Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins #16

Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sins #16, "Devil in Disguise," Siege of Darkness Part 12, Cover Date January 1994
Written by Chris Cooper, Art by Rurik Tyler, Inks by Bob Downs and Mike Esposito

Well it's Halloween this week, so I figured I'd focus on a couple of horror titles from the 90's. For those that don't remember, Marvel had a sort of horror revival (the original horror boom was in the 70's due to changing comics code restrictions) headed by several Ghost Rider comics, the Night Stalkers (Blade's team), and of course, Darkhold: Pages from the Book of Sin. This is another title that needs a quick history lesson by way of an introduction. The Darkhold is an evil grimoire (so excited to use that term) created by Chthon, a Lovecraft-ian Elder God of "magik" to contain all the evil information Chthon had gained over the years. Later, it acted as a sort of bridge to the human plane of existence. Its evil also directly resulted in the creation of Marvel's version of vampires and werewolves, and the book was used by Dr. Strange as a deux ex machina to get rid of all vampires (except the important ones) in a famous storyline. Flash forward to the 90's when "Dwarf," a demon guy in cahoots with Chthon starts sending out free samples of the Darkhold, turning unsuspecting people into demons. It's up to Victoria Montesi, the last in a line of occult hunters, interpol agent Sam Buchanan, Jinx and Louise Hastings, an archaeologist and her granddaughter, and Modred the Mystic to track down the book and shut down its evil wherever they find it as the Darkhold Redeemers!

Darkhold 16 Dwarf

We begin our story in the jungles of Central America, as Sam Buchanan wonders why Modred teleported the gang here, instead of their ultimate destination. Victoria "Vicki" Montesi helpfully recaps the proceeding 11 parts of Siege of Darkness. To recap: Louise Hastings was murdered, Zarathos (the demon that looks like Ghost Rider) and Lilith teamed up, and while Lilith was apparently defeated, Zarathos remained at large, teaming up with an ancient race called "The Blood" that he converted into "The Fallen," and that all the supernatural superheroes have to go find and protect some members of "the blood." The group meet a local stereotype, who directs them towards a "madwoman" after some prompting from Buchanan, who points a gun at him for no reason. Of course, it's all a bit convenient, as the stereotype thinks "the human fools" as he turns his back to them. Modred, who is a magic guy, just says "hm, that guy seemed a bit odd." Vicki needs a rest, as Sam points out that she was "queasy" this morning. I know implied pregnancy when I see it! Except of course, Vicki is a lesbian, so who's the father? My money's on Dr. Strange.

Darkhold 16 Montesi pregnant
Ladies if you experience "queasiness" in the morning or need rest from walking around in a jungle, you are pregnant.

The gang finds the woman they're looking for after her wolf/dog/something attacks Sam and she calls it off. She tells them to leave, but they follow her back to her home, where she insults Modred, then implies that Vicki can't handle the truth. Meanwhile, Modred goes to pet the lady's dog, when its eyes start glowing and it transforms into Zarathos! But on the next page, as the rest of the Redeemers notice the fight, Modred points out this is actually "Metarchus" a shapeshifting demon girl. Metarchus tries to sneak up on the woman, but she sucks the shapeshifting power out of her, and Modred zaps her with lightning. Metarchus turns into a copy of Modred, complete with his annoying old English dialogue, as Vickie asks the woman for the truth. She reluctantly agrees, and we get a neat little refresher of what's been going on: apparently there's a prophecy about a "child born of no man and a woman marked by sin" which Vicki thinks is supposed to apply to Scarlet Witch, and a few other curious incidents that heavily hint that Vicki doesn't even realize what I noticed the moment someone casually mentioned morning "queasiness." Metarchus blasts the woman before she can fully explain what all this imagery means, while Vicki laments that she was "so close" to learning the truth, because she's a dummy who can't put it together.

Darkhold 16 Montesi
Seriously Vicki, put it together.

Their mission a failure, the gang heads back to L.A., where Louise Hastings apparently already has a big headstone. Sam wonders why the relatively powerless group gets sent on all these dangerous missions, but Vicki says that it's up to "normal" people to make a change by doing "the hard stuff." Modred zaps Jinx off to some wizarding school or something, then zaps the rest of the team to Dr. Strange's house. The Dwarf appears, and asks why Modred killed the truth lady, casually revealing that it was Modred, not the demon, that actually zapped the woman. Modred says he doesn't know why, but the Dwarf says he should already suspect. Vicki's father was sterile, but wanted to carry on fighting the supernatural, so it turns out... he wasn't Vicki's real dad. Chthon was! Whaaaaa?! Dwarf mentions that Chthon is here on this plane, and points out that he'll be showing up in about 9 months. Modred is left muttering about the prophecy, as Dwarf goes to hand an envelope to the reader. The End?!?

Darkhold 16 Modred
"Use magic" is Modred's solution to everything.

Actually, it kind of is. This is the last issue of the series, although the storyline would continue into Marvel Comics Presents and the rest of Marvel's supernatural titles. I assume evil triumphed and the world was destroyed, but who knows?


