Ahh, where to begin?
I suppose a little background is in order before we dive into the autopsy. Back in the 80s, at the height of the black and white indy comics boom, a handful of publishers had established themselves as the premier purveyors of the form. This included Dark Horse (making a splash with Aliens, now the fourth largest comic publisher in the ‘States), Mirage (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a franchise that’s not going anywhere), Fantaco (the classic Gore Shriek), Arrow (DeadWorld, still kinda being published maybe twice a year by Desperado), and the startlingly eclectic Aircel Comics. Aircel prolifically put out comics from all conceivable genres, with a soft spot for weirdo, blood-soaked horror comics. They adapted H.G. Lewis. They had a comic called The Walking Dead 15 years before Image. And in late 1989, they unleashed the four-part slasher send-up Body Count.
Written by Barry Blair & illustrated by Dave Cooper, Body Count comes off as a freakish hybrid of Killer Party, Student Bodies, The Toxic Avenger, and any 50s monster-on-the-loose flick.
Our protagonists, such as they are, are Professor “Prof” Chill, & his outlandish sexual caricature girlfriend Becky. To call these characters stereotypes would be both a massive understatement and massively redundant. Every character in the story is a stereotype turned up to 11, and deliberately so. Prof Chill is so stiff, naive, and verbose it’s a shock he’s not constantly screaming “God save the Queen!” through pipe-clenched teeth. His chiseled good looks and perfect blond hair call to mind someone who should always be clutching a tall glass of milk. Speaking of milk, Becky, on the other hand, looks like she’s constantly posing for a wet t-shirt contest. She alternates between screaming and giggling.
I wanted to rip Prof’s face off with a cheese grater. Becky can stay.
The REAL hero of the book is the gawky college janitor, lovingly dubbed “Wanker” by the hateful student body (and faculty, for that matter). I’m sure you’ve connected the dots long before you arrived at this sentence, but for posterity’s sake, the inciting incident goes something like this: Prof Chill is working on a serum for shits & giggles, the point of which he’s not even sure (though he randomly assumes that it could turn nerds into jocks, because….well, why the hell not). Some stoners break into Chill’s lab after hours looking to steal anything that might get them high, tip over a beaker of Chill’s super-slime, and ol’ Wank shows up to clean up the mess.
And eats it.
Yes; decides to taste some, right off the floor. Within moments of declaring it tasty stuff, Wank swells into a screaming, seeping Hideshi Hino reject, and stumbles backward into a diving suit Chill just picked up for a romantic nautical getaway with Becky. What emerges is a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength, ready to do some Killer Partying with anything that crosses his path.
And party he does.
His first order of business is to pop out of nowhere, ambushing the two stoners who got him into this mess (who are naturally startled by the sudden appearance of a diving-helmeted phantasm), shove his mop –head first– into the mouth and out the back of the skull of one, and ram a microscope through the eyeball of another. Wasting no time, he wanders to the school pool and fries some revelers by tossing a little live cable into the pool, then tracks down the cruel dean of the college (who gets to see what Wank looks like under his helmet….we don’t, but I have to assume he looks like a pissed off Madball) and force-feeds him a can of drain-o.
From here on out it’s a relentless, brainless bloodbath as Wank murders any and everything in countless gruesome ways. He crushes the head of a fisherman in a swamp with his hands (sending his eyeballs flying into the air), and at one point leaps out from behind a tree and knocks a motorcyclist’s head off with a fish(!), sending his female companion to splatter against a nearby tree. Eventually Wank comes across the redneck sheriff and rams himself face-first into his back (Jesus Christ!)! Slapping his helmet onto the sheriff’s carcass, Wank uses his body like a vile puppet, almost resembling a perverse version of two guys in a horse costume. With his new, powerful body, wank goes about simply tearing people’s heads clean off.
So what’s the point of the story, and where does it go? Nothing & nowhere, friend. It’s all about watching Wank slaughter innocents in increasingly bizarre, ghoulish and ridiculous ways (at one point he mounts an assault on a barber shop), as the good guys scramble about ineffectually trying to stop the beast, cracking an endless stream of mega-lame jokes along the way. Eventually the super over-the-top military joins the fray and drop a nuke on Wank (hell, slashers don’t go down easy…why take a chance?), and we’re left wondering what radiation will do to the already wildly mutated body of our once gentle janitor.
So, how does all this moist nonsense LOOK? Dave Cooper has a very unique style, at times reminding me of a cross between the work of Marc Hansen (Ralph Snart, another B&W indy classic from the 80s) and the packaging art from the old Mad Scientist toys Mattel put out around the time. Unlike a lot of said indy classics, Cooper’s work would have looked a lot better in vivid color. With some hues it would have resembled something like a segment of Heavy Metal, and it would have benefited the book greatly. All the same, I gotta say I like Dave’s style, though I’m sure it’s not for everyone.
Every damned bit as stupid as the dreck it’s aping –and every bit as fun– Body Count is a lost mini-classic that fans of this site would be a perfect audience for. They’re gonna get it the most, and definitely have the most fun with it. Just put on your bootlegs of Commander USA’s Groovy Movies in the background, grab a 40-count bag of pizza rolls, and enjoy!
(Thanks to West Coast Comics & Mile High Comics for the cover images!)