Friday, 11 December 2015

All Star Section Eight (#1-6)

"I mean does no one awesome want to be a superhero any more?" - Sixpack

Yes, this is actually published by a US company, but the artist and writer originate from the UK, and well that's close enough for me.... Look MY blog, MY rules.  Actually I was going to cover this last month but the final issue was delayed and so I didn't pick it up until the other day so you're getting it now instead. I am broke, so unfortunately I am what is called a "Trade waiter" or someone who can't afford to buy individual comics.  But when I read that Garth Ennis and John McCrae would be reuniting to bring us a six issue miniseries based on the team of utterly useless "heroes" from their Hitman series, I ran to my local Forbidden Planet and said "here, take all of my monies".  And I felt I needed to support this endeavour because I want DC to know that if they release awesome comics, by awesome writers and artists based on much loved concepts, they will profit from it.  When they did a universal reboot in 2011 called "The New 52", it wiped out all of the DCU's prior history and we got tiresome, grimdark reimagined versions that seemed to be aimed at teenaged boys circa 1992 but with the characters that were in place during The Silver Age, which also resulted in many popular legacy characters being retconned out of DC history.  This gave it a somewhat schizophrenic tone in the main, and the few series that tried to be imaginative and quirky as well as mature, such as Dial H and Frankenstein (both of which I have praised on this very blog) were cancelled fairly quickly.  I've ragged on overall execution of The New 52 quite a bit since I began this blog, but after another reboot earlier this year called "Convergence", The New 52 is no more.  Our long, national nightmare is over! Huzzah!

Convergence melded elements from all DCU timelines, and the new attitude behind it seems to have mainly bought back a sense of fun and freshness to the DCU.  Rather than a crippling attempt to adhere to one rigid history, we're getting a more relaxed attitude to continuity and some interesting versions of old friends. It seems to be nicknamed the DC "Youniverse" now, and outside of this miniseries there are plenty of series I am planning to pick up in trade when the first wave are released.  But like I said, this was different, I wanted it now.  While The New 52 groaned under the weight of editorial meddling and constant crossovers designed to keep the universe straight, the DC Youniverse appears to be a place where series and miniseries can exist in isolation and not rely on reading a different series to get the full story.
ANYWAY. A year ago I spent all of November looking at the seven volumes of Garth Ennis and John McCrae's Hitman, which was about Tommy Monaghan, the titular Hitman who had telepathy and X-ray vision.  Much to my delight, what I thought would be an obscure series to cover has actually proved to be tied with Cerebus as the one people seem most interested in reading about.  Which is cool.  Now, when Garth Ennis ends a series, he tends to kill off all the supporting characters and hopeless "superteam" Section Eight were victims of said deck clearing with only the alchoholic leader Sixpack and perverted Bueno Excellente surviving.  Apropos of nothing, I've always been impressed with the loyalty Ennis seems to inspire in his artist collaborators, I've been rereading my old issues of CRISIS, and twenty-six years ago a young Ennis got his first series published in it, his artist?  An almost unrecognisable John McCrae.  And here they are many years later still working together.  That's pretty damn cool. 

The story begins with a montage of pre-New 52 heroes battling enemies alongside the original Section Eight, before ending with the statement:

Narrator: "And when the day came that the others fell in battle it was Sixpack who stood alone and sacrificed himself to save the world."

Sixpack sacrificed himself to go fight Lovecraftian demons in their own reality and it was heavily implied he returned, got clean and found a new life as plain, ordinary Sidney Speck. Then it is Sidney Speck we join as he attends a gallery opening in his role as an art critic for which he is much admired. 
Back in Noonan's sleazy bar.
Unfortunately a drinks order gets mixed up and he accidentally drinks some alchohol and immediately becomes a raving drunk, he strips off and glasses one of the other attendees and things blur and he finds himself back in Noonan's bar as Sixpack.  The demon Baytor is still tending bar and Hacken is still the only one of the hitmen left alive.

Sixpack says to Hacken that he knows there is a "threat" and he has to "stop it".  He has to get the team back together and starts phoning potential teammembers.  He ends up with Bueno Excellente, Powertool, Guts, The Grapplah and Dogwelder II.  Sixpack is confused as to how Dogwelder can be alive but Dogwelder II silently brooks no investigation and Sixpack drops the issue.
Section Eight mk. II
Sixpack wonders who he can get to fill the last two spots so it makes Eight members.  Hacken suggest Baytor who is dropping heavy hints that he'd like to join:

Hacken: "He shoots big wads of disgusting white fluid that hardens round people before crumbling them into dust, and he's the demon lord of criminal insanity..."

