Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Possessed #1

The Possessed #1, September 2003, WildStorm Productions
writers: Geoff Johns & Kris Grimminger
artist: Liam Sharp
colorist: David Baron
letterer: John Layman
assistant editor: Kristy Quinn
editor: Ben Abernathy

Finally, a comic book about demon possession. Surely, decades after the infamous pea soup scene from The Exorcist, Johns, Grimminger, and Sharp would offer a fresh perspective on an intriguing but weary social and spiritual phenomenon. The Possessed #1 may have been inhabited by something, but certainly, unfortunately not any new ideas. The opening scene, which lasts longer than it should have, is full of contradictions and contrived character introductions. On one hand, one of the Possessed, a militant team of formerly possessed demon vanquishers, drives a devil from a little girl’s tormented body, then on the other hand, his teammates use bullets to drive the demon back to hell. Last time I checked, demons weren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) vulnerable to physical weapons. I guess a herd of pigs was nowhere in sight.

The Possessed as a unit is quite a herd itself, forsaking the spiritual overtones that would permeate a true battle with demonic forces for gun-toting, good old fashioned American bravado, affecting the team’s female member as much as its almost indistinguishable males. I’ve been discussing the themes of duality and balance in comics lately, and although the premise of this series could have easily and successfully reflected this paradigm, the creative team as a whole opts for the brawns over the brains, the fight over the philosophical. Sharp’s artwork at its best parallels Sam Keith’s ability to exaggerate reality with a visually appealing, macabre effect, and at its worst twists the human form to look like an overstuffed potato sack, with muscles on nonexistent muscles and melodramatic shading to obscure his poor background work. Guess which aspect surfaces in this issue. Even the touches that could’ve been clever, like the cross-shaped crosshairs at the end of the teams automatic weaponry, comes off as silly . . . or, to maintain the pig analogy, sloppy.

Interestingly, my impressions of this book began when I noticed the creative team’s names on the cover. I remember Sharp from his brief run on The Incredible Hulk. His work complemented the height of Peter David’s fan favorite run, following the eye-catching (and Image founding) work of Dale Keown and Gary Frank, so naturally, expectations were high. He didn’t meet them and was quickly removed from the book. His proportions were terrible and his atmospheric work inconsistent, blatantly halted the momentum of David’s building legacy with ol’ Jade Jaws. So, I didn’t expect excellence from him here, and although this story plays more to his strengths, he forsakes any real potential for rather standard page layouts, with minimal paneling making way for gratuitous action shots and splashes. Speaking of the story, Johns is a critically acclaimed writer, a modern architect of the DC Universe’s streamlined future, and this series (I wonder how long it lasted) is the miss to his most recent run of hits. Nice to know that he purged these demons before they affected the world’s greatest heroes.

Frankly, tonight’s rerun of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, about a crack whore-turned-nun whose past sins result in the murder of her mentor, offered more spiritual insight than The Possessed #1, which actually features spiritual creatures dwelling among us. Demon possession may still be an unspoken, underground phenomenon in the Catholic church, but the idea has been so used in pop culture that I actually hoped to encounter a different perspective here. Instead, the best we get is a play on the word itself, implying that these formerly demon possessed victims are now so consumed with the quest to rid the world of these body-snatching devils, they’ve become possessed by their mission. The writers wanted to make sure the reader understood this pun by awkwardly inserting a Marvel-esque origin caption on the title page. We get it, guys. What I do not get is, what could’ve possessed these artists to produce such trite material? Devil take it, I suppose.

What’s worse, it wasn’t even scary! It’s Halloweentime, people! With these inexplicably high autumn temperatures in Southern California, I need a chill or two over here!

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