3 out of 5
The similarities between this “mini” and the preceding Predator one exposes a potential positive, whether intended or a happy accident: That ‘Life and Death’ is being written and edited as one story and not individual books. Which would seem like the obvious path, but that’s not always the case in comics. A shared editor between titles (Randy Stradley in this case) doesn’t guarantee a unified vision, nor even does the same writer. Just take a glance at the market and notice how many people are working on multiple books. Abnett’s a pro, but his 2000 AD training can be a plus or minus in situations like that as his flexibility and writing speed may encourage a lack of consistency if you’re following him around whole-heartedly; in other words, he writes for the title. This makes him an awesome plug-and-play type creator, but again, unless you’re dealing with his creator-owned works which are obviously more under his control, you have to taste-test the title first to see if it works. And with an interlocking series like Life and Death, it won’t be clear how it’s envisioned until we’re a good ways through it, which is why it’s a good sign that this “feels” like the Predator title. But I’m definitely attributing some of that back to the editor. We read a little bit in the back matter about aligning character designs (each mini will have a different artist), and how timing – to keep this series published on pace, another important task to the editor that helps maintain story momentum – led to Prometheus artist Andrea Mutti having to work on the look for a character so it could be passed to Predator artist Brian Albert Thies; that hints at the other possible considerations that have kept the scene transitions, coloring style, and foreground / background focus stylistically in sync between the two titles. And why is this all important? Well, true, it doesn’t have to be. But, re-referencing 2000 AD, I consider some of the month-spanning storylines I read there and accept that I probably wouldn’t be as engaged if they were told in a more traditional 22-page, every 30 days format (sure, not extending this thought process to the Judge Dredd Megazine, although the same sort of applies, just that 2000 AD acts as a tonal bridge of sorts); the consistency of editorial vision, the quick rollout, and the awareness of the story as a whole and not needing wedged in cliffhangers does a lot to keep me happy as a reader. So I really am getting the same vibe with Life and Death, which is thus a good thing.
That preamble amounts to the same pluses and minuses as Predator applying: That the story moves incredibly quickly, and that looking at it as a complete story is definitely a fake-out. Since we’re already dealing with an expansive cast – which Abnett has pretty skillfully snap-characterized without over-cliche-ing anyone – the added crew (presumably from the connected Fire and Ice series) initially feel like clutter, but Dan keeps his focus primarily on his characters, so it ends up working. Although I found myself rushing through the issues – they’re not too dense – and then going back to get all the characters and plot beats straight, which helped to enhance the positives. The main positive being that the series is pretty exciting and tense, which is tough to accomplish with the trio of eternal baddies like the aliens, predators, and “engineers.”. And I was a bit miffed that these issues didn’t solely feature the Prometheus character as the antagonist, but as with the “conclusion” – which is just a straight-up lead-in to the next mini – once you accept that the groupings are just sort of, y’know, there, like guideposts, it’s fine.
I initially was very turned off by Mutti’s art, but really, it just lacks texture. This was fine with Thies’ painted style, but Mutti’s sketchy linework and Rain Beredo’s colors are pure comic book, and they don’t depict the hard edges of the machinery or outfits very well. Everything looks “soft.” During sequences where this texture would work, such as jungle fights, I gained more appreciation for the clear framing or characterization, which made rereading the issues more enjoyable. And, as mentioned, there’s some nice consistency with the Predator book in terms of pacing and especially the way non-focus characters are cast in extreme shadow (which is weird, but maybe necessary with the big cast). I still don’t think the art on the series has been any special highlight, but it’s not detracting from the energy and everyone’s delivering on time.
This seems like a lot of analysis for what was a brief read.