Stitched, as you likely know, is the first-ever movie from Garth Ennis.  GARTH ENNIS!  I was excited when I first heard about the project, and even more so when I learned that there would be a new Avatar Press comic series based on Stitched from Garth Ennis and Mike Wolfer.  I even wrote about this Stitched news here on Comic Booked, and cursed the fact that I wouldn’t be at San Diego Comic-Con 2011 to see the Stitched screening and meet Garth Ennis in person.  As a huge fan of both Ennis and Wolfer, I figured that the Stitched comic would be a sure-fire hit.  Last month the first issue of the Stitched series came out, and to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to think – it wasn’t a bad comic, but it wasn’t groundbreaking either.  I decided to wait to write about Stitched until I picked up issue #2, which dropped this last week.  Strangely enough, I now seem to have even more questions about the series after reading two issues than I did after only reading the debut.

Stitched cover 1

Stitched is a horror story set in wartime Eastern Afghanistan.  The crew of a Black Hawk helicopter is on an extraction mission in hostile territory, when they experience a sudden engine failure and are forced to bail as their chopper crashes into a canyon.  Separated from the homing beacon in their crashed airship and unable to radio for assistance due to the rugged terrain, the crew are forced seek help for an injured team member and beat a hasty retreat from any hostiles that would have witnessed the crash.  The story deviates from a standard military tale when the crew find themselves under attack from strange animated corpses with eyes and mouths stitched shut, being driven on by the clinking of pebbles in tin cans.  When the cans are not clinked, the “stitched” seem to freeze motionless in place.  In the first encounter with this strange new threat, humans in black robes swing cans filled with pebbles on chains to produce the constant “TNNK…TNNK…TNNK…” to drive the “stitched” on.  To make matters even worse, the “stitched” are formidable foes that eviscerate their targets, are seemingly impervious to gunfire, and very well camouflaged to boot.  In short time the helicopter crew joins forces with the squad they were sent to extract, and together they try to survive and make their way out of an area crawling with the “stitched.”

Stitched 1 chopper crash

Two issues in, and all-in-all this isn’t a bad comic; or an exceptional one for that matter. Mike Wolfer (whose art I have really enjoyed in the past – cough, cough, Gravel) provides very serviceable illustrations in Stitched, with some very nice gore panels thrown in for good measure.  The story is original enough, but sometimes feels a little flimsy.  Why would a highly trained soldier willing pick up one of the tin cans, when he has clearly seen what the rattling could lead to?  Even if he didn’t know, would he not be weary of IEDs?  Sure, horror stories are driven by the actions of stupid people doing stupid things, but this sequence actually happens in issue #2 and seems a little contrived. 

Stitched 2 stupidity page

Maybe I should just suspend my disbelief and go with it.  I would really like to learn more about what is really going on with the undead “stitched” here.  Is this some form of Afghanistan voodoo dark magic?  Maybe not knowing the nature of the “stitched” is a device to add to the terror; but inquiring minds want to know.  Maybe all will be revealed in time?  There is some nice dialogue in this title, particularly in exchanges Stitched 1 gorebetween soldiers taking the piss about mistaking a man for a woman while on leave: “Listen, she was very convincing all right?”; or some gentle prodding between English and American soldiers about the crashing of the rescue chopper, “…good news lads, the Yanks are on the job…”  

But something else nags at me in Stitched.  As a huge Garth Ennis fan (ALL of his books; not just his  hit titles like Preacher or Punisher MAX; but also his War Stories AND his horror comics like Hellblazer and Crossed – Crossed published on Avatar Press just like Stitched), I am very familiar with his writing style.  Stitched seems very atypical from what I know of Ennis’ work.   The pacing just seems very different, and the cliffhangers don’t leave me begging for more in the typical Ennis fashion.  In the first issue the credits read — story: Garth Ennis  art: Mike Wolfer.  But in issue #2 this is amended to – original story: Garth Ennis  script and art: Mike Wolfer.  Both names appear on the covers; but is this series simply a Mike Wolfer adaptation of Ennis’ story from the film?  Don’t get me wrong, I love Avatar Press, Garth Ennis, and Mike Wolfer. I am just a little confused about whose work I am reading here.  If this is a Wolfer adaptation, I feel a little baited and switched.  Maybe I just misunderstood?  No slight is intended to either the publisher or the creators (both Avatar Press and Mike Wolfer have always treated me amazingly), but this factor could go a long way toward explaining why something feels a little off here.  Stitched isn’t bad at all.  If you liked the movie or are a fan of military horror, I am sure you will dig the comics. I will still pick up the next issue, and hope that my feeling of something not firing on all cylinders here proves to be unwarranted.

Stitched 2 cover

In recent and exciting Garth Ennis news: Avatar Press recently announced that he will be returning to the Crossed series in March for a new bi-weekly Crossed series titled Crossed: Badlands, with one of my very favorite artists, Jacen Burrows!  From the Avatar Press Website:

Responding to overwhelming fan and retailer support for their wildly successful comic book horror franchise, Avatar Press announces today the launch of a new, ongoing CROSSED comic book series on March 14, 2012, with a bi-weekly release schedule and its first story arc reuniting the creative team of superstar writer Garth Ennis (Preacher, The Punisher) and original series artist Jacen Burrows (NEONOMICON). Concurrent story arcs will be spearheaded by well-established comic book writers such as Jamie Delano (Hellblazer) and David Lapham (Stray Bullets). The worldwide release of CROSSED: BADLANDS will be marked by a special “C-Day” in-store event for comic shop retailers, designed to maximize comic fan awareness and drive sales for area retailers. 

Further down the page, the press release goes on:

The return of Ennis and Burrows to the CROSSED universe has been one long demanded by readers. Regarding his return to script the new CROSSED: BADLANDS series, Ennis says, “It feels cold and bleak and bad and dark, which is exactly how I hoped it would. You don’t write CROSSED with the sun shining in your heart; you write it around midwinter, watching the long night devour the feeble day.”

Check out the official Avatar Press website for even more details!  With Crossed: Psychopaths wrapping up, it looks like fans are in for more Crossed AND Garth Ennis!  What great news! Check back here at Comic Booked for future Avatar Press news, and I’ll see you again next month for the Stitched #3 review.