This week we’ll be taking a look at a book that is definitely not for kids, DC’s Resurrection Man.
I was able to pick up both trades for the New 52! story a ways back because of a handful of reasons:
1) I vaguely remembered hearing good things. It’s hard to believe the New 52 stuff was over six years ago at this point, but DC took a lot of risks outside of the normal super-hero fare to find something that would stick. They tried Western, horror, and not-quite-your-daddy’s-superhero books to fill out the numbers. I really applauded this at the time because it’s nice when the big two demonstrate some depth. With that said, I didn’t pick any of them up because the other thing I heard about New 52 books was that they seemed rushed and they tried way too hard to appeal to 14 year old boys with the Jim Lee-style house arty storytelling. I’m the type who is much happier to come to the party late on a book than invest early and get burned. My suspicion is this was one of those out-there series that didn’t stick because well…there are certain types of stories that just aren’t meant to stick. That doesn’t make them not good–just not something that might catch on with the masses.
2) The creative team: The writers, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, are probably best known for helming the Annihilation-era cosmic side of the Marvel Universe. They turned the Guardians of the Galaxy into what we know them to be today by crafting a non-stop space-opera that made the cosmic Marvel cool again. Their stories are funny, action packed, and filled with drama all at the same time, and they can elevate D and F-list characters into greatness. Also, volume 2 had a Francisco Francavilla cover and that guy’s just plain awesome.
3) Then I picked up the books and saw that 2 volumes told the whole story–and both volumes were super cheap. This is nice, especially when all too often, I’ll show up late to the party on a book and know it’s gonna cost me. Take for instance, Tom King’s Batman, where I just picked up the three issue Mr. Freeze storyline in issues 51-53. Great stuff. Absolutely gorgeous Lee Weeks art; a story with depth and pathos and humanity; just awesome all around.
Except, now that means I’m going to have to start picking up Batman trades, of which there are already 7 and T.K. says he has 100 issues planned so that’s at least 7 more…it adds up fast. With Resurrection Man, I was able to pick up the whole series for the cost of a Chicken Lo Mein lunch special. I’ll take it!
Before I take the deep dive with the book, there are few other quick connections I made early on that work in the book’s favor.
So the deal with Resurrection Man is that when he dies, he comes back to life with a new super power and some sense of a mission to complete. In issue one, he wakes up with magnetic field powers and knows he’s got to catch a plane to Portland. Ok. That’s just weird enough that I’ll bite. Plus, one of my favorite bands happens to be The Magnetic Fields, so that’s a win through association.
Resurrection Man’s suffering some memory loss, but not total amnesia. This reminds me of the movie Memento, where the guy is constantly trying to put his life back together by solving this big mystery but he can’t make new memories so he’s constantly re-learning stuff and getting tattoos. Here, the main character can make new memories, but a good portion of the middle is missing, and so when he wakes up, he knows that he’s Mitch Shelley and he dies and comes back, but he has to learn what’s new and different this time out along with trying to solve his mystery. So far, he hasn’t gotten any new tattoos. Memento, by the way, is the best Christopher Nolan movie out there, so it’s another win by association for Resurrection Man.
The other aspect of this book is that people are coming for Mitch from upstairs, downstairs, and all the stairs in-between. Apparently the resurrection thing is throwing off everybody’s books. In issue 1, a woman turns into some kind of spider-monster demon/angel with horns and a halo and wings and rips Mitch out of a flying airplane in a quest to claim his soul for her side. Mitch kills the monster, but he dies via a good old fashioned trip through the airplane engine skrunntch-er upper. Don’t worry, he comes back, this time with water powers, so he can be pursued in the next issue by the Body Doubles, who seem to be working for the guy downstairs.
The whole being pursued by angels and demons reminds me of my favorite book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. As far as associations go, this is a big winner, so even though I’m only two issues in at this point, I think I’m going to like the series overall. We’ll see how it goes.
