missing resolutions! And if you’re very brave, try your hand at wildly speculating where the unexplored plot points would have eventually lead!

I kid, but as the links demonstrate, a lot of interesting and worthwhile comics never got the chance see how good they could really get, and each one makes me a little sad and wistful, even as I’m simultaneously glad I got to discover them at all. As fans of, say, Firefly or The Clash will tell you (whether you want them to or not), it can be rough to contemplate what might have been with any art that speaks to you, but as the links also demonstrate, good art goes away abruptly all the time, and there’s no use being histrionic or too sentimental about it. Sometimes you read a fun comic, and then there isn’t any more of it, and it’s a bummer. Such is the case here. So without further ado and sans the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, let’s cut right to the Chase. (You knew that was coming. Hell, I made it the title of the article.)

chase #1 pg00
Anyone else really want to know what Martian Manhunter is watching?

Chase, a DC comic published from the beginning to not quite the end of 1998, follows one Cameron Chase, a rookie agent with the Department of Extranormal Operations. (Its name calls to my mind the opposite of what it’s meant to. I picture of bunch of agents in suits investigating, like, really normal things. EXTRA normal things.) Its ten issues, mostly written by Dan Curtis Johnson, drawn by J. H. Williams III, and inked by Mick Gray, paint a character who feels very of her time but also slightly ahead of it.

Chase is cynical but determined, brave and unafraid to take action, but flawed in more than enough believable ways to keep her far away from fulfilling any Strong Female tropes. She might not feel quite as novel a character in a time when even non-comic readers know the name Jessica Jones, but in 1998 there was a dearth of female characters in any medium written complexly enough to wear their strengths and their weaknesses equally well, and there’s still one now. I may have gotten some 90s nostalgia reading Chase, but there’s not much about it that couldn’t have just been written today and still feel pretty fresh.

chase-kicks-ass
Someone getting kneed in the groin never goes out of style as a reliable source of comedy.

There also aren’t a ton of characters who can slot right in to as many different settings as Chase can, but that’s one of the benefits of a perpetually put out character. She feels just as natural rolling her eyes at Batman or scoffing at the Teen Titans as she does sneering at weird mystical creatures or quipping at an Artificial Intelligence. Her scorn makes her feel relatable in unrelatable situations, where you could see why a detachment from her surroundings would make her a top notch investigator. She has a disdain for the superhero (pardon me, metahuman) world in particular, and her choice to inhabit that world anyway and the ways in which she belongs there more than she knows seemed as though they would have been pivotal emotional conflicts had the title continued.

chase-ny
I am retroactively sad for 15-year-old me that Vampires of Angst is not a real band.

Chase’s first mission finds her in Ohio investigating a case that would fit right into today’s world (well, today’s world if people had superpowers). Jerry, a high school kid sick of getting picked on by a chadbro actually named Chad, is set off by the sight of his crush with his tormentor and unleashes a pyrokinetic blast. Chase and her handler, Agent Sandra Barrett, track Jerry down, and Barrett tells him he will be sent to a training facility for “talented” youth, a decision that does not sit well with Chase. (This is another conflict that seems like it also would have been expanded on in further issues had there been more. There are references to a list generated by standardized testing used to identify children who likely have powers, and in a later issue, you see a newspaper with the headline “Govt. kidnapping super kids!”)

Chad ends up dying from his injuries, and the town shows up to Jerry’s cell out for his blood. Jerry escapes with another pyrokinetic blast, and Chase finds him by correctly guessing that he is heading for his crush’s house. Before Jerry can do any more damage with his abilities, something inside Chase reaches out and dampens Jerry’s fire. Chase decides not to tell anyone how she was able to counteract his powers, considering she is still new to the DEO, has already had an ideological disagreement with how they handle metahumans on her first mission, and has wholly negative feelings about those with powers anyway. And, you know, shadowy government agencies, real or fictional, don’t always have the best track record at handling things they don’t understand particularly well. So probably a good call on her part.

Chase’s next mission sends her off to South America to investigate an Artificial Intelligence called the Construct that had taken up residence in a temple and was a day away from taking over the world’s computer network when the Justice League shut it down. Amanda Waller informs Chase that there is still a heat output in the temple and sends her to investigate with, you guessed it, the Suicide Squad!

chase-and-suicide-squad-besties
This panel tells you just about everything you need to know about how well they work together.

