Axcend number 2 is the kind of comic that I’m convinced the writers on The Big Bang Theory think is the only kind of comic out there. It’s very rooted in the early 1990s Image Comics male-power-fantasy dynamic, with the story of the ascendant nerd with a hot woman thrown into his arms, and stilted, self-satisfied dialogue. The issue begins with the introduction of Rain, the “gamer pop star,” who is equal parts Felicia Day, Lady Gaga, and that drunk girl from every party you went to in college. She plays a show and drops some Glow Pills with her girlfriends (including one who speaks only in giggles), before she begins to interact with the Axcend game while she’s tripping and brings something from the game into the real world. Meanwhile, Eric and his Beta have gone Grand Theft Auto on the town, and when he returns to his mother’s apartment, Rain is waiting with vital information for him.
Shane Davis is taking the fairly tried-and-true method here of introducing the hero in the first issue and spending the second issue introducing the hero’s best friend/sidekick. Rather than having his characters interact at length with each other, Davis puts a lot of the characters’ thoughts on the page as narrative captions, which is fine; where it really suffers is when he has a long panel of Eric walking down a hallway and there are more than ten captions of his thoughts. They add nothing to the page, or to the story, and they give us less of an idea of what Eric is thinking than if we had just gotten a close up of his face. In this book, it seems that characters don’t really have dialogues: they have monologues at each other. Whenever people talk to each other in this book, they talk like they’re in Animal Man, like they’re going to disappear from the entire universe after they exit the frame. Nobody feels fleshed out in this book, least of all Eric and Rain.
Speaking of flesh, Davis takes as many opportunities as possible to revel in anatomy. His renderings are excellent, but it runs at odds to the pacing of the book more often than not. Rain’s performance at the beginning is used, in dialogue, captions and art, as an opportunity to really hit that “performance is sex” nail on the head. In a scene where Eric meets Rain at his mom’s apartment, we spend a lot of time in lingering, half page shots of Rain’s body instead of looking at facial expressions. Davis tries to convey a lot of emotion in the dialogue and speech rhythms of the characters, but rather than humanizing them, it reads like he’s making fun of his main character.
As for the rest of the art team: I have nothing but praise. Morry Hollowell’s colors are nuanced and rich, never letting the book descend into cartoonish territory, even when we’re asked to deal with video game avatars coming to life. Michelle Delecki’s inks over Davis’ confident penciling bring a richness to the world, and a sophistication that elevates it from the arena of that early 1990s Image aesthetic we talked about earlier. And Patrick Brosseau—poor Patrick Brosseau must be one of the most overworked letterers in the business just from this book and he doesn’t even get to be listed on the cover. His design sense for the narrative captions and his flow on the page are astonishing, and they really keep the book moving at a quick pace.
On the whole, if this book had come out in 1995 and I was six years old, it would be amazing. I would buy it every month. I would make a costume out of Eric’s Beta, even if he is noseless and that unsettles me. As it stands now, it’s a very beautiful book that’s big and bombastic without saying even the slightest new thing.
Axcend #2 Writer/Penciller: Shane Davis Inker: Michelle Delecki Colorist: Morry Hollowell Letterer: Patrick Brosseau Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/4/15 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital