“Fathom” #8 isn’t a very good comic by any reasonable standard. Ale Garza’s art shifts from Michael Turner-lite to Rob Liefeld-esque depending on the scene, but it never shakes loose from its mid-90s Image-style influences. Perhaps that’s the house style at Aspen, and Garza is merely doing what he’s supposed to do to maintain a consistent look for “Fathom,” but I’ve never read this series before issue #8, and it’s a look that makes me not want to come back for more.
I won’t criticize this book for being what it seems determined to be: a cheesecake action comic, with a bikini-clad heroine swimming through the depths and unleashing fists of fury on what looks like the evil half-brother of Spawn and Darkhawk. The cover of this issue certainly doesn’t seem interested in marketing this comic as anything other than a comic about just such activities. There’s certainly no promise of deeper subtextual meaning or formal experimentation, so to expect such creativity from “Fathom” #8 would be like expecting a Whopper Jr. to taste like Petit Filet.
But as cheesecake action comics go, this isn’t Frank Thorne, or even Frank Cho.
Instead, we get a lot of captions and word balloons ominously referring to “the blue” and “the black,” some kind of racial division which is tearing the world apart, and head cheese(cake) herself, Aspen, is the hero born of both worlds. The chosen one (we suspect, she suspects) who can bring peace to the land and sea by stopping the black baddies from taking over everything. It’s a Joseph Campbell style heroic quest constructed with crayons, and it makes Geoff Johns’s multi-colored-lantern saga at DC seem immeasurably complex by comparison. But there’s nothing automatically stopping a simple story from being a good one, unless, like “Fathom” #8 you complement the simplicity with blandly overdramatic speeches and guys in suits and ties who are drawn to resemble humanoid mannequins wearing what appears to be plastic tubing. Though Garza can draw Aspen with some fluidity of line, he seems unable to make the humans in “normal” clothes look like anything but rigid action figures.
Yet, there is something ambitious about this story. The dialogue is hokey, and the visuals are garish, but this is a comic that seems to want to create a feel of immensity. Large forces are at work in this story, and Aspen and her pal Killian are going to do what it takes to stop them. Meanwhile, subplots abound as characters reveal their true natures and the storytelling skips from location to location. And as the military launches a salvo against the powers of darkness and immense vaults of water fill the air, well, this comic isn’t afraid to hint at something epic.
“Fathom” #8 may stumble over the lesser details (like dialogue and figure drawing) in its dash toward something vast and awe-inspiring, but at least it tries to underscore the action part of its cheesecake action nature. Still, after reading this issue, I’m in no hurry to come back for more.