In which romance dies hard — and sometimes sounds like Sam Raimi with a British accent.
Army of Darkness: Ash Gets Hitched, Ash and the Army of Darkness and Army of Darkness: King for a Day
Fernando Blanco (Pencils); Nick Bradshaw (cover); Stephanie Buscema (cover); Dennis Calero (art); Justin Erickson (Cover); Francesco Francavilla (cover); James Kuhoric (writer); Steve Niles (writer); Fabiano Neves (cover); Ivan Nunes (Colors); Lucio Parrillo (Cover); Mike Raicht (writer): Stjepan Sejic (cover); Arthur Suydam (cover); Ben Templesmith (cover); Nacho Tenorio (art)
What’s horror without a little marinara romantically spraying from the old aorta? While there have been plenty of classic pairings in horror films and horror comics alike — From Charles Lee Ray and Tiffany Valentine to Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride — one of the more interesting interpretations of an onscreen horror couple through the comic medium can be seen in how Dynamite Comics’ portrayal of the relationship of Ash Williams and Sheila from Army of Darkness in two separate stories.
It’s a fascinating twist since in the movie these two have a slap-slap-kiss connection. Ash (Bruce Campbell) — an average, everyday housewares clerk sent via time portal with his car to the 1300s — has been tasked with slaying demons and saving the world thanks to an ancient prophecy. His sister, best friend, and girlfriend have all died, their bodies corrupted by the demons and used, puppetlike, to torment him. He is in less than a positive place when he meets Sheila (Embeth Davidtz), a local maiden who has gone through a similar difficulty – her brother died in a scuffle between the army of Lord Arthur and that of Duke Henry the Red of Shale. Ash is being led to Arthur’s castle with prisoners of war from a skirmish with Henry, and Sheila instantly assumes he’s among the men who killed her brother. Ash proves his mettle, she tries to apologize, he saves her life, but they barely share a night together before being torn apart and put back together via demonic forces. Though he saves her from a lifetime in hellish thrall, Ash leaves Sheila in the 1300s to complete his destiny in both of the movie’s alternate endings. The comics, in contrast, dare to give their relationship a fair shake and pile a little more meat on the characters’ bones.
Ash and Sheila have technically tried to walk down the aisle twice. The first time was during the climax of the comic series’ first arc, King for a Day. After a long series of adventures, Ash and Sheila fall from the sky in 1300 and are put to work setting the dead back to their proper place. Sheila feels alone and abandoned; it’s enough to make Ash propose upon the grave of her brother, but because he left a blood-daubed Necronomicon there, Ash accidentally raises the dead. Ash and Sheila make it to the bachelor party in this universe – but not to the honeymoon. After a protracted battle, he leaves her behind to help guide the people of Arthur’s kingdom and prevent a prophesied death from occurring.
While the dialogue and plotting for King for a Day are decent (though one cannot reconcile the Sheila from the film, so tough and independent, with this softer creature) the art is fairly stiff and puffy, its characters looking like awkward caricatures. On the romance front, the end result is also less than satisfying, since the wedding never takes place nor even comes close to taking place.
A much longer marriage arc occurs in Ash and the Army of Darkness and Ash Gets Hitched. Written impeccably by Steve Niles of 30 Days of Night fame, it returns Ash to the beginning of Army of Darkness and plunges the entire S-Mart back into the 1300s due to Ash’s mistranslation of the infamous Three Little Words he needs to correctly say to keep the Deadites at bay (Klaatu Barada Nikto, naturally). Instead of a time of peace, the world is at constant war: the Wiseman has been claimed by Deadites and Arthur and Henry the Red’s forces are beginning to falter under the pressure. The Necronomicon (inked in blood and bound in human flesh) has fallen into the hands of the Deadite horde.
And Sheila — never the quiet, retiring type, as she did hit Ash in the head with a rock during their first meeting and spit in the face of a demon trying to rape her in the main body of movie canon — has become a knight of the realm, sworn to protect proto-England with her sword. It is here she flourishes into something new and fresh in the series history — a woman with authority who’s not afraid to wield it. Arthur tasks Sheila with rescuing Ash from the Deadites who have kidnapped him, and though she does, the space between them is uneasy, as she still resents him for leaving her behind and he has no idea how to address feelings for her which have never gone away.
Sheila is kidnapped again and transformed back into her Deadite self, forcing Ash to consult with a druid woman living in a forest, who slips him drugged tea to get his mind to open up. While Sheila quickly becomes the head of the marauding Deadites, Ash enters into battle to save her soul.
In the end, Ash prevails, giving the audience a moment of beautiful tenderness. Never a man to express regrets, when Sheila seems to die he begs the universe for her life. When it spares her, he proposes after a waterfall sex scene that’s handled with taste and class by Dennis Calero, whose photorealistic style is interesting to behold. All of this is a refreshing departure from Dynamite’s earlier portrayal of Ash as a horny meathead to whom Sheila was barely a concern.
The second arc of the series, Ash Gets Hitched, concerns both the fallout of Ash failing to put the Deadites down with words again — resulting in Super-Deadites which may now roam the land during daylight hours, making them twice as dangerous — and his upcoming wedding. Sheila, meanwhile, continues her dangerous knightly duties even though she’s now pregnant.
Through many trials and tribulations, Ash and Sheila do marry and plan to raise their family in a ceremony that takes place before the entire castle’s citizenry, with Sheila anachronistically dressed in white and Arthur delivering a warning to Ash about hurting her before giving Sheila away.
Unfortunately, the series switches writers when the twosome hit their reception, and Cullen Bunn decided to send Ash to the future and into space — and he promptly forgets the love that drove him over twelve issues as he squires three other women. Typical of the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness franchise, perhaps, but it doesn’t feel like the ending Niles intended.
Ash and the Army of Darkness and Ash Gets Hitched were a beautiful and giddy experience for me. Sheila is my favorite obscure horror heroine, and in this series she finally gets her full due – and her romance with Ash shines like never before. The art, done photorealistically for the first few issues by Dennis Calero and then beautifully by Nacho Tenorio, captures the fun and the gore of the series.
While Ash and Sheila get closer to “til death do us part”, they definitely don’t quite get to make it to old age together. But anything’s better than becoming an evil, wisecracking, reanimated demon. Thankfully, you won’t need an axe if you delve into this one — it’s no trick.