Saturday, January 13, 2018

REVIEW: Chasing HItler #2 of 4 (2017)

CHASING HITLER #2 of 4 (2017) —
Cover by Jethro Morales. ©Red 5 Comics
Red 5 Comics, $3.99, 28pgs.
On-sale December 27, 2017

“Chasing Hitler, 2 of 4”
20 pages, Read Time – 7:55

by Jai & Hayley Nitz (story); Jethro Morales (art); Marie Enger (colors); and Chris Crank (letters). Edited by [unknown].

 BOTTOM LINE: A high concept with lots of promise, but one that ultimately gets squandered in a book that buries the lede in an overly decomressed set-up.

I really wanted to like this comic, and, in truth, the series started out well enough last issue. The concept is all one could hope for in the “cinematic-style comic book entertainment” Red 5 promises: A special ops team, discovering Hitler survived the Battle of Berlin and escaped the Fuhrerbunker, races to rein him in before anyone else learns the world's greatest criminal is still alive. But sadly, this second issue seems to flounder from too much decompression.

One thing Red 5 needs to understand, I think, — and you’ve heard me say this before — is that comics are NOT movies. They are entirely different art forms, with their own narrative tricks and techniques. Sure, there is a good deal of crossover, but you do not write a comic book or “direct” the on-page action in at all the same way you would script movie, or design the its storyboards.

For example, we start with three pages of our two lead characters at a bomb crater as they are shown the charred bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun by some Russian Army dude. The heroes quickly deduce these are not the actual bodies, and that Russian Dude knows this full well. Then we get two pages of some U.S. Army commander telling the heroes — a Brit named Walsh and a Kansas City Yank named Taylor — to back off. Hitler’s dead. War is over. End of story.

It’s all done well enough, with decent dialogue and panels laid out capturing each moment in a way that is indeed cinematic. But five pages is a LOT of real estate to chew up in a 20 page story to impart not a lot of information. The centerpiece of this issue should have been the assault on the estate where Hitler is holed up. But that entire sequence is given just one page, and then half a page of someone — we’re not told who — telling the commandos, "Oop, Hitler just slipped out the back door. But if you run you might still catch him."

The art of Jethro Morales is fine enough — not spectacular, but I’ve seen plenty worse in lots of Marvel and DC comics. But a lot of weird decisions are made. I have no way of knowing if Morales was following the script exactly, or if he made layout decisions on his own, but someone — and there is no editor listed for this issue — ought to have asked if we really needed a half-page panel of Taylor and Walsh exiting the Army general’s tent. Especially when all we see, thanks to the bird’s-eye shot, is ground and the front tent flap. Does this panel need to be that large to convey the information given? Do we need this panel at all? And why the overhead shot, which is usually used to give a sense of emotional detachment from the characters? Given that the heroes are here resigning themselves to the fact that brass doesn’t care about their discovery, that’s not a bad choice, but I’d have preferred to have had the “camera” pulled back far enough to see more of the army base, to convey in a meta-textual way that Taylor and Walsh are just two tiny specs in a larger, and largely spent, war effort.

We get some sense of that in the next scene, in which an OSS guy recruits Taylor and Walsh to hunt down Nazi scientists who are disappearing into the ether as the war winds down. They go for a jeep ride as Mr. OSS makes his case, and we see superimposed scenes of victorious Allied and Red Army soldiers as they talk about the war's end. There’s a misplaced word balloon here that makes the panel hard to read, but we get the idea. Still, OSS-guy should have taken them to visit some weary soldiers just glad the war is over and mostly too tired and overcome with war fatigue to cheer. The idea here is to convince Taylor and Walsh to keep whatever they know under their hat, so the war can, in fact, be over for those who have suffered the most. Otherwise, what is the point of the Jeep ride? Why not just have this conversation in Taylor & Walsh's tent? 

The OSS guy mentions that the next war will be fought with science, but it might have been nice to have had him mention a terrible weapon being devised to end the war in the Pacific. He also should have referenced the knowledge that, already, it was known the next war would be against communism and nations who were currently allies. But best, OSS guy should have said, to leave that to the sons and grandsons of these soldiers — kind of muffing just how soon Korea would come — and let things end for those who have already done more than their fair share. Taylor and Walsh agree to focus on tracking down Nazi scientists, but only because they think this will lead them to Hitler. It would have been nice if they had also acknowledged what has been won, and lost, to date in the war. But then, frankly, we don’t really get a ton of personality and emoting from either man, as they mostly just say whatever needs to be said to keep the plot going.

Next we get a page of parallel scenes, with Taylor and Walsh trying to gather info on the missing scientists and Hitler luring same back into the fold. It’s a good idea, but I found the way it was done confusing, and had to go back over the page a couple of times to make sure I understood what I was reading. Part of the confusion may have been that Hitler is depicted in a cowboy hat and kerchief, sans ‘stach, looking a lot more like a robust Ronald Reagan than a frazzled and beaten Fuhrer.  

It’s also strange that Hitler is shown with mostly willing scientists as he eggs them on to build a Forth Reich. We later see at least one scientist who goes to Hitler’s hideaway more out of fear for not doing so that genuine eagerness to advance the Nazi cause, but I think this should have been more the norm. We ought to have had more of Hitler using a few remaining loyalists and other means of coercion to more or less force cooperation. After all, Nazi scientists were already defecting en masse. It’s arguable that America might not have beaten the world to development of “The Bomb” otherwise. Certainly, we would not have got to the moon quite so soon, and OSS guy might have mentioned the promise of Nazi rocket technology. But at any rate, I somehow doubt it was true that, had Hitler been alive, "the scientists are going wherever Hitler goes." I imagine most would be running toward Taylor & Walsh, shouting, "Take me! Take me!"

