Warren Stockholm,
Scorpion Magazine, #1:
The Sting of the Scorpion

(Pop Pulp/KHP Industries, 2006)

Scorpion Magazine, No. 1: The Sting of the Scorpion is a comic book without the pictures. Not a comic book written by the likes of Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, something from a less talented Marvel or DC creator. Which is fine if that's what you're looking for, but this is a long way from great literature.

The Scorpion, a.k.a. Kurt Reinhardt, is a newspaper mogul in an alternate America, one in which Nazi Germany won the war, conquered Europe and then took over the U.S. as well. The Germans managed this, in part, due to genetics experimentation that led to a group of cloned superhuman assassins, the Totenkopf. Among these soldiers were two young men who were especially closely bonded, Wolf and Kurt. But when Kurt rejected the ways of the Totenkopf he set up a lifelong struggle between himself and his sibling. Now living in Steeltown, U.S.A., in an America newly freed from German occupation, Kurt Reinhardt appears to be a model citizen. He's a wealthy newspaper publisher and editor who believes that the stories he runs can help clean up Steeltown. But his Totenkopf past is a skin not easily shed. And when the evils of the city crawl out to do their worst, the Scorpion is there, 50-caliber "Sting" in hand, to protect his adopted city from harm.

This premise has the potential to house an array of crime-fighting adventures. And author Warren Stockholm has set himself up with a clever vehicle for delivering the goods: Scorpion Magazine. Immediately the reader knows this is going to be an ongoing series of adventures; that, as with Batman or Spider-Man, nothing truly dire will ever befall our "hero" -- and that there's bound to be a whole lot of bloody action before the Scorpion succeeds in ridding Steeltown of this edition's bad guys.

"I didn't want to play detective. I didn't want to be a hero. And I had no desire to be a villain. So instead I had become a monster. And why? The dent I made in the greater evil by exterminating vermin like Senator Kelby was really very small, and quickly filled by yet another villain in an endless procession of villains."

Out past this basic outline lies the potential to explore the inner workings of Kurt Reinhardt's mind, to go beyond the gore and gunslinging for some taut psychological drama. Unfortunately, at least in this first issue of the magazine, this potential isn't much realized. Stockholm does give us glimpses into the early life of his protagonist, the evolution of the battle between Kurt and Wolf as they go their separate ideological ways. But this part of the story seems always to be in service to the next lovingly detailed fight scene rather than the other way round. And that's the key, I think, to why The Sting of the Scorpion is much less than it could be.

Stockholm's writing is adequate, and he manages to capture the noir mood in the standard ways -- "Dick gave me an absent nod, preoccupied as he was with the things [Maggie] James's hem was doing as she shifted restlessly." But there's no real spark to lift this beyond the ordinary. Stockholm has given himself a stage and all the set dressings, but rather than attempt to put on a full, glorious production of Hamlet we've got the murder, some "to be, or not to be" musings and a "to be continued" at the end.

Scorpion Magazine, No. 1: The Sting of the Scorpion could turn out to be the humble beginnings of a perceptive, intriguing series. But it's got a long way to go to elevate itself above its less-than-ambitious starting point. Let's hope that in future editions Warren Stockholm aims higher.

by Gregg Thurlbeck
9 December 2006

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