Short Cuts 36: Dept. H Vol. 2 – After The Flood; Southern Bastards Vol. 4 – Gut Check; The Hellblazer Vol. 3 – The Inspiration Game; Shutter, Vol. 2 – Way of the World; Zombies Vs Robots Omnibus

Dept. H Vol. 2: After The Flood
Matt Kindt: story & art; Sharlene Kindt: colors
Dark Horse Comics, 2017

When we left the underwater research facility it was in the midst of an emergency, filling with water after sabotage. The source of the sabotage is unknown, as is the name of the murderer of Mia’s father Hari. The whole team sets about the task of saving the station–primarily out of a self-preservation motive–and Mia hears all about their history with her father. They all seem to owe him something for being hired to be on his team. But it’s a locked-room murder mystery, so someone in the station must be responsible. And there are internal conflicts among the team as well, muddying the waters even further. The resolution seems to be deferred by the desire to escape to the surface. But it develops that the whole team is quarantined, due to their suspected exposure to a new variant of the pandemic H virus. This installment of the series is a bit frustrating–since there is no resolution of the big mysteries–but there are significant puzzle pieces revealed.

Southern Bastards Vol. 4: Gut Check
Jason Aaron, writer; Jason Latour, artist, writer (chapter 18); Chris Brunner, artist (chapter 18)
Image Comics, 2018

Coach Boss’ world starts to unravel in this arc. It happens quickly, but it’s not easy, or pretty to look at. The Coach’s stock in trade is winning football games–and the Runnin’ Rebs are on a losing streak. After trying to win the legitimate way, he finally breaks down and tries to injure a star competing player before the game. The attempt fails, but not before starting a battle with Locus Fork and its champion Colonel Quick McKlusky of Lightening Auto Sales (and his monkey Shug). The war escalates, to the point that the Reb’s field house gets burnt down. Then things quickly go South (so to speak). In the end McKlusky and the monkey both appear to be dead, along with Coach Boss’ new Defensive Coordinator Mater (courtesy of Earl Tubb’s daughter Roberta).

The Coach looks pretty endangered, too: from both Roberta and his backwoods ally Boone. He has a rough night, but in the end Boone fails in his task and Roberta decides to let him live so he can suffer the collapse of his redneck empire. After all the violence it’s an unexpected resolution–and it promises lots of interesting developments going forward.

The Hellblazer Vol. 3: The Inspiration Game
Tim Seeley, Richard Kadrey: writers; Jesús Merino, Davide Fabbri, José Marzán Jr.: artists; Carrie Strachan: colorist
DC Comics, 2018

The third Rebirth collection takes a divergent path from the big story that was unfolding in the first two volumes, presenting two three-issue standalone arcs, each with its own creative team. Seeley and Merino tell “The Inspiration Game,” which involves a pair of Norse dwarfs and an enchanted mead that inspires poetry in small doses, murder and mayhem in large amounts. John meets up with an old flame from his punk days, a policewoman named Margaret (who I don’t remember encountering before, but the recent Hellblazer stories have delighted in filling in previously unknown history). Of course Constantine finds a way to outwit the dwarfs. In the end he pushes Margaret away, in a style that is either completely out of character, or a “cruel to be kind” ploy to make sure she stays safely out of his orbit. Seeley also drew the covers for this arc, a call back to when he was known as an artist as well as a writer. “The Bardo Score” comes from Kadrey, Fabbri and Marzán. Set in San Francisco, it pits Constantine against a magician with a mystical gun that sends its victims to the Bardo, a Buddhist term for a state of existence between death and rebirth. Which may not sound like an entirely bad thing on the face of it, but it’s being used specifically on magicians, which includes two of John’s friends (who once again I don’t recall seeing before).  It’s somewhat novel for Hellblazer to touch on Buddhist demons and beliefs, but other than that its slight story with no obvious connection to anything else–which could be said of the first story as well.

Shutter, Vol. 2: Way of the World
Joe Keatinge, writer; Leila del Duca, artist; Owen Gieni, colorist; John Workman, letterer
Image Comics, 2015

Read the first volume of this so long ago I had to go back and review. Not sure it was entirely necessary, as this arc goes off in so many crazy directions that recalling anything beyond some of the characters hardly matters. Adventurer Kate Kristopher and young newly-discovered brother Chris fight valiantly against more surreal creatures, but are taken prisoner and meet Kate’s evil sister Kalliyan. Turns out the sister needs Kate to operate a dimensional portal, which takes them into a dreamscape. There is a fun classic comic homage “Little Kate in Slumberland” (after “Little Nemo”). It turns out the family is part of an ancient Illuminati-like group called Prospero that has always controlled mankind’s destiny. Kate is having none of it, and next thing she knows she is in a Venetian canal with no memory of who she is. Clearly the story is not going anyplace linear; there’s no telling what the next installment will be like. One intriguing thing here is a recurring “call me Chris” motif, which makes me wonder if there’s not some sort of time travel involved–maybe young Chris is actually Kate’s father? I’m wondering if I want to continue with the series. But there are five collections–did anyone here stick with it?

Zombies Vs Robots Omnibus
Chris Ryall, writer; Ashley Wood, artist/co-creator; Menton3, Paul McCaffrey, Gabriel Hernandez, Mark Torres (Illustrations)
IDW Publishing, 2015

There’s been a ton of zombie stories in the last few years, no doubt inspired by the success of The Walking Dead. This one gets my personal prize for being completely over the top; it tries very hard to be the most crazy, extreme take on the genre, with considerable success. This is especially true of the Ryall/Wood stories that established the series. They begin with an original premise: a group of scientists working on military robots and an inter-dimensional portal. The portal brings back a zombie infestation, which quickly almost completely overtakes the human population. Hence the war between robots and zombies. Then a group of Amazons appears who have survived the apocalypse. When they fall to zombies and robots (whose AI is not very good at differentiation between zombies and humans), mermen appear!

The mermen are never mentioned again, however (although I am told that they show up in a later series). The rest of the collection lacks the visual novelty and energy of Wood’s work, but the stories are a bit more linear and deliberate. They expand on the premise, with most of the stories filling in details left out of the breathless Ryall/Wood narrative. There’s a Haitian episode in which a voudou priest turns his living followers into zombies so he can lead a zombie army against the infected population. And Underworld, an attempt to save humanity by taking a select group underground to wait out the plague. All of these stories end in the zombies overcoming all plans and defenses–extremely dark, horror all the way. Yet studded with black humor, which keeps them entertaining.

About marksullivan5

Freelance Journalist & Musician; Senior Contributor, All About Jazz.com; writing on comics at mrvertigocomics.com & No Flying, No Tights.com
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