Ah. . .Halloween!
It's that special time of the year when you can go to a "pop-up" seasonal costume store set up in an abandoned Best Buy building and find skimpy "Maid" costumes in both child sizes AND XXXL!
Not sure which one is scarier.
BUT. . .
we aren't here to discuss the hilariously depressing commercialism of "Scary Christmas", we're here to talk about comic books! As promised in my last post, I'm giving DC's Halloween Specials a break as I try to rinse the mediocre flavor of superhero-themed Halloween stories out of my mouth with some actual horror comics.
The comic series at hand is a bit of a strange bird. . .it's a direct sequel to a horror movie that came out in 1989, which makes me wonder just who was asking for it almost 30 years down the road. Also, the movie itself isn't that well-regarded, and is pretty much considered to be greatly inferior to the original.
The movie I'm speaking of is The Fly II, sequel to the David Cronenberg 1986 masterpiece of creepy body horror, The Fly. The Fly is considered one of the greatest horror movies made (with an extremely solid 92% on Rotten Tomatoes), with Jeff Goldblum turning in one of his best performances playing a brilliant scientist who accidentally rewrites his DNA by splicing it with a housefly during teleportation experiments.
Over the course of the movie, he slowly transforms into a mutated creature with full awareness of his horrific fate until he is mercy killed at the end by his lover as the transformation becomes complete.
The sequel to The Fly was not as well regarded. The story involved the son of the doomed scientist from the original being raised from birth in a laboratory by the corporation that was funding the teleportation experiments that killed his father. Martin (the son, played by Eric Stoltz) discovers the truth about what happened to his father as the same thing starts happening to him and he begins transforming.
Eventually, by combining his flawed DNA with that of the evil head scientist in the teleporter his father built, Martin saves himself, but dooms the head scientist to live as a helpless monstrosity.
None of the original stars or Cronenberg were involved, and movie audiences shrugged and moved on. . .leaving The Fly II as a sort of forgotten relic of the 80's. Judging by the extremely weak 27% Rotten Tomatoes rating and ho-hum reviews, I'm pretty confident in saying that The Fly 2 was a sequel that nobody really wanted.
I managed to rope my daughter into watching both of these movies with me over the weekend, and am able to confirm that The Fly is a masterpiece of 80's horror, practical effects, and reliable Jeff Goldblum scenery-chewing that somehow managed to capture my daughter's attention for the whole movie, while The Fly II is. . .pretty good.
I didn't find it as bad as a lot of reviews made it sound. My daughter defaulted to occasional glances at the screen between whatever was more interesting on her phone about halfway through.
So why am I spending so much time on the movies when it's the comics we're here for?
Because I have to warn you coming in that The Fly: Outbreak is a true and direct sequel to The Fly II. If you don't have at least a sketch in mind of the story of the original movies, these comics will make absolutely NO sense to anyone reading them. . .which is kind of a strange direction to go, but to tell the truth, I sort of like it.
As far as I'm aware, this is the first time I've ever read an ACTUAL sequel to a movie in comic form. Not a reboot or re-imagining, but a SEQUEL to an almost-forgotten movie from 30 years ago.
But enough background. Let's do this!
SCRIPT: Brandon Siefert
THE BOOK OF TRANSGENESIS
Set a few years after The Fly II, Martin Brundle is now the head scientist at Bartok industries. During his continued experiments on Anton Bartok attempting to cure the transgenic disease Brundle purposely infected him with (that turned him into a hideous monstrosity with the mind of a human trapped inside), Brundle accidentally triggers a new phase of transformation that enables Bartok to escape captivity.
As the deranged hybrid human/fly tries to force Brundle into confessing that he infected Bartok to save himself, he is gunned down and killed. . .but during the battle, several employees and Martin are splashed with potentially infectious body fluids, leading to the entire staff being forced into quarantine.
Hmmmm. . .Okay. Not a bad start.
Like I said in the intro above, this is a direct sequel to The Fly II, so it drops the reader right in a couple of years after the movie. There's SOME exposition, but if you aren't familiar with the movies, it's not nearly enough. This is NOT a comic friendly to new readers.
That said. . .
