Written by James Kuhoric
Artwork by Nick Bradshaw and Sanford Greene
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. (Carl Sagan)
Never were truer words spoken. Imagination keeps us doing what we love best, going to the far off places that have never been and never will be. It allows us to see what the potential of anything could be. Imagination is the most precious resource we have, and it should be cultivated, mined, and treated as the stuff dreams are truly made of. But we are in an age of anti-imagination. Schools cut art and music curriculums to the barest of bones. Kids plug into games where the worlds are created for them. Their involvement is reduced to hitting buttons repeatedly. Finally, we find that more and more stories are just repeating themselves. Remakes flood the silver screen and video store shelves as if the flights of fancy have just enough imaginative fuel to be in a constant holding pattern.
This is my problem with Dynamite’s recent Army of Darkness collection: Shop Till You Drop Dead. The whole thing is a mess of tired AOD retreads, inconsistent artwork, and silliness that does nothing to amend either of the first two strikes.
Let’s start by discussing the premise of the series. Shop picks up right after Dynamite’s Ashes 2 Ashes storyline. Ash is back in the modern-day doldrums of life. As a “wage slave” in S-Mart, he finds himself the recipient of unwanted attention by his boss, Mr. Smart. Called to the office, Ash recants the whole Evil Dead/Army of Darkness mantra, expecting to get canned. Instead Mr. Smart tells Ash that he is one of Mr. Smart’s favorite employees and that he is just garnishing his wages for store items that were destroyed during the Deadite infestation (as seen at the first ending of the Army of Darkness movie).
Ash is dejected in the idea of losing most of his salary for the next few years to paying off a debt he cooked up trying to save the world, but as he sulks away, it is quickly revealed that Mr. Smart has been playing with the Necronomicon. Yup, Ash’s boss is now a Deadite.
Not stopping there, the evil follows Ash through the store, filling the whole place with Deadites. This is lost on Ash, who is wallowing in his glum. Only the advances of two buxom broads brings boomstick boy out of his bummer. Sheila has traveled back in time to be with Ash, and she commands his entire attention, but Mindy has other things on her mind. She wants Ash for her own. All this fine female attention attracts disdain from two other S-mart employees, Buck and Iggy. They just cannot fathom why a schmuck like Ash gets all the babes.
None of this means anything to the story. It is just a quick way to get involved with the principals of the task at hand. Army of Darkness comics are about Ash vs. some sort of Deadite threat, not character development. Except for a touching moment in Ashes 2 Ashes, the depth here is as shallow as a creek at the height of the dry season.
Deadites appear and overtake the store, which is where we begin to see the problems with Shop. Deadites appear as they always do, floating in the air, spouting the same old rhymes. Ash kills them. Then he fights more Deadites, but along for the ride is Buck and Iggy. I began warming up to the concept. It was engaging in the old school Evil Dead format. Ash kills Deadites without stooping to the whole “Ash is chosen to do some ridiculous task, and ends up bungling it in the end“ level. The addition of Buck, Iggy, and the two girls should have made for a great, more focused story. Ash has a clear legitimate goal, and we get some sort of development other than just Ashley J. Williams does Chuck Jones.
Ashes 2 Ashes turned the whole idea on its ear and kept the story moving through a complex and engaging series of twists and turns. The time travel concept reached its peak of storyline functionality without being exploitation. It was smart and fast. It knew where it was going and did not insult the audience.
Shop Till You Drop gives us no such chance. Once the story gets moving, the narrative keeps calling the reader a “primitive screw head.“ Not only do we have to revisit the “possessed hand” bit, but we have another run in with the Mini Ashes complete with Lilliputian tie-down sequence. Instead of trying to give us something new, writer James Kuhoric wants to beat our heads in with AOD clichés.
Just when things go beyond tiresome, a new time portal opens and Ash is sucked away yet again to a new time and place. There is a glimmer of hope as he arrives not in the past, but into an unforeseen future where the Deadites (now known as Deaduns) are out of control. Overflowing in the lower parts of the cities, the Deaduns appear to be more of a nuisance than a true menace unless you accidentally appear down in the dregs with them. Here is where Ash goes toe-to-toe with a swarm of Deaduns, only to have the battle end with one biting him on the dick. Why? Well, for no other reason than to have it be done. This showcases another problem as a lot of the humor is just off, misplaced, or not befitting AOD.
