As I pondered weak and weary upon a Halloween Countdown dark and dreary, an unexpected visitor made a stop at the House on the Hillside. Horned of head and cloven of hooves was he, with beady black eyes capable of peering straight into one’s soul. This curious creature claimed knowledge of a diabolically ideal candidate for Nobody’s Favorites, and offered to share that knowledge with me…for a price, of course.
Being a man of science and reason, I did what any similar soul would do in my place. I agreed to the transaction, gave Bully the bag of jellybeans he requested, and told him to give my warmest regards to his pal John.
The Little Stuffed One’s suggestion was pulled from “Marvel Frontier Comics,” a short-lived subimprint of the short-lived Marvel UK experiment which darkened American spinner racks during the heady days of the early 1990s boom cycle. Frontier was intended to be an answer to DC’s Vertigo line of quirky-yet-artsy-yet-mature funnybook offerings. Yet like so many derivative-driven responses to popular trends, there was doubt over whether the folks doing the answering actually understood the question.
While Frontier (and the Marvel UK line in general) had a solid stable of established and emerging talents at their disposal, the fruits of their labors were ranged from mildly diverting (at best) and utterly incomprehensible drek (at worst). That crisis of quality can be partly chalked up to the state of the early 1990s comics scene, which was struggling under the yoke of pernicious trends affecting both the creative and business the sides of the industry. (I’m not saying that Dark Angel would have been a better comic if it had been released a decade earlier or later, but it could hardly have been a worse one.)
The Frontier line was in an even tricker spot. Not only was it dragged along in the wake of the Chromium Age’s will to vapidity, but it also was stuck with the impossible task of trying to reverse-engineer the ideosyncratic “hipness” that endeared the Vertigo titles with the 1990s Alterna-splosion crowd. Even as Vertigo itself began calcifying into predictable (and pretentious) memes, Frontier further reduced those to an axiomatic formula of British creators plus quasi-antihero plus mildly suggestive themes plus a dollop of forced quirkiness…
…which resulted in laughable nonsense like Mortigan Goth.
Mortigan. Fucking. Goth. A name so over-the-top that even the hackiest comedic writer would think twice before using it as satire, much less with anything approaching a straight face.
A child of the tumultuous 14th Century, Mortigan’s fear of the Black Death led him to cut a deal with Mephisto in which he exchanged a vague something for eternal life with a side of mystical powers. Shit name aside, an immortal witness to the creepy byways of a shared superhero universe isn’t an inherently terrible premise, as DC proved with The Shade’s reworking in James Robinson’s Starman run.
Unfortunately for all involved, the four issues of the Mortigan Goth miniseries opted to dance around that core concept and play host to a handful of arguably related suplots about vampires, an understandably irritated Dr. Strange, and contradictory flashbacks instead. It also didn’t help that Mortigan himself was presented as an emotionally passive cipher entirely at odds with the “Dorian Gray: Hellblazer” vibe the creators were attempting to cultivate.
I imagine immortality would get boring after a few centuries, but Mortigan’s lack of interest in the convoluted goings-on exceeds any understandable level of ennui. The minseries ends with Mortigan simply waiting around the house for his nemesis to show up and gouge out his eyes, an action which will elicit feelings of envy in most readers.
In the grand scheme of things, the purpose of Mortigan Goth (and the flood of other half-assed Marvel projects during the early-to-mid 1990s) was not to aspire to a lofty aesthetic mandate but to deny shelf space to a rival publisher’s wares. It’s a stray drip from the torrent of shit which damn near smother the industry to death, and one whose sole distinguishing feature is its quixotic desire to bring a crude appromimation of fourth-hand Gaimanisms to the same folks who had X-Force on their pull lists.
Really, though, the name “Mortigan Goth” alone was reason enough to consign this mopey monstrosity to the pyre of eternal shame known as Nobody’s Favorites.