Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Zuda review Ares Imperative/ Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Blah. Dead bodies!

The Ares Imperative is a Zuda contestant done by Steve Ekstrom, Mikael Bergkvist & Jesse Turnbull. The art's good, the story is exposition talking head monotony, and this post is expanding on my comments at MPD57's blog. Here is the Synopsis: It’s the early 21st Century and corporations continue to manipulate world governments as emerging quasi-religious science cults and techno-centric international terrorists are beginning to develop their own biological weapons mapped out in human genomes. Special Agent Adam Geist operates covertly within the framework of the ultra-classified PROJECT ARES division of the C.I.A. under the supervision of Deputy Director Ted Gerard and his assistant Maxwell Clearwater. Geist does not fully comprehend the processes, which he has undergone as a part of PROJECT ARES but numerous studies have revealed that alien mitochondria have asserted control of his DNA—altering his higher intelligence functions and his nervous system receptor processing speed. He has become sensitive to electromagnetic fields and has developed heightened senses, which include something akin to Wi-Fi reception. His skin is capable of rapid, localized cellular density adaptation—making him virtually bulletproof. Due to the secret nature of his existence and the fear that a “super-man” would create in light of the unstable relations between the U.S. and other world powers, Geist is under strict orders: he must eliminate anyone—friend or foe—who learns of his uncanny abilities. Sadly, as he grows in power, his own humanity diminishes from the actualization of his computer-like brain—and now, evidence is beginning to surface that his own strange biology may, in fact, be malevolent in nature…

Refitted pages have only ever really worked for Supertron
I think

According to Mikael the story was reformatted to fit Zuda, which could explain the never ending word balloons, and lack of any appreciable action. Thankfully the letters are easy to read. Also according to Mikael and Steve later on the action elements increase significantly. I don't want say you can only really judge by what you see in the 8 screens. Their is also an element of promise where a reader has to be their own judge about what they can expect should the story continue. The impending coolness promise factor wasn't there for me with this strip. It really is just one long exposition conversation until you get to the last screen corpses -and the characters talk over that. The red Hexagon's showing Geist's mental powers at work was a neat design element. I couldn't help but think the blabbing buddy banter could have been further reformatted to pick up the pace. I expect a little set-up with the Kane future bad guy back story, but it continued on for the rest of the comic. The art is good, but their is a limit to the number of interesting visuals you can squeeze out of different angles at a abandoned factory. A chemistry lesson didn't make for a grabbing read, but was kind of a hint Chemical Lad was the writer's favorite Legionnaire. "According to our field agents two unidentified middle eastern males had been making soft inquires into purchasing this refinery. The local real estate agent who had been sent to give the tour of the grounds had been reported missing by his wife three days ago. His remains were found a meter from the trap door to this room." All that one sided conversation between two talking heads didn't have to be as uninteresting as it was. This was a perfect place for a voice over. You know we see the images of a real estate agent's body being found, those suspicious looking characters, cut to/back as Ted talks to add some new images. For that matter a few flashback panels being talked over of Kane could have helped show the villain and make this a better comic. Ted doing the voice over thing for different and varied images could have made this comic so much better to me as a reader. It's hard to get me excited about the mystery angle when it's just two guys talking. These creators had the opportunity for some really interesting images and they didn't do it -why?

The Six Million Dollar Man would be worth $29,679,529.41 in
today's dollars

You can play it safe in a Zuda submission, or you can put yourself out there on either side of the spectrum. Meaning you can do the half/half split the difference option when it comes to exposition vs. action. The other route is to focus on the 8 screens being mostly a fight scene, or mostly talking. If you have a lead character who is bullet proof, and only 8 screens to grab readers interest, might not be a bad idea to have Adam get shot... The last two screens deal with this story's second unit C.I.A. director Jim, and Carl. The art is very good on these screens, I liked the way to snow effect was handled. I don't know anyone who still smokes a pipe, but I liked Carl's look of surprise in panel 3. I have to give Turnbull credit, he does an excellent job on the colors. It was also a good scene to end on, but the cliff-hanger dread of the dead bodies was muted thanks to the excess wordage/repetitive imagery it took to get there. The comic had two many possibilities for good storytelling in the 8 screens it didn't take advantage of, to be in the running for my vote on the grounds of future promise.


