Sunday, January 23, 2011

Astounding Wolf-man

Despite my constant enjoyment of The Walking Dead and Invincible, I've been wary at times of picking up new things Robert Kirkman is writing. This wariness was well founded for Image United. I'm still on the fence on Haunt, though it is getting better. So, I waited around a bit when the Astounding Wolf-Man started in 2007. If memory serves I didn't even check it out until the third issue, then missed the fourth. Eventually I picked up the first, second and fourth issues, and got issues 5-25 as they came out. For as we all know, Astounding Wolf-Man has come to a conclusion, as of the 25th issue. Today starts a run of reviews of books that have recently completed, some more by design than others.

From what I've read this book's conclusion was in part due to Kirkman's decision to put in time on an all ages book about a superhero dinosaur, but sales had to be a factor, too. Kirkman even did the kinda desperation cross over with Invincible in issue 11. Invincible did help introduce Cecil Stedman to the Astounding Wolf-Man universe, but Invincible himself wasn't at all necessary for the progression of the book. Invincible's presence doesn't appear to have done much for sales, either, given the book's end.

That's a shame, too, because this was a very good book. Not great like Kirkman's flagship books, but very good. Co-created with artist Jason Howard, Astounding Wolf-Man was set in the same Image universe as Invincible, Dynamo 5 and Savage Dragon, among others. When the world was attacked by Invincibles from alternate universes there were repercussions in this book, though nothing that required anyone to hunt down those Invincible stories, if so disinclined.

So, what was it about? Gary Hampton is a late thirties, early forties founder of a company that has wide holdings. He's quite wealthy. He has a sort of Richard Branson beginning, getting his start very young by opening a record store, hitting it big with the signing of a local duo who hit the big time, and expanding into a lot of other areas. He does acquisition of other companies very nicely, buying them out generously and taking on one retired former executive as his man Friday. He's married and has a teenage daughter. I think they live in New York.

The three of them are camping in Montana when Gary is mauled, badly. He's in a coma for a month, maybe more. During that time a deal between his company and a foreign company hits shaky ground because of his medical condition. Oddly, when he recovers the deal still falls through. I never did figure out the logic in that plot element, but it was really a deus ex machina, so who cares? In the end that's just used as an excuse for the board of directors of his publicly traded company to oust him. He has a nice severance package, so he's still wealthy. For a little while there's an investigation into whether he embezzled from the company, which results in the family being evicted from its mansion.

They end up living below a mall that Gary's company built, in a secret headquarters. At this point I'll be you're wondering where the Wolf-Man part comes in. Fortunately, Kirkman doesn't wait as long as I have to get there. Gary wasn't mauled by a bear. He was bitten by a werewolf. In fact, this particular werewolf was an elder, one of the original werewolves from back when they ruled the world.

Gary doesn't transition to werewolf until the first night of a full moon, when he rampages across the city. The first time is just after he's awoken from his coma and is still in the hospital. The second time he's at home. He would have just kept on going like that, changing once a month with only vague memories of what occurred, but for the arrival of Zechariah. Zechariah is a vampire who teaches Gary that he can turn into a werewolf anytime he wants, as long as it's not daylight. Gary only has the episodes of lost control once a month, at which point he restrains himself in a sort of crucifiction device. The other times he changes he's the same personality as always, just a werewolf in form. Kind of like Teen Wolf, without the basketball.

Gary starts to go out on the town as a super hero on patrol and runs into another group called the Actioneers. Unfortunately, after that meeting one of them, Sergeant Superior, meets Gary when he's out on a first night of the full moon, prior to learning he needs to restrain himself on that night. Gary disembowels the Sergeant. This is the start of where things go wrong for Gary.

Turns out his wife had had an affair with a business competitor and leaked some of Gary's business info to that competitor. The camping trip in Montana was a part of the reconcilliation between them, but Gary becoming Wolf-Man added strain, as did being evicted from the mansion. Their daughter, Chloe, wasn't at all comfortable with his change, either. When the embezzlement investigation ends, Rebecca (Gary's wife) and Chloe are going to move back but Rebecca wants Gary to stay in the hideout while they work things out. That doesn't happen because Gary has become suspicious of Zechariah and doesn't want to work with him any longer. Zecharaih goes to the hideout to convince Rebecca to help convince Gary to keep working with him, but when she scratches Zechariah's face, he loses control and breaks her neck. Then he starts to drain her of her blood. Gary walks in at that point and Zechariah flees.

Of course Chloe then walks in and thinks Gary killed Rebecca, so now Gary's on the lam for most of the comic. He has the authorities after him for his wife's murder, the Actioneers after him for killing Sergeant Superior (which they find out by obtaining a surveillance recording), and the elder who turned him into a werewolf ends up after him, too. Not at first, though. Gary goes back to Montana for help from the elder, who eventually agrees to train him more. First, though, a guy who was once called Agent Invincible until the other one showed up, tracks him down. This guy has some moves but his main thing is he can be ripped to pieces and reconstitute himself. Indestructible would probably have been a better name for him.

