Bugged Out!:

Scarab Reconsidered 20 Years On, Part Thirteen

And so the big wind-up (or wind-down, depending on how you look at things) begins — I have no idea how much tinkering John Smith had to do with “The Power And The Glory,” his script for Scarab number seven, once it became clear that he’d have to at least try to provide some sort of conclusion for the series in the very next issue, but the sense of anti-climax that permeates the second installment of his little “Scream Over Hiroshima” two-parter is positively palpable — although, in fairness, once could say much the same thing for the let-down/non-confrontation ending of the series’ first two-part story back in issues three and four, so maybe cohesive wrap-ups just aren’t his forte (or weren’t at the time).

In any case, Scarab #7 seems equally divided between trying — and, to be blunt, failing — to put a capstone on the “Scream” storyline and introducing the elements that would pave the way for the series’ decidedly hurried finale, to wit : in his conversations with geriatric confectioner/spiritualist Hilda Routledge, Louis Sendak initially focuses on doing what he does best, namely obsessing over what his wife, Eleanor, is becoming and when she might be coming back, before finally deciding that maybe he should do something about this psychic scream thing that has devastated London and is poised to strike again.

Hilda obliges our obviously conflicted hero by establishing a type of astral bridge to the Kremlin, where the so-called “Glory Boys” are being primed by their less-than-ethical handlers for their second act, this one slated to take place at a  fictitious (though based on fact) peace summit in Reykjavik, Iceland; and, while Scarab nearly gets there in time to avert catastrophe, he once again proves to be quite likely the most ineffectual super-powered character ever created when he is, as we’ve come to expect by now, unable to ultimately prevent “The Scream” from being unleashed on its primary target (London being a bit of a dry-run of sorts, if you’ll remember from last issue).

While each and every one of our psi-powered lads’ handlers meets an unnatural (and early) end though, the final fate of the Glory Boys themselves remains, in the style to which we’ve become accustomed by this point, ambiguous at best. Smith never lets us know whether or not they survive, much less what becomes of them if they do, and frankly doesn’t even seem to have enough time left to explore these questions, given that a sudden finale has been thrust upon him.

Yeah, “The Scream” hits Reykjavik, as we’ve established, but while Smith appears to indulge himself  by taking an extra moment to dole out a bit of well-deserved (if painfully obvious) armchair justice to then-British Prime Minister John Major, it’s not long before the sky rips open again and Scarab is sucked up into a vortex of weirdness that, we assume, will herald the arrival of Eleanor upon the mortal plane once more — and it does, ultimately, but first we’re introduced, at this issue’s cliffhanger, to the decidedly odd personages of Bobby Dazzler, a gasmask-wearing long-hair with a pet rabbit; and Benedict Creed, a white-suited, cane-toting “dandy”-type figure,  two agents of something called the Cosmic Coincidence Control Center, who inform our protagonist that he can kindly step back, thank you very much, they’ll take it from here.

This is a rather abrupt command given that Scarab hasn’t really been anywhere near as central to the action as he was at least trying to be, and has largely been relegated by events to the role of super-hero observer. Still, the process of mopping up is often a scattershot one, and that would definitely prove to be the case here.

If this recap seems a bit rushed, trust me when I say that’s entirely intentional on my part, in order to reflect the style of the issue itself, which bears all the hallmarks of an 11th-hour “quick change” job. I don’t hold any of the creators responsible for that, obviously –editorial decisions, even ones as weighty as pulling the plug on a book before it goes to monthly series status, are entirely out of their hands — but it does seem as though they were trying to make the best of a difficult situation. Scot Eaton and Mike Barreiro, for instance, take to depicting our title character and his world in a far more conventional style than had previously been the case, probably in an effort to demonstrate their chops at doing the more garden-variety super-hero work that they would need to hustle up in order to continue making a living in the comic book racket, and John Smith by and large eschews his “purple prose” text boxes in favor of a more dialogue-heavy approach (at least until the end), probably for much the same reason,  so in many ways this issue feels like a “demo reel” of sorts for three guys who were, understandably,  thinking ahead to their next assignments.

Before that, though, they’d have to at least give concluding this work the old “college try,” so that’s where we’re headed next here, as well — with a brief aside first. In order to get some sort of handle around Scarab’s forced final act, it’s crucial that we give at least a cursory look to another Smith creation (perhaps the one for which he’s best known, in fact), Indigo Prime, since Dazzler and Creed are, for all intents and purposes, characters straight out of the IP universe, so when next we meet here, we’ll  be venturing back across the Atlantic (metaphorically speaking, at any rate) and back into the pages of venerable British comics weekly 2000 A.D. so that we can better understand how our guy John essentially borrowed from himself in order to put the confusing final touches on an already-confusing (but no less fascinating for that fact) series. See you in a week or two back here at Sequart , then, for our Indigo Prime — errr — primer, I guess.

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Ryan Carey maintains a B-movie (with occasional comics-related content) blog at trashfilmguru.wordpress.com, and writes about films and comics for sites such as unobtainium13.com, dailygrindhouse.com, geekyuniverse.com, and now Sequart. You can follow him on Twitter @trashfilmguru.

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