Monday, December 08, 2014

Wolf Moon #1 a pretty good, too-expensive werewolf comic

I hope someday DC finds something both interesting and worthwhile for artist Jae Lee to do. He has such a unique, particularly interesting style, and while I think it has its limitations—it can be a fine line between minimalism for style's sake and just not drawing stuff because drawing is hard and takes a long time—he's capable of really great work.

Look at this cover for Wolf Moon, a new movie-pitch style miniseries from Vertigo by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Jeremy Haun (with colors by Lee Loughridge). It's basically a werewolf transformation scene of the sort that's central to werewolf movies, presented in a way I've never seen or even imagined before. The wolf monster is seemingly bleeding out of the human character, like some sort of mass of fluid ectoplasm taking the shape of a werewolf, morphing and warping her body. It's a pretty unique take on a person turning into a wolf (or hey, maybe it's a wolf turning into a person), and of the sort that can be extremely effectively rendered in a static drawing, perhaps even more effectively than it could be in any other medium.

I wouldn't mind seeing a whole book on this fairly universal, even generic genre by Lee just to see what he would do with it, but he's just doing the cover. DC seems to make okay use out of him as a cover artist; he's been killing it on the covers for the new crime comic direction of Catwoman, but his comics-comics work has seemed somewhat wasteful. He scabbed out a Before Watchmen project which I've heard a few people say was one of the better looking ones, but what kind of asshole wants to read a Before Watchmen book? And he's done a pretty interesting job on the issues of Batman/Superman he's managed to draw, but the stories haven't really been worthy of the art (competent, occasionally entertaining generic superhero fare), and his pace usually means other artists are involved in every one of those stories.

But hey, great cover on Wolf Moon #1.

The book opens with a group of hunters and dogs in Kentucky, on the trail of some animal that's been mutilating cattle. The dogs pick up a scent, the hunters release them, the dogs tear off into the woods barking furiously, and then then their barks turn to whines from somewhere off-screenpanel, and then an eerie silence sets in. If this was a movie, we would probably then have a reaction shot from the hunters, while an unseen monster cuts through them and the credit sequence begins.

But here, this being comics, we get to see the monster immediately—right on page two! Just seven panels in!
As you can see, Haun has drawn what I guess you'd call the default werewolf of the day: Big, broad-shouldered, hairy humanoid form, with no tail, no genitals (despite what Monster Squad has to say on the matter), samurai sword-sharp claws (he slices the hunters to pieces on the next page) and a gigantic, wolf's head.

We probably haven't talked about this at too great length before, but I think about werewolf design an awful lot, and I struggle when it comes to deciding how I think werewolves should look. There's somethng inherently wrong about wolf-men in general, if you ask me, in that they are so often made into some kind of weird gorilla hybrid with a wolf's head on top of it, and claws that are more cat-like then wolf-like (I have never been attacked by a wolf before—knock on wood!—but there more about biting with their jaws than slashing with their claws, you know?

I like the pointy-nosed, snout-having wolves like the one Haun draws, and which seems the more popular one these days, then the sort that Lon Chaney Jr. played in The Wolfman, your basic dude with beard that covers his whole face, pointy ears on the side of his head, sharper than usual teeth, and a dog nose. That's always struck me as more of a dog-man than a wolf-man.

Sometimes I think the way to go with werewolves is the way they appear in the Twilight movies, or the Amanda Seyfried-as-sexy-Riding Hood movie from a few years back; just big-ass wolves, the size of lions or horses, possessed of a human intelligence.

Wolves just aren't all that scary in a post-agrarian, post-industrial revolution age. I mean, I wouldn't want to fight a wolf, but if it was just one wolf, and I had a rock, I'm pretty sure I could take it (although I would do a lot of screaming, crying and bleeding in the process). A pack of wolves would be a different story, but then, they hunt in packs; a lone wolf is just a skittish stry dog, really. And given that they're pretty much exterminated, I find them to be creatures of pity more than terror. Like much smaller, less dangerous panda bears.

I think there is something to the idea of a monster wolf with human traits though. As much as I think the horse-sized, smart wolf might be the best way to go with werwolf portrayals, the sheer unnaturalness of a wolf that can walk on its hind legs and use its forepaws like hands is pretty fucking scary in a surreal way. But then, bipedal werewolves don't usually appears as wolves on their hind legs,but, as I said, more like Bigfoots with wolf-heads and cat-claws.

The wolf Haun draws above certainly fits into the category. At the very least, I think he needs a tail and wolf-shaped legs.

