War on Flesh vol. 1
Chad Clayton rates it:
Author/Artist: Justin Boring, Greg Hildebrandt/Tim Smith 3
“This epic, cutting edge, live action horror romp is a saucy mixture of Akira and Return of the Living Dead.”
The preceding text is the caption for the Google entry of the War on Flesh website. Granted, it’s nothing but ad-copy glurge, but it’s pretty ill-considered nonetheless. “Epic” and “cutting-edge” are standard-to-the-point-of-cliché buzzwords found in advertisements, but it also claims the comic is “live-action.” Not to be a smartass, but how exactly is that possible? But what really grabs my eye is the comparisons to Akira and Return of the Living Dead. Wow. I don’t know who wrote that, but someone’s paying this comic one hell of a compliment. It takes a certain kind of audacity to place the work you’re pushing on the same level as some pretty important touchstones in their respective genres. War on Flesh does appear to aspire to the same level as the above works, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to have any clue on how to go about it.
The events in War on Flesh are not attached to any one character or occurrence, so much as it follows how some Haitian witch doctor named Ew Chott Channy started a curse decades ago called the War on Flesh, and how Jean-Tois, the person who will bring it about in modern times, was brought back from the dead by voodoo, demon summoning, and undead hornets (I AM SERIOUS). As you can probably guess, this is a comic about voodoo and zombies, and all the clichés those things entail.
War on Flesh is an ambitious story, and that ambition almost instantly begins contributing to its undoing. It wants to encompass the history of the curse and all that, but the end result reads like a catalogue of horror-movie clichés stuffed into a blender and whipped at high speed. So much plot is being stuffed into so little space, that the exposition turns into a rote relaying of events than a genuine explanation of what’s happening because of who and why. The characters are mostly cardboard cutouts whose behavior borders on the ridiculous, and the story’s horror elements are scarier in concept than they are in their overdone execution. I personally find the very idea of the occult and demon summoning both appalling and terrifying, but as done here, it comes off as dull and mechanical. To give you an idea of how the story hamstrings itself with its own histrionics, War on Flesh‘s idea of “scary” human behavior involves flailing arms, evil smiles, maniacal laughter, and optional vomiting, which is essentially all Ew Chott Channy is. The evil characters, as well as the scene where nominal protagonist Sergot loses his mind, are so over-the-top that they’re frankly ridiculous. In one scene, Sergot kills a priest because…well, because he’s lost his mind and killing a priest proves that, I guess. So it is with the rest of the book. The shock factor takes precedence over whether or not something makes sense, and the bad guys do evil things because, well, they’re evil!
Despite its rather detailed cover, War on Flesh isn’t really that impressive to look at. It has this bizarre, monochromatic light/shadow art style that doesn’t allow for much detail, and sometimes renders it hard to tell what’s going on. The characters aren’t really very expressive, and there were times when I had to pause from reading just so I could figure out exactly what was happening in a panel. My exposure to Tim Smith 3’s artwork has been limited, but I’ve seen enough to know that he’s capable of much better than this. The artwork is kind of ugly, which may be intentional in keeping with the ugliness of zombies and everything, but it’s not ugly in a really compelling way.
War on Flesh isn’t really scary or disturbing at all, unless you have issues with heavy occult themes. If that’s not something you want to deal with for whatever reason, I’d recommend staying away from War on Flesh, which is swimming in them. That’s not to say that there’s anyone I would recommend it to: it’s a dull read that’s too ridiculous to be truly scary. Out of all the so-called OEL that TOKYOPOP has sent our way, this has the most tenuous connection to Asian comics: the only real similarity is that it’s in black and white. Stylistically, it’s just a cut-rate American comic for people who thinks zombies are cooler than sliced bread. Zombie horror stories aren’t inherently worthless; the best ones (like, say, Dawn of the Dead) had some unsettling things to say about humanity, and other notable ones were at least stylish or entertaining. Unfortunately, War on Flesh doesn’t think nearly as hard or concentrate nearly as much on style as the highlights of its genre. It’s too preoccupied just trying to do its most basic premise correctly. It’s of little value to anyone who doesn’t start drooling at the thought of zombies staggering around. Or guys chopping off their own huevos. Seriously, who thought that would be a good scene for the comic?
Added: Monday, March 27, 2006
Related Link: TOKYOPOP