Sixpack agrees and Baytor becomes member number seven.  With one spot left to fill, Sixpack sees Batman parked outside and rushes out to try and recruit him.

Batman ignores him and goes to the cashpoint to get some money.  He returns to the Batmobile and finds a traffic warden writing him a ticket.  He shouts "I've bent over backwards to help you people...!" The traffic warden, who is black, says dryly "you people?"  Batman blusters a bit and she leaves telling him he has thirty days to pay.  Still ignoring Sixpack pleas, Batman tosses the ticket away and drives off leaving Sixpack alone.
McCrae is gonna make a mint of the original art here.
We then get a flashback to a man browsing stuff in a junkshop.  He comments to the shop owner that he has a family, with two kids.  But he discovers Dogwelder's mask and torch and bewitched, puts the mask on and runs out and welds a dog to a passer-by.

Back in Noonan's, Sixpack has decided to try and recruit the Hal Jordan Green Lantern.  The others are playing cards and Bueno Excellente starts flirting with Guts, who is female.  Sixpack briefly blacks out and hears voices saying "Just hurting you.  Same again. Over and over.  Forever".

Then Sixpack returns to reality and yells, "we godda joina Green Lantern Corpsh!"  On the roof the seven of them wearing Green Lanter T-shirts chant the Green Lantern code.  Then Sixpack gets out a box containing a "slutty vampire costume" and says one of them has to be Star Sapphire.
A demented plan in action.
The plan is she'll "attack" and they'll defeat her and draw the attention of the Green Lanterns.  Guts gets to wear the costume and they enact the plan, but it doesn't work unsurprisngly.  Sixpack then throws up on the Grapplah and they decide to take a break.

Guts goes to change out of the costume in the toilets and Bueno Excellente spies on her.  Then a mysterious voice bellows, "stay thy hand Sir Bueno of the Excellence."  The voice says he is not the only one who wants the "heart of the fair maiden Guts."  And the voice reveals itself to Bueno Excellente, but not to the reader. Yet.
I don't think Ennis likes Hal Jordan.
Sixpack is trying to return the Green Lantern shirts and gets into a prolonged argument with the shop keeper while outside Hal Jordan subdues a rampaging dinosaur.  he is being interviews by the local news when Sixpack rushes up to talk to him. Hal thinks the TV people are punking him and angrily hails a taxi saying he wants to "keep his dignity" and leaves the scene, Sixpack once again fails to acquire an eighth member.

We return to Bueno Excellente and his unseen challenger, who we finally get a look at.  He is an enormous tapeworm living inside Guts called "Sir Percival Orifice, Tape of the Worm". He challenges Bueno Excellente for the hand of Guts saying, "gird thy loins for what must sorely follow".
Sir Percival has a waxed moustache! Hahahaha!
Back with the rest of Section Eight, they have a new member in Martian Manhunter, J'onn J'onzz.  He says he feels drawn to them because they are outsiders and outcasts like him.

J'onn: "Word of your return has travelled far Sixpack.. Heroes everywhere have heard the news."

We then get a double page spread of DC's top heroes discussing them, not very complimentarily but J'onn says he "came as soon as he heard."  Bueno Excellente and Sir Percival are about to do battle to the death, Sir Percival says "the choice of weapons falls to you".  Bueno Excellente grins.

Sixpack tells J'onn he's been having doubts.  He keeps hearing voices telling him "it's the same adventures, the same stories, the same endings, over an' over.  Forever."  J'onn says that doubts are something all heroes have.  He gets insulted all the time for how he looks and dresses.  The best thing to do is:

J'onn: "Seek out the one thing that defines us.  That gives us meaning.  That gives our likes the meaning we crave.  Take us into action".
The closest Section Eight mk. II gets to action.
We get an imaginary sequence of Section Eight going into battle.  It is truly epic.  Sixpack, enthused, says he remembers now that there is a threat and he'll get the guys together.

J'onn says he'll join him in a moment, he needs the bathroom.  Before he goes in the Grapplah warns him "Bueno and this tapeworm guy are having a perve off."  J'onn goes in anyway and is greeted by a soul scarring sight.

