By Daniel Vlasaty
I've never really been a fan of marauding barbarians as characters. That whole genre has never really done anything for me. I think it's because it's a genre where a lot of the stories are essentially the same. There's only so much that can be done with the genre, in my opinion. Like, I get it – there's a group of totally ripped and brutal barbarians, and they're also totally fucking badass. Or whatever. I don’t know. There's probably a little more to the genre than this. Usually, when one of these books ends up on the review list, I just scroll on past. So, why am I talking about this here? Two reasons, really. The first is because Atomahawk is – in a way – one of these stories, and the second reason is that I didn’t know how else to start this review.
Like I said, Atomahawk is a "barbarian" story on crack and infused with cosmic crystals of doom. Created by Donny Cates and Ian Bederman and originally serialized in Heavy Metal magazine, Atomahawk tells the story of the Cyberzerker and his powerful as all shit weapon Atomahawk. The Cyberzerker is searching for his imprisoned god. The Cyberzerker obeys Atomahawk and is following the blade's lead. The Cyberzerker and his robot-animal army are in for some serious galaxy-expanding adventures across these three short chapters.
Donny Cates is still fairly new on my radar. But based on his current catalog of work, dude's blowing the fuck up. And the thing about his work, aside from all of being really fucking good, is that it's all fresh and unique and distinct. Sometimes creators (of anything and everything from art to comics to books to movies, blah blah blah) get stuck just creating essentially the same thing over and over again. Telling the same stories. Using the same characters. Over and over and over. But not with Donny Cates. His stuff crosses genres like it ain't no thing.
Atomahawk is a great story. But I've read it twice and that brief description I gave above does not do it any justice. It's just one of those stories that you have to read for yourself. You have to experience it for yourself. It might not click for everyone, I can understand that. But I thought it was great. It's a good combination of weird and wacky and next-level storytelling. And what I mean by that is that it's on its own level. I've never read anything like it. The mash-up of the past and the far future. The world it occupies. It's all just amazing. The book clocks in at 44 pages and that’s including the 4 pages of Atomahawk tattoos between the first and second chapters, and also the six pages of character designs and concept art between the second and third chapters. Even though the individual chapters are only 8-10 pages each, this story still feels huge. It feels so much bigger than it actually is. The writing and tone of it have a way of transporting the reader to the far-off locations where it takes place.
Part of that, too, part of the world building and the overall feel of it, comes from Ian Bederman's art. The first thing I thought when I saw the art was that it reminded me of traditional, old-school tattoos. The look of it not too different than what you might see hanging on a flash wall at a tattoo shop. So, it didn’t surprise me much to learn (in the interview with Bederman in the back of the book) that he actually works by day as a tattoo artist, and that the tattoos featured between the first and second chapters are done by him. It's interesting for me to see "tattoo" art transfer so well into a comic book. I've been getting tattooed since I was 16 and often wondered why I never saw more (or any) tattoo-style art in comics.
Everything about Bederman's art is great. The character designs. The futuristic weapons, the settings. The robo/human crossover. The simple colors and bold lines and layouts and heavy, heavy blacks. It's perfect. The color palette he uses is interesting. It's kind of washed out, with light blue and grey backgrounds, but then there are some serious pops of color, bright pinks and reds, and oranges. It gives the book a really interesting look. The battle scenes are jumbled up and densely packed onto the pages. They're chaotic, the way I imagine a battle would be between robo-animals and chimeras and whatever the hell The Rock Legion is. There's one page where the panel lines follow laser bullet trajectories. And this leads to a crisscrossing fight sequence that's really something to take in.
I thoroughly enjoyed Atomahawk. The story is solid and well written. But it's the art that got me. It's some of the most original and perfectly fitting comic book art I've seen in a long time. The only upsetting thing to me about this book is that it appears Cates and Bederman are not going to be creating any more of it. The story itself is fully told here, with a definitive ending. But I would very much like to see more stories come out of this universe. Or at least with this creative team working together again.