Sunday, December 8, 2013

CBR:Quickies Army of Darkness (Series 1)

Ash battles the Deadites' Army of Darkness, Evil Ash, Herbert West, Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and the Marvel Zombies in this on-going continuation of the Evil Dead franchise!


In 2004 the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness series was resurrected through comic books, right after a couple well received Evil Dead videogames brought the franchise back into the front line. At the same time a Freddy Vs Jason finally came to be, and before you could knew it people were talking about classic horror film franchise and bringing the slasher genre back to theaters.

Amongst those was a rumored Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ash project... which never come to be. Although that story would found later use (which we'll cover in other reviews next time...). But that was enough to have both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell talking about this fan-loved series.

And while we never got the (now rumored) an Army of Darkness 2 or Evil Dead 4 at the time, what we got instead was the launch of an on-going continuation of the film series as a monthly comic book title - still going strong nowadays I might add.

The Army of Darkness comic book series started with a couple of mini-series before getting its own proper on-going. And despite the title getting stopped once or twice, just like the Deadites, it always comes back simply stronger.

The series was able to maintain a certain success and interest thanks to a large number or crossovers - some interestingly fitting and other kind of... questionable.

The series takes place immediately after the Army of Darkness: Movie Adaptation from Dark Horse Comics, which Dynamite Entertainment would get the rights to and reprint in the 2000s.

The story follows right after the end of the film Army of Darkness. And it would see many crossovers starting with one Re-Animator and Universal' classic monsters...

Unlike the movie there aren't any kind of limitation that would stop the imagination of its creator.

Comic title: Army of Darkness: Ashes 2 Ashes 
Written by Andy Hartnell
Art by Nick Bradshaw & various
Format: Trade paperback collecting the Army of Darkness: Ashes 2 Ashes mini-series #1-4.

This first mini-series takes place right after the last third Evil Dead film. In pure Evil Dead tradition, a quick summary recaps the events of the films.

Ashley J. Williams was finally send back in time, safe and sound, to S-Mart. Suddenly he is attack by another Deadite! (remember the movie?) How can that be?!

After finding the old Wizard, Ash finds out he was actually send back a bit too earlier back in time, before leaving for the Cabin in the Woods! There's still some time left to save Linda!

The wizard says that might have some unexpected effects on the timeline...

Ash and the wizard follow the other Ash and Linda in the forest, and end up fighting the evil awaken Within the Woods. Post-Army of Darkness Ash fight the original Evil Dead II Ash.

Ash and the wizard set things right but end up stuck in a future ruled by the Deadites!

They end up in Egypt fighting possessed knights from the third film. Ash fights Evil Ash resurrected once more as a Pharaoh!

Ash leaves Sheila behind and go back to the present once more... but forgets the book!!

Overall: This is a near perfect starting off point to both continue the franchise and launch a successful series off it. One of Dynamite's biggest surprises, which along other titles helped them set their place in the market in the early 2000s.

This first collection "Ashes 2 Ashes" is a nice continuation and mini-series, it can stand on its own pretty well.

It was well written by Andy Hartnell, with stunning art by Nick Bradshaw. Bradshaw really help establish this comic book-ysh incarnation of Ash (reprised in the game Evil Dead Regeneration). Not quite Bruce Campbell despite being recognizable, and perfectly identifiable as "Ash Williams".

Dynamite tends to launch new books surrounded by tons of mini-series and variant covers, and Army of Darkness is not on rest on that point.

This trade include all these covers, ranging from great to simply movie recreations. From J. Scott Campbell to Marc Silvestri, Ben Templesmith, Greg Land, Richard Isanove, Nick Bradshaw, Aaron Lopresti, Michael Avon Oeming, Ale Garza, Tim Seeley and Kaare Andrews! All reprinted in a cover gallery at the end.

These first two trades (including the one below) also featured alternate covers, so be careful one picking these up and only take care of the book's title.

A very fun read with colorful gory action which helped launch all-new adventures in the Army of Darkness sage!

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score!

