(Apologies for the lack of updates lately, yet again, but…day job and all that. However, there should be something big in the pipeline!)
As the Internet’s foremost scholar of Chaos! Comics, finding this gem in my comics pull list was a historical moment for me. I missed Chaos! as a prime source of unapologetic schlock since the plug was pulled and the blood spigot was shut off in 2002. True, there have been a few independent comic publishers that have catered toward camp in their own ways, but none had that je ne sais quoi, that feeling of being the sort of company you’d run with your old college friends who were all into D&D and Type O Negative (and I mean that as a compliment!), like Chaos! did in its prime.
I know I can’t be the only interested in seeing Chaos! come back, because not counting the various Lady Death series published by Avatar and Boundless, this is actually the second shot at a Chaos! revival. The ill-fated first one was launched by Devil’s Due in 2005, with several miniseries released starring a few major Chaos! characters. Although it had some big names associated with it, including Alan Grant (my own favorite underappreciated scribe for the Batman franchise) writing Evil Ernie in Santa Fe, it didn’t lead to anything lasting. Now, about nine years later, we have another attempt by Dynamite Comics, this time in the form of one universe-building miniseries and written by Tim Seeley of Hack/Slash fame. Honestly, just based on the horror homage-rich Hack/Slash alone, I can’t think of anyone in the industry today more suited to spearhead a Chaos! revival.
Picking up after Dynamite’s earlier Evil Ernie series (although knowing the events of that series are not necessary here, except for fully understanding one small bit of dialogue), we meet Gallows, a werewolf who has gathered together a group of young people empowered or changed by occult forces. They’re on a perpetual mission to take out malicious “unusual” beings whose murderous activities threaten to bring down the wrath of the US government and “the straights” on all supernaturals, even the ones just trying to live their lives (or “lives”, as the case may be). The latest target of Gallows and his “chosen” is the vampire goddess Purgatori, who is holed up in Las Vegas, “enjoying” the young women gathered by her minions. In Texas, while intercepting one of Purgatori’s shipments they rescue an insane young woman calling herself Vex. During a fight between the “chosen” and Purgatori’s unwilling assassin Chastity, Vex imparts on all present a vision where an undead serial killer, christened “Evil Ernie” by urban legend, has unleashed a zombie apocalypse that will eradicate humanity, all at the behest of a mysterious woman. Overwhelmed by the vision and its implications, Gallows declares that they must abandon their mission to stop Purgatori in order to destroy Evil Ernie instead, not knowing that their new enemy is already following his own visions of a woman calling him…
Whatever you thought of Chaos! – and I’ll admit there are plenty of comics bloggers who would find my own fixation on the company perplexing (especially since, to say the least, I’m not a boob man) – overall I would recommend this to even people who don’t have the pull of nostalgia tugging at them. The art manages to be rough and stylistic without being too abstract for the narrative to be clear, while capturing with precision the gritty horror/urban dark fantasy feel Seeley is clearly aiming for. Even the cheesecake factor manages to not be quite as excessive as you may expect a Chaos! homage to be, which for some of you might not be a point in its favor. As with Hack/Slash, Seeley’s dialogue is crisp and painted with true love for the genre. You really feel as if you are in a world where the supernatural does manage to be both pervasive and yet hidden just underneath the surface, with slang like “groupies” (for a vampire’s minions) and references to Internet chatter about the activities of Evil Ernie. I do think Seeley made a bit of a misstep in trying to introduce too much too fast; of the Chaos! alumni we see here, all at once we get Purgatori, Leonard Price, Evil Ernie (with Smiley the Psychotic Button, natch), Morgan Gallows and all the members of the Omen (although they’re not called that, not yet anyway), Chastity, and to a lesser extent the woman who is totally not supposed to be Lady Death. I wasn’t expecting a member-by-member roll call like you usually get with the first issues of superhero team books, but the number of characters being introduced, even for someone who does know the Chaos! originals quite well, was a tad distracting. Still, this is just a nitpick in what I actually found to be a strong opening salvo that left me in anticipation of how else Seeley might reinterpret Chaos!
Granted, as with so many things I doubt it’s possible for anyone to recreate whatever chance conjunction of cultural climate and creative hoodoo that spawned Chaos! and its successes in the first place. Even Brian Pulido, Chaos!’s own Stan Lee in more ways than one, lost quite a bit of that magic in the company’s final years. And on another point, unlike original recipe Chaos!, Seeley’s writing, with all due respect to Mr. Pulido, is more…polished than what you probably experienced reading Evil Ernie: Revenge or Lady Death: The Oddysey back in those halcyon days when AOL discs all but literally rained from the heavens and the music on the radio didn’t always suck. Depending on what you got out of Chaos! back then, that might actually be a detriment. Still, this is Seeley taking these characters, whatever you make of their original stories, and bringing new perspectives on their own unique mythos. I have high hopes for this reboot, and clearly Dynamite does too, since they’re already soliciting a Chastity solo series. So, in the meantime, I say…welcome back, fiends!