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:
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:
and over again.
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:
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.
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.
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…
How about we look at another page of Jack Kirby’s, just to cleanse the ol’ palate?
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.
The 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.
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!
Hey, folks! I hope you have enjoyed the last couple of weeks as Sparky Ryan brought you the history of the Marvel UK incursion into the states from the early 90’s. I had a great time with some of those books back in the day, and his work was a great trip down memory lane, but now your good 90’s comics aficionado and pal Dean Compton is back, and I am back just in time for one of my favorite elements of this blog…THE SUPER BLOG TEAM UP!!!!!
If you weren’t around last time or haven’t had the chance to look at the Super Blog Team Up subpage here, the SBTU (I ain’t gonna keep typing that out folks; I ain’t getting paid by the word. Hell, I ain’t getting paid at all!) is a quarterly gathering of sorts where many blogs publish on the same day about the same topic. At the bottom of my random meanderings, make sure you click the links and take a gander at what all the great folks have shared in SBTU. We all work really hard, and we all appreciate every view and comment we get. Except for the ones from spammers. It’s really sad how excited I will get when I get a notification for a comment, only to find it is poorly written spam imploring me to spend some money on something to filter out spam comments. As an aside to this aside, I think I’d like spam comments better if their grammar was correct.
But I have digressed so far that one might believe this not to be a blog about comic books at all! You’d be sorely mistaken! As I was saying about SBTU, the concept is that all of these blogs look at the same subject on the same day. This time, the subject is Team Up, Tear Down, and from the second I heard that, I could not help but think of the team up that never should have happened, but somehow tore down every preconceived notion one would have about this comic working or being good. I am talking about the time comic book hell froze over. I am talking about Punisher Meets Archie…
The dread was punctuated with the entire “why are they doing this?/oh my god, they’re ruining everything/they don’t know what they’re doing” mentality that seems to permeate every fanboy’s good sense at some point. This time, though, our cynical malaise seemed justified (to the max, as we would say in the 90’s) because how could this be readable, let alone good? I mean, it’s Punisher Meets Archie, for Christ’s sake!
The answer to the question of how could it be readable or good can be found on the credits page:
Indeed, that is the fine talent of the late John Buscema and the late Stan Goldberg combined with one of the best inkers of all time, Tom Palmer, to bring you this tale. You see, the first element of this endeavor that would have doomed it to disaster, would have been seeing the character drawn in a style dichotomous to what we usually see with them. Punisher in the Archie style would have made all the Punisher fans angrier than Hulk driving a compact car while he is stuck in rush hour traffic. Now try getting that image out of your head!
Conversely, seeing Archie done up all grim and gritty would have made Archie fans feel angry and betrayed as well. I’d come with some metaphor or simile for the anger of Archie fans, but based on their choice of comic fare, I am unsure that they get angry. I mean, nothing in that world can’t be solved with just a waltz down to the choklit shop, right?
So that solved one problem, but the elephant in the room would have to be how one would mesh such strikingly disparate worlds without compromising the integrity of either, or in Punisher’s case, without compromising what was left of the integrity of an emotionless and psychopathic mass murderer who was being used as a guest in seemingly every book at Marvel to increase sales. We talked about his ubiquity here at The Unspoken Decade when we covered Darkhawk. I mean, who could possibly bridge this chasm?
According to both of the publishers involved, enter Batton Lash:
Batton Lash concocted a premise that would work for both universes, and the only caveat that any Punisher fan might have a quarrel with is the fact that Punisher is working with the feds in order to bring in our villain, and he has agreed to bring this quarry in alive.
Being the gigantic Punisher fan I am, I understand their point. Frank Castle ain’t known for playing nice with the feds. It’s basically the real world equivalent of teaming up Kruschev and Kennedy. That’s something that just won’t and should not work; however, if one thinks about it, Punisher is always compromising. I have seen numerous Punisher team-ups with Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Captain America where Castle agrees not to kill anyone (one example being The Omega Effect). I think too often, folks think Punisher=murderer, and while yes, he is indeed a serial killer, what one should really think is Punisher=Force of Nature. While Punisher would greatly prefer to murder his adversaries, it is much more important for him to achieve his goals. This means making temporary alliances, such as the ones I named earlier (or even the times he makes temporary alliances with criminals, such as in Punisher: P.O.V. ) in order to get done whatever it is that Punisher needs to get done at that time. That’s what makes him a force of nature to me; he allows nothing, not even compromise, to stop his forward progress.
So to me, this isn’t a big deal, although again, I get why some Punisher fans cannot sign off on it.
The twist of the story, though, is almost 100% an Archie gag, and man, it is a good one.
