Sunday, December 7, 2014

Supernatural: Origins

(Apologies for the lateness of this post. This was a difficult one to write.)

Greetings once again, citizens! Though much of my focus has been on comics and superhero related media, I do have many other interests, like a normal person. Not that I claim to be normal, mind you, but I do have some of those traits. I like other aspects of popular culture, especially movies and TV, and it’s because of my other interests that I picked up today’s offering.

About a year ago, I moved in with a close friend after some rather difficult personal trials. As part of her effort to keep my spirits up, we began watching a TV series, Supernatural. I had seen a few episodes of the series before, but I never really got into it. However, my friend and I began watching it and riffing on it, and the experience was a lot of fun.

For those unfamiliar with the series, I’ll give a brief primer. The show centers on the adventures of two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who go around the country killing monsters. Pretty simple premise, but they keep it entertaining by varying the plotlines, introducing new characters, and having a lot of different monsters. Vampires, werewolves, djinn, wendigos, demons, even gods, the show features a wide variety of foes for the Winchesters. There are also a lot of plot elements that I’m leaving out, because I don’t feel like putting up spoiler warnings.

The series became popular pretty quickly, so of course a comic adaptation was planned. Supernatural: Origins was a limited series published by Wildstorm, a now-defunct imprint of DC, released in 2007. Instead of being an adaptation of some episodes of the show, it instead provides some background on John Winchester, Sam and Dean’s father, and how he became a hunter. I was pretty interested in reading it, since we see a lot of Sam and Dean’s backstory in flashbacks, but John is rarely ever seen. So, let’s get started with issue one.

Let’s get my thoughts on the art out of the way up front here. I am not a fan of this artwork at all. Everything is really blocky and minimalistic, which are not traits I especially like in my artwork. I love details, and have a great admiration for any artist who’s able to add in all the little details that really sell a scene. I also don’t really feel that this style works with the source material. There’s always little references to the greater world of Supernatural in little details in the background (or foreground) and in the dialogue. The lack of detail makes everything seem more flat and disconnected from the mythos behind the show. The blockiness I can ignore, because that’s just a personal preference. There’s also a heavy use of shadows in the artwork, which I approve of because it’s something that matches the aesthetic of the source. However, there is one problem with it; all the characters are suffering from Youngblood’s disease.

Youngblood’s disease, for those unfamiliar, is a trope in comics where characters are depicted without eyes for some reason. Whether they’re squinted to the point of non-existence, soulless white orbs, or hidden in shadows even in bright light, the disease detracts from the artwork of a story.

Anyway, let’s talk about that plot. We start off with John staring out over a lake at sunset, narrating about how he couldn’t bring himself to have a funeral for Mary. This is immediately followed by a two-page spread of Mary burning on the ceiling of the nursery at their home. Well, the comic is certainly sticking close to the show in terms of overusing the same imagery. John says goodbye to Mary, while narrating about how he’s feeling lost.

John talks to various people over the next few days, trying to find out more about what it was that happened to Mary. He doesn’t have much luck, but we see people are starting to worry about him. He alleviates their worries by going to a bar and hustling some pool. Yep, that’s the way to earn money to take care of your family. Screw your job, just scam possibly drunk guys out of money, how could that go wrong?

Oh… right.

So even though John’s an ex-Marine, he doesn’t make that guy eat his own boots. Instead, the situation is defused by Missouri Moseley who then begins telling John she was drawn there tonight by him and other clichéd psychic mumbo-jumbo. John dismisses her as nothing but a con artist, until she tells him to say hello to Sam and Dean.

Two weeks later, we see John at Missouri’s place of business. She gives him a spiel about how the world isn’t all sunshine and unicorn farts, and then performs a séance. They receive a vision of a house (along with several helpful clues for finding the place) and a message painted onto the walls.

Well that’s not threatening at all! John freaks out though and rushes there with Missouri, who gives him a warning about how he won’t be able to back out if he goes through with this, but he goes ahead and does it anyway. They reach the house and find the message scrawled on the walls of the basement. However, it seems they only got part of the message.