Comic title: Army of Darkness: Shop till You Drop Dead 
Written by James Kuhoric
Art by Nick Bradshaw and Sanford Greene
Format: Trade paperback collecting the Army of Darkness: Shop till You Drop Dead mini-series #1-4.

After a quick summary as you will come to expect from the Army of Darkness series, we find Ash back in the present, still working at S-Mart.

Shop till You Drop Dead's story picks up where Ashes 2 Ashes left.

Ash is now with Sheila, both working at S-Mart (the tale how she came to be there is presented in a special issue reprinted in one of the following books below). Ash stand behind the crazy tale how he fought against the army of darkness. At work the girls love him and the guys love to hate him.

But you see, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis found its way back to the S-Mart from Egypt, hopping along different souls. And now it got into Mister Smart himself!

Infesting aisles one after the other, Ash will have to team-up with his co-workers in a war against possessed consumers consuming the living!

There's more time travel shenanigans in this second volume. The story will send Ash back in time again, back and forth, ending in a virtual reality and back to the present day, Detroit, Michigan for a final showdown! Kicking ass dressed as Elvis (a Bubba Ho-Tep allusion?) and taking names!
taking names

Overall: This one was written by James Kuhoric, who would go on to become a very prolific AoD author.

Artist Nick Bradshaw is joined by Sanford Greene on this second 4-issue mini-series.

This trade features the likes of Eric E-Bas, Jae Lee, Richard Isanove, Paolo Rivera, and Ale Garza on the covers.

A much simpler but equally fun volume!

I give this one a: 2.5 / 3 Score!

Comic title: Army of Darkness vol. 1: Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator 
Written by James Kuhoric
Art by Sanford Greene & Nick Bradshaw
Format: Trade paperback collecting Army of Darkness #1-4.

The story begins with the cops showing up after the events of the previous book, Ash still dressed in his Elvis garb with Sheila.

Our heroes get separated and Ash finds himself locked up in Arkham Asylum under the supervision of the good Doctor Herbert West - main protagonist of the Re-Animator franchise! Since those films, West found a position in this asylum where he is free to pursue his on-going experiments to defeat death once and for good.

Dr. West starts crossing passages of the book of the dead with his own experiments and soon the place is overrun by an uncontrollable force of heavily dangerous Re-Animated Deadites!

Ash soon meets Madeline Rothleschilde, aka "Sugarbaby" who helps him fight his way through the insane asylum.

Ash is reunited with Sheila in another dimension,a n hellish incarnation of Wonderland.

Soon it's Ash Vs. West as the Army of Darkness protagonist battles the Re-Animator!

At the end of the day, they would both go on their separate way. Dr. Herbert West escaping to continue his research somewhere else (with Jack Hack in the Hack/Slash series?). Ash leaving Sheila behind, bringing the whole place down...

Overall: Crossovers are pretty common in this medium and while horror fans love to pitch their favorite franchise one against the other, the actual thing on screen is a pretty rare occurence.

AoD Vs. Re-Animator is a pretty unexpected crossover... yet somehow it all kinda works on these pages, thanks to the horror comedy-connection. Both series revolving around reanimated possessed bodies also helps.

This was a pretty strange way to open volume 1 of the Army of Darkness on-going series, but at least it announced the tone. Crossovers would be a recurring theme, and all this in the glorious splatter tradition of the films.

In Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator fans of the genre are introduced to the film incarnation of Herbert West - not the one from H. P. Lovecraft's short story "Herbert West–Reanimator" but the one played by Jeffrey Combs in the Re-Animator films.

Still written by James Kuhoric who seems to be having a lot of fun with the mythos of the series, picking up after the last volume and ending where the next one would start in the tradition of the series (some details or events might be changed from one tale to another, like in the films).

This first Army of Darkness on-going series would start in 2005 and end up with the last book reviewed on this page.

It's still pretty fun, hilarious and gratuitously gory.

It's a pretty strange point, if you wanna check it out just for the sake of the crossover, as the AoD comic book series already took its own path further from the films.

The cover art gallery include work by J.G. Jones, Sanford Greene and Gabriele Dell'Otto as well as a Monster Gallery Sketchbook by Nick Bradshaw.

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score!

