Let me start by saying that I love “Evil Dead,” thought that “Evil Dead 2” was pretty alright, and “Army of Darkness” made me laugh until my laughing-parts hurt. Before “Ash vs. the Evil Dead” came (and went, frowny face) to the Starz Network, the only way to get more Ash was in the realm of the comic book; the story from the trio of movies continued on the printed page, first going into the series “Army of Darkness: Ashes 2 Ashes” and then directly into the series we’re talking about today, “Shop Till You Drop Dead.”
Now, if you’re a fan of Bruce Campbell and the “Evil Dead” series (and who isn’t, really?), odds are good you will be at least somewhat entertained by these comics, despite their shortcomings; after all, in the early 2000s, where else could we get an “official” Ash-centric storyline continuation? You don’t specifically have to have read “Ashes to Ashes” before this series; you could pretty much have this one start after the “S-Mart Ending” of “Army of Darkness” and not really miss a whole lot from the first comic story arc (the content is summarized in the first few pages of this series, as are the events of the film).
Anywho, Ash returns from Egypt (that’s right) to go back to work in the local S-Mart, this time, however, Sheila (see “Army of Darkness”) is working there with him, now a denizen of the present. Soon things start going all Evil Dead in the department store and the usual shenanigans ensue. This time, though, those shenanigans send Ash into the future, where the world is overrun by Deadites (now called Deaduns), and Ash must destroy the Necronomicon once again, though in the future the Book of the Dead is a massive computer program (stylized in a techno homage to “Tron”). As per the usual in both the movie and comic book series, the story reaches an impossibly huge climax, and once again a major character does something exasperatingly careless that causes the Deadites to be able to continue their rampage on into the next series.
By its nature as an original Ash story, this series kicks plenty of ass! There is, however, a huge amount of stuff going on in this volume…possibly too much. While artists Nick Bradshaw and Sanford Greene’s art is certainly good, the panels often become cluttered and borderline-confusing. I found myself having to re-read pages because I’d miss minor details lost in the overcrowded images. Things are made a bit more confusing when the artists change for the third issue. Bradshaw is replaced with Greene for one issue only, or about one-fourth of the story; Greene’s artistic style, while similar, is hard to adjust used to for the short amount of time. It’s a minor gripe, to be sure, but being a former all-out fanboy whose first job at the age of 16 was in a comic book shop, I’d rather wait that extra month or so and keep the continuity of the art rather than have someone fill in for a single issue in the middle. It’s a bit like when they change voices in cartoon shows for a season; it doesn’t really alter the story at all, it just feels kind of weird and takes getting used to.
The dialogue and thought processes of Ash are very much in character, and sometimes straddle the line of being too much so. Familiar lines and quotes by which the character is known for in the films have been appropriated for this story, but the attempt to raise the smart-ass-while-kicking-ass factor of Ash results in most of his dialogue being nothing more than throwaway one-liners. There are moments where characters use songs with altered lyrics that just don’t work on paper; for instance, the “Speed Racer” reference that is used falls very flat, especially because the words used don’t match the original tune.
The “Army of Darkness” comics have so far been a bit of an endurance test. Both books (“Ashes 2 Ashes” and this one) poach a little too much dialogue from the films, and Ash borders on being dimensionally challenged. The dialogue does flow significantly better in this story, but the tale is far more convoluted than anything the films could possibly muster and runs the risk of alienating die-hard “AoD” fans.
Previous writer Andy Hartnell passes the torch to James Kuhoric (a former scribe for “Battlestar Galactica,” “Lexx,” and “Stagate SG-1”), with Bradshaw staying on as artist (mostly, as noted above). From the get-go, you can tell that not a lot is different, and this can be both a blessing and a curse. If the writing bugged you in the first arc, it’s likely to do the same here, and for many of the same reasons. Pop culture junkies have plenty to look out for, as the references run thick and fast throughout; the only problem is, everything else in the story comes fast and furiously as well, and the story may end up feeling a little too frenetic for many readers’ tastes.
I’d be interested to hear what hardcore fans think of these books because I’ve enjoyed the original content but think the delivery could be improved. Still, that idea that “Army of Darkness” has the potential for more untapped greatness makes me keep reading. Ash’s appearance in the “Marvel Zombies” comic book series of the mid-2000s was a thing of beauty, and the amazingly-crazy “Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator” four-issue mini-series picks up the action pretty much directly after the events of “Shop Till You Drop Dead.” Groovy!