He screams in horror and flies out of Noonans by the quickest route through the ceiling.  Sir Percival gives in but Bueno drags him back to finish him off and Section Eight are down a member again, alas.
Sorry J'onn, what has been seen cannot be unseen.
Garth Ennis doesn't have a lot of time for superheroes, the exceptions being Superman and Wonder Woman, who kicks off the next issue by confronting Section Eight and telling them she won't be joining them (I must admit, I like the "shorts" version of her costume here), she also gets the honour of starring in the funniest issue of the mini as well.

She tells Sixpack not to contact her again or "you'll find out what an Amazon warrior does."  She departs saying that any superheroine who would join them would have to have brain damage. As she walks outside, Baytor who is fixing the sign accidentally belts her in the face with a huge mallet and well, this happens.
Be careful what you wish for Sixpack..
Sixpack says she can join and she is very happy.  As she skips around the bar trashing the place, the rest of Section Eight, bar Bueno Excellente and Guts who are out, worry they'll get into trouble for this.  Wonder Woman takes tea with Dogwelder II saying he probably likes his with dogs welded to it while the others discuss the ethics of having a brain damaged member on the team.

Powertool says that from a feminist perspective "we're on very dubious ground."  Grapplah dimisses him saying women are happy "knitting and shopping and cooking dinner for her guy"  Confused, Sixpack asks Hacken about "this equality thing."  Hacken says "if a woman wants to do something no one should stand in her way... even if what she wants is incredibly ******* dumb."

Wonder Woman keeps bouncing gleefully round the bar, Sixpack introduces Bueno Excellente and Guts to her when they return.  When she is told Guts is Bueno Excellente's girlfriend she declares "now we can have a wedding".  So Bueno Excellente and Guts get married by Baytor who reads from the Book of Revelation.  The ceremony complete, Bueno Excellete "kisses" Guts, although actually he does something to her so filthy we can't be shown.  The others throw up, while Wonder Woman giggles and says "that's naughty".
A special day.
While she builds a private room for Bueno Excellente and Guts' honeymoon, Sixpack declares it's "crossed a line!  This can't be allowed to happen!"  Then Baytor whacks her with the hammer again and restores her mind.  She looms over a panicking Sixpack and says "This. Didn't. Happen".  He babbles that he is sorry and he's been trying to fill the eighth slot in the team and she replies:

Wonder Woman: "It's all a waste of time, Sidney.  You need to stop it. Haven't you realised it yet?"

When Sixpack asks who Sidney is, Wonder Woman denies saying it and departs the bar leaving a bewildered Sixpack in her wake.

The next issue starts with Sixpack alone half-passed out on the bar floor when the Phantom Stranger comes to visit.  He's been reimagined as a rapper, complete with backing singers.  It's probably the weakest issue in that respect because while funny for a couple of pages, the joke is overstretched at around half an issue. 
Hip Hop-tastic Phantom Stranger.
The Phantom Stranger tells Sixpack he has business in the afterlife.  Sixpack asks if he is dead.  Phantom Stranger says he's "Just a visitor tonight".  The Phantom Stranger then summons Etrigan.  But all Etrigan does is is sing that DC should release Ennis and McCrae's run on "The Demon" as a trade paperback and after that bit of meta, The Phantom Stranger and Sixpack move on.

They go to Limbo, the place where souls go when they aren't good enough for heaven but not bad enough for hell:

Phantom Stranger: "Saints go to heaven, Hell's for killaz:  Limbo's for fools is just kinda vanilla."
The original Section Eight sans Dogwelder in Limbo.
Also the odd, freaks and weirdos that "confound even God."  Then Sixpack is bought face to face with the original Section Eight; Flegem, Friendly Fire, Shakes, Jean de Baton and The Defenestrator.  Friendly Fire immediately lays into Sixpack for getting them killed.  Flegem asks if he is there to join them.  Sixpack says that he's just passed out on the floor of Noonan's but Flegem says he shouldn't be able to wander the spirit world if he isn't dead.  Sixpack asks about Dogwelder and is told he's gone to Hell:

Friendly Fire: "He welded dogs to people for *****'s sake!  Where the **** do you think he is?"

When Sixpack said Dogwelder was a hero, Friendly Fire says that superheroic crap of his got them killed and how come "you're a wandering soul still attached to a corporeal body?"  They show him something that Sixpack doesn't want to face and them he finds himself back with the Phantom Stranger outside an art gallery in the snow. Round the corner is a naked man lying in the snow.

