Sunday, September 7, 2008


Devil's Due is an interesting publisher. Most of their line consists of licensed or licensable properties that work in the similar vein, that of updating the Saturday Morning cartoons for an audience that is more mature. Thus, the titles feel fresh and happy to channel the video-game violence in hope of ending up adapted as a Hollywood action flick.

And that's pretty much the deal with Spooks, yet another Devil's Due publishing title that has pretty much flew under the radar of most of the fans and critics. It has apparently sold enough copies to warrant an ongoing series, and that's what's finally got me to check out the mini-series the concept originally debuted in.

Now, Spooks' autorship is a very complicated thing. It's apparently an idea of Ryan Schifrin and Daniel Alter, who thought it would be cool to envision the movie that mixes Larry Hamma's GI Joes fighting RA Salvatore's RPG monsters. And yet, the creators decided it's best to hold on to embelisshing the movie script and just send the concept over to Hamma and Salvatore to develop as a comic. Hamma accepted the job of co-scripting the book with Schifrin, no doubt in order to have it presented to the Hollywood producers as soon as possible, and Salvatore (with his brother, Geno Salvatore, even!) ended up briefly summing up the way he saw some of the monsters could be used for good effect. Add Adam Archer, a quick, up-and-coming aritst to the mix, and you've got a Devil's Due series, fast and furious, as it tries to capture everyone's attention.

Getting into the story is easy, as the principal players are quickly introduced, and everything is set up for the action sequences, that are at the heart of the story. The characters are easy to distinguish, their personalities as simple and quick to grasp as their code names. There is even a hint of romance with the introduction of a female soldier, but make no mistake, she's mostly there to tease the audience and smooth up the breaks between the showdowns with monsters. As for the villains, they are even less distinctive, and except for some contrived ties to the heroes' pasts, defined solely by their bestial nature.

The story takes some twists and turns, as the soldiers of yet another S.H.I.E.L.D. knockoff agency (complete with a witty and quickly-forgettable acronym), sporting familiar blue jumpsuits reveal themselves as ready for anything, battle-scarred anti-heroes. After numerous takes on this post-Aliens and Starship Troopers idea, the whole thing seems very campy and tired.

The rushed and not quite ready for the prime time artwork certainly doesn't help endear the series to new readers, but it's at least clear in depicting numerous complicated battlefield scenarios. Some of the variant covers are very nice to look at, though, and it's a real shame that DDP didn't pare up Schifrin and Hamma with an artist who would depict these characters and their world in a slicker way in this, its introduction to the audience.

On the other hand, the writers take the whole thing seriously, and manage to help tie the project into a coherent tale. "Spooks" does not aspire to experimentation with the form and structure of sequential art, it's a concept that's by chance premiered in the comics form, as it tries to communicate its take on monster hunting to the readers. It's not novel in any way, and certainly doesn't distinguish itself enough to fulfill its goals in the first mini-series, but the writers help make it into a real story, one that's readable and entertaining.

The most glaring problem is that it simply does not have a lot going for it. From the beginning to the end you get GI Joe fighting the undead, and little else that is new or unique. The book tries to divert the readers' attention by introducing us to the secret government organization and characters from its Alpha and Beta teams that already have some history with each other, even setting up the black-ops Omega division, that has since become the star of the ongoing series. Yet, all that aside, it reamins the sum of its parts, ie. the story about army grunts trying to stop a zombie apocalypse, brought on by a sorcerer a mad-on for humans.

Arguably, the book works best when dealing with little details, such as the arms and equipment used to fight supernatural, and some of the action sequences do come off as fun and unusual. The focus on the main characters doesn't succeed as much, though, and they remain little more than cyphers, occasionally trying for melodrama, but mostly resorting to sprouting one-liners in the middle of the fight. Perhaps using the standard 6-issue story arc would have helped the book utilize more space for developing its ideas.

To sum it up, I'm not sure that the set up like this fits for an action movie it so desperately wants to be. I see a lot of a generic video-game in it, what with it's heavy focus on short bursts of formulaic story spliced between all the gory fights. Despite the cliches and overall blandness of the whole thing, the irony is that it could work as an ongoing series. DDP did not make a mistake by going forwards with the ongoing series, because some of its concepts could benefit with a lot of space for re-tinkering and development that a monthly provides.

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