Tag Archives: Vertigo

Hex for the Holidays by Emily Scott

Hello, Unspoken, and happy holidays! Many of you are probably reading this as you look forward to a relaxing few days of food and fun with your families….haha, yeah right. It’s far more likely you are scoping this out as you curse whatever airline has delayed your travels or are hiding from some drunk, overbearing relative, so I hope this article provides a welcome respite from whatever familial hell you find yourself in. Grab some pumpkin pie, liberally douse in Cool Whip, try not to fall into a food coma, and enjoy Hex for the Holidays!

Even though I am still relatively new to actually reading comic books, I have acquired a lot of peripheral knowledge about a myriad of characters over the years from friends, but before reading the subject of this article, I knew only two things about Jonah Hex:

1. He is a Western character.

2. They made a movie about him starring Megan Fox, and everyone hated it.

That’s it. Trying to get a better sense of what I was about to read based on the cover didn’t help much either. I ended up assuming he must be some sort of demon or undead creature in the vein of Ghost Rider.

I also could have gone with Ol' Timey Terminator based on the glowing red eye and skull imagery.
I also could have gone with Ol’ Timey Terminator based on the glowing red eye and skull imagery.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when I started the comic, 1993’s Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo, and realized that Jonah Hex was just a guy without any sort of powers, demonic or otherwise. The Western is far from my favorite genre, so when I was introduced to Hex while he is in the middle of being strung up by outlaws and no lasers came out of his glowing eye, I settled in for what I imagined would be pretty rote five issues of saloon shootouts, horses being hitched, and people saying things are “mighty fine.” (Of course, anyone who knows anything about Jonah Hex would find this to be a silly and unnecessary thing to be disappointed by, but we’ll get to that.)

Hex, of course, gets rescued because it would be a very short story if he didn’t. His savior is a fellow bounty hunter by the name of Slow Go Smith, who was tracking the gang attempting to make my read a quick one. Slow Go could have very easily devolved into an insanely cliched Old West character, but as soon as he cuts the heads off the gang to collect his bounty rather than transport the bodies, I was won over. (What can I say, I’m a girl of simple tastes.)

That might be the most beautifully rendered decapitation of a corpse I've ever seen.
That might be the most beautifully rendered decapitation of a corpse ever.

Even when I was unfairly convinced this would just be a tale of a grizzled ol’ timey lone gun, I took solace in the fact that it was a gorgeously drawn tale of a grizzled ol’ timey lone gun. Every panel, no matter how gruesome the content, is beautiful to look at and seems rendered with the utmost care. The colors are simultaneously rich and slightly faded, like they’ve been left out in the hot desert sun. All credit where it’s due to the artists (pencils by Timothy Truman, ink by Sam Glanzman, and colors by Sam Parsons) for depicting events that you’d have a hard time looking at in real life with images you can’t look away from.

Hex and Slow Go make their way to town to drop off the heads and learn that the bounty has already been mistakenly split amongst the townsfolk, who apparently decided one dead gang was as good as any. While they wait for the bureaucracy to sort itself out (some things are universal), they head to the nearest saloon, where they teach these trigger happy townies a thing or two about race relations by defending the Indian saloon girl from their harassment. Fairly standard fare for a Western, sure, but Slow Go gets in one of my favorite all-time moves:

I like this so much it could happen once every gunfight and I wouldn't complain.
I like this so much it could happen once every gunfight and I wouldn’t complain.

Despite him saving his life multiple times in the, like, hour they’ve known each other, Hex kicks Slow Go out of their room later that night because he can’t deal with snoring, forcing his new friend to shack up in the barn with some horses and dead guys (the men mistakenly shot by the residents of this happy little hamlet.) This is the part in the story where my interest noticeably piques:

Yay, zombies! I know a lot of people are like, "Hur de dur, I'm tired of zombies," but whatever. Zombies make everything better.
Yay, zombies! I know a lot of people are like, “Hur de dur, I’m tired of zombies,” but whatever. Zombies make everything better.

The downside of this addition to the story means no more Slow Go, who can’t fend off a whole troop of what appear to be corpse stealing zombie sideshow folk. The upside is that I get to see him throw his gun at someone again.

