Comics on the Can – Hammerlocke #7 (1993)

GameStop, Inc.

COMICS ON THE CAN – An experiment in creative writing and artistic critique wherein the exposure to said artistic material is conducted in a state of gastronomic distress. Vis a vis – reading comics while pooping, and then reviewing them.
Future “Urban Dictionary” entry right after the revised definition of Rusty Trombone.

phadeHAMMERLOCKE #7 (of 9)
Writer/co-plotter – Tom Joyner, Pencils – Chris Sprouse, Inker/co-plotter – K.S. Wilson

One of the things I love about speculative fiction and/or science fiction is how its vision of the future is a reflection of the time the SF was written. To put it another way: A SF story written in 1993 says a lot more about 1993 than the “future” setting taking place in the story. What was popular and trendy in the 93′ SF world (Buzzwords – Cyberpunk, Virtual reality). What technological advances are thought of and how they jibe with the real future (Any mention of smart phones in 80’s or 90’s SF? Maybe a tablet like item at best.). And, most interestingly, what the attitude towards the future is from that time past (Optimistic, pessimistic, a mix but one more than the other).

Having the advantage of that 20/20 hindsight vision helps, of course; its easy to see the influence of Gibson’s eighties work on the nineties from the vantage point of the… (what the hell do we call this decade? The teens? that sounds dumb. Besides, I called the first decade of this century The Aughts… as in “We shouldn’t aught to have started a war in Iraq” and “we aught to have a surplus instead of a deficit” but it never caught on. So what do I know.) Let’s say the selfie decade. But what will Ready Player One or Snowpiercer say about us to folks in 2033? Assuming we are even here still (ohhh, pessimism).

Making a perfect narrative dovetail; 2033 is when “Hammerlocke” takes place and from the optimistic viewpoint of 1993 we have created some means of space travel beyond having that one guy on the ISS covering Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.

Maybe.

There is talk of a Starbridge and a space colony, I see some space suits and ships. The opening scene takes place on Phobos but I’m not quite sure what the hell is going on (possible flash forward?). This is in part because I’m reading issue seven of a seemingly 9 issue-dense plot, so I can’t fault the book on that. BUT after a lengthy holographic news exposition segment I’m only about five percent less confused. That I can fault them. When you have a heavy handed news segment specifically designed to recap the story’s plot and it fails miserably you should reconsider that sales associate position at Walmart. The news show is viewed off a compact disc which is funny because those are the things your dad uses to listen to his Whitesnake albums. Just one of the many examples of how one imitates a genre (cyberpunk) without understanding what makes it tick. The news feed should be coming from a info data spike or a holographic drop down menu or even a thumb drive. Its reasonable to extrapolate that data storage has evolved at the same pace as space travel. I’m nitpicking here but the devil is in the details. Especially when I’ve spent SO much time focusing on such a small detail… clear indication of how well the main story is holding my attention.

Next there is a dude or meta-human or android named Phade who looks like a 90’s cybergoth cereal mascot. He’s stuck in a wall, an apt metaphor, really. The bad guy that trapped him is a Doctor or Professor Christie, the turncoat plot device. Christie runs off at the mouth about history and crap and I can’t help but hear him voiced by Charles Dance or Alan Rickman because all bad guys from the 90’s were played by English actors. Now about 85% of actors on TV are English… didn’t see THAT one coming.

Not that the good guys are much better, really. No one seems particularly good or evil… just opposing forces. That might be the point but moral complexity doesn’t seem to be what this book is aiming for; that would require characters and a sense of connection to the audience on an emotional level and not just walking plot nodes. And everybody seems English too… or at least from the United Kingdom. So I guess this means that everyone is a bad guy. Except for Phade who I hear as Raul Julia… I can’t exactly explain this. Of course Raul Julia played M. Bison, who was a bad guy. So now I’m confused.

raul

Now turn your head and cough.

