Chain Gang War #1 (1993)

Chain Gang War #1 (July, 1993)

“Chain Reaction”
Writer – John Wagner
Pencils – David Johnson
Inks – John Dell
Letters – Bill Oakley
Colors – Steve Mattsson
Assists – Frank Pittarese
Edits – Dan Raspler
Cover Price: $2.50

… and now for something completely different…

Chain Gang War is odd… it feels like something that could only have been made during the 1990’s, while at the same time sorta-kinda deal with some relatively contemporary themes and threats.

This feels as though it’s a book for the 99% but produced in a time before that phrase was coined (at least popularly).  That having been said, this one certainly has the potential of being a “soap-box” title… I don’t like soap-boxers, and I don’t like to be preached to… regardless of whether or not I’m part of their particular choir.

With my fingers crossed, let’s see if there’s more to this one than all that…

Carlo Brunetti, millionaire “businessman” (criminal) has just beaten some charges in court.  He is approached by a news reporter, who provides us with suitable exposition to give this scene context.  Brunetti has the ability to buy his way out of trouble, and therefore appears to be “above the law”.

That night, at the Brunetti lodge, three masked vigilantes prowl the grounds.  Through use of stealth and steel chains, they easily take down the security detail.  These are the members of the Chain Gang… and they’re ready for War.

Inside, Brunetti is fuming over the way the news is covering his story.  He orders his aide to sic a fella who goes by the moniker “Animal” on the female newscaster to send her a message (ie. cut her up into little pieces, and bury those pieces across five states… that’ll show her!).  Before they can act, the Chain Gang bursts into his study.

The Gangsters state that they are only there for Brunetti… and the rest of the crew can leave unscathed and unharmed.  Carlo thinks they’d been sent by his “business” rival Scipio, and has his goon squad attack.

This doesn’t really impress the Gang, who rat-tat-tat, budda-budda-budda and whut-whut-whut’s the goons til they’re full of holes.  They kayo Brunetti and abduct him.

Later, Brunetti wakes up.  His ankles and wrists are shackled, and he appears to be in a small jail cell.  The only light peers in from a tiny barred window.  By the window’s location, we get the impression that the cell is for the most part, underground.

The police and media are shortly on the scene of the Brunetti lodge massacre.  Shockingly, there were only three fatalities.  I could have sworn the Chain Gang downed a small army in the prior pages.  The information is shortly broadcast, including bits about Carlo Brunetti being currently listed as missing (and presumed dead).

We now meet Brunetti’s rival, Scipio.  He is making a goodwill call to Carlo’s son Sammy Brunetti to offer his condolences, and offer his support… he even invites him to his daughter’s birthday party.  Sammy thinks Scipio’s not only full of crap, but also responsible for the night’s events.  After hanging up the phone, he orders an aide to sic the Animal on him (like father like son, I see).

The next day, we find ourselves in the apartment of a shaky man named Ernie.  His wife is asking him how his job search is going, and he admits to blowing it off.  When she protests, he hands her a wad of bills.  When asked how and where he got the cash, he tells her he’d done a job for “Yale” the night prior.  This does not appear to help matters in the slightest.  She fears that Yale is too dangerous a man to be in cahoots with.

Back at the cell, Brunetti is having a pizza delivered by the Chain Gang’s very own personal warden.  We get the impression that the makeshift prison is in the basement of Yale Strang’s mansion.  We also meet Yale, who’s yakking in the toilet… sickened by how he had to commit several murders the night before.

After flushing (and hopefully brushing) Yale calls a fella called Curtis.  They discuss the events of the night before as well as the night to come.  We also learn that Yale’s wife/girlfriend was murdered a couple of years earlier.

That night, at Scipio’s daughter’s birthday party, the Chain Gang plans to strike.  Just like before, they make short work of the security detail.  This time, however, they drip a trail of gasoline across the yard, and light a match.

Why yes, this book was written in the 90’s… why do you ask?

Meanwhile, at a meat packing plant we finally (sorta) meet the Animal.  He’s interrogating a poor sap named Charlie Smith… trying to get information about Scipio… which is odd, because his employer Sammy Brunetti knows full-well that Scipio is currently having a birthday bash… wouldn’t it have made more sense to send Animal thataway?  Anyhoo… when Smith won’t gab, the Animal uses a chainsaw to cut off his ear.

