Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chronic Review: Halcyon # 1!

Halcyon # 1
Image Comics

Script: Marc Guggenheim/Tara Butters
Pencils: Ryan Bodenheim
22 pages for $2.99

Halcyon is a patchwork I haven't seen before constructed of things I've seen before. The antagonist is Oculus, and he's developed the ability to visit other dimensions/realities. He uses that ability to team up with his other selves, share information, and better dominate the respective home dimensions. It' s sort of a blend of Hickman's conclave or Reeds and the Wanted syndicate, except we're dealing with a Von Doom type instead of a Reed Richards.

The protagonists are a super team called Halcyon, lead by Zenith. She's banging an anti-hero named Sabre who has more scars on his back than Kunta Kinte. You just want to shout through the page and yell "Dude, it's not worth it! Just tell the guy your name is Toby and plot his inevitable demise in your spare time! Some day you'll be wearing a barrette on your face aboard the star ship Enterprise and it will all work out, I promise!" But some guys are just stubborn that way. (Now I'm digressing with Roots jokes? Yeesh. American slavery, now there's a comedy gold mine!)

At any rate, the problem on this particular world is that there are no problems. Someone or something kickstarted a phenomenon that is reducing the world's crime at an exponential rate. It doesn't sound like such a bad thing when you type it like that, but the way it's presented in the comic book is actually quite creepy.

My favorite moment in the book is a little (seemingly) throw away scene where we meet Sabre dispensing with some gun-toting hoodlums. There's the usual bravado and big budget action scene, and the criminals are apprehended. As Sabre turns his prey over to the police, they remark on how they kind of miss the usual body count.

Now taken at face value when I first read it, that scene rankled me a bit. It's just too much testosterone for me to swallow. But later, we find out that something is obviously working behind the scenes to prevent crime. And given that's actually really spooky. Because now Sabre has to ponder - why didn't I kill those guys?

One of the great fears for any rational human is losing one's sense of self. If I ever find out I've got Alzheimer's...I'm checking myself out. Can't deal with it, too painful. What Guggenheim has constructed as the threat in this comic is a loss of free will that infects with no fanfare and no visible symptoms. Reality is simply being re-written to erase free will, (if such a thing exists, and I say it does) and that's positively horrifying. But it's a horror that manifests itself in people paying their taxes and not killing the people the turn over to the police. It's an interesting hook, and it's rendered subtly.

A couple of other things I liked. In the beginning of the book, "Jarhead" is ripping his way through Pakistan looking for Bin Laden. From a distance, the font actually looks a little like Urdu characters. But as you read them closely, you can see that it's actually English dressed to look like Urdu. It's a little difficult to read, but you know what? I think that actually helps the effect. I've never seen anything like that before, and I thought it was fantastic.

Incidentally, that scene also reads differently after you're exposed to the "anti-crime" effect. Bin Laden's broheims admit that they've already killed him - because he was an evil man. It's just bizarre on the first pass, and then you think to yourself..."that's the anti-crime effect in it's early stages, infecting their brains and using their still-active aggression to implement a peaceful solution." Kinda creepy-cool.

Also, there's this dude named Enos, and he's a cybernetically enhanced space chimp. And he's awesome.

I'm a teensy bit concerned about the alternate reality nonsense, because I've read too many stories that mistake confusion for sophistication. I'm not convinced that this story requires a gazillion different Occuli from 13 different realities in order to make this story fly. I think the anti-crime effect is a plenty good enough hook without it.

But to be fair, we're one issue in, and maybe at the end we find out that the different realities do make a significant difference to the storytelling. I'm just announcing my concerns now.

The other "problem" with the book is that other than Enos, I'm not really attached to any of these characters. It's early, so that may not be fair. I'm a character guy, though, and the strength of Halcyon seems to be based around the plot. Nothing wrong with that intrinsically, it just places itself outside of my wheelhouse.

I recommend Halcyon because Guggenheim has built a conflict rich with possibilities. It's difficult to read this and not wonder about how much Oculus has to do with this weird phenomenon making everybody act all nicey, how that effect will continue to warp people's decisions, and what the Oculus end game entails. As the first issue ends, his big plans include turning himself in to the authorities.

The whole thing is just a bit off the beaten path, and satisfyingly so. At $2.99, that's more than enough for me to reward this book with my patronage until it disappoints.

- Ryan

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