Comic title: Army of Darkness vol. 2: Old School 
Written by James Kuhoric
Art by Kevin Sharpe & various
Format: Trade paperback collecting Army of Darkness #5-7 as well as the Tales of Army of Darkness 2006 one-shot.

Arkham Asylum was annihilated after the events of "Vs. Re-Animator".

Ash finds himself with Sugarbaby and they decide to voluntary return to the Cabin in the Woods, seize destiny by their own hands instead of reacting to it, and destroying it.

Evil seems to be anchored at that point, they need to get rid of it in order to put a stop to the Necronomicon's schemes where all of it began.

But the book's been preparing a new Army of Darkness to defend itself.

Meanwhile we are introduced to an old man named Van Hellsing. A transition goes sideway for the old demon hunter, and a vampire appears to get resurrected. That's right!

Dracula lives again!!

The second half of this trade collects the special issue Tales of the Army of Darkness Monster-Sized Annual, featuring 48 pages of one-shot tale, parallel sidestories and a prequel to the main on-going series narrating how Sheila ended up in the present.

These 5 short horror tales are from Shawn Spurlock & Paul Azaceta, James Kuhoric & Nick Bradshaw, James Kuhoric & Filip Sablik, Robert Napton & Michael O'Hare and finally Robert Kirkman (!!) and Ryan Ottley!

In these Tales of Army of Darkness, we see Ash coming to terms with a dear friend killed by the Evil Dead, Ash's almost-wedding with the perfect woman of his dreams, Ash back at home with his folks or also the tale of an hitchhiker who took a wrong turn near the woods...

Overall: My real problem with this book is principally with the main story arc. It's basically more of the same, which they announced with the title "Old School". Evil Dead goes back to the source material, the Evil Dead movie trilogy. And... nothing much happens in this volume!

Sugarbaby and Sheila get possessed, and back again. Like Kuhoric forgot the same rules he helped shape over the past books as he goes along, it seems.

On the art front, we got used to so much better in past titles. And the problem is artist Kevin Sharpe is not up to what we were used to in the past. Overly trying to add some unnecessary T&A. Lackluster at best...

The best part of this trade is without a doubt the Tales of Army of Darkness special issue feature, showing much more interesting and unique tales. With much better artists handling those as well.

On its own, I would give Tales of AoD a 2.5 - an highly recommended read! But it's brought down by actual main story arc "Old School" really boring and uneventful.

I give this one a: 1.5 / 3 Score!

Comic title: Army of Darkness vol. 3: Ash vs. The Classic Monsters 
Written by James Kuhoric
Art by Kevin Sharpe and Fernando Blanco
Format: Trade paperback collecting Army of Darkness #8-13.

Dracula just came back to life!

This huge trade paperback collection features both last two storylines of this volume of AoD.

In the first titled "Ash vs. Dracula" (which would go on to become "Ash vs the Classic Monsters") covering issues #8-11 we are introduced to this incarnation of Dracula. The tale how the terrible Vlad Tepes made himself a monster to become the living dead Dracula, Lord of the vampires!

Dracula wants to harness the power of the Necronomicon to send the Earth into an eternal night where monsters roam free and prey on the living! He gathers around an army of deadly vampires, the Frankenstein monster named Michael, werewolves and mummies.

Apparently the book of the dead had a part in helping Dr. Frankenstein build his own living undead monster, the Necronomicon is tied through history into several mystical monsters.

Ash and Sugarbaby team-up with Van Hellsing only to find this one already corrupted by Dracula. They finally find a real ally in the form of Eva, the daughter of Dracula!

Ash fights the creatures and finds Evil Ash still a mummy since the last time.

Finally, in "The Death of Ash" (issues #12-13) we see the Deadites last attempt at getting rid of Ashley.

Ash and Sugarbaby arrive at the Weenieville fastfood, home to a potential cult of the Nerconomicon. Ash disguises himself as a "Willie Weenie" to enter the basement. Ash discovers how being the chosen affected his entire life without him ever noticing it.

Evil possesses Ash, sending the real one through an alternate dimension, banished from regular Earth...

The Deadites are left free to destroy the world...

