Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Cross-Dressing; a/k/a Death Gets A Makeover

As I promised a couple of weeks ago in my Phoenix Con wrap up, the time has come to take a look at Brian Pulido’s new LADY DEATH series. Subtitled “The Wild Hunt,” Pulido’s pasty protagonist seems to have been ambushed by Trinny and Susannah of BBC America’s “What Not To Wear,” and I found myself reading a comic that I wasn’t expecting.

My only exposure to the titular character was in her old days as the centerpiece of the Chaos Comics line. Seemingly existing solely for the purpose of allowing budding comics artists to practice drawing the smallest possible bikini top and thong on an over-endowed female form. It was a damned good thing she was Lady Death because she was certain to catch her death by cold if she wasn’t. It was that seeming over-reliance on gratuitous T&A that made Chaos either the most beloved publisher in the history of the goth movement or an absolute joke to mainstream comics fans. Your mileage definitely varied.

However, the new, Crossgen published Lady Death is actually quite well-clothed. Her outfit is tight and sexy, but it isn’t far off from what the X-Men (male and female) wear in the films. So it’s all good. In the clothing department, that is.

The inside of the front cover gives you a “thus far” rundown, which is good, because there was a previous Lady Death series from Crossgen before this one. It gives you an easy explanation of her current status and the staus of her uber-plot, and then we are thrown into the story. Half human and half magic user, we meet her human relatives and their moron of a daughter, and then follow her in her task to begin trying to remove the magic wielders from power in Europe. We see that she is a wild and charismatic figure, and obviously a powerful one. And her origin is way, way different than the Chaos version. Pulido has taken the character’s move to Crossgen as an opportunity to re-create her from scratch, leaving only her pale palette the only thing that really remains the same. This is not only a damned good idea, I wish more creators would do it.

Sometimes a good character is waiting around for someone to redefine and sharpen the character’s concept. Think about times when that has happened. Steven Grant and Mike Zeck honing the Punisher. Warren Ellis’ redefinition of Stormwatch. Frank Miller’s ground-breaking reconstruction of Daredevil. I’m not saying that Pulido has reached those heights here; far from it. But showing a lack of fear in giving something new a try deserves kudos.

The first issue of “The Wild Hunt” isn’t a bad one, but it isn’t exactly a good one either. Pulido throws the reader into the tale fairly abruptly, and while I always expect to have to figure a few things out, and that issue one won’t spell out the whole story for me, I did have more than just a bit of bafflement about exactly what Lady Death can do. I get that she’s part magic, and that she obviously has some magical powers, but the recap didn’t spell out what they were, and I was confused about how she used them, when she used then (and when she didn’t), and why she used them. At times, she just used a sword, and fought hand-to-hand. So I would have been a happier reader if the old Shooter credo “Every comic is someone’s first” would have been in effect. I may be a genius, but even I can use a guide here and there.

The real bright spot of “The Wild Hunt” is the wonderful artwork by Jim Cheung. Cheung’s art is dynamic, lending a cinematic feel to the action sequences, and giving her ladyship a more realistic look than she’s ever had. Cheung’s Lady Death is so far removed from the Chaos version that they wouldn’t recognize each other. After fine-tuning his art on a couple of the flagship Crossgen titles over the last couple of years, it is an easy statement to say that Brian Pulido has never had a better artist to interpret his scripts.

Outside of my qualms about not giving enough background about what the white wonder can and cannot do with her powers, the rest of the script isn’t bad. Lady Death’s human niece is about as stupid a character as I’ve seen in a comic in a while, but that’s on purpose. And while I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to pick up issue two, I wouldn’t dodge it either. LADY DEATH has come a long way from her more humble beginnings, and after all the hullabaloo with Chaos Comics’ folding and the selling of its assets, the old girl is the sole and deserving survivor. Who would have guessed?

Review copies may be sent to: Marc Mason, P.O. Box 26732, Tempe, AZ, 85285