Thursday, September 3, 2009

110. Atavar and the UOS

We're up to April 2002 now, and here on the cover of prog 1287, Nikolai Dante celebrates his recent Eagle Award win for best British comic character. This will prove to be artist Simon Fraser's farewell to the character that he co-created for the next four years. As Dante moves into his third phase, "the pirate years," it will be with John Burns as sole artist. Fraser, who will return to Dante in October 2006, is at this time residing in Africa. The series will take a number of very long rests during the third phase, especially during 2004 when writer Robbie Morrison will be engaged in writing The Authority for the Wildstorm imprint at DC Comics.

This issue sees the conclusion of an eight-part storyline called "The Romanov Job," in which Dante and his occasional sparring-and-bedpartner the Countessa work with several master criminals to heist his vanquished family's crown jewels. The other characters in the narrative are analogues of other comic characters, including Catwoman, Janus Stark and the Spider, and they are hunted down by Captain Emmanuel, the Luther Arkwright-analogue who had been introduced in a 1999 story.

Robbie Morrison really closed out this part of Dante in fine form. There's a sense of desperation in the narrative that somehow fits where the series was at the time. After the civil war, the imperial Russia of the far future is a much more dangerous place, and it's not a world where our hero can go gallivanting around pulling heists and breaking hearts like he did before things completely fell apart. When, of course, he gets stabbed in the back by somebody he should have known better to trust, Nikolai falls back on his "I'm too cool to kill" line, only to be slapped in the face by it. The story ends on a cliffhanger which won't be resolved for another nine months. It was reprinted in the sixth Dante collection, Hell and High Water, in 2008.

Elsewhere in the issue, the other stories are marking time until the next relaunch issue, prog 1289, and so there's a Steve Moore / Clint Langley Tales of Telguuth and a Future Shock by Mike Carey and John Charles to fill the page count, along with the last part of a three-episode Judge Dredd adventure by John Wagner and Paul Marshall. I believe the Telguuth installment is actually notable for being the first appearance of Langley's current style, which he has used on Slaine and The ABC Warriors over the past few years. I think we're long overdue for reading a detailed interview with Langley where he discusses how he creates these odd "fantasy Photoshop fumetti" of his. However, the most interesting strip this week, other than Dante, is the penultimate part of a serial called Atavar.

I'm very curious how I'll feel about Atavar when I finish reading the third book of the series in a few months' time. This is a really odd little story by Dan Abnett and Richard Elson in which a group of powerful-but-desperate aliens, tens of thousands of years in the future, reconstruct an atavar of the long-extinct human race in order to help them in their war against machine-creatures called UOS. No series, with the possible exception of that cosmetic warrior "Rouge Trooper," has ever been misspelled as often as Atavar. Everybody wants to call this one "Avatar," perhaps missing the point that the aliens are looking into history to find something from the past to save their species.

Atavar began in prog 1281 with one of the most unusual first episodes of any series. We see our human character awake in a strange cave system from what appears to be cryo-sleep or something and run, panicking, from the huge aliens around him. There is no dialogue. Well, nothing in English, anyway. The human's got a lot to say, but it's all "HNNN!" and "NNNNN!" and the aliens haven't upgraded him to understand their language yet. It's a bizarre little experiment, and it certainly got reader's attention, even if many of them balked at the necessity of spending five pages on it.

The other thing that's really notable about Atavar is that it comes to a spectacular twist ending. The conclusion is so darn cool that everybody reread the previous progs to see how the heck they missed something so neat. It was an ending so perfect that bringing Atavar back, twice, left a bad taste in my mouth and I honestly only just glanced at the later episodes, complaining, in that know-it-all fan way, that the pages would have been better spent on more Vanguard or Balls Brothers. I'll try to judge them more fairly when I come to prog 1329 later in the year.

Next time, those bloody students take over! Eyebrows are furrowed and knives are drawn as Si Spurrier and Steve Roberts bring us Bec & Kawl. Plus, a look at the collected edition of Heavy Metal Dredd. See you in seven!

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