Review: Catalyst Comix #5


It’s not unlikely that I will SPOIL something below

About a month back, I wrote a piece for PopMatters on the first four issues of Catalyst Comix. In it, I said that the common thread between the three stories told in this series—”The Ballad of Frank Wells,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Agents of Change”—was a particular definition of heroism. Namely, that heroes in this comic were the sorts of people powerful, self-assured, and brave enough to dive into unknown danger headfirst with confidence that they’d make it out the other side intact.

Catalyst Comix #5 only really puts that attitude on display in its first, longest section, the “Amazing Grace” portion of the issue. As such, it was my favorite part (which is not at all unusual). Grace finally gets a half-step closer to finding answers about what Mr. Seaver really is, and by extension, she’s that much nearer to uncovering his plans. To gather that info, however, she has to insert her own consciousness into his complicated alien mind while his defenses are down, and even then, the effect it has on her looks traumatic and painful. But that doesn’t slow her down for a second. As soon as she recovers from her mental excursion, she dashes off to confront Seaver face-to-face, and finally, firmly rejects his advances with an uppercut that launches him into the air. The full-page splash of that punch is a definite highlight of artist Paul Maybury’s work on this title so far. It’s the culmination of everything that’s gone down between these two characters, and a reminder of how mighty Grace can be. It also sets things up for her and Seaver to have their inevitable battle next time, which is something I think we’ve all been waiting for.

Speaking of fights we’d been waiting for, the “Agents of Change” pages are devoted to the titular team battling the security/police unit that threatened them at the end of last issue. It’s a good-looking action sequence from Ulises Farinas, who gives everybody a chance to show off their skills. Except Rebel, who doesn’t get to contribute to the combat in any helpful way because, instead, we get to see at last how his two-brothers-sharing-a-power actually works in the field. Only one of a set of twins, Matt and Mark, gets to be Rebel at a time, while the other enters a near-vegetative state. This is a long-established aspect of the character, but thus far we’ve never seen the transfer take place, or been shown why it has to happen. It has to do, apparently, with some sort of time limit, where if one them is in the Rebel role for too long, he will suddenly be overwhelmed with pain until he passes the powers off to the other twin. Definitely a dangerous weakness to have in the field, as seen here when the rest of the team is kicking ass while Rebel drags himself across the floor to his wheelchair-bound brother so they can switch places.

Anyway, that’s probably the most interesting bit in this story, though I did quite like the panel of Wolfhunter being confronted by a bunch of alternate Wolfhunters in some kind of weird world that his consciousness is suddenly transported to. There are also several panels of Herbet talking to brains floating in orbs, mixed in with the images of the fight scene. The indication seems to be that these are the Agents’ brains, and that everything they’re experiencing is some sort of simulation. Even if that’s the case, it’s still not clear what Herbert’s endgame is, but I’m enjoying the ride. “Agents of Change” continues to be where Joe Casey is most able to cut loose and have unfiltered, raucous superhero fun.

Finally came Frank Wells’ story, which I liked the least. First, he spends some time interacting with the media in a very obnoxious, holier-than-thou fashion, and I’m not sure what the point of it is. Mostly, it feels like an excuse to recap what he’s already been doing in the previous issues, but I fail to see how broadcasting that to the world in any way advances his cause or makes things better, so I’m confused by this move. Anyway, it barely matters, because he is quickly interrupted by a supervillain attack, this time from a woman with water-based powers named Flood. As we’ve seen before in this comic, she’s equally interested in romancing Frank as fighting him, and I find it irksome that Casey would reiterate that sentiment. What’s the point of introducing a new villain, even a temporary one, if all she’s going to do is repeat the actions of another short-lived baddie from an earlier chapter? I did love the panel of Flood blasting the press out the windows with a huge indoor wave, though, and the subsequent shot of Frank saving everyone before they hit the ground. Both excellent images from Dan McDaid that captured the fragility and helplessness of people in those kinds of unthinkable emergency situations. And Frank punching Flood with water rushing between and all around them was a gorgeous moment of superhero theatrics. So it’s still got great art, even when the script is less interesting than usual.

All told, I think Catalyst Comix has found its footing by now, and is content to keep telling the tales it’s been telling at whatever pace they each individually dictate. That’s an approach I admire, and all of the art is dazzling every issue, with this one being no exception. Maybury and Farinas both outdid themselves this time out, actually. If that means that a series which already has some of the best art in comicbooks right now is getting better over time, then I’m thrilled. And if it was just an especially beautiful month, well, that’s nothing to sneeze at, neither.

About Matthew Derman

lives in MA with his lady and their dogs. He most often writes about comicbooks on his blog Comics Matter:

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