Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, December 26, 2005
      ( 12/26/2005 09:35:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SIDE OF YOUR HEAD?" – Wasn't familiar with the plight of Mark Haggerty, the promising young robotics engineer who became accidentally fused into an experimental robot suit in Steve Niles' Fused!, so the new Boom! Studios one-shot Fused! Tales was my intro to the guy. From what I can gather, Niles' hero is a cross between Iron Man and the Thing. Dependent on his skull-faced mechanical suit to live, treated as an outcast by the rest of the world, Mark (per the recap on the inside front cover) is an "unwilling pawn in a deadly struggle between misguided egos and obsessive military forces." It's a bit of a change from scripter Niles's usual work – at least as I've known it. A more old-fashioned superhero creation instead of his usual horror fare, the series is only modestly served by this three story collection, which only raised more questions about the character than it answered.

Creator Niles is represented on the first of the three stories, "Bring Your Own Misery," which puts our hero in on an unspecified mission in Iraq, supporting a unit of soldiers at a desert checkpoint. Why was Haggerty sent to this particular spot? We have no idea, though his presence is not taken well by a hard-bitten sergeant. It does provide our hero with the opportunity to temporarily bond with a scared young private, though, and engage in some Support the Troops proselytizing that's about as subtle as Marvel Age Stan Lee when he occasionally felt the call to offer his take on current events. The young kid's stateside fiancée has written our young private a letter calling him a "monster" because he's killed an insurgent in self-defense, but Mark – whose wife left him after her became fused to the creepy cy-bot suit – gives the fresh-faced soldier rhetorical ammo to write back to his un-empathic girl. He also tosses a car bomb full of faceless insurgents into the sky, but that moment almost seems incidental.

Though the second story (an underwater adventure written by Joshua Hale Fialkov) hints at some underhanded dealings by the military, we don't really get much in the way of conflict 'tween Haggerty and these unseen forces. The biggest problem that our hero faces in Tales is with his own cy-bot suit, which has an unfortunate habit of either locking up like a frozen p-c or giving him necessary information way too late for it to do any good. In the third story, a domestic vignette written by Christopher Long, a moment between Mark and his ex- is disrupted when Mark's head starts gloppily melting, an event that surprises even our hero. Is this the end of Fused!? Probably not, though I'm not sure that many newcomers, coming to the series for the first time, will particularly know enough to care.

The book’s art, it should be noted – by Chee, Nick Stakal and Andrew Ritchie, respectively – generally gets the job done, though each artist has an observably different take on Haggerty’s cy-bot suit (Chee makes it more early Iron Man heavy, Ritchie makes it more overtly skeletal). In general, I found Chee the most effective in the Iraq adventure, though Stakal's Mignola-influenced panels were fun in spots. Ritchie, unfortunately, wasn't always able to convince me that Haggerty's estranged wife Nikki was a living breathing being, a fatal flaw when you're recounting the tribulations of a perpetually isolated Man in the Machine . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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