Writer: John Jackson Miller
Artist: Steve Ellis
Publisher: Marvel Epic
Gennedy, A Russian college student stumbles across an artifact buried within the archives of the University of Moscow. The object turns out to be a helmet belonging to Iron Man’s former foe: The Crimson Dynamo. Gennedy has no idea of the power he now possesses, but faced with a mundane life within the former Soviet Union the helmet is the perfect solution to a dull Saturday night.
One of the driving motivations behind Marvel’s Epic imprint was to take existing Marvel characters and present them in new and hopefully compelling situations. Certainly countless fans and aspiring writers recognized the opportunity to wedge an appendage in the door at The House of Ideas while telling offbeat stories utilizing lesser-known, subordinate characters. When the Epic Web site was unveiled some months ago word on the Internet surfaced of thousands of scripts already piled high on the desk of Epic editor Stephanie Moore – my own script buried somewhere among them. Subsequently, news emerged that existing Marvel talent and industry press would be creating the initial Epic stories. Naturally this didn’t sit well with the multitudes of no-name writers who sent in their work, many of whom still wait for word on their fate – myself included. Now a lot of this info is just hearsay, but as the second Epic title debuts: “Crimson Dynamo”, written by John Jackson Miller of Krause Publication’s “Comics Buyer Guide”, I can be sure at least some of my facts were true.
What is Crimson Dynamo? A robotic warrior and sometime foe of Iron Man created by a Russian scientist during the height of the cold war. The Dynamo armor currently rests dormant, deep within a Siberian Gulag – its creator long since dead. That’s the backdrop to Miller’s story, which only becomes apparent about halfway through the book. Miller spends the first part of the comic introducing us to Gennedy, a lackluster Russian teenager attending the University of Moscow. The book opens on an Internet chat discussion between Gennedy and a young American girl who may or may not be an X-Man. The discussion serves as exposition so that we can learn about Gennedy’s sad, dull life story growing up in the former Soviet Union, where apparently no one has a decent job, there are only 12 TV stations and parents sell their children’s toys to buy food. The problem is that Miller’s descriptions and characters aren’t believable and worse they’re terribly clichéd. Consider the scenes at Gennedy’s home where his stepfather watches a tiny, 12” TV and rails at the “Capitalist” ads, or the college scene where Gennedy’s professor openly insults him for being a loser and a petty criminal for stealing batteries out of all the school’s clocks. If this is how life really is in modern day Russia, then maybe Miller should have picked a more interesting locale.
Gennedy has a part-time job in the University’s archives, transporting boxes of old files to the computer lab where the paper documents are scanned into the mainframe. Gripping drama, yes? One afternoon Gennedy finds a random box containing a cool metal helmet – since Gennedy rides a motor scooter through the streets of Moscow in the dead of winter this is quite a find. As luck would have it the helmet is also the headpiece to the Crimson Dynamo armor – surprised? Me either. Several obligatory mishaps later Gennedy begins to understand that he’s stumbled across something special and unwittingly activates a homing signal, causing the Dynamo armor to bust out of prison and begin hiking towards Moscow – I had to wonder what would have happened if Gennedy had found the Dynamo’s leg instead of its helmet, would the armor be crawling its way across the tundra?
Fortunately, the art in Crimson Dynamo is somewhat more refined. Marvel was wise to insist that each junior writer be partnered with an experienced artist. Steve Ellis contributes both pencils and inks to this story and achieves something very similar to the work of Jim Mahfood. The end result feels polished yet maintains an Indy feel. While Ellis’s inks are a bit heavy, his vision of the Dynamo armor is really terrific and he positions his camera such that there is no doubt that is a massive, hulking chunk of alloy. Ellis’s style is overall pretty amusing and light, which may not fit a story where the themes are repression and man vs. machine.
John Jackson Miller has crafted a poor man’s H-E-R-O (see DC Comics if you don’t get my sorry reference), wherein the central character has found a device of untold power and learns how to use it through trial and error. This s a tired premise, but there’s potential in telling it from a non-American point of view, unfortunately Miller’s interpretation of Russia seems steeped in 1990s TV and movie parodies of post-Soviet society and doesn’t feel remotely believable. If there’s a built-in audience for second tier Iron Man villains then perhaps Crimson Dynamo will sustain for a five or six issue run. Based on what I’ve seen so far there’s little to draw me back for the next issue, other than the swell artwork by Steve Ellis.
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