Seriously, the comic could be nothing but this wisecrackin' ol' coot throw his gun at people, and I would be happy.
Seriously, the comic could be nothing but this wisecrackin’ ol’ coot throwing his gun at people, and I would be happy.

Hex shows up just in time to get a grazing by a bullet and the blame for Slow Go’s death, even though the sheriff has no plausible explanation for how Hex could have shot himself and hid the gaggle of missing bodies, let alone a real motive why he would have killed his snoring companion. The town prepares for Hex’s hanging like it’s Christmas, the Super Bowl, and the second coming of Christ all rolled into one.

While observing the preparations for the festivities, Hex is once again rescued, this time by the Indian girl from the saloon he defended the previous day. The girl uses one of the oldest tricks in the book, the seduce-and-shoot. (Real talk for a second here: all the time in fiction ladies use their feminine wiles to distract a guard long enough for them or someone else to get the drop on said guard. Would it really be so easy? I like it as a trope, but if some lady really just sauntered in and disrobed, how many dudes would not find that insanely suspicious?)

With the sheriff handled like a cheap piece of luggage, Hex and his new friend escape the jail and make a getaway that involves him shooting half the town in more incredibly artistic violence. The townsfolk who are left unscathed are more than a little upset that their entertainment has skedaddled and set off in pursuit. Most notable among them is the greatest old lady of all time:

Hex Picnic
Just as I wouldn’t mind a gun being thrown in every fight, I would be more than happy if this old lady appeared in everything I ever watched or read, demanding some fried chicken and an execution.

Hex shoots enough of the pursuing bloodthirsty bastards (including my new favorite character ever, unfortunately) to drive them back to their waiting chicken, but the escape is not without cost, as his new favorite lady succumbs to a case of being shot in the back. This seems to be a pattern with Hex, him making a new friend and them biting the dust within a 24-hour period. I assumed he would be a lone wolf like, say, the Punisher, who doesn’t want companionship, but Hex actually seems pretty adept at forming new connections with others, which makes it all the sadder when they keep dropping like flies.

It adds a layer of emotional complexity to the character that I was not expecting to find, but it also makes me imagine unintentionally funny scenarios where Hex introduces himself to a series of people and while he is extending his hand to shake, someone else comes along and cuts their head off with a sword or throws a stick of dynamite at them. Hex then mutters a, “Not again,” and rides off forlornly.

Hex next picks up the trail of the weirdo undead sideshow that murdered his buddy, finding them peddling a miracle elixir that will not just cure what ails you but also give you unnatural strength and agility. And when I say weirdo, I am not just whistlin’ Dixie:

If you had nothing but comics and cartoons to go by, you'd think fat people never did anything but eat whole chickens.
If you had nothing but comics and cartoons to go by, you’d think fat people never did anything but eat whole chickens.

Hex sneaks up on their camp and sees the undead guy who shot Slow Go pulled out of a barrel and fed a strange elixir, just not the same miracle tonic Doc Williams was peddling. Hex seeks out the good doctor in his tent and learns that his buddy’s assailant is none other than the legendary Wild Bill Hickok, who has once again come back to life and is now in position to get the drop on Hex.

Doc Williams does some of the most bizarre black magic I’ve ever seen, including using bits of the thieved corpses to make this elixir, and informs Hex that he plans to turn him into a walking undead puppet, just as he has done to Hickok. In images that will faintly haunt my soul for a little while, Doc Williams starts the pickling process on Hex, who has kept his wits about his enough to vomit the stuff back up.

As a Yankee dating a Southerner, I know his remark in the last panel, well, them's fighting words.
As a Yankee dating a Southerner, I know that his remark in the last panel, well, them’s fightin’ words.

While Hex ferments, Williams tells us the story of turning Hickok into a zombie. I often wonder how Hickok would feel about becoming one of America’s best remembered badasses, when, at the same time, the facet of his life we remember best is that he was shot in the back in the middle of a poker game.

