The rules of superheroing are simple: Get powers, get a cool suit, join a team and fight for the greater good.

But the thing nobody talks about is how difficult that all must be.  That’s where the Exiles come in (and also how they go out.)  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Exiles #4 awaits!

Exiles4CoverEXILES #4
Writer: Steve Gerber
Penciler: R.R. Phipps
Inker: Dave Simons
Colorist: Psychedelic Prisms
Letterer: Patrick Owsley
Editor: Chris Ulm
Publisher: Malibu Comics
Cover Price: $1.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2.00

Previously in Exiles: Dr. Rachel Deming, strangely fit neurobiologist, discovered a strange malady known as the Theta Virus, which proved fatal for all who contracted it.  Her skills allowed her to create a cure, with the side-effect that those cured gained superhuman powers.  Gathering several such survivors (inertia manipulator Catapult; straight-shooter Deadeye; pseudo-zombie Ghoul; the electrically powered Mustang; light-generator Tinsel; and sorta psychic tracker who could sense danger Trax) gathered together to form the nucleus of a super-team, fighting evil and such.  In the course of their duties, they also attempted to save other Theta Virus sufferers, including on Amber Hunt, a rich girl whom Deming brought back to Exiles base with the intention of training her to join the team, only to leave her behind when an emergency mission raised it’s head.  Amber, for her part, has no interest in saving the day or being any kind of superhero…

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Unfortunately, the mission has also gone south, leading to the death of yet another teenage Theta Virus survivor as well as Exiles member Tinsel, murdered by the villainous Bloodbath in the line of duty.  Since this book is written by Steve ‘Creator of Howard The Duck’ Gerber, you can expect it to undermine some of the tropes and rules of superhero comic books, but even I was surprised at how much subversion was in play, especially circa 1993.  Case in point: the romantic-comedy ‘Slap, Slap, Kiss’ relationship between Trax and Deming’s lab assistant, Heather…

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A more deserved punchinnaface I’ve seldom seen, and I’ve read a LOT of comic books…  As for Dr. D and the rest of her team, their activities have led to unwanted attention from the police, who have no use for warring superhumans with high-tech weapons and sky-cycles buzzing their city.  Fortunately, field leader Deadeye has ways of dealing with such annoyances…

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Dr. Deming immediately orders the team to attack again, but Deadeye overrules her, reminding her that she gave him field command for this mission, and that they’re in way over their heads.  Even with Mustang and Catapult’s general competency, they aren’t soldiers, and under his orders, The Exiles head for home.  Unfortunately, Amber Hunt has not dealt well with being told she has a fatal disease and that there’s a magical cure, only to be abandoned by everyone who knew how to apply said cure, and impulsively starts the machinery herself…

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…and inadvertently sealing the fates of all the Exiles in the process.  Back at the villain’s secret headquarters, the villainous Bloodbath (who, you may recall, murdered an Exile last issue, albeit at the price of his eyes, burned out by Tinsel’s laser-powers) returns to his room to recover, only to find the last of the Exiles has tracked him down.  Using Bloodbath’s own arsenal of weapons, Ghoul intends to take out his revenge on the villain…

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Those who remember 90s comics will remember the focus on violence, gritty dialogue and brutal revenge, and that’s on display here (albeit in more gruesome detail than usual.)  Ghoul systematically stalks Bloodbath, taking any and all attacks in the process, thanks to his sorta-dead body, before shooting the villain point-blank in the head.  Amazingly, things get even more brutal from there…Exiles46

The book is never 100% clear what happens to the spirit/soul/thingama of those who die, but the implication of an afterlife exists…

…unless Ghoul captures your essence and EATS IT.  Which, don’t get me wrong, Bloodbath probably deserved, but it’s kind of terrifying nonetheless.  As Ghoul regenerates himself with the soul of a dead Rob Liefeld character, lab assistant Heather discovers Amber’s terrible decision for herself…

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Whether it’s due to Amber Hunt’s unique powers or improper settings on the DNA sequencer frammitstat (I suspect the latter, to be honest), things are getting hot at Strong hold, and Heather and Trax race to the central control room in the hopes of shutting it all down.  Speaking of shutting it down, Dr. Deming is shocked to find that Deadeye has the same idea for the entire Exiles project, for reasons that are perfectly rational (and correct.)