This is my faovrite drawing of a werewolf*, which I must have shared here before, since I found a scan of it on my computer. It's from a Chronicles of Narnia role-playing book I had as a child, although I'm afraid I can't remember which or who drew it:
I like how it's face suggests a wolf or some kind of monstrous canine animal, without just looking like a wolf's head; there's an element of the alien to it, like it's a new species of wolf-like animal. I also likehow the legs have features in common with both human and canine legs, and the long, bony fingers on the right hand, as if it has four aye-aye-like death fingers.

That's pretty close to my ideal werewolf, I think. If I were designing a werewolf—or telling someone else to design one for me, as I can't draw 1/100th as well as that illustrator or Haun can—I think I'd want it to have a head and hands and maybe the general shagginess like the Narnian werewolf there, hind-quarters like those of a wolf, a wolf-like tail, and the general body shape, posture, locomation and size of a very large baboon.


What was I talking about? Oh, Wolf Moon #1.

So we see the wolf making short, bloody work of the dogs and hunters over the course of two pages, and hen we meet our protagonist and narrator, Dillon. He's a handsome-ish guy with short-cropped dark hair, long sideburns and a series of scars on his face; they're so close together and so shallow though, they seem like they might have come from a real wolf, rather than the brute we see chopping through arms like Obi-Wan Kenobi in a cantina and knocking off heads with a single blow.

He is in the midst of telling his attractive significant other that he's got a lead on the werewolf, which the pair each have their own history of some kind with, and is planning to follow up on it in Kentucky. It's only around for three nights a month, during the full moon, so time is of the essence.

Back in Kentucky, a guy who works in a fast food restaurant has locked himself in the bathroom and is splashing water on his face. And then he transforms:
Beating heart—or are the thumps his banging on the sink with his fists?—the sound of bones rearranging themselves, hairy back ripping out of shirt, pretty standard stuff, and the actually transforming taking place off-panel.

The monster then goes nuts, and in a really great panel, seems to be completely fucking gigantic now:
I think there's just something off in the panel, the sound effect coming too late or something, because the sound effect implies he's in the act of breaking that window in that panel, meaning his other leg is still in the restaurant and making him, like, I don't know, 20 feet tall.

He's large—large enough to fit a whole human head down to the neck in his mouth—but he's smaller than the Big Boy-like statue outside of the restaurant, and his head no higher than the roof of a car, which he is presumably crouched near, as I'm taller than the roof of most cars.

Anyway, Dillon arrives in time to fight the werewolf with the front end of his pick-up truck and a gun with silver bullets, but he hesitates, and does no more than wound the creatures. Then he goes to search out another character previously mentioned in passing to talk about stuff with, all the while narrating a little more and giving us some background on Wolf Moon's werewolf.

So plot-wise, it's pretty standard action horror, with nothing in the way of a twist this far in (And, to be honest, it doesn't read much like a Vertigo comic, it's so straightforward). Bunn does add one neat idea though, an angle on werewolves which I've never heard, if anyone has used this angle before.

Explains Dillon:
The legends are wrong. It's more than some curse, more than some Old World disease. It doesn't pass from one person to another through a scratch or a bite. With every cycle of the moon, it...moves...finds a new host. Near as I can tell, it's totally random.
So while people turn into werewolves, they do so all of a sudden, and with no apparent cause. And after the three nights of the full moon, the person so chosen or possessed by he wolf returns to normal—or as normal as possible—while the werewolf will emerge from some other poor sap's body. that's new. I find that interesting.

Interesting enough to keep reading a $4/24-page monthly with only that, Haun's nice art and Lee's nice covers to sell it to me...? Well, no. But I'll certainly check out the trade in a few more months.

I noted both that this reads a little like a movie pitch and not so much like a Vertigo comic, and that's true—but I don't mean to suggest that Bunn took a movie pitch and gave it to Haun to illustrate, or that he is hoping this gets picked up for TV or by a studio or anything. It's just very, very movie-like, from the character types, to Dillon's "Down boy" quip before shooting at the werewolf, to the wolf itself, which looks like a very large specimen of the sort that appeared in, say, Cursed, even moving about stiffly and awkwardly, displaying its chest and arms like a guy in an old-school Rick Baker wolf suit might.

This may be a comic book, but it's not a story being told in a way that necessitates it being a comic book. You know how well Lee's illustration of a transformation sequence works there, the way that would only really look in a context-less, drawn image? Nothing on the inside approaches this. Wolf Moon could just as easily have been a TV show, a film or a prose novel. That doesn't necessarily make it a bad comic, but it sure keeps it far from being a great one.

*My favorite film designs of werewolves are probably those in the excellent Dog Soldiers. I haven't thought about this question long enough to declare it my favorite or the best werewolf movie or anything, nor have I re-watched it in about five years, but I remember thinking, "Wow, those are some really cool werewolves," while watching it.

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