Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard Travelin' Heroz #1
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun and John Halisz
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Writer Garth Ennis returns to the vilest super-team ever to disgrace the DC Universe alongside artist Russ Braun in Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard Travelin' Heroz #1, a darkly comedic reintroductory issue with a penchant for shock that falls flat but features a surprisingly affecting subplot for the titular Dogwelder.
For those of you whose eyes still remain unsullied by Ennis' drunken super-team, Section 8 debuted in Ennis and John McCrea's influential Hitman, almost instantly becoming fan favorites thanks to their imaginative and repellent roster. Sixpack is a drunken, out-of-shape lunatic who imagines his heroic adventures through omnipresent beer goggles, while Bueno Excellente is basically “sex offender: the super-hero.” Dogwelder is a mute menace who literally welds dead dogs to the faces of those unfortunate enough to meet him, and that's not even mentioning half of the original 8. Section 8 was very much a product of its time, when the punchline was simply “we went there,” simply because comic books hadn't combined the surreal and the profane in such a successful manner. Now, it's 2016; we've gone there, and the medium has matured enough to know that shock comedy for the sake of it is shallow gimmickry more often than not. With that in mind, Ennis' sense of obscene humor threatens to fall flat with Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard Travelin' Heroz #1.
Garth Ennis immediately flexes his talents for snappy conversation here, focusing on Sixpack's drunken ramblings at his spiritual home at Noonan's Bar. Ennis establishes his black brand of comedy early on, as Sixpack stammers out joking references to AIDS within a page of his appearance. It's all a bit too try-hard, but thankfully the issue soon veers away from lame attempts at offensive comedy in favor of mining humor from the absolutely ludicrous nature of the characters that populate Ennis' special little corner of the DC Universe. Ennis clearly has fun here, especially in writing the issue's guest stars: Catwoman, Starfire and Power Girl, who spend the issue downing cocktails and dishing out relationship advice to Section 8 teammate Guts. In Ennis' madcap world, a purple mouth on legs named Baytor waits tables after his last job as Lord of Insanity didn't work out. It's wild stuff, marred by bad jokes about marital relations with trash.
Away from Noonan's bar, Dogwelder takes center-stage in the issue's most disturbing and narratively fulfilling plotline. In the issue's opening pages, a shaken family returns to normal life while an eerie figure in welding equipment watches from the shadows. Ennis and Braun soon reveal the beaming children's triangular facial scars, as we voyeuristically dip in and out of their mother and grandfather's worried but hopeful conversation. These first three pages make for fleeting, subtle and effective horror, enhanced with extra mystery to the reader who knows nothing of Dogwelder II's origin.
Russ Braun has the unenviable task of bringing Ennis' imagination to life here, and his illustrations are every bit as disgusting and emotive as they should be. Sixpack spits and slavers with every word from his wonky-toothed mouth, trash-water and banana peels mix in with Bueno Excellente's curly body hair and Guts seems to pulse exactly as a big pile of guts probably should. Braun's late-stage depiction of the Spectre is a truly fierce deity from the unknown, all glowing eyes and snarling mouth. John Halisz splurges color all over Braun's artwork, highlighting the members of Section 8 as purple, red, blue and orange monsters atop a relatively ordinary backdrop of dark blue; a thematically appropriate color given the alcohol-fueled funk that Sixpack wallows in.
Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard Travelin' Heroz #1 is a peculiar mash-up of missed punchlines with an undercurrent of tragic horror. Garth Ennis' brand of shock humor is showing its age here, but his grasp of the form shines through in his colorful characters and Dogwelder's tonally refreshing pages. Russ Braun and John Halisz's artwork leans into the grotesque elements of Ennis' script to create a visually arresting book that stands out as something different. It's not all successful, but Sixpack and Dogwelder: Hard Travelin' Heroz #1 is definitely something different.