Hellboy: The Crooked Man # 3
Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Richard Corben & Dave Stewart
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Powers # 30
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Michael Avon Oeming & Nick Filardi
Published by Icon/Marvel Comics
Looks like I’m becoming a fan. These three books were laid out with the rest
of this week’s options and I just had to read them all. I'd already read the first two of this three issue
mini-series of Hellboy…I’ve gotta read the third! Powers? You should all know how much I love this book now. (And by the way Mr. Brian Michael Bendis: I read a couple of issues of Powers and then
went and bought the first trade. So your
Baltimore Comic Con theory is true in terms of, well, me. It's true in "me" terms. Put that on a slide.) Then there's the Black Panther, and I just straight-up enjoyed Secret Invasion Black Panther last
time. I figured it was a weird fluke, because you know--Secret Dance-Off Invasion--but hey, why not just confirm before I dismiss?
Then I run into this little "column" and now I'm stuck. How do I write about all three? Well, there were some commonalities. Black Panther opens with the narrator
(a Skrull general) reflecting on how difficult it is on the psyche to kill another being. How the killing may get easier, but the
forgetting is always difficult. Those
faces are always lurking. Haunting him like a...I don't know. A smelly bathroom? Something worse. (I have never killed anyone. Write about what you know, that kind of thing.)
Powers ends with Deena, in paradise, being haunted by the
memory of the man she killed…
Then there's Hellboy, well, its just plain haunted. Our main character is haunted by one choice
he made a long time ago, that choice has showed up to haunt him, the choice brought more friends, they're haunting everybody, the haunted guy teams up with an old preacher and Hellboy, they get haunted by choice and friends. Lot's of haunting.
All three seem to be about living with our decisions,
subsequent actions and their consequences.
Or that seems to be the underlying theme anyway. The plots couldn’t be more different!
The other striking feature of all three comics this week is the use of the Deus ex machina. In all of these
books, there’s a turn, a big reversal that would not be
plausible in real life. But since it's comics, it
happens. And it works. Or at least its impossible to say that it doesn’t work.
I mean, in Black Panther, well…I don’t know that I could
explain to you how it happens that the two individuals in captivity looked, talked and
acted like King Black Panther and Queen Halle Berry Storm, all the while really Skrulls in disguise. Something about their souls. And boxes in their throats. See, that’s all that we’re really
told. It's never fully explained. But we don’t mind because suddenly the real Panther and Storm are there! Killing the Skrull
King! And all his peon Skrulls! They're using ninja swords! We Win!!
Black Panther Wins!! Who cares that
it makes no true, practical sense – it works for me!
In Hellboy, we discover that the Crooked Man just wants
that cat bone back. He wants it more
than anything. And, hey, if I were Hellboy,
I’d just toss it to him. Game Over. But dramatic tensions rises (somewhat), and
Tom’s conscience gets stronger and stronger and he believes that he owes the
devil his due. Simultaneously, this priest is getting incensed-what, with the devil fucking with his shit one too many times, he calls
on God. And after God shows his might….that priest, well he's not giving a Crooked Man his bone. Nick Nack Paddywhack! No, he's going to does this comic book thing. Something as vague and unchallengeable as the
switcharoo in Black Panther. He, in a
fit of true Passion, uses the cat bone to scrawl a cross on a shovel. There must be something about a Man of God
using an Instrument of the Devil to carve out a cross, because when Hellboy waltzes outside and hits
the Crooked Man with that shovel, it sent him back to the age before time. Who
knew? There’s more that follows, stuff I didn’t
totally understand – they go to some house and, upon finding the former Crooked Man, his old pile of scales, bones and eyes, his old hoard of gold--it all disappears as all imprisoned souls are returned to their…rightful
place? (Where is that, exactly?) So all is well in the world. For now.
