Advance Review: 'Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps' #21 and 'Unity' #6A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin , Chris Wunderlich
Wunderlich: Last week’s Archer and Armstrong failed to thrill me, but I still had high hopes for this final chapter of “Mission: Improbable”. Our muscular drunkard Armstrong was on the move to rescue his little (though incredibly talented and powerful) buddy Archer from the evil clutches of Project Rising Spirit. And the only thing that stood in his way? Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps! It’s got potential, no?
With reliable writers Christos Gage and Joshua Dysart on board, of course this story had potential! Unfortunately, I found myself underwhelmed at the climax of this arc, though it did provide a few interesting twists and turns.
While Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps’ appearance in A&A left me blasé, Gage and Dysart’s handling of the character convinces me there’s more to them. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m now invested in this cast, but they’re more compelling than they were last week. Visiting characters Archer and Armstrong get great treatment as well. Dialogue flows well throughout and characters each have their own voice, advancing the plot at a comfortable pace. I finally feel like the H.A.R.D. Corps have personality, I just wish Bloodshot didn’t sport so many all too typical anti-hero clichés.
Being the final issue of “Mission: Improbable”, we might expect a great climax—a culmination of the excitement we’re treated to over these four issues of cross-over. Without spoiling anything, I can safely say that creativity was left at the door when considering the final showdown. The result of said showdown is clever and the plot wraps up quite nicely, but the peak of excitement is… less than exciting. I assumed that would be a resolution smarter than “break through the walls and point guns at people”.
The real trouble here is the art. I honestly can’t tell you where Tom Raney ends and the others take over, but the occasionally strange anatomy, inconsistent inking and lack of interesting backgrounds make this a bizarre trip. At the best of times it has a very Phillip Bond feel to it, with slightly larger heads and rounder features. At the worst of times those heads don’t seem to fit on their bodies, and those bodies just don’t seem right. There are a few standout panels (Archer’s eyes can truly pierce) but overall the experience is uneven.
I don’t know if I’m sold on Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps. “Mission: Improbable” provided a relatively entertaining story while logically incorporating Archer and Armstrong and proving that the Valiant universe is tightly knit. It’s nice to see the connections, but I’m glad these titles are free to run on their own once more.
Elkin: I share your critique, Wunderlich. All in all, this ending left me a bit underwhelmed, though, like you, I'm interested to see where the series goes from here.
For some reason I kept thinking that this issue was a series of endings -- on four separate occasions I was surprised there were still pages left. I guess it is testament to the talents of Gage and Dysart that I didn't find it exasperating.
One final point I would like to make is how creepy I found the “Epilogue” of this book. Given the setting and the cross-armed reflection of Bloodshot in the mirror, you probably can guess at my unease. This may be a bold new direction for the series, but if it is, then I'm not so sure it's a direction I'm anticipating taking.
Wunderlich: This is my first issue of Unity. I know all the characters involved, I love all the creators behind the book and I’ve even read most of Valiant’s original Unity title from 1992. What was stopping me from taking the plunge and finally diving into what should be Valiant’s dominating team book? I’ll be honest, it was Ninjak.
Ninjak is a British ninja. He’s got swords, fancy spy gear and a crummy name. I didn’t see the appeal of the original Ninjak in 1994, didn’t understand why he got a reboot in 1996 and can’t for the life of me figure out why he’s still a popular Valiant property. When I heard that they were bringing him back for Unity, I yawned.
Then again, I love Matt Kindt. Super Spy, Revolver, Mind MGMT—yeah, this guy can write. When he finally tackled mainstream superheroes with DC’s Frankenstein, I swooned. His art style is something to behold and his dialogue is never dull, but his plots always steal the show. In issue 6 of Unity he may be playing things a little loose, but he’s still a man with lots of ideas.
Ninjak, Eternal Warrior and X-O Manowar are out to rescue fellow teammate Livewire, who’s recently been captured by the diabolical Dr. Silk. We begin with our heroes trapped, wrestling with the physical cage they’re encased in as well as the moral dilemma that accompanies it. It’s a great scene to open with, showcasing each character’s personality and ethical compass. Unfortunately this trap also takes four pages to escape. This sort of pacing isn’t my cup of tea.
The rest of the book follows this trend in pacing. Dr. Silk reveals his evil origins and dastardly plans while the boys bust up the bad guys on their way to save the day. This isn’t breaking any new ground, but it’s well done.
Silk’s scheme seems to be the arena for Kindt’s creativity. He spares no expense giving the old “taking over the world” plot a few unique touches. Incorporating ancient languages, magic, science and alien anatomy, it may seem like the plot overreaches in its pseudo-scientific explanations, but it’s all very “comic-book” and loads of fun. This bad guy is bad. The heroes kick butt.
It’s beautifully drawn as well. CAFU has a terrific, clean, consistent style that reminds me of Steve McNiven. His proportions are very realistic and his anatomy is always dead on. Action is clear from panel to panel with exciting angles, dynamic characters and detailed backgrounds. Digital blurring makes a comeback, but luckily it’s limited to explosions and isn’t as distracting as it has been in other Valiant titles.
Together, Kindt and CAFU take some of the best parts of the Valiant universe (and Ninjak, unfortunately) and create a G.I. Joe comic I’d kill to have as a kid. As an adult, I’m happy to report it’s still a majorly entertaining, if not basic, action-hero romp.
Elkin: I think we may disagree a bit with this one, Wunderlich. What you see as basic, I see as opening some rather heavy gilded doors. Let's start with the box at the beginning. Yes, it serves as a great way to showcase the moral compass of each character, but it also gives us a clear expression that these heroes are not your typically constrained capes. When they go outside the box, there are clear consequences – they are fallible – their choices have consequences. “I'll be damned. It wasn't a bluff.”
But what really opened the door for me is the way Kindt made his bad guy bad – how often have we wondered in these sorts of stories why they all want to rule the world. No need to ask early 90's Tears for Fears, here the “answer to 'why' is always love” – but in Kindt's hands, love is a one-way street, another word for control, an expression of the singular personality trying to force a chaotic and unpredictable world into their own utopian box. This love story intermingles ideas of acceptance, need, and desire with intelligence, will, and borderline personality disorder – Kindt breathes a thick and sweetly sickness into it. It is believable insomuch as we all catch a little glimpse of ourselves – the moment we whisper in the back of our heads, “If only...”
But what I liked the best about this book is the means to the end – Silk's manipulation of language as the technique of control. According to the Old Testament, in the beginning was “the Word”. Later, William Burroughs declared that “Language is a virus”. Somewhere in between lies Dr. Silk's plan to control using “Keywords”. It's the kind of thing that gives anyone who loves literature a brain boner. Kindt is good at this kind of thing. I'm happy the Valiant folk let him bring this game to their courts.
If Kindt sticks to Unity, I'm sticking with Unity.