Highlander #1


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Highlander #1


  • Words: Brandon Jerwa and Michael Avon Oeming
  • Art: Lee Moder
  • Inks: Lee Moder
  • Colors: Brian Buccellato
  • Story Title: N/A
  • Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Oct 18, 2006

Picking up right where the first film left off, Highlander offers up a surprisingly lackluster plot, with strong art and…sigh…an outright contradictory continuity.

I’m going to go completely out of order here and state that the art on this book by Lee Moder is fluid, well-executed, flawlessly paced, and visually as slick as a slip-n-slide for the eyes. The scripting by Jerwa and Oeming is equally strong, with above-average, rhythmic dialogue and a fabulous use of the more obscure characters and sequences from the film.

The plot of the comic is a bit shakier (at least for me). In brief, Connor MacLeod – along with a small cadre of other immortals – has been pulled into the espionage side of the 1980’s Cold War. He’s discovered that the Kurgan (the main villain of the first movie) has left a legacy – a super-soldier program which he began in the USSR before his death at the hands of Connor in the USA. Now those super-soldiers are hunting down the immortals, forcing Connor and Co. to take the battle to foreign lands. So…what’s so bad about this plot? Well, continuity aside (just for a moment), it’s a terribly beside-the-point idea. This is a book about a war amongst immortals, and as the very first, initial, lynchpin tale we get a story about…not immortals…but instead some gene-spliced super-soldiers. Additionally, the threat stems from the legacy left behind by the only villainous immortal we know of from the movie, a concept that seems more than a tanker contrived.

Yet even this foundational idea was relatively benign (and, in fact, is deemed poor in my eyes precisely for its lack of adventurousness and ability to impact) compared to the disappointment I felt when I realized that – even directly following the first film and avoiding the continuity snafus of the sequels – the new comic series had chosen to blaze its own path of twisty, retro-continuity glory.

According to the advance press, it seemed that here, at last, was what Highlander fans the world over had long awaited – a spin-off of the original concept that attempted to buck the untenable continuity of the sequels and television show and strike off into fresh territory, unhindered by anything outside of the eponymous motion picture that started it all. Quite frankly, besides the television show (which was an amazing thing in and of itself, but no friend to those who wanted a true continuation of the source material), the first film was the only work worth salvaging, and I say this being a big fan of the second film – I saw it first and had no idea of what it butchered, and found it one crazy-fun sci-fi thrill ride (mea culpa!). Sadly – and to drive into the heart of every fan the point that Highlander is perhaps the most unremittable franchise ever made – even with such a back-to-basics approach the comic (in its very first issue, nonetheless!) manages to ignore entirely the continuity of the first film’s premise and especially its conclusion and, instead, the writers have opted to invent their own, "alternative" Highlander universe.

Why another alternative Highlander universe? Admittedly, the core concept – that of an immortal war going on underneath our very noses – is one that has captivated Highlander fans with a powerful enough magic to keep them racing back for more no matter how middling or defiant-of-continuity any new material is; but after three sequels and a long-running TV show, is it really necessary to produce more of the same? Especially taking into consideration that the writers had their pick of the litter as to which bits of the films and TV series to follow (they chose the TV show continuity…sort of), why not choose the only continuity that isn’t already contradictory? Basically, the comic picks up where the first movie left off, yet it follows the TV series’ continuity, and yet the first film and TV show are already contradictory to each other!

You see, the first movie chronicled "The Gathering," whereupon the final few immortals gathered in New York City to battle for something called "the prize," which would be granted when only one of them remained. At the end of the movie, Connor kills the Kurgan and receives "the prize," which marks an absolute end to the immortal war. To quote the movie itself: in the very final sequence wherein Connor and his new girl, Brenda, are together in the highlands of Scotland, recuperating from the final battle waged against the Kurgan, Brenda asks, "Can you explain to me the prize?" Connor says: "I know what people are thinking all over the world. Presidents, diplomats, scientists – I can help them understand each other." Brenda then asks, "What am I thinking?" To which Connor responds, "You’re thinking whether or not you can love me. You can. I’m just like you. I can have children, live and grow old. You never prepared me for that, you Spanish peacock." At which point Sean Connery’s disembodied voice thunders into being, stating: "You are one with all living things. Each man’s thoughts and dreams are yours to know. You have power beyond imagination. Use it well my friend – don’t lose your head."

So…Connor MacLeod is no longer immortal; in fact, the only reason he isn’t any longer is because there are no more immortals. He was the last, and as such, he gained "the prize", which was the ability to have children, grow old, and die (in other words, to not be immortal). Oh, and also he’s now connected telepathically to all living things. That was the end of the first film, where this comic purports to take place immediately after. To quote the inside of the front cover: "The events of this comic take place shortly after the close of the first film…" But this isn’t entirely true; rather, the events of the comic take place five minutes before the end of the first film (minus all the quotes I just gave) and re-imagine said film’s basic content to coincide with the TV show’s content, so that the infamous "Gathering" was not the end of thing, but rather the kick-start of a much more epic struggle, and that it is still (in the comic and TV continuity) an ongoing, long-lasting process. To be very blunt about this: Oy. Vey.

Here’s where my brain disconnects with the concept of this book: the biggest Highlander fan base is indelibly locked within the TV show chronology, so the book follows this in order to bring the numbers in. But then why use Connor MacLeod, the hero of the completely irreconcilable films? And if the Christopher Lambert character was the more apt choice of lead due to the films’ more prestigious standing, then why bring the television show’s chronology into play? Would having a main character with the power of Professor X and a thousand year history really be such a terrible place to start? Even if some device was immediately used to bring back the immortals and restart the war (and by doing so, solve a long-standing, major Highlander continuity gaffe, too!), such a thing would be – forget rungs, it would be ladders higher of a concept for this laboriously convoluted franchise than yet another kinda sorta not-really it-is-but-it’s-also-its-own-thing variation on an (admittedly) popular theme.

I wouldn’t mind if the writers had come up with an actual plot element that allowed for more immortals to exist and for Connor to no longer have the prize and to himself be immortal again, but they just didn’t even bother. In the history of comics, the only retro-continuity that fans have actually liked have been the ones where the creators wrote the continuity change into the story itself, for example Crisis on Infinite Earths, or House of M, or Heroes Reborn. Not that many of those haven’t been disappointing in their own ways, but their quality didn’t lack directly because the writers had changed things arbitrarily.

The entire point of this series was to give fans a legacy of Highlander they could follow from the first film, a continuity they could relax and enjoy and become immersed within all over again (a feeling none have felt since said film). I’m honestly at a loss (not that you’d notice from this!). I’m just plain stunned that the creators took hold of this ship from the beginning only to sink it all over again while still in the harbor and while its crew partied on the docks. It’s like Highlander has become the new coffee shop, where creators can mix and match their own preferred blend of immortal-war flavor from a myriad of regional sources, which is probably, in the end, vastly more fun for the creators who get to sample than for the fans who simply get to consume what’s given.

So this is, as a final verdict, a decent action adventure comic, but aside from it being titled Highlander, there’s little to nothing here that seems terribly pertinent to the Highlander mythos; this could be any action adventure comic, and perhaps would be a stronger opening for a book that was meant to rise on its own merits alone. The respective creators are all proven talented folks who have put out great work in the past, but for me, I’ll wait to cheer them on their next project, and hope for a brighter, more focused, coherent and/or less convoluted Highlander. Maybe one day….

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