Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Demon #40-45 & Annual #2 (1993-94)

After growing disenchanted with Marvel Comics in the early 90's, I began casting about for a replacement universe. Marv Wolfman's controversial revitalization of the Titans led me to DC, which I became increasingly enamored with. Hoping to sample a wide variety of titles, I decided I would collect the 1993 Annual event, "Bloodlines." I expect I will attempt to defend that decision someday, but for now I'll just point out that this led to my buying the second Demon annual.

When I was in junior high and truly over the kind of education you receive whilst being yanked from school to school a couple of times a year, I started doodling an extended comic strip called "Gunner." It was about a scraggly looking degenerate assassin who was always seen in a ball cap, chunky shades, and usually a jacket. These strips were ridiculously violent, featured low humor, and were what you would generally expect from a misanthropic loner. Color me surprised when I bought the Etrigan comic book, which introduced a hard-drinking Irish Hitman who looked and acted very much like "John Gunner" in adventures comparable to Gunner's. Artist John McCrea was even prone to the same awkward angles and panel layouts. Literally, there's a scene where a grenade is tossed into a villain's gaping mouth that was near identical to one I had drawn, including the general lack of craft.

The book wasn't entirely amateurish. Certainly John McCreas drawing abilities far outstripped mine, especially when it came to the book's title character. McCrea imbues Etrigan with a queer combination of gangly droop and sinewy menace. For once, Etrigan seemed scary, as he shifted gears between cackling mayhem and seething fury at the drop of a hat. His remains my favorite interpretation of the character. On the writing side, this was one of the earliest U.S. works of Garth Ennis, decidedly less polished, but very much in keeping with the anarchist piss-takes he would become famous for. I was immediately a fan of these kindred spirits, and went back to the comic shop the following week for the team's debut issue on the ongoing series.

Now, Ennis and McCrea's Demon run has been treasured by myself and friends for years. One owns the last few pages McCrea produced for the book, featuring a closing soliloquy-- or at least as close as a doggerel-spouting abomination can get. When Hitman was spun off into his own series, I drew a life-size half-standee of Tommy Monaghan as part of a dump display to promote the series in my shop far more effectively than DC ever did. The problem is, on rereading these early issues, I'm afraid they're just not very good. The art on the annual is at times rushed to the point one assumed an inker took over the pages in a deadline crunch, but none are credited. Hitman's origin is an afterthought, his character still a stock bad ass. The plot moves from one action piece to another, most punctuated by the dismembering of Gotham City grotesqueries and fat jokes at the expense of the alien menace Glonth. The team's debut stories are similarly plagued by episodic violence, painful poetry, and obvious debts to Grant, Wagner, Bisley, and Fabry. A period fill-in by Batman: The Animated Series writer/artist Kevin Altieri a relief fifteen years down the line.

The story arc that followed presented a more familiar Monaghan, joining Etrigan against an arch-demon, ridiculous evangelistic crusaders, and more. Fun, but frivolous, aside from setting up future stories. All in all, I'm disappointed I didn't enjoy this stroll down memory lane more. Perhaps my growing disenchanted with Ennis' writing had less to do with his changes than my own. I'll get back to you ion that, as I continue my reading.

Note: This is a review of a run of issues for which no trade collection is available.

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