Friday, June 27, 2014
By the mid '90s, Alan Moore had demonstrated with his work with Image that, while in no danger of unseating his previously-written Greatest Comics of All Time, he could still imbue a grim'n'gritty, stereotypical '90s work with enough heart and black humor to make it surprisingly enjoyable. While Blood Feud collapsed into a mess of bulging muscles, ocher blood, and whiny cliches, the Violator miniseries was not only surprisingly good, but endearingly good, the stereotypical grimdark Image brand blended with a Looney Tunes slapstick humor that made this reader hope there was a collection of Moore's Image work on the market so I could have it all bound together on my shelf. More fool I.
So that brings us to the last of Moore's Spawn work...for now. Violator vs. Badrock is an in-between of his other two major Image works; it doesn't tow the company line like Blood Feud, but it isn't as madcap and goofy as Violator. I still say that there's nobody who writes the titular Violator as well as Alan Moore, somewhat like a homicidal Curly Howard, so any story in which he makes an appearance is bound to be good for a few laughs, at least. As it says on the cover, Violator vs. Badrock pairs the Violator with Youngblood member Badrock, a man who is both bad, and made of rock. He's about as transparent of a caricature of The Thing from Fantastic Four as can be had, so he functions as the gruff, sarcastic comic relief whenever Violator is off-screen. The plot sees Violator captured by the Whiteside-Parsons Research Institute, with a plan to use him as a power source to find a path down to Hell. Badrock is on-hand as security for this most delicate of operations, which unsurprisingly goes to Hell pretty quickly, pun intended. The first two chapters of this four chapter work are absolutely awful, and I had the lowest of expectations as I read through them. The art is by Brian Denham, whose other work seems to be mostly an X-Files one-shot, and is is shocking in its banality. Clearly by 1995, the typical '90s look had become so co-opted and mainstream that what few edges it had were hammered flat, with everyone looking inoffensive and bland, while still being gory and sexist. The main antagonist in the first half of the work is the angel Celestine, who looks ludicrous in her rugged battle-thong and nipple-obscuring strips of leather, and by the end of chapter two, I was ready to write off the work as the nadir of Alan Moore's work, period.
Luckily, the second half of the work was there to inject the work with some needed life. With Celestine's violent, disgusting death, the whole of the Institute is transported to Hell, where Moore gets to play around more with his Infernal mythology, as he did back in "In Heaven", as well as a re-introduction to Violator's murderous, moronic brothers from the Violator miniseries (sadly, no appearances from The Admonisher, though he is mentioned a couple times). All of the work's best lines come from this second half, as Badrock has to keep everyone at the Institution together while avoiding the denizens of Hell that want to fillet them. Denham's art is still immensely boring, but with some more interesting locales to illustrate, it could easily be worse. Both Badrock and Violator gets their chance to humiliate the Phlebiac Brothers, with Violator and his brothers bickering recalling the best moments of Violator, until at last Celestine's dying powers are snuffed out and the institute returns to Earth.
And that's it. Never before have I seen a work that I can characterize as too long and too short at the same time, but Violator vs. Badrock pulls it off with aplomb. Moore has done worse, of course, but the best I can say about V vs. B is that, after the first half, it's charmingly inoffensive, which are strong words to say in a story about a rock man trapped in Hell. The first half, with Badrock battling Celestine, is atrocious, however, and if you wonder why comics were in such a sorry state in the mid '90s, both Blood Feud and the first half of Violator vs. Badrock show that even Alan Moore wasn't immune to the siren call of this embarrassing era. Maybe I will skip on that theoretical collection after all.
Best quote: "If I may make a further observation, Fon-spa, you'll note it is an attractive human female we are pursuing. Why never a man? Or even a less stereotypically beautiful woman?/Are we, as tentacled monstrosities, responding to some archetypal urge, I wonder?"
Up next: The Silver Age at Image with 1963