RETRO REVIEW: Violator (1994)

Throw on your baggy Jencos and your best flannel shirt because for this retro review we’re time trippin’ back to the early nineties; 1994 to be exact, the days when grunge ruled the air waves and Image was the hottest thing in comics.

The early nineties were the salad days for the comic industry; this was just a few short years away from the comic bubble bursting and everyone running for cover. Image was just coming to the forefront in ’94. The company was selling millions of copies of every title they could churn out; and at the very apex of this comic revolution was Todd McFarlane’s title Spawn.

Spawn was a different take on the super hero genre, placing an anti-hero at the center of the story. Not only was Spawn a dark hero, he was also a character that attributed his origins to the book’s version of the Devil, a.k.a. Malebogia. It was this mature and gritty take on the titles hero that required an even darker and more disturbed villain. Enter the Violator, a demonic creature that stalked the streets of New York, feeding on humans; his modus operandi was ripping out his victim’s hearts and eating them.

You wouldn’t think that a flesh-eating demon would be a prime candidate for a solo mini-series right? Wrong. This was the nineties baby! The darker the comic the more the fans gravitated towards it, and with the regular Spawn series selling hundreds of thousands of comics each month it didn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math. So here we are; Violator’s own mini-series. Let’s jump back through time and take a look at Spawn’s biggest nemesis.

This title is one that is often forgotten when fans gush over the works of Alan Moore. That’s right! The author of “Watchmen” and the “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” also penned this comic as well. Wonder why fans often overlook this book? Because this may be one of the worst offerings that Moore ever served up for public consumption. Don’t believe me? Just keep reading.

Now before I dive in too deep into this review I did want to take a moment and point out that the art for this title was handled by two of the industries most celebrated artists; Bart Sears and Greg Capullo. Between these two stalwarts of the business this series looks great. The same art that they had contributed to many other titles throughout their career is carried on in this book. They did a spectacular job with the materials that they were given. In short, the faults and short comings of this title can’t be pinned on the art team. They all did great. I’m laying this turd at Moore’s feet.

The story begins with “The Clown”; who is the human version of the Violator, being tossed into the New York harbor by some mobsters. The wise guys work for crime boss and Spawn regular Tony Twistelli. After the events in the Spawn regular series Twistelli wants the Clown gone. So it’s a pair of concrete shoes and a nice swim for the painted freak. Who I should mention, is at this point without his demon powers. (That remains unclear as the Clown is able to commit some fantastical acts… so take that for what it’s worth)

Here is where the book falls off the rails and we begin our decline into a tailspin that the book never fully recovers from. During the plunge off of the dock, the Clown grabs hold of a goon’s tie and takes the man overboard with him. The Clown fights for the wise guy’s gun, and then shoots the thug in the face. This is all a long way around to get to a visual gag where the clown, now escaped from his concrete shoes and back on dry land, uses the exit wound of the bullet in the back of the hit man’s head to lure his buddies into a trap, where he forces his hand through the victim’s head and shoots his attackers. The head of this goon will remain on Violator’s arm for most of the remaining series as a visual joke and a narrative tool. (Keep reading)

Once word reaches Twistelli that his boys have failed to whack the Clown he brings in an outside operator to handle the situation. Enter into the story one of the most insane and over-the-top characters that Moore has ever committed to the page; the Admonisher. This is Moore’s tongue-in-cheek attempt at mocking characters like the Punisher, Rambo, and the gun-ho military figures of 80’s cinema. The Admonisher is nothing but muscles and guns. He is a witless killing machine that serves no purpose in the story. None. This was a useless plot piece that was used for one simple excuse; Moore couldn’t be bothered, or wouldn’t be bothered to figure out how to introduce the real antagonists of the series. The Phlebiac brothers. (Vindicator, Vandalizer, Vaporizer, Vacillator for those who love their Spawn trivia)

The Phelbiac brothers are the Violator’s hell-demon siblings, who have up to this point be watching over their eldest brother from hell. The brothers come to the consensus that Violator being killed by a mere mortal like the Admonisher is just too much of an embarrassment, so they head to Earth in order to the Clown themselves.

What happens next is a forgetful show down between the Clown and his bro’s while the Admonisher intercedes in the family squabble. While the G.I. Joe on steroids fights the hell beasts the Clown stops in the middle of the series to have a heart to heart with the human head still attached to his arm. It’s here that Moore tries to rip off the scene of Hamlet and the Skull, where the Clown laments about his birth and his upbringing in Hell. While the narrative provides useful insight into one of Spawn’s most popular villains, it serves no real purpose in this story.

Afterward the Clown realizes that he needs to get his hell-powers back so he can transform into the dreaded Violator to take on his blood thirsty brothers. So he turns to the only person he knows who can help him. Cue the intro music and roll out the Spawn cameo… which lasts only a few pages.

While it’s nice to see the icon of Image make a quick appearance in this title it provides little to the plot. Spawn is tricked into giving the Clown his hell-powers back, the Spawn is kicked unceremoniously off the top of a building and that’s that. End of cameo, which is weird that it happened so fast. The Violator had been a major villain in the Spawn universe up to that point and Al Simmons just caves into giving his nemesis his powers back with little argument. But there’s no time for plot, we got to keep this gravy train rolling!

By the end of the mini-series the Violator has been restored to his previous demon self. The family has been beaten back into hell with the Admonisher following them through the portal and taking his rightful place in comics … which is burning for eternity in the fires of hell.

The impact of this series within the Spawn universe and within the larger context of comics is non-existent. This story remains a blight on the reputation of Moore, whose other works are held up by comic historians and fans alike, as being thee go to author of the medium. This mini-series is best forgotten to the sands of time and left in the past with the faded jeans and alternative music of the era.

Final Score- 2 stars out of 5.

RETRO REVIEW: Violator (1994) Issues: 1-3
Publisher: Image Comics
Story: Alan Moore
Art: Bart Sears and Greg Capullo
Colors: Steve Oliff
Inks: Mark Pennington


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