Monday, 22 September 2014

Lobo: Portrait Of Bastich (The Last Czarnian #1-4, Lobo's Back #1-4)

 "I'm Lobo! I killed all the Czarnians! I couldn't have missed her! Not her!" - Lobo

In the 90's, something happened to comics.  They got dark.  This didn't happen overnight, there had been a long build-up since the mid-1970's.  Marvel had given us anti-heroes like Wolverine and The Punisher who were willing to kill, unlike the shiny heroes of the Silver Age.  And Alan Moore was pushing boundaries at DC laying the foundation for the future  Vertigo imprint with his seminal run on Swamp Thing.  The real tipping point for the creation of what TV Tropes terms the Nineties Antihero though was the one-two punch of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.  A lesson was learned from these two series, unfortunately it was the wrong lesson.  Adultness was conflated with extreme violence rather than narrative complexity and soon a horde of irony free murdering psychopath "heroes" were unleashed on the world by the early Image gang and the Marvel and DC comics playing catch-up with them.  This of course was ripe for parody, what's interesting about this Lobo book is that it actually collects two series from 1990 and 1991, before the worst excesses of the Image era happened.  It's both a prescient parody and an embodiment of a change that was taking place, and not always a change for the better.  Luckily it more than stands the test of time in other ways, being wonderfully drawn by Simon Bisley and hilariously written by Keith Giffen and Alan Grant.

Lobo was created in 1983 as a fairly uninteresting villian and was rarely used until the comics collected in this trade paperback redefined him as a ridiculously over the top anti-hero, gaining him a significant cult following that has kept him a regular in the DCU ever since.  Even creator Keith Giffen seemed bemused by this, in an interview from 2006 quoted on Wikipedia he said "I have no idea why Lobo took off... I came up with him as an indictment of the Punisher, Wolverine hero prototype, and somehow he caught on as the high violence poster boy. Go figure."  It was the 90's Keith, nothing more needs to be said.
Look he maybe a parody, but he is pretty badass as well.
Although Keith Giffen is an American writer, he only supplied the plot outline and breakdowns.  The dialogue and art are something of a 2000AD reunion-fest, with Judge Dredd writer Alan Grant giving us the words and ABC Warriors/Slaine artist Simon Bisley on pictures.  Bisley is one of my favourite artists, although I prefer his work either in black and white or painted, the grungy colour palette here can't disguise the sheer manic energy of his work.  If you are wondering what a "Bastich" is by the way, it's a family friendly version of "bastard" which Lobo used when he was starring in more mainstream DCU comics.  Ironically, in this collection, he uses "bastard" freely as this is/was aimed at (im)mature readers.
He's not all bad.  He lives with a pod of space dolphins and is known to "frolick" with them sometimes.
The first miniseries - The Last Czarnian has a very straightforward plot.  Lobo currently works loosely for interplanetary peacekeeping team called L.E.G.I.O.N, whose boss - Vril Dox- beat Lobo in a fight and now Lobo has to do jobs for him.  The latest job is to go collect a prisoner called E.J Tribb from jail on another planet ( she flunked the kid of an important figure there which got her arrested) and bring her to the L.E.G.I.O.N headquarters, which Lobo goes off to do with much ill grace.  He is even more pissed off when he finds out that not only is the person he has to collect another Czarnian, meaning he Lobo isn't the last (Lobo used a bio-weapon to wipe his people out so he could be unique) but she is also his fourth grade teacher and the author of his unauthorised biography as well (text excerpts of which are included to provide more backstory of Lobo's terrible misdeeds).  But she has to be delivered alive, so after Lobo casually murders the police chief who was in charge of holding her for being pissy with him, off they ride on Lobo's badass spacebike.
Lobo escorts Ms. Tribb
The main joke behind this miniseries is that Lobo and his charge keep pissing people off as they travel.  This includes a gang of Lobo fans and  some tooled up little old ladies who want to kill Tribb for writing the Lobo book, as well as the cops whom Lobo killed the head of, and a group of space truckers and a ballet company who specialise in very violent ballet whom Lobo manages to aggravate as well.  They all converge just outside L.E.G.I.O.N HQ waiting for them to arrive so they can attack.  This turns out to have been a deliberate gambit by Vril Dox to rid himself of some troublesome elements of society as he lays it out for us at the start of issue three.