Long story short, in the future Ash has to get his hand on the Necronomicon program. It is this program that will allow the people of that time to send him back to his own time, ala AOD. Old story wrapped in new package and about to get worse. See, in his travels and tribulations, Ash ends up inside the Necronomicon program. He is dressed in a bright blue costume covering his whole body, and he straddles a like colored cyber cycle. An adversary is all red with a red bike, and the two of them travel along a matrix green colored gridwork fighting each other.
Yes, Ash is in Tron.
I cannot go any further. I have to take a step back and discuss the look of the book up to this point because this would be almost mildly forgivable if the book had a better artistic vision for the whole thing.
Nick Bradshaw begins the book with a style very similar to what he brought to Ashes 2 Ashes. I like the look of Ash, and he draws him very well. There is a believable cartoony-ness to the figure that allows it to be distinctive, yet pull from the iconography of the character. The action is fluid and wild. The colors done by Etienne St. Laurent create a muted pop on each page. The blood is messy and dark. It gives the whole beginning a darkened look that made me excited to keep reading.
Alas, it was not meant to stay this way. In the second installment we say good-bye to St. Laurent’s amazing palette and get washed into color by Jim Charalampidis. This is a degradation from the richness of St. Laurent, and Charalampidis’ work does little to complement Bradshaw. Going from one to the other, the look is less realized, cleaner, and goofier. The blood and gore devolve from the messy and chaotic to a feeling of forced feebleness. The pages flatten under this new artistic team, and as the story goes down, the artwork follows suit.
Now on to the third chapter. You know where we left off. . .in Tron-ville. Yes, it is an even bigger mess. Scott Kester’s colors bring back the richness that was lacking. Unfortunately, they are paired with Sanford Greene’s sketch work. Greene adds a lot of detail, but in contrast to Bradshaw, he is a major step down in design. Ash looks ugly , and Greene appears to have trouble keeping the perspective of the chin under control. Greene’s interpretation of Ash wants to be the subtle cartoon that Bradshaw’s embodies, but it falls so completely short that it doesn’t even fall into parody.
If I saw a picture of Ash’s face outside the context of the comic script as done by Greene, I would have no idea who it was meant to be. The triumph of Nick Bradshaw’s Ash was the distinctiveness and homage all in one. Greene’s work could be okay on its own, but to pair it with Bradshaw’s just highlights the problems. Add to this the silliest of storylines, where Tron-Ash has to escape the matrix, and you have a disaster on your hands.
Thank the elder gods that the last chapter unites Bradshaw with Kester. The two artists flow together well, and they bring a good visual to a book that was beginning to falter. The look never gets back to the completeness of Chapter 1, but it definitely does not go out on a visually bad note. I just have to wonder why Nick Bradshaw and Etienne St. Laurent were unable to handle the entire story themselves. I know sometimes a project will get handed around, but this time it feels like a rush job. Bradshaw did such a great job on the Ashes 2 Ashes project, and even with the color duties being split again between St. Laurent and Charalampidis, there was no great visual continuity break as we get here.
I do have to give credit to James Kuhoric for getting some of the feeling right when it come to Ash and how he reacts to things. There are truly some great and/or funny moments in the book. But these are underscored heavily by the moments where the quips fall flat, the art is distracting, and the story is uninspired. I wanted to love this book, and I found myself more nostalgic for Ash than for anything else. I wanted so much to be in the midst of a new AOD adventure that I did enjoy myself while reading the story. It was in retrospect that I saw the many faults to the series.
One last example: When Ash is sent back to the present, he emerges without clothes. For a while he goes about clad in a sheet toga that was born out of momentary necessity. It gives a great visual. Funny and so very Ashley J. Williams’ style of luck. I was almost ready to give this series a new lease on life, but then it happened…
Ash spots a new outfit in the middle of a department store full of clothes, and he opts for the most ludicrous choice he could make: an Elvis costume.
Now, I realize that Bubba Ho-Tep showed us that Bruce Campbell is able to give a deep and heart-wrenching performance, but to bring that into the AOD world is simply unforgivable. I am aware of the “hail to the king” comment from the film, but that one moment notwithstanding, the choice flies right in the face of the character’s known modus operandi. Ash is a man of resource, a man of courage, and a man of ingenuity. He is not about the bling or the silly fluff that comes with notoriety and extravagance.
All in all, Ash is not self-serving. Sure he is pompous, he is arrogant, and he has moments where he makes questionable calls. Yet, deep in his heart and soul he is a hero. A true hero for the ages, one who has his past, present, and future written for him in blood. This is why we love him. This is why his legions of fans still hail him as the king. And this is why he deserves a series of comics that are much better than this one.
He still has the girl and the boomstick, so we can try again. As long as it takes. Or until Sam makes a new film.
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