By: Robert Venditti (story), Bernard Chang (art), Marcelo Maiolo (colors)

The Story: And now, in a new episode of Dungeon Break

The Review: Anytime a new writer takes over on a title, you have to give them a little breathing room to find their voice and settle into the world their predecessors set before them.  Obviously, it’d be ideal if they could hit the ground running the moment they start, but that’s a rare delight and we should expect it as such.  For everyone else, it often does take a couple issues before the story and characters start gelling with them.

Venditti got off to a promising start in his debut issue last month by, at the very least, not botching the core personalities of the cast entirely.  Anyone who reads comics regularly knows how often that kind of thing actually happens.  Venditti clearly realizes that even with a span of years separating Paul Cornell’s Knights from his own, he still has an obligation to conform to the characters Cornell established.  Here, in just his second issue, Venditti gets even more attuned to the cast; that, or you’re getting more attuned with the subtle changes he’s made.

For example, while Vandal’s blackhearted joy at torturing Jason Blood seemed a tad off-putting last issue, it now seems more true to form here.  In fact, I’d liken Venditti’s approach to Savage to James Robinson’s on his DC Universe Presents arc.  Savage is now quite blatant in living up to his name (“I’d wager you’re starving, too.  Here, have a whiff,” he tells the mouthless Jason, shoving a plate of roasted chicken under the prisoner’s nose and fanning the fumes), but he’s so comfortable in his own skin that it somehow feels just right.

That said, a familiarity with the characters is one thing, but a grasp on the plot is another.  This second issue accomplishes only one new development: freeing Jason from Vandal’s grasp.  In most cases, this would be enough, so long as you get a pretty cool escape sequence out of it.  However, the plan to get him out of Vandal’s grasp boils down to Exoristos momentarily distracting him, Ystin doing the prison break, and Horsewoman covering their escape.  It’s efficient, I suppose, but vaguely disappointing, especially as the four or five page sequence makes the entire action of the issue.

This issue also does almost nothing in revealing new information for you to chew on.  Ex and Ystin remain frustratingly ambiguous about the circumstances of their break-up, to the point where you don’t even know who did the splitting (Ex: “Last time you asked me to choose, we went our separate ways.”).  There’s also the question of why Vandal got into such bad beef with Jason in the first place, and also why Xanadu and Jason had a falling-out of their own.

Chang continues to deliver fairly pretty work, and just now you can really start to appreciate the emotional depth he puts into the characters.  It’s really the eyes and brow.  He can tweak them just a little bit to convey very precise, fine-tuned emotions.  Just look at Jason’s changing expressions in the opening pages.  In one panel, you’ve got his wide-eyed desperation for the food being delivered to Vandal; in another, you see his hopeless longing as Vandal keeps it out of reach; and in the very next, you see his lover’s rage at hearing Xanadu’s loyalty criticized.  Very subtle, effective work indeed.  I’m not sure Maiolo is the best colorist for Chang, as he tends to make the issue look rather pale; the tone just feels a little off in my eyes.

Conclusion: All in all, a rather slow and mostly redundant issue, though at the very least it gives you confidence that Venditti knows what he’s doing.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I’m not sure how I feel about the horses having more of a voice on this series.  On the one hand, it can be very entertaining, like Brickwedge unbuckling Ex’s saddle and sending her butt-first to the ground.  On the other hand, I rather hate the idea of dealing with sassy equines: “You tell them, Sarah.”