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Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle, returns in Hack/Slash #5 and brings an interesting self-contained story, giving us a breather from the usually very involved story arcs previously produced from the series. But if the issue’s intent was to get more readers for Hack/Slash, it failed.
The God-like entity Fantomah has finally returned after being trapped for many years because of the Crime Cabal and now needs Cassie and Vlad’s help. In exchange, she promises to help them succeed in their mission and take down the leader of the slashers, the people responsible for killing everyone around Cassie when she was younger by using her own mother, the Lunch Lady.
Tim Seeley’s characterization of Fantomah makes her an enjoyable character. She has Poison Ivy’s disposition towards plants and man and also has her attitude. When Cassie first encounters Fantomah, she is using her shower. This is not just a blatant excuse for a distasteful shower scene (though the art does not help keep it from feeling like one) but shows just how disrespectful of others’ property Fantomah is and how she does not fear anyone. Her numerous abilities make her threatening; the danger she can cause is further thrust into the reader’s mind by Cassie and Vlad’s fear of her. This reflects well on Fantomah’s character, but not on Cassie and Vlad, especially if this is your first time seeing them. In this issue, they appear pathetically weak when compared to Fantomah, and are at first pathetically scared of her. Cassie does manage to have some fight in her when riding in the car with Fantomah, but the very serious conversation between the two has a pee joke woven in that makes the conversation less serious, taking away the powerful impact it could have had and replacing it with a juvenile feel. We’re also given a quick two-page look at Chris and Pooch from the last story arc that feels out of place but does establish an important plot element at the expense of jolting you out of the story with Fantomah.
Cassie’s character almost gets you to feel sympathy for her with her motivation quickly explored towards the end of the issue when she is about to come face-to-face with the woman she believes is responsible for her violent childhood. Vlad is quickly established as the monster with a heart of gold but also seems overwhelmingly cowardly whenever he interacts with Fantomah. She does tell him the one and only thing that will impact the future of the series. Other than this moment and the one between Chris and Pooch the rest of the issue is self-contained with no bearing on the future of the series. The ending does seem like a nice segue into giving Fantomah her own mini-series, though.
The art is where this issue manages to stand-out from other horror titles – in both good and bad ways. The first five pages of this issue pay homage to the artwork and corny stories from the 60’s generation of comics. The artwork from Kyle Strahm during this flashback to the 60’s is better than anything after the transition to present-day. Strahm attempts to make Cassie and Fantomah hot by putting them in scanty clothes, but the art makes them slutty in the most unflattering of ways and takes away their sex appeal. The worst treatment went to Chris, who looks rugged and near death. The art from the last issue is missed here, despite the fun the artist obviously had in the beginning of the comic when going back to the 60’s along with well-used blindingly bright colors.
New readers could pick up this issue and understand it, but it will not be a good introduction to the main characters of the series that are downplayed because of Fantomah. Fantomah seems capable of having her own one-shot or even a mini-series. This issue has a strong story but just relies too much on one character. Followers of the series may enjoy it as a nice breather from the very involved story arcs of the past, but the artwork is still a step down from the previous issue and Cassie and Vlad are unfortunately at their weakest.