I also find it more likely that Hitler would have been looking to land one super-weapon for a final knock-out blow — a hail-Mary toss to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And that most of his time would be spent railing against those whom he feels cost him so dearly to date. I imagine at this stage, Hitler would be insistent he can still win the current war, not be looking ahead to the next one. I somehow doubt he would have given up on his Third Reich quite so easily.

Then we get more decompression — an entire page to discover a scientist who killed himself rather than talk to Taylor and Walsh; one whole page for Hitler to tell Eve they will escape the continent via U-boat; and two pages for Taylor and Walsh to get some advanced OSS listening devices, with which they quickly discover the location of the Nazi gathering spot. As an aside: The (presumed) wife of the scientist who mentions the meeting spot looks enough like the depiction elsewhere of Eva Braun that I was, like, “Wait? . . . what??”

Anyway, all of the above business should have been condensed in order to give more space to the parallel hunt by Hitler and the Allies for the Nazi brain trust driven into hiding, which might have made the one page that does deal with that aspect of the story easier to decipher. But also because that’s really the part of this tale that’s the most interesting, having had the best chance of shedding some light on just who these characters are, and what motivates them. This should have been an entire sequence featuring the frustration that comes from chasing down a MacGuffin that keeps heading you off without even knowing you’re after it, just because your clues are also the elements of its master plan. There ought to have been a scene or two of Taylor & Walsh thinking they've managed to tree one of their Brainiac quarry, only to find Hitler got to him first. Yeah, we get the one who commits suicide because he's too scared to talk, but otherwise we get no real feeling for the investigation, now impending sense of danger in a belief that Hitler is planning something, is two steps ahead of us, and just might pull it off.

Once Taylor and Walsh have Hitler’s location, they’re told they’ll have to parachute directly onto the manor house, because “there is wide open space all around,” and, “an approach on foot will be seen from a mile away.” But then in the very next set of panels we see Allied forces in the bush, close enough to spy on the building with binoculars and listen in on what is being said there.

We then get a cute scene in a plane as Taylor and Walsh compare jump stats with their team, only to discover at least one is making his first jump. This would have been more worthy of precious panel time if we'd been given more on these paratroopers as something other than backdrop extras. At the very least, we should have seen evidence of some or most of them missing the target, just to demonstrate how perilous of a jump it truly was. But as it is, once everyone jumps in (and it appears everyone makes it safe on the manor patio) these other soldiers just disappear. But again, the entire assault on the secret base lasts only one full page — the second half of one page, then the first half of the next — before Taylor and Walsh learn Hitler has flown the coop. So much for the element of surprise, I guess.

And just who is the guy who gives up this Hitler's-gone detail? Is he one of the scientists? A German soldier in civvies? A butler? We don’t know. He's a total rando.

Taylor and Walsh then ride a motorcycle through a village to the coast, just in time to see Hitler’s U-Boat depart, but soon enough to tag it with a Spidey-tracker. A running gag for this series is that Walsh (or Taylor, I lose track of which is which) always has to ride in a sidecar. The gag works better this second telling then the first time it’s mentioned in this issue, in part because the first time it’s done in conversation only, and requires having read and/or remembered that bit from the first issue.

It does seem odd to me that the gathering spot for the scientists would be in Germany, close enough to the coast for a U-Boat get-a-way. I would have thought the German countryside too well ravaged at this point in the war, particularly any coastal manor house that could have been pressed into service as a base of operations, and that the coast would have been too well guarded to effect an escape by that means. I would have thought the escape point would have been in Spain, which is where most of the Hitler-lived literature points to.

So, am I saying you should pass on this book? No. It’s decent enough. It’s just that in reading it I felt as I often do when attending a local community theater production — wanting to cheer the effort, but unable to keep from thinking here and there as I sit in my seat that, well, they could have done this thing better, or that thing. The difference is, I have a blog. So, I’m not keeping anything to myself. But it's also true that I often wonder at these community theater shows are worth the ticket price, and there is that same nagging doubt here. Four bucks is a lot of money for a piece of entertainment that lasts less than eight minutes.

And what of this small publisher?

Based in Texas, Red 5 was founded by Paul Ens, former director of Lucasfilm’s Lucas Online, and Scott Chitwood, co-founder of and writer for and ComingSoon.Net. They won a 2007 Gem Award for Best New Publisher and their titles have been nominated for three Eisners and two Harvey Awards. So, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Still, I get the idea most of their titles are distributed digitally on Comixology only. The series listed in the house ads of this issue number to nearly a dozen titles, none of which I’ve ever heard of. And, in truth, the first Red 5 title I ever saw solicited in the Diamond PREVIEWS catalog was last year’s THE RIFT.

I bit on that one based on solicitation copy claiming it was “presented” by actor Jeremy ("Hawkeye") Renner. I didn’t know what that meant then and, having read the series, I’m still not sure I get it. But the four-issue time travel romp was pretty good. I liked it. And so, when I saw the solicitation for the first issue of this series, with a cover that practically screamed Dan Spiegle to me, I did not hesitate to take a second bite at the apple.

And while the first issue was okay. This one left me a little cold. I am hoping for better in the final two outings. But, it's worth saying tat this issue does not dampen my intent to try a third Red 5 title, RIPTIDE. It's listed as coming in the Winter of 2017, but I have not yet seen it solicited. Maybe that’s only on Comixology, as well? But the very compelling cover image advertised in this issue promises something very like THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE. So, that should be fun.



COVER: 6.50 | PLOT: 7.00 | SCRIPT: 7.50 | LAYOUT: 6.75 | ART: 7.25 | EDITS: 5.00

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