Saturday, June 22, 2013

Atari Force Month: Issue #20 Review

And so Atari Force ends not with a bang but with a longwinded debate, the same one that's been raging underneath the rest of the events of this series all along. It is an argument about two different but connected questions: 1. Is the Dark Destroyer real? and, 2. If so, does that justify stealing Scanner One to fight him? Atari Force manages to convince everyone that yes, the Dark Destroyer was real, but whether or not that makes their crimes forgivable is never decided. Before any verdict can be reached, the team breaks out of their bonds and uses a combination of their powers to leave New Earth entirely. Which is where the series closes, with the titular heroes disappearing into the Multiverse, off to recolonize Old Earth and have who knows what kinds of other adventures. It's not a bad final note, but it's not as sweet or satisfying as I'd hoped. Mostly it makes me wish the book had continued, which I suppose is a good thing, really. You know, leave 'em wanting more and all that. But this finale is a bit of a dud throughout, making its open-ended conclusion more disappointing than it needed to be.

Mike Baron's last script is a slog from the first page, which includes three full narrative captions worth of exposition, as well as a lengthy speech from Justice Tovah listing the many charges of the trial at hand. The wordiness continues, but never gets all that interesting. Martin and Rident offer evidence as to the Dark Destroyer's existence, pointing to the ripple effect from the recently destroyed universe and the mental implant that was removed from Blackjak's brain. This is news to the court, but not for the reader, and it feels like a lot of padding, stalling for time in the opening pages in order to fill out a full issue with not that much material. The court then takes a needless recess, which also feels like filler, and all it accomplishes is giving Professor Venture and Dr. Orion a chance to expound on the information they already provided Martin last issue. Senator Jamieson has taken over New Earth and made it into a despicable, weapons-dealing business instead of the beacon of peace it was meant to be. Again, this is old hat, so almost the full first third of this issue fails to tell us anything we don't already know.

There is some momentary intrigue when one of the Tazlings busts Pakrat out of his cell and leads him to a hidden location where the rest of Taz's babies are building...something. Morphea refers to it as a "secret mission," as she prepares Kargg for something equally mysterious. So while the human characters are tangled up in the trial, Morphea and the rest of the aliens are working in the background to assist them. It is a moment of excitement and potential, but sadly, much of it is spoiled shortly after.

Returning to the trial, nothing has changed. Though the court finally admits the Dark Destroyer may be real, they don't see that fact as a viable defense for what Atari Force has done. Morphea interrupts, and after she and Hunter have some tense words and she finally mind-blasts him, she reveals her plan. According to Morphea, the Dark Destroyer lives off of the beliefs of his many mind-controlled followers, so she believes that using her mental powers and the combined memories of all those who've encountered the Destroyer, she can temporarily bring him back to life. This is the single piece of new information to come out in the trial, and though it's actually interesting, in the end even this is all just filler material, too. Morphea's gambit succeeds, and the Destroyer suddenly appears in the middle of the courtroom, spouting his usual hate-filled rhetoric and scaring everyone to death. But as soon as he goes away again, even though for the first time ever it seems as if the trial might go their way, Atari Force breaks out. It makes everything that has happened in the trial thus far largely meaningless, with even the Dark Destroyer's appearance being little more than a distraction from the real plan all along. A Tazling drops some sort of high-tech lockpick down to Tempest, who frees himself and then uses his phasing abilities to free the rest of his team. Morphea, meanwhile, mentally influences everyone in the room to prevent them from trying to recapture the fleeing Atari Force. The three pages on which this all takes place are the only ones with any action or narrative importance. What precedes them is slow-moving fluff, a drawn out trial that gets nowhere and ends up being wholly irrelevant.

And that's pretty much it. Atari Force casually strolls into the "Multiverse shuttle" Martin designed long ago and the Tazlings have now rebuilt from the parts in his lab. Security officers see them, but have no interest in stopping them, and so our heroes phase away unchallenged, and with great calm. I'm happy for them, but bored by their departure, and quite frankly I'd rather be interested and pissed. Baron seems to be going through the motions to an extent here. He had a destination in mind, and he had an obligatory trial to write before he could get there, and so he wrote it, but without much innovation or liveliness or energy whatsoever.

The art is similarly lacking, but in this case I think it has to do with what Ed Barreto was asked to draw, rather than the way he drew it. For what is primarily a bunch of angry courtroom chatter, this actually looks pretty good. Barreto varies his focus and angles often, and makes the high tension and aggravation of the many, many characters involved abundantly clear. And at the end, when drawing all of Atari Force together in a small space (except Kargg, poor dude, who evidently gets left behind) Barreto does a damn good job. Everyone is as detailed and distinct in personality as always, so even if they leave in a lackluster fashion, they still look good doing it. The problem is that the story has so little going for it, and the panels are necessarily talking heads for so much of the issue, that no matter how talented Barreto is, the art fails to impress.

Tempest phase-punching Hunter in the face when Atari Force begins their escape is an awesome panel, as is the half-page splash of the Destroyer's reemergence. These are the moments of highest drama and action, so Barreto gives them extra attention, and it pays off. It is, however, too little too late, as both of these panels come after eleven pages of drudgery.

I'm not going to get into the backup feature in much detail. It's another cutesy, mindless Hukka story, this time about him getting into a fight with a malfunctioning and outrageously dangerous robotic toy. I'm just too sick of saying how little purpose these short stories serve, and this one is especially guilty. Is it impossible to tell a Hukka-centric story with meat on its bones? It shouldn't be, just because the character is someone's pet, speaking in goofy broken English and seeing the world in simple terms. Essentially, Hukka has a child's perspective, a point of view which can and has been used to great effect in countless pieces of fiction. Why this series has decided to consistently use Hukka to tell pseudo-comedic non-stories is beyond me, but that's what we get here. So the actual ending of the series is even more disappointing and dull than the conclusion of the main narrative.

This isn't a terrible issue, necessarily, but it's a very weak ending to what has mostly been a strong series. It does too little, aims too low, and involves far too much retreading of established facts and details for the benefit of the characters instead of the readers. I wanted something bolder and more action-packed, something that reflected the nineteen issues of sci-fi epic that preceded it.

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