The Evil Dead franchise has had its fair share of spin-offs, especially in the form of graphic novels. From the original Dark Horse film adaptation to the Dynamite produced series, Ash has transitioned from the anti-hero to a symbol of almost pure comic relief. Although audiences can never seem to truly get enough of the seminal horror-action-hero, I often worried if the comic book approach was diluting the character to a point of no return. Enter the new Dynamite series featuring celebrated comics writer Steve Niles and artist Dennis Calero. The new series, appropriately titled Ash and the Army of Darkness, takes place directly after the events of the third film, putting Ash back in the medieval times after his failed attempt to speak the words of the dreaded Necronomicon.
So what has Ash been up to in the first 5 issues? Besides inadvertantly screwing up just enough to throw the entire world into turmoil, Ashley Williams finds no end to his troubles. Ash learns of the betrayal of the Wiseman, who, overpowered by the dark allure of the Necronomicon, has fallen prey to the demons of the book. The Wiseman, vessel of the Candarian evil of the book is building an army strong enough to wipe the face of humanity clean. Taken prisoner by this new horde of deadites led by ole Spinach Chin himself, Ash is victim to a variety of tortures, both physical and psychological before he is finally saved by none other than “I may be bad, but I feel gooood” Shelia herself. Ash learns that the Wiseman has been bluffing and that the very book that has bestowed these new dark gifts upon him is also lost. Thinking that Ash will again quest for the book to save the kingdom and send himself back home, the Wiseman seeks to play Ash, waiting for the book to once again fall into his hands. Sheila and Ash, this time on a quest full of danger and much to Ash’s chagrin, celibacy, reunite with Henry the Red. Henry tells of his own quest to meet with a human army that could very well turn the tide of the war in their favor. Sadly his own group was ambushed by deadites putting the weight of the war once again on Ash’s shoulders. Venturing to the accursed cemetery that plays home to the book, Ash and Sheila once again come into the possession of the Book of the Dead. Ash, in true Ash fashion neglects to say the words when retrieving the book yet again conjuring up even more trouble in the form of a gigantic Ash deadite doppleganger. The pair race back to Arthur’s castle where Arthur and Henry are under siege by an even larger deadite army just in time for Ash to seemingly save the day… only to have Sheila once more go total she-bitch, deadite-out and steal the book. Army of the dead? Check. Seemingly unsurmountable odds? Check. The right chin for the job? Always. Can Ash put his best chainsaw forward and retrieve the book, setting the world to right. Yeah, and we might just all be Chinese jet-pilots. We’ll see the action unfold in issue #5.
As far as the quality of the series, I have to say that this has probably been THE project that has come the closest to capturing the feel and tone of Raimi‘s universe. Calero does an excellent job of channeling his best Jae Lee and sets a fantastic tone rich in shadow and darkness. Niles also effortlessly plunges himself deep into AOD canon, giving us an Ash that finally feels lifted direct from Raimi’s notebook. The Niles-Caleo team is so sentimental in their approach that they instantly bring us back to Arthur’s court as if we had never left. For the most part that is a wonderful thing. We get to revisit so much of the film that it seamlessly presents itself as an extension of the original storyline. That does not, however come without its caveats. By issue #3 the familiarity almost runs the risk of seeming like too much of a retread. Luckily Niles ups the ante, widening the scope and giving us some great new bad-doers, bringing our interest back front and center. The verdict? Ash and the Army of Darkness is a welcome return to form for the franchise’s expanded universe. I think if we continue to see the universe “expand” with not only new characters bur brand new locales and threats, we have a winner that also has some longevity. RECOMMENDED.