With Comics, just as in any other medium, there are single stories that seem so well developed that you would believe the writer spent months, if not years, crafting the tale. Comic book writer/Novelist, Neil Gaiman is the perfect example of a writer who has produced a few of these types of stories throughout his career (and for you Batman fans- please, please, please pick up BATMAN # 686, which I consider to be one of the best Batman stories ever told!) Alan Moore also fits into this category. You might have read a story he wrote in the 80’s. I believe it was called WATCHMEN.
So, why bring up these two legendary comic writers? Well, I believe Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa might have the potential to one day join their ranks. The proof? STEPHEN KING - THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS #5, or what I would like to call - a walk with Randall Flagg.
I picked up this issue almost a month ago, but I didn’t have an opportunity to review it (due to traveling and Comiccon). I was going to pass on the review, considering it came out so long ago, but all it took was a glance at the image of Randall Flagg’s face, spread across the cover, leering at me, with his devilish grin, practically saying “Oh, you better mention this, or there is going to be Hell to pay!”
For those of you familiar with the Stephen King universe, the name Randall Flagg should stir up some emotion. In ‘The Stand’ novel as well as the TV mini-series, he was the embodiment of evil, the Devil on Earth, ready to lead an army of sinners during the Armageddon. Flagg is also “The Man in Black”, or Marten, from the ‘Dark Tower’ novels (and the incredible DARK TOWER comics written by Peter David and drawn by Jae Lee).Flagg, according to this issue, uses polarized ideas to make men turn against each other.
In CAPTAIN TRIPS # 6, we follow Randall Flagg as he travels across America on foot. His story runs parallel to the story of the Captain Trips superflu that is decimating the U.S.. What makes this issue is so strong is that the narrator’s description of Flagg is perfectly wed to story of the military trying to cover up the plague.
While Flagg is traveling Highway U.S. 51, the country is literally being torn in two. The military is taking extreme measures to prevent mass panic, and to cover up the fact that the Captain Trips virus was designed by military scientists for biological warfare. There are radicals in the media, whether it be a newspaper publisher in a small town, television anchors, or radio djs, that are trying to expose the public to the truth.
Throughout the issue we get sequences strong enough to make your stomach sink, where the radicals are either blown up or executed by soldiers wearing gas masks. We don’t feel sad for the radicals, since they are introduced, and then taken out just within a few panels . Instead we get a tremendous sense of dread, based on the realistic imagery throughout the entire sequence, and how plausible it could be for any of us to be “silenced” during a national crisis.
One of those disturbing images includes dead plague victims being spilled out of a garbage truck into the Boston Harbor. Remember how much scarier seeing the alien during the news broadcast in ‘Signs’ was, as opposed to seeing the aliens throughout the rest of the film? Well, this corpse dumping sequence is made even more terrifying , since Mike Perkins draws each of the panels to resemble “grainy, jittery” camera footage taken by an amateur.
Towards the end of the issue, the narrative changes slightly. Instead of following Flagg in the present, we get glimpses of his actions in the past. Flagg has quite the track record, from blowing up churches during the Civil Rights Movement to comparing ideas with Lee Harvey Oswald. These and many other flashbacks show just how deadly Flagg is, and how horrible it will be for him to come to power in the post Captain Trips world.
Aguirre-Sacasa’s narration describes how bad things under Flagg can get- “He (Flagg) could taste it, a hot sooty taste, as if God were planning a cookout, and all of civilization was going to be the barbeque.”
Of course, if you wanted to take some of the credit away from Aguirre-Sacasa, you could bring up the fact that this story is adapted from a novel that is over twenty-five years old, written by the master of horror fiction, but though the ideas might come from another source, translating them into comic book form takes a great deal of talent.
Also, I don't know how highly you value my opinion, considering I gave the "Friday the 13th" remake a very positive review, and enjoyed the "The Day The Earth Stood Still" remake quite a bit. All I can say is, those are films and this is a comic, and man do I know a good comic when I see one. STEPHEN KING - THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS # 6 is worth the four bucks, if you want to see how scary a comic can be, and how perfectly a comic narrative can be structured.