The mission goes about as well as you would expect, with the Suicide Squad amusingly annoying the piss out of Chase, then deciding to go with Plan B (escape) when the conflict between some insurgents and the soldiers holed up in the temple prevent them from accomplishing their objectives. Chase attempts to stop them, which leads to her power-dampening powers flaring up on Copperhead, and she falls down a cliff and ends up in the custody of the soldiers. Those soldiers turn out to be form Soviet Intelligence, who are apparently just kind of bored since  the Soviet regime collapsed and scavenging for information in the temple. They stick Chase into the Construct’s interface, since they don’t know what it will do to a human, and she is informed that the Construct has infiltrated the Soviets’ armor with plans to take over the world’s systems next.

Chase does manage to escape with that valuable information after kneeing her captor in the crotch (see above), so it’s not a total wash, but she assumes incorrectly that her next assignment, babysitting the Teen Titans, is a punishment for the previous mission’s failure. Her misconception is corrected by the DEO’s director, Mister Bones, who she discovers is a talking skeleton. (Am I the only one who would read a title that’s nothing but a walking, talking skeleton engaging in mundane bureaucratic tasks to work his way up the ranks?) Bones tells her that a lot of European law and intelligence agencies are suddenly willing to exchange information with the DEO now, and since no good deed goes unpunished, Chase’s reward is to guard just the sort of people she can’t stand!

The real star of this issue, however, is not its titular character, any of the Teen Titans, or even Booster Gold, who shows up seemingly for no other reason than to rag on the Titans for his action figure being better than theirs. No, the real star of this issue for me is the villain, spoiling for a fight, and ready to introduce the world to his new group of henchmen, the Clockwatchers. It’s time (I said it) for the Clock King.

clock-king-use
Could he be wearing any more timepieces?

To be honest, there’s nothing beyond a really cool design that makes me like the Clock King so much, and his team gets handled pretty quickly by the Teen Titans and Chase’s still-hidden power. He and his Clockwatchers are mostly played for comedy, which is all worth it for the scene where they squabble about taking the bus:

clock-king-3
If this were really New York, nobody would be staring at them, no matter how many guys with clocks for faces were on the bus.

Chase is injured in the fight, and while she is laid up in the hospital, we get the chance to hear a story about one of her pre-DEO P.I. exploits, an encounter which Klarion the Witch Boy. This issue also gives us a closer look at the characters who make up Chase‘s supporting cast, her superhero obsessed sister Terry who has been displaced by an earthquake in Gotham, a vagrant named Knob with a penchant for the paranormal, and Chase’s boyfriend Peter.

I enjoy the way her relationship with Peter is handled because it is a prominent part of her life and interferes with and buoys the rest of her life in realistic ways. So often females characters are entirely defined by their romantic relationships or those relationships are presented as impediments to some mythical idea of “having it all,” so it’s always refreshing to see the situation handled with more nuance. When they bicker, it feels lived in, and the shadow of past grievances can be heard in their words. Peter may flirt dangerously with being something of a useless boyfriend cliche who only serves to, like, hold her back, man, but he always seems to be pulled back before he can cross that line. He  may not be crazy about, you know, getting a job, but he proves his worth with some 1337 haxor skills, and when he argues with Chase about her work with the DEO, it feels like the words of someone who truly cares rather than someone trying to keep her down.

chase-disappointment
But for real, look at that guy.  He’d be Mr. November on a calendar of dashed expectations.

Chase’s relationship with her family and the particular nature of her opposition to superheroes is explored in the next issue when she and her sister are stuck on an elevator. Chase is tired of hearing about the stories in her sister’s superhero tabloids and snaps, revealing a tragic past her sister is wholly ignorant of. Their dad, who Terry was lead to believe died in a benign way, was in fact a mask who belonged to a group of do-gooders. He was known as the Acro-Bat, which is both a great and a stupid name. What is just a great name is the moniker of the group of masks he belonged to: The Justice Experience.

chase-justice-experience
Who’s signing the petition with me for a Major Flashback solo title?