Oh, and Zechariah had taken Sergeant Superior and turned him into a vampire, which eventually leads to the rest of the Actioneers, except for the robot, Mecha Maid, being turned into vampires, too.

Mecha Maid is actually a very interesting character in her own right. She ends up becoming an ally to Gary toward the end of the book's run, but the most interesting thing is that she generated a computer program separate from her own program that functions as her daughter. This daughter doesn't have her own mechanical body. She only appears as a hologram whenever Mecha Maid wants her around. Whenever there's a fight looming Mecha Maid shuts down the program. Kirkman gets into issue of sentience and independent rights of individuals with this relationship, eventually leading to Mecha Maid creating a body for her daughter and downloading the program into that body. The fear and suffering the daughter suffered when shut down was a very interesting approach. Kirkman blends that issue with a child coming of age and when it's appropriate for a parent to allow greater independence, adding a further layer to this story element.

Mecha Maid also has a hand (pun intended) in one of my few problems with the book. One of the things Gary learns from the elder is how to fight a vampire, which can be tricky with their ability to turn into mist and bats. In a later fight with Zechariah Gary inhales some of the mist. When Zechariah, in a panic, returns to human form, that portion of the mist is Zechariah's right hand, which Gary bites off. Zechariah is momentarily captured at this point, but is later set free by Mecha Maid as part of a scheme she and Gary are guiding so that she can have her teammates turned back from being vampires (they're in custody by then) and Gary can kill Zechariah for killing Rebecca. Here's where the problem arises. After Mecha Maid frees Zechariah she creates a mechanical hand for him.

How does he turn into a bat or mist and then return to human form, still having the mechanical hand? I know, I'm looking for too much logic here. After all, he makes those transformations while clothed and he still has the clothes on when he returns to human form. On the other hand, everytime Gary transforms he rips up his clothes, unless he's in a specially designed uniform. All the other werewolves we see during the course of the book don't even wear clothes in werewolf form. Anyway, the real illogic is why a vampire keeps his wardrobe, but somehow the mechanical hand was what drew my attention to it. If the mechanical hand had never occurred, I probably wouldn't have noticed the problem with the clothing.

In the end, Zechariah ends up dead, his heart ripped out of him and eaten, and Gary ends up the king of the werewolves. There are plenty of teasers for potential future stories, including an appearance of Dracula. Gary forms a super team of werewolves who fight menaces. One of those menaces is an amusing one called Gorgg. Seems he was underneath Stonehenge all these centuries and the monoliths are a part of his noggin'. By the end he's been broken up into a bunch of smaller monsters, each one with a monolith on his head, which is a pretty funny looking foe. In fact, that may be the only humorous element in the entire run of the book.

Oh, Chloe's a sidekick for him, too. She's not a werewolf, though. She's got some vampire abilities without being one because she'd gone to Zechariah when she though Gary killed Rebecca. She drank his blood to take on some of his abilities. Actaully, I don't know why Gary doesn't just turn her into a werewolf. From what the elder said they're pretty well immortal unless killed by major trauma and the transition issues for them are nothing like the problems vampires have. Her powers are not going to last, anyway, because she needs to refresh them with vampire blood and only has a limited supply, what with Zechariah being dead.

I expect that at some point Gary will show up again. I hope Kirkman eventually decides to revive a book for the character and his supporting cast, but at the least he'll probably show up in Invincible, Guarding the Globe, or maybe even Dynamo 5.

Kirkman has shown throughout Invincible that few writers are more proflific in creating new and interesting villains for the hero to fight. Among his creations in this book are Eruptor, Impact, Construct and Thrill-Kill. They make good fodder, but the most interesting was The Face, who's a diminutive guy with force beams shooting from his eyes. The thing is, he has three eyes because he has two identical faces that overlap. The face to the right shares a left eye with the face to the right's right eye. It's kind of Escher-looking in those few scenes where he removes his mask.

Which brings me to Jason Howard's art. His style is in line with the Invincible art of Ryan Ottley, as opposed to the more realism oriented art of The Walking Dead. There's exaggeration of form and a heavy line. In some regards it reminds me of cartoons I saw many years ago, but I can't recall the name of the cartoon. It fits very nicely for the book, as well as the broader superhero universe of Image books like Dynamo 5. It's very bright, not moody. Even the scenes set at night have a brightness to them.

Like Invincible, there's more than a little viscera involved, but it makes sense in its use. No issues of whether people should be naked who weren't, but that's just because the story never traveled in the direction of anyone having sex, except maybe once with Gary and Rebecca. That was an impromptu escapade that was interrupted by an unintended transformation to Wolf-Man and the presence of clothes made sense because it was still early in where the couple intended to go.

If you didn't follow it in the singles, I recommend getting the trades.

1 comment:

  1. Thomm - the whole transformation thing is pretty standard - most stories and movies portray vampires as mist with their clothing and immediate belonging going with them while with werewolves it's only their body that changes and nothing else. I doubt Kirkman felt the need to explain it as it's very common for the genre.