They rush out of there and head to the place where John left Sam and Dean. They find the woman watching the boys dead, but the boys themselves are fine. Wow, that was an anti-climactic warning. Why not just skip going to the other house, and just have the vision send you here to begin with? If the thing had been intent on the boys and wanted John out of the way, that’d make sense. But the boys are fine, the only purpose this served was to get John on the trail of this thing. How does he follow the trail? Well, Missouri finds a tooth with some stuff etched into it, and that’s where this issue ends. There’s also a backup story, but I’ve got five more comics to get through, so I’m skipping it.

Issue 2 starts off with the Winchesters on the road out of Kansas. Narration boxes give us some dialogue between Missouri and John, telling him to go see a man named Fletcher Gable in Arizona. Fletcher’s a guy who knows more than Missouri, supposedly, so John’s going to see what the tooth belongs to. Fletcher tells him that it’s the tooth of a black shuck, a kind of supped up hellhound. He also gives John a journal, which serves as an important item in the show. Though, I guess the artist didn’t know how it was actually supposed to look…

So John leaves, heading to California now on the trail of the last place Fletcher heard of a black shuck being. After John leaves, a mysterious man drops by Fletcher’s and asks what he told John. From there, we see John buy a shotgun and get himself a motel room for him and the boys. Not long after, a man named Jacob shows up, demanding to know what in the hell John is doing. This is something that’s kind of an odd point in relation to the established canon of the show. Jacob is referred to as “uncle Jacob” by Dean, and John says that Jacob was “like a father to Mary after her parents died.” However, we never get any kind of reference to him anywhere else. We see Mary with her parents in an episode of the show, and a brother is never mentioned. Hell, given what Mary’s family is like, it’s unlikely he’d be acting how he does. I guess he could be just like a family friend, but it still feels really weird that someone so close to Mary never even gets a token mention anywhere else. Well, anyway, he insists on accompanying John on whatever foolish thing he’s planning on doing, leaving Sam and Dean in the care of the motel manager. Jacob insists on taking his car, a 1967 Chevy Impala. The Impala becomes an important part of the show, one of the characters in my mind. Though this isn’t how John acquired it in the show. However, there is a reasoning behind John getting the Impala this way. Peter Johnson, the writer, wanted him to get the Impala while he’s becoming a hunter, as part of the whole transformation thing. Why does he get the Impala? Well…

They go to the graveyard that Fletch said the black shuck was last seen at and find a mausoleum with engravings similar to the ones on the tooth. Jacob opens is, and promptly gets a chunk bitten out by the shuck John is gripped with fear and unable to handle the shotgun, but before the shuck can get to John, a man dressed up like Harry Dresden saves him.

                               (He never gets a real name, so I’m just gonna call him Dresden.)

 Dresden and John get out of there with Jacob, and Dresden convinces John to load Jacob into John’s car and dump it into the ocean. Why not just use Jacob’s car? Because the Impala’s far too nice to be a watery coffin, I guess. We end the issue with John being riddled with guilt, and Dresden telling him that the shuck didn’t kill his wife.

Issue 3 begins with a scene a few years in the future from when the issue takes place, but it’s irrelevant to the plot. To really begin, we have John explaining to Sam and Dean that they’re going on a roadtrip with Dresden. John is surprisingly trusting of a guy who showed up out of nowhere and convinced him to send a family friend to a watery grave. Maybe he never really liked Jacob. Anyway, they go off in search of a lead and end up at Harvelle’s Road House, a recurring location in the series. We get introduced to Ellen, who runs the place and offers to look after Sam and Dean for a bit. Dresden convinces John to go on a hunt with a guy named Ichi, to get some experience. It really doesn’t serve much point, except to show that John can’t kill a monster until Dresden tells him to turn his fear into anger. Oh, and Dean sees him kill something that looks like a man. This makes John realize that, gee, maybe bringing your children along on a quest for vengeance fraught with monsters is not a good idea. They leave the kids with some friends/family in Illinois, and the issue ends with John questioning whether he or not he can do this, and Dresden telling him he needs to see his wife again.

