“EVIL ERNIE VOL. 1: ORIGIN OF EVIL” (Comic Review)
When Chaos! Comics bankrupted in 2002, the fate of their most popular characters went up on the auction block to be picked over and sold. Luckily, the majority of the licenses were bought up by Devils Due Publishing and when they folded, were handed over to Dynamite Press, where they sat waiting for another chance. In 2012, Chaos’ most prolific character, Evil Ernie, finally got re-released in a brand new adventure: a six issue mini-series leading to a collected graphic novel that hit shelves last month. A re-telling of Ernie’s tragic origins, Dynamite attempts to continue what Chaos! Comics started: pure, unadulterated Armageddon.
ORIGIN OF EVIL touches briefly on Ernie’s (full name Ernest Fairchild) birth and childhood, bouncing back and forth between his traumatic childhood and present day. After going on a killing spree that left 665 people dead, Ernie finally meets his maker via the electric chair. What his executioners don’t know is that he can see the sins on the heads of every life he takes and with the last beat of his heart, focuses his hate on his killers and most importantly, his father. As the electricity courses through his veins, he is suddenly fused with powers of Hell, brought to him by a now self-aware yellow button named Smiley who urges him to get up and take revenge. Following in his wake are violent criminals, a host of heavenly angels, and a very determined military aiming to burn the whole mess to the ground.
With the recent wave of 90s nostalgia flooding every facet of entertainment, EVIL ERNIE’S resurrection couldn’t have come at a better time. His over-stretched grin and heavy metal ‘fro speaks of a time when rock music ruled the world and killing for love was very much acceptable. The only real problem is whether the series will manage to survive once the interest in all things 1996 finally ends. After reading the comic, it might not.
While most nineties creations get an update when re-filtered for today’s audiences, few, if any, of Ernie’s tropes were given the same treatment. It has some positives, such as the over-the-top gore and that classic EVIL ERNIE storyline filled with demons, violence, and one-liners. The work does a beautiful job of really bringing back the feel of the original character. Unfortunately, it’s got the same problems as its predecessor, such as a convoluted story where ridiculous things randomly happen without any warning or explanation. Also, the art tends to fall apart more than it stays together, highlighting a side of modern age comics that were better left behind. While low budget problems at least gave Chaos! Comics an excuse for poor (yet surprisingly detailed) artwork, in today’s demanding world, the quality should have been pushed up a notch.
A third and most notable drawback of the series is Dynamite’s indulgence in over-saturating the market with “collectible” issues, such as “Chaotic Green” alternative covers of each release, limited to 25 copies each. While it’s easy to see why in the current market a company would want to release a (in theory) high-demand/high-profit limited edition cover, it was exactly that kind of unnecessary cash-grab that crashed the market in the late 90s and killed entire franchises such as Chaos! Comics. Pushing collectables on a fragile market to consumers that expect to make their money back in comic book investments (that most likely will end up being worth practically nothing) is a quick way to push fans away and stall the progression of the industry. This author is not putting the blame on Dynamite alone, as both DC and Image have also been doing special edition alternatives to their more popular titles, but unfortunately Dynamite does not have the pull to survive the possible backlash if this particular tactic doesn’t work.
Jason Snyder, a relatively new writer on the scene, takes his passion for eighties metal and manages to beautifully fuse it into Ernie’s persona. The story moves at a great pace as Ernie and Smiley slaughter their way through a prison of America’s most demented killers, and still manages to fit in plenty of demonic hosts and sexual innuendos. The artist, Jesse Craig, is also a bit underground having worked on a handful of single issues for various comic companies before landing at Dynamite. His art, while detailed and truly attempts to re-create the core of the character, falls short when it comes to consistency. The detail and passion is there, but something along the way, perhaps inks or colors, muddles any fluid transition between the panels, creating a cheap effect. But Despite any shortcomings, it cannot be ignored that the team behind EVIL ERNIE are true fans trying their best to breathe some life into the series.