‘Agent 1.22 goes to Phobos to retrieve Project Vulcan from an outpost ravaged by the Tempest Virus. While there she must choose between the mission and a man.’
Created by: Tom Dheere, Angelo Panetta, and David Martin
Written by: Stephan Wilson
Art by: Doug Schuler
Publisher: DPM Publishing
Released: 19 April 2017
This one had an interesting enough cover and art for me to come back to it a week after I first saw it. That high sci-fi look is a real draw, and even better that it reflects the issue art as well. It’s already broadcasting its problems (hello navel window, what the hell are you doing here?) but I want to give it a chance.
Obviously that lovely digital painting art style is the first thing you notice about this. At first glance I thought it was computer graphics work, but painting is even more impressive. It’s not fast or easy to do – digital painting is often seen as easier to do than traditional painting, however they each have their harder and easier parts and take a lot of work to be good at. There’s great work with colour schemes informing the environment and mood here, with cold blues and greens imbuing the holographic computer use and warm, almost sickly yellows tainting a tense flashback. Details abound in places like delicate computer displays, and the effort put in to building these backgrounds and scenes shows.
I think Schuler is let down in two places though; firstly, his wonderful painting in Agent 1.22 is noticeably prone to stiff character poses. There’s little fluidity and emotion to the movement portrayed or the body language, and that’s a distracting point in a visual art medium like comics. It’s surprising, as Schuler is a very experienced artist who’s done work for Magic: The Gathering cards amongst other high-profile places, and it doesn’t seem to be an issue with his other work outside of some of the digital painting. I can understand if it’s a result of the compromise needed for the amount of artwork a whole comic issue (let alone a series) done completely in this style needs; nevertheless, half the time you could believe the characters are modelled from mannequins or action figures. Or like Barbies, to segue into the second problem; as you’ve probably guessed from the cover, there’s an issue with inadvisably applied sexiness for our protagonist and unusual bustiness in the villain. While the poses mostly aren’t too sexualised in general, the Agent’s outfit design doesn’t fit in with an otherwise practical techno world. What a character wears in a work of fiction doesn’t exactly have a need to be realistic, but one of the big problems with chainmail bikini syndrome is that it’s so unpractical (or weirdly appears to be intended for practicality but couldn’t possibly work) in favour of showing skin for the reader/viewer that it abandons all hope for suspension of disbelief. This seems to be something that crops up a lot more regularly for Schuler’s work – it’s like he was influenced by Frank Frazetta, but only when it comes to drawing female characters. The Agent’s swimsuit size outfit does have a cool idea showing in the details; it just needed to be formed around ‘what would work for someone in this type of situation?’ rather than the apparent ‘armour because she’s a fighter, but it needs to be sexy’.
DPM Publishing A definite case of amazing anti-grav tits
The writing carries the story better – the plot is straight out of Star Trek if Captain Kirk was a female cyborg built for ass-kicking. It also shares with Star Trek a lack of subtlety on the plot points. I’m not fond of romance plots (they tend to be crammed into everything) however this one is entwined with an interesting survival/political one. The backstory hints are interesting though slightly creepy, and I don’t know if it’s in an intentional way; another problem with her sexualised outfit is that it places that shadow over everything else. It still does its job of setting up some interesting character dynamics and foreshadowing for later issues (there’s an issue #0, but I haven’t read it). Wilson, himself a veteran of several comics publishers, gives the plot solid bones even though the dialogue needs polishing (see: lack of subtlety). The important part is that the Agent is given depth and emotion, and you want to follow the story.
Sci-fi has no end of options in entertainment at the moment – it’s a wonderful time to have access to so many different stories told in so many different ways. Unfortunately, I don’t think Agent 1.22 stands out enough to be specifically recommended over other works. Digital painting to this degree isn’t often seen in something that requires as much of it as ongoing visual storytelling like comics, and it really helps immerse you in that high-tech setting, but there are just too many jolts out of that storytelling to want more for me. The competent storytelling itself can’t do enough to save it when there are so many more stories to compete with. Definitely check it out if it looks interesting for you, but I won’t be watching out for the next issue.
Thanks to Comixology.com for supplying Agent 1.22 #1 for review.