Hex takes his chance to escape and ends up rolling out of his barrel and down a cliff. He is rescued once again by a nice farmer and his son, who nurse him back to health, lend him a horse, and send him on his way. We don’t see them meet a grisly death, but I kept expecting to see them get mowed down in the background as Hex leisurely rides away. How little they know about how close they came to an untimely fate.

That's not your dad's hand on your shoulder, son; it's the cold, impersonal hand of the Grim Reaper.
That’s not your dad’s hand on your shoulder, son; it’s the cold, impersonal hand of the Grim Reaper.

Hex meets back up with Doc Williams’ sideshow, with the added complication that they briefly have to fight on the same side, as they both, along with the soldiers escorting the circus troupe, are being attacked by some Indians.  Hex manages to get away and make another new pal in the process, but we all know where this is headed, right? Yep, his new buddy, a sergeant, gets tagged in the back and apparently got the memo that the farmer and his son did not break the Hex friendship curse. He finishes himself off so Hex will not feel obligated to drag his dying body with him in his escape.

Hex Jersey
I like the idea that making fun of New Jersey is universal, regardless of the era.

Finding the very obvious trail left by Doc Williams’ dead associates and the smoke from his cooking one of them up, Hex must now face down the myth himself, Wild Bill Hickok. Hex cops to being nervous to face down an undead legend, especially one who can no longer die, but he displays more sense than most characters facing zombies and aims for the head. Now, you see a lot of brains splattering out the back of a head in this comic, but this time might be my favorite.

Hex Braaaaaains
The gore so nice, you see it thrice.

Bereft of any more undead bodyguards, Doc Williams is left defenseless against Jonah Hex, who does not give him the courtesy of a quick death. Instead he leaves him for the Apaches, shooting out both his knees so he can’t escape and letting him know just how vicious his death will be when he is found. Slow Go’s death now avenged, Hex is free to ride off into the sunset and make some unsuspecting new friends.

I thoroughly enjoyed this comic, even if Westerns aren’t my particular glass of sippin’ whiskey, and not just because of all the undead action. I’ve raved quite a bit about the beautiful art, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to Joe R. Lansdale’s clever script, which takes some tropes that are about as worn as an old boot and breathes new life into them like they took a swaller of Doc Williams’ juice. (Look, I resisted the urge to use Old West cliches this entire article, so the way I figure it, I’ve earned the right to use them all now.)

It’s just about time for this article to hit the ol’ dusty trail, so I hope you’ve enjoyed sittin’ with me for a spell! If you’re still hiding out from your family, there are certainly worse ways you could spend that time than checking out this comic. Be sure to come ’round these parts again next week, when this blog’s exemplary proprietor Dean Compton returns to the Golden Age!

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Evolve or Die: Animal Man Gallery. – Angel Hayes

With so much going on lately and the neurotic level of details that I use in my writing. Animal Man Pt2 is still in development.

To fill this intermission, I present you with the amazing covers that Animal Man Pt2 with include!!

Animal Man #2 (1988) - Page 1

Animal Man #3 (1988) - Page 1

Animal Man #4 (1988) - Page 1

Animal Man #5 (1988) - Page 1

 

See you soon!

Lizards and Mothers and Wells, Oh My: Enigma Part II by Emily Scott

Greetings! Before we get down to business, I’d like to thank Dean, The Unspoken Decade’s incomparable proprietor, for letting me come back and talk a little more about the wonder that is Peter Milligan’s Enigma. I’d also like to thank you fine readers for coming back for more after Part I. If you missed Part I, everything I’m about to say will make zero sense; if you read Part I, well, you’ve probably already figured out it will make only a little sense. Like one sense, two sense tops.

I have done and will continue to do my best to impose some order on this brilliant comic’s chaos, but a good portion of its beauty lies in many of its mysteries never being thoroughly teased out. Answers are given, but they grant no true resolution, and each one has the potential to beg a thousand more questions. This is definitely a comic where what happens is not nearly as important as why it happens, which is my justification for trying to get as much exposition as I could out of the way in Part I. Laying all the groundwork to put all of this comic’s many pieces into place seemed essential because the picture only starts to become clear when viewed all together. Halfway through, say, a Batman comic you could probably articulate what is going on, where the story is likely headed, and why it’s headed there; the best you could do with Enigma is shrug, if you’re honest, and be a blowhard if you’re not. Enigma must be viewed from a bit of a distance, and even then, like a twisted Magic Eye picture, you still have to squint and bullshit a little to make heads or tails of it.

