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Wormwood Volume 1 Paperback – Mar 27 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Just when John Constantine was starting to be a bit rumpled, along comes another nattily dressed smart-ass who does business with the unholy darkness; this time, he's a little closer to being one of them. Templesmith's Wormwood is a preternaturally cheery corpse with an ever-present cigarette and pentagram tattoo on his forehead to match the psychotic grin. In this debut, the gentleman corpse comes across a plot by a cabal of demons to infiltrate the world of humans and generally lay waste to it all in the nastiest way possible. With a game pair of sidekicks—the hulking robot Pendulum and lithe punk assassin Phoebe—Wormwood does battle with a full complement of foul netherworld beasties. This material could come off as rank at worst and derivative at best, just another horror comic with a yen for desecrated corpses. But in a wry manner, Templesmith (30 Days of Night) tweaks a surprising amount of humor out of the overdone scenarios, cloaking it all in darkly layered and intricate art that recalls Criminal Macabre. One assumes more Wormwood tales will follow, along with more people suffering from, as a policeman refers to it, "extreme cases of, uh, death." (Apr.)
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Wormwood is never without his sidekick Mr. Pendulum, a mechanical construct with a bad attitude who looks like one of the members of ZZ Top. He's also frequently in the company of a lazy ghost detective named Trotsky, assistant Phoebe Phoenix, and former girlfriend Medusa who runs a local strip club and guards a gateway to hell. A pretty eclectic band of characters, no doubt about it!
Wormwood is like the John Constantine of the worm/maggot world. He's known to associate with various demons and deities, often over a multitude of beers. The opening prelude takes place in Medusa's club which suddenly becomes infected with demonic plants which have a nasty habit of bursting out of the customer's mouths. Wormwood and crew have to find the sporefather and destroy it before all of the customers become hothouses four more of the beasties. "Birds, Bees, Blood, and Beer" is a four-part story making up the bulk of the book. Someone is selling men what amounts to tainted viagra...improving their sexual performance, but also causing their seed to quickly germinate until a many-tentacled creature explodes out of their partner's belly. Yes...squishy is definitely the word for Wormwood.
By his own admission, Templesmith's art is love it or hate it. I have come around and you can count me in the "love it" category. His sketchy, abstract style is a perfect marriage to visual horror genre. Few artists today make use of color for style and setting a mood they way Templesmith does. Even the word balloons take on distinctive characteristics for the various characters. Templesmith weaves the horrific elements with dry humor for a masterful series. The book concludes with a spectacular cover and pin-up gallery featuring art by Templesmith, Grant Gould, Colton Worley, and Art Grafunkel.
Like Hellboy, Wormword isn't, shall we say, quite human. He's a sentient wormlike creature who uses corpses for mobility and to blend in with humanity (magic helps a bit with his camouflage). As with Constantine, he's familiar with the nasty underbelly of reality and has a sense of noirish mirth that leavens his altruism. And there is also the typical assortment of oddball, gifted sidekicks to provide comic relief and take the brunt of punishment during combat.
In this collection, Wormwood and his partners take on some Cthulhu-like creatures that are threatening to devour humanity. Of course, this particular storyline has been done many times before. But Mr. Templesmith manages to (ahem) inject some interesting angles. For example, the author does a fine job tapping into our primal fears of sharing bodily fluids, STDs, and being consumed by one's lover or offspring. And as for the medium of transmission - well, I'll certainly never watch a male enhancement commercial the same way again.
Despite the intriguing characters, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the climactic battle between Wormwood & Co. and the main nasty. It was handled in a somewhat different way than these conflicts usually are, but the resolution seemed to invalidate the preceding mayhem. Clever at first reading, but it kind of lost its luster for me after further reflection.
The helter-skelter art suggests Bill Sienkiewicz's run on the New Mutants awhile back. Normally I prefer a more realistic approach - I liked Mr. Sienkiewicz better when he was a Neal Adams clone (a la "Moon Knight"). For reference, my favorite horror artists are "Swamp Thing" illustrators Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben. However, as with Hellboy's artist, Mr. Templesmith's pencils fit his undead character's surreal tone and icky atmosphere just fine. As a bonus, cover and sketchbook art are included as well.
Overall, "Wormwood" is an interesting take on the loner hero (Wormwood and his ilk are always set apart, even when surrounded by associates) who stands between us and the forces of chaos. If you enjoy Hellboy and Constantine, then "Wormwood" will slither easily into your collection.
The art is absolutely on another level -- worth 50 more stars and then some. As cliche as it is to say, it really must be seen to be properly experienced or even remotely understood.
Wormwood very much feels like a kind of bastard child (stated in the most complimentary sense) between Neil Gaiman's Sandman series and Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis. I mean this in both aesthetic and literary senses. There seems to be a certain black, dry wit that these guys (Gaiman, Ellis, Templesmith) manage to pull off that is rare; it almost feels like a kind of grotesque (again, this is admirable), evolved version of what most people think of when thinking of `British humo(u)r'.
That all said, this is a gorgeous and absolutely visceral graphic novel. I'd never hope or think that the likes of Gaiman and Ellis are `done' in this genre, far from it, but if Templesmith represents something of a new generation, we're in good (decaying) hands.
I'm admittedly naive about how the graphic novel industry works, but these seems like a series just begging to get picked up by a major brand, specifically DC's Vertigo imprint.