Axe Cop has been struggling for a while now to overcome the limitations of structure which it used to revel in. A comic created by a twenty-something artist and his younger brother, the series burst forwards through short, three-panel jokes and one-page splash ideas. After moving into the traditional 20-ish-page format of standard comics, however, the momentum slowed down somewhat, taking the central charm of the premise with it.
That premise being that the series is conceived by the 5-year old Malachai Nicolle, and then turned into a comic by his brother Ethan. The plots are formed by Malachai and Ethan getting a bunch of toys and playing war games with them, creating strange characters and adventures which centre around "Axe Cop." He's a strict, violent, silly character, a police office who chops off the heads of bad guys and has sidekicks including a laser-firing dog, laser-firing dinosaur and somebody called "Leaf Man." This issue marks the second attempt at a long-form story from the brothers, after last year's Bad Guy Earth miniseries. It's an improvement, but the long-form format still troubles the writing.
For the first time, Ethan's artwork outshines his brother's madcap ideas, with a number of brilliant, subtle jokes to be found in the art. His storytelling is improving as well, with smarter panel progressions and great timing in the positioning of the jokes. On a technical level, the storyboarding is smoother and allows for greater clarity in the narrative, and Ethan picks his pauses well. The art looks more polished than before, and the new character designs are immediately fun, and allow the reader to instantly know what a character is going to bring to the scene, without needing to read the words.
Malachai's story is, as before, strained as a result of the format. Over two or three panels he could pack a number of role-reversals, twists and spur-of-the-moment nonsense into each strip, but when he's asked to play out a story which lasts longer he struggles. Partly because it's hard to keep the bright, silly tone up for an extended period of time (have you ever TRIED to keep a kid's interest for more than ten minutes? It's impossible) and partly because the characters aren't meant to be used like this. The characters aren't developed — that's the point of them — but a long-form story relies on readers investing in the characters. You can't do that with a bunch of joke characters — not in a setting like this one.
So the story is a little thin, and relies on some strong jokes to ease readers past the awkwardness of the narrative. The characters are still fun, and they've somehow still been able to find ways to keep Axe Cop himself enjoyable, even with all the twists and changes made to him over the past three years. The art is bright and smart, and Ethan is growing stronger at adapting Malachai's ideas. But this isn't the right format for Axe Cop, and as Malachai grows older, his stories grow more self-aware and less spontaneous. It's still a fun issue, but it's even more throwaway than ever and suggests that perhaps it's time to wind down the epic stories in favor of shorter pieces — switching to something more like Fred The Clown's structure would work wonders for the character.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.