Thursday, 5 July 2012

Night Force #5 review

One of the most-ignored DC comics around, this is also one of the best, as Marv Wolfman and Tom Mandrake produce a horror story that never fails to grip.

The seven-issue mini-series has the enigmatic Baron Winters gathering ordinary people to thwart an occult threat to the USA.

That's the idea, anyway. By the end of this chapter his two chosen, Jim Duffy and Zoe Davis, are in serious trouble. Both consider Winters a dangerous kook, but he's dragged them into his ambit because they were already embroiled in gruesome events without knowing it - he's opening their eyes and giving them a chance to save themselves as they right the situation.

Cop Jim is investigating a cult that for centuries has been kidnapping women to breed ever more psychic children, wiping their memories after they give birth and placing the babies with new mothers. Decades before, Jim's father was investigating the cult's business, and it led to his awful death. Today, the cult is on the verge of getting a 'Generation 9', Senator Brian Greene, into the White House, and they're willing to sacrifice over 100 of their 'Dormants' to do it.

Like her mother, Zoe is at both ends of the insidious equation, having been born of the plot, and herself had a child without recalling she was ever pregnant. Supposedly safe in Winters' mystic mansion, she's being stalked by one of the Cult's hideous 'Harvesters'.

Meanwhile (sort of), Winters and his pet leopard have been tossed into a 17th-century London dungeon by the cult's enforcer, Simon the Gatherer.

As well as the regulars, we see one of the cult's victims kidnapped from a funfair in a sequence that knows most of us find clowns and smiley Furries pant-wettingly creepy.

Wolfman is among the most elegant and erudite of writers, and not afraid to be unfashionable; not for him, the treatment of comics as film storyboards. Nope, he gives us full-on narration in the opening scenes, laying down an atmosphere of foreboding in both the 17th and 21st centuries. He knows how to balance description and dialogue. His storyline is strong, his pacing perfect and there's not a person in this comic who doesn't show a bit of personality. And while the overall tone is dark, there's humour in the Cult's treatment of world domination as a business plan ('We're behind projections, but we can catch up if we can birth four more 10s this quarter'). I truly hope that somewhere, Wolfman is teaching classes to comic writers of the future.
Mandrake is magical, interpreting the script with natural talent and a veteran's skill. He ekes out all the drama in the forefront of the script without skimping on backgrounds or incidental detail. Plus, he makes the good guys sympathetic and the bad guys - both human and creature - equally horrific in their own ways. Wes Hartman's colours are exemplary, always adding to the art, emphasising mood and incident, while Wes Abbott sets things right with his lettering.

Add in a superbly composed and rendered cover by Leonardo Manco and you've a cracking package for just $2.99. I doubt comic shops ordered highly enough that you'll find back issues, but there's always digital (with a dollar off, to boot). If you enjoy creepy comics, give this a look. Maybe even give that stranger behind you a read, too. You know, the one in the robe, with the lizardy skin and big teeth ...

14 comments:

  1. You're right. No one talks about this mini-series at all. Almost all the other mini-series had some mention from reviewers and fans, but this one? You ask someone on the Internet, they respond: Night what?

    Hell, sometimes I forget about this comic. I show up at the comic store and they hand me my orders and there it is. I'm like, "Oh yeah, I read this thing."

    Overall, this comic has not fully captured or pulled me in like I hoped it would. Frankly, I might have dropped this title if not for the fact that it was a mini-series. I'll ride it out like with Voodoo Child to the end and then reread the whole series to see how it is. Maybe once I get the whole story I'll enjoy it? Seems to work with Grant Morrison's comics all the time.

