“Was it just me or did the voice feel a little too Ellis & not enough Karnak?”-Cosmo
Readers who don’t want the first panel of their superhero comics to be the protagonist meditating in front of a large rock will not like this comic. Readers who don’t like Warren Ellis’s recent Image work will not like this comic. Readers who are really into the Karnak character will not like this comic. Readers who just don’t like Warren Ellis as a writer all together will hate this comic with a burning passion. Because in a two year span where we’ve seen writer Warren Ellis release a flurry of new material, Karnak feels like the most Warren Ellis comic that I’ve ever read, for better or worst.
Karnak is a an Inhuman character who, despite all of Marvel’s best efforts, really doesn’t have much of a voice. There is a certain consistency from his debut in the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four all the way up to Jenkins/Lee Marvel Knights Inhumans series as the level headed counterpart to angry Gorgen, but that and his super power to see the flaw in anything are his only defining traits. In the series debut’s Ellis approaches Karnak as a concept, it’s the writer asking, if you could look at anything and see its central flaw, what would you be like as a person? But because Ellis is approaching Karnak as a concept, it almost feels like he’s inserting his personality onto the protagonist either consciously or unconsciously, or at least, a version of Warren Ellis devoid of his humanity with analytics in it’s place. It got to a point where I actually thought Karnak looked like Warren Ellis. And all that makes sense from a certain angle, if you are defining the character by his super power, then Karnak’s particular power set is going to deconstruct any semblance of person-hood because in the grand scheme of the universe, person-hood means absolutely nothing. Yet because Ellis is a person, he ends up writing himself into the protagonist almost by default.
Karnak’s singularity is displayed by contrast as much of the first issue focuses on how he interacts with other people. The book is light on action in favor of dialogue and set up, but there’s a sort of dark humor to it in a Nihilist Arby’s sort of way that helps keep the narrative engaging. Artist Gerardo Zaffino is aces in his Marvel debut with a rough and scratchy line style which set’s the mood and tone for the issue that’s similar to visual story telling from illustrators like Garry Brown or Michael Lark. He has a deceptively subtle style of character work that sneaks up on the reader with the way that he can establish emotion from his actors without calling attention to it. When he want’s to draw attention to something, it’s felt as is evident in the opening full page shot on the Tower Of Wisdom or the panel by panel breakdown of a bullet shooting out of a gun & Karnak’s reaction towards it. Dan Brown accentuates the art by making earth tones the primary colors in contrast to the dark and lifeless industrial setting in the background. He does this brilliant shading of Karnak’s face for different panels to establish what passes for emotion in this iteration of the character.
Karnak is certainly interesting and in a lot of ways, it’s good, but it also feels cold and distant, even if that’s ultimately by design. From a craft standpoint, it’s fascinating to see Warren Ellis take on the character and mine all these different idea’s out of his core concept. As a story, it’s not all the way there. How much everything else can make up for that will be entirely dependent on how you feel about Warren Ellis, in a issue titled “The Flaw In All Things” the writer inadvertently self identifies.