COMICS ON THE CAN
Writer – Fred Van Lente Illustration – Steve Ellis Colors – Dae Lim Yoo
*Sung to the tune of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend on land/about Comics on the can
Where this guy reads a lot of comic stuff.
He sits on a throne/ in a room at his home
And reads lots of superhero fluff
He has a big pile/ and he thinks with a smile
“I’ll write about what I read and it’s cool!”
The hook of it is/he could be takin a wiz
Or making a big pile of pooooo!
With apologies to Gordon Lightfoot. Sorry not sorry
I’ve often wondered why, in years past, when comic creators have the opportunity to create something original they go right back to the well of superheroes. People with powers and witty(?) quips zapping around doing dramatic things, robbing banks, getting caught up in the tropes that define and often drag down a narrative with cliche. The birth of Image Comics was like this; a bunch of artists and writers escaped from the bristol board mines of Marvel in the 90’s to leap boldly into the unknown. Free to take this amazing medium of words and pictures and do whatever crazy, innovative, nutso storytelling the near limitless blank page allows.
So, yeah, we got… more superhero books.
Yaeh, yeah, the bills needed to be paid and there was a treasure trove of licensing deals to capitalize on… Who wouldn’t want one of their own IPs to become a series of action figures? I ain’t hatin; I rub my hands with glee at the thought of a series of “Mike” action figures like “Lots of guns Mike” and “Horribly mutated Mike” lying next to a Badrock or some other McFarlane toy at the back of your comic book store $5 bin. Currently I dream of some of my characters becoming Funko Pops with a possible SDCC retailer shared exclusive available at FYE or even, dare I dream, Barnes and Nobel! So, I do not set myself above the siren call of thinking shit up, selling the license to anybody that wants to make a raspberry creme candy bar with a picture of the shit I made up on it , buy a solid gold lambo with the money I made thinking shit up! I, like any child of the 70’s/80’s, learned this important lesson from being a Star Wars fan!
Of course those 90’s books were a naked cash grab; the reason McFarlane, Jim Lee and co split with the big two was over not getting a big enough piece of the pie as work for hire. Plus they had a fledgling company that needed a lot of capitol to keep flying so playing it safe after risking so much probably made sense.
Since then Image has obviously become the standard bearer for creator’s original content. It’s lived up the potential first glimpsed by the idea of a creator following their muse and not market trends.
But hey, those market trends… Fickle little bastards they are. There are still a good deal of Superhero comics coming out of Image but most all concern themselves with different takes and distinctive voices such as Millar’s “Kick Ass” and Kirkman’s “Invincible”. Which, as far as doing the superhero shtick, at least adds some value. The thing is when you develop a Superhero comic nowadays you are also expected to have a whole “Universe” created with it; friends, enemies, a past, a secret past, exes, allies, alien races, how magic works, etc. The weight of expectation bundled with a new superhero title is a result of years of reading continuity from the big two! We expect some fully or nearly formed universe. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a fresh title. To deliver, or at least hint at, a whole lived in universe in a new title can bog down the new ideas. The well worn tropes are expected. This is a built in problem with courting the superhero crowd with a new superhero idea; you need some version of all the old ideas too, it’s expected.
So when a new attempt misses it’s swing for the fences there is a feeling of “what might have been”. What might we have seen if “TITLE X” was able to show what their take on an alien invasion would’ve been.
Which brings us to “The Silencers” a title that tries, valiantly, to pull off the whole cloth superhero universe thing but never reached escape velocity.
Not for trying, though. The angle that The Silencers comes in from is that of a super powered team of Villains. Yes, it’s been done before and to good effect. The narrative fun to be had by characters unburdened by conventional ethics is apparent. But bad guys have rules they have to live by too. Most times rules and dynamics that are a lot more dangerous and tricky than what the heroes have to deal with. Van Lente understands this because The Silencers, as a team, have to deal with the mob and their own hot headed members. The group are/were enforcers for organized crime beholden to greedy and power hungry bosses. A great idea for a comic and Van Lente and Illustrator Steve Ellis make the most of it with the limited space they have. Kinda.
