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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Descent Into Darkness, Part 2: It's Just a Mess

In 1998, the WWF was at the height of its popularity, and there were no depths that were too low too dredge in the organization's efforts to promote itself. It was a time of hastily arranged licensing deals that resulted in some truly terrible products - and comic books, being comic books, were not spared from "The Monday Night Wars." Mankind got his own one-shot issue, which we can be thankful didn't get any further than that. We weren't so lucky when it came to other "superstars," like the Undertaker: he was the star of his own ten-issue series. I looked at #0 in a previous post (Part One of my "series"). Tonight, I'll be subjecting myself - and you, gentle reader - to Undertaker #1.

To recap: the Undertaker is actually a demon from Hell who's supposed to be the rightful ruler of Hell's prison, "Stygian." The only problem is that he was ousted form the position somehow, and now he has to fight a ponytailed Gen-X-er named "The Embalmer" and a corpulent fellow named Paul Bearer to secure his power over a freakin' prison in Hell. To paraphrase a movie slogan, "No matter who wins, they lose."

To be honest, I'm not really sure how everything works in this "universe." We've got Hell, and I'm pretty sure that should work like what I'm familiar with: piss god off, go to Hell. Pretty simple to understand, but it gets fuzzy once someone tries to apply earthly concepts to very unearthly planes. How the hell can Hell have a prison? Who would be in Stygian? What does death mean if you just get sent to Hell, which appears to be easier to get out of than a wet, bullet-riddled paper bag?

A more important theological matter, though, is of course:

Why is there a wrestling ring in Hell?

And it's played in all seriousness, folks. There's no rolling eyes, or tongues-in-cheeks. We're completely expected to believe that Satan likes to watch a little Sports Entertainment while chilling after a long day of raping Stalin with a pineapple.

But these questions were with us with Undertaker #0, and they will be with us right on through to #10. So, you know - don't try to think about them too much.

A bit of the old prose (ending in an egregious failure to use an ellipsis properly) elaborates on the story seen so far: the Embalmer, the Undertaker, and Paul Bearer are actually seeking out three books of – OF DEATH (Bwa ha ha). Perhaps sensing that the job as warden of Hell’s prison was not quite incentive enough to get the Undertaker fightin’ demons every month, the writers have clarified the matter by specifying that whoever holds the three books – OF DEATH – will not only own Stygian, but also have access to a whole slew of “unimaginative unimaginable destructive powers.” The Undertaker has the third book in the series, the Embalmer holds the first, and no one knows who has the second, so I’m hoping that a future issue segues into scenes of ‘Taker and the Embalmer hopping from a quaint used book store in the village to an Antiques Road Show meeting to find it, perhaps with its ultimate acquisition relying on a light-hearted convoluted trading sequence.

Our issue begins with an internal monologue by the Dead Man himself, spoken as he beats the living hell out of your everyday, garden-variety demon: half HR Giger, half “Invasion” alien. In our last issue, we learned that the Undertaker was ousted from his position as chief demon of Stygian, so what he’s doing here corralling an “escaped demon” is beyond my ability to rationalize. This demon is apparently working for the Embalmer, who has the power to create portals to – uh, wherever the hell the Undertaker is at the moment.

Deadpool’s subconscious (re:caption boxes) tells us that it is prophesized that the Undertaker will take possession of the three books – OF DEATH. So, no problem, right? It’s in the prophecy, which means that all ‘Taker needs to do now his sit back and wait for the books to come to him. For all of my griping about The Dark is Rising, I have to give the author this: she knows what a prophecy is. All the kid in that book had to do was hang around long enough, and the shit would all fall into place. That’s what prophecies are: things that are destined to happen. So I don’t see why the Undertaker is even going to look for the books, since he knows that it is destiny for him to be the ruler of Stygian.

Of course, we wouldn’t have a riveting story if we just had 24 pages of the Dead Man eating chips while waiting for the Embalmer to impale himself on his own sword, so despite the clear meaning of the term PROPHECY, we still have to put up with this dreck for the next – oh, 9 issues. Of course, we still don’t get a riveting story, but that’s another point altogether.

