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Doomed #3

Today's thing: comparisons. I got the new issue of IDW's Doomed horror comics magazine (which I've never seen on a magazine rack anywhere, but that's beside the point); that publication's always offered up a wealth of opportunities for me to dig through other comics I've got sitting around, and this issue is no different. Ashley Wood, you might know, is art director of Doomed, and offers up art for one story per issue - this time, it's an adaptation of Robert Bloch's Fat Chance (scripted by Ted Adams).

And I just so happened to score a different Wood project from the bargain bins, just a few days prior - his 4-issue run with writer Garth Ennis on Acclaim Comics' 1997 revival of Shadowman (that's issues #1-4). It's not just amazing how Wood has changed in under a decade, but how he's moved in and out of certain approaches; that Shadowman stuff is some of his earliest work in comics (I believe he got his start at 2000 AD in 1995), and his approach is uneasily positioned between trying to provide expressive mood and straightforward representation. A certain amount of Bill Sienkiewicz influence is evident, especially in those big, meaty ink lines, though I feel it didn't really become apparent until Wood pressed himself farther into the haze with his name-making run on Hellspawn, starting in 2000.

Wood seemed to feel a lot more at home in a less tangibly realist visual place, and he'd often seem to shy away from returning to a less adorned style - certainly his lamented 2002-03 Automatic Kafka, with writer Joe Casey, often seemed as uncertain as to how much abstraction would be necessary for a semi-straightforward superhero book as anything glimpsed in Shadowman, though whatever wound up on the page generally happened to be far more attractive from simple those extra years of work. But even his Casey-collaborating issues of Uncanny X-Men evidenced questions being asked behind the scenes - his first issue, #398, struggles to offer as direct a superhero action experience as it can, but by the 2001 Annual we're already deep into mood and gloomy swirl. He circles around, and swoops away, but he keeps making the effort.

Which is all a long way of observing that Wood has finally reached a perfect peace between his personal vision and a desire to offer a 'straightforward' visual experience with his stories in Doomed. I can't imagine anyone not instantly being able to tell exactly where the story is going at all times, so crystal-clear is Wood's panel-to-panel storytelling in shorts like what's provided here. It's never less than purely Wood's work either; at this point his lines and characters are so patently his that even a lack of smudges and deep hues cannot distract from his evident presence. This is Ashley Wood in broad daylight, and you can really appreciate his winsome faces (he's better with character 'acting' than you'd think) and often striking page designs (nice use of white). Fishing his prior efforts up from the deep only heightens the delight in seeing where a wandering talent might go.

Given the next story, Richard Matheson's The Children of Noah, you also have to wonder if Doomed might be serving as a vehicle for future dives into the past, once certain young artists have developed further. I recall thinking Ben Templesmith was a decent, if low-wattage Ashley Wood disciple back in the times of 30 Days of Night - indeed, Templesmith got his start in comics working on an aborted Vertigo project with Joe Casey that demanded a Wood-like visual style, and later replacing Wood himself as artist on Hellspawn. His current work shows a lot of progress toward setting out his own distinct 'look.' So I guess it's not really a bother that the look of this story's artist, Nat Jones (script by Scott Tipton), is so close to Templesmith's current style that I had to glance again at the credits, though Jones' line art is a fair bit scratchier. It's not bad, though, and we might again look upon it in a few years' time, to see where another artist has been.

Also up are F. Paul Wilson & David J. Schow adaptations, which again mix the old and the new. Wilson's Pelts is scripted by the author himself, with visuals by James Owen of Starchild fame. Some might recall Starchild from the '90s self-publishing movement spearheaded by Dave Sim, and Owen's art still owes a bit to Sim in its tight, methodical rhythms (nice grasp of bloody mayhem too). Contrast that with the Schow adaptation, Visitation, from Ivan Brandon and Andy MacDonald of NYC Mech, which seems both contemporary and classical in its sharp lines and deep shadows, drafting dark woods and ominous buildings. You'll believe Schow's story has always looked like this, though the nature of comics adaptations sometimes leads you into clashes - I recall enjoying issue #1's Eduardo Barretto-drawn adaptation of Schow's Blood Rape of the Lust Ghouls, and found myself surprised to come across an earlier adaptation of the very same story in the 1992 debut issue of the Northstar horror anthology Slash, by none other than James O'Barr of The Crow fame.

These things keep wrapping around, horror-to-horror, change-to-change. That's why I never throw anything out.