What I’m trying to say is, again, it totally worked. But can it be challenged? Comics are full of sudden crazy magical powers that come out of nowhere. Honestly, it was pretty satisfying. I'm not sure I want to read a comic where Black Panther and Storm just get tortured and then die, and there isn't any magic moment where everything goes all snazzy and ninja sword-y. There are books like Peter Hamill’s Forever and Mark Helprin's Winter’s Tale -- both very clever, creative and entertaining works -- that you just keep hoping have that clever thing that I, we, the reader, couldn’t possibly have come up with on our own that makes the whole thing come together in the end and feel satisfying. Sometimes it happens, but often I’m disappointed. But I guess that’s why I might be enjoying some of these comic books. Because magic is allowed, it works, it's satisfying for what it is, and I don't have to read some dumb explanation for why the skeleton of cat can be used to draw crosses on garden tools to kill--whatever the heck the Crooked Man was.
If you're going to go that way, just do it. Don't try to tell me you know how it makes sense. I don't have that kind of time.
So, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Where’s the deus ex machina in Powers? Well, it's right at the beginning. Basically, it's in the space between these two
issues (29 and 30). Last issue ended
with Triphammer coming in and saving the situation, if not the day. This one opens with Deena waking up from being
cured of all her powers, along with the rest of the world. Besides that, she's being let “off the hook" by the police for--well, everything she's been doing that's totally illegal. Apparently in
the space between the issues, lots of meetings were held and it was decided that
“powers virus equals temporary insanity.” So the police department decided that Deena’s “leave of absence was a
sanctioned undercover operation.
Anything [she] did or did not do in the line happened with authority. [Her} mission was a complete
success. The bad guys got caught and the
virus got cured." Somebody get a bow. Make it tight.
Oh yeah, the term deus ex machina comes from that
early B.C.E. time when, in the climax of a piece of theater, some machine God
would literally come and lift the protagonist out of his/her current situation
and transport her to a new situation – or just save him/her. In other words, exactly what
happened between issues. Some magical
machine just lifted Deena right out of a world of shit and made it all right
Not really, of course.
That’s what this issue is really about.
How she wasn’t temporarily insane. She used her inhuman power to punish someone she really thought
deserved it, and is now living with that. She's living with the guilt, because she knew exactly what she was doing, and she knew she was in the wrong, and she went ahead and did it anyway.
Originally I was going to write all about that theme. How these books are begging, literally, begging me to think about
what it would really be like to kill another human being. What would it be like to have that kind of
power? And in a situation where one has
super powers, what’s right and what’s wrong?
Can there be a God in world where there’s super-powers? Are you supposed to start doling out judgment and punishment? You're not a regular person. Why follow regular person rules? Looking at Black Panther – do
we decide to take over a planet simply because we think we can? Because we're Skrulls, and it's there, and we're bigger and badder and tougher? When the war gets going, hell, it's war, and war is all about
kill or be killed – so go ahead and use your power in every possible way. It's war. With Hellboy – is it fair to judge who is good and who
is bad? Does one “evil”, selfish, greedy
act label us for all eternity as “evil” and hellbound? (Clearly, there is a God in this story, He is all-powerful and triumphs over all. Hellboy handles the smiting part, but it's God who gave him the ammunition.) In that case, it's not even about super-powers
– but about the power we have just as humans and the choices we make.
Then there's Powers, where Deena went all "might is right" and ended up having to punish herself because no one would do it for her. Having powers didn't help her, it didn't make her life better--if anything, it ruined it.
I’m not going to go into discussing these questions any further then this--longest one of these, and it's almost done. I’m just excited to be far enough into understanding and following three comics that I’m getting struck by bigger ideas. That’s the thing that I found so interesting when I was interviewing for the position here, and the team would tell me about comics. They'd spoke about these big ideas that some of the comics seemed to be talking about. I wanted the gig, for my own reasons, and I didn't care about the comics, but I started to wonder, “Is there more than just crazy violence and big breasted women in skimpy costumes in these things?” The possibility that there was more to comic books is the only reason I decided to do this Virgin Read thing. It's certainly taken a while, but it was exciting to finally be involved enough to feel like I’m getting more than just a few minutes of diversion, sometimes entertaining, sometimes not so much--and this time I did. On top of that–I enjoyed all three of these books immensely!
-Nina Stone, 2008
Check out the Factual's Take On The DC Nation Panel from the Baltimore Comic-Con here, and keep an eye out The Virgin Read Road Trip Edition: I Went To Baltimore To Pay My Respects To Stringer Bell, appearing this week.