Rocks and Hard Places
There is an odd significance to this miniseries, which was revealed during an online spat between Erik Larsen and Brian Denham. According to Larsen, retailers assumed this series would be produced out of Todd McFarlane’s offices at Image, and weren’t thrilled to discover it was an Extreme Studios job when the first issue arrived. Following this miniseries, Image solicitations specified which studio created each individual title. Using a novice artist on a high-profile miniseries, written by Alan Moore no less, seems to be the major criticism leveled against the title. The first issue mainly consists of Badrock and Violator fighting each other, then striking poses while Badrock taunts the incarcerated Violator. Badrock and Violator have such inhuman designs, it’s hard to say anyone could actually draw them wrong, so Denham’s artistic shortcomings aren’t obvious for most of this issue. Violator specifically looks consistent with McFarlane’s design, down to the inking of the texture of his disgusting skin.
The story opens with Badrock ambushing Violator in Washington, DC (Spawn Blood Feud has him leaving New York when Sankster causes too much trouble for supernatural beings). He’s taken in for study by a research institute named after real life “rocket scientist and occultist” John Whiteside-Parsons. Badrock, who’s leading the institute’s security, has a crush on Dr. Sally McAllister, but she’s only interested in demons. After news of Violator’s capture is made public, an angel named Celestine invades the institute and marches towards Violator. The story isn’t as over-the-top as the Violator miniseries, but Moore’s still keeping the tone light. The jokes are pretty funny, and Moore’s attempts at writing American teenager Badrock are unintentionally amusing.
That pair of beach balls attached to a crude rendering of the female anatomy on the cover is supposed to be Celestine. According to the indicia, Alan Moore owns her copyright, so I’m sure he can expect a call from Neil Gaiman’s lawyers any day now. Denham’s rendition of Celestine is slightly less inhuman than the Liefeld version on the cover, which means it’s still pretty bad.
As Celestine draws closer to Violator, he convinces Badrock to free him from his shackles so that he can stop Celestine’s killing spree. Violator promptly changes into his human form and tells Celestine that Badrock is the demon; a Bugs Bunny trick that actually works. While Celestine’s distracted fighting the wrong monster, Violator comes from behind and rips her heart out. If you thought the imagery on the cover was gross, wait until you see the same character mutilated and covered in blood for several pages. With her last breath, Celestine opens the institute’s dimensional portal, hoping to send Violator back to Hell. A few hours later, Violator’s missing and Badrock and Dr. McAllister discover that the institute is in Hell. I like the cliffhanger, and Moore’s script still has a few laughs…but what an ugly, dumb comic this is.
Now in Hell, Badrock encounters some of the demons Alan Moore created for Spawn #8 before catching up with Violator. The remaining Phlebiac Brothers also find Violator and try to kill him again. Badrock screws everything up by insulting Violator, which causes the paternal Phlebiac Brothers to attack instead the man who just slighted their brother. This issue is actually really funny, rivaling the first Violator miniseries in clever one-liners. Dr. McAllister’s clear disinterest in Badrock’s safety as she investigates Hell is also well played. The art’s not good enough to compliment the humor, though, and it’s a shame Denham can’t render the Phlebiac Brothers with the care Bart Sears put into their initial appearances.
Celestine’s body is withering away, and once it’s gone the institute will return to Earth. Badrock has to find Dr. McAllister before time is up, which leads to more confrontations with the demons that apparently appeared exclusively in Moore’s comics. This issue introduces the “snotty Second Level hyper-shrimp” -- demon intellectuals who wonder why they’re so attracted to blonde, white female victims. Violator returns for a few more fight scenes, eliciting Badrock to comment on how “monotonous” this is getting. After getting the shrewish Dr. McAllister back to safety, the energy drained from Celestine dissipates and the institute returns to Earth. Surprisingly, Violator is left in Hell; although he can’t stay there for long since he’s appearing in the concurrent issues of Spawn. A dialogue exchange establishes that the Admonisher snuck his way back to Earth, but I don’t know if Moore ever used him again. This is essentially the same comic as the previous three issues, only now Denham’s art is really starting to deteriorate. I remarked earlier that it would be hard to truly get the title characters off-model, but Badrock and Violator do look terrible during a few of the scenes. And the human characters have always looked odd during this series, so it’s not a surprise this issue is no exception.