by Jarrod Jones. This is RETROGRADING, where I wuz born with a heavy-duty pulse-machine-laser in my hand!
THE ISSUE: Lobo Annual #1, “Hounds of Blood.” (Outbreak, Part One.)
THE TEAM: Alan Grant (writer), Christian Alamy (artist), Carla Feeny, Gene D’Angelo, Stuart Chaifetz (colors), Gaspar Saladino (letters). Edited by Dan Raspler with Frank Pittarese. Published by DC.
THE GIST: A rift in deep space opens and out floats a gargantuan alien ship in the form of an egg. This has not only caught the notice of L.E.G.I.O.N., a galactic police force led by the inscrutable Vril Dox, but a complement of foul space pirates led by the notorious Captain Poiple. Complicating matters, naturally, is the Czarnian bounty hunter Lobo, here a reluctant L.E.G.I.O.N. lackey who’s looking to put a hurtin’ on Poiple for stealing his marauding space bike. The two factions convene at the space egg and their buffoonery awakens its inhabitants: a pack of hard-shelled monsters looking for tasty lifeforms to snack on.
BLOODLINES BEGINS: As far as DC annual events go, Bloodlines might be the gnarliest. The third in a series of DC annual events (following Armageddon 2001 and Eclipso: The Darkness Within), Bloodlines was created by the publisher to introduce a small armada of new super-types who more closely resembled the ‘roided-out, profane, uber-violent anti-heroes of the day.
Image Comics had been founded just one year prior by a pack of ambitious DC and Marvel ex-patriots, and they famously ate the Big Two’s lunch with titles like Youngblood, Spawn, WildC.A.T.S, and Savage Dragon. Hence the extreme nature of Bloodlines, likewise the excessively juvenile nature of its subtitles: Earthplague, Deathstorm, Bloodbath, etc. To kick things off in Lobo Annual #1 was the character Layla, co-created by Grant & Alamy, a promising (and fittingly edgy) start for this all-new line of quasi-heroes. It wouldn’t last, and history would have other plans for her. (More on Layla in a bit.)
“Hounds of Blood,” more than an event tee-up, is a well-orchestrated terror tale set in the far reaches of DC space. Its premise—space cops versus space pirates on an alien ship filled with hungry and impartial creatures—is svelte, its execution frightfully good.
Alan Grant, whose grody, bozo interpretation of Lobo remains a personal favorite, structures the issue as a three-act play where every plot thread is given freedom to develop and resolve (save for one; see WORST BIT). Lobo’s had his spacehog stolen by Captain Poiple and he’s lusty for revenge. Vril Dox needs Lobo’s muscle for a recon mission on a space egg. Captain Poiple and his pirate crew are currently boarding said space egg. Every element fits snugly together, and the Bloodlines aliens are the perfect spoilers for such a story. Inevitably, things devolve into a bloodbath.
Visually, the issue packs a wallop. Christian Alamy, whose work here gorgeously encapsulates the gutter-punk aesthetic of Simon Bisley’s take on Lobo from earlier appearances, knocks out a consistently visceral oversized issue with king-sized takes on the Main Man himself, Vril Dox, Poiple, and the first-ever New Blood herself, Layla. Alamy doesn’t shy away from the mayhem, either: Lobo’s infamous hook on a chain is frequently put to use, the aliens’ method of extracting spinal fluid is remarkably violent, and every punch, kick, and laser blast conveys impact. These characters unwittingly enter a thresher and Alamy’s the dude operating the switch.
And the atmosphere. I can’t say for certain who designed the aliens of Bloodlines but it’s patently obvious their look was lifted from H.R. Giger’s work on the Alien franchise, and Alamy leans into their xenomorphic origins with diligence and care. The Poiple Gang’s initial approach to their huge, honking egg-ship is appropriately foreboding, not just in the way Alamy presents the enormous scale of it, but how he conveys its weird rib-cage-lookin’ outer shell and the lack of any signs of life inside. As for its interiors, the ship is an organic nightmare of tunnels and dead ends, a proper maze for a group of monsters to pursue their screaming meals-to-be. An abattoir floating in deep space. Amazing.
NEW BLOOD: Layla, first introduced as a battalion leader for L.E.G.I.O.N., is a take-no-bullshit mohawked punker type who has the full confidence of Vril Dox and is put in charge of keeping Lobo in line during this mission. (His first impulse, because this is pre-Flashpoint Lobo we’re talking about here, is to force a kiss on Layla as a greeting. She responds in kind with a swift kick to the nuts.) As the situation on the space-egg deteriorates, Layla keeps her cool and is the first to jump into the fray regardless of what’s in front of her. She bellows: “Look alive, Legionnaires!” and that rules.
Before Layla develops her superpowers, which are triggered by an alien attempting to drink her spinal fluid (I’m guessing that gets explained in future chapters), she’s already pretty damn formidable: quick at the trigger and sharp as a tack, Layla leads her team with confidence and receives the accordant respect of her station. Plus, she’s a hypnotist, and uses a totem to keep Lobo at heel when he begins to get too ornery for the mission at hand.
With a look that’s a cross between Tank Girl and Taryn from Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Layla storms through these pages like she was destined for bigger and better things. She wasn’t—though she did pop up in issues of Lobo and R.E.B.E.L.S. and a cameo in the achingly awful Lobo’s Big Babe Spring Break Special, which feels wrong. Layla’s the flagship marvel of DC’s grodiest 90s event and as such deserves better than what she got in Bloodlines, deserves better than playing second fiddle to Lobo certainly. If there’s one New Blood that deserves a second crack at greatness, it’s Layla.
BEST BIT: Captain Poiple and his right-hand Smee find themselves lost in the labyrinth of the space-egg and they know something’s afoot. There are voices ahead in the darkness. Smee, ever the loyal soldier, scouts ahead through a doorway to see who’s who and what’s what, and Poilple, that pimple, kicks in through the threshold and the door slams shut behind him. (“Shoot to kill! And don’t be afeared, Smee — I’ll be waitin’ right out here!”) Smee’s first contact with the space creatures of Bloodlines establishes the monsters’ abilities as well as their hunger for spinal fluid, which we see play out in a horrifying 14-panel sequence from Alamy that ends with poor Smee’s final, begging wails. (“Captain Poiiiipppplllle! Aaiiiieeeeee…”) A ferocious intro for the event’s core baddies, as well as a killer example of bloody good space-terror comics.
WORST BIT: Can there be anything else? Lobo’s repeated sexual aggressions against Layla. While she puts Lobo in his place and proves again and again that she’s his better, since this is prime-time early 90s Lobo we’re talking about; of course there’s no proper comeuppance for the Czarnian, not in this issue, and—since we don’t see Layla much after this event—never again. Still, Lobo getting his nuts repeatedly caved in is pretty damn funny.
DOES IT RIP? Without a doubt. Lobo Annual #1 is a scuzzy, rough-and-tumble space horror book that serves as a killer standalone story while also setting a tone for the rest of Bloodlines—and Christian Alamy sets a high bar with his rugged pencils/inks and expressive character work. A rocking good time.
RETROGRADE: 8.5 out of 10
NEXT UP: Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #2, wherein hungry aliens make a move against Earth, Metropolis meets New Blood, and a dilemma for a different Superman.