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The heroes turn tail and return to Stronghold, having received an emergency signal from Heather, but Ghoul still has vengeance on his mind.  Taking more of Bloodbath’s arsenal, the reinvigorated zombie-wannabe makes his way up to the headquarters of the nefarious Malcolm Kort, whose plan actually led to the (you should excuse the expression) bloodbath that has ensued during the Exiles mission.  Kort is sure that the hero can’t do anything to him, that he’s protected due to his wealth and social standing.

He is quite wrong…

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And thus ends the villainous career of Malcolm Kort.  Of course, this is a Gerber joint, so there’s plenty of doom to go around, as we find back at Stronghold, as Heather and Trax find that even the central command center doesn’t hold the key to shutting off Amber Hunt’s massive display of power…

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Heather and Trax come to a kinda sweet resolution of their attraction, stumbling out of the command center together, as the remaining Exiles fly in on their sky-cycles.  In a normal comic, there’d be a heroic last-ditch effort to shut things down, maybe with Amber coming to her senses and becoming the superhero we all knew she could be, with the Exiles all gathered together to face their next mission…

That does not happen.

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Heather and Trax are incinerated together as Amber’s power destroys Deming’s headquarters. The incoming Exiles attempt to avoid the shockwave, but the entire chamber then explodes in an even bigger conflagration.  Mustang is killed immediately by flying debris, his neck broken by impact, while Deadeye, Deming and Catapult are struck by a tsunami ten stories high…

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With the team’s headquarters destroyed, nearly all the members seriously injured or dead, and a massive wave of destruction emanating from the flaming ruins of their island base, it would seem that things couldn’t get any worse for the late Exiles.

That assumption, too, would be wrong…

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Amber Hunt’s powers are so far out of control that they actually set off the Ultraverse’s first big crossover event, ‘Break-Thru’, with Prime, Hardcase and the rest of the heroes dragged into the rubble that is the Exiles legacy.  Interestingly, this series was not originally meant to be part of Malibu’s shared universe, instead being a stand-alone series.  Indeed, I remember reading an issue of Comics Scene (or a similar coming attractions publication) that detailed long-term plans for the series as a standalone, including Amber’s superhero name, En Flame), but the creators instead chose to use this platform to address some of the assumptions of superhero fiction.  In fact, this issue’s “Kill ‘Em All” ending was such a secret that issue #5 was solicited for sale, making sure that no one saw what was coming, and setting the Ultraverse off on a whole new tangent.  Exiles #4 is a real shocker, featuring Gerber providing a seriously engaging and surprising script and dialogue, some okay art for the time period, and That Ending, earning 3 out of 5 stars* overall.

*Those stars were later killed in an explosion.

The rules of superheroing are simple: Get powers, get a cool suit, join a team and fight for the greater good. But the thing nobody talks about is how difficult that all must be.  That's where the Exiles come in (and also how they go out.)  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Exiles #4 awaits! EXILES #4 Writer: Steve Gerber Penciler: R.R. Phipps Inker: Dave Simons Colorist: Psychedelic Prisms Letterer: Patrick Owsley Editor: Chris Ulm Publisher: Malibu Comics Cover Price: $1.95 Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2.00 Previously in Exiles: Dr. Rachel Deming, strangely fit neurobiologist, discovered a strange malady known as…
Subverting superhero rules in a shocking manner, with some okay art and a good (if perhaps nihilistic) story...

EXILES #4

Writing
Art
Coloring

Subverting superhero rules in a shocking manner, with some okay art and a good (if perhaps nihilistic) story...

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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3 Comments

  1. Luis Dantas
    January 10, 2016 at 1:54 pm — Reply

    Dr. Denning’s dress code is… interesting. Apparently their female costumes are regulated to have pants that are either vaccum-adherent or simply painted on.

    • Rob
      January 10, 2016 at 4:09 pm — Reply

      Mmm, that’s some proper 90’s costume design right there. Of course it’s easy to mock now but I’m sure the current look will seem equally dated in 20 years.

    • January 10, 2016 at 5:42 pm — Reply

      Given that she’s a biologist, you have to admire her commitment to keeping fit…

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