by Gail Simone (Writer), Jim Calafiore (Artist), Jason Wright (Colorist)
The Story: A bunch of survivors meets and form a group in order to get out of Megalopolis and its heavy number of psychotic super heroes.
The Review: We all have some authors and artists upon which we show good faith. They might not always produce the best materials, but they once impressed us in a way that leaves a mark, making us wish they could somewhat reach that level again. Which authors fit that bill is something that is relative to every individuals, but Gail Simone is certainly one of mine.
With a track record filled with titles like Secret Six and Bird of Prey (the first volume, mind you), I had no reasons to be reticent when she announced a rather grim story with one of her previous collaborators, Jim Calafiore. With the help of Kickstarter, she made this project of hers a reality, with the book being sent to those that had backed it in hope that it could reach the level she can attain once in a while. Does the story falter, or is worthwhile, though?
In many ways, this story frustrates a bit, not because it is inherently bad, but because it either doesn’t go far enough or just goes a bit too deep. It is an uneven read that certainly has its share of strengths, yet it doesn’t really make for a very nice introduction to this whole world Simone has in her head.
One of the better, but also one of the more rushed aspects of this book are the characters. There is a certain evolution to these people that is actually rather interesting to follow through the story, with some of them behaving in ways that feel a bit stereotypical at first, only to end up being a bit more complex than how it first started. The main group, composed of two men and three women, is rather eclectic, but also rather improbable protagonists on their own. While the manner in which they unite is a bit incredulous and becomes more a practical ”get the cast together as soon as possible” rather than the result of natural progression of events.
Not all characters come off as interesting as them, though, with some of the other survivors they encounter telling their story and then moving on. They are mostly used in order to bring social commentary and criticism, which in some cases varies between interesting and heavy-handed. They do have some personality and some prove to move the book along, yet they certainly don’t leave much of an impact.
The story in itself is mostly good, though its presentation and cohesiveness is a bit all over the place. Told in a deconstructed format, the plot jumps around from past to present, switching from focus to focus in a way that does not always connect well to the present whereabouts of the characters, with the scenes featuring the government being the most guilty of this. There are some very nice twists and surprises, though, some that are genuinely good in this setting combining survival, super heroes and horror in a way that feels dark, yet interesting nonetheless. The ”evil super heroes” trope is something that is overly used nowadays, but it is somewhat competently shown here. It’s nothing new, but at least it’s presented well enough.
Some of the biggest flaws, however, are those that are glaringly obvious once the book is over. While the premise of super-powered beings turning immensely violent is the meat of the book, the explanations are incredibly vague, with one or two elements loosely connecting together in the story without providing any concise or clear explanation whatsoever. From the ”1” label on the side of the book, it is clear that this will probably be explained further down the line, yet as a complete package it leaves a lot to be desired. The story of the survivors we follow is complete, yet most of the more interesting elements are simply there without much meat to them.
At the very least, the book does possess a strong artistic direction from Jim Calafiore, who is able to convey darkness and unpleasantness very well on the pages. Putting a certain emphasis on atmosphere in the first few pages by focusing on the scenery and backgrounds, something he does draw very well all along the book. The broken buildings, the various destroyed elements and the lack of life on the streets makes for an eerie atmosphere that really do serve the book and its themes. The character designs are pretty okay as well, with some of them being haunting, like the hole in Overlord’s head or the sinister face under the broken helmet of Fleet. The rest of the characters, those with more human appearances, are competently drawn with their emotions and mannerism put aptly on the pages, yet they come down as rather unmemorable when compared to a lot of elements in the book. His visual flow from panel to panel, in most cases, is excellent, though, with a clear progression between each moments that always work in favor of the script and its strengths. Some of the elements are a bit rough, though, with a lot of lines being not exactly the prettiest, but Calafiore is pretty good here.
The colorization of Jason Wright is also good here, with him emphasising on the darker elements in order to create a certain unification of themes in his palette. As a result, even the brighter costumes of the characters comes off as being more macabre than what it should be, which is something pretty neat. The way he diversify himself in the scenes is also something to behold, with a more rich and nuanced take on the scenes dealing with the past, making them look much brighter despite some of the more gruelling stuff going on in some of them. It may be a bit too diverse in some pages, but it’s rather strong overall.
The Conclusion: There are some strengths to be found here, notably some of the ideas and the art in general, yet the executions of some of them, combined with a certain lack of information creates a very uneven read that is in the middle between satisfying and disappointing. A nice effort, but not something I’d heartily recommend to fans of Gail Simone.
Hugo Robberts Larivière