Friday, November 6, 2009

Deathlok, the Demolisher: Issue 1
November 2009


I remember seeing the issues of Marvel’s ‘Astonishing Tales’ featuring the original ‘Deathlok, the Demolisher’ on the comic stands in the mid-70s. In a near-future USA ruled by corporate entities, a soldier named Luther Manning is killed and reconstituted as a cyborg by one Simon Ryker. While Ryker envisions using Deathlok to carry out corporate dirty work, Manning soon rebels and enters into a one-man campaign to bring down the evil forces ruling the country.

The Deathlok concept was obviously inspired by the Martin Caidin ‘Cyborg’ SF novels of the early 70s and the debut in 1973 of several successive television movies, titled the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’, based on the books. In January 1974 the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ series began, and was a ratings hit for the remainder of the year.



The Bronze Age of Blogs has a detailed post on the Deathlok of the 70s.

Marvel revived the character, and gave Deathlok his own series, at intervals during the 90s. But this current ‘Marvel Knights’ iteration of Deathlok (projected to be 7 issues) is a standalone approach that does not continue the earlier series storyline.

So how does “Deathlok, the Demolisher’ issue 1 (November 2009) fare ?

The cover illustration by Brandon Peterson is certainly well done. The interior art, by Lan Medina, is reasonably good. The script is by Charlie Huston.

Huston has decided to employ the cliché of a future world where wars are outlawed, and combat between teams of mercenaries decides ‘geopolitical differences’. The twist is that these combats are televised to a rapt public who regards them as a sanguinary combination of ‘American Idol’ and the Ultimate Fighting Championships.

Captain Luther Manning helms the ‘Roxxon Rockers’.


 
The opening book in the series shows us a vicious, to-the-death bout between the Rockers and the Brand Corporation ‘Battle Breakers’. But in a nice bit of caustic humor, before the title bout unfolds, the viewership is treated to a minor league contest between African ‘boy-soldiers’  :




 
  
I won't divulge any spoilers, but I will say that the battle between the Roxxon Rockers and the Brand Corp. Battle Breakers features some encounters with particular importance to the future of our hero, Captain Manning.

This new incarnation of 'Deathlok, the Demolisher' left me with mixed feelings. The art is good, although the monochrome tones used to color the battle scenes tends to make the action confusing and difficult to follow at times. 


Huston's script really doesn't bring anything truly novel to the character's origins, and at times the story is hampered by Huston's insistence on littering too many panels with too many dialogue balloons - some  utilizing differently-colored fonts to indicate the observations of the three TV studio personalities providing color commentary on the action. 


This is a common problem with many contemporary comics; instilled with the Intro to Creative Writing mantra of 'showing, not telling', too many writers shy from placing overarching narrative text boxes within their layouts, preferring instead to try and communicate plot points through ancillary dialogue. The limited page-length format of comic books, as opposed to novels or other lengthy texts,  forces the reader to laboriously try and piece together the backstory from fragments of speech balloons littered throughout the book.

Issue 1 ends on an inconclusive note, but you can't judge a series from its first issue, so I'm willing to pick up the next installment to see what develops. Hopefully the plot will break some new ground for a favorite character from the 70s..... ?

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