09 October 2009

Flashmob Fridays #003: Haunt #1

Christopher Allen

Haunt may purport to be a gritty supernatural adventure comic. It may even purport to be fun. But what it is, is a creatively bankrupt exercise in coming up with a new action figure/cartoon/movie property with a lot of corrupt pieces stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster. To carry the monster analogies onward, old vampires McFarlane and Capullo have gotten younger talents Kirkman and Ottley to give them some fresh blood. I honestly wonder why a guy like Kirkman, who is a good writer at times, would willingly give up months (at least) of his time on something so ugly and trashy as this. Marvel Zombies is pandering, but at least it’s entertaining. Haunt is the kind of book that knocks writers off the Cool List because its cynicism is so transparent it breaks faith with the fans.

Starting the story with a priest finishing up a round of sex with a prostitute is just the kind of thing to let readers know we’re dealing with a bunch of immature men trying to be edgy, especially with the addition of other trite signifiers of the priest’s degradation as having him curse frequently, have beard stubble, and Heaven Forfend—he smokes, too! Surely the Image “Director’s Cut” edition of this issue will have a scene of him dipping his balls in the baptismal font.

Shifting into flashback mode, we see the priest’s brother (no, I don’t remember the character names and don’t care to read it again to find out) as a mercenary or black operative with a conscience, killing the Mengele-like scientist he’s supposed to rescue, and getting killed in turn for spoiling the mission. If the earlier priest scene hadn’t been so loathsome, this scene might have worked a little better, but as it is, I was already repulsed by the sourness of the story and the juvenile dialogue.

All is not lost, however, as the final scene is unintentionally hilarious. The priest, who has been haunted by the ghost of his brother, is shot by killers who have come to the brother’s widow’s house to silence her, suddenly merges (with his brother) into a supernatural creature with more than a passing resemblance to Marvel Comics’ Venom. McFarlane has a thing about widows of killers, I guess; hey, it worked for Spawn. It then dispenses some sticky—one might say ectojismic—vengeance to the would-be assassins. The funniest part is when the priest, still in this new Haunt guise, calls out to his brother and finds he’s right there, sharing the same body, and he says, “I guess I’m not crazy after all.” Because when you have changed into a supernatural being with extraordinary, apparently easy to master bukkake powers, and you find this creature also contains the soul of your dead brother, the first thought is going to be relief that you are not, in fact, a raving lunatic. Aw. Ful.

Mick Martin

I was pleasantly surprised at the story quality of Haunt. It's not great, but it's not horrible. While I've enjoyed his work on The Walking Dead Kirkman's Marvel work was largely disappointing, and while I didn't hate it, the few issues of Invincible I checked out didn't convince me to keep reading.

Other than that, there's little about Haunt I liked. I didn't hate it, but it didn't impress me either. The concept seems like a tired mix between Brother Voodoo and Spawn (I think I already heard about a McFarlane project regarding an undead hero who used to be a covert-ops soldier and I don't know why covert-ops soldiers are the only guys who get to be undead heroes - Maybe they get that in lieu of a scholarship?). I didn't like the fact that there was hardly anyone in the story I felt sympathetic towards. The covert-ops brother does something supposedly brave and morally "correct", but I couldn't help thinking it was an act made A) out of a sense of self-righteous indignation B) by a character who murders random strangers on the orders of his superiors.

Two things about the art. First, while I know taking potshots at McFarlane is hardly original, I have to say it's very unimpressive that the guy couldn't - or wouldn't bother to - draw a character on the first issue's cover that didn't look like Spider-Man. I mean, the guy is NOTHING like Spider-Man, thematically or physically. But I look at the cover, and all I see is Spider-Man.

Second, the main character's costume was I think, for me, the final nail in his coffin. The costume looks horrible. It isn't even that it looks like a bad design - it looks lazy and unfinished. It looks like they came up with it in 5 minutes and never looked back.

Alan David Doane

Marvel's Venom meets 24's Jack Bauer in this unpleasant and unattractive new mess from Image Comics. Writer Robert Kirkman has the chops to create a comprehensible story, which is more than you could say for almost all of the original Image creators, so it's not like this is as unreadable as most of the comics with Todd McFarlane's name attached; but the look here is solidly 1990 Image, with all the overwrought scowls, gory action and speedlines-as-background that that implies.

More than anything one gets the sense that McFarlane felt it was time Image cash in on whatever part he had in the "creation," of Venom all those years ago, so there's a lot of angst, Catholic guilt trips and uninteresting reveals on the way to the new fake Spider-Man/Venom avatar getting up and making McFarlane Spidey/Venom poses. Haunt seems to be composed of milk or possibly semen, which splurts in the air webbing-like from the areas of impact where he is shot, while his Venom-like claws tear the heads off personality-free bad guys specifically created to have their heads torn off.

