This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on April 6, 2016.
Here at Comics Bulletin we’ve had Chase Magnett read through and review the offerings of Marvel’s two biggest franchises The Avengers and The X-Men in week long series. While these two families may have the most history and largest collection of team-based titles at the publisher, there is a new arrival on the scene that isn’t far off. With the announcement of an Inhumans movie from Marvel Studios and the appearance of many Inhumans characters in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the comics branch of the entertainment titan has also begun to push for this third Kirby and Lee created group in their own lineup. This week Chase will be taking a look at all of the most recent Inhumans publications to figure out whether this synergy-oriented publication push is any good outside the boardrooms at Disney.
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gerardo Zaffino with Antonio Fuso
Colors by Dan Brown
Letters by Clayton Cowles and Joe Caramagna
Karnak #2 is an issue that is both switch-up and follow-up. It continues almost directly from the conclusion ofKarnak #1 (which wasn’t so much cliffhanger, as it was an arbitrary stopping point) after a one-page flashback and presents the last of Gerardo Zaffino’s artistic contributions before new series artist Antonio Fuso finishes the final pages. In spite of its abrupt beginning and stylistic shift, Karnak #2 still provides a very strong reading experience. It continues all of the strengths of its preceding issue (primarily the beautiful violence), while including some new ideas that will provide a skeleton for whatever plot the series uses to connect its compelling action sequences.
Almost the entire first half of the issue is completely speechless. As Karnak fights a large number of trained stormtroopers, neither he nor his opponents speak a word. This dialogue-less method to intense action sequences is something that has become increasingly prevalent in Warren Ellis scripts, including Moon Knight and Injection. This shifts the challenges of pacing and reader engagement almost entirely to the artist, which has allowed someone like Declan Shalvey to soar in the aforementioned series. Zaffino does the same here. The brutality of the violence on display moves with a breathless speed that any speech balloon would unnecessarily slow.
Zaffino focuses on the visceral effects of violence from the speed of its delivery to the shattering effect of impact. He extends the human form effectively providing the illusion of speed as Karnak’s limbs move outward from himself and towards their victims. Sharp, striking linework pulls forth his arms and legs like powerful barriers. The blur of these lines stops the exaggeration from appearing cartoonish and makes it more comparable to the contortion of a photo image taken at high speeds. These techniques are unlike any other work being done in superhero comics and require two readings. The initial pass of pages demands that the eye race as quickly as the content of the panels, but a second reading allows these moments to be savored.
This style also emphasizes the thematics of Karnak #2 in an entirely visual manner. Everything occurring in these panels is about impact, and the cause and effect relationship that leads to each shattering moment. Karnak’s absolute focus leads to absolute results. Seeing a jaw torn asunder or shrapnel embed itself in a skull is horrifying as it ought to be. This is a distillation of how means reach an end. The spoken goal of each of these actions is noble, the recovery of a kidnapped child. Yet watching men be torn apart in such an efficient manner is disturbing. Readers are able to question the choices Karnak is making in a way that his focus would never allow him to. This is what allows Karnak’s mention of torture all the more frightening because we can imagine how awful it will be to behold and know he is fully capable of it.
The priest that Karnak threatens to torture presents some interesting concepts surrounding the kidnapped child and the forces still to be met. Letterers Clayton Cowles and Joe Caramagna highlight his manner of speech and reverence of the boy by capitalizing the “H” in pronouns. However, most of Ellis’ script leaves these pronouns at the beginning of sentences and a “him” is left uncapitalized for no story-based reason. It is an interesting application of lettering that falters in execution. Other new ideas like “Zen “ are much more satisfying. The battle between Karnak and the priest is a wild combination of these big ideas and their brutal execution on the page.
After that battle Zaffino leaves the book and the final few pages are drawn by Fuso. This stylistic jump from line heavy, exaggerated forms to a much cleaner, more direct pacing creates a fissure within the comic. No purpose is being served and, while this transition is necessary for outside reasons, it lessens the overall impact of Karnak #2. Again the issue arrives at a final moment that feels less like an ending or cliffhanger and more like a page limit was reached. Except with Zaffino gone this time there is a question of what the demand to return for Karnak #3 is.
Even with the break in art at its end, Karnak #2 is a strong showing. The hyper-violence on display is stunning in its execution and presented in the most favorable conditions possible. As Ellis and his collaborators question the purpose and intention of violent methods, allowing those methods to be shown without the modification of words or a sense of humor makes them land. Karnak #2 is a comic book that lives and dies by the strengths of its visual storytelling and style, and here it hits home.