Review: Violator vs. Badrock: Rocks and Hard Places trade paperback (Image Comics)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

It’s a shame that trades rarely have forewords anymore. The opening to Violator vs. Badrock in particular is a fascinating look into Rob Liefeld’s mind. In it, Image executive and distribution expert Larry Marder tells of how the story was created: Liefeld was playing with toys of the Violator and Badrock and decided that it would make a cool comic. While there’s no proof that this is the case, I can only conclude that this was a storytelling technique that Liefeld lifted from Spaceballs. It’s clear that even Marder, the man who ran McFarlane Toys, is embarrassed with this origin as he instead veers to praise its author, The Original Writer (the author formerly known as Alan Moore).

The presence of authors like Neil Gaiman and The Original Writer at Image in its early days makes some sense when you look back on it. After tempestuous dealings with the Big 2 over both character ownership and content controversies, Image seemed like a bright new path for scorned writers and artists. What they found was a company that couldn’t live up to its hype thanks to an emphasis on merchandising over storytelling, continuously slipping deadlines, and immature creators. Image would fracture not long after the release of Violator vs. Badrock, with Gaiman stuck in the complex lawsuit over the rights to Miracleman and The Original Writer jumping over to Wildstorm before its buyout by DC.

The Original Writer’s name on the cover of Violator vs. Badrock is what got me to pick it up ... and I’m not sure he even wrote it. Don’t get me wrong: he at least plotted the book and wrote some, if not much, of the dialogue. But there’s something off about the plot progression that makes me wonder if there was some heavy editing of the dialogue. Liefeld was intent on every book from Extreme Studios having a similar style -- namely, his. This is more evident in the art, but the book shifts from cleverly-written demons to dull and predictable conversations between Badrock and his love interest. When the book visits Hell, there are no references to older literature; The Original Writer would be slipping in Dante and Milton references left and right, much like he did in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

If anyone tinkered with the writing, it was likely editor Eric Stephenson. Liefeld couldn’t have done it because the first issue doesn’t open with a team invading an enemy base or feature people randomly having dreams of future events. Badrock is introduced as the head of security for a secret government energy-related project. I’m going to be polite and say that this is an “homage” to the Thing and his stint at Project PEGASUS in Marvel Two-In One rather than an outright lift. It’s headed by the aforementioned love interest, a scientist who has very little regard for people and an obsession with her work. She continually rejects our hero despite numerous advances. Unfortunately for the reader, Badrock has little of the charisma which defined Ben Grimm despite their outward similarities.

That charisma is instead exhibited by the Violator. Did you know he could talk? I admit that my main exposure to Spawn was the film, but I thought that he turned into the Clown in order to talk to people. The Clown does appear once in the book for two pages where he begs to be freed from his service to Violator before turning back into him. Maybe this was part of a Spawn plotline, but if that’s the case, then they should have provided a reference issue. The Original Writer definitely has fun with the Violator, making the most of his bizarre looks, serial killer tendencies and cruel hobbies. This is only enhanced when the characters end up in Hell and we get to meet his siblings, the Phlebiac Brothers, who look like the Violator but with different facial features and other cosmetic changes.

It can be hard to tell the Brothers apart in the last half of the book, a problem which I am loathe to place on the penciller. Brian Denham is a good artist in his own right; Iron Man: Hypervelocity is unique and creative. But his pencils in Violator vs. Badrock are hidden behind two heavy inkers and “Extreme Color.” That isn’t some kind of coloring software; it’s a team of literally a dozen (!) colorists, meaning that individual pages and even panels on the same page were all colored differently. Compare that to Jordie Bellaire modifying the colors in every issue of the new Moon Knight (a review of which is coming soon) and you can see how far computer coloring has come. This was all done to make sure that Denham’s art matched the house style, and unfortunately, they succeeded.

The lettering in particular is a sad case. Bill Oakley was a fantastic letterer who worked for years at Marvel; in fact, his lettering on Walter Simonson’s Fantastic Four was so close to John Workman’s that you couldn’t tell the difference without looking at the credits. His intent was to have the Violator’s speech bubbles be colored red, but the colorists screwed that up constantly so that it can be hard to tell who is speaking. Oakley was at least able to improve his legacy by doing gorgeous design work for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; if this led to The Original Writer setting up that arrangement, then it was all worth it.

There’s no reason to get Violator vs. Badrock. The trade is so long out of print that I’ve linked to a search instead if you have some morbid curiosity. Despite his name being on the cover, The Original Writer doesn’t really leave his stamp on the project, and there’s little else of note otherwise. Right, Stryker?

My sentiments exactly. (Pardon the Carnage, he was the only 6” figure I had on hand.)

Next week, I’ll take a look at a much better Image comic with a much scarier monster.
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