Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March Madness - - Phoenix / Atlas - - - March 22, 2011

PHOENIX #1  (Atlas / Ardden, March 2011)  Writers = Bre ndan Deneen + Jim Krueger.     Art = Dean Zachary.  Colors = Mai.  Letters & Design = Richard Emms.

I wanted to like this title more than I actually did.  I’m just excited by the very notion that a comics company would be resurrected almost 40 years later and have another go at market acceptance and profitability.  That’s admirable.  I’m pulling for Atlas to survive and thrive.  It could be the feel good comics story of this decade.

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However, I’m not going to recommend a title simply because I like the publisher, the writer, the artist, the character, etc.  It can’t be poor quality.  It must have some entertainment value. Fortunately, PHOENIX is worth your examination.   While it may turn out to be the weakest of the new Atlas titles (I haven’t read GRIM GHOST yet, so the jury is still out- no final verdict yet) it does have it's moments. And, those moments are interesting enough to bring me back for a few more issues.

As I recall my 1970’s introduction to these characters it was PHOENIX that was the first Atlas title I purchased; and it was the first one that I dropped from my regular reading.  It’s no longer a part of my collection and I can’t remember much detail except that the costume here looks very familiar with a few new touches. Foremost are the bright white alien writings across the chest and limbs of the costume that look as if they would glow in the dark.  It’s a different look and without it this costume might be too ordinary.

That PHOENIX #1 from the 1970’s (as I recall) was the origin issue and the best story of the 3 issues that I purchased.  It wasn’t exactly clear then (and that’s true of the current version as well) exactly what Phoenix’s powers are other than flight and enhanced strength.  The upgraded version of Phoenix also seems to be able to generate flaming energy and channel it towards his fists, which permits him to discharge it in a blast of explosive propulsive fire.  The #2 and #3 issues from Volume 1 (as I recall) seemed a little too generic and formulaic =  another super-strong hero defeating average super-villains in standard situations that weren’t that original or interesting.  They didn’t seem to expand on the implied promises of the origin issue, so I dropped it.  I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen here with Volume 2.  I actually look forward to seeing where this goes.  It’s already different.  It’s pretty clear the aliens aren’t going away.  As I remember Volume 1, they were already an afterthought by Issue #2.

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As I read the opening pages of the new PHOENIX I quickly realized that I was entering mid-point of a story line despite the #1 identification on the cover.  It wasn’t a flash forward either.  The succeeding pages never refer to how Phoenix got into the dire situation depicted on page 1- 7 and onward.  So I visited the website at www.atlas-comics.com and learned that there was a #0 issue published in a limited run as part of the New York Comic Con in January 2011.

From what I can surmise, Ed Tyler along with his best friend Max and fellow townsfolk were abducted by aliens. From there Ed somehow gets an alien suit with special powers. The web page text refers to how “each time he dies he comes back more powerful than before.”   This is very effectively depicted on page 1 of Issue #1, where in nine panels we see Ed injected by the aliens and writhing in obvious pain, then perfectly still and seemingly dead in the next panel, and finally eyes back open and alert in the third panel.  This sequence occurs twice more before moving to a double page spread that reveals Ed strapped to a gurney with probes and deadly needles stuck into his body in numerous places. Its a very effective scene, drawn from an overhead view looking down on Ed and the backs of the alien heads as they hover over his form.  It’s some of the best art in the issues.  And, while some of the art is very good the overall impression is one of inconsistency.  In many places the art of Dean Zachary appears a little rushed, fuzzy and blurry.  Artist Zachary seems to be going for a semi-painted look, but it doesn’t work on every page.  Too many pages focus on the foreground characters and action and don’t have any background detail other than a contrasting color.

However when the art works it works well and I would like to see some more before deciding whether I’m a fan or not. It may look inconsistent for a reason.  Back on the web site I see that the art team on the special #0 issue was Ian and Guy Dorian.  Perhaps they couldn’t be part of Issue #1 and it was a hurry-up assignment given to Zachary.  It does appear that Zachary will be the artist on the upcoming Issues #2 and #3 so I’ll get another chance to view his work.

Ed does escape from the alien ship but is unable to free his friend Max who is still alive and remains behind. Apparently the dead bodies of everyone else from their town remain on the ship, including Alexis whose passing Ed obviously mourns but the connection is not revealed.  The aliens want Ed back for further study/experimentation and send hunters in pursuit.  Ed, still in glowing costume, flees to the apartment of Denise - - his wife? girlfriend? just someone he knows?  The script in this issue by Deneen and Krueger is all action, flight, and pursuit.  Guess I’ll need to read some more issues before deciding if I like this story also.

Call me curious.  It’s fun in an old-fashioned way and I’d like to see more.

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