Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – July 17, 2014

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 17th, 2014

Dark Engine #1 (Image Comics)
by Ryan Burton & John Bivens

Image Comics has garnered a strong reputation for superb, cutting-edge comics, but the titles that get the most attention, understandably, are those by established talents in the comics industry. So it’s easy to sometimes overlook other titles being offered by newer names, relative unknowns. Dark Engine is one such comic book, and it shows a lot of promise, both from writer Ryan Burton and artist John Bivens. Dark Engine kind of strikes me like a cross between East of West and Prophet. It’s got an interesting contrast going between a cerebral tone and a sense of brutality and savagery that grabs the reader’s attention. The purple prose that characterizes the narration and the dialogue for the dragon figure at the beginning of the book is, I have to admit, a bit off-putting. I was immediately taken back to a number of Thor stories set in Asgard that I didn’t like — too many flourishes and lofty phrases in the script. The human characters who appear later in the issue temper that a bit, as they speak more normally, offering just a hint of something familiar with which the audience can connect. The use of lower-case lettering for the narrative captions is an unfortunate choice, as the font doesn’t work well with the harshness of the premise and book’s overall look.

Bivens’s artwork offers a fascinating look at an alien world, with impossible fauna and flora, and it seems fully realized. Most of the artwork is quite visceral, and it’s so effective in that regard that I found it a bit too much at times. Mind you, I couldn’t call it gratuitous, but there are a couple of gruesome sequences. His work here reminds me a bit of the style of Paul Pope with the sort of organic, alien flair one could find in a Ross Campbell project, such as Glory. Other influences are apparent as well, notably in the scene set in the Alchemist’s Sanctuary. That backdrop put evokes some easy comparisons to the art of Bill Sienkiewicz and Ben Templesmith. Ultimately, the artwork disappoints in the latter part of the book, as the scene in which the warrior woman wages war with nature around her is quite confusing. I can’t tell if I’m witnessing her undoing, a metamorphosis or some kind of bizarre magic. That the scene is important to the story is clear, but what’s happening isn’t. 5/10

Original Sin #6 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Jason Aaron & Mike Deodato

Original Sin is turning out to be a surprisingly strong event title from Marvel Entertainment. Aaron’s use of misdirection, murder-mystery elements and an unusual variety of diverse characters (especially some obscure villains) has really made this story stand out. Though it’s been quite dark (save for the touching #0 issue by Mark Waid and Jim Cheung), Original Sin has proven to be quite… well, fun despite the more surreal and macabre aspects that turn up here rather regularly. A key plot element that’s emerged has been one dealing with security and secrets, about ends justifying the means, and here Aaron touches upon the notion that maybe that’s not really the case. As the cliffhanger last issue and the meat of this issue demonstrate, Original Sin is ultimately a story about Nick Fury, and I expect the main goal, other than telling a good yarn, is to bring the original Fury’s saga to a close, clearing the way for the new Fury (in line with the Samuel L. Jackson incarnation of the character from movies and TV) to fly solo and to eliminate confusion for newer readers.

Mike Deodato has done an excellent job of fostering a noir atmosphere throughout this series despite the colorful and even goofy nature of some of the characters. The Orb shouldn’t really work as a dark villain, but Deodato’s realistic style makes him seem rather monstrous, an atrocity walking among us. That he really didn’t alter the character’s original design in any meaningful way is a testament to what the artist has been able to accomplish here. 7/10

Robin Rises: Omega #1 (DC Comics)
by Peter J. Tomasi, Andy Kubert & Jonathan Glapion

I stopped reading Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Batman & … series (the continuation of Batman and Robin in the wake of the latter character’s death) some time ago, but the unconventional teamup title has been garnering some solid buzz over the past few months. It definitely piqued my interest again. The title has been focused on the Dark Knight’s quest to resurrect his son, and it’s culminating with this event (which continues in Batman & …). I decided to venture back into Tomasi’s take on the Batman once again. While his script endeavors to provide sufficient backstory to bring readers up to speed, it falls short by failing to explain how Apokalips has become involved in the mix. I did appreciate the new take on Glorious Godfrey here, but like I said, I didn’t know why he was introduced here. Ultimately, this issue didn’t do much for me, because after the initial flashback/exposition sequence, the book is one long action scene, basically consisting of the heroes slaughtering nameless soldiers and Parademons for page after page.

Andy Kubert’s angular, kinetic style is a good fit for the action-packed nature of this comic book, and he certainly conveys the chaotic nature of the conflict. Unfortunately, his linework here seemed rather rough at times, even rushed. Figures often lack definition so as to make it a little unclear of what’s happening at times. Ultimately, I think what’s working against this comic the most is the fact it really wasn’t an intention of the creator who came up with the Damien character in the first place. It appears Grant Morrison always intended for Damien’s story to end with his death, but given the most Robin’s popularity, this event comes off as an effort by DC to cash in on that popularity. 4/10

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