Sixpack: "Oh the poor guy.  He's so cold."
And he goes over to him and the man is obiously Sixpack/Sidney, and puts his cloak over him before lying next to him to keep him warm.  He then wakes with a start back at Noonan's.  Section Eight mk.II are all there, Dogwelder II is watching an appeal on the TV from his family to come home.  Sixpack is freaking out about his dream:

Sixpack: "I-I just don't know if I can keep doin' this.  I think somethin's changed. I think all the stuff I thought might be wrong..."

Then, to everyone present's shock and surprise, Superman appears at the door to the bar and invites Sixpack to join him, greeting him as an "old friend" and that it's time to go.
Superman getting ready to give a pep talk.
They teleport to Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Sixpack wants to know why Superman would come for him "Because you're a hero, Sixpack.  Heroes are always there for each other".  Sixpack is somewhat overwhelmed by the strange and wonderful things in the Fortress.  Superman takes him to a large window opening onto a view of the cold wilderness the Fortress is based in.

Superman: "I find it inspiring.  Whatever troubles I have seem somehow less before its majesty."

He then asks Sixpack what troubles him.  Sixpack repeats the fears he told Martian Manhunter.  That he's having doubts about this whole hero thing, that maybe he isn't a hero, "I think I'm just a pathetic loser. I think maybe I ain't even real."
Sixpack admits his doubts.
Sixpack carries on with his doubts that the entire world is in his head and that costumes and superheros are "kinda dumb".  And that all the same stuff happens over and over, doesn't that add up as going through the mind of a loser?  He tells Superman he was sent to a "cold place" where he was lying drunk in an alley.

There wasn't any heroes, power rings or cyborg armour.  If your parents got shot in front of you you ended up "a basket case."  You got a shot of radiation and you died.

Sixpack: "But it was more than that.  See, I even without alla that, there wasn't no heroes 'cause it was too hard to be one."

Superman agrees that it is a "bleak notion".  Then he asks Sixpack if he is aware that in ancient cultures there was a belief that "One of the Gods dreamed the world into being?"  Everything in his dream existed and if the God awoke the dream would end and so would the world.  "Then you better hope I don't sober up, I guess" says Sixpack sadly.

Back at Noonan's, Dogwelder II's wife has arrived.  When she realises her really is her husbacn she takes him outside where his kids are waiting.  He starts to take the welding helmet off but as he lifts the visor, one of his kids brings out a small dog.  Dogwelder II fires up his welding torch and the action cuts to the watching Baytor and Powertool as a scream sounds off panel.

Back with Superman and Sixpack, they have left the Fortress of Solitude and he says to him, that if he isn't a hero then "how exactly do you explain that?"  And he shows him the statue his friends erected to him in the Hitman series after his sacrifice against the Many Angled Ones.  Sixpack is overwhelmed, and Superman says "it's going to be Okay Sixpack" and hands him a bottle of whiskey.
Nice callback to Hitman.
Sixpack comes rushing into Noonan's and summons Section Eight to him.  Dogwelder II has run off.  The Grapplah has managed to accidentally hang himself in the toilets. Guts and Bueno Excellente are still celebrating their "honeymoon" in the Ladies toilets.  Sixpack says something terrible is coming and they have to stop it.

Powertool's drink gets knocked on the floor and when Powertool powers up his suit, standing in the liqiud causes him to electrocute himself.  Not keen on facing a terrible threat, Baytor goes and hides in the cellar. So Sixpack goes out as the narrator speaks of a world of wonders:

"A place where men and women walked through fire, or soared amongst the fabirc of the stars, or conquered within the fabric of reality itself.  All that good might be triumphant...This is his world.  His dream.  Whichever.  As dreams go.. well..I suppose you could do worse"
Very heartwarming.
Oh Garth, you have mellowed.  That is a truly touching ending having "real" Sixpack wrapped in Superman's cloak, keeping him alive.  And to find Ennis accepting that a world with superheroes in it can be considered a good one and worth keeping alive is like Scrooge discovering the true meaning of Christmas.  Ennis' Superman reminds me very strongly of All Star Superman's iconic take on the man from Krypton.  Wise, gentle, in someways totally alien and yet also representing the best humanity can aspire to be (and how different from the prat currently starring in the mainstream Superman titles), Ennis has nailed all that is appealing about the character in one single issue.  Overall I loved this miniseries, I love the fact that in the end Section Eight mk. II didn't do much except play cards and bicker in Noonan's.  Honestly part of me could have read a much longer series with many more heroes stumbling into contact with them.  I loved the Wonder Woman issue for his humour and the Superman issue for it's affirmation of the power of the superheroic narrative best, but it was all good stuff, with great art by John McCrae to boot. I'd absolutely love it if this series makes Ennis consider maybe launching a new series of something in the mainstream DCU, because Ill be there with my £2.15 a month supporting it if he does trade waiting be damned.  If you enjoyed Hitman, you can't fail to enjoy this miniseries, it's rude, it's gross, it's funny and it's heartwarming. Excellente!