The Embalmer, the Big Bad (well, Badder) of the series, is actually a regular old man whose mother named him with foresight: the moniker describes his “mastery of the art he was most proficient” – butchered English aside, I think that means that he was a professional who actually embalmed corpses, but by the looks of the art, he doesn't seem very good at it:

Isn’t the whole point of embalming to preserve the dead? I believe that stripping the flesh from their bones might be a little bit counter-productive in that effort.

Embalmy somehow found a way to open a portal to Stygian, and in a similarly vague fashion – somehow - overthrew the ruler of the place at the time. Given the indications from last issue, I thought that was the Undertaker, but continuity was always a suckers’ game anyway.

Jump to the present: while the Undertaker whines about finding the books again – just in case we forgot what the McGuffin was after, you know, putting the comic book down a few weeks ago in disgust, and finally coming back to it today – the Embalmer speaks to the Dead Man’s unfortunate victim from the beginning of this issue in his office. Like all good villains these days, the Embalmer has somehow managed to acquire a large corporation, despite not showing one ounce of business acumen. The demon’s tail was cut off when the Embalmer closed the portal on him after the Undertaker grabbed the appendage, and he can’t shut up about it. In a bit of dialogue that was supposed to show the Embalmer’s callousness and disregard for his minions, he tells the demon to suck it up, imploring him to “grow another [tail]... or three, or four,” he doesn’t care. It actually just comes across as weird, since the demon wouldn’t be bitching about his tail if he could just grow another one in an instant. He also demands that the demon call him “Augustus Slayer” while in the mortal realm. It’s probably just for kicks, since it can’t be to remain inconspicuous.

A lot of this issue is just repetition, repetition, repetition – the Phenom likes to remind us every few pages or so that he would really like to get his books, and that he’s destined to be the ruler of Stygian, while the Embalmer likes to sit on his ass and talk about ruling Stygian while the Undertaker beats the crap out of the same interchangeable goons.

Undertaker #1 ends with a 7-page wrestling match with a nobody who calls himself “Mezzmor.” The strange thing is that while the ring begins to resemble some sort of Hell-scape, Mezzmore does not take on the appearance of a demon - which, according to the laws set forth in Undertaker #0, he should when in the presence of the Undertaker. So either Mezzmor isn’t really a demon – which is going to create problems for the WWF’s lawyers, since ‘Taker manages to liquefy him during the fight – or Vince McMahon has been investing in some really strange ring equipment. This one has talking turnbuckles that constantly attempt to eat Mezzmor, screaming about “meat” and “soup.” It’s one of the many aspects of this comic that prove that Chaos! was just throwing whatever popped into their heads onto the page, hoping it’d stick. It’s not cool, it’s confusing: we still have no reason why the wrestling ring is necessary for battling demons other than “whim,” and now we don’t even know if we’re in Hell or if the mere proximity of the Undertaker causes the ring to appear to be made out of dead things. And you want to know something else? I bet the ring’s completely different in Undertaker #2. There is no commitment to internal logic or consistency with this thing.

The last splash page reveals Paul Bearer behaving in a vaguely threatening manner, and it looks like he’s clutching one of the books – OF DEATH – or maybe it’s a just an ordinary book-book, I don’t know how these things are supposed to look. It doesn’t matter. He won’t do anything of any consequence in the next issue, anyway.

Although the strange, often nonsensical comics of previous eras seem quaint today, I can assure you that this one will only be regarded as terrible, terrible, and terrible to future scholars and masochists.

Hey! They actually published a trade of this bilge. A second volume was also produced, and is available at here. Click on the links to make a questionable purchase today!

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At 13/3/08 8:14 AM , Blogger CaptainAverage said...

So do you have a special hazmat suit to dive so deeply into this feculence(never thought I'd get to use that word)or do you shower with Brillo pads? I applaud you because I believe if I wrote the review for this series, it would be "awful" written 50 times.

At 13/3/08 1:56 PM , Blogger BlackmarketPies said...

I actually got angry at this comic when I was reading it. "How could there be so little substance here!? Give me a reason to keep reading, please! Anything!"


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