Seriously, though, has anyone ever actually seen anything in one of these pictures? I have never even come close, and I've been convinced since the 90s that they're all just one big prank on me. I have rarely identified with anyone more than that guy in Mallrats.
Seriously, though, has anyone ever actually seen anything in one of these pictures? I have never even come close, and I’ve been convinced since the 90s that they’re all just one big prank on me. I have rarely identified with anyone more than that guy in Mallrats.

Let’s get the rest of this silly action out of the way, shall we, so we can to the fun stuff: the in-depth analysis. When we last left our protagonist, Michael, he had just left his old life of anal retention and once-a-week sex behind. While his city is filling up with dead bodies due to a sudden rash of villains sprung to life from his favorite comic book, Michael has never felt more alive as he investigates how he is connected to the mysterious masked man who battles these foes. Brains have been eaten, lizards have flown, and grown men have been mailed through a lady’s stomach. With me so far?

With a little good ol’ fashioned bribery, Michael learns that the 25-year-old murder in Arizona that frames the story is connected to one of the Enigma’s foes and makes up some of his bribe money in saved airfare by traveling to the farm via Envelope Girl Mail. It is there he realizes why the Interior League seemed familiar to him, the pattern on a costume a match for the wallpaper of his childhood home, which was destroyed and buried in an earthquake, his father buried along with it. Upon returning to his destroyed home, Michael discovers Enigma, who, rather than actually explaining anything useful, takes Michael to Envelope Girl, attacking and attempting to kill her before Michael intervenes.

Why is she bleeding Rainbow Brite's blood?
Why is she bleeding Rainbow Brite’s blood?

Michael tries to explain to Enigma why it’s distasteful to wantonly kill anyone you feel like; Enigma has no idea what he’s talking about and insists that Enigma’s gotta Enigma. They are his foes, his creations, and taking them out of the world he brought them into is what he does. We finally reach the ‘tell’ portion of history’s weirdest Show and Tell, and Enigma reveals he was abandoned down a well by his mother. When it’s Michael’s turn, we learn that despite his recently decking a guy for hitting on him, he shortly thereafter let another guy take him home, lending credence to the notion that the fastest way to prove you’re closeted is to lash out at a gay person.

Michael also admits to having a thing for Enigma, which leads where you’d expect, though it’s nowhere I would have expected this comic to end up when I started reading it. If you’d told me that the comic that starts out with a brain-eating monster and some floating lizards would turn out to be a heavily symbolic and nuanced exploration of identity and sexuality, I would have had zero idea how it could get from Point A to Point B, but it’s nonetheless earned. It’s like boarding a random train in Pittsburgh and ending up on Pluto: you weren’t sure where you were going, but it sure as hell wasn’t where you ended up, and you appreciate the destination all the more for its unexpectedness.

They yada yada'd over the best part! (Here at The Unspoken Decade, we strive to bring you not just the best analysis of 90s comics, but also the finest in 90s references.)
They yada yada’d over the best part! (Here at The Unspoken Decade, we strive to bring you not just the best analysis of 90s comics, but also the finest in 90s references.)

After fulfilling a fantasy he didn’t even know he could let himself have, Michael finds that sharing physical intimacy with Enigma has done little to help his lover understand emotional intimacy or empathy, further demonstrated when he can’t comprehend why Michael would want him to use his powers to undo the damage he has done to the former Envelope Girl. Neither sex nor guilt may move him, but the impending arrival of his mother is enough to finally get a real reaction, along with the rest of his backstory, out of Enigma.

Just goes to show that straight or gay, regular person or godlike manifestation, men are still men.
Just goes to show that straight or gay, regular person or godlike manifestation, men are still men.