Overall: This volume is often sometimes simply titled Army of Darkness Ash vs. The Monsters depending on the release. It's more of a transitional title. Marking the last big event (Ash fighting it out against Universal Movie Monsters) before the next epic crossover and temporary end to the series (this 1st volume of AoD).

All in all, it's a pretty decent story, although the Dracula one never reach its promised epic-scale.. and even gets a bit dull in the long run. The Willie Weenie 2-parter is funny. Although it's only purpose is to refresh the whole "Chosen One" status and send Ash onto his next crossover.

If anything this book served to help Dynamite launch off their new series Eva Daughter of the Dragon.

While I'm not a big fan of Kevin Sharpe's art, it did get a bit better in the overall course of the series. Fernando Blanco's work on the second feature is a bit amateurish at times, but hilarious in the faces. He does get his slapstick right.

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score!

Comic title: Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness 
Written by John Layman
Art by Fabiano Neves, Fernando Blanco & Sean Phillips
Format: Trade paperback collecting issues #-1-5 of the mini-series Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness.

Banished from Earth, Ashley Williams finds himself in the world of... the Marvel Universe! But wait.. something's not right... I can't put my finger on it.. An why are all the capes trying to eat each other?!

It's Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness!

Ash "died" in the previous book and though he was going to Heaven when he followed a light... Turns out he just arrived in another world.

This world appears to be overrun by these costumed clowns. He tries to get some help to get back to his own world, only to find himself kicked out of the Avengers in mere seconds.

But it's already too late! Several of Earth's Mightiest Heroes get infected, once again the prophecy turns right and "an army of the dead" rise once more!

Ash is saved by Spider-man but the zombified Avengers are just too strong and too numerous. And did I mention the super-powers?

Finally Ash gets some help from Dazzler. A zombie Howard the Duck kills Ash... but it turns out this was simply the Marvel Universe' version of Ash. With Scarlet Witch they get to Doctor Strange's and then Doctor Doom's castle.

The zombie plague is only getting stronger.

Ash convinces this incarnation of the Necronomicon to help him out, or the book might just be eaten since he's bound in human flesh as well! They raise an army of Deadites to face these zombies.

Ash is able to escape... only to find himself stranded again on another world. The world of.. Marvel Werewolves! What!?!

Overall: This 2007 limited series marked the first collaboration between Marvel and Dynamite Entertainment, published here for the occasion by Marvel Comics.

This Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness is supposedly canon to both series/universes.

It's a pretty silly but fun crossover. Definitively not the best or the "most intelligent" one I've ever read but it does what it's supposed to do. That is, crossing over the world of Marvel (Zombies) with the Army of Darkness (comics). So a little knowledge of any of those two or both is expected to really enjoy this story.

The Marvel Zombies are supposed to be these super-strong unstoppable uber-zombies, yet for the sake of Army of Darkness, in this story they are able to be stopped and avoided by a mere human (even if he's a "chosen one" at that).

Granted I'm not 100% fan of Marvel Zombies, which are meant to shock and be gross for the shock value alone.

This story works not only as a crossover between Dynamite and Marvel but also serves as an origin prequel story for the Marvel Zombies universe.

Writer John Layman does a decent job at capturing Ash's voice. The art by the MZ team is clean, gory and impressive.

The best part is without a doubt the great range of parodies, tributes and homages represented by Arthur Suydam's covers, alluding to previous classic Marvel Comics covers.

I give this one a: 2 / 3 Score!

And that is it for this first batch of Army of Darkness!

A volume 2 of the title was launched shortly after the Marvel Zombies crossover, in order to tie-into the potential new readers brought from that crossover.

If a lot more crossovers were explored later on, thanks to the success of these initial ones, the second volume tried to be a bit more focuses story-wise.

What marks this first series is an attempt to stay close to the themes of the films (the Cabin, Evil Ash, Sheila, etc..) and not get too crazy with the plotlines... which Marvel Zombies sorta threw away. For good.

In the end we are left with a nice, but not too crazy comic book series fans of the films can enjoy without too much though put into it.

That's all for this time's Quickies!

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