Last Christmas my brother gave me a booster pack of random, non-sequential issues from a variety of popular comic book titles that syndicated in the late eighties to mid nineties. The nineties was a time of groundbreaking work in the comic community that gave birth to the age of modern comics. Sometimes, not so much. These are snapshots of the industry at its best and worst. This is Brian’s Comic Book Grab Bag.
Warheads #5 Volume 1
“Cat and Mouse”
Writer – Nick Vince
Penciler – Stuart Jennett
Inker – Stuart Jennett
Letterer – Annie Parkhouse
Comics by default espouse the binary—good and bad, natural and supernatural. In fact, when consulting the annals of comic book history, that is really the only thing that they do. Why this is the case has a lot to do with what comics concern. Tales, larger than life, establish a duality from the start. If we read a Daredevil comic, the reader assumes that not all blind men are able to jump from buildings and pummel thugs. Bruce Banner is a normal man that turns into an aggravated creature due to a horrible accident. The transformation amplifies everything about him, and because Banner’s transformation takes place when he is emotionally distraught, or “angry,” the creature mirrors anger personified. The duality in the Hulk, the expectation that not all normal men become green, enraged monsters, is established. Spotting the trope, engaging its implementation, becomes one of the tools by which comics are explored and dissected.
Marvel’s UK branch, which has since been absorbed by Panini Comics, has its own diverse history, one which lies outside the scope of this article. That said, Marvel UK had its own grab of writing talent, featuring work by Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, as well as a Transformers publication that carried the company for a considerable time. When the 90s happened, Marvel UK tanked in the wake of a larger comic book renaissance that was occurring around the world at the time. Image Comics was founded, comprised of renegade artists like Jim Lee and Todd MacFarlane, who advocated creator owned comic properties. Likewise Vertigo, via the aid of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was maturing into an imprint that would become one of the leading publishers of mature comic book content. In all this storm and flurry Marvel UK produced a series called Warheads, which only ran 14 issues. The main story of the comic concerns the exploits of a mercenary team, dispatched by the all too common mysterious government/military corporation, bent on acquiring Eldritch-esque weapons technology from other dimensions. The fantastic premise was diluted by the characters who would die, far too quickly to have any lasting staying power. Even then, the 30 plus characters that appeared off and on throughout the series were stock from the same soup. Their horrible deaths offer odd implications to the impending death of the series, perhaps serving as some wildly contrived premonition.
Issue #5, “Cat and Mouse”, begins in the middle of things, and the binaries consume the story that ensues. In this dimension magic saturates the air, giving powers to the powerless, or reawakening them. The conflict established then, is magic versus non magic. That being said, the conflict is, at many times, one sided. The witch, presumed to be called Aeish, is the nemesis featured in the issue; she dominates the men and plans to eat the women, becoming an alpha figure. For some time too, much ink is expended substantiating her clear advantage over the heroes in tumult, but then she is defeated by her realm’s own inclination to the arcane when Stacy’s childhood telekinetic powers are awakened. Feminist overtones are advanced, further refining the binaries. This battle against dualistic natures of gender and reality are clearly present, but have no lasting impact of importance, much like the series. The cover of the issue promotes a standoff between Liger, the commander of the Warheads, and Cable, who appears with the X-Force in the narrative, but no altercation really occurs. In the same vein of Jack Kirby’s Superman’s Ex-Pal Jimmy Olsen, the reader is lead to squander their hard earned lunch money on drivel, only this time they aren’t rewarded the treasury of mementos of Superman being abused in some hilarious variety.
What the issue does well, interestingly enough, is written into the lines of Cable. Why he and his X-Force collide in the same dimension as the Warheads is never explained, but his grasp of the dimension’s power over him and his team is far better than Liger’s. The struggle to retain a grasp on what is real and what isn’t is a familiar struggle for many who have served time in the armed forces. It is a reality that Cable deals with on a regular basis. The issue, I’m assuming by accident, creates a unique circumstance that places Cable into a fog of war that confounds his men. They are reduced to altered, bestial states. What is real becomes unreal, which is a binary in itself, but one more skillfully managed than the magic versus non-magic premise established at the start of the comic. Cable’s concern over Feral’s ability to control her animal nature comes to a head when he says that he will kill her if she doesn’t shape up. Feral, who is a victim of domestic abuse and violence, saved by Cable from the Morlocks, battles the binary relationship between peace and conflict, exacerbated by the dimension they are caught in. The fog of war then presents a choice, a moment of reformation for Cable and his troops. Should they give into what is abnormal, or should they will themselves to remain human. The fact that Cable’s X-Force is a mutant organization adds interesting implications, especially considering that the chief struggle of the X-Men universe is the argument that mutants are functioning members of society, and not the “other” and those on the fringe. Cable’s role is positive in this light, as he wills himself to defeat the stereotype that mutants fall outside of the scope of humanity for their cataclysmic abilities.
It is no surprise, then, that Warheads is a dud. The “B” plot manages to steal the drama of the whole issue, leaving the bizarre magic vs technology frenzy lying limp and devoid of passion. The issue is a microcosm to a huge problem in comics now, as well as in the 90s, when concept was espoused over substance in mainstream properties. While lightsabers and hyperdrives and space worms on asteroids are cool and in vogue, when they are strung along on a rail car of concepts, the emphasis isn’t being placed on an interesting narrative or engaging story, but on a contrived situation where someone goes “Check this out! It’s a sword, made of light! Whaaaat?” The New 52 Wonder Woman reboot is a top offender as well, featuring a “family” of supernatural characters with agendas and duties in a larger mystical universe. Sounds a lot like Sandman if you ask me, only without the pressing existential wonder evoked by contemplation. Warheads was quickly forgotten because of the cardinal sin of conceptual supremacy over real characters. Furthermore, even if they were “real,” these characters quickly disappeared, which only hurts the gravity of sacrifice when it happens over two dozen times. So let Warheads be a cautionary tale to aspiring writers and auspicious imprints. Understand that cheap binaries may be a mainstay in comics, but what separates a “good” comic from a “bad” one is the quality of the binary and how it comments on the human condition.
5 Dismantled Off-Shore Imprints (of 10)