Posted by Don MacPherson on April 22nd, 2011
Malignant Man #1
Writers: James Wan & Michael Alan Nelson
Artist: Piotr Kowalski
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Steve Wands
Cover artists: Trevor Hairsine/Rael Lyra
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US
I’ll say this about this comic book: the title does grab one’s attention.
This inaugural issue is made up of two very distinct parts: one is a human drama of a man’s despair in the face of an inevitable, painful death, and the other is an action-driven story of men in black, conspiracies and the paranormal. I found both stories to be compelling, but in completely different ways. The problem is that I found it difficult to resolve the two together. There’s obviously logic in the progression from one to the next, but in terms of atmosphere, of the reactions the two different modes evoke from the reader, they don’t work all that well together. Fortunately, I think this is a problem only with this first episode. The artwork is effective, but more importantly, the colors convey the mood and tension in the story incredibly well. Malignant Man proved to be a fun if flawed read with a rather unfortunate title.
Alan Gates knows he doesn’t have much longer to live. He knew it even before the doctor told him that treatments had failed to stem the growth of the cancer in his brain. A chance encounter with a gun-wielding mugger sets into motion a series of events that promise to open Gates’ eyes to a piece of his past he’d forgotten and to unbelievable dangers all around him. Gates soon learns that he’s not as terminal as he was led to believe, but that’s not stopping a group of mystery men from cutting a bloody swath through the people around him as it endeavors to kill him. Luckily for Gates, he has a guardian angel who’s just as skilled and deadly as those hunting him, if not moreso.
Kowalski’s sketchy, dour style here suits the subject matter nicely (or he’s adapted his work to fit with the tone of the story). His work here reminds me a bit of the style of Jim Calafiore. Specifically, his depiction of the main character reminds me of Calafiore’s take on Ragdoll in recent issues of DC’s Secret Six. In the opening scene, Kowalski brings both Gates’ disease and his thoughts to life. The gaunt look of the character demonstrates just how dire his medical situation is, and the slump in his shoulders and droopiness of his features convey the sense of defeat and despair. The action later in the issue is well choreographed, but I found it was excessive as well. The bloody massacre at the hospital is overkill, both artistically and literally, and I don’t think the overt depiction of the gruesome violence really added all that much to the story. Suggesting the violence by others’ reactions might actually have been more effective.
Colorist Jordie Bellaire adds a lot to the mix by casting a pall over the entire issue. The opening scene is unrelentingly dreary; even the sick protagonist’s skin adopts a grey pallor. The choice of bathing key flashback scenes in red also conveys the trauma and horror of those memories and events without overtly depicting the tragedy and crimes to which they’re connected. And while I didn’t enjoy the gratuitous nature of the hospital fight scenes, the dark but dulled color that Bellaire employs to represent the blood of innocent victims works well, maintaining the depressed tone while also bringing out the chaos that’s unfolding in the story at that moment.
The latter part of this book has a definite cinematic quality when it comes to the plotting and pacing. The hospital scenes start with something of a Fringe para-science riff that’s intriguing, and Gates’ rescue reminded me of the kind of hectic, enthralling “Come with me if you want to live” action that one finds in movies from the Terminator franchise and so many others.
I have to be honest… I was much more interested in the story when it was about Gates’ struggle with the reality of his terminal disease. It was grounded, compelling human drama, and Nelson’s script did an excellent job of conveying Gates’ personality and emotions. The shift from that mode to a dark action thriller is a bit jarring. While the action-oriented plot was handled well, I couldn’t help but lament the loss of the original focus. Furthermore, when it became clear by the end of the issue that the hero of the book isn’t dying of cancer, the title of this series seems rather callous. The title continues to link the story to cancer, but in a tongue-in-cheek manner that’s a little off-putting. Still, I came away from the book entertained overall and still interested in what happens to Alan Gates next. 7/10
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