Digging, digging into the past...

*Who knows where the weekend went? Well it’s dead now, and in the process of being eaten by the weekend scavengers. Ah, at least I have pretty music to soothe me.

*Tomorrow I’ll be back to full-length reviews with a thing on Jeffrey Brown’s AEIOU or Any Easy Intimacy, along with the usual Monday hi-jinx. I noticed that just yesterday the Times Online (UK) gave the book a very short but exceedingly effusive review, declaring that it “…rings so true that I cannot imagine it not speaking, directly and movingly, to anyone who has ever loved and lost.” Seeing as how I’m demonstrably a shriveled husk of a man in terms of emotion, it will come as little surprise to discover that I didn’t like the book much. But more on that tomorrow.

*I did wind up reading through some material I dredged up from the bargain bins, much of it miniseries in loose issues for a buck per head. Some of it I’d simply never heard of before, like the 4-issue Dark Horse miniseries SubHuman from 1998-99. My eye was caught by the lovely covers by Mark Schultz of Xenozoic Tales, though he’s actually only co-writer on the book proper (with Michael Ryan); some of his design sketches are included at the rear of various issues, though. The actual interior art is by Roger Peterson (colors by the reliable Dave Stewart), a fellow I can’t seem to find much information on, save for the fact that he’s contributing to AdHouse’s upcoming Project: Romantic anthology.

He’s obviously simpatico with Schultz’s love for pulp illustration and classic adventure strips, though; the art is attractively stylized, emphasis placed firmly on pretty girls, square-jawed men, and nasty beasts. Schultz and Ryan compliment the visuals with a globe-spanning plot regarding monsters from the deep, an ancient line of mystic heroines, corrupt senators, primordial evil, flashy underwater gear, and a general sense of high serial adventure (the squinty, weathered male lead is even named Captain Early, just to make the homage even more evident). Obviously it was intended as an ongoing series of books, what with the copious branding of “A Stormforce 10 Adventure” all over the place, not to mention the fact that there’s basically no ending - it all just sort of stops after a nominal action climax. I don’t think the good crew of Stormforce 10 were ever seen again, at least not at Dark Horse. Still, it’s certainly worth looking out for, for fans of this kind of material (like me).

More familiar among my readings into the past was Druid, a 4-issue update of the old Marvel property Dr. Druid that Warren Ellis wrote in 1995. Ellis had just made his Big Two debut the year prior, and the book can be taken as part two of an unofficial and ill-fated trilogy of attempts on the writer’s part to convince Marvel that his particular brand of dark horror would be an interesting thing to pursue (though do note that he also did a few random issues of Ghost Rider around the same time). It followed Ellis’ 10-issue run on Hellstorm: Prince of Lies (#12-21), which had concluded with the cancellation of the title; Druid basically acted as a side-story continuation of the prior book, with Daimon Hellstorm himself making several cameo appearances (not to mention primary artist Leonardo Manco moving on with Ellis).

It’s pretty neat to read through this title and note the Alan Moore influence; the elaborate, nearly purple captions and rigorously thorough applications of retroactive continuity found in here hearken back loudly to Moore’s seminal early issues of Swamp Thing - it’s certainly not a bad book to model one’s revamp after, but it’s fascinating to see Ellis’ traditional narrative stance mixing with extensive influence by another prominent creator’s easily identifiable style of a certain era. Dr. Druid here becomes a force for destruction after becoming tired of the constant humiliations of a life as a fourth-tier superhero, enacting rituals he’s apparently known all along to become a more magically-inclined instrument of madness.

I only found issues #1 and #4, though reading both of them together doesn’t raise the feeling of having missed all that much plot (take from that what you will); basically, the Doctor terrorizes the freeloaders who’ve been handing around his apartment, and he becomes romantically intertwined with a mysterious witch - all of this serves to prevent his mission, the tearing down of the comforting illusions of reality, from coming to pass. Apparently the book was meant to go on a bit longer (certainly the editorials in the back suggest as much), and simply got canned with issue #4 - the finale strikes me as being a logical one, though, a nice conclusion to an opening storyline to a book that maybe shouldn’t have gone any farther. Still - I haven’t read half of this thing, so don’t hold me to that. It’s a pretty fun book from what I‘ve seen, though, happily overloaded with mayhem and evil magic, and Manco’s art is quite good (and the colors by the excellent D’Israeli are even better).

Ellis moved on from this to a 3-issue storyline on Doctor Strange (#80-82), after which he left that book, and that was about all for his occult-flavored Marvel projects, at least as far as titles in a ‘horror’ type line go (although, to be accurate, by this time most of the horror books in Marvel's stable had been moved over to the more general Marvel Edge grouping). It's a corner of Ellis' bibliography I haven't gotten all that much into, and I ought to check further. For the record, I know even less about his various X-Men excursions from around the same period...