Atavar HC – Dan Abnett

4 out of 5

Writer Dan Abnett’s and artist Richard Elson’s Atavar went across two runs in 2000 AD, 8-part and 7-part thrills. That’s a fair amount of room, except the scope of the title is just massive – not unusual for the way Dan’s brain works – and it definitely stumbles at points in trying to juggle its setup with its centralized drama. But the ideas are so much fun, and build up to such intense peaks in the story, that it absolutely earns back whatever it loses from those stumbles.

Part of the fun of the strip is learning the premise, but the top-down view is that, in the far future, humans are extinct, and other races are threatened similarly by the space-encroaching UOS. The Kalen race, one of the struggling survivors of this ongoing UOS-versus war, have resurrected a particular human named Atavar in order to tap in to some secrets tying our species to the aggressors… Not that Atavar, are POV character, remembers anything of that, and is instead dragged along for the ride, getting filled in on the details of what’s what just as we are.

One thing Abnett has done across many of his sci-fi / fantasy tales is to flip the expected script: even though a human is at the forefront of our story, the Kalen – depicted in the way we might envisage an invading alien race, as big and muscular and toothy – our fleshed out to come across as a three-dimensional species, with its own sense of history and lore. Atavar reacts to them, initially, in a way that matches those expectations – with fear – but soon establishes a rapport, and identifies similarities between their race and his own. But that’s just one part of things. As mentioned, there’s some stumble in getting the story to its midway point – a crux in events with the UOS – but we launch into incredibly fascinating territory when the timeline jumps ahead thereafter, introducing another surviving race, the dual-identitied Binods, and further pushing us out of our comfort zone of human characters, as much of the cast is completely inhuman.

Elson’s art has a bit of a digital wash to it in the story’s first half, but his strength with notable character designs and settings is fully intact, and the second half just looks phenomenal. The over-sized hardcover collection is a great way to absorb the artwork. A bonus sketchbook page is an appreciated add-on.

It is, of course, a bummer that we haven’t gotten more Avatar, but Dan’s a prolific dude and has gifted us with a ton of other great stories since. This is still a story to read, though, and it definitely benefits from being able to read it all in one collection.