Issue 4 opens on a flashback of John and Mary’s honeymoon, followed by another hunt. This is just more filler. Screw giving us some moments where John questions his sanity or how his life came to be like this, just show us more irrelevant stuff. More than half the issue is devoted to filler. What in the hell? This could have good solid stuff about how John became a hunter and gained the reputation that he had, so why does is instead focus on just meandering about?

Oy vey. So, the plot resumes 12 pages in, where we find out what Dresden meant at the end of the last issue. They go to a priest in Minnesota, someone who can contact the spirits of the dead. He’s also someone who makes a brief appearance in the series, so of course we need ¾ of a page devoted to his backstory, even though he’s incredibly minor and gets killed off in his only appearance. Anyway, he calls Mary’s spirit back, and she gets to say goodbye to John. However, the shuck hijacks the summoning, and things get much less tender. John did get a clue from what was said however, and gives the tooth that he has another look over. He finds a sequence of numbers, which he guesses are coordinates. Follow it up with two more pages of filler and this issue is done.

For a nice change of pace, issue 5 does not start with filler. Hooray! Dresden and John are back in Arizona, paying Fletcher another visit. He shows them a map which he believes the coordinates will correspond to, showing the locations of Devil’s Gates all across the country. The coordinates point them towards a graveyard at Four Corners, an American landmark where 4 different states borders all meet. The rest of the issue is kinda trippy, with the terrain, weather and just about everything else changing every few pages, in spite of the fact that they’re in the same location. Honestly, nothing really that interesting happens, so I’m just gonna skip to the end. They reach their destination and they find the shuck. Wait… why are they still looking for the shuck anyway? Dresden already told John that it didn’t kill Mary, so what’s the point in looking for it? I guess if he thought that the thing was working for who/whatever did kill her, that’d make sense, but there hasn’t really been a strong connection between the shuck and Mary’s murder. Maybe the shuck just feels like fucking with John, it makes as much sense as it purposefully leading him back to its master. Which it does, and guess who its master is?

Issue 6 begins with Dresden do a whole “gotcha!” speech. Turns out he didn’t kill Mary either, but he did want John to become a hunter. He goes into his lair, with John following. Unfortunately, John is instead inside of his own mind head, facing down everything he’s been dwelling on the past… however long it’s been since Mary’s death. A couple months, by my guess. He sees Jacob again, fails to save Mary, suffers her fate, and ends up in a cemetery, looking over Sam and Dean’s graves. He gets conked on the head by Dresden, who ties him up and takes him to the roof of the lair… for dramatic purposes I guess. He gives John the whole “things aren’t as they seem” speech, kinda like Missouri did in issue 1. But apparently John doesn’t want to hear it again either, because he gets loose, kills the shuck, and then punches Dresden off the roof. John leaves, musing about how he can’t go back to a normal life because he’s seen too much. He also decides he needs his family, so he goes and gets Sam and Dean. Hooray for child endangerment! Thus ends our mini-series.

If it seems like I rushed through these, well… I did. But honestly, they weren’t all that interesting, and there wasn’t a whole lot to comment on during each one. There are a lot of moments that serve only to take up space, not to advance the plot. John’s actions feel kinda off, like the only reason that he’s doing this stuff is because the plot demands it. The plot also really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Who the hell was the Dresden guy? Why was he so invested in getting John involved? It doesn’t really line up well with the source material. This would be an okay start to its own series, but as a tie in with an already existing story, it feels off. I really feel like they could’ve done a lot more with this, showing how John became a hunter, and given a better reason for dragging his kids down this dark path.

There are a couple of other comics that tie in to Supernatural, but I’m not sure if I’ll get around to reading them. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend Supernatural. It’s kinda cheesy and dumb at times, but it’s a fun show with some good characters. It’s a shame none of them were in this.

Until next time, farewell!

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