As I’ve written before, the CoH comic is a title that really hasn’t lived up to its potential. Without going over already covered ground, the biggest flaw with it is that is hasn’t really contributed towards bringing the CoH/V world to life – in fact, several of the adventures of the Freedom Phalanx have been generic enough that you probably could replace them with any superteam you could choose and not much would change. Sure, it’s nice to see the villain groups and the place names that we can also see in-game, but I bet it must be confusing for anyone who doesn’t play in Paragon City or the Rogue Isles. The comic does not really show off the CoH world – instead, it seems like just another comic book universe.

For the most part, my problem with the CoH comic has been story- and character-driven. In general, the art, colouring, lettering etc have all been at least competant and generally has been quite good. Even the art in issues 13 and 14 – generally regarded as the worst in the series so far – had some nice sections, even if the overuse of black and thick ink lines tended to suck the action out of ever page. No, my biggest problem comes from 1) the Freedom Phalanx looking like a bunch of incompetent, personality challenged people and 2) that the stories tend to wrap up with the Freedom Phalanx being saved and / or leaving the heavy lifting to others.

Which is why issue 16 stands out for me. It stands out because it feels like a unique CoH story. It stands out because the Freedom Phalanx don’t degenerate into a bunch of squabbling ingrates who you wouldn’t trust to guard a bingo hall. It stands out because the Freedom Phalanx work as a team and don’t have to rely on a plot device character doing something that saves their skin. For the first time in quite a while, I actually got some enjoyment out of reading the CoH comic.

To damn issue 16 with faint praise at this point, I still don’t know if I enjoyed it because it was good or because my expectations were so low. I’ve thought about it and still don’t know. But than I think, “Hey, I enjoyed it” and perhaps it doesn’t matter why.

Issue 16 was written by Sean Fish, Senior Staff Designer at Cryptic Studios and also known as Manticore. This is his first full comic that I’m aware of, although he also wrote a couple of pages for a CoV story that was a flipbook in CoH issue 6. You can make a few nitpicks – that perhaps issue 16 is a bit wordy, that perhaps some of the action is confusing – but overall you will probably get more from issue 16 than you would from reading the majority of the other CoH comic arcs. This is no doubt helped by Manticore’s understanding and appreciation of the characters, but he still could have written an issue that sucked. He hasn’t, which is why I was enthused when I’d gotten to the end of this comic.

I should mention that Manticore also does something different with the characters – Manticore isn’t the sole focus of issue 16, athough he remains as a limited narrator, while Statesman doesn’t come across as a gigantic jerk. Yes, Statesman is still dominating and egotistical, but he manages to come across more as a leader who expects to be listened to rather than King of All Jerks as he has appeared in some previous issues. These small changes do add a lot to the characters and to my enjoyment of this issue.

Dan Nakayama’s art continues to do a great job in supporting CoH and the colouring, lettering etc is fine. My only problem with the art is more of a character design issue – good luck in telling Synapse and Neuron apart when they appear on page.

I’m not going to go into what happens in issue 16, other than the Freedom Phalanx actively enter Praetorian Earth for one main objective and one secondary objective that is personal to Statesman. It’s the secondary objective that really gives this issue its CoH-ness, but hey, I’ll leave you to find that out when you read the comic.

Given this quality start, I’m looking forward to issue 17, which Manticore is also writing. From the teasers I’ve read, it appears to be about the Vindicators, the “sidekick” group to the Freedom Phalanx and the second most recognised super-team in Paragon City. I’m hopeful that issue 16 (and the beginning of Manticore’s writing duties) is the start of a new direction for the CoH comic – one that opens up this title to all the potential that the CoH/V world offers and one that readers will actually anticipate seeing.

– UnSub (@UnknownSubject) unsub@warcry.com 7 November 2006

Playing Through the Pain

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