Beek's Books - part of an ongoing collection of comic book reviews
Avant Guard: Heroes At The Future's Edge #2
(Day One Comics) $2.50
by Stephen Conley
Rating: OK, Content: [super] [sci-fi]

 These days it seems like you either have to print in computerised color on pricey glossy paper, or print just uncolored outlines using dark-grey ink on light-grey paper. Here's an exception: computerised continuous-tone (from black to white, with full gradations in between) with good ink on good paper. (The cover is overglossy, however.) Avant Guard looks better than a lot of color books, and without the high printing cost. Why aren't more self-publishers putting out books like this?

 Writer/artist Stephen Conley obviously uses a computer as a tool in creating this book. But instead of a crutch, or an excuse for poor drawing, he uses it to enhance darn good drawings into slick pictures. The result is razor-sharp edges on the "inks", and lots of blends and textures in the (monochrome) "colors". You can't create images like this using pen-and-ink and zip-a-tone.

 Most of the time it works. There are spots where the straight lines seem almost too neat (e.g. the exterior shot of Avant HQ on p.3), and where the textures are obviously pattern-fills (e.g. Stonehenge's skin on p.20). And the cyberspace scenes look as fake as only cyberspace could. {grin} But Conley doesn't let his tool totally overshadow his art. It's not as "organic" as I usually like, but the style fits the story.(*)

 Oh, the story? It's pretty good. In #2 we're seeing the members of a team who are testing new defence technology. Each of the four has his own "power" derived from the prototypes they are equipped with. But a Bad Guy has stolen some of the other prototypes, which because of safety flaws, make him a danger to himself and others. This is not to imply that Our Heroes are without flaws themselves. There are enough idiosyncrasies (or hints thereof) to actually build a series of stories on these characters. (Imagine!)

 There are flaws in the technology featured in the story as well. Despite the focus on the devices and such, this isn't "legitimate" hard sci-fi. But as long as you're willing to accept it as necessary technobabble for the sake of creating an interesting set of "heroes", that's not a problem. At least not for me.

 The art is fairly impressive. The story is pretty entertaining.

 My fave bit from the letters page: "Comic Reader Tip #204: Foil covers emit dangerous particles called 'morons'."

(*) Mark Wheatley takes a very different approach to the art in Radical Dreamer, another book dealing with cyberspace, from Blackball Comics. In addition to the fold-out poster format, which is interesting, the art is done in a somewhat abstract, very "organic" style. Check it out.

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