Saturday, December 02, 2006

Flak Riot #1

Flak Riot #1, June 2005, Image Comics
writer/illustrator: Michael O’Hare
co-writer: Robert Place Napton
colorist: Mike Garcia
letterer: Jason Levine

Despite its elusive title, Flak Riot is a relatively simple comic book to understand. Zoe Nixxon is an unhappy office wench who, to pursue something new and adventurous in her life, answers an ad for a three-day course in bounty hunting. The Flak Bounty Hunting School is secluded in a desert bowling alley, and after a humiliating lesson in combat and weaponry, Zoe’s last task is to venture into the Other Dimension through the inter-dimensional gateway dubbed the Flak Riot to fetch one of her professors, supergenius Dr. Cornelius Chang, a beef taco special. Oh, did I mention that this offbeat tale takes place in the future, a period playfully introduced as “sometime soon?”

Flak Riot also introduces Jack Omega and Boss Gila, former associates-turned-rivals in a dispute over the location of an item that will bestow Gila the ability to rise in power. Omega bests two of Gila’s robotic dogs but is overcome by some flying tank, and while captured agrees to give up the mysterious item in exchange for his life. The last time we see the ill-fated tough guy, he’s ready to plummet toward a vat of flesh-eating acid, betrayed by his old friend. Since this scene goes down in the Other Dimension, I assume Zoe and Jack will cross paths, and maybe even fall in love. I’d hate to think that such a device would be that predictable, but so many things in fiction are nowadays.

What wasn’t predictable is how much I enjoyed this issue. The characters were interestingly introduced, and although they clung tenaciously to their stereotypes – Omega as the chiseled Dirty Harry type and Zoe as the bored bookish hidden bombshell type – their circumstances were compelling enough to demand my undivided attention. The futuristic element was a strong catalyst for many of the events in this issue, including Zoe’s smart-alecky, spherical hovering personal aid AI, but the sci-fi didn’t distract from the heart of the plot or the relatable struggles of the lead characters. The time period remained the story’s setting without becoming the story itself, which conversely intrigued me about the period overall. I’m sure the creative team explores the logistics of this “sometime soon” throughout the series.

Artistically, this issue reflects the trends most notably started in Herobear and the Kid, that is an inkless layout with scanned pencils, and in this case, sharp, computerized hues. Michael O’Hare has a really expressive cartoony style, although some of his designs, like Jack and Gila’s robots, retain a realism to them – in fact, Jack reminded me of Ed McGuiness’s Superman with his narrow eyes and sharp chin. As an artist, I usually enjoy the scanned pencil motif, because the published page actually offers a layer of behind-the-scenes sketches within the finished artwork. Some panels in Flak Riot had that sketchy look a bit too much for my taste. In fact, one sequence seemed so unfinished that the characters were literally blurred by the coloring, while just pages later, the combat training sequence was drawn so concisely that I would’ve been fooled had someone credited an inker. This style straddles a fine line (pardon the pun), and the importance of maintaining its composure is an arguable one. Fortunately, it’s also a fun one, as it reveals the freedom many of today’s creators experience during their artistic process.

I can relate to Zoe Nixxon. I began the A Comic A Day project in part out of boredom with my habitual comic book collecting process. I wanted to branch out and experience something new for a change, and books like Flak Riot continually surprise me. How much entertaining stuff would’ve existed on the shelves completely beyond my notice? Now, looking back at the last week’s worth of reviews, I know I’ve been phoning in this effort lately, thanks in part to many of the personal obligations that arise personally and professionally around the holiday season. Still, like Zoe, I enter into this challenge with an eagerness every day, wondering what new insight each read will offer. It’s like another dimension entirely. A Comic A Day is my Flak Riot.

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