It’s kind of hard to blame Chase for being embarrassed by this piece of her family’s past, considering her dad is the only one of his friends who looks like an out-and-out dweeb, amirite? These wannabe heroes got into a fight with a villain group called the House of Pain (You’re hearing Jump Around in your head right now, aren’t you?), and a woman was caught in the crossfire and died. The man who loved her was less than pleased with the Justice Experience, as you might imagine, and he begins to take them out one by one. The comic goes from “Haha, look at these silly vigilantes in their silly costumes,” to, “Oh Jesus Christ, that’s brutal,” real quick when you see the aftermath of his revenge.

chase-jaws
C’mon, bro, you could have just gotten a knife or something. Like are you actually eating him? That’s next level revenge.

The Justice Society of America veterans are eventually enlisted to take care of this threat, sparing anyone else from being maybe sort of eaten, but leaving lasting scars of Chase’s psyche. Terry is understandably indignant that no one told her the truth sooner, but she doesn’t hold it against her sister very long. That’s good news for Chase because she will need all her focus on her next mission, which sends her to Gotham, to properly verbally cut Batman down to size, once of my favorite things in the title.

The gist is there is a new drug mutating its users, who now look demonic. The DEO and the DEA have been experimenting with thyroidal mutagens, which only one corporation in Gotham is licensed to use. Chase sees Batman skulking around the place, and when they return together the next day, they discover the doctor who designed the mutagen went missing with the drug in the days after the earthquake. The doctor had been growing increasingly paranoid that the government wanted to steal his work to create superheroes and supervillains. They find two more kids who’ve been mutated, and Batman turns up to stop them. Chase shoots one of them who is about to get the drop on Batman, and he has, what she will later describe in a way that makes her one of my heroes forever, a Bat-Tantrum.

chase-buzzkill-batman
“You’re….welcome?”

I’ve got to go with Chase on this one. I first read this comic right after seeing the second season of Netflix’s Daredevil, and I was so tired of Matt Murdock’s smug sliding scale of morality, that I was happy to see someone pretty sane just take some decisive action without wringing her hands a whole bunch about it. I understand why the taking of a life is a huge moral dilemma in a lot of comics (and obviously in a plenty of real world scenarios), but it seems like it’s usually someone on the Punisher’s level of not ok that you see characters fall on this side of things. Seriously, though, if you ever see a large demon creature trying to rip me apart, you certainly have my permission to do whatever it takes to stop them without spending a lot of time considering if they might be able to be changed back.

The doctor escapes, and the mutagen is recovered, at which point we find out Chase’s presence has been a cover for her real mission, which is to find out if Batman is a lone nut. Since she had previously met him in her first appearance, in Batman #550, she is able to confirm that it is the same man and not a group of men all using the mantle Batman.

chase-cover-stort
Yep, would still read a comic of nothing but this guy smoking and muttering to himself while he does paperwork.

Chase uses the pretense of trying to find the doctor to stay in Gotham, and Peter continues to be marginally useful with hackzor assistance to try and smoke Batman out. He eludes their attempts, at which point we find out it was actually the Oracle they were tracking all along. She warns Batman, who is already aware the Chase is spying on him, which he probably can’t be too upset about, considering he is already spying on her. Oh, those kooky spooks!

Chase attends a party at Gotham Broadcasting, where she uses all her secret agent and private eye skills to come to the startling conclusion that Batman must be the guy in charge of GBC, since Batman has to be using its satellite. Well, in all fairness the guy was standing next to Bruce Wayne. Ok, seriously, in all fairness, that man is the Sentinel, Alan Scott, so it’s not like she was completely off base on the whole him being a superhero thing.

Chase encounters Batman again, where she learns some less than savory stuff about the agent she was working with on the case, and Batman delivers the world’s most hypocritical advice about revenge not healing the death of a parent. At least, it would be the world’s most hypocritical advice if it were actually Batman and not Alan Scott doing Batman a solid.

chase-batman-dead-father
Even knowing it’s not Batman, I still am getting riled up.

