AEISD Comics Reviewer Jon Clarke – aka Goatboy – takes a look a new title from Image Comics, one that drives to blur the lines behind a vivid gaming fantasy and a cold, grim reality for a tortured young man…
“Superman Earth One co-creator SHANE DAVIS returns to comics for an all-new ONGOING SERIES! What happens when a video game decides to come to our reality to play? When there are no extra lives, and Armageddon looms on the horizon, when your life revolves around gaming like teenager Eric Morn, you Press Start. Writer/artist SHANE DAVIS (Superman: Earth One), MICHELLE DELECKI (JLA,Venom) and MORRY HOLLOWELL (Civil War, Old Man Logan) bring you an epic sci-fi/thriller that’s like Tron meets Inception with a cheat code! This special introductory issue features 28 full pages and no ads! Each issue of the series will feature a VS. linking cover variant by DAVIS showcasing the book’s cast.”
Diamond ID: AUG150477
Published: Wednesday 7th October, 2015
Goatboy says: I’m always excited when I get the chance to check out a new title, especially when it comes to me via a publisher of quality creator-owned properties like Image Comics.
Today I’m presented with AXCEND, a new book that I knew literally nothing about. The presentation of the book doesn’t help, there’s no introduction, no foreword and no creator’s column. It is twenty-eight pages of vividly presented story… and I loved it.
We start in a high school corridor with the main character of the story, Eric, receiving a beating from another student. The dialogue here quickly divulges that Eric had a twin brother named Erin who it appears was more maybe more popular than our central character. The inference here is that Erin has died, this is quickly confirmed in the following panels when Eric arrives home and speaks to his Mom: it is in fact the one-year anniversary of his brother’s death. Shane Davis‘ panels are striking and effective, reminding me of Ryan’s Stegman’s work on SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN, with excellent shading and contrasts being provided by the inks of Michelle Delecki.
Eric retreats to his room and begins to chat aloud with his brother; he picks up a game controller and turns on the TV. The next panel shows “Dog” a digital character on the monitor, inviting Eric to beta test a new game He excitedly accepts and then, well, shit gets kinda weird for Eric!
Eric is transported to within the game – imagine TRON but for next gen gamers. Eric meets two other players and receives a download which makes him realize his abilities and “special moves”… From here, things escalate quickly and we get glimpse of the rollercoaster learning curve Eric is thrown on, from match-ups to level advancements to death rounds. Imagine you are suddenly capable of fighting hand to hand combat at an expert level but you are also able to suffer the most violent deaths and then regenerate? Now you’re living the game as Eric does.
It’s a great premise, the panels bring the various challenges to life and you can really sense the urgency as Eric tries to learn his moves whilst still being completely disorientated. Shane Davis has spent a lot of time thinking about how it would feel to be suddenly in this vivid and intense game realm and the colouring work here is vibrant and bright in contrast to the realistic tones used on the previous pages and accentuates the virtual world Eric currently inhabits.
(Editor’s Note: “It’s actually quite difficult to work out if this ‘virtual reality’ that Eric experiences is a figment of his aggressive imagination or an actual established gaming norm as the world of AXCEND is set in an alternative universe, with a radically different political landscape and technological advancements. It’s going to be interesting to see how that political landscape reacts to the cliffhanger of this first issue, especially as – in the ‘real world’ – Eric is very much the liberal pacifist, confrontational only in the context of his games. The theme of the book: hiding ones true emotions and aggression behind a mask, both in a game and the real world.”)
Eric finishes the game and wakes up next to his controller, the rest of the book deals with the following day at school and Eric’s trip to therapy. The dialogue between the doctor and Eric is excellent, we learn more about Eric’s brother and how he feels. The writing here is on point, adding a real emotional depth on top of the whirlwind of action we’ve been treated to so far.
The issue ends with a fantastic set-up for future issues blurring the lines between reality and the world of AXCEND even further.
Shane Davis has set up a great story in AXCEND – there may be derivative elements of other genre outings, such as the afore-mentioned TRON franchise but, thanks to a brisk script, it still feels unique and contemporary and the presentation Eric’s relationship with his departed brother feels very real and human, giving a book a deep emotional core. The artwork is excellent throughout and special mention should go to Morry Hollowell‘s colouring is perfect, conveying both the hyper-vivid feel of the game world and the muted hues of the real. I’ll certainly be adding this book to the pull list at my local comics retailer and I’d recommend you give it a try, particularly if you consider yourself to be a gamer.