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Existence 2.0

Posted: Friday, June 12, 2009
By: Charles Webb

Nick Spencer
Ron Salas
Image Comics
EDITOR's NOTE: Existence 2.0 will be in stores July 1 and is currently available for pre-order.

Plot: After having his consciousness transferred into the body of the hitman paid to kill him, scientist Sylvester Baladine seeks out the person (or persons) who ordered his murder.

Comments: I suspect that when the last word has been written and the final page turned, Existence 2.0's protagonist, Sylvester Baladine, will be unlikely to have made any sort of personal journey or learned any lesson. I would argue that it might be a disappointment if he did, given that this book is essentially a brawny, mad summer action flick.

Think Tony Scott instead of Michael Bay, though. The latter is crass but oddly sincere while the former can be winking and angry at the viewer, ratcheting the events up to the highest levels of violence. For Nick Spencer/Tony Scott/Sylvester Baladine too much is never enough.

The lead character here is essentially amoral--not so much a mad scientist as a science bastard whose forte is the rapid development of controversial concepts for the highest bidder. In his narration he tells the reader that given his vocation he’s not really surprised that someone would send a bald hitman named Marko to kill him with a katana. Fortuitously, Sylvester was developing a consciousness-swapping technology for Islamic extremist (he was going to rip them off, honest) and just like that he’s standing over his own dead body in that of the man sent to kill him.

Of course the traditional narrative would dictate that the protagonist seek out the identity of the person who hired Marko to kill him. Spencer instead allows Sylvester to wander away from the plot, assuming Marko’s identity as a hired assassin. Abetted by convenient “muscle memory” Sylvester is takes jobs from the mysterious Cherry, has rough sex with Marko’s sociopathic girlfriend, and becomes generally impressed with himself and his new body.

It’s not until two-thirds of the book have elapsed that Sylvester remembers that someone paid to have him killed (and that he’s got a daughter he hasn’t seen in however long). This will pit him against his employer’s band of killers and likely get messier, all things considered. But one has the impression that Sylvester doesn’t mind that. If, by the end of the book, there’s not a scene where Sylvester protects his young daughter from a hail of bullets, we might all be disappointed.

The book is of course very arch and bombastic (tellingly, the cover quote is by Jonathan Hickman, whose Nightly News had a certain demented morality). Again, I think for what Spencer and Salas appear to be going for, it works. The whole thing has a, “What, me care?” vibe to it (no one worries in this book).

Visually, Salas the book is a catalogue of callbacks that actually work quite well. Sylvester’s new bald body is reminiscent of Agent 47 of the Hitman games. There are lots of visual and narrative references to real life figures and the action has the feel of some things the writer and artist saw in a movie once. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sean Phillips was an inspiration for the artist (or that Brubaker’s Sleeper was an inspiration in part for the writer). Each panel absolutely drips with darkness with hard men carved out of granite and beautiful woman slinking across the page.

Final Word: The book is mad, explosive summer product, and I’m okay with that.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at Monster In Your Veins



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