As someone familiar with the movies, I liked this first issue quite a bit BECAUSE it doesn't hold your hand and just gets right into the story without a lot of backtracking. I like that Martin Brundle has dedicated his superior intellect to saving his former enemy from the fate that Brundle himself doomed him to. I like that once again, Martin's ill-advised meddling has just made things worse. I like that they moved the narrative along with the natural progression of the transgenic disease into something that can be contracted by humans through contact with fluids. I also like the art a lot.
The artist is definitely of the Ben Templesmith school of mixing extreme detail and sketchiness together, highlighted by beautiful coloring for a dark and moody look that is perfect for a story steeped in dark tragedy brought on by man trying to tinker with nature. The artist has perfectly captured the likeness of Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga (the leads on Fly II, who are now married), which helps establish this as a sequel to Fly II in a big way.
BUT. . .
Even though there's a lot to like about this first issue, there's one thing that I didn't like at all. In the original movies, Seth and Martin Brundle (and Anton Bartok at the end of Fly II) were transformed into twisted, lumpy, oozing monstrosities with the last remaining vestiges of humanity barely reflected in their eyes. In Outbreak, Bartok transforms into a sleek flying creature that resembles a stereotypical alien more than a fate worse than death. . .
This is a pretty jarring departure from what was established in the movies as to what happens when human and fly DNA are spliced. It can be sort of explained by the new experiments that Martin has been trying, but I still found it unwelcome. Despite the unnecessary redesign of the hybrid, I found this first issue to be off to a great start. It's mostly setup, but it's nicely done and makes me want to jump right into the next issue.
At a secret island government quarantine facility, Martin Brundle is confined with the staff of Bartok Industries while he continues his attempts to cure the transgenic disease that has become even more infectious, thanks to his mistakes. Martin begins to realize his efforts are probably futile as more and more people he is confined with begin to show symptoms of transformation.
After the setup of last issue, we begin to get into the meat of the story as the series takes a swerve into "Who's infected? Are we ALL infected? HOLY $HIT, WE'RE ALL INFECTED!!" isolation paranoia story territory. This is all shown very nicely by a device showing small time leaps of several days at a time and different people exhibiting the symptoms that Martin is explaining to his assistant as the expected course of the disease.
It's exactly the same sort of storytelling device that one would expect to see in a movie, quickly moving time forward by two weeks and increasing the tension as more and more people show signs of infection and the mood shifts from paranoia to psychotic sex and violence. . .showing that it's unlikely that anyone on the island hasn't been infected and it's only a matter of time before there's a full-blown outbreak.
Overall, this issue is oozing with dark paranoia that gradually shifts from sexual tension to violence, presented in an extremely cinematic style that really makes the reader believe that this actually could be a true movie sequel. . .and a pretty good one at that.
As the transgenic infection spreads, the transforming scientists confined with Martin become increasingly hostile toward him as they (rightly) blame him for their situation. Martin does discover a potential cure, but is denied access to the materials he needs by the government representatives in charge of the quarantine. He can only watch in despair as his fellow prisoners reach their final stage of transformation and begin overrunning the facility. Chaos breaks out as government troops try to contain the outbreak. During the start of the battle, Martin's wife arrives to rescue him from the bloodshed.
This is the "Oh, crap. . .this is happening!" issue. The government waited too long to start shooting the infected, now there's hybrid fly/humans hatching out of cocoons everywhere and people are starting to die. It goes from a quarantine situation to a survival situation quickly.
The desperation of the uninfected scientists and guards as they realize they waited too long to take action comes off the page and in your face, thanks to the fantastic shadowy artwork, which now has less splashes of color and is almost black and white as the fight for survival begins.
I really liked this issue a lot. So far, I think it's the best issue of the series. . .perfectly combining character moments (such as the meeting where Martin is denied the materials for his potential cure) and action to make this one a great read.
BUT. . .
I have ONE major problem with this issue. Beth (Martin's wife) coming out of nowhere and kitted out in full combat gear like a discount Sarah Connor coming to the rescue of Martin as the fighting begins to break out.
I JUST watched The Fly II a couple of days ago. When Martin met Beth, she was just another employee of Bartok Industries. She wasn't even a security guard. Just someone that got caught up in Martin's drama. In the first issue of this series, she's shown talking about "buggy codes" she needs to fix before attending some sort of expo. . .indicating she's in some sort of technical field.