This is another book I'm going into knowing almost nothing about, and for all that, it wasn't half-bad. The exposition dump is effective at setting up the story, and also manages to have some decent layouts to go with it. My personal stance on recaps when you already know the story is that they should at least look cool, so you can skim over the captions and focus on the art, and this does a decent job of it (of course, I had no idea what was going on, so I appreciated the exposition). We also get a pretty good handle on who the characters are, even if we don't have time to get too involved. Vicki's the leader, but she definitely seems to have some dad issues. It's also nice that the book doesn't make her some kind of man-hating dyke. It also seems clear that tough guy Sam has a one-sided crush on her. We don't get much characterization from Jinx, but I don't hold out a ton of hope that a black teenager wearing a backwards baseball cap in 1994 was a well-developed, three dimensional character. I guess he loved his grandmother, so that's something. Modred's the de-facto team powerhouse, but he's always been characterized as somewhat of a jerk, even when he's not possessed by Morgan LeFay or Chthon (which is most of the time), so I assume he's the team instigator, a kind of supernatural Guy Gardner.

Darkhold 16 Jinx Louise Hastings
I assume his hat blew away between panels. Also, they sure didn't waste any time putting her in the ground!

I also like that even though this is part of a massive crossover, the focus on the book is the storyline they've most likely been developing for the past year and a half- that is, that Vicki is the key to Chthon's return to earth. Crossovers of the time had the bad habit of focusing too much on more popular characters, but since this is the last issue, I guess there's no point in trying to spike sales by sticking Ghost Rider on the cover.

Rurik Tyler's art isn't what I expected from the cover, as Sandman and the Question artist Malcolm Jones III inks over Tyler's art to make things a bit creepier than the interior art. Tyler's art is definitely not of the Jim Lee school of unnecessary lines and no backgrounds. Instead, his work has a sort of cartoon-y look that actually looks pretty decent, it just clashes with the dark tone of the story. There's a few cool layouts that work pretty well (mostly involving Zarathos's head), but there's a few close-ups of faces that look like they'd fit better into an Archie comic. Maybe I'm just projecting when I see a brunette whose name starts with a "V." The diverse cast also helps keep everyone from looking too same-y: in addition, Modred has an extremely long face, Sam Buchanan has a Harry Potter scar on his forehead, and Jinx has a weird facial scar/birthmark. It's not particularly surprising that Tyler's other work includes comedy comic "What The-" and an adaptation of the "Biker Mice from Mars" cartoon. It's honestly a bit of a shame that he worked primarily for Marvel, who really didn't produce much of anything that suited his style. His only work for DC was a few fill-ins on a 90's "Scooby Doo" comic, and his other biggest contribution is a few cartoons in "Cracked."

The downside for Tyler's art is a few consistency issues. He gets lazy and doesn't draw Vicki's arm at one point, and sometimes forgets to draw little things like Jinx's hat. I'm also willing to give the colorist the benefit of the doubt and say that Jinx changed into a blue cap to go mourn his grandmother, after his red cap got all sweaty in the jungle. It's a bit strange to me to have guys like Jae Lee, Steve Epting, and Gene Ha around and not working on a "horror" book like this; instead, Lee worked on Namor while Epting and Ha did various stuff for X-books around this time. I guess Marvel's thinking was probably that nobody read Darkhold anyway: it had a dumb title and was probably the least successful of the Morbius/Nightstalkers/Ghost Rider books, considering how completely unknown most of these characters remain. Also it was canceled in 1994, while most of those books lasted at least another year or two.

It's kind of a shame the 2004 series "Witches," which was based around somewhat unknown female magic users Topaz, Jennifer Kale, and Satana, didn't include Montesi. Of course, that book had enough problems already: it was one of the seemingly endless pile of "Buffy" rip-offs greenlit by Bill Jemas in 2001, then sat on the shelf for three years before it was salavaged into a mini-series, with really sloppy work filling in gaps in Mike Deodato's three year old pencils. According to Marvel: the Untold Story, it was one of three books Jemas had in development that featured hot women fighting the supernatural, because Jemas was a weirdo who thought the market could maintain that many Buffy rip-offs. I'm sure one of them was the DnA "Bloodstone" mini from 2001, but I'm not sure what #3 was. Anyway, the characters from "Darkhold" for the most part remain in limbo, except for Modred, who periodically pops up as a generic villain, most recently in Dan Slott's snooze-inducing "Mighty Avengers" run in 2009.

Darkhold 1 2 Cover recycled art
Proof that lazy artists predate Greg Land: the first and second covers for this series, by Richard Case and Mark McKenna. Come on guys, at least mirror the image or put it somewhere else in the frame. 

90's Fashion: Jinx! Jinx wears a white t-shirt, jeans and a red cap for his jungle expedition, so what does he wear to visit his grandmother's grave? Jeans, a jacket (presumably over a t-shirt), and a blue cap! Agent Buchanan has a pretty restrained look, with a shoulder holster over a black t-shirt, but he does accessorize with a belt full of pouches.

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