Hello, my friends! October is here once again and the souls of both the living & the dead are looking to soar within the ever-chilling winds. As such, it’s Halloween time as I dig into the graves of my comic collection and unearth certain horror-themed books to review in celebration of this glorious celebration of tricks & treats. With that in mind, let’s unwrap the main theme of 2021’s ghoulish time to shine as I welcome you all to…
For this outing, I’ll be reviewing a pair of mini-series that have some kind of terror that serves as the main theme of their stories. With that in mind, let’s begin our haunting trek with a tale from a comic book company that I haven’t covered yet on this site. In particular, I’m highlighting the Chicago-based publisher known as Moonstone Books. Founded in 1995, they’re still going strong to this day with their back catalog including the likes of pulp comics, anthology tales and even some licensed entries for The Phantom, Buckaroo Banzai, Doc Savage, Domino Lady, Bulldog Drummond, Green Hornet, Boston Blackie and Wyatt Earp (just to name a few). Anyway, this company has a two-part tale of terror & payback for us to delve into. As such, let’s open this sarcophagus and check out the inaugural issue of…
Released in 2005, this tale was written by Justin Gray, while Eliseu Gouveia a.k.a. “Zeu” handled the black-and-white artwork. Now that we’re all set up for a delectable dash of undead delights, let’s begin our push towards All Hallow’s Eve as we lumber into our open chapter of chills.
We open within a major city during the winter season as five guys are transporting a coffin. During this, we have some narration from our main protagonist describing how “cold and empty” it feels to be in “the postmortem world”. She then mentions how “the fear of death makes us feel alive”, but she doesn’t feel it anymore since her memories of her life feel distant and she can’t recapture any sensation of growing up with the joy of life’s various moments. It’s then revealed that she’s a mummy observing the particular group of men from atop a building. She goes on to narrate how every person had a certain “time and place” where they ultimately meet their demise and while it already came to her, death is currently being patient. As such, she decides to rectify that as she jumps off the building and lands onto the hearse’s hood with enough force to pop its front wheels off. She then smashes through the windshield and grabs the two goons in front, where she proceeds to absorb their life essences’ and “refresh” her “cellular structure”.
With her newly-acquired firearm, she then pulls another thug out, points the gun at him and calmly asks where she can find someone named Totenkopf. He says that he and his men only deliver the corpses to an establishment called Club Anubis, since he doesn’t know anything else about the operation. After she executes him with her gun, she’s then approached by the two remaining goons as they manage to shoot her before heading in to investigate. However, they don’t find her body as she reemerges by lifting the disabled hearse over her head before executing the two men with her gun. Afterwards, she fires a shot at the car’s gas tank where it proceeds to explode while she walks away.
We then flashback six weeks ago at the Sire Pharmaceutical Research Facility as three scientists unveil a revolutionary method that would help in healing damaged skin. With the use of “nanotechnology to develop recombinant DNA at the atomic level”, especially by reconstructing “bone and tissue to their original form”, the Nano-Bandages were able help restore Mr. Daily’s facial features after becoming disfigured via “extensive loss of facial tissue” that he he suffered from an acid burn when he was younger. From there, the head scientist named Derek Totenkopf and his two assistants Jenna & Shawn are congratulated by Mr. Taylor for their breakthrough work. Afterwards, they’re given a weeklong break before they ultimately have to hand in their reports. Because they accomplished the creation of the Nano-Bandages “under budget and ahead of schedule”, they decide to celebrate with some champagne. During their toast, Derek notices a peculiar ring on Jenna’s finger as Shawn reveals that he successfully proposed to her. Derek is initially stunned, but he’s ultimately happy for them. From there, Jenna and Shawn head out to celebrate. However, Derek decides to stay behind. He then picks up a rabbit named Briar who’s wrapped in Nano-Bandages, before he thinks about Jenna & Shawn’s soon-to-be unionship, especially since he chastises them for “cutting out early” while he stayed put and worked. Suddenly, Briar accidentally scratches his face. Out of sudden, impulsive anger, he kills the rabbit before placing its corpse into a trash bin.
Meanwhile, Jenna and Shawn are sharing an intimate moment together within a bathtub. After he casually asks himself how he wound up engaged to his eventual bride, she proceeds to delve into her backstory where she grew up with a mainly uncaring dad who was determined to see her become a Nobel Prize winner. As such, she found comfort with Shawn and it ultimately became a no-brainer for her to accept his proposal. After sharing a kiss, he then reveals that he brought an oceanside house for them to live in, especially since it’s not too far outside of the city and it’s close to some “progressive” schools for their children. Just as Jenna enjoys this endless bit of good news, they suddenly get a cell phone call as Shawn assumes that Derek is getting in contact with them.