It turns out that the well Baby Enigma was dropped into was his mother’s reward for using his powers of manipulation on his father’s face, which caused his mother to shoot said face so many times it was unrecognizable. Mama Enigma went insane while Baby Enigma thrived in his well, what could have been a prison becoming a god’s playground where he can eat and befriend and give consciousness to as many lizards as he likes. His world is perfect till it is shattered by his discovery by the world outside. When Enigma finds he can no more relate to the people in that world than his smartened up lizard can to regular lizards, he retreats to the closest thing to his well he can find, the subterranean former home of Michael Smith.

Enigma finds Michael’s old comic books and decides that since life is beyond absurd, he might as well base his around these absurd stories. (For Michael this has got to be like finding out your favorite Star Fleet Captain thinks science fiction is dumb.) Since any good hero needs adversaries, he creates his foes from ordinary people his mind seeks out, but his greatest foe is the one seeking him. Enigma senses that his leaving the well has awakened a terrible echo of his power in his institutionalized mother. Knowing that his own power will eventually destroy him, Enigma throws his mind out to influence and entice the man who was once the boy whose beloved comics became the basis of his existence. It is his hope that Michael’s love will make him more human and in turn manifest that humanity in the creature who gave him life and give her cause to grant him life once again.

Huh, trying to explain this story makes me feel the opposite.
Huh, trying to explain this story makes me feel the opposite.

Michael is understandably perturbed that his new lover has manipulated his mind, but when Enigma offers to put him back the way he was, Michael refuses. Whatever he was before, Michael likes who he is now, so whether Enigma fundamentally changed him or merely awoke something already there is a moot point, as moot as what does or doesn’t happen to resolve the conflict with Enigma’s mother. Our story ends on Titus, Michael, and Enigma, mask now discarded, going to face her, but we never learn of their fate, as our mystery narrator, revealed to be the changed lizard, is not privy to such information. (If there is a more perfect way to end this comic than an ambiguous outcome relayed to us by a supernaturally enhanced raving messiah lizard, I can’t think of what it could possibly be.)

I have been promising for two weeks and thousands of words that when the whole story was laid out, I could make something resembling sense out of it for you. Something else I can promise is that it made very little sense to me when I finished. I felt like I was in a fugue state. It has taken me multiple readings and an article and a half’s worth of stalling to tease substantial meaning out of it, but the more I pick apart all its different threads, the more it weaves new and unexpected patterns rather than unravel. My final promise is that this comic has been worth every bit of me wanting to clutch my head like a Monty Python Gumby and bellow, “My brain hurts!”

Last week I snuck the Punisher in for Dean; this week it's Monty Python for me!
Last week I snuck the Punisher in for Dean; this week it’s Monty Python for me!

Enigma has so much going on that it’s not immediately obvious how its many disparate elements fit together, abandonment and idealization, identity and sexuality, the dangers of truth and secrets all vying for attention and analysis, a story in a story in a story. If it were any more layered, it would be a cake. What makes it all come together is keeping in mind that no matter how complex or meta or just flat out bizarre, this is a story about a man coming to terms with what happened to him in the past, discovering who he wants to be, and letting that past go so he can embrace that new identity. Everything else is window dressing, just the sort of window dressing the Interior League might subtly shift: beautiful to look at but liable to drive you crazy if you contemplate it too long. So let’s not stab anyone with a table leg as we proceed, all right?

In the research I did for this article (That’s right, research. I don’t just wing these things.), I was hard pressed to find an essay about Enigma that didn’t at least mention Alan Moore’s inestimable Watchmen. (And yet of the many things I’ve read about Watchmen, not a single one mentions Enigma. I wonder why.)  It’s easy to understand why they would be part of the same conversation, as they are both comics that deconstruct comics, but one is macro, the other micro. Where Watchmen looks at the impact superheroes would have on a realistic world, Enigma is really only concerned with their effect on one man. Our glimpse beneath the mask in Watchmen shows us that sometimes they are worn for good reason. In Enigma whether the mask disguises unpleasant truths or comforting lies, it is most detrimental to the one wearing it.

