Overview

Tales of the Unexpected #4

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Tales of the Unexpected #4

Credits

  • Words: David Lapham & Brian Azzarello
  • Art: Eric Battle & Cliff Chiang
  • Inks: Prentis Rollins & Cliff Chiang
  • Colors: Guy Major & Patricia Mulvihill
  • Story Title: City of Monsters/Architecture & Mortality ? Part 4
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Jan 10, 2007

The Spectre’s trail of carnage brings him into conflict with Batman while Dr. 13 finds himself trapped with some of the more bizarre inhabitants of the DC Universe.

Crispus Allen, the new human host of the Spectre, continues his investigation into the murder of the slum landlord of the Granville Apartments as further hints about the true nature of the crime are given. With the Spectre also running amok across Gotham and punishing murderers in ever more grisly and inventive ways, a confrontation with a certain Dark Knight proves inevitable.

David Lapham has wisely taken a more street-level approach to this incarnation of the Spectre. It’s very much in keeping with the established character of Crispus Allen, the murdered cop from the pages of Gotham Central, that this version of DC’s vengeful ghost is more concerned with exploring the darker side of human nature than throwing planets at near-omnipotent demons. Indeed the appearance of Batman this month is probably the closest we will get to a costumed adversary in this book’s eight-issue run.

So far, the series has been as much about the stories of the ordinary inhabitants of Gotham, often driven to their crimes by horrendous circumstances beyond their control, as it has been about the Spectre himself. It’s a newtwist on the traditional Spectre stories of, say Adventure Comics in the Seventies, as the reader is forced to question the legitimacy of the Spectre’s lack of mercy.

Crispus Allen is portrayed as a true ghost, unable to interact with the living unless judging them as the Spectre and leading a lonely, voyeuristic existence as a result. It’s because Lapham cleverly shows us the supporting players through Allen’s (largely sympathetic) eyes that we learn their histories and come to care about their fates as he does. This makes Allen’s struggle to temper the Spectre’s unforgiving brand of justice all the more moving. Old school Spectre fans need not fear though; there are still also plenty of unrepentant, irredeemable bad guys for him to punish, as this month’s gang of armed robbers soon discover.

On the visual side Eric Battle on pencils and Prentis Rollins on inks do a perfectly acceptable job on the artwork with some suitably macabre deaths this issue and some effective shots of an all-powerful Spectre towering above his opponents.

In the backup story, paranormal debunker Dr. Terry Thirteen finds his skepticism put to the test as his search for the truth about a plane crash in the French Alps gets ever wackier. In perhaps one of the stranger team-ups in DCU history, he finds himself allied with Captain Fear, I…Vampire, Genius Jones, Anthro and the Haunted Tank. Can this peculiar assemblage help him rescue his kidnapped daughter from a small army of talking, Nazi apes?

Superficially we can enjoy this storyline as a gloriously self-indulgent romp through the odder corners of the DCU but, tellingly, there’s also a feeling of something darker behind the camp B-movie-style shenanigans. Brian Azzarello has also managed to use some of the most obscure continuity in recent memory with the return of the swastika-clad gorillas of Primate Patrol from Weird War Tales.

A quick mention must be made of Cliff Chiang’s artwork on the Dr. 13 strip, which is absolutely gorgeous. Check out the double-page spread on pages 2 and 3 for a fine example.

It is to be hoped that there’s a new lease of life for Tales of the Unexpected after these initial eight issues. Lapham’s fresh perspective on the Spectre’s mission gives us grim stories of desperate lives that are sometimes sordid, sometimes poignant, but never less than compelling. In direct contrast, the inspired lunacy of Azzarello’s backup perfectly complements the main feature. Recommended.

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