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Sunday Slugfest - Abra Cadaver: The Afterlife Adventures of Harry Houdini #1

Posted: Sunday, August 20, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Dwight L. MacPherson
Artist: Mr. Exes

Publisher: Dead Dog Comics





Average Rating:

Ariel Carmona Jr.:
John Hays:
Diana Kingston:
Judson Miers:






Ariel Carmona Jr.

Plot: Harry Houdini, the great escape artist, has spent a great deal of time late in life trying to disprove the existence of the afterlife. Unbeknownst to the great love of his life Bess, Harry goes to visit the mansion of a reputed demoniac in hopes of learning the widowís tricks so that he may duplicate them, but instead gets more than he bargained for.

Commentary: Harry Houdini, a great escapist in life, is a skeptic when it comes to the supernatural. So much so that he goes to great lengths to try and debunk it, and goes as far as to try and disprove the afterlife. He calls the Bible ďA book of grand and glorious illusions, the type of book that I would pen myself.Ē Whether Houdiniís viewpoints are a product of MacPhersonís research or solely the fabrications of a very skilled writer make no difference, the premise is clever and original. Bonus points for using the word Thaumaturgy in the narrative. It isnít everyday which a comic book has me consulting my American Heritage dictionary during the flow of a story.

As far as the artwork goes, Mr. Exes employs an enjoyable abstract style which reminds me a great deal of Mike Mignolaís work on Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. comic book from Dark Horse, though I could not tell you if that is a direct influence.

The creators have taken great care in including macabre visuals depicting a demonic looking door knock and some truly arresting visuals to illustrate the nether regions and the devil and his minions.

Too bad this book suffers from one glaring drawback which necessitates for me to dock it an entire bullet. The biggest sin I encounter with novice and professionals alike deals with the lettering in captions. Creators must simply not compromise readability for the sake of artistic creativity. Shortly after the devil's first appearance after Harry goes to hell, my enjoyment of the story is diminished by a poor choice in the colors used in the captions.

I know that it is easy to forget, but effective combinations of fonts and colors are paramount to producing a readable story. This book fails to do so when it comes to the devilís dialogue. I simply refuse to strain my eyes or to waste anymore time trying to decipher dialogue that is difficult to read. Yellow cursive font on a black background in this case is extremely difficult to make out. Reversed type (white fonts on a black background) would have worked out a heck of a lot better.

Naturally, Houdini makes a deal with the devil to escape from hell and from what I can figure out from the captions, it deals with his beloved Bess. The second half of the book deals with Houdiniís escape from the nether regions, but it brings up more questions than it answers, all leading to a very good cliffhanger involving the Nazis in World War II. Unfortunately, despite some skilled visual storytelling and an exciting beginning, the story degenerates into the usual underworld fare in the latter stages of the comic, and Houdiniís escape from hell itself should have been more spectacular.

Final Word: I love the comicís premise, but better execution in terms of dialogue and characterization as well as a clearer choice of fonts for the captions will be needed in future installments.




John Hays

I had really high hopes for this title. Iíve always been a fan of magic and of Harry Houdini in particular. I knew that he had devoted many of his later years to debunking fortune tellers and mystics in an effort to find a solid answer to whether or not there was life after death, and so a story on that subject sounded very promising. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed.

This story was so disjointed; I have to wonder if the writer has A.D.D. Is Harry alive at the beginning, or already dead? He said he was a dead man and used the term cadaver when referring to himself, yet he then immediately said he was going to disprove the afterlife. The devil spoke with his minions about having a living person in hell, yet Bess was looking at Harryís dead body in a casket. Harry escaped the creature in hell, presumably earning his chance to go back to Earth, yet we then cut to Germany, with no explanation whatsoever, and found on the last panel that Harry was returning here instead of his home. This was all very confusing, especially for a first issue of a series, one thatís supposed to draw new readers in, not totally bewilder them.

The art, for the most part, was fun and different. It looked like the artist had the most fun drawing the demons and monsters. A possible alternate title for the story might be, ďThe Devil Wears Suspenders.Ē I liked the light and fun style of the artwork, offsetting the rather gruesome contents. What I didnít like was the fact that none of the characters had pupils in their eyes. It was difficult to humanize them when they already appeared dead.

Overall, I was disappointed with the story. I was really looking for a more serious, realistic take on what Harry Houdini might be up to in the afterlife, not some story about him being drawn into hell before heís even dead, just to end up back on Earth in Germany. I donít recall Germany being part of the afterlife. I donít think Iíll be reading any more of this series.




Diana Kingston

Hereís a rather odd number: Harry Houdini fakes his death and tries to expose a psychic, only to get sent to Hell. After making a deal with Lucifer, Houdini returns to Earth twenty years later, during World War II. All this is illustrated by art quite reminiscent of Mike Mignola, slightly cartoonish in a way that both undermines and accentuates the bizarre tone.

Iím not quite sure what to make of the story; the plot is all over the place, jumping back and forth with minimal clarity, and no introduction is offered to those readers unfamiliar with the life and death of Houdini. Granted, that biographical information probably isnít too hard to come by, but I tend to balk at stories that require (rather than encourage) research.

And thatís really the major problem with this book: it just throws you into the unfolding events, assuming you already know everything you need to know. Even if you do, the pace is so erratic that keeping up becomes a chore in itself. Some stories are worth that kind of effort - at first glance, Abra Cadaver doesnít seem to be one of them. If thereís a high concept that's meant to catch our attention, it doesnít come across clearly
enough or interestingly enough to do so.




Judson Miers:

We all know that Harry Houdini as the worldís greatest magician. Itís even well known that he had a rather strange hobby of trying to debunk contemporary spiritists and mediums that were so much in vogue and then use some of their tricks as his own to impress his own audiences. It seems that he had an obsession with trying to disproof the existence of an afterlife. He even goes so far as to fake his own death to give him more freedom in his quest.

Abra Cadaver explores one such adventure, except there was no debunking this spiritist. After so many years of cheating death and teasing Lucifer, Harry finds out that Lucifer and the afterlife is real indeed. After the descent into Hell, Harry makes the proverbial deal with the devil: ďI will wager that I can escape from any trap your twisted mind can construct for meÖĒ Of course, we know that Lucifer will cheat (he ALWAYS cheats), but Iíve also never known a magician/illusionist not to cheat. Long story short, the wager pits the fate of his wifeís soul against his getting out of Hell. I see a Spawn-like rebellion and flight from Lucifer while trying to save his beloved wifeís soul from Hell in the future.

Overall Critique: The pencils are reminiscent of Tim Burtonís work on The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride which is polarizing, to say the least. You either love it or hate it. I happen to be more on the later camp, although not quite at the hate extreme. I do like the basic premise of the storyline, but itís not going to be something that Iíll continue to pick up.



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