Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

To Be Me, or Not to Be Me

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 28th, 2009

Existence 2.0 #1
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Ron Salas
Colors: S. Steven Struble
Letters: John Lowe
Editor: Kris Simon
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.50 US

Writer Nick Spencer has developed a novel premise that blends science and the supernatural, and he’s used it as a catalyst for a crime story rife with intrigue and conspiracy. The premise is sharp and full of potential; this could be the first of many limited series featuring different characters dealing with the core concept in different ways. Despite these strengths, I came away from this debut issue feeling less than entertained. I immediately recognized the problem: I can’t stand any of the characters in the story. The main character — a scientist who’s willing to work for any client, break any law (natural or institutional) and only interested in his own hedonistic whims — is detestable, and it’s hard to root for him. Impossible, really. The story is exciting, the script accessible and effective, and the art captures the edgy, dark qualities nicely. I just can’t get past how thoroughly unlikable the protagonist is.

Sylvester Baladine is one of the most brilliant scientific minds on the planet but few have ever heard of him. That’s because he’s not involved with the space program, cancer research or environmental solutions. Sylvester works for the highest bidder, and those bidders tend to walk in illegal, immoral and violent circles. He’s mastered cloning for perverts, cryogenics for the corrupt. Now he’s developed the means to transfer one’s consciousness into another body. Handy, since he uses it for the first time as he’s being murdered. Now in the body of the hitman hired to kill him, he must track down his murderer, not because he wants revenge but because the one person on the planet he cares about is in the line of fire.

Salas’s artwork is in line with the kind of fare one would find on one of the various crime/conspiracy titles published by Boom! Studios, such as The Foundation, Potter’s Field and Enigma Cipher. The artist doesn’t immerse the whole book in darkness, but there’s enough to maintain a tense, mature atmosphere. The storytelling is clear, and the action looks like explosive moments frozen in time, which works well with the tone of the narration. My one qualm with the artwork is Salas’s design for Baladine. He looks like a typical hero type: handsome, fit frame, thick hair. Given the fact that his body expires right away, there’s no reason that he has to look like such a typical comic-book character. Why not make him a middle-aged man with thinning hair and a paunch? It would make his transfer from that body to the powerful frame of a skilled killer to be an even more welcome move.

Spencer wisely doesn’t spend a lot of time on the mechanics of the body-jumping premise, instead focusing our attention on the thrills and chills of the plot. The opening scene, in which our hero is murdered and recommends the experience to the reader, really grabs the audience’s attention. There’s a classic noir tone to the narration despite the unconventional idea that serves as the story’s foundation. Overall, it’s a nice blend of crime-genre elements with understated science-fiction. I was also impressed with Spencer’s exploration of scientific ethics through the eyes of a man who doesn’t recognize the need for them at all.

Despite all of those strengths, I found it hard to really get into this story after the first few pages — or to be more precise, after I got to know the kind of person Baladine is. He’s so completely self-centered that one is left hoping he’ll die rather than live on. Spencer so successful in painting him as completely driven by self-interest that it’s difficult to accept that he’d risk his comfort and indulgence for an innocent from his previous life. Had the writer spent a little more time establishing the relationship between those two characters, it might have been easier to accept. On top of that, it might have humanized Baladine enough for the audience to give a damn about him. 6/10

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3 Responses to “To Be Me, or Not to Be Me”

  1. Ken Milling Says:

    Hi Don.
    Your review summarized the problem with this book so well. The character is so contemptible that you do wish he was dead.

  2. Blair Says:

    I thought this was pretty fab despite the main protagonist being a major league a-hole. Don, your blog is as effervescent as ever but on a distantly related topic, what has happened to your old pals, the Comic Pants brigade???

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  3. Don MacPherson Says:

    Blair, Comic Pants hasn’t been updating as regular as of late as it did before. Not really sure why. I do know that Randy Lander, a Pants founder and my former partner at a number of sites, stepped away from regular updates on Pants some time ago due to other commitments.