Back at the party, Scipio’s aides are running around like buffoons yelling about the fire.  This draws the main man himself outside to see what the hub-bub’s about.  The Chain Gang goes all Barney Fife and claims “citizen’s arrest” before slapping on the shackles.

Gabby Scipio enters the scene to check on her daddy, and finds herself back-handed for her troubles.  These Chain Gangsters don’t mess around!

They load Mr. Scipio into one of his cars, and drive through the gates to escape his property.  They bring him down to the makeshift prison, and unmask him in front of Brunetti.  Now they both get a better understanding of the situation they are currently in.  It’s no longer a street war… it’s something far worse (for them).

Ya know… all things considered, this wasn’t bad at all.

It addresses something that has been at the root of DC Comics for as long as I remember, the ineffectiveness of their criminal justice system.  Lex Luthor is always doing something illegal, but (almost) never goes to jail… Arkham Asylum may as well open all their windows and remove their doors for as often as creeps break out of there!  Same with Iron Heights.

The Chain Gang fills a void… and I feel had this series caught on, could have been a lot of fun.  Imagine seeing someone like Lex Luthor or Two-Face locked up in their makeshift prison… imagine the possibilities.  Hell, imagine what the established DC hierarchy of heroes would think of criminals being abducted and held without due process!  Keeping in mind, this is the only issue I’ve read of this series… and the above may as well have actually occurred (at least in part) is still a possibility.

Is it unnecessarily violent?  Maybe.  The “ear cutting” scene was a bit much… though, it may have been in there to start providing a pattern of behavior for this Animal character.  Overall, though… not bad at all.

We get the impression that the Chain Gangsters are compelled to root out crime, and punish those above the law predicated on their own past experiences.  They’re compelled… but, (physically) sickened at the same time.  We see Ernie shaking uncontrollably, and Yale losing his lunch.  I get the impression that the only fella actually enjoying the work is Curtis… who may well be a sociopath.  I also gotta wonder if the name Yale Strang is some sort of nod to Kim Yale and John Ostrander… maybe?

Funny, the more I think about it… the more I’m liking it.  This is definitely a story about justice for all, and yet, it doesn’t really harp on it.  These are bad guys, that… for whatever reason (money, power, connections) have been able to maneuver their way through the system to the point of abuse… the Chain Gang is, in a small way, trying to tip the scales of justice back to “even”.

I can’t see this one ever being collected, but it shouldn’t be too hard to come by if you are so inclined.  Shouldn’t cost any more than a buck either, I got mine for a quarter.  Check it out if you get the chance… it may change your impression of what kind of story may lurk behind a foil-embossed (and thereby terribly difficult to photograph) cover!

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0 thoughts on “Chain Gang War #1 (1993)

  • This is from the time I was buying just about every DC comic (at least to try). I liked this so I got the entire series. You are right, they could have done much more with it, but it was still good as is.

    • It's funny, I haven't thought about this series since I wrote this piece back in ye old 2016 (this was my first "enhanced cover" I had to snap a photo of too!). Coming back to it today, thanks to your comment, and I really feel like DC missed the boat with this one. Such an interesting and thought-provoking concept.

      I'm not sure if you're keeping up on "current year" DC Comics, but last year Teen Titans got a bit of a facelift… and part of the concept was that Robin (Damian Wayne) had something akin to the Chain Gang's "prison", where he held baddies without due process. It was very well done… and I gotta wonder if it was, in any small part, inspired by this series?

    • Marc D.

      I did not know that. No, I basically used the "New 52" to jump off. I still buy a couple of Vertigo/Sandman Universe titles (LUCIFER and BOOKS OF MAGIC) and I'll generally pick up anything by Grant Morrison or Alan Moore, but besides that not much. I got the latest LEGION stuff but haven't read it yet.

      Though Morrison is my favorite writer I have to say I hate the very concept of Damian Wayne with a white-hot hatred similar to that of the heart of a supernova.

    • Haha, it took me awhile to "warm up" to Damian myself. They've done a reasonably good job fleshing him out to be a more three-dimensional character over the past several years.

  • Grant Kitchen

    Deathstroke had a supporting role in this series starting with the 3rd issue.


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