Chase….chases him across the top of some buildings to tell him just how wrong he is, and “Batman” falls through a roof. Chase considers taking his mask off while he’s dazed, but decides not to, saying that her actions haven’t been motivated by hatred but a desire to keep anyone else from going through what she went through. Her proof her intentions are good will be to keep his identify safe. We find out the ol’ switcheroo was Nightwing’s idea to throw Chase off the scent of both Wayne and Scott’s identities, but Batman, of course, has to be the smartest guy in the room, saying that he knew Chase didn’t really want to know but she had to discover it for herself.

And that’s about that for Chase the title, even though Chase the character would make plenty of other appearances in other titles. As I said earlier, I’ll do no bemoaning there’s not more. It was good, I enjoyed it, and you probably would too. Chase has also recently been portrayed on Supergirl by the fantastic Emma Caulfield, so she has been far from forgotten even if her solo title was regrettably short lived. What will hopefully not be short lived is your enthusiasm for the subject of my next article, Valiant’s Magnus, Robot Fighter. How can you not be enthusiastic for something with such a great name? See you then, Legions!

 

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SBTU Presents: Nighttime Sunburn: Rise of the Midnight Sons

 

Hello there, Legions of the Unspoken!  It’s that time again for a meeting of the minds with the other fantastic members of the Super-Blog Team Up!  Make sure you click through and read all the great articles!

For our go-round, we decided to do an episode of The Spoken Decade, which is our term for the podcasts we do.  This go round, Dean Compton & Emily Scott tackled THE RISE OF THE MIDNIGHT SONS!!!!!  Have a listen, enjoy, and comment, people!

 

 

Super Blog-Team Up:

The theme for this Super Blog Team-Up is Magic!  Take a look at these magical blogs!

Superhero Satellite -Strange Magic

Longbox Graveyard-Dr. Strange vs. Dracula

Between the Pages-The Wondrous Worlds of Dr. Strange

DC in the 80’s-Examining The Immortal Dr. Fate

Crapbox Son of Cthulhu-The Makings of a Sorcerer Supreme

Chris is on Infinite Earths-Batman Visits The Sanctum Sanctorum

Coffee and Comics Blog-Dr. Strange #84

The Daily Rios-Amalgam Dr. Fate/Dr. Strange

The Retroist-The OTHER Dr. Strange Film

 

 

Blade: Hunting Solo by Emily Scott

Greetings, Legions! As you may have noticed in the past, the Halloween season is one of our favorite times of year, for many reasons, but especially because it gives us an excuse to delve into some of the more horror-based titles of The Un-spook-en Dead-cade. (If there’s a better way to scare people than with bad puns, I don’t know what it is.) Just before Halloween, Dean Compton (this site’s proprietor) and I will be bringing you another edition of The Spoken Decade, where we’ll take a look at The Rise of the Midnight Sons. Right now I’ll be digging into one of the Midnight Sons better known members, your favorite dhampir and mine, Blade!

Blade, created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, first appeared in 1973 in Marvel’s The Tomb of Dracula. (I read some of The Tomb of Dracula, and when I first saw Marv Wolfman’s name, I thought they had given themselves spooky names, like the crew of The Simpsons on Treehouse of Horror episodes.) The character popped up in a number of other titles throughout the subsequent years, including Vampire Tales, Nightstalkers, and the aforementioned Midnight Sons, before getting his first solo title, Blade: The Vampire-Hunter, in 1994. The series ran for 10 issues, which were penciled by Doug Wheatley, and the first eight of which were written by Ian Edginton. (I tried to make up spooky versions of their names without success. Suggestions welcome.)

The series wastes no time not only in letting the reader know who the Big Bad is going to be but also in going straight for the Biggest Bad:

blade-big-one
I am so used to associating the Wesley Snipes’ movie with this character that my first thought about this cover was, “Damn, he’s so fancy.”

One of the best parts of any vampire property is seeing which parts of vampire mythology they use or discard, embrace or mock, and this title also wastes no time showing us what it looks like when Blade takes down a bloodsucker. I have mostly come across vampires either bursting into flames when destroyed or getting dusted like on Buffy, so I must say this is, hands down, the coolest visual representation of a vampire eating it that I have ever seen:

blade-dusting
It’s like his soul is a Lisa Frank cheetah.

