Sunday Slugfest - Drax #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Kelvin Green, John Hays, Shawn Hill, Judson Miers, Jason Sacks, Dave Wallace
“Part 1: Earthfall”

Keith Dallas

For those of you unfamiliar with the character, Drax (the Destroyer) is a human soul placed within a humanoid body and given super powers in order to confront and destroy Thanos. The destruction of Thanos was Drax’s monomaniacal raison d’etre (for a more complete summary of the character, I encourage you to visit this Silver Surfer fan site), but very little about Drax and his established past is revealed throughout Drax #1. In fact, unless you have a thorough knowledge of Marvel comics history or bother to google search the name, you can’t be blamed for assuming that Drax is a new character with no established history at all. The cover to Drax #2 though indicates that the character’s history IS relevant to this mini-series.

On one hand, I admire that Drax’s predicament is left unexplained as it creates some intrigue about the character (like, how did Drax wind up on a prison transport vessel, and why does he gain intelligence as he engages in violence?). On the other hand, by avoiding divulging Drax’s past, this first issue fails to provide a sufficient narrative hook to compel readers to buy future issues. The mystery of Drax doesn’t offset the issue’s trite set-up: a transport space vessel en route to a prison station loses engine power and subsequently crashes in Alaska. Drax, along with four other alien prisoners, survive the crash and try to figure out what to do next (on a planet they realize is home to the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and a former herald of Galactus who uses a surfboard as his means of transportation). The issue’s supporting characters (not only the four other surviving prisoners but also two Alaskan teenagers curious about the spaceship wreckage) aren’t particularly compelling. As you would expect from a Keith Giffen production, the characters pester each other, and their banter is in spots humorous (but NOT like what you’d read in Defenders, thankfully: I can enjoy that in only one book a month). Truth be told, not much happens in Drax #1. Therefore, no narrative hook.

The artististic hook, however, is quite present. Mitch Breitweiser’s artwork reminds me so much of John Cassady’s. He is nowhere near Cassady’s level of brilliance as Breitweiser’s action sequences need to be improved (combatants need to look like they’re hitting each other, not missing each other), and I find too many panels with A LOT of wasted “empty space” that isn’t being filled up with dialogue. But as aided by Brian Reber’s coloring, the “photo-realistic” backgrounds, the facial expressions and the long shots are extraordinary.

So, although I’m not particularly impressed with the story at this point (I am hopeful that the second issue will get the story out of first gear), I’m excited to see more of Breitweiser’s work. This is a star on the rise.

Kelvin Green

No, hold up. There must be a misprint. The indicia says this is published by Marvel, but there’s no Wolverine appearance, and it’s not written by Bendis, and it’s actually sort of good...

A Drax miniseries didn’t immediately strike me as a winner, especially one described in promotional materials as “a dark Lilo and Stitch”*, but a couple of flaws aside, this has more potential than the past couple of years of miniseries combined, the soporific House of M included.

I immediately warmed to the general approach of the book; it’s one of those titles, like Runaways, that uses the Marvel Universe as a rich backdrop rather than a tangle of continuity to be slavishly adhered to. I loved the idea that the powerful alien criminals that crash land in Alaska are more concerned, not with global domination or even subjugating the locals, but to get the heck out of there before someone like the Fantastic Four or the Avengers turn up to smack them about a bit, and it’s that fear that drives their actions this issue, and presumably in the subsequent issues.

I also largely enjoyed the characterisation, although it was a bit muddled in places. An opening sequence on board the prison ship doesn’t introduce the cast quite as well as intended, and as a result, the rest of the issue struggles a bit with defining and distinguishing the convicts. That said, Giffen has no trouble at all putting across Paibok the Power Skrull as an untrustworthy schemer, and Drax himself is also well realised (but see below), but the Blood Brothers barely rise above the level of extras, and Lunatik is conspicuously bland for a character that’s supposed to be a Lobo pastiche. Nonetheless there’s an interesting group dynamic at work here, potentially a much more successful “non team” than the Defenders usually are, if Giffen can beef up Lunatik and the Brothers a bit. Cammi, the Lilo analogue, comes across as a very interesting and complex character, and it’ll be interesting to see how she interacts with the alien convicts; as such, she should make for a successful central character.

The art is interesting; Breitweiser shirks the Kirby or Starlin look you might expect for this title in favour of something more akin to the work of John Cassaday. It works well, and Breitweiser does an especially good job of portraying the Alaskan wilderness as a cold and rugged place. His style is a bit less textured than Cassaday’s work however, and the relative lack of detail does give things a bland unfocused look now and then (particularly with the aliens, who could have done with some Kirbytech armbands or something to jazz them up a bit), but it’s certainly no fatal flaw.

