All Star Section 8 #1: “I Often Wonder What the Vinters Buy”
Written by Garth Ennis
Illustrated by John McCrea
Colored by John Kalisz
Lettered by Pat Brosseau
WARNING: Spoilers for a 15-year old comic book contained within.
From 1996 to 2001, the team of Garth Ennis and John McCrea (with only the occasional fill-in artist) brought us Hitman, an ultra-violent comic book that balanced strong storytelling with a cutting wit. Simultaneously irreverent and reverent to superheroes, this was a book that had an arc where pretty much everybody makes fun of how dumb Green Lantern is, yet also had one of the best, most touching Superman stories ever written. Poking fun while still paying respectful homage, the series was a nice look at, among other things, how the less noble of us would really act in a world of superpowers.
Taking place in the Cauldron, a part of Gotham so bad even Batman hesitates to go there, the series was not without its colorful characters. Along with Tommy Monaghan, the titular hitman, his best friend Natt the Hat, and the other scoundrels of Noonan’s pub, none were more outrageous than the resident super-team Section Eight.
The team, very few of which could be accurately described as “super,” consisted of the following:
- Six Pack: the team’s leader; perpetually drunk, has delusions of heroism and super-villainous threats, will vomit on/wet himself
- The Defenestrator: pretty much the T-800, carries around a window he throws people through
- Friendly Fire: shoots powerful rays from his hands that, without fail, hit his teammates instead of their intended target
- Shakes: see name
- Jean de Baton-Baton: French, hits enemies with a baguette
- Bueno Excellente: umm… defeats evil through the “power” of, uhh, perver you know what let’s just move on
- Flemgem: throws excessive amounts of mucus; still only third grossest member of the team
- Dogwelder: welds dogs to people’s faces; your new favorite superhero
Despite being what can be described very generously as a motley crew, they were still (somehow) effective at taking down threats. They last appeared in a story that saw most of the team get killed, only to have Six Pack selflessly sacrifice himself to save the Cauldron and become the hero he wanted to be. It’s an over the top battle and meant to be more funny than anything, but the fact that an ending like that for such a one-note caricature could ring so true and be so moving is a remarkable feat.
If only the same could be said of their return.
The issue starts off strong, with a recap of the team and their untimely end, all written in the tongue in cheek fashion the series was known for. We are then transported to a New York City art gallery, where we meet Sidney Speck, unassuming art critic who is described as a “rejuvenating enema for the whole local scene”. Speck, a recovering alcoholic who may or may not be Six Pack (SPOILER: he is) is accidentally given a rye and Coke and immediately reverts to being Six Pack (SPOILER: told you).
He recovers from a drunken blackout at Noonan’s, still frequented by Hacken, the last surviving member of the Noonan’s gang, and with the bar still manned by underworld creature Baytor.
Sensing a threat, Six Pack decides he needs to get the team back together, along with some new recruits since, you know, three-fourths of the team is dead.
Joined by Bueno, the somehow still alive Dogwelder, and the three new recruits Guts, the Grapplah, and Powertool (who were introduced in last month’s sneak peek), Six Pack decides to take on Baytor as a seventh member. Needing one more person to complete the team, Six Pack heads outside where he runs into…
And this is where this issue falls apart. Most of the humor is in fairly bad taste and isn’t exactly politically correct, but it’s so bizarre and so over the top that it works as satire or shock, depending upon the intent. Here, Batman is given a parking ticket for parking in a restricted zone (which is funny), but then gets whiny and petulant about having to pay it and then back pedaling from an unintentionally racist phrase. It’s remarkably tone-deaf writing from Ennis, unless the “All Star” in the title is supposed to reference the atrocious All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder. If this is supposed to be that Batman, then yeah, it makes sense.
No doubt this sets up the formula for the miniseries, with the team running into another big time hero each month only to have them get away. Hopefully Ennis can get back in the swing of things and harness the prowess he exhibited in Hitman’s sixty issue run, or even just the first half of this issue.
As shaky as the writing is, John McCrea’s art is top-notch. It’s a little gross and macabre, as it was in the earlier series, but he also channels some pretty remarkable talents, including Neal Adams:
And Kelley Jones:
Unless they just lifted those from the original illustrations and he just drew around them. In that case I feel silly.
Either way, his style is good and fits in this world, and while the shifting look of Batman’s suit is initially jarring, it’s actually a pretty effective representation of Six Pack’s inebriated mental state.
For a book I had high hopes for, this issue left me disappointed. Hopefully the next five issues will come together and make this what it should be: a funny, crazy trip with one of the weirdest super-teams to ever appear in comics.
- You’re a fan of Hitman.
- You like your comics weird.
- You’re willing to give something bizarre a chance.
Overall: Starts off strong and goes wildly off the rails in the second half. Hopefully once these guys see some action the book will pick up, and while it has its moments and the art is nice, forced humor and a painfully out of character Batman don’t make for a good read.