So Punisher heads for Riverdale in search of the mookiest doppelgänger in the history of mooks, doppelgänger, and mooky doppelgängers. Of course, this leads to trouble due to our mook’s resemblance to Archie. Also, call Guinness and let them know I just set the record for more uses of mook in a paragraph.
Could it really end this quickly? Nope. This is a crossover folks, and you don’t need ‘ol Dean Compton to let you know that crossovers can’t end this fast, especially not when there are 48 PAGES! NO ADS! to fill! So in what is the biggest swerve since Vince Russo ran WCW (WARNING: WRESTLING JOKE), Archie was only shot by a water gun. In true Archie fashion, though, this instance leads him into a disagreement with Veronica!
So, in true Archie fashion, having already asked one of the ladies out, Archie goes with his second choice, Betty.
I feel really badly for Betty here; who likes being second best? Betty is a pretty lady; she’s nice, she’s funny, and she’s smart. Why does she just wait for Archie to call her AFTER he has ruined his chances with Veronica? Betty should play second fiddle to no one, and neither should anyone reading this. Learn from Betty, folks!
Punisher in the meantime, heads for Riverdale, very unaware of it and very prepared for it to be a cesspool. Even his super genius partner, Microchip, apparently has never heard of Riverdale, despite it being a suburb of New York and how, with a name like Microchip, he is required to know EVERYTHING. That’s one of the few things I learned from 80’s movies.
Of course, it takes little time for Archie’s doppelgänger to insert himself into Archie’s circle in Riverdale, and of course, what would an Archie comic be without Veronica (or possibly Betty) making Archie jealous via the most emotionally devastating weapon in the history of mankind:
THE DATE WITH ANOTHER GUY!
Emily and I often watch this show, American Greed, on CNBC that focuses on how folks scam rich people, and we both find it shocking how easy rich folks get scammed. Like, it seems that the only thing required to scam a rich person is to know one and to then ask them for money.
Mr. Lodge is no exception, as it seems that Melvin just SHOWS UP and tells him of his business exploits, and Lodge cannot unlock all of his safes and vaults fast enough. Also, doesn’t it seem like acquiring a business would be small potatoes to Mr. Lodge?
Speaking of safes and vaults, wouldn’t you like to see Uncle Scrooge and Mr. Lodge have a crossover? I have seen Mr. Lodge do regular swimming in one of those old timey swimsuits that are always hilarious, but I bet he could swim though coins just like Uncle Scrooge.
BAM! There’s the premise! They can have a coin swimming race. You. Yes, you. Call Archie and Disney and let them know about my idea and tell them to GET IT BOOKED.
Still, fun times are happening, at least until Punisher shows up and has the emo Punisher moment he always has that we all love him for. It is the one shred of humanity that makes us feel compassion for everyone’s favorite skull-chested psychopath…
Punisher’s last shred of humanity causes him to pass over a malt, which would have led him to those guys in the corner, something I believe would cause even Riverdale denizens to take notice. Alas, Pop’s dedication to the dollar and fear of government overrides his sense of danger, and those shadow punks take Archie, who is apparently upset that his second choice for a date dared not to wait for him to see if he called her. Well, Archie is about to have bigger troubles anyhow.
I wonder what Pops is hiding that he doesn’t want to be audited. Maybe Riverdale ain’t so squeaky clean after all!
While Archie’s life is in danger, the faux Archie shows up at the dance with Veronica. He quickly shows the biggest difference between him and Archie is that he’s such a giant dick that perennial dick Reggie Mantle is put off by him. If Reggie Mantle thinks you’re a creep, you must be a creep on a galaxy level. Or at the very least, the type of person Punisher likes to kill catch for the feds.
Man, Betty is awesome. She’s the only one who wonders where Archie is and what’s going on. Archie is making our crossover complete, as Punisher follows the criminals who kidnapped him. Get ready Archie, because you are about to meet The Punisher.
Yes, Archie, The Punisher.
That may be the image that makes the book. Also, Punisher would probably have had an easier time differentiating Melvin and Archie if he had, you know, OPENED HIS EYES.
Of course, no matter how ominous that panel may look, Punisher at some point decides that pointing a gun is just a smidge safer if one opens their eyes, and he realizes that Archie is not his prey.
Archie manages to get away with an assist from his pal Jughead, which I love. In the face of imminent death, Jughead and Archie are best friends, and he finds a way to help his pal. We’d all like to be that person; perhaps you can find the Jughead in you. I have done so via massive consumption of fast food. You’ll have to find your own path, however.
For real though, this is an incident that exemplifies what I spoke of when I sad that Batton Lash showed us these characters together without violating the integrity of either set of characters, and this little bit with Jughead helping Archie speaks volumes to that.
Archie does exactly what America’s favorite whitebread teen would do, or also what most sane folks would do, and that is telling the cops that Punisher is loose in Riverdale and that some mob guys have kidnapped him.
