Don’t let the issue number fool you, this is chapter three in Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp’s “serialized graphic novel.” As such, don’t you think we’d be done with the set-up by now? There’s a lot of talking in this issue, but that doesn’t mean something is always said. Ellis seems very concerned with emphasizing how scary and different being someone with superpowers might be. That’s demonstrated near the beginning, where the Front Line’s latest recruit, Joshua, mentions that he’s never flown before and that a member of the group doesn’t realize that he’s talking about flying via airplane. After all, she’s flown under her own power and isn’t she ever so advanced and what kind of caveman hasn’t flown on a plane before?
Ellis isn’t exactly wrong about the terrifying aspects of super humanity, which is one of the redeeming factors for this issue. With a series that asks “How much do you want to be a super human?” it makes sense that the build-up to our entry-point character becoming a super human would be a little longer than usual. Except, Joshua has already been accepted as a member of the team by the founder and creator of FX7, the drug that gives a person superpowers, Carrick Masterson, so there isn’t much build-up. Masterson hasn’t just accepted Joshua, he’s desperate to have Joshua join the group after the deaths of two members, and pushes Joshua through the process at an advanced rate.
Almost everything about this comic suggests a sinister motivation behind every action. None of the characters are likable or even warrant trust. There are hints that Joshua is a plant by some enemy of Masterson’s (with or without his knowledge isn’t clear), and hints that all isn’t right with Masterson or the Front Line, all adding up to a general feeling of uneasiness, which is rare in a comic. Ellis doesn’t do much to create this uneasy feeling; he just drops a line here or there. The air of tension and paranoia makes the final few pages where Joshua takes FX7 and suffers from side-effects work better than they would otherwise.
Jose Juan Ryp’s detailed line work is a good fit here, although his tendency to draw liquid “shock” bubbles around any violent actions seems out of place in spots. He shines on the two-page spread detailing the Front Line fighting CIA-created superhumans in the jungles of South America with all of the members of the Front Line in creepy silver masks, which make for great visuals (and a nice contrast to the current gas mask look of the group). As well, his storytelling on the final pages is very strong, ending with a beautiful and grotesque splash page.
The end of the issue points to the series speeding things up a little, but even the leisurely pace here isn’t a big problem. Ellis and Ryp aren’t just telling a story here. They’re working to create a world that’s believable, and are doing a good job at it.