Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Atari Force Month: Issue #15 Review

OH NO! My move to Massachusetts has, predictably enough, prevented me from all the reading and writing I has hoping to do these past few days, which is why the below review did not go up yesterday. We have arrived at our destination now, and I am unemployed at the moment, so I gots some time to do some catching up. Therefore, the plan is to do this review and the next one today, getting me back on track for Atari Force Month.

This is a sloppy issue. It opens sloppily and never course corrects. Despite issue #14 ending with the team walking back to Scanner One, this time they start off standing around Kargg's fallen form, surrounded by thousands of giant insects. Rident apparently already sees these insects and knows that they are hostile, but how he could possibly have that info is beyond me. He says they ate his ship, but...how did he survive? Why weren't they already on his tail when he showed up last time? It all raises more questions than it does provide answers, and that's only the first two panels. From there, Mike Baron writes really awkward dialogue between Martin and Dart as the two of them debate strategy and ultimately decide the best bet is to run away. So  everyone returns to Scanner One, with the insects close behind. This all only takes two pages, the first of which is a splash, so there is definitely a hurried feeling to the script in the beginning. And it never quite lets up.

Martin tries to convince Rident that their home universe is destroyed while, at the same time, Dart works on removing the limb of the one insect who managed to get a foot in the door of the ship. She first tries a blade that is "ten times harder than magnatun," which is a meaningless sentence. Especially since the blade is ineffective against the giant bug. So Dart says she'll try a power saw instead, and all of the other characters leave her behind to do so while they race to the bridge. There's just no time, apparently, to see if the saw works, because Baron wants Martin and Rident's debate to continue. The two men argue with one another over whether or not there is still a New Earth to return to, but even that only gets one page of attention before Dart shows back up with the severed bug claw in her hand. Her sense of victory is short-lived, though, as the insects have already covered the ship's thrusters with a strange blue goo that prevents it from taking off.

Quick cut to the room Blackjak is apparently being held in and, wait a minute, Kargg is there, too. Not just in the room, but held down by some kind of high-tech restraint. When the hell did this happen? We see Martin carry Kargg onto Scanner One when they're running from the bugs, but nobody ever takes him into this room or secures him. He is just conveniently there for no reason, another example of the issue's sloppiness. Morphea shows up to try and probe Blackjak's mind, which he agrees to, and it turns out there is still some invasive alien personality hiding in there. The indication is that it is now Kargg and not the Dark Destroyer, but that's not confirmed, and for now this thread is left to dangle. That's fine, though, and actually this scene marks the one instance where things don't seem rushed in this script.

There is a brief scene of Taz escaping sick bay and finding a quiet, dark place to hide with his ongoing stomach pains. And then there is the rapid discovery that Babe's physiology allows him to harm the attacking bugs, leading to Martin forcing Morphea to send Babe outside to try and fix the thrusters. Morphea objects strongly to having a child put in such a dangerous situation (some of the bugs who showed up most recently have rocket launchers), but Martin and Dart insist this is their only hope. Babe agrees, goes outside, and is immediately swarmed, and that is where the issue ends.

It's not mind-numbingly AWFUL, but it's bad. Baron's script bounces from point to point, never settling on anything long enough. Even the sequence at the end of realizing Babe can save them and sending him outside to try is too jumpy, and punctuated with color commentary from Rident and Pakrat that isn't funny, informative, helpful, or necessary. Nothing gets resolved because this issue is all set-up. It introduces the threat of the bugs and offers Babe as a possible solution, but then he is immediately overrun when he goes outside, so it's possible that solution is no good, after all. Not that every issue needs to include resolutions...that's not really my problem with this issue's narrative. My problem is that the lack of resolutions comes with a lack of much development, either. The heroes begin and end the issue trapped on this planet, attacked by bugs. The only progress made is learning Babe can fight the bugs, and that might not even be true.

Also, Baron doesn't write these characters as strongly as they usually are. Rident and Pakrat are alright, but Martin is much more one-note and bullheaded than before (and he was always a pretty bullheaded guy). Dart is the worst, though, as she becomes a sort of bland, exposition-only character here. She's lost some of her humor and charm somehow, which is depressing since she was always the best member of the cast. It's not as if this issue is impossible to understand, but Baron doesn't seem to be taking his time at all. He's just throwing out the plot pints as rapidly as possible, which results in a less filling story than I want.

Ed Barretto inks himself this issue, and his art is as strong as it was in the last two issues, with one huge, infuriating exception. For the first time since this series' debut, Dart is sexualized by the artwork. It's dumb, needless, and comes at the worst possible time, when her voice loses a lot of what made it so enjoyable, too. Dart cutting off the bug's arm happens off-panel, so the details are unknown, but when she shows up on the bridge, her shirt has been torn perfectly to give her generous cleavage. In that first panel, at least, the tear is visible, but after that Barreto doesn't both drawing it; the fabric that used to be there is just gone. Basically it's an excuse to redesign her costume so he can draw half-visible breasts whenever she's on panel. If that wasn't gross enough, there is a panel at the bottom of page twelve where the foreground of the image is just Dart's ass. That has never happened in this book before, and it is disgusting and serves zero narrative purpose. It's an entirely visual decision, and one that ruins any other good work Barreto does here.

Tom Ziuko's coloring is off this issue, too. There are several examples of characters being done in a wash of a single color for no explicable reason. Sometimes they're all done in the same color, usually red, and that makes it hard to tell who is even who. Just one more way in which Atari Force #15 is less put together than anything that's preceded it. A jumbled, rushed, visually aggravating mess.

The backup feature is Pakrat-focused this time, and has much of the sloppiness of the story it follows. For starters, this is the first time a backup story hasn't been complete. It ends on a cliffhanger, with Pakrat about to be arrested for a theft he didn't even commit. Written by editor (and sometimes writer) Andy Helfer, it's just as pointless a tale as any of these short stories have been, with the added disadvantage of not yet ending. Pakrat breaks into an embassy building to steal some diamonds, but another Markian thief name Ferra has beaten him to it. The indication is that the two have either a professional or personal history (if not both) but we don't learn the details here. Ferra manipulates Pakrat into causing a distraction so she can escape while he is blamed for the robbery, and that is where the story closes.

My biggest complaint is actually that Helfer has Pakrat say most members of his species are thieves and that stealing is therefore his birthright. Maybe most Markians do like to take what isn't theirs, I couldn't possibly know, but it is an established truth that Pakrat's family, specifically, are cops instead. His whole deal is that he is pushing back against his birthright, so...yeah Helfer just gets that plain wrong. Again, sloppy. Sloppy, sloppy joe.

Penciled by Mike Chen and inked by Joe Delbeato, the artwork in the backup is pretty good. As is tradition in this series, the scenes in the embassy that feature numerous alien races interacting have a jaw-droppingly impressive level of character design. Lots of really interesting details and different looks for the myriad nameless characters in the room. Sadly, like Barreto did with Dart, Chen over-sexualizes Ferra here. Not so much in her attire as the come-hither stance and look she has on constantly. It isn't helped by Helfer having her use false romance and coy charm to get away with her crimes. She is the stereotypical sex-as-a-tool criminal character, which is unimaginative at best, and misogynistic at worst.

Disappointing issue through and though, this one. Two stories that get nowhere and treat their female characters badly. If this is the direction of the new creative team, I think I may understand why there are only five issues to go.

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