Shane Davis, who is already one hell of a superhero talent, dips his toes into creator-owned waters with "Axcend" #1, the story of a teenager who literally gets sucked into the Beta test of a new video game and finds the ramifications follow him into the real world. Inked by Michelle Delecki, Davis' art is a real highlight of the issue with page layouts and character designs very reminiscent of the Homage Studios era of Image Comics. Morry Hollowell colors everything with an electrified dayglo palette within the game and a duller tone in the real world as Eric struggles to deal with the death of his twin brother. Davis' story is a good hook and readers familiar with gaming culture should find something familiar to love as Eric adjusts to his new surroundings. While this is all fun, Davis' dialogue is awkward and sometimes a bit tough to get through. This is the artist's first outing as writer and it's a good attempt, but it definitely pulls down what is otherwise a fun experience.
This is a visually-driven comic book as displayed by Davis' large panel pages and double page spreads throughout. No single page has more than five panels, allowing the artist to really put his talent on show. Davis is an artist who can design clean-cut common characters just as well as outrageous armored heroes and villains. Eric uses video games as an escape from his day-to-day drudgery and, when he is pulled in to the beta for Axcend, the book really begins to pop. As he battles with and against his co-op team, Davis opens up the action into gorgeous double-page displays of digital carnage. It feels like a book that would have launched in the first heyday of Image and a lot of the characters feel inspired by books like "Backlash," "WildC.A.T.S" and "Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday." The action flows well and Dog, the in-game guide, has the look and attitude to be a major breakout character -- essentially, a robotic Doberman Pinscher head on the body of a man in a suit.
The trouble in script-to-art ratio is that, while the book looks incredible, the story moves very slowly. The end of the issue is the catalyst for the rest of the series, meaning this issue is mostly backstory and acts as a prologue to the idea of Eric becoming his character in real life. The moment that creates this turn is shocking and certainly a talking point for anyone who is dealing with depression in their lives, either their own or someone else's. In fact, there are two origin moments in the book: when Eric accesses his powers in the game and when they arrive in the real world.
Davis the plotter has a great concept on his hands. Davis the scripter is still finding his voice, which can be tough when the visuals are so good. Moments in the script are a little too on the nose and some exchanges are a little cringe-worthy. This can pick up as the story leads on but, for a debut issue, it's a tough first impression. Newcomers to comics and gamers looking for something to speak to their interests should enjoy what Davis has created here. "Axcend" #1 is a beautiful debut but feels like it will read much better once the initial story arc is collected.