Hopefully, you have not been as big an idiot as Mr. Andrews has when he has called the police in the past.
Why are Archie and Jughead winking like they got over on the cops? I mean, not only are the cops obviously not going to help, but you asked them for help. You didn’t fool anyone.
I do enjoy the touch here where Archie’s concern is for his parents, not himself. Again, Lash shows us Archie’s character simply and naturally.
Also, that is the worst undercover cop ever. He looks like every stranger I was warned about in elementary school, and he would fool no one into believing he is not with the fuzz.
Of course, once we see Punisher interact with Riverdale’s finest, we see that maybe they don’t know much about policing, possibly because they have no crime.
Riverdale cops don’t put up with anything. They hadn’t even run the tags and they were already demanding that Microchip get out of the van! Where’s Occupy Riverdale to deal with this?
Archie goes to the dance where his doppelgänger is, and that’s when we see some gunplay and some great infiltration skill displayed by Punisher. Also, Archie and his pals are sharp, except for Jughead, who has more courage than brains, it seems.
Punisher gets emo again during his infiltration of the school, and he also stumbles upon the reason that Betty tolerates so much from Archie. Graffiti.
Melvin proves he is not Archie in another way, but the really fun thing is the little Easter Eggs stuck in everywhere. One of my favorites is a conversation between Katy Keene and Millie the Model!
But let’s not make light of Veronica sticking up for herself, or the cluelessness of Mr. Weatherbee. How can folks really confuse this guy for Archie once they are up close?
Punisher’s infiltration works like a charm, maybe too charming, as Miss Grundy basically offers to marry Frank Castle on the spot, while Flutesnoot gives Castle the cover he needs to continue to monitor this dance, as Riverdale High is expecting a new gym teacher.
Also, the caterers now have guns and are after Melvin, but you’ll have to read that to find out how that happens; I can’t give it all to you, folks!
Miss Grundy knows what she wants when she sees it! You have got to like that! Miss Grundy is also a woman who would never let you down and definitely carry her fair share in a relationship (probably more, as my beloved Emily does. Check out some of her work under the Archives!)
Punisher and Archie finally find themselves able to sort out their identity crisis, and they pool their resources, which leads to what s, in my mind, the funniest moment in the book. Archie’s War Journal. To think of it is to chuckle, but to read it is to laugh until one’s ribs ache.
There’s lots more, but if I keep going, I am just going to wind up ruining the entire book for you! The last image I shall leave you with is one of the best Easter Eggs in the book, that being the Spider-Man/Shield crossover!
Note that I said Shield, and not S.H.I.E.L.D. Shield, for anyone who doesn’t know, is an old patriotic Archie character, and I believe he is the first patriotic superhero, predating even Marvel’s Sentinel Of Liberty, Captain America himself! At this point of the 90’s Shield had been in limbo since the end of DC’s Impact Comics line (which we will definitely be covering here at The Unspoken Decade and soon!). I don’t known when the next time after Archie Meets Punisher we would see him, but I do know it would be a while. We also have Sonic the Hedgehog, which Archie licensed and published. If memory serves, it was quite successful for quite some time, and it had appeal to multiple markets, as kids like my cousin would buy it, even though they did not care for comic books in general, because it had Sonic, Tails, and all the characters from that universe in it.
It only happens in balloon form, but it happens, kids. It totally happens.
To find out how Archie, Punisher, and the gang save the day, you’ll just have to read the rest yourself. Normally I have no qualms about spoiling comic books published twenty years ago, but in this case, I don’t want to reveal all of the magic.
There’s a true art to combining franchises that is usually done in a heavy-handed manner and appears clumsy. Take a gander at the first Aliens vs. Predator movie if you need to reminded. Actually, don’t. I don’t want to ruin movies forever for you.
In this case, the amalgamation of the Archie/Punisher universes is done so effortlessly that one almost instinctively knows that this was a lot of hard work, as nothing so slick could ever be easy. Lash, Goldberg, J. Buscema, and Palmer are to be commended over and over for taking these two wrongs and making them into something right.
I also cannot help but believe that this was the genesis for Archie publications like the Afterlife with Archie zombie stories or the recent death of Archie in Life with Archie. Hell, without this comic book, we might not even have had the adult Archie stories in Life With Archie that preceded his demise.
I think this is the first time in a long time that Archie Comics stretched what an Archie comic could be, and while it may not have paid immediate dividends, it did impact the line in the future. For Punisher, not so much, as he dove right into another crossover right after this one. In fact, despite my saying that was the last image earlier, here’s one more. Check out the rest of the Super Blog Team Up at the links under the pic, and thanks for dropping by the Unspoken Decade!