  1. yeah! screw the nu52!! I didn't know about this series and I love hitman, i shall definitely buy the trade for this :)

  2. If DC put the "Sneak Peak" in at the start, then I'll be double-dipping for the trade as well >_<

  3. I'm a trade waiter too. (Apart from when it comes to 2000 AD, as I have a subscription.)

    If Batman isn't a racist, how come all his Robins are white? Huh? Huh??? *gets Batman put on a register*

    "Slutty vampire costume" sounds about right for the Star Sapphires. Which is a shame, as they have a cool name, and they drawn their powers from the 'love' part of the emotional spectrum, which could be a really neat concept if portrayed with the same seriousness given to the Blue or Indigo Lanterns. But the Star Sapphires are all female because apparently no male in the entire universe is "pure enough" to join. Which is sexist and daft.

    Hal Jordan was more interesting when he went evil. Also, why would he call a cab when he can fly? If I could fly I would fly everywhere, even if it was only down to Tesco to buy some Müller rice.

    I like how when Diana has gone all daffy in the head she has winged Amazons flying round her noggin instead of birds.

    The real Superman is a dude. It's like his superpowers are optimism and seeing the best in people. He's the Captain Carrot of the DCU.

  4. I'm glad trades are counted when seeing how well a comic does, makes me feel less bad for not buying monthly.

    Yes, you make a good point about Batman's Robins, I had not thought about that before... hrrm.

    I have to say my knowledge of The Green Lantern mythos is somewhat sparse, so I know nothing about Star Sapphire. I did know Hal Jordan went bonkers due to a yellow fear insect though.

    I did love the winged Amazons, lovely art touch.

    It's a nice portrayal of Superman here isn't it? Ennis really nails his appeal.

  5. They updated the Green Lantern mythos relatively recently. Green Lanterns get their power from willpower. There are also Red Lanterns (rage); an Orange Lantern (greed); the Sinestro Corps (they get their power from the yellow light of fear); Blue Lanterns (hope (yay!)); Indigo Lanterns (compassion — they're all former mass murderers); and Star Sapphires (powered by the violet light of love). I know it sounds dumb, but I really like it. YMMV.

    I only like Mr Ennis when he's portraying Superman. Comics should be more about Superman and less about tapeworms. IMAO.

  6. Ah right, I knew about the Red Lanterns because of Dex-Starr but didn't know about the rest.

    Is there not room for Superman AND tapeworms, Sir Percival had such an elegant moustache!

  7. I have this *thing* about digestive processes. Like almost a phobia but not quite?

    RAGE KITTEH!!!!1!!

    When you learn about all the different colours of the emotional spectrum, the question is, "Which would you be?" I really want to be a Blue Lantern.

  8. No I can understand that, I've spoken before about being phobic about vomiting.

    I think I'd probably be a Red Lantern, I have a lot of suppressed rage and anger and to be able to use that to blow things up? It would feel so gooooood.

  9. Blue Lanterns neutralise Red, so... maybe we can't be friends any more? *sad face*

  10. Oh I didn't know the various Lanterns could cancel each other out, well I'm quite strong willed, bet I'd be a kickass Green Lantern too.

  11. I bet when you wanted to pwn your sister's horrible so-called boyfriend you were being strong-willed rather than angry...

    "The primary function of the Blue Power Ring will manifest its constructs in response to the target's specific psychosis, with a soothing effect based on that target's hopes. In this way, the ring can remove the corruptible influence of the red flame of rage by infusing hope." (From the internet.)

  12. That was one of those scary times I went through rage and into a sort of "tranquil" fury. Anyway, I could have made a huge green boxing glove and smacked him one, so either way he'd have got pwned hard.

    I wonder what a Blue Ring construct to soothe me would look like? Oh I know... a kitten of course!

  13. I will make you a lovely kitten :-)

    And then tell the police about him, 'cos I'm not stupid :-)

  14. Heh, well he's well in the past now, and her chap now is the kind of bloke I can buy random comic collections for as gifts and he returns the favour. And kittens ftw!