One of the many strengths of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is the varied assortment of supporting characters who populate his tales of The Dream Lord, Morpheus. Many of these individuals are just as memorable as the central character himself. Recently, I have been re-reading the series, and could not help but smile when seeing such familiar faces as Lucien or Matthew the Raven once again. Today, though, I would like to focus specifically on the person of Hob Gadling.
Hob, co-created by the fabulous artist Michael Zulli, first appears during an interlude in The Doll’s House arc. The year is 1389 and the place is a tavern in the area of London. Death has convinced her brother Dream to accompany her as she walks amongst everyday people in order to know better those for whom she and her siblings minister. Dream, who typically possesses a sullen, withdrawn temperament, appears to have rather reluctantly joined his sister. Yet he is there with her to overhear the boasting of a peasant named Hob. Hob has a simple theory, namely “death is a mug’s game.” Now, he doesn’t mean to be glib; he’s seen his share of death. He has witnessed not only plague ravage his village, but also the carnage of medieval warfare. However, while on the battlefield (or “arse deep in Burgundy mud” as Hob puts it), he had a revelation: no one needs to die. People die because they have little imagination; it’s what everyone does, so they see precious little alternative. Hob will have none of it. He’ll just continue with life, thank you very much.
As September draws to a close, it seems fitting to take stock of DC’s Villain Month initiative/gimmick. When it was originally announced, I was pretty skeptical of the whole enterprise, before becoming downright cynical when I heard about the 3D covers. That said, I did buy a few of the issues, and borrowed a large amount of them from a friend. What follows are my thoughts based on the 35, out of 52, installments that I read.
Context helps: When Villains’ Month was first announced, we knew that Forever Evil was coming, but didn’t know yet exactly what it would entail. Once that became clearer the choice of spotlighting villains did as well. One of the complaints about last year’s Zero Month was that DC interrupted their regular storylines for random, arbitrary reasons. Now, some titles were able to adapt (Demon Knights and Justice League Dark come to mind); the former fitting the flashbacks into a natural break between arcs, while the latter used the opportunity to tell the reader something about the current storyline’s baddie. For the most part, though, regardless of how well the issue was written, the vast majority had little or no need to be told at that particular time. This year, many of the stories were rooted in the specific circumstances of Forever Evil, and thus, by portraying how different characters reacted to their new status quo, moved the overall narrative forward.
The beauty of beginnings is that they can go anywhere. I can pick up the first issue of a new series and have no idea where I’ll end up twenty-two pages later. This is especially true of independent publishers such as Image, where creators sculpt their own, well, independent worlds. I cannot second guess where Forever Carlyle’s tale will turn, on account of how it must fit in with what’s happening to Jo over in Fatale. Each book can be whatever it wants to be. So, when I bought Zero #1 last week, I did not know much about the concept, just enough to add it to my pull list, despite the larger than usual number of new titles on my radar these next couple of months.
One of the reasons I singled out Zero was Ales Kot. I had been hearing a lot of praise for his work recently, and saw this new series as a good way to give him a shot. Again, though, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from his writing, except quality. And quality I did discover.
True villains, or more precisely, truly interesting villains, are not the ones who proclaim their actions with the twist of a mustache and a bellowing BAH-BAH-BAH! Most people do not set out to be evil. They might rob, exploit and/or kill others, but, they do so with the firm belief that it was the morally correct decision. Their cause is the just one, their passion no less righteous than that of their adversary, the so-called “hero.”
It has also been argued that heroes are defined by their villains, but is the opposite true as well? Does Batman illustrate who The Joker is as much as The Joker does Batman? And what happens when one half of that equation disappears? In DC’s Forever Evil event, The Crime Syndicate have invaded our Earth, seizing it as their own, while claiming that they have killed the Justice League. This background provides the setting for much of DC’s Villains’ Month: tales of how certain adversaries react to this dramatic turn of events. Given a newfound freedom, how do they exploit it?
Picking a best of this week was more difficult than I thought it would be. First of all, the second round of Villains issues from DC turned out (mostly) stronger than the first. Busiek and Anderson gave us another stellar chapter of Astro City, while the ever reliable Valiant launched a new series. Oh, and FBP picked up the pace a little bit. A solid selection of well told stories, reminding us of the variety of series we have to chose from at the moment. Picking just one becomes almost arbitrary, yet, here we go . . .
As some of you may have noticed by now, I am fan of the recent Valiant relaunch in general and Archer & Armstrong in particular. I’ve been enjoying this series from the beginning, but especially since issue 0 related Armstrong’s bittersweet reminisces about his brothers. Armstrong may be a free-living immortal, yet, he feels sorrows like the rest of us. Actually, he feels them differently, as he admits towards the end of this week’s issue.
Harbingeris a Valiant series centered on the concept of psiots, individuals with buried, latent abilities. The most powerful of these is Toyo Harada, an influential businessman who keeps his true nature secret from the world, while carefully gathering other psiots under his control. His dominance, however, is threatened by a troubled young man, Peter Stanchek, whose power may be equal to Harada’s. Their differing worldviews, along with personal hatred for each other, sparks a bitter rivalry that forms the seed of this excellent series.
Harbinger was never one of the original Valiant titles I read back in the 90s. Part of the reason may have been the inaccessibility of its earliest issues; part of it may have been that to my teenage ears the concept sounded rather reminiscent of The X-Men (young adult heroes, the next stage of human evolution, and so forth). Either way, I took a pass. So, when the relaunch was announced last year, I was less excited for Harbinger than for X-O Manowar or Archer & Armstrong, whose characters I had much fonder memories of. Yet I kept hearing how great the title was, how many fans listed it as their favorite of the new Valiant. Back in June I read the first trade, enjoyed it, but felt no rush to catch up. On Friday, I read the second trade, and can now say that I completely understand the love readers have for this title.
Matt kindt is on a roll. I’m not referring to his Dark Horse series Mind MGMT (as brilliant as that title might be). No, I’m referring to his more traditional super hero work. Two weeks ago he gave us Bloodshot #0, which made me care about the character for the fist time. This week he accomplished something similar with DC’s Villain’s month Deadshot issue
I’ve seen Deadshot around the DC Universe over the years, taking aim from various darkened corners, yet for whatever reason his character never really appealed to me. Perhaps it was his overreliance on guns (not dissimilar to Bloodshot, now that I think of it), or maybe I simply never read the right story. Regardless, on Wednesday, I found a tale of Floyd Lawton that left an impression on me.
As they have done numerous times over the past two years, DC retells a character’s origin without worrying much about altering the details. In the New 52, Floyd is a young boy, living in poverty, when his parents and sister are killed by a volley of stray bullets. Floyd, determined to have his revenge, dedicates his life to a mastery of marksmanship. And here, Kindt weaves his first little touch, linking Deadshot’s mastery of precision shooting back to his poverty-stricken childhood. Bullets cost money, money is in short supply, so why waste resources in needless flourishes of bravado? Why even use two bullets for two targets, when one will work just fine? (Left unsaid is the fact that such refined talent also limits the type of collateral damage which made Floyd alone in the world to begin with).