Vril Dox:
"Started well, too. Lobo took out that problematic police chief - a potential rival.  The paramilitary grannies go after him.  Lobo can take care of them too - and remove another troublesome radical group.   Ditto that for the gang of space biker hoodlums.  The truckers and the Destructo Dance Company were and unexpected bonus... especially with the way the truckers union has been dabbling in politics.  It was so simple.  Lobo kills.  And w walk in a restore order."

But between issue's Lobo and his charge have gone missing, causing Vril Dox to freak out.  But where can Lobo be.  Well, he was knocked out via gas and he and Mrs. Thribb were kidnapped to take part in a spelling bee.  Yes, really.  The aliens are the Orthogrophy Commandos, to whom falls the task of "making the universe free of the ignorant and functionally illterate".  Things look bad for Lobo, but the aliens ask him to spell words like "genocide" and "mutilation".  So as the rest of the contestants are killed off, the final ends up between Lobo and Tribb.  The aliens then say they have to  "Spell, conjugate and suggest suitable antonyms".  This causes Lobo to complain that it isn't fair that he is up against a teacher.  Tribb pipes up that she's been badly abused by Lobo, he even cut her legs off to stop her wandering off.  This offence results in Lobo being even more securely locked down.
Spelling Bee's are srsbznss
However, they haven't put gas jets around him now so he simply bursts out of confinement and horribly murders the aliens, then takes Tribb and goes on his way.  He checks in with the panicking Vril Dox, but tells him he needs a break and is going to Revel-7 the party world.  He says this over an unsecure line, and all the groups waiting for Lobo and Tribb to arrive outside L.E.G.I.O.N's headquarters, fly off to Revel-7 instead, a planet with billions of inhabitants, causing Vril Dox even more upset.  Relaxing and drinking mai-tai's Lobo is unimpressed:

Lobo: *sigh* A friggin' colostomy woulda been more fun than this."

So he decides to liven things up a bit.  And annouces over the planetary tannoy system:

Lobo: "Enjoyin' yer vacations? Good! 'Cuz now it's time for me to start enjoyin' mine. The rules are simple so listen exactly five hours I start killin' anyone still on this mudball."
Yes, basically the plot is resolved by everything exploding.  You expected more?!
And he sits back glugging booze and enjoying the mass panic that has broken out as everyone scrambles to their spaceships. He does say he was only joking to himself, and that he couldn't hang around to kill anyone anyway as he gave his word to Vril Dox (who has just dispatched L.E.G.I.O.N shock troops to deal with the groups waiting for Lobo in orbit around Revel-7) to deliver Tribb alive.  As Lobo leaves the planet with her, all five of the groups after them get blown up either by crashing into each other or smashed to smithereens by the speedy exodus of holidaymakers from the planet, leaving Lobo oblivious to having been followed by them.Lobo delivers Tribb into a depressed Vril Dox's company. 

Vril Dox:
".. you did a good job. I'll take her into custody now."

Lobo: "Thanks.  Thought ya'd never say it. Class dismissed teach."

And he breaks Tribbs neck.

Lobo: "Delivered alive and into your custody - that was the deal - didn't say nothin' 'bout after you had custody!  Have a nice day.. haw haw haw!"

And so ends the first miniseries that redefined Lobo as a totally over the top violent grotesque of a character, whose misdeeds are so gloriously rotten, you can't help liking the bastich.  Well I do anyway.  The next miniseries included in this volume - Lobo's Back - manages to be even more offensive mainly of grounds of religion.  Dealing as it does, with Lobo's extensive misadventures in DC's Judeo-Christian afterlife.  The "story" driving things is even thinner than the first miniseries.  Basically Lobo gets killed while trying to collect a big bounty target and the rest of the story is him trying to get reincarnated just before his death so he can win the fight.  Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

[Just an aside, but the DCU afterlife and general theological issues that come from having characters like Wonder Woman who has ties to the Greek Pantheon and characters like the Spectre who is basically a Christian angel are incredibly fascinating.  Many writers have depicted a very Dante inspired heaven and hell in the DCU, but when masses of aliens died during the crossover series Invasion, they set up their own heaven and hells on the fringes of the Christian heaven and hell.  As well as the Greek Gods actually existing, there are also the New Gods to consider as well. And as this Lobo series will prove, Buddha, Kali and possibly Zeus and Odin are lurking about as well.  I could literally write a thesis on religion in the DCU it's so magnificently complicated yet weirdly inclusive.  Anyway, back to Lobo.]
A duel with added MANLINESS
The miniseries begins with Lobo bemoaning the state of his finances and deciding to take up bounty hunting.  He targets a high value bounty, a man called Loo and confronts him on a planet called Dooly-7.

