“Everything is RUIN.”
Diamond ID: OCT150507
Published: Wednesday 16th December, 2015
It’s cool when a book surprises you like AXCEND does. With its bold and brilliant design palette and a plot synopsis inviting lazy callbacks to TRON-slash-READY PLAYER ONE, this new series from Image Comics seems an incongruous fit to the publishers current roster of eagerly earnest comics, all jockeying for spots on the Trade Paperback release schedule and Eisner nomination slips. AXCEND, at fleeting glance at the series synopsis and garish cover, appears too disposable, too obvious, too… comicbook-y.
But then you recognise the names of SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE writer Shane Davis and JLA artist Michelle Deleck, credited here alongside esteemed colourist Morry Hollowell, and you become intrigued. The cyberpunk wet dream of online cyber-personas breaking through the screen and into the real world is one thing; tackling why somebody would desire to escape into such a persona in the first place is something else and is a tricky tightrope to traverse. And from a very strong first issue, you begin to see there’s a much darker layer beneath the neon façade, breaking through.
We’ve reviewed AXCEND on this site before (read Goatboy’s take on issue #1, here) and we were struck by the emotional core of the book’s principle character, Eric Morn, even if the scarring of Eric’s desperate ‘real-life’ back-story didn’t quite equate to his online braggadocio. We were also taken with Delecki and Hollowell‘s textured and lush art – this book is truly gorgeous to look at, the depth and strength of the panels give a solid anchor to what could be a very convoluted tale.
Issue #2, however, was the series first mis-step, presenting the story of secondary character and walking IO9 fantasy sexbot, Rain: it seemed awkward that this alternate universe’s ‘Self-Described Gaming Queen’/’Dual-Shock Madonna’ would have the time and the inclination to invest in a virtual reality gaming trial when it seems that she is so full of self-loathing, she is more than prepared to whore and drug herself into a broken stupor. Prestige online gamers are usually a little more ‘together’ when hitting the controllers – it’s how they become prestige. Rain’s back story seemed a little forced.
Compare that to this incredible issue #3 where we are introduced to a much more believable and recognisable character, one I suspect Davis is much more interested in talking about: Ruiz, an oppressed and emotionally crippled young boy whose escape into the online world of AXCEND makes a lot more sense. In every aspect of his real life, Ruiz is beaten down and battered, at school, at home – the game of AXCEND is truly his refuge from the harshness of the world and one where he has all the power. When the game rules breach the walls of reality and gives Ruiz a taste of ability to exact revenge on his tormentors, you appreciate why he’d very much take that opportunity. In a summer where we have been shown that the motivations of characters such as DAREDEVIL’s Kingpin come from a very real place, it makes you question whether just how ‘bad’ AXCEND’s ‘big bad’ really is.
I say that the character Ruiz may be the main focus of attention for Shane Davis and this is borne out of the weak subplot of Morn and Rain of connecting to attempt the tracking down of Ruiz. We’re also completely skirting over the origins of the game, who made it and why, and how on earth the online constructs are becoming reality – the book is really just winding up for a big showdown between our protagonists. While Davis has done such an amazing job of presenting strong, emotional characters, we’ve left the intriguing political landscape that was touched on back in issue #1 behind, along with the basic tenants and rules of what makes this world work. We are on a knife-edge between this book being a full-blown Fallout 4 and a simple SNES Streetfighter beat-’em-up – here’s hoping that issue #4 upholds AXCEND’s initial promise to to flesh out the pixels.