Later, they make it back to their lab to find Derek covered in blood. To their horror, they discover Briar is mulling around, yet not looking well. Derek admits that he killed it, but it’s alive once again. He explains that the rabbit was deceased for an hour, but he then noticed some twitchy movements from it before it fully came back. Not only that, but it was all possible due to it being wrapped up within the Nano-Bandages, restoring life to it “on a molecular level” and becoming re-animated. In addition, the advanced wrappings even helped it gain some advanced strength and even become “more aggressive”. He wants to run some more tests, but he wants to try it out on a different animal. Shawn wants to notify the administrative board, but Derek says that they would shut the experiment down and cut all ties with them. Jenna tells him that he’s overreacting, since they possess the key files and coding. As a result, the board would have to work with them. Derek realizes that they still have a weeklong deadline, since he hasn’t turn in their research. Shawn tells him they have to report their findings, but Derek snaps at him and says that he was the one who came across this data, while his assistants were out “screwing”. Jenna tries to temper the situation, while Shawn accuses Derek of being Jealous towards his engagement. Derek makes a rude remark before Shawn punches him onto the ground and prepares to head out with Jenna in order to inform the administrative board. Just then, Derek grabs the champagne bottle and viciously hits Shawn over the head. Shortly after realizing that the harsh blow ending up killing her boyfriend, Jenna tackles Derek into their lab equipment. However, he accidentally stabs her in the gut with the shattered bottle as she winds up dying as a result.
We then shift back to the present as a reporter named Monty is hanging out at a bar. He talks to a waitress named Donna about how he’s hoping to prove the existence of an “urban mummy” in order to advance his career as a reporter. She assumes that it’s just “some escaped mental patient or a government experiment gone wacko”, but he says that he’s seen the legit remains of several victims and even has an eyewitness account. As such, she tells him to be careful. Back at the Sire Pharmaceutical lab, Derek is conducting his experiment upon Jenna’s corpse. With her body wrapped within the Nano-Bandages and placed within a tub, the process gets underway. From her nervous system getting reinvigorated via the organic nanites to obtaining iron-rich plasma, her vital organs begin to come back to life. Suddenly, Jenna becomes revitalized as she hops out and approaches Derek, who informs her that she’s been deceased for two hours.
She throws him into some highly-reactive chemicals and demands to know what he’s done to her. As the volatile mixture ignites and begins to set the lab on fire, he tells her that she’s the first person to get brought back to life. Just then, a group of security guards arrive and mistake her for a random intruder. They proceed to shoot her, but Derek tells them that they have to capture her.
Jenna then says that she felt his fear when she touched him and became “filled” by it before she throws him into the blaze and walks off. As he becomes engulfed within the flames, Derek runs into his tank and manages to extinguish the raging fire. After getting helped out by his guards, he tells them to follow his instructions. Later, we shift over to Club Anubis as Jenna narrates that Derek survived the incident and she got blamed for Shawn’s death, thus making her a wanted murder. Because the data from their experiment got lost in the blaze, Sire Pharmaceuticals terminated their project. As such, Derek had to get sponsor who was willing to supply him with “human test subjects”. He would ultimately find a black marketer named Jack “The Hatchet” Harkin, who especially had multiple “connections to the immigrant slave rackets” and made a lot of money from this devious operation. As he arrives back at the club, Jack informs Derek that Jenna has taken out several of his men. Not only that, but they’re running out of time to save his son from cancer without transforming him into a “mindless monster”. Derek (facial scars and all) tells Jack that he’s able to save his son, just as long as he remains in agreement with their partnership. And so, Issue 1 ends with the reveal that their operation involves wrapping several individuals within the Nano-Bandages.
Overall, this is a well-structured start to this two-part tale. Our main players get neatly established with some backstory for our main undead heroine Jenna, as well as some warped motivation towards the main fiend of this piece, Derek. With Jenna, she and her fiancé Shawn are completely innocent victims, with their youthful naivety being detrimental to Totenkopf. While some visual example of their somewhat-slacker description would’ve be nice to have here in order for Derek’s point to have a stronger sense of understanding, it still makes a decent amount of sense for this relatively short story. As for our main villain, the cliffhanger ending does give a strong amount of excitement to help cap off this initial chapter. After all, Totenhopf has an ambitious (yet crazy) plan that he looks to unfold and it feels lovingly ludicrous in its comic book nature, yet helps in establishing a vague sense of threat that’s building for next time. The Nano-Bandages is just vintage comic book-levels of absurd science, yet just like Darkman’s synthetic skin masks, it seems to greatly fit within the context of the narrative as it also becomes a crucial part of the hero’s motif. Finally, we have the black-and-white artwork. For the most part, this indy-esque nature has a very professional look to it and helps in making sense of the story it trying to tell. The story, while more scientifically absurd, emotional and action-driven, is able to flow thoughout as the events of this narrative are made clear to its audience. In terms of character models, I will say that our main heroine does stand out the most, even she does look like a regular, civilian-looking Harley Quinn. With Derek, his generic hairstyle does get repeated by a few regular henchmen, so has a little bit of a hard time standing out if he’s not in his regular setting. While Zeu’s artwork does help the story be presented as clear as it can be, I did mention a somewhat confusing moment when Jenna tackles Derek into some lab equipment after he killed her boyfriend, only for her to suddenly be lying down and fatally wounded afterwards. When I initially read it, I didn’t know how Jenna wound up bloodied and deceased, especially since that detail isn’t entirely focused on. Now that I look at it close enough, it does make sense (even if the shattered bottle switches from his right hand to his left in the space of a panel). In the end, the artwork isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done. In the end, this opening chapter doesn’t exactly bring a whole lot in terms of horror and dread, but it sure does set itself up for an exciting conclusion with all of the other elements that’s presented. So, how will an undead Jenna look to oppose Derek and his machinations? Well, stay within this creepy corner for the chilling conclusion of this shambling story.
Vengeance Of The Mummy (created by Justin Gray) is owned by Moonstone Books.