Lobo: "Yer my kinda guy Loo. Almost makes me feel sorry fer the brutality and carnage that's about to go down.  Almost"

Loo: "Ya ain't taking me in alive Lobo!"

Lobo: "Whatever made yah think I intend to?"

They then exchange a terrific amount of gunfire.  Then start knife fighting when the ammo runs out.  Before Lobo can declare victory, Loo calls out for help from "Brother Feces" and Lobo is blown in half and killed by the dwarf that was hiding in Loo's bag.
"Gaze into the Fist Of Dre..Lobo!"
Lobo arrives in the Afterlife stark naked and brutalises his way to the head of the queue for Judgement.  Turns out that Hell refuses to take Lobo and leaves him as Heaven's problem.  Lobo says they need to reincarnate him on Dooley-7 but his request is refused.  He is assigned an angel spirit guide called Duffiel to take him on his way.

Lobo: "Am I gonna haveta wear those girlie robes?"

Duffiel: "I'm uh.. afraid so.  Um, pardon me for asking but.. bit of a hit with the ladies were you?"

Lobo: "Ain't had no complaints bird-boy!  Think that gag'll get by without being censored?"

Duffiel: "Hard to say.  We've not had an editor up here yet."

Tee hee!  Anyway, Lobo isn't too impressed with Heaven, and soon has grabbed a lute and is singing heavy metal and causing the assembled angels to start slam dancing.  Lobo ends up back in the Afterlife Bureaucrat's office, saying this could all be sorted if they would just send him back to Dooley-7.  The bureacrat refuses and sends Lobo off to hell with an emissary the Jack Kirby creation Etrigan the Demon.  They end up having a punch-up and Lobo is returned to the bureaucrat with the threat that if they don't take him back, all of Hell will move in with Heaven to escape him.

Finally the bureacrat agrees to allow Lobo to reincarnate.  But decides to screw him over at the last moment.  Instead of sending him back to Dooley-7 in Lobo's present, he sends him back to London in 1940 during the worst days of the Blitz.  Also he puts him in a female body.
AAAH My Eyes! My Eyes!!
After some lighthearted jabs at stereotypical cockneys and a brawl with a patriotic superhero, Lobo manages to get hit by a cannon (!) and killed, which sends him back to the processing centre of the Afterlife.  And he is NOT happy.

Lobo: "Three guesses what happened to ta th'last clown ta cross me?  In exactly one minute, if I am still here, I show you."

Lobo is put up for reincarnation again.  But just after he is sent to Dooley-7 one of the lackeys admits to the bureacrat that Czarnian (Lobo's racial name) means something else in an obscure Dooley-7 dialect.  Turns out it's a type of squirrel, which Lobo incarnates as, much to his displeasure.  It's a short-lived incarnation anyway, Lobo is still battling Loo and when he gets blown in half he falls on Squirrel-Lobo and kills him, sending a raging Lobo back to the Afterlife Processing Centre.  He also earns a slap from Death (the Neil Gaimen version believe it or not) for trying to feel her up.  He's greeted back in the afterlife by guns, lots and lots of guns.
Heaven's Christian Soldiers.
The final issue is not drawn by Simon Bisley, but by Christian Alamy doing a creditable job of imitating Bisley's style (so much so that I wondered if it was an alias given the subject matter of this issue, but according to Google Mr. Alamy is real, if somewhat mysterious).  Anyway this issue is mainly one massive long scene of Lobo going apeshit in the Afterlife. He's unimpressed with the first wave of soldiers who attack him.

Lobo: "Keep 'em coming.  I ain't biased.  Hindu, Christian, Jew, Agnostic, Baptist.. yer all the same to tha' main man. Frag fodder!"

More soldiers, including elites and flying ones from various heavens and hells attack as well as a papal parody of Sgt. Rock and Easy Company.  He murderises them all.  It is pointed out that no one is actually dying because they are already dead, but Lobo is making things painful and inconvenient for everyone.  And then, oh dear, as if things haven't got offensive enough, a gang of Gods from various pantheons attack him.
Mere words could not do the blasphemy justice.  I'm an atheist and even I'm offended (slightly).
And where is the Christian God while all this is happening, He isn't fighting, He's got his feet up chortling at the action as He watches it on a celestial television.   When an angel asks Him if He shouldn't be doing something, He tells the angel to "shuddup 'an fetch Me another brewski".  I admit it, I laughed.  Now I am probably going to a Hell I don't believe in. 