….So I made it through the first trade, which contains issues 1-7. Issues 1-5 are all about establishing the character and the people coming after him. Issue one starts off strong, and then 2-5 get a bit too cheesecake-y for my tastes. It turns out the BD team wasn’t working for the guy downstairs, but worse–the government. Then, after issue five, Resurrection Man starts popping up in the DCU proper, including a stay in Arkham Asylum and a visit to the Metropolis library. In Arkham, Mitch gets the nickname Deathwish, due to him wanting to activate a new powerset. From the prison guard and inmate point of view, he just looks suicidal. It makes for a bit of morbid fun.
Then in volume 2, he has a run in with the Suicide Squad for a quickie crossover. He gets some really cool powers in the second trade including turning into living medal and gaining shadow powers. That’s the real part of this book that makes it shine. The creators are telling a pretty standard story: Former government agent fights to regain his memories and solve some problem from his past before he can move forward. He picks up a new sidekick/love interest along the way and comes full circle with some of the characters we met in the first volume.
I spent a fair amount of time before we got into the books themselves singing praises, unfortunately I spoke too soon. This is one of those titles that could be a great series; heck, it could make for an awesome basic cable super hero show, but the execution of the comic is a letdown.
My first grievance: the cheesecake. Fernando Dagnino, the only artist listed for the first trade, draws beautiful but totally exploitative female characters. He just doesn’t draw them the same way twice. In the first issue, either Dagnino or the colorist who was assigned to cover up for him, demonstrates he doesn’t understand how plaid skirts work when he introduces the Body Doubles, two very attractive women who are sent to collect Resurrection Man. Then, for the next four issues, he continues to draw the same skirt differently every time. In my younger days, I spent quite a bit of time frustrated by the appearance of plaid skirts, but never like this. The fact that the Body Doubles duo are such blatant cheesecake-y characters would have had me tuning out on this series if I hadn’t already bought in. That doesn’t stop me from feeling skeevy in the issue with the fight between pretty plaid skirt lady (her name is Carmen, but that’s not how you’d know her) and Resurrection Man (with rock powers!) that treats the reader to down-blouse and up skirt shots during the fight scene. Plaid skirt lady is later revealed to be a former adult industry worker turned military vet turned science experiment. It’s schlocky and in poor taste, and in all honesty, something I might not have been as harsh on when it was published or in my younger days. Now, maybe it’s the world climate, or maybe it’s me being older and wiser, but it’s just gross and getting in the way of an otherwise fun story. I think DC must have realized this, too, as it was toned down immensely in later issues. By the second trade, they move away from the cheesecakey-ness and give folks more classic superhero/military uniforms, but the damage was done by that point.
The inconsistent art on this book definitely holds it back. Fernando Dagnino is something I’m still deciding on. Some pages have a sketchy quality that works and reminds me of some of the late 80’s pre-Vertigo style art. Then others, it looks like peoples’ faces are rubber masks that have melted just a bit.
Still, you have pages that look like they were ripped out of a Terry Dodson book only it’s by Dagnino. Had the whole book been one style or another, it would have been solid. The inconsistency on the other hand is almost as frustrating as the skirts.
On one hand, I feel like posting examples is letting the terrorists win, on the other hand, I want to reward Andy if he’s made it this far into the article.
Later on, they started farming out cover duties to the likes of Rafael Albuquerque and Francisco Francavilla–and I can’t help thinking about how much better this series would be if one of those two held the interior art duties. I understand there’s a reason why those guys are on covers only and not every page, but the interiors just don’t measure up. By the time the second trade rolled around, the artist duties started flopping about to people like Jesus Saiz, Ramon Bachs, Javier Pina…it’s just never a good sign when artist duties shift like that.
The End Result:
Resurrection Man is a cool idea, undone by poor artistic execution. The story is satisfying enough on its own that I’d still consider it an OK read, but the art is so inconsistent (and occasionally insulting) that I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. It’s definitely bargain bin material. Had Abnett and Lanning been able to procure an artistic team of a higher quality, I could see this book going on in perpetuity and being the inspiration for at least a mid-tier Agents of Shield level franchise. Maybe this will be resurrected again down the line at the next big DC relaunch and given its proper due. Until then, back to the bargain bin. Grade C.
Until next time,
My blogs will remain the ones searching through the bargain bins for the next big thing!