Obviously, I went into this issue with some unavoidable bias. As I wrote repeatedly in my last couple of posts, Atari Force #13 seems like a logical stopping point to me, so #14 was bound to have a hard time winning me over. And you know what? It's actually a decent issue, but it's not nearly big or exciting enough for what it followed. Compared to any random other chapter of this series out of context, I think it holds up just fine on its own as a single issue. But held next to the issue that preceded it, this feels like too little progress in too long a time.
Mike Baron opens his first script the only way he really can, by addressing the fact that Atari Force's whole universe was wiped out. Martin Champion, in his usual way, is deeply distraught by what's happened, and moans about it until Scanner One picks up a blip of some kind of radiation. This suddenly provides a bit of hope that Atari Force will be able to find a new home somewhere in the Multiverse, or at the very least orient themselves within it. This is a fairly strong way to begin the issue, diving right into the problems created by the end of the last one. These first few pages remind readers of the new status quo and then begin to add to it sightly in order to make room for new stories. That's the exact right way to kick things off, but from there, the story doesn't get much farther.
Pakrat soon splits off from the rest of the group in order to raid the ship's hold. On his way there, he finds a beaten and tied up Taz, and is then immediately attack by Kargg, who apparently managed to get aboard Scanner One somehow without anyone noticing. Would have been nice to get an explanation as to how that's possible, but Baron offers none, and Pakrat takes off for yet another sequence of him running away from somebody. He ends up in one of the escape shuttles, hoping he can lock Kargg out of it, but the giant green monster is too strong to be kept out. So Pakrat launches the shuttle, and it takes him to a random nearby planet.
Meanwhile, Dart brings Blackjak onto the bridge, which pisses Martin off to no end. She explains that she's had another one of her visions, this time of Blackjak steering Scanner One into A.T.A.R.I. Station. This essentially means that Baron is promising to somehow bring back the recently-destroyed universe, because in spite of what she says in this issue, Dart's premonitions always come true. I would have liked to actually see her seeing what she saw, and I don't at all understand why having such a vision would require her to immediately release Blackjak, but it's a good move on Baron's part anyway, I think. If he has plans to undo the demolition of an entire reality, it's wise for him to say so up front.
At any rate, the team soon discovers the wounded Taz, and Morphea uses her mental abilities to learn that Kargg is on the ship. Then they all see that Pakrat has taken the escape shuttle, and follow him. He arrives at his arbitrary destination and, the second he steps outside, is attacked by Kargg again, already something I am tired of seeing by this point. There is a small splash of excitement when Rident shows up to save his brother's life. I was so sure he'd be gone for good now, and I'm grateful to Baron for trying to tie up that loose thread. But Rident only gets two pages here before the main issue's main narrative ends, and it's just not enough space. The story feels cut short, closing with Marin telling Rident about the anti-matter bomb and Rident refusing to believe him. It's practically the middle of their conversation, and the dialogue is long-winded so that Baron can fit all of the information on the page. It's not a bad place to press pause, I guess, but it's not the punchiest of conclusions, either. Just as Rident comes back onto the scene, the scene ends, leaving me feeling shortchanged.
And the issue as a whole makes me feel that way, too, because other than the very beginning it doesn't do enough to get the ball rolling on this new status quo. Baron doesn't make big or bold enough steps here in any direction for me to know what his vision for the title is. This issue was an opportunity to convince me there was any actual reason to keep the book running. It's not a poor issue, but it fails to accomplish that in the slightest, containing what is essentially just another random Atari Force adventure.
Ed Barreto's art is also less compelling than it was in issue #13. It doesn't feel as energetic; the layouts are more traditional and the action more contained. But he's still a very strong artist, and reminds me very much of the pencilers who preceded him on this book. All the intense detail, in the characters and settings both, is present here. Martin's despair, Pakrat's fear, and Rident's cockiness all shine brightly. And the biggest moments, like Kargg's initial attack or Rident finally taking him down with a radium bullet, do have all the thrills of last issue. Again, not terrible work, but not art that particularly entices me to continue reading the book.
There is a backup story yet again, and they are starting to grate my nerves at this point. This one takes place on Babe's homeworld of Egg, and tells a weirdly cutesy story about one of the young Eggites (maybe Babe himself in the past...?) falling off of his mother, who is a mountain, and wanting to get back to her. He stumbles upon two spaceships in the middle of a conflict, one of which has a stereotypical space ranger character on it, and the other of which is full of that guy's enemies. The evil aliens pour out of their vessel, spot the enormous young Eggite, and swarm him. But they are unable to do anything more than tickle the child, who starts to laugh and roll around on top of them, causing them to flee. The space ranger guy is grateful, so he agrees to carry the baby back to its mother with his ship.
That's it. A wholly pointless seven pages of non-story, where nobody changes and litte even happens. It's written by Dave Manak and drawn by Klaus Johnson, neither of whom do all that impressive a job. Manak tells his story very directly, and Johnson does the same with the visuals. There are no tricks, no twists, no moments of unexpected humor or breathtaking imagery or anything to make this feature memorable. It is flavorless cotton candy, and this issue would have been much better suited by giving Baron this space to get more done in his primary story.
Nothing here is godawful, and nothing astounds. It's a mid-level, enjoyable but not impressive issue of Atari Force. That's all well and good if I'm speaking in general terms, because better to have an issue like this than a truly terrible one. But because the conclusion of #13 was so powerful and significant and changed everything forever, I think what #14 needed to do was show the readers what that change really means for the future of the series. Instead, Baron writes an issue that feels the same as always. A disappointing, deflating decision.