“ARMY OF DARKNESS / REANIMATOR” (Comic Review)Book and Comic Reviews,Books/Art/Culture,News Svetlana Fedotov
H.P. Lovecrafts HERBERT WEST—REANIMATOR has been adapted or referenced in a dozen different ways, from cartoons to video games to movies, and most famously being the basis for what is arguably one of the greatest horror flicks of the 80s, RE-ANIMATOR. With its shambling corpses and looming horror of the unknown, and an enigmatic, mysterious author to boot, it’s easy to understand why so many creators would be attracted to put their own spin on the classic tale. ARMY OF DARKNESS/REANMIATOR is the latest addition, this time putting EVIL DEAD’s smart-mouthed, chain-sawed leading man Ash in the shoes of the story’s anonymous narrator as he teams up with mad scientist Herbert West. Sticking close to the original Lovecraftian version, this comic is less of a re-telling and more of a garnish to the tale of terror.
The comic begins like most of Ash’s travels, zip-lining through a vortex to a time and place randomly picked by the chaos of a dark and unforgiving universe. As he crashes down to earth (sans chainsaw to place him closer to the Army of Darkness story line), he delivers a classic one-liner before being knocked unconscious by a shovel-clasping mad scientist who announces himself as Herbert West, Medical Doctor. With his Necronomicon held hostage, Ash is forced to help the mad scientist in his quest for fresh bodies and listen to the doc’s ramblings about re-animating the dead, giving our smarmy protagonist a solid case of the heebie-jeebies. But, like any attempt to mess with God’s plans, things go quickly awry, and Ash promptly learns how much his sudden appearance had turned the tides of science and alchemy.
ARMY OF DARKNESS/RE-ANIMATOR is a comic that leaves no stone unturned when it comes to piling on Lovecraft references. It almost reads like a “Spark-notes” version of the original “Herbert West—Reanimator” with Ash as our eyes from beyond the fourth wall. That’s not to say that the ARMY OF DARKNESS angle is sidelined, but in fact seamlessly woven into the fabric of the classic short story. Aut Writer Mark Rahner does a solid job of combining the universes without stretching the limits of either story. Both exist in a world of creeping darkness where creatures beyond the scope of human understanding lurk in every shadow. With the Necronomicon stapling the two together, it’s almost a crime to not have a team-up.
Rahner is an old hand at writing horror franchises, having penned for VAMPIRELLA, a particularly gory tale for DEJAH THORNE OF MARS and his own zombie series, ROTTEN. With AOD/REANIMATOR, he does a brilliant job crafting something equally funny and vile, while keeping it true to the Reanimator’s timeline. Rahner’s dedication to staying within Lovecrafts’s original 1920s era borders on the obsessive, leaving no detail behind as he immerses Ash in a world of silent movies, Ford Model-T’s, and handle bar mustaches, seen in the art by Randy Valiente. Valiente’s work is a fantastic companion, steeped in expressive faces and dancing shadows. Not afraid to play with angles and stylization, the images hark back to older EC horror artists, giving the comic an extra punch.
But on top of the layered references, the work is also dolloped with nods to classic horror films and Bruce Campbell works for the particularly sharp-eyed. So, if you’re not a fan of either franchise, it’s easy to miss the minute jokes and get a bit lost, making this possibly a poor starting point for a new reader.