Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Scott Hampton
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: A mysterious stranger good at dealing death foils a cult killing. We’re introduced to the medical examiner who will figure it all out and the shadow group of wealthy men behind the killing. The lethal protector has a neighborhood support group and he likes to read.
Commentary: I picked this up because it was Steve Niles. He peaked my curiosity about all things dark with his modern classic 30 Day of Night. I found his take on vampires as more shark and spider-like in their execution than the romantic and suave seducers interesting and different. I don’t know if I could take a continual diet of the stuff but his wellspring of ideas draws me in every so often. Niles’s modern take on the Frankenstein legend here at DC has arrested my attention despite some marketing and editing flops.
I had a problem with the locale of the series right out of the gate. The cover boasts “Gotham City’s Other Protector”. Why Gotham City? For me, other vigilantes stomping around Batman’s turf just doesn’t work. The Dark Knight won’t stand for it for long and past comics history proves out that other Gotham heroes just don’t make for long comic book runs. Gotham IS Batman’s city! Another problem I had was that the advertisements for this series had a much more engaging tag line; “How Many Men Does It Take to Make a Great Hero?” DC should have stayed with this. The Gotham City boast on the cover just made me think, “Oh no, not again.” Nevertheless, I pressed on.
Scott Hampton’s art is good for this series; dark and mood setting. That being said Chris Chuckry’s darks are a bit too dark, making it hard to follow exactly what is happening in the attack on the cultists scene and exactly who is being taken down and when. It’s a stylish and cinematic intro to the title character but visually it could have been a bit clearer. I had to go back a couple of times to follow it all. It also appears by books end that the man Simon rescued from death was actually killed. That’s not the case. I had to go back to remember that there were two victims; one Simon did not save. Chuckry’s coloring is too similar among the various characters and makes it hard to follow who is who.
Niles’s whets our appetites giving us just enough about this new character while paying homage to a smorgasbord of horror stories and cinema along the way. His sown together face mask (if that is not his real face!) reminds us of Leatherface of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame. His striped sweater reminds us of Freddy Krueger, that dream demon from A Nightmare on Elm Street. There’s an additional steal from those films that involves children jump roping. His references to being held together by harnesses and being a created boy echo memories of Tim Burton’s surreal and sad Edward Scissorhands. The leather gloves remind us of any number of serial killers and stranglers down through the ages. Finally, his penchant for remaining in shadows, observing and gathering reading materials to learn about this world he exists in yet knows very little about is a wonderful nod to the creature as conceived in Mary Shelly’s original novel, Frankenstein. Whether this results in Simon becoming a better “person” or worse (as Shelly’s creature ultimately did) remains to be seen but it presents and engrossing dynamic to a modern audience.
For all his monstrous inspiration Simon is no lumbering behemoth of destruction. He’s lithe, agile and precise in his death dealing. He’s what Spiderman would be if he were an assassin. He’s strong too. Beth Granger, the female protagonist and medical examiner reasons that the killing she’s investigating had to be the work of a machine and nothing human could have done it. Simon, though a monster, is trying to “grow up” right (much like his literary counterpart; Frankenstein’s monster) as seen by his payment for whatever he “steals” and his polite demeanor when accepting handouts. The inevitable questions will be posed in this series. What makes a monster? Is it a twisted origin? Is it the very idea of an unnatural life that shouldn’t exist? Perhaps it is the cold, bloody acts of powerful men? Is it how ugly we can be when confronted with ugliness? I think I’ll stick around in Simon’s dark for a little while to see what murky light Nile’s sheds on these issues.
Final Word: After some annoying editorial and marketing antics Nile’s gives us an inspired and intriguing take on a classic monster. Grab a copy, lock the doors and pull up the bed sheets.
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