Friday, July 8, 2011

Back Issue: Resurrection Man #16

With the DCnU just around the corner, I thought I would thumb through the back issue boxes and try to find some past Supergirl interactions with some of the new books cropping up. One of the characters I was happy to see get another shot at his own title was Resurrection Man. Above is the cover and here is the solicit.


It's the return of Mitch Shelly – and he's still dead.
Resurrection Man can't stay dead for long, though – and with each rebirth comes new and unexpected powers. But his many returns have not gone unnoticed, and forces are gathering to learn what's so special about him – and to see which of them will finally stop Resurrection Man dead.

The first resurrection man comic came out in 1997 and was definitely a cult hit. Mitch Shelley could not be killed, returning to life with a new super-power each time. It walked a fine line between science fiction (powered by tektite nanites) and a more mystic feeling (was Mitch an angel of some sort, living other lives besides his current Mitch persona). And it had an extremely strange supporting cast. 

Now Resurrection Man actually has some history with the current Supergirl, helping her in the 'Saving Thomas' storyline back in 2008. Those issues were among the first ones I reviewed here on this blog. I think Shelley had been pretty much living in comic book limbo prior to that story. But no need to rehash those reviews.

Instead, I thought I would look at the three part 'Avenging Angels' storyline that ran through Resurrection Man and the main Supergirl title back in 1998. This was an interesting time in Supergirl's life as she was just now coming to understand her role as something angelic, just getting mastery of her flame wings and other powers, and struggling with the personal issues that always seemed to plague Linda Danvers.

Resurrection Man #16 was the first part of this quick arc and writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (as well as Peter David in his chapter) really do a good job in having the characters interact in a meaningful and unforced way, weaving a plot that truly effected both books. Some team-ups seem forced or silly. This one meant something to both characters.

The art on Resurrection Man was done by Butch Guice. Guice had drawn Supergirl a lot during his tenure on Action Comics and always drew her as graceful and powerful. His style on Resurrection Man was a but rougher, mirroring the darker tone of the book. But he still manages to do a wonderful job with Supergirl. This cover is absolutely stunning.

The issue starts with Shelley in the area of Leesburg, Supergirl's hometown.

Unfortunately, his body has been possessed by an entity known as 'The Rider', a spirit that can 'ride' and control a body. The Rider seems to want to live a sinful life within the host body before moving on to the next person. But in Resurrection Man, The Rider knows it has the chance for immortality ... for power ... and for more influence on the world.

Mitch isn't about to give up control of his body that easily. A psychic struggle ensues with The Rider occasionally able to wrest control of the body to cause harm to any close bystander. Finally the mayhem attracts the local police department who gun him down.

This leads to the first of some very nifty pages in the arc. When Mitch dies this time, he gets a brief glimpse into another life... perhaps a past life ... as an Egyptian Pharaoh who is entombed alive. It is a nice moody page with great sepia-soaked art.

Contrasted immediately by the magenta explosion and ink stains of Mitch's resurrection, images from Shelley's life seen as panels shattering like glass. It is such a violent page in comparison to the death page. It really shows just how violent this process of returning to life is. I thought that juxtaposition, with the art adding so much, worked very well here. Each time we see one of the 'death pages' from a prior life, it is followed by this burst of color and panels.

A big part of the original series was the fact that Shelley was on the run from all sorts of bizarre characters, each with different agendas but all with the same goal. I have to admit I haven't read this entire series in a while, so I forget how all of these people ended up together tracking The Resurrection Man.

The most 'famous' of this supporting cast are the 'Body Doubles', 2 sexy killers - one a mafia princess trying to prove herself, the other an adult film star - both tremendous assassins. There is also a man named Hooker whose experiments with the Tektites have left him as an immortal talking skull. And also someone named Schism (I forget his deal). They certainly made for a very unique feel to the recurring antagonists of the group.

We finally get to the Supergirl portion of the crossover. It turns out it is the centennial celebration of Leesburg, Supergirl's home town built over a chaos stream, leading to all manners of wackiness. Part of the celebration is a hydrogen-filled zeppelin, similar to ones from the founding of the town. I can't imagine the FAA would ever allow that ... but there it is.

One thing I actually like about crossovers is when you actually get a more nuanced look at the guest stars. Here we see Linda talking to her father about the Danvers' pending divorce. It was around this time that Linda revealed to her parents that she had fused with Matrix and was Supergirl. While Fred Danvers rolled with it, Sylvia suffered a breakdown and turned to alcohol, a problem she had earlier in life.

As can be expected in comics, if there is a hydrogen filled dirigible, an explosion cannot be far behind. The Rider guides Resurrection Man's man-bat like body to the blimp to bring it down, simply for the carnage.

It was obvious but I liked the 'Oh the humanity' cry from Supergirl friend Cutter. I know ... obvious.

Of course, the simple proximity of the blast kills Shelley. This time we get images of him being a WWI soldier about to run from the trenches ... only to be wrenched back to life on a similar resurrection page.

I don't recall if this 'other life' plot thread was ever fully investigated.

But the main thing now is that The Rider can control Shelley's body and that is trouble.

The new form is a monstrous gargoyle/ape like thing. Either way, Supergirl blames it, appropriately, for the destruction of the blimp and the risk to those around it. And she isn't going to sit idly by. What a beautiful splash page of Linda laying the smack down. Guice really drew a wonderful Supergirl, graceful here even in the midst of a violent attack.

So I liked this issue (and this crossover) quite a bit. Both Supergirl and Resurrection Man seemed to have a toe dipped into Vertigo waters, a darker, more mature, more mystical, more philosophical look at super-heroics. This issue sort of pinballed around, mostly showing the internal struggle that Shelley was battling with The Rider. How will the angelic Supergirl deal with all the deviltry around Shelley? We'll have to wait and see.

From a Supergirl collection point of view, this is of low importance. The art by Guice might entice the completists out there. And those interested in Resurrection Man can probably find the first volume of the title relatively cheaply. Review of the other two chapters will be coming soon.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Wonderful piece. It's weird, I was reading both titles and I don't remember this at all. Now I'm really upset for Fred and Sylvia (still wondering why David changed that from Edna).

And it's s shame I missed Mitch in the current Supergirl book, the first Puckett was enough to send me packing.

Anonymous said...

I remebe this crossover! Great job on the post! -ealperin

Diabolu Frank said...

I was still reading the PAD series at this point, but I completely forgot this ever happened. That isn't a critical commentary. I just plumb forgot it completely, and I still don't remember anything about Supergirl's part of that crossover. I guess I should have worn a hardhat more often...

Anj said...

Wow ... I am glad I decided to showcase this if it is so forgotten.

The last 2 chapters will be reviewed here soon.

Jason said...

Wow! I was reading the PAD run of Supergirl and I don't remember this crossover either!! Too funny!! Thanks for bringing it out of the mothballs of our memories! :-)