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Garth Ennis has made no small impression on Avatar Press’ catalog of comics. It has, with many of his very own series, become the go to company where fans can go to see a full and unbridled Ennis story. What makes his most recent series, titled Caliban, so interesting is how rather subdued it is. A quality that was at first the main draw, but something that has been joined by others.
Caliban #3 is really the issue where the series has begun to find its footing, both with the characters and with the actual story that is being told. The first being really standard set-up, with nothing much to them but characters just reciting names and expositing relationships and connections. Simple stuff, with the small undercurrent of a larger plot going on in the background. This most recent issue is where that background starts coming into the foreground, and it’s an outstanding transition as the slowed and steady pace of what came before shatters as events starts to get serious.
As per what Ennis himself has said during the publicity run prior to the series being released, Caliban is very much Alien-inspired. Atmospheric, claustrophobic, paranoia, and a heaping helping of body horror that really brings it all together. While the characters themselves are still relatively flat, the very situations that they are placed into is horrifying to behold. Given that this is ostensibly a horror series, this is definitely a feather in its cap. There is a moment that happens that is so deliciously unnerving and chilling that I do not want to spoil it in the least, or rather at all.
That’s the thing about this series, though. A moment like that isn’t necessarily graphic, especially not in the clichéd Ennis or Avatar style either. Nothing too exposed or gore focused, or anything much at out outside of trickles of blood, or some under hyperbolic damage. As a long time Ennis fan, aspects like that have just become too expected in an “off-Big Two” so when he does something that breaks the mold in such a way, it’s refreshing. But of course when doing something as off-model as this it can be risky to juggle what can be done and what can’t be, or has been overlooked.
What has been so overlooked is the characters, a part of the series that I have shied away from actually delving into. That’s because there is not much to discuss about them. They’re actually very blank. Outside of small, almost completely stock, character moments (if they can even be called that), there is really nothing to be gleaned from there. No emotional hook or personality that can be held onto, but rather just figures that talk for pages while the action goes on off screen. Of course I’m mainly talking about the two lead characters, as cannon fodder the secondary characters get a little bit more spirit before they are killed off.
This is a definite strike against this book and against Ennis since, given his track record, this is something that shouldn’t have happened. Even in his more gruesome works where the graphic aspects overshadow the characters themselves, there can still be solid and effective characterization. Even in another one of his recent Avatar works, Rover Red Charlie, characterization abounds and worked to make it one of his most heart-wrenching works in recent times. Yet, in this book with a minimum of gore set-pieces, the characters are nothing to write home about. There is even a revelation about one of the leads in this issue but it falls flat because you’re not given a care about how it impacts the dynamic.
I could not, finally, go on without going into Fecundo Percio’s artwork that has been attached to this series. Avatar has become notorious for their very sloppy artwork and coloring, to the point where readers expect and joke about it more often than not. With Caliban, however, the artwork is simply modest. It’s nothing special, but a far cry away from awful. Simply competent and the slight moments where the dark setting really shines through are the highlights. Overall I have to admit that this is the kind of story that you read all in one go, so that the weaker aspects are shuffled around with the stuff that actually works. Not among Ennis’ better works and that is something that really sours on the series.