Monday, November 12, 2018

An Audition Tape for Image

Pyrite (Samson, 1996)
"Blood on Water" Pencils: Philip Xavier, Inks: Kaleb AKA "Cabin Boy," Writer and Letters: Chad Michael Ward, Cover Artist: Brandon Peterson, Colors: J.D. Smith, Gaunt Sneak Preview: Mark Kidwell, Editor: Peter Caravette.

Featuring a cover by the artist and creator of the 1997 Image comic Arcanum, this comic has "audition tape" written all over it. In the editor's note, Caravette mentions that Xavier and the "mysterious inker" Kaleb have joined Wildstorm, Jim Lee's studio for Image and, later, DC. So this unnumbered, unpriced one shot might be of interest to mid-'90s Image fans.

The main 20-page Pyrite story, while not my cup of tea entirely, is very well done—in the Image style. A tactical team of three blow up a skyscraper before being shot by gunmen in a helicopter. One might have survived. Readers are then introduced to the main character, Major Dawson, who seems to have lost his memory. He finds himself at a nightclub, where he ogles a dancer.

Professor Doyle expounds some on Dawson's background: "severe neuro damage caused by the reanimation process... our walking corpse is losing his mind." Dawson is brought back in a healing tank, teamed up again with Angel, or Major Atkins, and given a mission.

The artwork reminds me of Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee, so there's a lot of muscular men and buxom women. But Xavier can draw. For every fight scene or dramatic pose, there's a lovely surprise: p. 8's cityscape and street signage; p. 12's wordless, five-panel city- and nature-scapes that serve as pacing and punctuation while Dawson's unconscious; p. 13 and 15's moon through the window imagery; p. 20's final panel featuring the moon again. He can do much more than he does in this comic—beautiful art.

The flip side of the book, "Raisin' Holy Hell," is an 11-page preview of The Gaunt, by Mark Kidwell, who is more in the Todd McFarlane and early Sam Keith wheelhouse. His pages and panels are much more dense and angular than Xavier's, which makes the book fun to look at, if not read. The hero is another back-from-the-dead type, a compatriot of Major Velocity, Lycanthra, and the Wunderkind—all murdered by a fellow superhero who betrayed them, Mantas. The demon Samhain brings him back 10 years later to hunt Mantas down.

Had the title character continued past this preview, I would have liked the backstory of the group of superheroes to have been explored. Seems like rich fodder in the vein of Alan Moore's America's Best Comics and Gary Carlson's Big Bang Comics.

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