Finally after beating down all the other Gods, Lobo makes it back to the Bureaucrat's place, but gets shot with a reincarnation cannon, which does this time send him back to Dooley-7.  But just after he got shot in half.  This time though he stays living and shoots and kills both Feces and Loo.  Then wanders off on his hands, with his legs slung over his shoulder, looking for a stapler.  The miniseries ends with Lobo having immortality granted to him because they never want him back in the Afterlife again.  Which is a character element that stuck over the years, at least until the universal DC reboot of The New 52.  Which must have rebooted the Afterlife as well, or something.
Finally Lobo gets what he wanted and only one jillion beings had to be horribly rekilled to get it.
It goes with out saying that it doesn't just cross the line once, it doesn't just cross the line twice.  It picks the line up and uses it as a skipping rope, all the while cackling madly.  It might be offensive of about eight billion levels, but it's equal opportunity offense, so there's that I guess.  This book is everything the moral guardians who look down on comics as a medium say they are, Frederic Wertham would have a heart attack if he read this.  But it's so gleefully in-your-face about it's crudity and violence that I can't help but enjoy it immensely.  The artwork is a big part of it I admit, but the jokes are blackly comic and the plot's ludicriously simple yet fun.  This is not a book for everyone, and reading it in one go is like binging on a whole packet of biscuits; bad for you and leaves you feeling faintly sick, but well, at least it was doing it with it's tongue rammed firmly in it's cheek.  It's the legion of irony free followers that came soon after that were the problem. Still, we can't blame Lobo for that. I think the inclusion of Lobo battling various Gods was maybe taking things a bit too far, but what is art if not to push boundaries? This is pure fun and I like it, so there and that's about the best justification I can come up with for liking the unjustifiable.


  1. Hmm, that's interesting. When Simon Bisley's not working in paint his work ends up resembling that of Kevin O'Neill.

    Shame you couldn't get a scan of Lobo getting slapped by Death of the Endless. She's ace.

    I'm not sure about the Spectre being an angel, but Zauriel definitely is.

  2. Yes he's got the same hyper muscularity that reminds me of O'Neil's Marshall Law as well as the same charicaturing of non masculine characters. I don't think O'Neils managed to top the grotesquery of Lady!Lobo though!

    The Spectre has been around for a long time as a character. I always think of him as he was during Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing where he was gatekeeper of heaven and an instrument of God's Wrath.

    Sadly you don't actually see Death slap Lobo, you just get a one frame shot of her telling Lobo to keep his hands to himself in future. I just find it hilarious that she ended up in the book at all, Neil Gaimen is quite proprietorial about who can use her and the rest of The Endless, so he must have seen the funny side.

  3. Forgot to say: Awww, space dolphins! Just like in The Ballad of Halo Jones.

    Doesn't DC own the Endless, so they can basically do what they like with them?

    What reminded me of O'Neill was the sort of spiky, angular, manic-mechanical look of the whole thing. Think Nemesis the Warlock.

  4. I think DC have a "gentlemens agreement" with Gaimen, they can use them but prefer to do it with his permission. Basically I think that they know they screwed up their potential future collaborations with Alan Moore by betraying him over Watchmen and are more careful honouring these informal agreements now. Interestingly Death appeared in a Marvel comic once, at some characters wedding. I forget whose, but it was with Gaimen's blessing so he must have some control of his own.

    I forgot about Halo Jones having space dolphins. Basically the whole book feels like a 2000AD project that somehow got published by DC by mistake. Which is probably why I like it so much!

  5. ...when you think about it, "gentlemen's agreement" is a sexist phrase, isn't it?

  6. Yes, it is isn't it? I think "informal agreement" might have been a better choice of words. Curses. See how easily even I, a member of the feminist-homosexualist axis, fall into expressing myself with phrases that reinforce patriarchal oppression! I must reread The Female Eunuch and cleanse myself of such impure thoughts.


  7. I love Lobo, but I don't think I've ever read any of his books. I was introduced to him via Superman when I was about 10 or 11. There was a great series where he and Supes had a go at each other. I'm tempted to get into the big old crate of comics in my closet and try and dig them out :)

  8. If you like Lobo, this book is definitely a must read. It basically defined him as the anti-hero jerk we all know and love today and is pretty funny to boot!