4 out of 5
There are comic book writers who are forevermore identifiable as themselves. And one reason why I think it’s valuable to reread comics (or books, or rewatch movies and etc.) is to see how our opinions on something can shift as our own experiences are added to, or with our perspectives added to by whatever we’ve read in the interim. So authors who are still standouts – say, Alan Moore, whom I’ve cooled on over the years but is undeniably a tried and true original – can be seen in their impact in creators who’ve followed their mold, sometimes improving on their formulas in notable ways.
But there’s one dude who I’ve never really seen replicated, or iterated on: Steve Gerber. I mean, Steve riffed on himself unsuccessfully sometimes, leaning into the more nonsensical stuff for which he was known, and you’ll definitely get writers who are clearly trying to mine somea that snarky social humor commentary, but when Steve is on, there is absolutely nothing else like it, and it’s presented in such a way that it feels easy to conclude that there never will be.
What has continued to amaze me when revisiting Steve’s entire catalogue is not only how well the stuff holds up, but also how varied his version of “on” was. Void Indigo, for example, is as unlike anything else in Steve’s oeuvre as it is unlike anything else since. The fantasy elements surely popped up in Man-Thing, and its brittle opinions on society were prevalent always – and yes, Linette, the only main female character, is somewhat of the HTD Beverly mold – but: the overall tone, and the way these elements combine, makes for a standalone event of a comic. This also might be the most consistently impressive Val Mayerik art I’ve ever seen.
…When I first read VI, I know I was approaching it thinking of its infamy: the aborted ongoing series that followed this GN being rather infamously reviewed as a “crime against humanity.” I’ve revisited it a few times since, but almost always as an afterthought to the individual issues, which are never as strong as a I want them to be. Going in the proper order, with this Marvel Graphic Novel as the 48-page intro to the story of reincarnated warrior Ath’agaar, I experience a wholly new excitement at what could’ve been. Steve takes a couple of somewhat typical concepts – swords n’ sorcery “Dark Lords” vs. a brutal Conan-type; an alien trying to live out a disguised life on Earth while rebuilding its crashed ship – and mashes them together with his convincing, lyrical narrative style. In truth, the stitching is quite a bit of nonsense, putting Ath’agaar and his Dark Lord enemies into a cycle of death and rebirth linked in the ethereal plane of Void Indigo, but this is no more nonsense than any other mythically-fueled fantasy tale, and Mayerik’s painted art and Steve’s flowing pen make it immersive as all get out. I also love how bravely savage it is: Ath’agaar is not a nice guy, particularly, and so there’s a bitterness to the revenge he ends up seeking; that is, it’s not that it’s just the heavenly hero gets wronged and so we’re supporting him, more just that we’re witness to some gnarly torture – mostly off-panel, but given weight by, again, Mayerik’s framing and Gerber’s words – and then caught up in the spiritual hoodoo that follows, trapping our barbarian in his foes in an inescapable loop of life and death and life again that can only be escaped by…
…Well, that’s where things start to get a little clunky. Steve needs to set up his ongoing book, and so Void Indigo feels like it’s missing some of the exact justifications needed to get us from point A – Ath vs. Lords – to point C – Ath, regenerated as the alien Jhagur, crashed to our modern day Earth and hunting the similarly regenerated Lords. It’s very easy (and fun) to go with this, but when Linette is used as the proxy for sidestepping some lacking explanations – she just titters whenever Jhagur uses a device to hide his alien skin under the guise of a human being – you can feel that we’re being hurried along to a more issue-by-issue format to follow. To clarify, Linette has room to grow – she’s not exactly a ditz, and Steve uses her in the positive fashion he did with a few of his female characters, Bev included, giving her a sense of agency in her role in things (even if that agency is “easy-going enough to not care about the alien living with her”) – but her potential for growth is all speculative at this point.
Anyhow, the rough edges aside, I circle back around to how exciting this book is to read, even though I know the story never got to go anywhere. It’s just so damned cool, because of how unpredictable its tweaks on formula feel; how off it is to set our main character up as something of an asshole, whose goal is, essentially, to die – to end the cycle of rebirth. And while cinematic splash pages may be sort of staid nowadays, seeing Mayerik’s moody, savage work (particularly in the barbarian sequences) in a Marvel book is otherworldly weird.