06 February 2005

Review: Ant: Days Like These (TPB)

There's a perennial debate on which creative setup works best in comics, the collaboration or the solo creator. With superior examples on both sides, of course, there is no definitive answer, but for every good example, there's at least as many bad ones.

Creator/writer/artist Mario Gully's intriguing concept - eight-year old Hannah Washington creates an imaginary world in her journal, a world where she is the powerful superhero known as Ant, a world that may not be as imaginary as it seems - has lots of potential, but, unfortunately, it qualifies as Exhibit A for the case against solo work; the old jack of all trades, master of none dilemma.

Days Like These, collecting the first four issues of the series published by Arcana Studios, isn't an origin story, per se, but it's also not a blind leap into the middle of Ant's world. The story opens with Hannah's father being arrested in front of her, enroute to her first day of fourth grade. While he sits in jail, she gets a police escort to school which leads to both her being tormented by fellow students and a meeting with her new, incredibly insensitive principal. After getting nailed in the head with a rock after school, she drops her journal and we get our first introduction to Ant through the eyes of another student who picks it up and reads through it.

The plot - for which Arcana publisher Sean O'Reilly, and Ken Flavin are also credited - is a rather generic whodunnit with Hannah's father as the prime suspect, with some psychological twists that feel a bit under-researched and awkwardly written. We follow her desperate efforts to recover her journal and convince the disbelieving adults around her that she can help exonerate him. Aided by an attractive police officer following a hunch, and, after some terribly-scripted soul-searching, her estranged mother, Hannah's journey is a tragic one. That's the emotion Ant is reaching for, at least.

I suspect Mario Gully is primarily an artist - and a pretty good one, nicely complemented by Stefani Rennee's strong coloring - because Ant's a sexy badass in a painted-on red suit; the silent love child of Spider-Man and the She-Hulk. Unfortunately, she didn't inherit either of their senses of humor. While the fight scenes are energetic and appropriately superheroic, the major flaw in the overall story is its deadly serious tone, and Gully's writing skills aren't up to the task. Tina Gully's either, based on her "Script Assists" credit.

Too many scenes feel like they were researched by watching episodes of NYPD Blue and the Dr. Phil show, ringing false and frequently inhibiting the suspension of disbelief that's so necessary for an ambitious story like this.

Let me explain something to you. Paul Hugo was a very powerful man in this city. His financial contributions have built this department. Now the FBI is breathing down my neck. I don't need them taking over this investigation. The deputy chief will have my ass. Hunches...are not acceptable.

"Sniff" She's right. I've never been there for her. I wasn't there when she needed me. I was too busy running the streets. Doing my thing... S...Shaking my ass for money...always trying to get drugs and other people's attention. She needed me and I gave her excuses.
Arcana's marketing for the trade paperback includes the hyperbolic tagline, "the MOST SHOCKING ENDING EVER." While obviously overstated, Gully does deliver a nice twist that offers some hope for the next arc. At the same time, though, it calls into question everything that's preceded it, leaving me with a vague sense of bait and switch that I wasn't sure I was happy with.

Interestingly, the likelihood of my following Ant into her next arc decreased significantly a couple of weeks ago with the announcement that Gully was switching publishers, jumping ship from Arcana over to Image starting in September. I was never a big fan of Image when they burst onto the scene back in 1992 with their overhyped, creator-owned titles featuring great artwork and lackluster writing, and, purely coincidentally, I don't currently follow a single Image title, so I find this switch somewhat ironic. Hopefully Gully's deal came with a strong co-writer who can properly mine the great potential in his concept and let him focus on the artwork.

Ant: Days Like These (Arcana Studios, $9.95); Story, Pencils & Inks by Mario Gully; Plot by Mario Gully, Sean O'Reilly and Ken Flavin; Script Assists by Tina Gully; Coloring by Stefani Rennee.

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