In addition to reading horror novels like Stage Fright (and many more to come) and falling down the It’s All Connected 2020 rabbit hole, I’m also doing my best to read through some of the spookier comics I have access to. I feel very lucky to have my entire comic collection all in one place, but also some nice shelves my dad and I built in thee garage so I can actually get to them! With that in mind and in the spirit of not going out because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, I’ve gone through my existing comics, my trade shelf and even my To Read boxes and pulled out a huge pile of comics I want to read! Let’s see how that goes!
Along with Battle Chasers and Danger Girl, the third comic to bow from WildStorm’s Cliffhanger imprint was none other than Crimson, a vampire saga written by Brian Augustyn and drawn by none other than Humberto Ramos. I know Battle Chasers and Danger Girl were the big titles coming out of Cliffhanger, but Crimson was the one I glommed onto. I read the first few issues of DG, but couldn’t afford to keep up with that and all my other books, so I dropped it. I believe I read every issue of Crimson, but getting to the end of the fourth volume and the end of the story, I didn’t remember as much.
The basic story is that this teenager Alex is driving through Central Park with his friends when a vampire gang attacks. His friends get killed and Alex gets turned. He becomes a vampire, an ancient being named Ekimus tells him he’s the chosen one and he makes friends with a Mexican vampire named Joe. From there things get even crazier. For a full-on crazy review, hit the jump.
The first trade focuses on Alex adjusting to his new life. He’s got to give up his family and his girlfriend gets caught up in his new life. He gets vengeance on the vampires who turned him. We also meet a young woman named Scarlet who s part of a group called the Red Hoods which hunt down vampires, werewolves, demons and other monsters. We’re also introduced to Senator Van Fleet, another vampire who employs Alex’s dad and a cop who turns out to be the reincarnation of St. George the Dragon Slayer.
The next volumes broaden the spectrum of the story, by introducing all kinds of religious and mythological characters. The Christian idea of God comes into play, there’s angels, werewolves, Templar knights, Eden, the queen of the vampires and dragons.
Looking back, I think Crimson might have been the first limited series I ever read. Everything else I was reading at the time was ongoing superhero stuff. Seeing as how the neverending superhero idea is what I was used to, I don’t think I was prepared for how crazy Crimson got so fast. By the end of the second year, you’ve got all these ideas about Alex being the chosen one, defending the trod-upon demons and monsters of the world and fighting against the Church’s assassins. Soon enough, you’ve got dragons overrunning New York City and Lisseth, mother of all vampires, trying to destroy all living things so that neither heaven nor hell will have anything to rule over.
I’m a bit conflicted on how to review this series. I really liked reading it, but there’s a lot of nostalgia behind it. The dialogue slips way into Silver Age “let’s explain EVERYTHING we’re doing and recap EVERYTHING that came before in the book” which can come off as tired and stale. It’s annoying, but it’s not a dealbreaker for me. There’s also echoes of Buffy, but the two things were kind of happening at the same time. There aren’t even that many crossovers or references to Buffy (you do get X-Files, Friends and NYPD Blue references though in the issues), but it’s hard to think of any late-90s vampire without thinking of Buffy. Consider this Buffy if it was starring a teenage vampire and done by the BBC with a lot more religion involved.
Also, the originality of this book depends on what you’ve read coming in. See, for me, this was the first piece of fiction that addressed the Knights Templar, the idea of multiple chosen ones living at the same time (I got really sick of the chosen one concept eventually) and especially the idea that agents of the Church were actually persecuting innocent demons who weren’t hurting anyone. To me, at the time, these were all very novel concepts. Now, I feel like I’ve seen all of them thanks to watching hundreds of freaking horror movies and reading my fair share of limited series comics.
Having read all of this one a relatively brief sitting, I will definitely say that I enjoyed Crimson as a whole. While Augustyn’s writing got tedious at times, Ramos’ art stayed amazing throughout the entire series. And think about this, not only do you get to see regular doses of vampire, but also werewolf, dragons, angels, demons and even an alien or two (in crowd shots). I haven’t read a ton of Ramos’ comics, but I freaking loved what he did on these books (though I wish the borders would have been a little interesting than just solid colors, but whatever). For horror fans, the way the blood is penciled, inked and colored is proabably the best I’ve ever seen in any comic book. I have no idea how easy it is to get these trades. I got them on Sequential Swap, though there was nothing easy about that. Plus, just check out the cool designs for the trades. Even though I usually like some kind of uniformity in my trade designs, I like how amazingly different these covers were designed. You’ll just have to wait for someone else to scan the backs or buy your own to see how the themes were continued on the back.
