Friday, May 11, 2018

Spirits of Vengeance (2017) # 2

Cover Artist: Dan Mora
Published: January 2018
Original Price: $3.99

Title: "War at the Gates of Hell, Part 2"
Writer: Victor Gischler
Artist: David Baldeon
Letterer: Cory Petit
Colorist: Andres Mossa
Editor: Chris Robinson
Editor-in-Chief: Axel Alonso

SYNOPSIS
Daimon Hellstrom, Johnny Blaze, and Blade are in an occult bookstore owned by one of Hellstrom's contacts named Eduardo, where Daimon has found a book he needed for research.  Eduardo tells them that Blaze has to stay with him, and when Hellstrom refuses Eduardo and the shop patrons transform into demons.  Hellstrom, Blade, and Ghost Rider easily destroy all of the demons except for Eduardo, who during an interrogation tells them that someone wanted possession of Blaze and the silver bullet he's carrying.  While Eduardo didn't know the name of the person who ordered the bounty, the message was delivered by Razan the Night Jackal, who said the bounty must be delivered by tomorrow night.  This leads Daimon to surmise that the plot involves the Covenant.
Cover Artist: Guiseppe Camuncoli

Meanwhile, inside an active volcano in Mexico, the sorcerer Necrodamus meets with an Asgardian dwarf that is forging a weapon made from the pieces of silver.  The dwarf tells Necrodamus that he needs all of the pieces for the weapon to reach its full potential, which the sorcerer assures will be in their hands shortly.  Back at Hellstrom's home, he uses the book he got from the shop to tell Blaze and Blade about the Covenant, a meeting that is held every thousand years between Heaven and Hell to discuss the rules of engagement for their eternal war.  During the Covenant neither side can make a move against the other, their meeting place considered a demilitarized zone; to do otherwise would mean "mutually assured destruction" for both sides.  Hellstrom then explains that the silver piece in Blaze's possession is one of the thirty pieces of silver given to Judas for his betrayal of Christ.

While Razan eliminates two of the beings that Hellstrom visited to inquire about the silver, Daimon goes to Indiana to recruit another person to his side.  His sister, Satana, interrupts a cult sacrifice and sends the souls of the cultists to Hell, but is amazed when Daimon shows her the silver.  Meanwhile, Necrodamus has a visit to his desert hideout from several men in business suits.  He takes them inside where he has several angels strung upside down by their ankles.  He produces a futuristic gun, and when the angels say they will simply be born again if they are shot, Necrodamus proves them wrong by executing them with the silver bullets.  The business men transform into demons and tell Necrodamus that he has Hell's full attention.

ANNOTATIONS
This issue was released with a variant cover by Guiseppe Gamuncoli.

Podcast Review: Inner Demons Episode 17 - "Hanging Out in a Bookstore With Blade" (Click to Listen)

REVIEW
Blade and Satana join the Spirits of Vengeance in this second issue of the mini-series, which is struggling to reach its point.

Since I honestly don't have a lot of positive things to say about the story in this issue, I'm going to go ahead and skip to a discussion of the artwork.  Don't worry, I'll get to the story in a bit, I just want to talk about something happy before I get mired in mediocrity.  A lot of fans that I've talked to had a big problem with David Baldeon's artwork in this series, and at first I was in agreement.  It wasn't so much "bad" as "ill-fitting for this type of story"; but after a few re-reads I think I've come around to really liking what Baldeon is doing.  His artwork is really bright and clean despite all the heavy, dark stuff that's being thrown around, but god damn does it have energy and motion to it.  He has a really divisive design for Ghost Rider, and I don't think it works very well even though I can see what he's going for (making him skeletal to the point where his jacket hangs off of him).  The shoulder pads are the biggest problem, with the spikes protruding everywhere, but it's not THAT radical of a redesign. Look at how that cat draws Ghost Riders flames, though!  They're this consuming, enveloping force whenever the Rider is on panel, and it looks amazing.  He uses a similar effect for Satana's introduction, and I think it's fantastic. 

Unfortunately, while Baldeon does get to draw some pretty great action sequences bookending the issue, they're ultimately inconsequential scenes.  That's the heart of the problem of this comic, it's two fight pieces sandwiching a lot of talking heads delivering exposition like there's no tomorrow.  Even worse, with all of the exposition that's being thrown at the reader there's still not much in the way of answers.  How can characters talk THIS MUCH at one another and still only drip-feed vague plot points?  Gischler is at least trying to make it a mystery, and I appreciate that, he's just not making the investigation side of things very interesting to read.

Another problem is the way the titular "Spirits of Vengeance" are being assembled.  Ghost Rider and Hellstrom have a reason for being involved, but Blade and now Satana are given introductions with no explanation for why they're in this series to begin with.  Given the way he was brought in at the end of last issue, one would have expected Blade to do something important or at least noteworthy in this issue, but no.  He just hangs around in the book store and drinks some coffee, which tells you how lackadaisical the sense of urgency is to the story.  Even when the dialogue gives a deadline of two days for the heroes to stop what's coming, they still spend more time bumming around in Hellstrom's basement than anything else. 

This isn't a totally wasted effort, the action scenes are well-paced and well-drawn, and there is at least some sort of building mystery.  I just wish it was more interesting, right now now it's barely holding my attention.

Grade: C