Warren Ellis and Roland Boschi’s “Karnak” #4 is dedicated entirely to Karnak’s infiltration of the Chapel of the Single Shadow and his confrontation with Adam Roderick, the abducted Inhuman Boy. On the first page Karnak gets off the S.H.I.E.L.D. ship and approaches The Chapel of the Single Shadow on foot, lone cowboy-style. Karnak hasn’t met anything he couldn’t handle yet, but — in this issue — Ellis keeps both the character and readers on their toes by handing a defeat to the Magister of the Tower of Wisdom.
The middle bulk of “Karnak” #4 is dominated by the artwork. Boschi has a visual imagination up to the challenge, and his gothic architecture and apparitions are immediately entrancing. As Karnak slips into the Chapel, Boschi’s page composition and perspective create suspense, while Karnak’s hand wraps continue to make opportunities for graceful linework. Boschi’s shading is evocative and beautiful; the details on the interior walls and the crosshatching on the stage make the space feel melancholy and ominous. Dan Brown keeps his palette of colors minimal, rotating mostly between shades of gray, blue and green, but he is careful to preserve Boschi’s contrast and depth.
The fight scene that follows the quiet infiltration lacks kinetic force. Boschi draws bodies well, and he’s noticeably ambitious in creating foreshortening and anatomy challenges for himself, but the hand-to-hand combat is missing some juice. The blows that Karnak trades with his many opponents look more than still photos of acrobatics or dance, instead of making the reader feel the adrenaline and the sweat of battle. Even the fractured-looking page compositions and Boschi’s aggressive changes in perspective don’t help. In particular, the panel where Karnak’s foot catches his reptilian, wraith-like opponent on the head feels posed and ill-cropped; it just doesn’t convey violence or speed. Also, the first glimpse of the giant eye in the ceiling is suitably dramatic, but the second is less impressive on both a visual and structural level. The result is that the fight sequence feels too long.
Ellis has Karnak making snarky comments throughout the fight, lightening the atmosphere. It’s appropriate to the attitude of the character as Ellis envisions him, and it also highlights Ellis’ sense of the ridiculous. He’s enjoying himself with this occult stuff, but it also feels like he’s planted his tongue in his cheek. Karnak himself still falls squarely into the Ellis Hero type: misanthropic, sarcastic, energetic and violent.
Karnak’s meeting with Adam Roderick perches on a fence between humor and horror. Boschi draws Adam looking like a regular teenager, and his appearance is an unnerving contrast to the drone-like I.D.I.C. cultists around him, who are dressed in white robes with weird diamond cutouts revealing bare chests and abs.
Ellis plays further on this unease by having Karnak use verbal filler “I, ah…” Previously, Karnak was always in control. At least in this moment, he’s in a situation beyond his depth, but his reaction at the end of the confrontation is amusing and cuts the tension. The call to Coulson on the last page has some nice verbal rhythms, but contains no surprises. Boschi’s drawing of Karnak in the upper middle panel is gorgeous and minimalist, defining his outline through negative space filled with Brown’s pale lemon yellow. The very last panel of “Karnak” #4 uses a zip-a-tone effect beautifully on the edges of glowing yellow eyes.
“Karnak” #4 is an uneven and slower issue, but it still contains its fair share of dramatic surprises, and the series remains one of the stranger titles on the shelves — in a good way.