"Nineteen Ninety-Two: Part Two"
Writer: Jeffrey Kaufman (story)
Artists: Mario Gully (p & i) Edward Bola (colours)
Publisher: Image Comics
The last time I dipped into Ant a few issues ago, I was turned off by the exploitative T&A of Mario Gully's art and the hollow, visuals-driven storytelling which evoked the artist-centred comics of the 1990s. In some ways, the book still seems to be suffering for its dated approach to the superhero genre, and the feeling persists that the story exists to serve Gully's art rather than the other way round. Still, the addition of writer Jeffrey Kaufman serves to add a little more meat to the bones of the story of Hannah Washington, with this issue seeing an ex-teammate, Charlie, shed more light on her secret origins as a government agent who was intentionally sacrificed in the course of a mission. Kaufman's story isn't the most original in the world, but it provides a good basis for some political intrigue and a few action scenes that give Gully the chance to have some fun with his art.
Gully shows slightly more sophistication in his artwork here, eschewing the more overtly sexual excesses of previous issues but maintaining a mature atmosphere with occasional moments of extreme violence and some hard-edged character designs. Of course, there's always going to be a certain amount of gratuitous sexual content when your heroine is a nubile young girl whose superhero outfit consists of a thin layer of body-paint, but Gully at least makes his panels feel more relevant to the story rather than throwing close-ups of cleavages and skimpily-attired waistlines in for the sake of it. There's still a sense that Gully's art has been heavily influenced by Image luminaries such as Greg Capullo and Jim Lee (indeed, Gully's rendition of the masked Charlie in this issue bears a very close resemblance to Lee's Batman), but he's definitely developing a certain style of his own - even if that style is characterised by some overly heavy finishes. It makes me wonder whether his linework might look better if paired with an inker with a little more finesse.
One major problem I have with the artwork is the way in which the story fails to flow convincingly from panel-to-panel. Some problems lie with simple continuity, as one sequence which shows Hannah beginning to coat herself in her costume sees her T-shirt completely disappear between panels, without any explanation from the text. The art also fails to convey a pivotal moment in the story which outlines the circumstances of Ant's "death": she's alive and kicking in one panel, and dead in Charlie's arms the next. Whether the problem lies with the writing or the art, it's a missed opportunity to capture a moment in an artform which is all about finding a defining static image to convey the essence of a story.
It might not be the most sophisticated comic in the world, but this issue of Ant provides a fairly enjoyable superhero yarn which succeeds in adding further depth to Hannah's backstory despite its inability to escape the clichés of the genre or add anything truly innovative to the mix. To say that it's an improvement on earlier issues is to damn this instalment with faint praise, as it's still a pretty average and unremarkable book. However, it does seem to suggest that Mario Gully's creation has more potential than I first assumed (especially when Gully is paired with another writer as he is here) and the artwork seems to be exercising a little more restraint than was shown in previous issues of the title, which makes it far easier to take the book seriously.
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