My only real concern based on this first issue is that the version of Drax used here (and I’ve not read a story featuring him since Avengers #220, so I'm largely unaware of the changes he’s been through since then) is rather indistinguishable from the Hulk, and I hope that future issues can make it more clear why this should be a Drax series and not a Hulk story arc. Otherwise, this is a very good start to a promising series and I look forward to seeing more.

* Kelvin's Pet Peeve No. 87 (of 6453) is whenever something’s described with glee as a darker version of something else, as it implies that rather naive and superficial attitude that darker is somehow and by default better (see All-Star Child Abuser Batman), a concept I'd hoped had been resoundingly proven false in the “grim 'n' gritty” fanwank frenzy of the 90’s. This example struck me as particularly foolish as it ignores the fact that Lilo & Stitch is already quite dark, and it’s difficult to see how it could be much grimmer without being gratuitous. But oh, and indeed, well.

John Hays

Scene: Large spaceship full of criminals, on its way to a space prison, crashes on Earth, leaving a small group of prisoners, including Drax the Destroyer.

Scene: Small town girl plays up tough act, complete with drunken mother and nerdy friend. Girl and nerd discover charred remains of spaceship…and prisoners.

Keith Giffen has surprised me. He’s written a comic almost entirely without his usual over the top humor, and it’s still enjoyable. Granted, my only previous exposure to his previous work has been with his humor titles. In this issue, Giffen instead uses mystery as his weapon of choice. When does this story take place? What is Drax doing on this prison ship? What’s up with his changing mentality? All questions that make me want to read more.

I mean, this issue really reads like a trailer for something much larger, which is ideal for a first issue. Points of interest are hinted at, including the fact that one of the prisoners is a power Skrull, the notion that Drax’s intelligence level is changing quickly and without any discernable cause, and the hint of a possible future appearance by Thanos if only by mentioning the purpose of Drax’s existence.

The art is enjoyable in that everyone is unique and real, and not necessarily always photogenic. I like the use of color as well, giving the faces real depth, which is getting more and more popular these days. My only complaint would be that Drax looks more like the Martian Manhunter than the standard Drax the Destroyer I’m used to. Hopefully this will end up being a plot point, and we’ll get to see the classic look at some point, cape and all.

Overall it’s an interesting premise. I just hope that Giffen’s busy schedule coming up doesn’t take away from the quality or timeliness of this work. I guess we’ll have to just keep reading to find out!

Shawn Hill

Plot: Some grumpy galoots (Lunatik, the Blood Brothers, Drax and a Skrull) are stranded in Alaska when their prison spaceship self-destructs. Some grumpy, bored children decide to check it out. Silly children. Aliens are not for kids!

Comments: This is a fun, rather mild-mannered usage of some leftovers from Marvel continuity. Giffen brings a little of his JLI humor to the miscommunications between the simpletons and the conniving (excuse me, reconnoitering) Skrull. Drax wasn’t exactly always the Hulk in the past, but a lot of writers use him that way, and in this issue his intelligence rises as the blows pummel him.

The human side of the story, miserable teens Cammi and Dex (their town has a population just shy of three thousand) - well, the high school slogan “no child left behind” is clearly excessively optimistic. Cammi’s reaction is to stir up trouble; Dex’s is to avoid it at all costs. Neither keeps them from E.B.E. fun.

Hard to see where this is going, with alien supervillain escapees and no hero in sigh-oh. Well, that’s a role Drax hasn’t tried solo, that’s for sure. No hints of the usual Starlin-heavy supporting cast poking around yet, though Giffen does have a history of picking up on Starlin projects, sometimes mid-stream. Obviously he has affection for cosmic characters. Well, me too, so let’s see more of them; pile on the Kree, the Galactican Heralds, and why not Moondragon paying a call on her deformed daddy, too?

Just no Thanos. Seriously. Done that.

Brietweiser’s style is a little bit Bryan Hitch, and it’s quite clear and strong at conveying information, despite being hampered by too-fussy word balloons of “alien speak.” This isn’t as promising as the initial issue of Black Panther, but depending on how the story goes, the creative team looks solid.

Judson Miers

I’ll have to admit that my tastes in comics are not very broad or eclectic. In fact, I’ve been called by some to be a “Marvel snob.” Growing up in the small town that I did, it was a rare treat to read a comic at all, so one couldn’t be picky. But given the choice, I would always pick a Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, etc. over anything else. With that said, I had to look up, after I read this issue, who the heck Drax was because I had never even heard a mention of him before this issue, and I can’t say I know much more about him after this issue, either.

Here’s the scoop I was able to gather…an intergalactic prison ship filled with a bunch of alien criminals (who talk either like over-stereotyped Cajuns or street punks) crashes to Earth. Apparently, all hands are lost except for the five characters that are introduced in the first few pages of the story.

What we come to learn about Drax is that he was engineered to be the most concentrated destructive force in the universe. It was revealed that he was “cobbed together to take on Thanos.” Interestingly enough, Drax’s current intelligence is about that of a 4-year-old child, but after being beating on for a couple of minutes, he’s speaking in fairly literate sentences.

