Current Reviews


El Arsenal: Unknown Enemy #1

Posted: Friday, August 26, 2005
By: Kelvin Green

Writer: Salvador Vazquez Mtz.
Artist: Daniel Pérez Sánchez
Translator: Carlos García Campillo

Publisher: Arcana Studio

Let’s get the desperately unfunny jokes out of the way right now; firstly, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp sadly do not make appearances in this comic, and secondly the creators should probably think twice about referring to themselves as the “Arse Crew” on the credits page, unless they actually are a troupe of strippers when they’re not doing comics.

Right, the comic itself then. This book gets one automatic bullet for not being a superhero comic; instead it’s a near-future science fiction tale that could be broadly accurately described as Cowboy Bebop with more emphasis on the “Cowboy” bit (although there are musical influences here too, notably in the chapter titles). Since one of the great unrealised truths in the American comics market is that the medium is absolutely perfect for doing science fiction, that’s great to see. Although to be fair, this appears to originally have been a Mexican title, and they’ve obviously got their heads screwed on properly down there, as they play proper football. Anyway…

This isn’t a particularly compelling issue in terms of plot, but the creators do a wonderful job of setting the mood; there’s a dirty, grimy air to the whole thing that really evokes that Western feel. The palette consists largely of dusty oranges, browns and yellows, and the characters are rough and ready types that any Western fan will recognise; the men are grim, the women are tough, and the cannon fodder are grimy and predatory sorts that hang around in gangs and will slit anyone’s throat to get what they want. Even the plot, such as it is, evokes that Western imagery; this issue introduces us to a handful of protagonists and slowly starts to bring them together, echoing the first quarter or so of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

There’s some good work done with the art too; storytelling is clear, and the comic as a whole has that rich, sumptuous look common to European work (which I like a lot) combined with an almost anime-esque visual style (which I’m not so fond of, but it’s done well here). The character designs are pretty good too, although the main protagonist Simón is a tad Wolverineish, and all of the main characters look a bit like action figure designs. And for all I know they may be.

What doesn’t work nearly so well is the scripting, although I’m inclined to be lenient due to the possibility of translation issues. The dialogue is unconvincing and artificial, and none of the characters sound like real people as a result; it’s actually a lot like watching a badly dubbed or subbed foreign film, which I suppose in a way, this is. There’s also a gratuitous bit of infodump on the fourth page that’s rather unnecessary as it doesn’t tell us anything that we need to know as yet, and the general mood and feel of the setting is conveyed quite well enough through the art and characterisation.

To be honest, I picked this up out of desperation; I’m getting bored of superheroes and I’m looking for other genres to fill that void, particularly science fiction. But this turned out to be much better than I thought; a compelling read that does a great job of both introducing the characters and their world and setting the mood. I’m slightly concerned that the subsequent issues will simply be a series of firefights, but this is a good start.

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