I would have thought at this late date that the bad comics I don't want to read would have moved on from material like this, but no, here it is, it's 1990 all over again. If you're feeling nostalgic for the lousy titles Image crammed the racks with in the early 1990s, most of which now crammed into quarter bins across the nation, then by all means, pick this up. Otherwise, avoid at all costs.

Matt Springer

When I was thirteen, Image Comics was the bomb. McFarlane, Lee, even iefeld...that's what I was all about. I stood in line in a tent at Chicago Comicon in the early nineties to get Todd McFarlane to sign a copy of an old Quasar issue featuring his pencils on the cover.

It's been years since I followed Image closely at all -- I'm talking the core Image creators and characters, of course. I buy Image books all the time; they've evolved into a terrific and diverse publishing label that has several interesting books on the schedule month after month, from miniseries like King City and Underground to ongoings like Chew, Godland, Age of Bronze, Elephantmen...the list goes on. They might be the most "game" publisher in comics right now, willing to take risks with one-shots and miniseries that often pay off with strong critical and cult hits.

Haunt is a new book co-created by the newest Image partner, Robert Kirkman, and an original partner, Todd McFarlane. It's got Greg
Capullo on layouts and Ryan Ottley on finishes; McFarlane inks and provides a cover. It's an absolutely Image book, in the old-school sense. Lots of crosshatching, gratuitous violence, breasts the size of bowling balls, and heaploads of "bad ass" such as a priest who hires prostitutes and a doctor who mutilates living people. The concept is reminiscent of Spawn, in that it's another dead-guy-rises-again-for-vengeance bit, except the dead guy is possessing his living brother's body to become who I assume is the titular hero -- he's not named in the book.

Kirkman is a writer whose stuff I sometimes enjoy, and other times don't; certainly I respect most of what he does, even if it's not my cuppa. Even McFarlane has had his moments; it may not be the most popular opinion but I liked his adjectiveless Spider-Man stuff for what it was. I...don't respect this much. I don't like it either.

There's occasional moments of blunt cleverness; I could see this concept having potential in other hands, even though honestly, it doesn't seem like the most original concept to me. Right now it's like Robert Kirkman is the first creator actually nostalgic for the "glory days" of Image style over substance, and the first one in a position to actually relive those days with a new book cut from the same cloth as the "classics." In many important ways, this is Spawn 2.0. I woulda loved it when I was thirteen. Today? It's not for me.

Johnny Bacardi

Oh, brother. Pun intended.

We've been blessed, so to speak, with a new Image Comic called Haunt, which is a collaboration between popular writer Robert (Walking Dead, Invincible -- but you knew that already, didn't you) Kirkman and wealthy baseball souvenir enthusiast and onetime comics artist Todd McFarlane, apparently born out of the latter's challenge to the former to stop playing with his balls and draw some more comics.

Of course, it's not really a total McFarlane art effort -- it's a Ghidrah of sorts, with someone (well known in some circles, I'm sure) named Ryan Ottley on layouts, then longtime stalwart Greg Capullo doing the penciling honors...after which the Toddster comes along and lays down inks. Where it goes next in this assembly line isn't made clear; the preview PDF I read didn't come with any actual credits. I can assume it's then Photoshopped, to give it that hightoned veneer that all comics of this stripe demand these days.

Kirkman's a decent enough scripter, although I got bored with Walking Dead after a dozen issues; here, I suppose the thinking is not to stray too far outside either's comfort zone -- there's a reason why the lead character(s) in all its costumed glory looks like Spawn's second cousin twice removed. It is a ghoul-ash of a number of different genres -- supernatural, action thriller, superspy, Catholicism, horror (with a nod to the mad doctors performing hellish experiments sub-category), and eventually superhero...and damned if it doesn't kinda work on its own terms. Of course, these terms are strictly of the straight-to-DVD, late night Cinemax kinda type, but Kirkman (despite some gratuitous profanity) thankfully doesn't get too pretentious with the dialogue, and truth be told Capullo has always been better than the company he usually keeps, and thus the layouts and pacing aren't showoffish and cluttered, keeping readabilty at a high level.

Which is not to say that I recommend this at all -- it's the kind of lowest-common-denominator supernatural superhero action horseshit that one would hope that comics outgrew years ago, but sadly doesn't seem to be the case. We've all seen this before, done better (and certainly done worse). However, if, like a mushroom, you thrive on this particular type of manure, then you will probably want to pick this up. That said, I think I'll decline to join you.

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