Aaron and Garney present a short, brutal picture of a Southern family with a history of violence. Originally published by Marvel’s Icon imprint in 2015, this Image edition is billed as the “Complete Collection.” Alabama family the Raths seem to have gone down a troubled path since Isom Rath killed a neighbor over a dispute about stolen sheep in 1903. Jumping to the present, we witness the stone-cold execution of a couple by Ira Rath–capped off by the murder of their infant, almost as an afterthought.
His estranged son Ruben has gotten himself into financial trouble, and his attempt to make things right by joining a late-night horse killing meant to send a message goes horribly wrong. Ira accepts the contract to kill his son, and things become even more complicated from there. His first attempt fails, and he finally does his best to help his son, but that goes wrong, too.
In short, bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. It’s an incredibly violent story, graphically so: Garney delights in turning his superhero comic artist skills to a considerably more gritty, realistic subject. The amazing thing is Aaron’s narrative about how much of this is based on his own family history. Men of Wrath is Southern Bastards turned up to 11.
In some ways this series harkens back to vintage EC and DC comics horror series: an anthology unified by a central character (although not a narrator like the Crypt Keeper or Cain and Abel). The Ice Cream Man looks like both an observer and an instigator, and the reader learns more and more about him over the course of the first four issues in the series collected here. He appears to be some kind of supernatural being, at one point seen in werewolf form.
We also meet a number of interesting, troubled people: a young boy with an extremely poisonous pet spider that hates adults; a junkie couple trying to make one last score before cleaning up and moving out of town; a has-been rock star trying to make a comeback (complete with references to characters drawn from classic rock songs, and a psychedelic Yellow Submarine-style dream sequence); and another musician story, about a young man who has died young. After giving the eulogy, his friend meets the deceased’s estranged father and confronts his own dissatisfaction with his life.
The final scene shows a mysterious man named Caleb dressed like a cowboy. He tells the Ice Cream Man that he’s been watching and doesn’t like what he’s seen. Whatever the relationship is, he clearly scares the Ice Cream Man (who has always looked confident and in control), setting up a significant possible conflict going forward. Morrazzo’s art seems perfectly suited to the series. It reminds me of Eduardo Risso’s collaborations with Brian Azzarello. Definitely looking forward to the next chapter.
The titular Glory is a young woman who was raised off the grid, with a trucker convoy as her extended family. There is some talk about the open road as the last bastion of American freedom–and her father’s dilemma as a cancer victim with no social security number or health insurance was certainly precipitated by his libertarian beliefs–but in the end this is primarily a road/heist action tale. Glory has three days to pull off four dangerous cross-country heists with mob killers, crooked cops, and a psycho ex-husband all out to stop her.
There is also a strong subplot about illegal immigration, with the immigrants being used as a macabre pool for replacement body parts. And a very colorful villain, a suave killer who uses liquid nitrogen as his murder weapon. So it’s a bit of a crazy quilt. But once Glory begins to execute her plan the story quickly becomes an action movie: things go wrong, she tries something else, that goes wrong, etc.
Remender’s script is beautifully illustrated by French artist Bengal. Bengal has been getting work in American comics recently, but Death or Glory has a distinctly European look. Which oddly makes the book look like a European view of the United States: you almost have to remind yourself that it was written by an American. At the close of this arc Glory and her trucker family are about to transport her father Red (along with a replacement liver) to Mexico for medical treatment. Which is where one group trying to stop Glory are from, so plenty of potential future conflict there.
The collection concludes with a large collection of alternate covers, as well as Bengal’s concept art and designs.