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Hot Ink — Pilot Season: Murderer #1, Secret Six #16, The Unwritten #8

YOU REALLY DON’T WANT TO GET IN HIS HEAD – Pilot Season: Murderer 1

Popular culture has taught me that there are two kinds of telepathy. There’s the good, desirable kind where you can selectively read other people’s thoughts, turning that ability on and off at will. This kind of telepathy generally leads to a heightened, compassionate understanding of the human condition and a valued place on a team of heroes.

Then there’s the other kind of telepathy. The kind where other people’s thoughts flow uncontrollably into one’s mind, with no off switch. This kind of telepathy usually leads to those afflicted with it huddling in a corner, hands pressed against their temples, yelling things like “No!” and “The voices, make them stop!” to no one in particular. Unfortunately for Jason Sparks, he ended up with the second kind. And since he’s the protagonist of a book called “Murderer,” you can probably guess he’s not dealing with it all that well.

“Murderer” is the first of five issues to be released as part of this year’s “Pilot Season” series by Top Cow. In its initial run in 2007, “Pilot Season” offered five issues by five different creative teams, all based on existing Top Cow properties, which were then voted on by fans to determine which would continue as series past the first issue. In 2008 the competition changed, starting to include original characters never before seen amongst the choices. 2009 has brought a new twist to the competition, with each of the five stories under consideration this year having been created by writer Robert Kirkman and Top Cow founder Mark Silvestri. So if you like the idea of voting, but prefer the old Soviet Union style where it doesn’t matter how you vote because the same people are going to end up in power no matter what you do, then this is the year you want to follow “Pilot Season.”

That being said, it’s off to a good start. I’m going to have to spoil the main twist here to do the book justice when talking about it. So if you’re thinking about reading it but haven’t yet, I’ll say that I do recommend it and suggest you jump to the next section. But this is your last chance to take the exit, because the next stop is Spoilerville. All right, so Jason Sparks is not a well man. He lives with his grandmother, unable to pay the rent, and thanks to his knack for mindreading he’s well aware she doesn’t like him. He walks around armed with a variety of knives and other unpleasant weapons. And he spends an average day sitting in the park staring intimately into the lives and secrets of passers-by. It’s clearly driving him mad. But Jason’s discovered an outlet. He finds people who are planning to kill people. Then he kills them first. Because when he kills someone, all the other voices turn off for a little while and he can have a few moments of peace.

For Jason, in his uncomfortably crowded mind, it’s a way to use his curse to help others while benefiting himself at the same time. Admittedly, it’s not the most benevolent use of telepathy he could come up with. He’d probably make a decent psychiatrist, helping patients quickly get to the root of their deepest fears and insecurities. He could be an impressive investigative journalist, a much needed profession that guarantees an income for at least another year or two before print dies completely. Or at the very least he could take the heartwarming approach, going around helping would-be couples through all that awkward unresolved sexual tension or causing estranged family members to have those feel good sitcom reconciliation moments. But none of those take the edge off the crazy.

And, you know, murder’s good too. Admittedly it’s a lot more interesting, and the moral scenario Kirkman’s set up here, making the reader wonder whether preemptive eye for an eye is a justifiable punishment, is a good one. “Murderer”‘s a good enough start to this year’s Pilot Season that if it ends up winning, I’d be pleased with the outcome. I’d wish Kirkman good luck, but I get the feeling he’s making his own luck on this one.

LET’S ALL GO TO THE STRIP CLUB – Secret Six 16

Generally when a series adds a spunky teenage girl to the cast it’s a sign that times are desperate and things are about to start going down hill. But “Secret Six” has so often pleasantly defied expectations and from all indications it’s doing so again here. Issue 16 starts off with your average day on the job for these mercenaries of negotiable morality as they rescue a convicted child rapist and murderer from prison in order to deliver him to the father of one of his victims who’s out for bloody revenge. But this scenario of questionable justice is merely the introduction to the issue. The action really kicks off when Black Alice, who is a white teenaged girl named Lori, shows up demanding a spot on the team so she can finally turn her powers into a paycheck.

Since most of the team members are highly skilled but otherwise normal human beings, and Black Alice is able to copy the abilities of any magic user in the DC universe, it’s difficult for them to turn her down. Oh, they’d like to, but she’s being rather violently insistent about it. In a desperate situation, Deadshot and Catman attempt to ditch her by going to a strip club. A superhero themed strip club.

I’m now going to take a moment to pause and examine a tangent concerning the ramifications of such a thing in the DC Universe. Because, you see, Deadshot and Catman happen to show up on a Thursday, and, in case you’re unaware, Thursday is supervillain night. In our own reality it’s not unusual to go to a comic convention and see an attractive woman dressed like Harley Quinn or Poison Ivy. They’re merely showing appreciation for a fictional character they’re a fan of. Or they might be especially fond of nature. Or they’re in a controlling relationship with a guy who makes a convincing Joker and is standing a few feet away.

