J. Michael Straczynski and Sid Kotian’s “The Adventures of Apocalypse Al” #1 is a slightly uneven start to a quirky concept that almost works. Allison Carter (AKA Apocalypse Al) is a private detective that lives in Los Angeles and handles the supernatural, most of her cases coming from a mysterious entity called “The Committee.”
Right out of the gate, the tone Straczynski strikes is strange but welcome — it’s one part classic noir, one part supernatural and one part comedy. It’s a somewhat uncommon blend and for the most part Straczynski does it with confidence. The book has a freewheeling sense of humor that, while not always laugh-out-loud funny, is generally enjoyable. There are some leaps in logic and world building, especially in the opening, that are a bit much for an audience to swallow without question, but the lightness of the book helps soften the blow. The biggest problem on the writing front is simply that Straczynski over-writes. The story is heavy on exposition, much of it unnecessary. However, at times it’s frustratingly as though Straczynski forgets that he’s writing comics, as he details out an action in narration that our artist is also drawing. The few times it happens, it feels redundant and amateurish.
Kotian’s art is, for the most part, pretty and enjoyable. It’s easy to follow the action and the expression work is solid overall. Al’s look changes quite a bit throughout the book — sometimes looking quite realistic and other times coming off as cartoonish — and consistency on that front would help the book a lot. Either style could work well enough, but Kotian should pick one and stick with it. Generally, the book does a good job of matching the tone Straczynski has set — straddling the line between noir and comedy. There are some odd visual elements that don’t quite work, in part because they’re at odds with the duality of the tone but mostly because Kotian doesn’t fully commit to them as visual elements. If the elements recurred as opposed to appearing as one-offs, it might work better — but as presented, some of them are jarring and ill-fitting.
There’s also a disconnect around page 15 of the book where what Straczynski describes Al seeing in her narrative captions is simply not what Kotian illustrates. Additionally, around the same time the scene begins, there are some huge missed opportunities to push the visuals in a more interesting direction. Al ends up in essentially a dreamscape environment, and while Kotian kicks it off in a great visual way, everything that follows is utterly rote as though not in a dreamscape at all. Given the visual boundary pushing and storytelling devices in books like Jamie McKelvie’s “Young Avengers” and Robbi Rodriguez’s “FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics,” “Apocalypse AI” feels ordinary and utterly lacking in creativity.
Overall, there are some fun and promising elements in “The Adventures of Apocalypse Al” #1 but carelessness in the writing and inconsistency and lack of creativity artistically combine to make the start of this mini-series far inferior to what it could have been. If “Apocalypse Al” were an ongoing series, I’d be more inclined to forgive a rough start and hope they could get on track, but since this issue serves as about a quarter of the whole, I’m not sure if it’s worthy of further reading.