As noted in my part of the 'Epic' group review (forthcoming), I'm pretty tired of most indie attempts at superhero books. Despite being beings of infinite dramatic possibility, the tendency is to cling to tried-and-true archetypes for warmth, furiously defending inconsequential details as the nuance that makes their character the Next Big Thing. With 'Catalyst', I've been dropped in cold into Issue Four, since it was sprung as a last-minute review opportunity and I hadn't read any of the previous issues, but from what I can tell it's a pretty good example of how to do indie superheroes right. The book contains three stories written by Joe Casey about three different sets of empowered individuals in the same universe. The art for each story is handled by a different artist, with an eye-catching and predictably beautiful cover by stellar artist Rafael Grampa.
The first story focuses on Amazing Grace, a female superhero in the central metropolis of Golden City, dealing with a mysterious visitor named Mr. Seaver, a super powered ladies’ man with an unnatural influence over women. Seaver is genial and greasily charming, but seems specifically bent on wooing Grace, who seems largely unmoved by his heart-thumping powers. The art by Paul Maybury is simple but appealing, stripped down but with plenty of character and animation. In particular Grace is nicely rendered, with a great straightforward design, but unfortunately Seaver is strangely poorly drawn, with a face that occasionally appears mangled, somewhat taking me out of a story where he's an Old Hollywood variety charmer. The story is slow and is largely a conversation that doesn't go anywhere, but there's a dreamlike quality to the pacing and wording of Casey's writing and I found myself engaged regardless of being dropped into the middle of an existing story.
The second tale involves the Agents of Change, the hardest of the three for me to get a handle on as a new reader. A group of C-list superheroes have been brought together by a mysterious benefactor, for what purpose? Who knows. Again, something about Casey's writing made the read compelling despite my confusion, almost abstract in presentation. Ulises Farinas handles the art, probably the best of the book, reminiscent of Geoff Darrow in places contrasted with bold simple forms.
The final story deals with Frank Wells, a powerful superhero who is just starting to feel the effects of becoming a global savior, going from crisis to crisis dealing with both the worshipping admiration of the saved to the slow realization that these kinds of disasters are never going to stop. Dan McDaid rounds out the full range of art styles in the book with some lovely thickly inked art, with memorable powerful compositions. It should also be noted that colorist Brad Simpson does all three stories and aces it with each, complementing each of the different styles uniquely with a vibrant yet sensitive pallet.
I can't say I understand all of each story's intentions, or, outside of the first story, how they will continue as longer narratives. While interesting as short stories I can't picture how any one of them would work as a full twenty-one pages, as page count is burned pretty quickly without communicating a whole lot. Despite this, it's a quality comic, with art from creators comfortable in their individual style rather than aping a Marvel/DC ideal, and characters that I find at the very least intriguing. Care alone is enough to make me want to go back and read the series from the beginning, and considering my recent case of the Comic Grumps that's a win in my book.
Writer: Joe Casey Artists: Paul Maybury, Ulises Farinas, Dan McDaid Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 10/2/13