THIS REVIEW OF ‘ARMY OF DARKNESS/BUBBA HO-TEP’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Clyde Hall. “When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book.” – Elvis Presley, January 16, 1971, accepting a Jaycees award as one of ‘The Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation’ at the Memphis Municipal Auditorium.
Somewhere, the King must be beaming that little boy smile. Like an early Valentine’s card to cult film fans, Army of Darkness/Bubba Ho-Tep #1 hip-swiveled into comic shops this Wednesday. The meeting between Ashley Joanna Williams and Elvis Aaron Presley at last became alternate reality, a far groovier reality than what we hold as Prime.
Part of the lure originates in the similar beginnings of both heroes. Williams was born to a working-class family in a trailer near Elk Grove, Michigan. He went on to become the Chosen One, the great warrior destined to overcome the world-shattering Evil contained within the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. Presley was born in a two-room shotgun shack to working class Tupelo, Mississippi folks. He became known as the King of Rock ‘n Roll, and an icon of Rockabilly, Country, Gospel, and R&B music. He had the most charted hits, Top 40 Hits, Platinum Hits, Gold Hits, and Two-Sided Hits of all-time.
Completing the connection is Bruce Campbell. He’s portrayed Ash in films and video games since 1981’s The Evil Dead. Campbell also played Elvis and Sebastian Haff in the 2002 Don Coscarelli cult movie, Bubba Ho-Tep. The actor’s blue-collar charisma—honestly, no one works harder to delight fans—permeates both characters. (On Twitter, Mr. Campbell had this to say about the prospects of a crossover, with a link to DoomRocket’s exclusive Look at this series’ second issue cover: “What. The. Flyin’. Hell?”)
Fandom response regarding the notion settled around “groovy,” though perhaps with a little hesitation. Both characters have core audiences with intense, ongoing persistence in their devotion to them and their films, and the continuity of these storylines was not ideal for a crossover. Elvis, after all, didn’t appear to make it out of Bubba Ho-Tep alive. (Nor Bubba, though ‘intact’ might be a better description.) The spirits driving each of these horror-comedies is also somewhat divergent; one’s a poltergeist, the other a residual haunting.
For those of you yet to claim a copy of Army of Darkness/Bubba Ho-Tep #1, I think you’ll be pleased with how Scott Duvall and his creative team have the story purring like a choice Olds Delta 88. There remain unanswered questions, a few stumbles, but overall good moments and a bit of enjoyable boomstickery.
In short, Ash reads an article the like of which Weekly World News was built upon: A geriatric but very much alive Elvis Presley recently battled an undead mummy which had been preying on residents of the Shady Rest Convalescent Home in Mud Creek, Texas. Williams is drawn to the story. Elvis was his idol, and Ash is nearing the age Presley was when he died. Thus, S-Mart’s finest takes a road trip down Texas way, only to be stonewalled by The Nurse at the retirement home who says the entire tale is malarkey. Then he encounters an elderly woman named Dillinger who offers to take him to Elvis. The two meet, and, in consistent fashion for both, rub each other the wrong way. After a battle-cum-trivia exchange convinces Ash that he’s addressing the real King, further validity comes in the form of an attacking, Deadited Bubba Ho-Tep. Grabbing one of Elvis’s signature jumpsuits, the creature manages to open a temporal portal and escape. No stranger to such things, Ash follows only to find himself viva-ed to Las Vegas circa 1970.
The story hits the right chords by kicking the action off early, then filling requisite blanks. There are devilishly delightful details seeded through the book. Bull’s Purple Heart worn by Elvis. Dillinger, a character from the original novella by Joe R. Lansdale upon which Bubba Ho-Tep was based, makes her appearance. Ash’s ongoing difficulty with ‘magic words’. Hieroglyphic taunts from a potty-mouth Bubba. Duvall provides explanations while leaving the reader with enough questions to quest for the book when #2 releases. It’s a fast, fun, illuminating ride.
Vincenzo Federici’s art marries stylized realism to cinematic verve. His Nurse retains her movie presence, her body language, her formidability. Ash convincingly ejects Deadites from S-Marts. Each Federici action sequence mixes in comical elements with gunshots and gore. His people are the sort you run into at a remote, all-night convenience store. His monster figures are even scarier. Michele Monte subdues the coloring to match the settings: Dull hallways of a nursing home, dusty Texas drylands, a ramshackle neighborhood bordering the nicer side of town. Taylor Esposito makes the reading easy, but never listless. His lettering sound effects always resonate and he’s in good form here. Additional kudos if he devised the Bubba hieroglyph-speak for this issue.
There are a few gaffes. One being that Elvis yet lives despite cinematic evidence to the contrary (though we get a visual clue how), another being his improved physical condition following the events of Bubba Ho-Tep. He’s still old, still pudgy, but he doesn’t need a walker. (Yes, spry elder Elvis can now use his stuff on ya.) Hopefully answers are coming like coveted premiums secreted in the bottom of the cereal box.
More concerning for die-hard Ash fans is one unusual detail in Federici’s art. While his interpretation of the Metal Gauntlet prosthetic is faultless, his Elvis sneers adroit, I’m not sure what Ash is driving. I’m no gearhead, but it doesn’t look like a four-door ’73 Delta 88. More an era two-door fastback. With the Delta such an indelible part of the Evil Dead chronicles, this didn’t mesh.
Otherwise, the book meshes much. This crossover, more than most, risked falling false and flat. Instead, Duvall’s brought the protagonists together on their common ground. Ash stuck in Housewares drudgery until an undead threat looms and he rises against it. Elvis’s dreams of being a hero waylaid by fame, and only realized in the twilight of life. This title is like a movie with split-screened Bruce Campbell working his mojo on both characters, allied and taking care of business. That’s a movie I’d put in my Recurring Watch DVD bin.
Written by Scott Duvall.
Art by Vincenzo Federici.
Colors by Michele Monte.
Letters by Taylor Esposito.
7.5 out of 10
‘Army of Darkness/Bubba Ho-Tep’ writer Scott Duvall shares his musical inspirations with DoomRocket! Check that out here.
Check out this 5-page/5-cover gallery of ‘Army of Darkness/Bubba Ho-Tep’ #1, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment!