Survivors’ Club 1-6
Art: Ryan Kelly
Writing: Lauren Beukes and Dale Halverson
Covers: Bill Sienkiewicz
If you’ve kept up with non-superhero comics in the past few years, you know the High Concept Kids, that IP-obsessed band of visitors using comics as barely disguised pitches for movies or TV shows. Survivor’s Club isn’t quite that, but it ain’t quite quill, either. The story is halfway between the High Concept and the mash-up: six survivors of adolescent horror movie trauma gather to discover that the Past Isn’t Past. The tribute to B-horror is the biggest draw here, but there are enough smart inversions and twists on well-worn tropes to sustain interest. A young boy suspecting his attractive neighbor of seducing and killing victims doesn’t find a Fright Night vampire, but a ravenous insect queen who turns him into a walking hive. Girls live alongside J-horror vengeance spirits and killer dolls, carrying them into adulthood. And in the story’s loopiest thread, a South African gamer finds that the Polybius-like haunted arcade game that destroyed her childhood is still alive and searching rebirth on the internet.
The unwilling horror superteam gathers, its members slowly revealing their past traumas to one another and meandering through investigations while tertiary characters die with clues on their lips: this is definitely Decompression Comics with a Hellblazer overlay. The characters are stock so far: the Ahab, the Skeptic, the Tough Girl, the Two-Bit Con (Media Age Flavor). Only Alice, who shares an empathetic bond with her twin killer doll, whose cheerful vindictiveness suggests she might be the evil one of the two, brings something new to this group. The delight the book takes in her Rhoda Penmark creepiness, and the color of the background stories compared to the spiritless modern scenes suggest that maybe the whole book should’ve been set in 1987. Ryan Kelly’s art is solid and can achieve something more when breaking through the oppressive normalcy of the tan-and-grey Vertigo style: the haunted arcade game’s hallucinogenic madness represented through an Adventure Time/Super Mario style fusion, the elongated shadow body of Kiri’s vengeance spirit “Auntie.” That’s the story of this book: when the team lets the weirdness bleed into reality, there’s some great stuff happening. When they’re building the plot, it’s another procedural. Here’s to hoping that now that the introductions are finished, the world’s gonna fall off its axis.
Kundo: Age of the Rampant
Director: Yoon Jong-bin
This 2014 period martial arts epic has a lot going for it, from the dizzying way it moves from wide shots to close-quarters fighting, to its unrelenting fierceness. But a week later, what still stands out to me is the vast physical gulf between the rugged, scarred hero Dochi and Uncanny Valley beautiful villain Jo-yoon. I mean, just look at these guys.
Jo-yoon is a fearsome, expert warrior, so reading his effeminate grace and vague sexual orientation as a criticism of the corrupt government he represents seems off. He’s distinguished from the tradition, male bureaucrats he unseats and expends by his cruelty; they’re merely corrupt. Closer to the mark is Dochi the lowly butcher as vengeful hero of the peasantry, especially his gleeful castration of government officials’ topknots. But Jo-yoon could have been in his place. As the illegitimate son of an emperor and a prostitute, his resentment at the royal family who buys him and later shuns him in favor of a true heir drives his perfection of martial skills and his barbarism, which he visits on both the peasantry and his family.
Both characters undermine any definitive answer about the other. Dochi’s savage fighting style isn’t the lower-class solution to Jo-yoon’s amoral perfection; often his recklessness gets him hurt, requiring aid from the bandit clan he falls into. His literal hard-headedness is a plot point. Jo-yoon’s cruel exploitation of the peasantry isn’t motivated by his painful circumstances alone; Dochi, as an outcast even among the poor, has just as much reason to turn from society, and ends up the hero of a bandit community drawn from all social strata. For characters set in opposition, Dochi’s not even the one who strikes the killing blow on Jo-yoon. That honor goes to a group of normal peasants, finally revolt thanks to the endlessness of their misery and Dochi’s fearsome example, who stab Jo-yoon from behind while he’s locked in battle with Dochi. If the film has an answer, it’s that the impact you have on the people around you is insurmountable, and no sympathy is necessary for anyone who ignores that.
-Joel La Puma