Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse (Volume 1): Birds, Bees, Blood and Beer by Ben Templesmith
Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse (Volume 1): Birds, Bees, Blood and Beer is first notable because of the identifiable art of Ben Templesmith, who both wrote and drew this first of three volumes. Ben Templesmith is known for his work on 30 Days of Night. The art in Wormwood is haunting, with shifting lights marking the seedy backdrop of a creepy cityscape and “The Dark Alley,” a stripper bar that the Gentleman Corpse seems to like to hang out in with Mr. Pendulum, who is a “robotic drinking companion” created by Wormwood. The art is dark and creepy, marked by images that seem to glow in the panels. The story includes characters such as Ms. Medusa, Wormwood’s ex-girlfriend and manager of The Dark Alley, and Phoebe Phoenix, who is Wormwood’s latest hire.
In the first short story, Wormwood is talking to Medusa when a “Dweevil Plant” comes creeping out of the mouth of a fellow bar patron. The plant looks like a Lovecraftian creature of sorts, and Wormwood responds by having Pendulum shoot it. Then the plant creeps out of the mouth of Wormwood, and he has Pendulum shoot it again, this time taking off Wormwood’s head with the explosion of the bullet. Wormwood can survive because he’s an “intergalactic, interdimensional, immortal, happy-go-lucky larval worm thing . . . . He wears corpses like suits.” So, the corpse he is wearing, whose head is blown off, is simply stapled back onto the top of the corpse’s body before, lighting a cigarette, Wormwood proceeds to help Ms. Medusa rid her bar of these creatures that have, apparently, been showing up in the bar for over a week. Wormwood quickly identifies the Spore Father in the bar, and the man turns suddenly into a giant, Lovecraftian monster looming over Wormwood and Pendulum. And battle ensues . . .
After this short story, the comic turns to a longer, more developed tale that starts with Wormwood hiring Phoebe Phoenix to be his partner and bodyguard. He shows her his home before being approached by Trotsky, a dead ghost cop who is working off his “karmic debt.” Trotsky tells Wormwood he needs help with a recent crisis: Creatures are being born, killing the mothers, and devouring the fathers, right after intercourse (a gruesome scene we get to see in one sequence before Trotsky shows up). We also see other graphic scenes, some of which are S&M, so this book is clearly for adults, and the graphic images and adult humor means you’ll want to keep this book out of reach of your kids. The violence is over-the-top too, with creatures dismembering and devouring humans and each other. Lots of tentacles.
Wormwood then takes on this case, and he seeks out the latest crime scene with Trotsky, Phoebe, and Pendulum accompanying him. They soon discover that these creatures being born can impregnate men, too. So, as the case gets weirder and weirder, they meet all sorts of strange characters and creatures in the underworld, including a butcher who offers them otherworldly delicacies, as well as police officers and other more regular human beings. They are on the track of information, and monsters will get in their way and battles will be fought as they descend into the belly of the city. The story is interspersed with scenes showing the creatures that are being “born” across the city for some evil plan of an unnamed humanoid monster. So, we get to follow the criminals as well as Wormwood in his seeking them out. But eventually we witness the meeting of Wormwood and the criminal mastermind, Buer, “Demon of the second order, commander of fifty legions of hell!” And all hell breaks lose.
Wormwood is a funny character, with obnoxious commentary runny constantly. You can see the “worm” he is through the eye of whatever corpse he’s wearing, and he enjoys drinking and smoking most of all, his two favorite pleasures while engaged in solving paranormal cases. The story is wacky, and the ending is ridiculous and unexpected and funny. It’s really a slapstick, paranormal horror story with a worm-in-a-corpse as hero. The story is slight, but it doesn’t matter because it’s supposed to be humorous. It is perhaps a three-star story with the art elevating it to four stars. Lots of fun, and good enough for me to read the following two volumes.
I’m intrigued by the artwork, but it sounds pretty intense.
The art is the big draw, for sure. But it is intense and silly at the same time. Sort of purposefully offensive, I think. Thanks for reading my review.