Another example of how these comics differ: To this day, I think the fake alien monster Ozymandias makes in Watchmen is too ridiculous looking and strains credulity to the point that it takes me out of the comic and is its lone fault. If this thing showed up in Enigma, I wouldn't bat an eye. (If you are livid at me for profaning Watchmen, you are not alone. Dean and I have exchanged many strong words on this very issue. Agree with him how wrong I am in the comments.)
Another example of how these comics differ: To this day, I think the fake alien monster Ozymandias makes in Watchmen is too ridiculous looking and strains credulity to the point that it takes me out of the comic and is its lone fault. If this thing showed up in Enigma, I wouldn’t bat an eye. (If you are livid at me for profaning Watchmen, you are not alone. Dean and I have exchanged many strong words on this very issue. Agree with him how wrong I am in the comments.)

Watchmen is also more focused on the hero part of the superhero idea; Enigma is far more concerned with the super. Both Dr. Manhattan and Enigma posses godlike abilities, but only the former evidences any struggle with that responsibility. Dr. Manhattan, whether through retention of a small part of his lost humanity or not, can contemplate the consequences of his actions and initiates a conversation about the rightness of his choices; Enigma wouldn’t even understand there is anything to discuss. We don’t know the fate of the life Dr. Manhattan eventually leaves to create, but I would wager it’s kinder, whatever that might mean, than that of the lizard Enigma leaves to rant for the rest of his days on uncomprehending ears. However selfish or vain the motives the various Watchmen have for taking up the mantle of hero or questionable the morality of the results, they often pay more than lip service to that role. Enigma is an idea who takes up a role because it is there.

Ultimately, though, Enigma’s motives or character development or lack thereof are only important as they pertain to Michael’s. Early on in their investigation, Michael and Titus entertain the notion that Michael is projecting all the strange happenings from his favorite childhood comics into the real world, and while that’s not literally what is happening, it might as well be. Enigma and all the rest of the motley comic crew are segments of the struggles Michael has gone through his whole life and must make peace with to come to a peace within himself. The Truth can be deadly to those like Michael who hide behind layers of self-deception and repression. The Interior League demonstrates that even a small shift in your safe haven can have devastating consequences, much like the literal seismic shift that tore Michael’s world asunder. Envelope GIrl, who Michael does not fear, attracts unconditional adulation from those who would seek to crawl back into the womb until that womb is ripped to shreds by Enigma’s nightmare mother creature, who Hulks out even upon hearing the word ‘mother,’ a manifestation of his own worst fears about the mother who left him waiting on a curb, signifying that Michael must let go of the idealized version of his mother to truly let his abandonment go.

I'm not sure where the Head fits into this. At this point, I'm so full up of theories and symbolism that I'm fine saying that brain eating is just cool, no matter how much the Head himself thinks there's more to it.
I’m not sure where the Head fits into this. At this point, I’m so full up of theories and symbolism that I’m fine saying that brain eating is just cool, no matter how much the Head himself thinks there’s more to it.

While these are all meaningful themes to explore, they all culminate in that moment when Michael declines Enigma’s offer to undo his influence on his mind and essentially de-gay-ify him. While it still comes across as a monumental decision for a character to make, I can only imagine how strong a statement that must have been over 20 years ago, when this comic was released. In arguments about whether sexuality is a choice, when all of my appeals to common sense have been exhausted, I have sometimes fallen back in frustration on one point: why would anyone chose to be gay? Why would anyone chose what is inarguably a harder life, where something as fundamental to life as who you love can be used as an excuse to ridicule you, exclude you, even harm or kill you, when it would be the easiest thing in the world not to? Why, unless that is the truth of who they are and therefore no choice at all? It can be quite stirring when we see analogies for these ideas played out, such as mutants in X-Men comics deciding they’d rather not be “cured,” thank you very much, but it is that much more powerful to see it is as a literal choice. While I believe Enigma should be a little less unsung for many reasons, for this moment alone I am surprised I do not hear Enigma mentioned more. Perhaps it was ahead of its time, but when we discuss art, all that really means is it was necessary regardless of the time it was created.

So did I keep my promise to make some sense of this daring and different piece of work? If you think you need to work through it a little more, it would be completely understandable, but this time I’ll let my pal the lizard have a crack at it.

Enigma End