This image is the first part of a vision being had by one John Carik, former professor and current psych hospital patient covered in scarred sigils and marks known to the doctors as Bible John. He sees the fight to defeat Varnae, First Lord of the Vampires, which took the lives of Blade’s Nightstalker companions, Hannibal King and Frank Drake. John also sees Blade struggling under the weight of his survivors guilt, but what he sees next causes him to break out of the hospital to warn Blade — the return of….DRACULA! (I hope I’m not the only one who reads that name in their head in the bad Transylvanian accent every time. Also, never look up what real Transylvanian accents sound like because it is woefully and disappointingly NOTHING like what Count Chocula sounds like.)

After the deaths of his colleagues, Blade tries to make a new start in his old New York stomping grounds. We learn through some incredibly expository dialogue that Blade is hoping to make his new life a fairly normal one and that he is earning his keep by renovating the house his landlady, Julia Suarez, received from her ex-husband in the divorce settlement. Blade tells Julia he has no interest in talking to a reporter who calls asking about the Nightstalkers, or anyone else for that matter. He also decides to go by the name Hannibal Francis Blade to honor his fallen brothers.

This “normal” life lasts for about ten minutes till Bible John catches up to Blade, tells him he can’t deny his heritage, which he knows a surprising amount about, and gives him the not-as-cool-looking-as-it-sounds Witch Compass. The compass will point to negative energy, and Blade must not be as ready as he pretends for a quiet existence because all it takes for him to bust out the blades again is a twitch of the compass’s needle and the fact that Bible John DID know a thing or two about him.

blade-water
Blade hates evil AND hydration.

The compass leads Blade to the lair of Aaron Thorne, the new leader of Lord Varnae’s secret cult, the Bad Seed. Thorne is hatching a plan to essentially enslave the entire country with a drug that has been mixed with his thralls’ blood. Once loyal to him, everyone will therefore also be loyal to Varnae, whom the Bad Seed intend to bring back to un-life. Blade is not the only one who might interfere with their plans, though, a fact Thorne discovers with his Necrotech program. (I’m just going to let him tell you about Necrotech, since there is no way I can improve on this explanation.

blade-gobblygook
This is some of my favorite techobabble since “Reserve the polarity of the neutron flow.”

Blade, of course, does indeed interfere, and takes on Thorne, who wastes no time in telling Blade that he thinks he’s useless. Thorne gains the upper hand and mocks Blade with the idea that his anger and obsession have made him inhuman. And because the 90’s were a beautiful and strange time when a vampire comic could also have a touch of the TGIF sitcom, that accusation strikes a chord with Blade when he remembers what his landlady told him earlier: “It’s only human to grieve and be angry, but don’t let it eat you up.” Those simple words allow Blade to give focus to his anger and relieve Thorne of some of his own Lisa Frank cheetah spirit energy. In the process, Blade delivers some words that would stick with me if he were my sitcom friend (and are also good advice to anyone taking on a vampire): “A nice fat ego makes an easy target.”

Thorne’s minions do much of Blade’s work for him in destroying the drug blood farm (three words that feel weird to type in that order) when they shoot barrels full of chemicals they were explicitly told not to shoot. Blade accepts that he is still in this fight, but this time with a renewed perspective and on his own terms. Thorne is somewhat less pleased with the outcome of the fight and swears revenge on Blade. The reporter looking for Blade earlier goes looking for information on the Nightstalkers but finds more than she bargained for. In fact, she finds…DRACULA!

blade-dracula
I’m just going to type it like that every time I have to type the name of…DRACULA!

Thorne puts out the word that he is looking for Blade, who is fulfilling his domestic duties to Julia. Some bats show up on the search, and Blade is suddenly concerned about the fact that Thorne might have survived the explosion after all. He also laments that he may have doomed them both by not bringing his knives into the house as a concession to trying to live a normal life. (I’m not sure I understand his logic here, since it seems like the useful concession would be, you know, keeping the knives and NOT hunting vampires. Then people would just assume he is a mall ninja.) There is no reason to fear, though, as Julia saves the day again, this time with her mop instead of her wisdom. Bible John has the terrific timing to show up just then and warn Blade about his vision, and the two agree that together they will stop…DRACULA! before he can manifest.