The main good guy (?) Archer Hammerlocke squares off against the main bad guy Hugo Tharn for the most contrived name of the future award. Tharn is the head bad guy. I can tell this because he talks like James Lipton on methadone interviewing Kenneth Branagh for Inside The Actor’s Studio. Also his name has a lot of sharp consonants; no good guy has ever been named Tharn unless he was some barbarian warrior bent on vengeance. Chaotic good at best. There are insect robots and swords and boot jets and Tharn waxing philosophical about death and theatre (Tharn would be a big hit at the local steampunk society meetings just before he killed everyone attending). Hammerlocke yells at Tharn and calls him a crack-brained monster, a middle-class Scottish insult in a dorkier alternate universe. All this is pretty typical space opera stuff if you had two hits of the brown acid and stared at a bug crawling across your TV playing Pertwee-era Doctor Who for a weekend. But somehow duller. The fight ends with a cliff-hanger – Archer Hammerlocke plunging toward a giant robot kill-spider intent on making little Clifford “Wrench” Hammerlocke fatherless. Tharn, meanwhile, goes on to audition for the bad guy part in Hudson Hawk but loses out to Richard E. Grant.

Next we see another group of fighters in Antarctica (…the Fuc…) searching for a computer port among a cave filled with bells (…again…the Fuc…) One of the girls, a colonel showing midriff and sporting an imagined cockney accent, can project her mind into the computer network they find… in the bells. This is the 90’s cyberpunk thing, not badly done, considering. The page and a half of her zipping through glyphs and video screens of security cameras in a computer network is, oddly, the most coherent this book has gotten. Unfortunately the whole thing is offset by lines leading into it like, “Perhaps her ramblings hold some vital clue.” and, “…most of the brigand’s most powerful conjurations began in this dome of bells”. (I am f’n serious here). By the standard I’m identifying the bad guys, talking like the goddamned architect from Matrix Reloaded, the “brigand” comment should mark that speaker as a turncoat (The guy has an eyepatch too. Where does he get off calling someone ELSE a brigand?) We get it guys; you own a thesaurus but nobody talks like that.

Finally, to cap the whole book off on a note of pretentiousness, the last page has a Percy Shelley quote.

CHRIST this book is English!

So what does any of this have to do with the past’s vision of the future? Not much really; the nods to “cyberspace” as it was called by some in the 90’s and cyberpunk are all pretty much superficial. Warring corporate tribes, cybernetic madmen, bug robot on regular robot violence, English accented villains and Scottish accented good guys – all done by Gibson a decade earlier with the added treat of coherent plot and well developed characters (ok, I’m pretty sure there were no Scottish people in Neuromancer. You get the idea). Hammerlocke plays like a Heinlein fan who just watched Johnny Mnemonic and figured he could write a comic book. Actually that sums up a lot of mainstream media Science Fiction in the 90’s. What’s left is a comic book that is a bad movie pitch about a half a dozen years before movies were pitched with comic books… so at least in that way it was forward thinking.

Random thoughts somewhat pertaining to the book but I couldn’t work in organically in the main review…

The real treat in this book are the ads!

COMING SOON – ARMY OF DARKNESS (I can’t mock this cause Army of Darkness is RAD!)

Digital compact cassette! Where you can get digital sound in a cassette featuring albums from Boys II Men, Vanessa Williams, and Extreme! (Because compact discs are too far out of your safety zone.)

Columbia House Laserdisc club – where you can get three laserdiscs for a dollar* (now you don’t have to flip the disc over to the other side halfway through the movie… Science, BITCH!)

AND a new TV show called Time Trax!

Three of these ads predict futures that are archaic now.

dcc

WHAT, NO JESUS JONES?!?!?!

The Star Wars Laser disc used to be worth hundreds on eBay.

eBay – Something else nobody in 93′ could’ve foreseen.

Hammerlocke came out in ’93. Three years later DC started a imprint called “Helix” which really did take SF seriously. Sadly, it folded eighteen months later. The only title to survive was the mind-bendingly brilliant Transmetropolitian which slid over to the much more successful Vertigo imprint.

I don’t think Hammerlocke would’ve helped Helix in anyway whatsoever.

Helix didn’t catch on with comic readers because the average comic reader doesn’t like robots, space travel, time travel, aliens, giant monsters, sentient computers, and high concept stories when they are presented as Science Fiction.

Just when they are presented as Superhero stories.

Somewhere, some-why, somebody has cosplayed Phade. Jus’ sayin!

The “How to Draw: Lobo” bit in the letters column is kinda funny.

lobo

Next – JMS’ curious “The Twelve”, maybe, or something new. Still trying for Big Trouble in Little China timing.

Later – Whatever is under “The Twelve” in the box.

*With the legal obligation to buy six more Laser Discs at the regular inflated club price of $40 each.**

** we’re all out of Star Wars by the way.

 

Anytime Costumes

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