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Cover date: January 2009
"An Unspeakable HORROR!"
Writer: Kevin VanHook
Penciller: Tom Mandrake
Inker: Tom Mandrake
Reviewed by: Ralph Silver
Batman interrogates Marius Dimeter to find out what he knows about the creatures that are plaguing Gotham. Dimeter explains that Dr. Combs is a student of the occult and has managed to open up a doorway to the "land of the un-dead". The creatures have all emanated from this other realm. Dr. Combs, hiding nearby, secretly observes that Dimeter is spilling the beans to Batman. When Superman returns to Batman after losing sight of the beast, Dimeter meets Superman and gets rather "smart-mouthed" with him. Superman is not shy about showing his annoyance.
Superman leaves and goes on patrol in an attempt to locate the creature that has escaped. When he hears a teenage boy cry for help during another vampire attack, Superman intervenes and saves young Chadd Cole from certain death. After sending Chadd inside to lock the doors and call 911, Superman is attacked by a werewolf, who bids Superman to keep his nose out and let the creatures handle things. A brief battle ensues. When the werewolf lunges and manages to scratch Superman in the face, this makes Superman pretty mad; and he ends the fight quickly. The dialogue between them continues; and the werewolf continues to assert that in his ignorance of the facts at hand, Superman's efforts can be detrimental instead of helpful. The werewolf indicates that he is trying to "fix" things; but that Superman and his friends are getting in the way.
Unfortunately, while Superman is busy with the werewolf, Chadd Cole is confronted by Dr. Combs; who greets him with a hypodermic needle and an evil grin. Combs clearly intends to make Chadd his next victim. When Superman responds to Chadd's cry for help, the werewolf escapes. This is the second time today that a creature has eluded Superman while he was diverted to rescue someone in peril; and the first time today that Superman has arrived too late to save the day. The frustration shows on Superman's face.
In Gotham Park, Officer John Bavaresco, a mounted police officer making his rounds, sees what he thinks are two wild dogs attacking someone. As he gets closer, he discovers to his surprise and horror that these are NOT dogs. The officer becomes the next victim of these werewolves in what is an especially vicious and gruesome attack.
Batman and Marius Dimeter arrive to confront several of the werewolves and vampires that have converged on Gotham Park. They engage them in battle. Dimeter loses control, and unleashes a vicious biting attack on one of the werewolves and drinks its blood. He then abruptly leaves to find Dr. Combs, the key to the whole problem. Batman is suddenly alone and surrounded by quite a few of the vampires; and for the moment is seriously outnumbered. Help arrives in the form of Green Arrow and also Jason Blood (the human who is able to transform into Etrigan the Demon). Green Arrow begins firing wooden-tipped arrows, which seem to be effective against the vampires.
Story - 5: Kevin VanHook continues to weave a story that holds my interest. I find myself enjoying the series and looking forward to each new installment.
For me, the difference between a mediocre comic book (or movie, novel...) and a really good one boils down to two main factors: plot development, and characterization. I look for a narrative that unfolds in a consistent and logical manner. And I look for characters to be depicted in a manner that is consistent with what we already know about them. Failure on either of these two points can ruin a comic book for me.
Fortunately, VanHook succeeds on both counts.
This is the first installment that features Superman (if you do not count his very brief appearance in the final panel of issue #2). So this is our first opportunity to see how VanHook portrays the Man of Steel. I found his depiction to be wholly consistent with my own conception of how Superman thinks and behaves.
Superman is very protective of those around him, both his close friends (Batman) and the general populace. He sees himself as the protector of Metropolis and of Earth; and behaves accordingly. He is a friend to all good and gentle people. These traits were exhibited several times in this issue. For example, I liked the scene where Superman takes a break from his battle with the giant monster, to help the homeless couple who happen to be in the line of fire. Superman not only carries them to safety; he gives them details about the location and operating hours of a nearby homeless shelter; and encourages the couple to head there for a hot meal and a good night's sleep. The Superman I know would absolutely make it a point to know those details, so he could make this helpful suggestion to any disadvantaged persons he might encounter during his patrols. And the Superman I know would show no bias based on class distinctions; valuing the lives of two homeless people the same as he would two very affluent folks who might need his protection.
Similar qualities were shown in his scene with Chadd Cole. Chadd has just been through a horrifying ordeal; and Superman (despite having his hands full) takes the time to show kindness, and to be reassuring and encouraging with the teenager. "Chadd, I need you to keep it together for me, okay? Just go inside and lock the door behind you. Then call 911. Just tell them exactly what happened. I'll take care of things out here." These are the kind of words of encouragement you would expect to hear from a father or favorite uncle. And they are precisely the kind of words you would expect from Superman.
Superman tends to keep his cool; and does not show annoyance very often. But I have always felt that magic is one of those things that tends to annoy Superman; both because of his vulnerability, and also because it feels sort of random and seems to defy logic. Superman, like Batman, is more comfortable with things that have scientific explanations and are more understandable.
So I liked the scene where Superman meets Marius Dimeter. When Dimeter is presumptuous enough to criticize Superman and say "How the hell did you let (the monster) get away?"; and when Dimeter subsequently introduces himself by glibly saying "They call me Dimeter. I'm magic. Wanna play?"; it is not surprising to me that Superman would exhibit a short fuse. As expected, Superman is not at all amused by this behavior; and is sufficiently irritated to express his objections in no uncertain terms.
Plot points have been consistent and logical throughout. Superman and Batman find a logical division of labor. It makes sense for Superman to search for the giant creature that has escaped, while Batman stays behind, presumably to continue to pump Dimiter for information. It also makes sense that Batman summoned Jason Blood (a.k.a Etrigan the Demon) for help. In times of crisis, it makes good sense for Superman and Batman to summon friends, colleagues, or acquaintances who have particular expertise in the problem at hand.
It was good to see Green Arrow as well. I like that each issue so far has had at least one cameo appearance by some other hero from the DC Universe.
So far, this series is exceeding my expectations.
Art - 5: I continue to be very impressed with Tom Mandrake's artwork. There is an expressive quality to his work that makes the story come alive for me. He is very good at depicting action and suspense in a scene. He is adept at conveying emotion. His style sets a very dark and moody tone; absolutely appropriate for this story.
As I browse through the book again, there are a couple of scenes that jump out at me. The scene where Chadd Cole is attacked by the lady vampire, as she lunges at him, is very effective. I can feel his terror as he is startled and knocked off balance. And I can feel the swiftness of her lunging attack. Similarly, I like the panel on the next page where Superman sends the vampire hurtling; his cape fluttering and twisting in response to his body movement.
In fact, all of the fight scenes are well done. Look at the scene where Superman delivers a hard right cross to the head of the werewolf. That panel nicely conveys speed and power. And the panel showing the attack on officer Bavaresco is very horrifying; but very effective in conveying the viciousness and swiftness of the werewolf's hungry attack. This may be the single most horrifying, and effective, panel of the entire series to date. For me, this is the panel that justifies the title of this issue.
Cover Art - 4: Tom Mandrake seems to enjoy covers that are symbolic; covers that convey a sense of what lies inside, rather than depicting an actual scene from the story.
Here we have a collage showing Superman, Batman, and Green Arrow with expressions of determination and concern. Various snarling creatures abound, baring their fangs. This cover conveys a sense of menace. It is effective.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2009.