Monday, October 15, 2007

Penance: Relentless #2

Formerly known as Speedball in the New Warriors, Robbie Baldwin became Penance during the Civil War and basically flip-flopped his personality in the process. Stricken with guilt over the Stamford incident, Penance punishes himself by wearing wardrobe that’s spiked both on the exterior and the interior. Personally, I really didn’t care all that much for this character when he was the goofy guy with the power to create colored spheres – but from what I read of it during Civil War: Front Line, I’m not sold on his new personality, either.

This story has a few bright points – Paul Jenkins works beautifully with Norman Osborn, Baldwin’s supervisor with the Thunderbolts, and the former Goblin’s hesitant subservience to Tony Stark. It’s a constant battle of the wills between these two, as Norman struggles with his constant urge to tear into his superior at the first sign of a perceived disrespect. The nanites running through his bloodstream prevent him from acting on these impulses, and the effect it has on his personality makes for some interesting reading. Jenkins also treats Robbie’s “suiting up” rather well – the scene is short, only a single page long, but both uncomfortable and borderline painful to read.

Jenkins’s main ongoing plot just wasn’t all that interesting, though. Penance isn’t deep or interesting enough to carry a story by his lonesome, at least not yet. The writer compounds this problem by dropping Baldwin into a situation where he’s hunting and confronting a character who’s even less important than he is: The Robot Master. Tony Stark’s inclusion in this issue and his frequent confrontations with Norman Osborn are really the only threads of any interest here, and they’re treated almost as afterthoughts. I guess you can’t really call the book Stark and Osborn Illustrated, but if you remove them from the picture there’s literally nothing of value here.

Paul Gulacy’s artwork wasn’t really my cup of tea. His work is a bit too pedestrian and realistic for my taste, giving Iron Man a strange, out-of-place appearance with his bright red and yellow suit of armor (sans helmet) alongside a dozen businessmen in suits and ties. He treats Osborn beautifully, detailing every war-worn detail, blemish and wrinkle of the mastermind’s face, but that’s perhaps his only true success.

On the large, I found his style drab and dull, and that what praise he’s due for the personality he delivers to each character is quickly countered by his work during the issue’s action scenes. When Penance is facing off against a dozen robots midway through this issue, Gulacy’s contributions are downright awful. To his credit, though, the artist has a great understanding of the title character’s new wardrobe. He really makes it work for a few pages in the darkness near the end of the issue, allowing the brief spots of light to play with both the reflective surfaces of his armor and the warm, fleshy leather that surrounds it, but from my perspective that was a case of too little, too late.

I wasn’t expecting all that much from this title, and with a few fleeting exceptions it met those expectations. Paul Jenkins tries to make something of this despite a boring title character, but only serves to temporarily distract the reader from that fatal flaw. Couple this with a wholly mediocre artistic contribution, and I think you can safely skip this release.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 3

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