Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: Backlash #1

Backlash #1, "Issue Number One," Cover Date November 1994
Written by Sean Ruffner, Jeff Mariotte, and Brett Booth, Penciled by Brett Booth, Inked by four people with an assist from a fifth

Backlash 1 Cover

Backlash is a spin-off character of Stormwatch, one of the earliest outputs from Jim Lee's Wildstorm Universe. Very briefly, Backlash is a three thousand year old alien-human hybrid who is a martial arts master and has various other super powers, and served as a sort of drill sergeant for Stormwatch, Wildstorm's Justice League (their base was an orbiting space station called Skywatch). After almost 20 issues of the "core" title, which was able to meet deadlines in part because Jim Lee stopped doing even covers for the book almost immediately, Backlash got his own book, which would run 32 issues.

We begin with our hero as his internal monologue tells us he's breaking into a prison for super-powered beings. He hears guards approaching and turns to mist, Dracula-style, to avoid them, but one of the guards notices the mist going into a vent, instead of out, and says "I know a break when I see one!" Obviously you don't, guard. Backlash mists himself deeper into the complex, and interrupts another pair of guards's conversation by blasting them with an electrified lash. He knocks out another set of guards as one flirts with a female guard (whose gender-ized armor is not quite as dumb as the armor worn by the Guardsman in my Avengers: Unplugged review). Yet more guards show up and announce that they know how to deal with "his kind," and announce via radio that the thread is neutralized. Annoyed, Backlash uses his energy lash to cause a guard's energy gun to backfire, knocking both men out. Backlash feels a bit of remorse for beating up "brave" men and women doing their jobs who just got in his way. Backlash enters the maximum security area where previous enemies shout threats at him, but he more or less ignores them until he finds Amanda Reed, aka Taboo, and offers to let her out if she'll help him.

Backlash 1 Pike Daemonite Mr. Sinister Deadpool
C'mon, Image, you're not even trying.

Backlash flashes back to what brought him here, a meeting 3 days prior in central park with Stormwatch member Diva. Diva tells Marc that his girlfriend is in a coma as a result of alien attack, and Backlash vows to get his hands on the alien who did this. The two have an emotional hug, as Backlash says Diva's special and that Stormwatch needs her more than he does. We cut to a medical institute, where Marc, in a hoodie and ripped jeans that a three thousand year old man is too old to be wearing dispatches of a few orderlies, thinking to himself that Stormwatch should've hired better security for his comatose girlfriend. He waxes emotional after seeing her, and then finds her chart, where her doctors have pretty pessimistically said that she has two months, max to live. Pretty specific diagnosis, doc. We get two pages of flashback (without a note directing us to an issue of Stormwatch) that explain that Diane was possessed by a Daemonite, and Backlash separated it from her, but possibly at the cost of her "soul."
Backlash 1 Pike impale
Don't worry, Backlash walks this off.
Backlash is interrupted in his flashbacks as Mr. Sinister and Deadpool show up! Mr. Sinister is apparently possessed by the Daemonite, but before Backlash can deal with him, "Pike," the Deadpool analogue, starts fighting him. Marc takes Pike down, but before he can have a big showdown with the Daemonite, Pike shoves an energy pike through Backlash's back, Frank Miller style, causing it to comically protrude through his torso (I say comically because Elektra was killed in a comics approved format without blood, this is an Image comic and Backlash isn't even hurt). The cops arrive and the bad guys disappear, so Backlash mists away again.

Backlash 1 Taboo sailor
"Uhh I didn't call you 'sailor'?"

Back in the present, Taboo, looking very Black Widow-like, tells Backlash to come back to earth from his prison break daydream. Backlash inexplicably says "don't call me sailor," even though she didn't, as a giant mech guard shows up to fight him. He quickly dispatches the guard, as Taboo cracks a joke, causing Backlash to glower. She tells him to lighten up and puts a hand on his shoulder, prompting a "don't. Touch. Me!" response. What a 3,000 year old baby.

Maybe the anatomy isn't perfect, but I think this is still pretty dynamic art.

The duo escape to the outside, where they're in the arctic for some reason, and they fight a few more guardsman. Backlash releases Taboo's power inhibitor, so she powers up and causes a few guards to crash into each other. He tells her not to kill anybody, but she insists with all their armor, the guards will be fine in a few years. More guards surround the two, but they drop under the ice, where they're picked up by a waiting ship, piloted by "Cyberjack." Backlash tells Cyberjack to shut up and drive, and we're out!


Prison break storylines are not exactly uncommon, but this issue does do a pretty solid job of using the prison break to show Backlash's powers, his motivations, and manages to do a decent job of introducing Taboo (who debuts here). The simple story allows the focus to be on Brett Booth's pencils, which are about as Jim Lee as you can get without actually being Jim Lee. To Booth's credit, he does a nice job capturing emotion on Backlash's unmasked face in the flashback, so that it's not just a gruff mercenary guy busting a murderer out of jail to fight aliens, it's a gruff hero busting a murderer out of jail to save the woman he loves. As first issues go, this is pretty solid. It's not heavy on characterization, but the action is fun, and the tone is established as a sort of espionage/action vehicle that's going to see Backlash fight aliens and a Deadpool look-alike. Booth's pencils are solid, and while the scripting isn't re-inventing the wheel, it's doing the job, as this ends up being a pretty fun introduction to an ongoing book.

90's Fashion:

Backlash's costume is definitely an early 90's Jim Lee design, with a mark over one eye of his mask, mid-thigh pouches, a Cyclops-style strap around his chest, and pouch belts around one mid-thigh but not the other. His low-profile out of costume attire includes jeans full of rips that look like he made them himself to try to look cool. Taboo (everyone has dumb 90's names) has a costume that reminds me of a less fan-service-y Witchblade (which hadn't come out yet), as an alien symbiote thing wraps around her as soon as her inhibitor collar is off. I still can't get over what a rip-off of Deadpool and Mr. Sinister that image is, though. I mean, Image creators aren't shy about letting you know what they're referencing, are they?

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