Monday, June 3, 2013

Atari Force Month: Issue #2 Review


Atari Force #2 opens in much the same way the first issue did, with Dart and Blackjak in the heat of battle. From there, the issue continues to rehash information and ideas that were established in the debut, making this chapter feel like a weaker second half to the first one. It's not that there isn't any advancement of plot or character whatsoever, but the forward movement that does take place is so slight that it hardly maters. More than anything, this is round two of the many character introductions that have already taken place. Not enough changes and almost nothing new is developed. It's a frustratingly stagnant issue.
To Gerry Conway's credit, what few new ideas do make into the script here are quite interesting, although it may be José Luis García-López's designs for them that deserve most of the credit. I'm thinking specifically of the Warbeast and the viper-hound, creatures which are introduced only so they can attack the main characters. But in keeping with the work he did on the first issue, García-López gives even the throwaway villains full and fascinating designs. The Warbeast makes me think of a monstrous palm tree, towering over everyone, all muscles and teeth and giant hands. And the viper-hound, as its name suggests, lies somewhere between a snake and a dog. That's a frightening combination of speed, wiles, and fangs, and the monster's physicality is key to its effectiveness. If Pakrat was fleeing from some goofy little space beastie, that scene would become the comic relief of the issue. But because the viper-hound is truly unsettling in its appearance, it is easier to feel some genuine fear for Pakrat as he tries to get away.
Considering it dominates the cover image, it's no surprise that the Warbeast is the real focus of this issue. It is the last surviving member of a race of creatures built specifically for war, forced to eat its fellow warbeasts after they'd killed everyone else on their planet. That's not the most original backstory I've ever heard, but it's a straightforward idea that lays out the seriousness of the new threat right away. The still-nameless archvillain from issue #1 sends the Warbeast after Dart, and her fight with it is the biggest and weightiest scene, closing out the issue on yet another note of Dart and Blackjak have won for now but it won't last. The actual combat is done well; García-López manages to make the Warbeast very lifelike and mobile despite its enormous size, and Dart and Blackjak continue to be legitimately impressive action heroes. Plus the ultimate solution Dart devises to defeat the monster is as brutal as it is brilliant, and further demonstrates both her intelligence and bravery. So it's not, on its own merits, at all a bad final fight scene. The problem is that we already know what capable warriors Dart and Blackjak are, as well as the fact that the mysterious villain is after them. So while the Warbeast battle may look great and have a (literally) explosive ending, it does not teach the reader anything new about anyone, or truly serve to move the narrative forward in any noticeable way. Dart and Blackjak are on Roc's World, in danger, and don't know who's targeting them or why. That's exactly where they were at the end of issue #1.
The other plot developments, such as they are, are similarly insignificant. Arguably the biggest change is that Melissa dumps Tempest because her father, a Senator on New Earth, thinks Tempest a freak. Apparently Melissa's dad is passionately anti-A.T.A.R.I., and Tempest, as the superpowered son of old-school A.T.A.R.I. members, represents to him the worst possible choice for Melissa to date. So he comes between them, and Melissa, who barely even has a character at this point, sides with her father for unexplained reasons. Tempest does not handle the break-up at all well, shoving Meliss'a father into a pool of water before storming off and escaping into another layer of the Multiverse. There, we get a fuller explanation of how his abilities work, which, at the very least, is something.

Aside from furthering the reader's understanding of Tempest's powers, though, the break-up with Melissa doesn't seem like too big a deal. She was such a non-entity in the debut, and in this issue her only role is to turn Tempest away as a means of setting up her father's entrance. I don't feel any of the pain Tempest apparently does, because I am not at all invested in his romantic relationship at this point. I'm barely invested in him yet. I'm curious about his talents, sure, but my emotional attachment to any of these characters is still relatively thin only two issues deep. And while I appreciate the chance to see behind the curtain of him moving through the Multiverse, ultimately even this is more of a retread than it is new material. Our understanding of what he can do may be widened, but it's not exactly brand new information. And a girl I don't know dumping him and for reasons I don't fully grasp does not make for an especially sturdy plot hook.
It is, however, more advancement than Conway gives to either Pakrat or the baby from Egg (who, if memory serves, will be named Babe eventually, but for now is still a nameless child). Each of these characters gets a single scene, and both of those scenes' primary purpose seems to be to merely remind the audience that these characters exist. Particularly in the case of the Egg baby. His few pages are just the first mate who kidnapped him feeling guilty about it an deciding to jettison the child into space to put them both out of their misery. Of course, his captain stops him just in time, so nothing changes. Nothing even happens. The baby crying makes the first mate cry, but then the captain tells him to stop, and the three of them continue as they were before. Probably a scene that could've been skipped.
Pakrat, at least, is shown to have moved off the planet he was stealing from before, now stowed away on a spaceship, stealing its food for himself. So he's in a new geographical location, if nothing else. Other than that, though, his story in this second issue more or less mirrors what happened to him in the the first. There, he was caught stealing, chased, cornered, and then he fought his way out. Here, he is caught hiding, chased, cornered, and then fights his way out. We gain no insight into his character, he gets essentially nowhere, and he remains a childish and self-interested character that I'm not entirely sold on, yet. Perhaps not as skippable as the scene with the Egg baby, but not considerably more important or informative, either.