So how in the hell does she end up coming to Martin's rescue like some sort of Special Ops agent? "Badass Beth" literally comes out of nowhere and it's really jarring. . .especially since she was a bit of a cliche 80's horror "damsel in distress" screaming her way through parts of The Fly II. This is never explained in any way.
Beth's sudden transformation (heh) into "Badass Beth" aside, this issue is the best of the bunch so far.
ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE
As government forces desperately try to contain the outbreak, Martin and Beth try to make their escape from the island. They are confronted by Martin's assistant, Noe, and forced by her at gunpoint back into the telepod lab. Noe threatens to kill Beth if Martin doesn't agree to try to stop Noe's transformation via gene splicing in the telepod. Martin agrees, and the process seems to work, but Martin is now fully transformed into a fly/human hybrid and Beth and Noe find themselves running for their lives from him.
After an extremely strong start, the story begins to fall apart in this appropriately-named lead up to the finale of this series. It's a bit of a confusing, hot mess. The narrative jumps from place to place and for some reason, Martin's assistant mysteriously becomes yet ANOTHER out of nowhere gun-toting badass. . .except with an alien head.
In the previous issue, the unwanted redesign of the hybrids wasn't really seen. The hybrids were only shown in shadowy flashes of action. In THIS issue, the strange redesign is on full display and it's not good. Once again, they look more like aliens than horrific mutations resulting from splicing fly and human DNA.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed with this issue. It's a damn shame, considering how much I liked the previous three. The story quickly became a convoluted mess. The art remains strong, but the odd new hybrid look just doesn't sit well with me. I REALLY hope things swerve back a bit in the final issue.
THE BOOK OF REVELATION
As battle rages through the quarantine facility, Martin (now fully transformed into a hideous hybrid) stalks Noe and Beth. Eventually, they all find themselves back in the telepod lab and Beth sacrifices herself to reverse Martin's transformation. Unfortunately, it's only partially successful and several years later it is shown that Bartok Industries, now under the control of Noe, has a partially-transformed Martin once again held as their prisoner.
Damn it. They didn't stick the landing.
This issue's story is every bit the mess that the last issue was. They couldn't even stick to their own rules when it came to Martin's transformation. Instead of the sleek alien-looking hybrid everyone else was transforming into, Martin turned into something more resembling what was seen in the movies. . .
And just a bit later, Beth transforms into some sort of previously-unseen alien queen fly-looking thing before Noe blows her head off. . .
Neither one of which looks like the hybrid form previously established in this series. This is just one example of how this story turned into a hot, confusing mess. At least the art remains strong. This is actually probably the BEST looking issue of the bunch. It's a damn shame that dark, moody artwork is in service of a story that's gone completely off the rails.
To make matters worse, the ending is abrupt, confusing, and completely unsatisfying. One moment, we're in the lab with a bunch of dark $hit going down, the next moment it's over and everything is sunny and bright at Bartok Industries. There's no real resolution to the story at hand before it just quickly steps right into the epilogue. It's almost like there's a couple of pages missing.
I REALLY wanted to like it, but I'm having some love/hate for this series.
On the one hand, it's an incredibly dark and thoughtful exploration of science gone wrong. The ideas here are great and they are presented in a very cinematic style both in storytelling and in artwork. I also really like the unusual direction of this series being a true sequel to a practically-forgotten movie from almost 30 years ago.
I can easily see this as being an actual movie in the theaters because of the presentation of it. It's creepy, it's tense, and there's just a pervading feeling of darkness and desperation hanging over this story that I would love to see translated to the silver screen.
BUT. . .
On the other hand, once you hit the final two issues the story becomes a confusing mess that jumps around and refuses to follow anything already established in the previous three issues. It almost becomes a different story in a way. The ending is abrupt and provides no resolution to the story at hand before jumping right into the epilogue.
It still is cinematic. . .but not in a good way. It becomes like one of those movies such as. . .let's say, Batman Begins. It starts off great and ends up a mess of explosions and punching. That's what happened here. It starts OH so good, and ends up OH so bad.
Overall, like I said above, I'm half and half on recommending The Fly: Outbreak. I think it's definitely worth a read, but prepare to be extremely disappointed by the final two issues.
Up Next. . .
MORE Longbox Junk Halloween fun!
Be there or be square.