Sunday, February 1, 2009

Fathom #5

As someone unfamiliar with the Fathom mythos, I felt like a fish out of water before I’d finished the first sentence of this issue’s recap page, and not just because it was written in a font the size of a single atom. If you’re unfamiliar with the character and her mythos, if you don’t understand the difference between the Blue, the Black and the Humans, best to step away right now because this is some complicated business and it hasn’t the time nor the inclination to slow down for you.

Although this issue’s lore comes in about twenty paces ahead of its more casual readers, J.T. Krul keeps his writing concise and approachable. He doesn’t overload the page with monologues and diatribes, although I’m sure the temptation was great since the bulk of its cast consists of a network of military leaders with complicated master plans. As a result of the light narration, this issue’s plot moves along at a brisk pace, sometimes too much so. When we left Fathom last month, one of her arms had been turned into a giant, bulky mass of stone – presumably a major setback. At the outset of this issue the arm is still a problem, but when she casually repairs it without a hint of panic or even a fleeting touch of concern, it left me wondering if it was even worth mentioning in the first place. Was that last month’s cliffhanger, remedied without a second thought after just a page and a half? If so, what does that say about the “all new precedent” this issue promises to deliver in its dramatic conclusion?

The book’s penciler, Ale Garza, works a clean, exaggerated style that’s reminiscent of Joe Madureira, just without as much discipline. On some panels he manages a perfect balance of line weight, mixing thick blobs of shadow with sharp, jagged edges. In others, his focus wanes and the page deteriorates into a shoddy, overly stylized mess. At his best, he’s able to transform a relatively mundane scenario (a run-of-the-mill government suit distributing orders) into an elaborate visual experience, adding atmosphere, personality and suspense that probably wasn’t there in the script. At his worst he achieves the polar opposite, draining every bit of energy from a particularly startling situation and punching out supporting characters so faceless and boring they wouldn’t pass as extras in another book. Garza is a far cry from the tight, detailed technique employed by late series creator Michael Turner, and while the stylistic change alone is no cause for concern, I really expected this to look much better than it actually does.

Despite its big talk, complicated plot threads and moving pieces, the story at the core of Fathom #5 isn’t all that monumental. The title character herself only appears in a small handful of uninspired panels, and while there’s no shortage of action in the issue’s closing moments, it’s so quick and matter-of-fact that it doesn’t have a whole lot of impact. This is a story that’s heavy on backdrop and light on elaboration, matched by artwork that’s only noteworthy a small percentage of the time. It isn’t an outright failure, but I’d still recommend you skip it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2.5

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