Sunday, May 27, 2007

Neo-pulp and magic - Helmet of Fate miniseries

Hi friends. Gabriel here with a quickie entry about the role of magic (or magicK as some silly pagans have you believe)in this wonderful world of pulp.

It's unavoidable. From secret profane societies worshipping a foul entity, to heroes like Mandrake and Dr. Strange casting cantrips and engaging in rituals to save our souls magic has been a vital element in many pulp stories.

In this entry, I'll discuss the Helmet of Fate series which was published by DC Comics, a company known to respect the history of their characters. Many of which are deeply rooted in pulp history.

I've always been fond of magic and the occult in comics. Wizards, priests, demons, ghost hunters. I love it. You can have your stupid cybernetically enhanced heroes, telekinetic bimbos and aliens. Me? I'll take the guy who can wave a finger and zap a monster into a puddle of primordial muck.

Anyway, during the Day of Vengeance storyline in DC, the Spectre (God's Angel of Wrath/Punishment/whatever) has, up to that time, been without a human host. A host is needed to control the Spectre's fury as he metes out particularly brutal vengeance against the worst sinners. Getting back, during the DoV story the Spectre was manipulated by God's former Angel of Wrath, Eclipso. The Spectre went on a crazed rampage killing off magic users in the DC universe. It took the death of Doctor Fate to get God's attention so he can step in to deal with this mounting mystical crisis. He bound the Spectre's essence to a dead cop to teach him a lesson in humility, compassion etc.

Btw, I'm reading the miniseries with the Spectre now and I gotta say, the big green ghost ain't learning his lessons.

But getting back before I lose myself, Doctor Fate's soul is sent back to the afterworld and a new Age of Magic begins in DC. The good Doctor's helmet is all that's left of him. The decision is made to toss the helmet and let it lay where it falls. Whoever finds the helmet will harness the magical powers of the new Age of Magic and be the new Doctor Fate. It's tossed into space by Captain Marvel whose magically enhanced power is so strong, the helmet passes through many dimensions until it hits the LITERAL EDGE of the universe and rebounds back. As the helmet flies back, it apparently gathers power. Recharging itself as it were.

It finally lands on Earth and smacks the Detective Chimp knocking the poor guy out. The chimp regains consciousness and uses the helmet to solve all sorts of crimes. Eventually he discovers that for all the good he does with the helmet, there are more problems that come with it and he becomes swamped in trying solve them. He gives the helmet a great kick, a dimensional aperture opens and it disappears. This was an entertaining story with great humor and action. What does one expect from a talking monkey who's a better detective than Batman? Incidentally, the Chimp can be found in the title Shadowpact. Another great supernatural/action comic.

The helmet then appears in Ibis the Invincible. Young Danny Khalifa, using the newfound powers as an avatar of benevolent Egyptian gods, prevents the helmet from being used by Set. A decent story with great old school art. The detail on the Egyptian gods is simply amazing. I think this character is going to have great potential.

The helmet turns up in Zauriel. Another one of God's Angels of War (at least that's the title according to Jack_of_Spades from City of Heroes) who willingly gave up his immortality to save humanity. A very intriguing and wholly spiritual character, Zauriel was utterly wasted in this story.

He's informed of the helmet's fate (no pun) and flies off to locate it and prevent an alien vampire from abusing its power.
Someone as powerful as an angel should be put in a story which is on more epic scale. Great art though.

I know I'm skipping head but I'm saving the best for last...

Now onto Black Alice. Interesting character, horrible story. Black Alice is a young woman who has the power to temporarily rob the powers of other magic users. Also, she's a cool looking goth chick. Ahh, how I miss gothing it up in the 90s. Shame that the scene is filled with fucking emo bitches, vampire freaks and S&M pervs. I'm pleased to see that Gail Simone didn't stereotype Alice as how other comic writers and TV tend to do with those in the goth subculture, but I can't help but get the feeling Simone could've done more with Alice's choice of subculture. At least Alice wasn't emo and whine. The story in fact is quite bland and boring. The helmet teaches Alice how to be responsible for herself. Yawn. I don't recommend it. Sorry Gail, you may be a hottie but this story SUCKED.

And now, the piece de resistance!

Somehow the helmet appears in Sargon the Sorcerer. Now THIS was an issue I **REALLY** enjoyed. The art was incredible, the story of how David Sargent inherited his grandfather's legacy and power was well done. The art had a distinct pulp look to it. The colors are dark yet muted, the inking thick and moody. He stumbles across the Ruby of Life, which his grandfather possessed and was told of his destiny. Using his new magic, he dealt with two humans-turned-demon who tried to bilk him out of his grandfather's estate. The way he deals with the two wizards is amusing and horrifying.

How cool does he look?! His looks SCREAMS pulp. Everything is perfect. Except for the star on his forehead. Out of all of the Helmet of Fate one shots, he has the most promise. The pulp influence is very obvious in this. Gotta love the non-reflective black cloth and the dark red aura.

Here's my ranking of them from best to worst
  • Sargon - Great art, great origin, great story.
  • Ibis - Great art, a weak origin but great a story about the war of gods.
  • Chimp - A humor issue, it was fun seeing the Chimp with powers but I expected more magic.
  • Zauriel - A great spiritual character (something hardly seen in DC or Marvel nowadays) but a crap-tacular sci-fi story holds him back.
  • Black Alice - A fun character with a great power but a fucking DULL and DRAB USELESS STORY.
For my next entry, I will review the Manhunter collection written by Archie Goodwin.

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