by Randy Lander ATHENA INC.: THE MANHUNTER PROJECT #1

Mildly Recommended (5/10)

Image Comics
Writer: Brian Holguin
Artist: Jay Anacleto

Price: $2.95 US/$4.50 CAN

I was pretty impressed with Athena Inc.: The Beginning, and I was looking forward to seeing where Holguin and Anacleto would take the regular series. Unfortunately, while this issue still shows off the potential of the concept and some absolutely stunning artwork, it highlights a potential problem for the unusual storytelling style the pair have adopted. In a word, the problem is confusion, as it is often very hard to discern who is talking and to whom they are talking, especially since there's plenty of dialogue that takes place entirely in the lead character's head.

For such an action-oriented premise, Athena Inc. seems to be a fairly cerebral premise. The action is left mostly in the reader's imagination, since get only snapshots of the characters throughout a lot of text. The focus of the story is on the interaction between Mary and her alternate personality and the playful banter she has with her handler while on the mission. Mary has a distorted sense of reality, trying to fit implanted memories into the cold reality that her bosses would prefer she has, and that mixture of normal and sweet personality with that of a cold-blooded assassin makes for a fascinating dichotomy.

However, the storytelling choices made here are a bit odd. Anacleto's artwork is beautiful, but it is barely dripped out to the reader in this format, in largely unremarkable scenes that hint at what's going on more than telling the reader anything. Holguin is deliberately playing up a contrast between the pictures and the text, which means that it is often very hard to tell who is who. Though the cast of characters is fairly limited, there is still a reasonable amount of confusion as to where Gwen is at any given time and what she's doing. In addition, her fractured personality often makes it hard to get a grasp on what she's talking about.

Athena Inc. relies on a lot of atmosphere, but it could use more of an explanation. If I hadn't read the solicitations, I would have no idea that the story centered around an assassin with two personalities. In fact, I'd have only the vaguest idea what the book is about, probably thinking that it was a book about a female assassin working for a shadowy group of operators, which seems to be only the most cliched elements of the story. A little more explanation, whether in comics form or simply in a text explanation of the premise, would help considerably.

Bottom line, Athena Inc. is a book with a talented creative team and a lot of potential. But while the illustrated text format gives it an unusual strength and style than one would expect from this genre, it also causes problems as far as keeping the reader informed and entertained. A little more interaction between pictures and words would do the comic a world of good.


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by Randy Lander ATHENA INC.: THE MANHUNTER PROJECT #2

Neutral (3/10)

Image Comics
Writer: Brian Holguin
Artist: Jay Anacleto

Price: $2.95 US/$4.50 CAN

This has a solid creative team and an interesting concept, but the experimental storytelling method just isn't working for the rather straightforward material. Instead of using the comic-book format, the team is using beautiful illustrations by Jay Anacleto and different captions for different voices written by Haberlin, a sort of illustrated text with a twist. The problem is, this is kind of like doing a big-budget action movie by using flip cards or writing a tense political thriller in iambic pentameter. Nothing's wrong with the idea or the method, but they're not suited to one another. Athena Inc. could be a fast-paced action thriller with interesting psychological undertones if done as a comic, but instead its an exercise in frustration as the reader tries to piece together what Haberlin and Anacleto want us to see.

Anacleto's work on the book is nothing short of gorgeous, and it's his photo-realistic artwork that remains the strong point of the book. If you ignore that there's supposed to be a story and just look at the images, this is a pretty solid read, with some stirring and grotesque images as well as perfect anatomy that is rarely seen in comics. I'm also quite impressed by Anacleto's colors, which tend toward single shades and have a look as distinctive as his linework.

Unfortunately, as a storyteller, Anacleto's work falls far short. We get snapshots that occasionally have meaning, but they don't piece together terribly well. I get a general sense of what's going on, but I'm kept at such a distance from the story that I never feel any connection to the story. There's riveting stuff here, including a secret agent taking on three highly-trained assassins and murdering an assassin on a plane, as well as discovering a message from her submerged personality scrawled on a bathroom mirror, and yet I never feel any emotional ramifications from it. My heart isn't racing during the action scenes, my mind isn't a little shaken by the horrific after-effects of the violence and I feel no sympathy for the terrible position that Gwen is in, living with a psychotic personality inside her head. The format is constantly reminding me that it's only a story, instead of drawing me in.

Of course, the blame for this does not fall entirely on Anacleto's shoulders. Haberlin sprinkles the book liberally with text, including a variety of nonsensical "strategy" notes and a full page of quotes that don't really connect. Presumably, these are meant to create a mood, but all they wind up doing is adding extraneous bits of text in a story that is already not very clear. The biggest problem, though, is in the action scenes, when the dialogue between the characters seems too dry and mundane to give us any real sense of a big martial arts fight and shooutout going on.

This book frustrates me, because I think that if the creators took a more straightforward approach to the storytelling, they'd have one hell of a great story on their hands. They've mixed elements of La Femme Nakita and Dark Angel into a perfect vehicle for action and conspiracy stories, but they're squandering it with a format that could not be more wrong for the material.


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© @thena Inc. Copyright Brian Holguin & Jay Anacleto