The basic story is that the mob used to control super powered enforcers by threatening their friends and loved ones and now they’re trying the tactic again with The Silencers. The mob chooses to kill Hairtrigger’s (a feral looking marksman with a short fuse… hey, this shit was never meant to be subtle) mom and dad to “send a message”. The Silencers’ leader “Cardinal”, rocking a character design that answers the question “what if Spider Jerusalem, Father Gudio Sarducchi and The Mountain were all blended together and drawn by Frank Miller at his most stylized?” decides on a measured response. This doesn’t gel with Hairtrigger who, being “On Brand” wants to exact bloody, gun based revenge. The dynamic is already stressed because Hairtrigger had been passed over for promotion by Cardinal. Who knows, maybe a dude named and living up to the moniker “Hairtrigger” might not be the best choice for a management position. ‘Trigger doesn’t see it that way, though. ‘Trigger storms off becoming a loose cannon/plot thread. Cardinal solves the mob problem with a poetic bit of turnabout. He kidnaps the kids of one of the sub bosses and manipulates a bloody gun fight between organized crime goons. Good fun. Those pages work and capably demonstrates what, hopefully, The Silencers might’ve been.
The pages that don’t really work are the ones beholden to the burden of serving that universe building without any immediate purpose. Several pages of this book are dedicated to the fallout of a previous story called “The Black Kiss War”. Which took place in the previous incarnation of The Silencers published by Moonstone comics. Vaguely intriguing but adds up to zero impact on the more immediate and interesting story. Sure, every superhero book lays out plot threads to be picked up or referred to in future issues, it’s part of the fun of serialized fiction. Also part of the expectation intertwined with superhero fiction. It’s just that this was a book that was a transfer from another, smaller, publisher which cancelled the book. Going to Image constituted a fresh start! To use up half the new book talking about old stuff doesn’t seem like the smartest move. That space could’ve been used to zest up the new story, add more character interaction, texture to the world. Van Lente, A favorite writer of mine since his work on Archer and Armstrong, could’ve created more forward momentum. Get to the previous plot threads after folks are hooked on the NEW stuff.
Then, as a coup de gras for the adventure we’re told that the whole point is moot! There is a page immediately following the story’s end stating that the numbers were not good enough to continue “The Silencers”! Then there are several pages of backstory for “The Black Kiss War” and a bio on Cardinal. Why bother? For “The Silencers” completionists?
I picked this book out of a bargain bin for two reasons: Van Lente and the art looked cool. The book didn’t fall down on those points. Fred always has a great sense of fun, though I get the impression that he felt constricted by space here. More’s the pity; given more pages to play with the main story it could’ve really popped. Steve Ellis’ art is cool, cartoonish but in an adult swim kinda way, warpy and drunk feeling… wild curves smashing against stiff lines. Generally a pleasure to look at. Cardinal in particular has a distinct visual hook: bald head, rimless round glasses, flowing robes, red carnation on the chest, a priest’s collar white square around the neck. You can tell Ellis enjoyed illustrating him.
The Silencers was D.O.A. when it hit the stands. Maybe the resurgent notoriety of Image could’ve helped given different timing. The Walking Dead had debuted only a year or so earlier. Image was on a comeback; re-branding itself into doing what it said it wanted to do in the first place… doing something different with comics. Maybe not. Maybe the market can only bear so many super powered universes.
Still looking at the potential of The Silencers I wonder what might have been.
THINGS TANGENTIAL TO THE COLUMN THAT I COULDN’T FIT IN ORGANICALLY
Sorry it’s been so long! Lots of day job and I am putting out Fantoy Comics every week too! I threw in a link to something in the middle of the run, check it out or I’ll be insulted for life.
Barnes and Nobel was what was once known as a bookstore. These large friendly places where you could buy books and magazines AND TAKE THEM HOME RIGHT AWAY! There were many types of these “Bookstores” in decades past. Now all lost to the sands of time and same day delivery.
If you click on the raspberry creme link above and read the Titan A.E. review you might come across some creepy messages!
McFarland was sitting on Spawn when he bolted from Marvel. Imagine a universe where he added that character to the Marvel stable!
Moonstone is best known for making comics of classic public domain pulp characters – The Lone Ranger, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes. There is a place in the market for books like these. They did aim bigger in the early Aughts with Buckaroo Banzai and a few other original titles and some crossover stories with other publishers if I recall… Strange, even then I hadn’t heard of The Silencers.
I assume that you can still access the Moonstone books ideration of The Silencers. There is a TP of The Black Kiss War available. Which, truth be told, is kinda a cool name for a war.
In this day and age of streaming services doing obscure cult IPs why hasn’t ANYBODY toyed with Buckaroo Banzai series idea? Is it too wrapped up in turnaround costs, legal rights, Peter Weller being too old and craggy?
Imagine Henry Golding being Buckaroo in a new movie!
Next: Something called “Killer Princesses”
Later: maybe another Trade paperback.