Little do they know that he is already back, having turned the reporter into his thrall and using her to lure in her friend, a fellow reporter at the world’s sleaziest newspaper. Seriously, this place doesn’t really seem to be essential or even particularly important to the plot (at least for this story arc), but this is a 90’s comic site after all, and this newsroom is the 90’s-ist. I would love to watch the 90’s HBO sitcom based on this newspaper. It could come on after Arliss.

blade-sleaze-times

blade-press
I kept coming up with cheesy names like The New York Slimes, but it would just be called Press and not get picked up for a second season.

Anyway, vampires.

So Blade and Bible John follow the compass to the Body Hammer, but once they arrive, they realize they are too late to stop…DRACULA! He has already enthralled what seems to be the entire club, and they must fight their way through them all before getting to the big boss himself. Once again Blade gets mocked by a vampire for hunting vampires, a task they understandably don’t see the value of, despite the number of vampire asses it seems Blade has kicked. Blade tells…DRACULA! that he can’t kill him if he wants to know where his wife and son are, but…DRACULA! just finds that claim amusing, reasoning that he can turn Blade and have the information from him willingly.

This is as good a time as any to heap some praise on the artists of this book, who manage to create something that reminds me, in a good way, of things I already like but still has its own aesthetic. The fight scenes all have dynamism to them that I don’t always notice or appreciate in other comics, so in addition to looking beautiful, it was easier for someone like me, who doesn’t necessarily have the visual vocabulary that comes with a lifetime of reading comics, to follow what was actually going on. I have already mentioned penciler Doug Wheatley, but I want to make sure to mention colorist Tom Zuiko and inker Chris Ivy as well for helping to put together a comic I just really enjoyed looking at.

blade-fight
Dracula would make one hell of a wide receiver.

…DRACULA! goes for the bite and attempts to turn Blade, apparently having forgotten that he is a dhampir and can’t be turned. This lapse in memory confuses Blade, who wonders if something didn’t go according to plan when…DRACULA! was brought back. Since Blade is immune to the bite of a vampire, Bible John is next on the menu, but the sigils he has carved into his flesh protect him and burn…DRACULA! Meanwhile, Blade has received assistance from a strange source, Thorne’s crony Angel. Since Blade’s…blade was broken in the fight, Angel bestows a knife on him, and for a moment, it seems Blade is much invigorated and….DRACULA! more susceptible to harm. Thorne watches the wings, hoping his two enemies take each other out.

Blade quickly realizes he has been had and that the knife has put him under Thorne’s influence. He refuses to participate in the charade any longer and throws the knife at Thorne. The two vampires finally get around to paying attention to each other, and the bloodsucker brawl begins!

blade-christopher-lee
I like to entertain the idea that Dracula has a home theater in his castle and strong opinions about different actors’ portrayals of him.

I suppose since I included two pages of a newspaper office, I should probably include at least that many of two vampires fighting each other.

blade-brawl-i

blade-brawl-ii
I suppose this is more exciting.

While Thorne and…DRACULA! duke it out, Blade and Bible come up with a plan involving one of my least favorite vampire weaknesses, running water, but use it in a way I enjoy. Blade fights his way past Angel to the sprinkler release valve and douses the lot of them. Thorne thinks it’s some trick of…DRACULA!’s right up to the point that the water starts to burn him, and…DRACULA! mocks Thorne for not knowing his own weaknesses while he mildly smolders. Thorne calls for Angel to carry him away, foiled for the time being. Calling it a skirmish rather than a true battle…DRACULA! does his usual parlor trick of turning into mist once a fight has reached a standstill, and Blade tells him that he’ll be ready for him, any time, anywhere.

This first story arc does a pretty great of setting up a title, giving us plenty of potential for future conflict, interesting antagonists, and a solid supporting cast, including a super hardcore landlady. If all of those elements weren’t enough to keep me reading, this trip-tastic cover to Issue #4 might just do the trick.

blade-groovy
Dude got ripped in the psych ward.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at Blade:  The Vampire-Hunter! Join us next week for Rise of the Midnight Sons, and I scare up and down– er, swear…that I will do my best to keep the Halloween puns to a minimum.

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The Gimmick Era Has Never Been Covered So Well.

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