Saturday, November 29, 2008

Out of the Vault - The Searchers

Completely unrelated to the John Wayne movie of the same title, The Searchers was first published in 1995 by Caliber Comics. Written by Colin Clayton and Chris Dows and drawn by Art Wetherell, The Searchers brought together the real-life descendants of several fictional characters.

Yes, you read that right.

You see, in 1896, Charles Fort brought together several famous authors of science fiction and adventure novels--H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs--and opened a mysterious book in their presence. The book's magic gave each author vivid visions of the characters and events depicted in their novels.

Moments later, several proto-Men in Black took Fort and the book away. You can see them in the illustration at left, bearing patches reading "MIP." That doesn't stand for "Men In Plack," but for "Ministry of Incredible Phenomenon" (sic--this seems to be a Caliber thing--I just read another Caliber book published at roughly the same time, an awful X-Files rip-off titled Raven Chronicles, that features the exact same misuse of phenomenon/phenomena).

One hundred years later, the descendants of Phileas Fogg, Captain Nemo, Professor Moriarty, Professor Von Hardwigge (of Journey to the Center of the Earth), and Griffin the Invisible Man (all of whom were brought into existence by the book) team up for adventure.

The most basic outline of the premise calls to mind Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which brought together characters by the same authors depicted in this series. However, the execution couldn't be more different.

Virtually nothing happens in the first issue of The Searchers. We see the flashback to the historic meeting, then watch the various modern characters being summoned to their own meeting. But there's nothing very interesting about the characters as they're introduced. Kane Talgarth (Nemo's descendant) spends a page in a traffic jam, talking to his boss at a bank. Geneva Fogg spends a page in bed, refusing to answer her phone. John Hammett, Griffin's descendant, slaps around his coworkers at a mental institution, then reveals that his left wrist is invisible (wha?). That's as good as it gets in the first 30 pages.

In issue two, the mysterious man who summoned the various characters tells them they have to travel to the Arctic on a mysterious mission. What is it?

If I told you, you would not believe me. Best you see it with your own eyes.

Well, that's good enough for our heroes. Geneva Fogg busts out her amazing travel agent powers, whipping up a travel itinerary like that, then everyone travels to the Arctic just in time to be attacked by gunmen. Hammett the Partially Invisible Man grabs a couple of Uzi's from their attackers and single-handedly blows them all away (at least seven men, maybe as many as ten) without a scratch before attack helicopters appear overhead and blow him to smithereens. And incidentally, uncover the Nautilus buried under the ice.

At this point, we're 60 pages and almost six bucks in, and it feels as if the story has barely begun. Too many story threads out there, no interesting character conflicts, too many hanging threads (for instance, although Burroughs and Haggard were at the fateful meeting, none of their characters appears in the first two issues, or is even mentioned, aside from a brief mention of a cousin in Africa and a passing reference to Barsoom). There's a brief sequence that seems to be setting up a major villain in an Air Force pilot who beats up his wife, then steals a stealth bomber, but it comes out of left field and makes no sense on several levels, so that it was difficult to suspend disbelief and accept this guy as a legitimate menace.

I stopped buying after two issues, and Caliber stopped publishing after four, followed by a two-issue miniseries. Going back and rereading now, you know what? I don't miss it.

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