Overall, I thought the dialogue was forced and unbelievable. The only believable characters were Power Skrull, who has the personal demeanor of a British military commander, and the Alaskan youth who come across the downed prison ship. The overall situation was not plausible. How many times have we had the same woefully inadequate and sub-standard prison holding the most deadly and powerful villains? It will ALWAYS fail due to inadequate maintenance and allow the prisoners to escape!!! Just far too predictable…

I am kind of curious about the backstory behind the most powerful destructive force in the universe being driven into a child-like and passive state (almost catatonic). Who could have done such a thing? How long has he been like this?

I won’t be buying any of this series. There’s just not anything that’s compelling enough to keep me interested.

Jason Sacks

I’ve never heard of Mitch Breitweiser or Brian Reber, but they do a fine job with the art on this comic. Much of the issue takes place in a desolate area of Alaksa, miles from anywhere. Breitweiser’s art is wonderfully effective in creating the town of Coot’s Bluff, Alaska, a tiny community of some 2800 people, where life is quiet and terribly dull for children. They also do a nice job creating the Prison Transport Vessel Dredge 1, which appears to be a vast and spooky spaceship before its explosion. Both locations feel realistic in their own way, showing the versatility of the two artists.

As for the story, well, it’s definitely decompressed. Most of the first issue is dedicated to setting up the atmosphere and feel of the story rather than setting up the plot. Giffen is a solid writer, and does a nice job of creating unique characters. The alien Blood Brothers have an interesting dynamic between them, and Drax seems to have some interesting mysteries in his background. In Alaska, we see two school chums who try their best to overcome the extreme boredom they feel with their small town life. Giffen suffuses them with life, and they have a funny dynamic between them. But really there’s not much plot in this issue, and the usual complaints apply to decompressed Marvel stories.

Overall, this is a promising issue, but I personally would wait for the trade.

Dave Wallace

Drax is a character that is completely new to me, and as such I’m probably part of the audience that Marvel is looking to snare with this new first issue. Events open interestingly enough with an alien prison ship stalling somewhere near Earth’s moon, and being forced to make a crash landing on earth. The exact cause of the ship’s fault is as yet unknown, but one inmate seems more perceptive of his imminent opportunity for escape than the others: the caged green hulk-like Drax. As the ship crashes to the ground (in the one standout visual by Breitweiser), the criminals have a chance to escape, soon finding themselves in a small town in Alaska where two young schoolchildren seem to be the only witnesses interested in the ship’s crash-landing. Something very familiar was bugging me as I read it, until I realised what it was: this feels like a slightly more grown-up take on Lilo and Stitch, but without the sense of fun which that alien’s more unique personality brought to that movie.

I found this book to be fairly flat, both in terms of visuals and story. There’s very little which doesn’t come off as a generic sci-fi cliché in Giffen’s writing and plotting, and he struggles to really define the title character beyond a few standard character traits. Very little is really done here to sell the dangerous nature of Drax beyond a few comments from his cohorts, and although his mental acuity is suggested more than once, there isn’t really much made of his tendency towards passive-aggressive thoughtfulness either – although a mysterious increase in his intelligence is suggested after the aliens land on earth. Art-wise, the simple colour scheme has the effect of muting Breitweiser’s pencils into a blue-grey-green murkiness, when a more arresting colour scheme might have worked to sell the powerful and otherworldly nature of the alien characters more convincingly. I also couldn’t help but think of other Marvel characters as I saw the derivative character designs, as an inattentive reader might be forgiven for thinking that both the Hulk and Elektra make an appearance in this first issue.

As an idea, I could see the book working if it could find a way to introduce more gritty or subversive story elements into the so-far familiar sci-fi scenario, or expand its scope beyond the usual: indeed, I could imagine it fitting snugly into a regular anthology series like 2000AD which might give it a chance to develop some originality and a more unique voice, as well as giving some breathing space to its characters who demand more detailed definition. Unfortunately, in attempting to re-introduce a lesser-known property into a mainstream audience, it seems that Marvel has made the creatively void decision to play it safe and go with a fairly generic storyline and less-than-imaginative character archetypes.

As it is, I’m loathe to give this issue an overwhelmingly negative rating because it’s not exceedingly badly written or badly drawn: it just isn’t to my taste. It doesn’t really grab me in the way that a #1 issue should, and – as seems to be the case more and more with Marvel’s first issues – it seems to be merely setting the stage for interesting things to potentially happen somewhere down the line (although there’s no real indication of where that line might be leading at this point). Drax seems to be a supporting character in his own book in this first issue, and for newcomers like me who need to get to know the character for the first time, that’s a fatal error. This book sadly hasn’t given me any reason to check out its second issue.

Cover shots of Drax #2 & #3:

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