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Cover date: January 2009
"A Demon's Touch!"
Writer: Kevin VanHook
Penciller: Tom Mandrake
Inker: Tom Mandrake
Reviewed by: Ralph Silver
Superman spots and pursues a young boy fleeing with two bags of plasma. He quickly catches up with the boy to question him. To his great surprise, Superman discovers that this is Chadd Cole, who Superman previously saved from a vampire attack. Chadd has been transformed into a vampire by Dr. Combs; and is stealing plasma in order to satisfy his cravings and survive, without hurting any innocent victims. Superman is touched by this gesture, and seems determined to help find a way to revert this boy to normal.
A host of werewolves and vampires appear and engage Superman in battle. Batman, Green Arrow, and Jason Blood show up and join the fight. The tide easily turns in favor of the heroes. As seen last issue, the archer's arrows are particularly effective against the ghoulish creatures. Green Arrow takes many of them down; but when he turns his sights on Chadd, Superman protects the boy and declares his innocence.
After Superman leaves with Chadd, and Batman and Green Arrow mop up the remaining attackers, an extended discussion ensues. Each party shares what he knows about the current situation. Jason has expertise in supernatural matters; which gives him real insight into what is going on. This is why Batman has summoned him. And Jason brought Green Arrow along, not only because his arrows are so effective against the creatures, but also because Oliver Queen has some past unpleasant dealings with Dr. Combs, and is able to provide additional insight. Although some new details are provided, the discussion boils down to what we already know; that Dr. Combs has researched the occult and found an entryway to the "land of the un-dead"; and that Combs is using his discoveries and newfound knowledge to transform innocent victims into ghoulish creatures.
Marius Dimeter arrives, and brings with him Janko, a werewolf. Batman and Green Arrow are wary of them, and Green Arrow keeps his weapons at the ready. A further extensive conversation occurs; and we learn a few more things about Dr. Combs and his travels. We learn that Dr. Combs' research took him to St. Petersburg, Russia where he met Marius, a nightclub owner and Janko, a cop who spent time at the club. We learn that Marius and Janko were Dr. Combs' first victims. In a flashback scene, we see Marius (after his transformation) imprisoned in a dungeon; and Dr. Combs sending down "food" for him. The food of course is innocent victims for Marius to attack. Marius resists at first; but ultimately succumbs to the cravings and drinks the blood of a young victim. He says that he "wasn't the same after that".
Dr. Combs arrives with a very large swarm of creatures to battle our heroes. GA worries that he might not have enough arrows. Batman says they should improvise, and invites Jason Blood to transform into his alter ego, Etrigan the Demon. Jason obliges, and the Demon proves very effective against the creatures in battle. A deadly battle rages on. When Dr. Combs gets overconfident and emerges from the shadows, Dimeter reaches him and takes him down hard. In the final scene, Etrigan the Demon warns that the three (Dr. Combs, Marius, and Janko) are not all that they appear to be.
Story - 3: While the story continues to interest and entertain me, I felt that it hit a bit of a slump in this issue. In every scene, there seemed to be lots of expository dialog. Yet for all the talking, there did not seem to be all that much new information. What we know now about Dr. Combs and his evil activities, we pretty much knew at the end of the last issue. What it boils down to is that Dr. Combs has researched the occult and is using his knowledge to transform innocent victims into vampires and werewolves. All the rest of the talk amounted to mere details, not any real plot twists or surprises. A good mystery needs some plot twists and surprises. Nothing really unexpected seemed to happen this time around. For me, the suspense level had been ratcheted down a bit compared to the prior issues.
And I was irked a bit that Superman's role is limited again. He only appears in about a third of this issue. Batman continues to be the central character. And while I am a Batman fan, I am a HUGE Superman fan. A greater presence by Superman in this issue might have helped bump the grade up to a four.
There are still some parts of the story that I particularly enjoyed. I liked the way Superman takes a personal interest in the plight of Chadd Cole. He is able to see the boy as more than just one of the vampires; and is perceptive and empathetic about the boy's unselfish behavior. He makes it a personal mission to help the boy out. This seemed very much in character for me. In contrast, Batman and Green Arrow seem inclined to take all the vampires down, without making an exception for Cole. In a team book, Superman is always the moral compass for the other heroes around him. That is the nature of Superman.
I liked the scene with Marius Dimeter in the dungeon; struggling and ultimately failing to resist his vampiric urges. Of course, this scene contrasts nicely with the scene with Chadd Cole. The implication in the story is that once you have crossed the line by drinking the blood of another human, you have hit the point of no return. In fact, Superman defends Chadd Cole by saying that he is "different"; implying that the transformation is somehow not complete if you have not attacked a victim and taken human blood.
While this story may be building to an exciting climax, I think this issue may have been the lull before we lead up to the big finish.
Art - 5: I continue to feel that Tom Mandrake's grizzly and moody style is perfect for this story.
Whenever I finish a comic book, especially one I am reviewing, I like to go back, savor the artwork, and see which panels worked especially well for me. A couple of them jump out at me here. The opening splash page is memorable. The sheer horror of the carnage at the hospital combined with the expression of contempt and anger on Superman's face makes for an effective image.
My favorite panel in the book is the fantastic two-page spread showing Batman, Green Arrow, and Etrigan the Demon in the heat of battle. Wow! There are so many snarling creatures, I can almost hear them howling and moaning as I look at this image. This is the scene where Etrigan the Demon first makes his appearance; and this scene really conveys his power and supernatural energy. Every creature seems to be focused on him; and he seems to revel in the attention, even as he is crushing the face of one of the creatures, with devastating and horrific results. This is a great image!
Cover Art - 5: Superman and Batman are surrounded by many snarling ghoulish creatures. Our heroes are each in a fighting stance, looking determined and ready to do battle. They seem focused on watching each other's back, and overcoming this very menacing situation. Several victims are seen on the floor, lying in their own blood. This is a very effective cover.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2009.