Contemplation of good and evil, light and dark, kindness and Kardashian has fascinated our tiny brains since we first grasped at sentience. A few millennia later, John Carpenter helped shaped these concepts for my generation from the overt presentations of “Halloween” to the more subtle darkness of the soul in directorial efforts like “Starman” (a Douche favorite for a more mature E.T. experience).
If one thing impressed me the most about this first arc of ASYLUM, it can be summed up with the word authenticity. Also, please keep in mind this is one thing in a very long list of accolades that I’ll hit in a few minutes. Celebrity shilled comics are a painful experience for us reviewer types; these projects are usually contrived by some vapid twit who had a Sci-Fi brain fart after snorting their ADHD meds at a party. This then sends their agent scurrying across Hollywood and beyond to build a comic solely in effort of selling their intellectual property into other more lucrative mediums. I will never begrudge a comic making it to big leagues in movie form, but never when that is an end to means situation. ASYLUM is an honest to God comic book and you can feel John Carpenter’s creative blood surging through every panel even though Jones and Manco are at the other end of the marionette strings. ASYLUM basks in the Carpenter staples while giving the creator a new playground in which to delight and horrify his legions of fans.
Not to rob from Peter to pay Paul here, but ASYLUM isn’t Carpenter’s only recent foray into comics. To avoid too much embarrassment, there is another big comic property of Carpenter’s that rhymes with “Swig Rubble from Betty’s Vagina,” about a truck driver in a little…vagina. There wasn’t an ounce of the Carpenter voice in this book, other than the literal rip from the movie in the opening panel. Joy, mystery and a true sense of kitsch that fans of the movie so loved are simply absent and void. My point is, if you want to spend more time with Carpenter don’t be too swayed by marketing budgets and your retailer who ordered too may books. ASYLUM is the Carpenter goods in comic form, so accept no substitutes.
The story is John’s take on the battle of good and evil through the collision of dual protagonists playing the opposites of faith and fact. Even the most jaded will admit to being touched by an angel or some inexplicable miracle even if the touching ended up feeling inappropriate. And even the most faithful will admit that the path does sometimes blur. We’ve all known LA is a cesspool of evil for years, but Carpenter, King, and company, look beyond the surface evils of agents and starlets to expose the actual terror lurking in Tinseltown. Satan.
Beckett, a priest who has seemingly fallen from divinity yet is still the go-to guy for Xtreme exorcisms. Duran is a cop without faith, but simply can’t make sense of the facts before him like angel killers and a growing militia of Satan’s minions ready to nom nom on the Hollywood sign. Together these two not only look to save innocents caught between the evils of man and The Beast, but also find a way to douse some of the darkest corners of their own souls with holy water.
I know on first blush this set-up might seem played out or trite, I’ll fully admit that was my thought as well during the exposition phase of the book. Thing is though, as we get introduced to what each man will do inside the plot, we also learn who they are behind the role and here is where Jones transcends plot with actual human drama driven by dead-on dialog. We see the gray lines of morality as Beckett struggles with his defrocking and carnal wants, as we watch Duran struggle with a high pressure job, extra marital temptations and the obligations every man eventually faces when he is serving in love for others.
As the city burns, the two men discover themselves and the need for their unique duality to help shelter against the storms of destruction, which they quell temporarily, but simmer in the scenes waiting for issue 7.
Four other honorable mentions should also be extended:
The Hobo Oracle of LA is a definite keeper. His salty prognosticating offered some much needed humor.
Beckett’s Yoda, kind of glad he’s dead. While I get the ole’ wily Priest’s mission, we don’t need any Charlies for these angels.
Manco’s art, sweet and tangy Jesus is this stuff beautiful. An Alex Ross darkly who has a better grasp of fluidity.
John Carpenter and Sandy King for making this a truly personalized experience with genuine feelings of gratitude towards the creative team for their hard work. Again, a clear sign that nothing was dialed in on the part of Carpenter for a cash grab. If this series keeps rolling forward as promised, my praise and admiration will only grow.
Love horror, love epic battles, and love John Carpenter? Go love the shit out of ASYLUM.