Friday, June 6, 2014

Paneled Goods: Backlash

Where were you in 1992?!  I was a precocious youth in the Middle-East of America, talking trash and reading comic books.  Marvel titles like Captain America, X-Men and The Punisher were favorites during the age of the rising superstar artist a la Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Ron Lim and the like.  In that fabled year, a group of 7 artists and storytellers had enough of being exploited by The Man and not seeing any kickback from the myriad of merchandise hitting shelves adorned with their artwork and original characters.  Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld and Whilce Portactio went off to set up Image Comics, a creator owned venture that would house each of their signature banners.  Titles like Liefeld's Youngblood, Larsen's The Savage Dragon, McFarlane's Spawn and Lee's WildC.A.T.s sold 100's of thousands of copies instantly making their creators rich and powerful in the process.  Image horned in on mainstay Marvel and DC's business while branching out into video games, toys, cartoons and even a live action movie (Michael Jai White as Spawn!). 

One of my favorite books from the time was Lee's WildC.A.T.s which concerned alien races fighting each other through the centuries and galaxy before ending up on Earth.  The Kherubims were immortal-esque and possessed various mental and physical powers while maintaining a human appearance.  Their foes the Daemonites were gnarly creatures who could control the human mind and take over their bodies to use as a camouflaged host.  From here, Lee co-created StormWatch, a covert crisis-intervention squad composed of super beings who operate from a space station.  The team's combat instructor?  One Marc Slayton aka Backlash!  Introduced in 1993's StormWatch # 3, Backlash became an instant fan favorite due to his Spider-Man verbal quips meet Wolverine gruffy badass mystique.  Proficient in hand to hand combat, Backlash was also able to conjure up "psi-whips", energy projections that are used to grab an opponent, give them a shock or as a regular ol' rope and grappling hook.  Later we find out that Marc had been part of Team-7, a black ops outfit that was exposed to the Gen-Factor, a mutagenic chemical that unleashes latent powers.  Even later we find out that our pal Slayton is Kherubim!  See how this stuff all fits together?

In 1994, Backlash was given his own series that ran for 32 issues.  Whereas StormWatch saw him training new recruits and beating up loudmouths, his own series saw him on the run.  For love.  See, his ladyfriend Diane is taken over by a Daemonite called S'ryn and when Marc exorcises the foul beast, Diane goes into a coma.  On the hunt, Backlash needs some help infiltrating the Cabal, a Daemonite syndicate that experiments on humans, giving them powers and bio-metallic suits.  This leads him to Amanda Reed, a former prostitute turned Cabal member now locked up in Purgatory Max, a facility for super beings.  Backlash breaks Taboo out and the two hunt down S'ryn while getting cozy with one another, know what I'm saying?  After all is said and done and Diana recovers, she dumps Marc for taking the vigilante route!  Heartbroken and alone, ol'Lash receives a panicked call from Amanda who is now being hunted down by a posse of super cops and needs some help.

Like all Image comics, Backlash is big, colorful, loud and action packed.  All the men are hyper muscular while the women are 90's hot hot hot!  Super powered heroics meets alien invading horror?  What?!  A shadowy covert ops military past and thought dead comrades coming back to haunt you?  Serious?!  90's style hard ass one liners (a ticket to dream land is a fist in the face!).  Check.  Near overly complicated shared universe, secret big brother watching organizations and 3,000 year old aliens?  Check yes!  Backlash's smart mouth and alien/mutant powered enhanced stinging fists are a nice combo and the story's on the go kinetic style makes it pretty fast and fun reading.  Artist and co-creator Brett Booth's art takes a page from the Jim Lee book of epic, sweeping, detailed and exciting pencils and splash pages.  As Lee said, everyone in the 90's looked like they were flying even when they didn't' possess the power of flight which gives the character an exhilarating, "leaping into action" feel versus the talking heads standard that took over comic books in the early 2000's after the X-Men movie and 9/11 turned everything serious and booooooring.

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