Friday, June 21, 2013

Nocturne (1991)

I was on a lengthy road trip for a couple of weeks, and passed through a comic shop in Pennsylvania called Phantom of the Attic, hoping in vain they'd carry some Dawn of the Dead memorabilia now that Monroeville Zombies has closed down. Instead, I thumbed through their bundles of discount comic book runs, and found this complete three issue mini-series for 99¢. Probably not the best indicator of quality, but I've occasionally found some solid cheap reads in the rough. This was not one of those.

There's a serial killer on the loose who dismembers homeless people and leaves the parts wrapped up in odd ways. He is pursued by two cops who bear a striking resemblance to Todd McFarlane's Sam and Twitch, and this was published a year prior to the debut of Spawn. The killer hangs out in subway tunnels wearing a fedora and trenchcoat, dispatching the derelicts and creeps who cross his patch with superhuman viciousness, while himself seemingly immune from harm.

The cops catch a break when they find the long dead body of a woman in her apartment, with one wall bearing the bloody icon of "spiders from hell," the killer's calling card. Voice mails on her machine point to his identity, although she was only his first victim in the sense that his overbearing, abusive nature drove her to suicide. The killer is a neat freak, which puts him in a compromising position when he first encounters Jethell, the teenage protector of the citizens living underground. It's all very primordial Spawn, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if McFarlane borrowed from the book, consciously or otherwise.

While very amateurish and indebted to the worst impersonations of '80s Moore/Miller on the writing front, the first issue is passable. The art is mostly lousy, but random panels pack in some serious Sam Keith style detailing. Others recall left field influences like Gilbert Shelton, but more are clearly from the Barry Blair school, which makes perfect sense, because it came out of his studio and he holds the copyright. Angel de Mioche assumes all credit for story and art though, inconsistent as it is. "Culpability" might be a better term than "credit" though, because the second issue goes completely off the rails, leaving a mangled wreck of storytelling. A second serial killer is introduced to distract everybody, while the art and script, barely adequate to begin with, turns painful to the eye. Remember how disturbing the Barry Blair cottage industry of adolescent protagonists in squicky sexual situations were? Try seeing them juxtaposed with the worst grade school notebook snuff doodles, stabbing people in the dick. This middle chapter was confusing, not the least for my copy containing an unannounced reprint of #1, like that helps.

By the third issue, the only pleasure I derive from this series is the Aircel/Adventure/Eternity Comics house ads. Glenn Lumsden should have had a way better career than drawing Puppet Master comics, the way he melded Brian Bolland with Paul Gulacy. Was Steven Butler swiping Flint Henry's Grimjack for his Trancers covers, or what? Oh well, enough putting this off. The finale is so atonal and arbitrary, it's hard to believe it was planned in advance. It read more like sales reports on #1 were so bad that everything had to be wrapped up immediately to stop the hemorrhaging of costs. Key characters suffer left field grisly deaths, the art somehow manages to become even more deformed, and a "twist" ending euthanizes the narrative. Not even a guilty pleasure, even at half the price I paid. Oh, what a price I paid...

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