Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
Fathom Review: The Abyss Meets Avatar
Created by Michael Turner and originally published by Top Cow Productions, Fathom feels like a James Cameron story in comic book form. The Abyss meets Avatar. So it’s fitting that a cursory look on Wikipedia reveals that Cameron indeed showed interest in bringing this franchise to the big screen in 2002. I suspect a lot of this comic’s influence is going to be prevalent in Avatar 2 that Cameron has said will focus more on the oceans of Pandora.
Turner’s tale revolves around a woman called Aspen with a mysterious past and missing memories, living in San Diego and obsessed with the sea. Upon being invited to a military research base deep under water, an incident involving humanoid aliens living beneath the ocean kicks off a plot to save the world and reveal her true nature.
The mystery of Aspen and the statuesque aliens who remain nameless is the bait reeling the reader in, and the creative world-building ensures they stay immersed in the epic story. Turner deftly introduces concepts and characters without it feeling too overwhelming, but eases into blockbuster mode with confidence. It’s a refreshing tale that’s not about your usual superheroes, but something more unique.
These aliens have been living deep beneath the oceans for thousands of years and see humans as childish and immature. With the advent of nuclear bombs and their tests in the oceans, it forces the submerged culture to rise above the depths and show themselves to humans. Turner’s story deals with a violent culture clash between two species and Aspen’s role in becoming the bridge towards peace.
The aliens aren’t one voice either, we see two different factions, one embodied by a muscle-bound guy called Killian, vying for vengeance on humans and their destructive ways, and another faction led by another dude with an awesome name called Cannon Hawke, vying for peace and stability.
The aliens foster a conflict between the USA and Japan as a way of sowing discord in humanity while they plot to use a weapon of mass destruction on Earth. Aspen is essentially kidnapped by Killian, and is soon immersed into their culture through a sequence of events, learning to appreciate her unique brand of water-based power. So we have a nice conflict going on here, is Aspen going to acquiesce to Killian’s will, or will she find the humanity in her to do the right thing?
But her brainwashing into badass water warrior who hates humanity happens too quickly to resonate. Within a month she’s sent on a mission with Killian to test her abilities, and she has to face the harsh reality of taking sides against humans.
Aspen is unfortunately way too passive a character, just being manipulated and reacting, rather than consciously acting. Thankfully by the end of the volume she does eventually find her own voice, and act in her own interests rather than be led around everywhere like a puppet.
What makes the comic stand out is the art and the concept more than anything else. The aliens can manipulate water in many exciting ways, and can even turn into liquid form themselves. One particularly creative way of subduing enemies is to send a bubble of water to a victim’s face essentially drowning them.
The art is bold and portrays characters as beautiful specimens whenever it can. The aliens’ armour and weapons are all forms of hard crustacean shells. Aspen has been likened to Megan Fox (to the point that she’s been in talks to play the character whenever the story has been in script development) and though the big bosomed women, and rippling muscle-bound men may seem over the top, it’s at least consistent and gives the whole cast of characters a mythic quality about them.
Underwater alien cityscapes, fighter jets taking part in dogfights with alien crafts, power hungry admirals, an epic tale of culture clash and a joyous love letter revelling in the power of the oceans. It’s a franchise full of potential and the great thing is that it meets it for the most part in volume 1. Sadly Michael Turner passed away in 2008 from cancer, and volume 2 onwards of the series has been published by his own company Aspen MLT.
Fathom is from another time and yet feels like something that is needed in this time. In an era of stories trying to be edgy, grim and dark, Fathom’s azure blues are a welcome change of scenery.