“Chaos and Profit”
Writer: Scott Chitwood & Paul Ens
Pencils: Wayne Nichols
Inks: Nick Schley
Colors: Marc Hampson & Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Troy Peteri
Cover artist: Matt Busch
Publisher: Red 5 Comics
Price: $2.95 US
The first Red 5 Comics release I read, Atomic Robo, impressed, so when I sat down to delve into another one of their titles, I had high hopes. With Afterburn, I found the same kind of energy and sense of adventure as I did in Atomic Robo, but this project lacks the storytelling polish and flair of that other book. To be fair, they’re rather different comics; Afterburn isn’t played for laughs, for example. But whereas Robo hit all the right notes, the creators behind Afterburn falter when it comes to detail, both in the script and the art. There’s actually an intriguing premise, but the script presents what seems like important plot information but then races on ahead of it. The artwork is impressive at times, but it’s also inconsistent. It seems like everyone is rushing through this story, desperate to maintain a certain intensity, unfortunately sacrificing the reader’s chance to connect with the characters and absorb the story.
Jake is a Texan, a roughneck and a man with a knack for getting into trouble. He’s also a man with a knack for getting out it. All of those skills don’t do him any good when a disastrous solar flare bathes half of the planet in deadly radiation, exterminating countless lives, mutating millions more and decimating society as mankind knows it. While Jake could do nothing when the apocalypse rained down on the Earth, the resourceful and daring globetrotter ends up in a new line of work: salvaging the old world’s treasures for those who survived in the new, deadly era. He and his colleagues have competition and must contend with angry mutants wherever they go. And now, Jake and his friends have a new, top-secret mission in Hong Kong that promises to be about much more than priceless art and trinkets.
Nichols’s artwork in the opening pages of the book is tight and stands out as the strongest visuals in the issue. I was reminded of Sean (Salvation Run) Chen’s tight, dynamic style… at least, I was reminded of it briefly. After that initial opening sequence, in which the solar “burn” that befalls the planet is explained, Nichols’s linework gets looser and looser. The heist scene in the Louvre starts off with a decent level of detail, but that quickly fades. For a moment, the characters appear to exist in some kind of cat-shit green limbo, as gunfire claims sketchily rendered villains. I also found the designs for the various mutant characters to be lacking; they’re not nearly as disturbing or tragic in appearance as they could be. Mind you, the mutant animals that turn up in the Hong Kong sequence look great, and one’s eruption into the story and art has just the right impact at just the right moment.
The hectic, scattered pace of the plotting is actually something of a refreshing change from a different trend in action-comics storytelling: decompression. The writers on this project have simply adopted the other extreme. What’s needed here is a happy medium between those two extremes. Had I been able to get to Jake better, I think I would have enjoyed the character and the story more. It’s a shame the writers didn’t give us a glimpse of Jake’s time on the oil rig and what made him good at his job. It’s a shame we didn’t see how he came to carve out a new life and career for himself on a literally scorched Earth.
There’s an Indiana Jones riff to the race in the Louvre, complete with an evil counterpart reminiscent of the Belloq character from Raiders in the Lost Ark. Unfortunately, the heroes, like the bad guys, come off as profiteers, vultures feeding off society’s corpse. It doesn’t make for the most palatable protagonists. Again, the problem stems in part from the scant information we’re given about the characters’ personalities and background. Since we know nothing of these characters’ ethics and motivations, they come off as money-hungry thrillseekers. There’s also a frat-boy tone to their exchanges. With more depth, the adventure and the premise would have been more appealing. 4/10