War, violence and evil deeds are constant factors in the evolution of any society. But what if one day everyone started playing nice? In a world of superheroes, what if peace made those heroes obsolete? Image Comics’ new series “Halcyon” addresses just such a question.
After centuries of human aggression, the world has suddenly and without warning become peaceful. War, violence and strife have ended. It’s a new era for humanity and the world’s superheroes now question their place. But all this serenity must have a cause, and issue three of “Halcyon” begins and ends on that point.
The story of comics has always been the world is in trouble from the nefarious plot of some reprehensible figure and somebody has to save it. It’s the language of comics; it’s the heartbeat of the medium. Recently, comic publishers have been playing with that archetype and the archetypical characters associated with it, attempting to create an irregular heartbeat that doesn’t kill us but makes us stronger. The clichés of decades of stories are ripe for reinvention, and comic publishers are rightfully exploring the themes that have formed the foundation of superhero books. But with so many books doing just that, the contemporary reinvention of comics has become itself a cliché. We saw this with “The Mighty” and “Irredeemable.” What defined and separated these two series was essentially the execution of each. One is still in print; the other was brought to an end after one story arc.
“Halcyon” falls into this contemporary reinvention category, though it’s more of a reflection of the components of its plot. The main characters are variations on the iconic characters of Superman, Batman, Flash, etc. This has the consequence of comparing the book to any of the various “Justice League” incarnations or volumes. From that perspective, “Halcyon” appears to be a rejected plot from one of those series. That’s not necessarily a negative, as the plot as a whole has some intriguing aspects. At least we get this universe’s versions of Superman and Batman sleeping together…what was the name of that Wildstorm book?
Obviously, there is a “Watchmen” quality to it. And while “Watchmen” took on a variation of the same theme against the background of a complex political and social landscape, “Halcyon” doesn’t offer us that much depth. Its high concept to be sure, and it does have its place amongst the “what if’s” comics have the faculty to present, but the weight of the plot seems to hamper the comic.
Putting comparisons aside, the real question is how is the execution? Writers Marc Guggenheim and Tara Butters do their best to create captivating characters, but the passivity inherit in a world brought to peace creeps strikingly into the narrative. There is plenty of plot movement, but the limited character development beyond the generic has the effect of stunting the pacing. Yet, in sum, the plot limits these negative components and drives home a fairly compelling point: if there was peace, would you question it?
The artwork by Ryan Bodenheim fairs slightly better, though it does have its detractions. The overall pencil work is strong and the character designs are modern and dark to fit the tone. However, the panel compositions are not fully realized. They lack a sense of depth. Minimalism typically aides a high concept project, but when combined with the stunting effect of fairly generic characters, it has the effect of slowing down the flow of the narrative.
Strong and compelling plots are what they are. They are enhanced by the execution, balanced by character development and/or supported by microcosm subplots. “Halcyon” has yet to demonstrate that or that it understands the full weight of its concept. It has the potential to do so. The pieces to do so are present and nearly in place. There just needs to be something that realizes it. It could be a piece of dialogue, a strongly drawn panel or a wrinkle in the plot that takes the project to an unforeseen place. Right now, “Halcyon” is fairly predictable, but the hope is that it rises above the trap of contemporary reinvention that is itself a cliché.