But in the actual DC universe these women, seen in costumes such as stripper Eclipso, stripper Riddler, and surprisingly, an especially sexy stripper Mr. Freeze (thanks for that haunting image, Peter Nguyen) are dressing up as people who, in their own reality, are most likely responsible for the deaths of multiple people at minimum. It would be like if you showed up at a strip club to find women dressed as sexy versions of Jack the Ripper, Al Capone and Charles Manson.

Then there are the other little matters, like the fact one of the strippers is dressed in a sexed-up version of Harley Quinn’s costume. Keep in mind that Harley Quinn’s normal costume is a skin tight number in which her hair is left significantly more to the imagination than any inch of the rest of her body. In fact, because stripper Harley Quinn is wearing the mini-est of mini-skirts, her outfit, while it displays much more skin, is actually less skin-tight than the real Harley Quinn’s costume. I’m not saying this caused me to have problems with the book. I’m simply pointing out that when you stop to think about it, strip clubs are a lot more complicated in a world where superpowered people who sometimes dress in fetish wear are known to kill people on a regular basis.

And really, all of that seems simple when compared to the subtext of the relationship between Scandal Savage, the former team leader who still hangs out even though she’s no longer officially in the group, and her girlfriend Liana. Liana’s a stripper at the club, and her costume for the supervillain stripper costume of the evening is Knockout. Now Knockout, if you don’t recall, was a former member of the Secret Six with whom Scandal shared a deep and passiona
te love up until Knockout’s tragic and untimely death. Which by the way, Scandal has yet to get over. Even in an ideal situation dating a stripper is complicated, and this is far from ideal.

Anyway, back to the point. I haven’t been paying much attention to Black Alice in this write-up, but then neither have the rest of the Secret Six, who’ve by this point all assembled at the strip club. And Alice is none too pleased with this lack of attention. So when the police show up Alice makes certain all eyes are on her by taking the powers of resident team banshee Jeanette and proceeding to beat up all of the cops, followed by anyone nearby in the bar, followed by any of the team foolish enough to get near her. Then she finally reveals the real reason she wants to join and they grudgingly accept her. Gail Simone continues to do a great job writing these characters, and Black Alice is by all appearances a promising addition to the cast. Aside from the fact that there was no scene between Bane and stripper Bane, this was another good read from a series I’ve come to expect nothing less from.

SYMPATHY FOR THE FRENCHMAN – Unwritten 8

Issue 8 in Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ series is an excellent example of what I love and what I find frustrating about it. I’ll address the downside first, because it’s minor. When issue 7 concluded, “The Unwritten” was heading toward a major confrontation as agents of a hidden conspiracy had broken into a highly secure prison in an attempt to kill the book’s central character, Tom Taylor.

At the same time Taylor’s friends were, without his knowledge, setting in motion a rescue plan. But as issue 8 begins the plot pauses to retrace its steps. And while this means another month before more secrets of the story may begin to be revealed, I’ve got no complaints about the interlude story that is here. Focusing on prison warden Claude Chadron and his family, issue 8 is a wonderful examination of the power of stories and words, themes central to “The Unwritten.”

Up until this point, Claude Chadron has come off mostly as a cold, unfeeling authoritarian who is difficult to empathize with. The fact that he is French is not helping him. But by seeing into the life of Claude, his wife Adiya, his daughter Cosi and his son Leon, a different side emerges. Claude, although still driven by a desire for order coming from his authority, is seen as a loving father who hopes to bring joy to his children and encourage their imagination.

Claude’s children love the novels of boy wizard Tommy Taylor, “The Unwritten”‘s Harry Potter analogue , which was written by Tom’s father Wilson Taylor, using his son’s name for the fictional hero. Cosi, in particular, is so taken with the world of Tommy Taylor that she blends it with her own, painting protective sigils on her windows and accusing classmates of aiding evil wizards. And while many, including her mother and teachers, are alarmed by this, Claude is her staunchest defender. He sees how important the stories are to her, and is loathe to take them away from her or discourage her from playing make believe.

So when the real life Tom Taylor appears at his prison charged with multiple murder, Claude instantly sees Taylor as the greatest threat to his daughter’s happiness. Scenes from previous issues are briefly revisited, and with this new context they take on an entirely new significance. Claude’s action no longer seem as harsh and cruel when they’re seen as the act of a desperate, loving father. And by the end of issue 8 I’m glad to have doubled back to hear the story of the Chadrons. Because while “The Unwritten” is a story of the mysteries and conspiracies surrounding the life of Tom Taylor, at its core it’s a book about the power of stories to reach out to people and change the world in small and unexpected ways. And this issue demonstrated that better that simply continuing ahead would have.

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