    Anyhow, fun fact time! Tony Daniels is off Detective Comics and is repaced by the writer for Image's Chew series. Plus, 4 annuals are coming in October:
    + Batgirl (the female Talon is back for some reason and Catwoman shows up)
    + Action Comics (not written by Grant)
    + Justice League Dark (Ends Jeff Lemire's first arc and brings in Frankenstein and Amethyst for the finale)
    + Swamp Thing (Becky Cloonan is drawing)

    Finally, too bad you aren't reading Batwoman anymore. Issue 12 brings back J.H. Williams as the artist and teams Batwoman up with Wonder Woman to fight Bloody Mary. Apparently, Wondy is going to be apart of the arc since she is also in issue 13. Maybe you could take a sneak peak to see if Williams can write Wonder Woman correctly.

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    1. I'm fascinated to hear you're reading Voodoo Child - of all the DC titles launched in the last year, that's my least liked. Let us know!

      Ta for the tips, I'll certainly give The Batwoman a look, if only for the art.

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    2. Oh, I'm not talking about Voodoo, I'm talking about the Vertigo title Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child that came out back in March along with Saucer Country (which is still just continues to be wonderful). I just said because Voodoo Child, because it is quicker for me to type that out then the full title. I'm not actually reading Voodoo itself currently. I will, however, pick up regular old Voodoo once the first trade comes out due to some curiousity on my part. I heard it switched from being a sci-fi spy thriller to a regular old sci-fi action story that killed off most of the cast around issue 4 or 5 due to a change in writers. I got to see how this went.

      As for the Vertigo title, if you aren't reading that anymore, you certianly aren't missing a thing. The narration got better, but I truly don't feel like we connected to our main character yet, barely known enough the side characers, and whole war between the different sides seems overally complicated or convoluted at times. Also, with this story cancelled at issue 7, there is no way this can properly wrapped all of this up in a satifisying way. I'll stay to the end, but I'm not expecting much really.

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    3. Thanks - I was assuming Voodoo Child, it was really terrible. I never even tried New 52 Voodoo. Cheers for letting us know how DL:VC has been going.

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  2. Love Night Force. As you say, probably one of the best titles DC is publishing at the moment, and one that would have deserved to be one of the "New 52s" instead of so many bad series.

    The previous Night Force series wasn't as great as the first one with Gene Colan, but this one definitely goes back to the same level of complexities and horror.

    Sadly, Night Force in the 80s was too early for its time.

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    1. I agree, Bruno, the previous mini wasn't great, so I'm pleased it's gotten another shot. I wonder if DC want a trade they can wave at Warner's film department? I could see this making a fun movie.

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  3. A) I felt the horror for the first time in this issue of Night Force. I'm glad I kept with this slow burn of a mini. Unlike other minis, I knew this one would eventually thrill because of the creators!

    2) Wouldn't Williams have to learn to write before he can write anybody correctly?

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  4. On a "where are they now?" thread on a comics forum last week, somebody asked "Why isn't Tom Mandrake making comics any more?"

    It's criminal how little promotion DC have given this. It's like they're embarrassed by it. I only found out about it myself through your review of #1, Martin, and I have seen NOTHING else written about it anywhere.

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    1. It's a downright shame, David. If you let me know the thread I could always link to over here - let people hear about how good the comic is. Or if you feel like doing it, feel free.

      But don't feel obligated!

      I just want people to know about this book. I think Tony Guerrero from Comic Vine will be putting something up soon.

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    2. Don't worry, I have let people know how good the comic is.

      I have also pointed them to this blog on a few occasions. The last one being your review of AvX, to explain why I'm not bothering to read it!

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    3. That's above and beyond, David, thank you.

      New comics in my hand ... where to start?

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  5. Finally read this one (I was on vacation last week and never got my comics). It's still nice and creepy, and I think merits a reread from me before issues 6 & 7 come out, so I can enjoy them in full swing.

    Mandrake is probably the best possible replacement for the late Gene Colan, although I think Brent Anderson did a creditable job way back when, and am looking forward to seeing what he does with the Phantom Stranger.

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  6. I do like the work of Brent Anderson, even if I do get it confused with that of Jackson Guice.

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