That covers most of what goes on in this issue. There are a few pages devoted to Morphea meeting with Martin Champion, and though that conversation does provide some new info, it's exceedingly dry (the conversation, not the info). Where Conway was able to more fluidly incorporate exposition into his dialogue in issue #1, the chat between Morphea and Champion is more forced and stilted. It sets up Champion's intense paranoia about as clearly as you could ever want, but it would've been nice to see that done in a subtler way than to have him explain his entire belief system to a stranger. And Morphea, as an empath, is able to read his internal feelings and figure out the source of his irrational fears and rage, but, again, she does it too overtly. A bit more nuance, or just giving the reader enough credit to figure out what makes Champion tick on our own, could've improved that scene tremendously.
I don't mean to give the impression that this is a terrible issue. Taken as its own entity, outside of the shadow of the debut, it's not a bad comicbook by any measure. Gerry Conway's writing is heavier-handed than before, with a lot more purpleish prose added to the narration, sometimes to the point of distracting. But on the whole he's still a skilled writer, and his cast is just as strong and fleshed out in this issue as it was in the first. That's still a vast number of interesting characters, and even if they aren't made more interesting here, they're certainly not any less so, either. Plus Conway throws in the Warbeast and viper-hound for good measure, and I suppose I appreciate the effort of checking in on all of his cast members, even if I think a few of their scenes didn't need to be shown to the reader. So this is not a dreadful comic. It is, actually, a rather good comic. It's just not as good as the one which preceded it. They accomplish similar things, but because this issue comes second, it feels largely redundant.

The art takes a small dip, too. Not so much José Luis García-López's pencils or their accompanying inks by Ricardo Villagrán, which continue to astound in their level of detail and expression. And as I said, the designs for the few new characters are great. Beyond the aforementioned bad guys, there is a band of rebel soldiers who fight alongside Dart and Blackjak, and each of them has a unique look as well. The constant creation of new beings is still this series' most enjoyable, impressive feature.
Where the art slips is in Tom Ziuko's coloring, though even then only in minor ways. The most noticeable mistakes are in the coloring of Dart's tattoos. They're meant to be purple, but are done in straight black several times, and once or twice Ziuko fails to color them at all, leaving them the same as Dart's skin. It's a tiny mistake and a minor quibble, but however slight, it's another way in which the quality of this issue is below that of the first. And Dart's tattoos are one of my favorite parts of her whole look, so seeing them neglected is no fun. Ziuko is still a strong colorist overall, though, and has some especially nice touches in the scene with Pakrat. I loved the pinks of the background behind the ship on which he's hiding. And the soothing wash of blue used to display the darkness and shadow of Pakrat's hiding place was a smart if simple call to make. It's still a colorful book, it's just that Ziuko lets some details slide here when they didn't before.
I mostly like the tiny developments that do arise here. I was glad to learn more about Tempest's powers, dug the viper-hound, and loved watching Dart kick the ass of the Warbeast. But these new bits are too few and unimportant, leaving the issue feeling a tad lean for my taste. The cover spoils the bulk of the plot: Dart vs. the Warbeast. That story is something like half of the issue, and it gets us exactly nowhere.

And then, in the backmatter, we have some "Fact Files," essentially just character profiles that, once again, contain zero new information. Well, that's not true, but it's either stuff we already know of stuff we'll never, ever need to know in a million years. Just a final misstep, one more reason that my reaction to this issue is, "Enough fucking character set-up, already!" They've been introduced and then introduced again. Time to move on. Time to really do something.

1 comment:

  1. Dart's conversation with the rebel leader, right before the Warbeast appears, is an amazing insight into her character. She's an extremely capable warrior, but understands the futility of war. It's an internal conflict she recognizes, but hasn't figured out the solution to. That's why she her post-battle celebrations are muted, and tinged with sadness. "[My mother] taught me how to fight... and then told me there was nothing worth fighting for." THIS is how you write a strong character, male or female.