So, if you’re looking for a vampire story without sparkles or too much relationship drama, then you should do what you can to dig up Crimson issues or trades. Danger Girl kind of trailed off and I don’t think Battle Chasers ever ended, so I think Crimson is your best bet when it comes from the world of Cliffhanger, though I would love to read some of Chris Bachalo’s Steampunk. I even followed him on to Out There, but I have no idea if that book ever ended because I was in college at the time and reading my books in awkward bursts. Give it a shot if you’re game, if nothing else, the art is of the highest quality throughout!
I had a revelation while watching Over The Top (1987) this weekend: Sylvester Stallone really is a good actor. In addition to his obvious bad assery, I found myself feeling bad for the big galoot as he struggled with dealing with his son. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, I’ve seen a surprising amount of Stallone movies this pass year including Death Race 2000, First Blood, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Over The Top, Tango and Cash (how did I not blog about those three?), Cliffhanger and Rambo. I’ve also seen most of the Rocky movies in my days, but need to rewatch them, Cop Land and, as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t wait for The Expendables. Two of those I’ve watched recently, so let’s jump in, shall we?
A few weeks back I had some free time on the weekend (I came down with a crazy cold while we were trying to paint our bathroom, I swear) and decided to give Cliffhanger (1993) on Netflix Instant Watch. I got so into it that Em, who was graciously finishing the painting while I slowly turned into a snot machine, heard me yelling at the TV and was about to yell at me for playing video games while she was working until she came in to see me on the edge of my seat.
See, the thing is that THEY’RE ON THE SIDE OF A MOUNTAIN. Sure there’s actors, stuntmen, matte painting and other special effects, but this is before cheap CGI, so someone was actually on a mountain and you can feel that danger. I don’t know if it was unconscious or not because it popped into my head right away “Woah, that’s high up, someone had to actually do that,” but I definitely felt it the whole time. Just try and tell me this isn’t intense:
I’d never seen the movie, so it held a lot of surprises for me, especially when it came to the cast. I pretty much only knew that Stallone and the girl from Northern Exposure (Janine Turner) were in it. I had no idea John Lithgow, Michael Rooker and the cop from CSI Miami (Rex Linn) were all in it. You gotta love Lithgow as a villain.
The thing that surprised me about both of these Stallone movies is how much deeper the story is than you’d expect. With Cliffhanger, you’d just expect it to be dudes on a mountain making other dudes find their lost money, but instead you’ve got all this backstory between Stallone and Rooker and Stallone and Turner. The same goes for Over The Top, which I picked up at Best Buy for $5 last week even though I’d never seen it before. It’s not JUST the Stallone arm wrestling movie. He’s also dealing with his 10-year-old kid who he’s never met before (played by David Mendenhall, the voice of Daniel Witwicky in Transformers), the kid’s sick mom, her dad (played by Lost Highway’s Robert Loggia!) and a bunch of dudes in tank tops at the arm wrestling championship.
Of course, it comes with its fair share of ridiculousness too. Stallone’s a truck driver and one of the prizes for the American arm wrestling championship just so happens to be a big rig. Exactly what he needs. Huh, go figure. There’s also a whole series of scenes in which his son steels a car, drive it to the airport, gives it to a security guard, flies to Las Vegas, avoids his grandpa’s goons (one of which, I’m pretty sure played a goon in Road House, the one with the curly hair) and makes his way to the arm wrestling championships all while his dad is in the middle of the competition. Crazy! How does he do this? Were credit cards even around back then? It’s like they tried to throw a little Home Alone in the middle of this action movie, it’s great. You’ve also got a great series of weirdos he has to arm wrestle (all of whom are much, MUCH bigger than him.
But, yeah, of course the best moments involve Stallone being a badass:
If you can’t get behind this kind of awesomeness, I pity you.
Two more quick things. One, the movie was so rad that it earned itself an action figure line back in 1986 with real arm wrestling action! I very much wish I could find a commercial online for this, but as the basic video search I did on YouTube brought nothing, click through to this Virtual Toy Chest link, you’ll be doing yourself a service my friend.
And second, just try and tell me that this painted image of Stallone, arm extended with a truck and a hawk behind him isn’t cooler than anything you’ve seen in the past 13 years. Bazinga!