Proposition Player #5 – Reviews of Old Comics
I hadn’t intended following up Pantheon #3 with another Bill Willingham comic. However, the rumors of Vertigo’s demise got me thinking about a mini-series that came out just before Fables started. It was an idea that came out of Willingham’s time as a poker player for a casino.
Casinos have players that fill seats at poker tables until other customers come in to play. They play with their own money. Willingham had a job to make ends meet in between projects. The premise of the series is that a proposition player named Joey Martin has over drinks with friends, jokingly bought 36 souls for the price of a drink. Now he finds himself as the focus of a struggle between Heaven and Hell. As the forces of Heaven attempt to force his hand, so to speak, his friends begin to die and he finds their souls arriving in his apartment.
DC Comics / Vertigo
Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciler: Paul Guinan
Inker: Ron Randall
Colorist: James Sinclair
Letterer: John Costanza
Cover Artist: John Bolton
Hell Mary greets the angels Michael and Bill at Joey’s apartment. It’s already filled with those that have died after selling their souls to Joey. It’s also hosting various religious deities that have fallen from power. Mary lets Michael know that there’s a waiting list to meet Joey.
In his kitchen, Joey is talking with Hugen and Munin, formerly Ravens of Odin. They are fantastic at intelligence gathering. He agrees to bring them into his inner circle. They explain to him that what he has done is create a new religion, with himself as god.
In the front room, Hell Mary is showing Michael the people he has killed. The effort to drive some sort of guilt into the angel fails, as he blames their fates on Joey. Anubis and Moloch are planning their pitch to Joey, especially since they control a lot of financial capital he will need to challenge Heaven and Hell.
The ravens explain to Joey that souls don’t have to show up in the state that they died in. Outside, Michael and Bill talk about the “surprise” that will convince Joey to sell to him. Joey comes out and is upset that his friends haven’t changed from the state they arrived in after dying. The ravens explain that the new rule for how souls arrive isn’t retroactive. Hell Mary reminds Joey that he has others to see.
Moloch and Anubis make their pitch to Joey and Mary to back him financially in exchange for positions of power. Moloch also recognizes that Joey is planning to challenge Heaven and Hell. Joey doesn’t recognize it, yet. Moloch wants Joey to think about it. As he’s leaving, he tells Joey that there are hundreds of millions of souls in limbo to be claimed, potentially giving Joey a lot of power.
Before he sees Michael and Bill, Joey wants to take a nap. The ravens tell Joey that he needs to come up with a story of how he created the universe. Joey comes up that the Great Chaos Monkey pooped the universe, then shaped Joey from a booger. He gave Joey control of the universe and left. The ravens caution him against this, but Joey goes to take a nap.
After an hour, Michael and Bill take Joey and Mary out to Michael’s limosene. Inside the larger-on-the-inside parlor, Michael shows Joey his on-again, off-again girlfriend Lacey. She’s been tortured and mutilated. Michael tells Joey that if she dies, she’ll remain like that for eternity. If Joey sells to Heaven, she’ll be reborn whole again. He tells Michael that he couldn’t love a girl that would sell him her soul for a beer. In defiance, Joey cuts her throat, killing her. He then tells Michael to relay a message to God. Joey’s going to collect more souls and grow in power. If they get in his way, he’ll take them out.
Back at Joey’s apartment, there’s a knock on the door. It’s the Great Chaos Monkey, upset at how Joey has been running the universe.
This is just one issue in the middle of the story. I find it to be the most interesting part of it. Hell Mary started as Hell’s representative, but realized where Joey was going in his dealings with Heaven. She also becomes one of the most honest players in this entire story. Joey is becoming frustrated with the whole affair, but as more and more “cosmic” players talk to him, he becomes more in charge of the entire affair. It almost seems as if everyone is trying to use Joey to forward their own agenda, even if it’s just to escape the banal boredom that Heaven has dealt them.
Paul Guinan does a good job with the art, but given that the series started with some of Bill Willingham’s artwork, it doesn’t measure up to Bill Willingham’s art. Thankfully, it was only in the first issue that this discrepancy was visible on the page. His rendering of the various new arrivals in Joey’s apartment is nice in how he doesn’t go for the obvious gore. The plot is overly dense, and the lightness to Guinan’s art helps keep it approachable.
Take the scene below, for example. It’s written very humorously. It would work with more grotesque appearances to the cocktail waitress and rebar guy. However, that’s a different type of humor. Guinan renders this almost humorously. It keeps the tone light, especially as some really heavy and serious stuff is about to happen.
If you’re looking for the issue itself, then it shouldn’t be terribly hard tofind, or too expensive. I wouldn’t be surprised if at a decent convention, you could put together the entire series out of bargain boxes. It was collected by Vertigo in the Proposition Player TPB. Unfortunately, at the time I’m writing this, it’s not available through digital platforms
Final Rating: 8.5 (out of 10)