Spectacularly un-Spectrish

Tales of the UnexpectedAt my age, you’d have thought I’d have learnt not to be fooled by a gorgeous comic cover only to find the contents of said comic don’t live up expectations. But having only recently been blessed with the return to Lancaster, at last, of a store (First Age) selling US comics, I clearly have to re-learn such things.

The comic in question is the recently-released Tales of the Unexpected #1 from DC Comics, an anthology title featuring a new version of the Spectre by written by David Lapham and with art by Eric Battle and Prentis Rollins; and a Doctor Thirteen tale by Brian Azarello and Cliff Chiang (www.cliffchiang.com).

Ignoring my bemusement at how DC can trademark Tales of the Unexpected – surely Roald Dahl’s estate have something to say about that – the comic has a fab cover by Mike Mignola featuring the Spectre. It suckered me into forking up £2.50, only to discover either story failed to live up to expectation.

Art-wise, I liked the back-up strip, Doctor Thirteen – Chiang has a clean line style with great storytelling ability that sent me seeking out earlier work online. That said, the story proved more disturbing than unexpected. Yes, I’m getting old, but surely I can’t be the only comics reader who finds the idea of a ‘hero’ who’s having disturbing dreams about being in bed with his daughter, later asked if he would eat her if they were marooned, more than a little unsettling. I’m sure this all has something to do with the foe Doctor Thirteen soon faces — I won’t spoil the surprise by saying hwo — but still…

As for The Spectre; I gather he’s gone a bit barmy since I last saw the character, as written by Alan Moore in Swamp Thing. Infinite Crisis has given DC the excuse to turn the Spectre into a psychpathic ethereal “reborn instrument of God’s wrath”, exacting bloody vengeance on those who deserve to be brutally slain (Wikipedia will bring you up to speed on the Spectre’s recent history http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectre_(comics). In this case someone who kept rats but the landlord’s incompetence led to their death.

Who’s this comic aimed at? What’s it being racked with Stateside? Let me S, S, S – Simpsons Comics, Superman, Spectre… Yes, that works. Can’t see minors picking that up.

All right, this is the first issue and there may be a darker side to the apartment block where pet owners carve up the landlord in the basement. But unlike the clean style of Chiang’s earlier stories featuring the new Spectre, Battle and Rollins art is contrived, the ethereal Crispus Allen – the Spectre’s host – rarely seen as an obvious ‘ghost’. The story itself is slight, the bloody revenge of the Spectre on the distraught rat owner hardly appealing. Not enough to want to find out what dark secrets the apartment building holds, especially since this story also hints at violent paedophilia.

Honestly, you have to wonder what the editors at DC Comics were thinking when they came up with this unpleasant two-hander.

Considering the creative minds involved, you expect edgy, you expect dark… but not vile.

Tales of the Unexpected. Unexpectedly dire.

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