  1. This assessment is a lot more fair than the blurb comments from the Star Chamber. I agree--that this was a gamble. When Jesse and I came onto the project the pages were done and Mikael had attempted to write it himself--but his knowledge of our culture, our method of speaking, and our government was all based on stuff he'd seen on film, in comics, or on television--so it was very lacked proper nouns.

    My mistake resides in the fact that I wrote a comic that I would want to read. I read heavy stuff Planetary, LoEG, Hellboy, Walking Dead, and The Unknown Soldier--books that all rely on exposition and dramatic dialog. I'm new to the webcomic environment but I'll say--90% of what I find online has almost no appeal to me as a reader--because its too simple.

    Now, before we read too far into that last statement, allow me to expand: there are lots good stories on the web and lots of people may like them but I'm pretty picky--some folks might even call me a snob because of my background in literature/ creative writing and my near-30 years as a reader of comics, books, whatever.

    I appreciate your remarks, wholeheartedly. But I do not subscribe to the idea that a comic has to have action in it or that it has to start "in medias res" for it to be technically and competently sound. A lot of questions had to be asked before we could start exploring the story. So we set up a "PROLOGUE"--I was really kind of baffled that the word itself has yet to be mentioned...because I don't think people understand how a prologue functions.

    The sad thing is--our action starts in the next 8 page installment: there are explosions, drugs, alien liquids, the jungle of COlombia, and a guy using his belt combined with a super-computer brain to escpace imprisonment.

    I agree that the exposition was a bit wordy--but that's only because I really feel that the readership's collective intelligence is patronized by 90% of what they read. Comic book readers aren't dumb by any stretch of the imagination. I also wanted to disorient casual readers with so much "build up" that they would say, "Wow, this fucker has a lot to offer--IF I VOTE FOR IT--it will repay me with tons of dense reading."

    Apparently, the strategy--of appealing to your desires for something that would provide more than 30 seconds of entertainment per page--seriously backfired.

    It's definitely a strategy I won't use again in this format. I'll just write a book about a kid from the future who can blow up buildings with his farts who is trapped in a plastic bubble so he's forced to smell them by himself.

    The difference here is that my name is Steve Ekstrom--I'm a relative unknown who wrote a wordy comic strip and people balked because it was "too much to read". If my name were Warren Ellis and I wrote this strip with this much dialog--you guys wouldn't have blinked once. And if he heard that someone said it was too much to read--he'd have much more colorful things to say than I do. :)

    Thanks for your time, I loved your review--your points are valid.

    Want to learn more about us? Here's a piece on The Ares Imperative on Newsarama that went up this morning.

  2. First thanks for reading the review. The Star Chamber boils things down to the main point of it, I just expanded on my reasons here. Answering the "why do you think that?" question is something I think everyone appreciates, so happy to do it.
    I agree in the middle of things isn't always the best option either, depends on a lot of variable factors.
    I think Ellis has gone off the rails every now, and again with the wordage. ;)
    I'm not generally a fan of gag-a-day strips, anything zombie related, or typical genre fare, so a great number of 'web comics' don't grab me as a reader either. That being typed out it's not 'web comic' formats/expectations that is the issue for Zuda contestants. It's Zuda comics format (I don't mean technical issues like aspect ratio's) a different breed considering it's a 8 screen contest showcase. Zuda pace is a brand apart. Getting the word out is still probably a bigger deciding factor than how many Zuda regular voters go your way. Give it another go if you don't win, but skip the fart Boy IP. :)