Saturday, September 11, 2004

Next up from Mad Yak Publishing is Subatomic, which introduces us to a young fellow named Mark, who when we meet him is feeling dissatisfied with his job. But Mark's not a shoe salesman, or garbage man, or typesetter/graphic artist for a small-town newspaper- no, he's a deep-secret government spy. And not just any old spy, he's a spy for ATOM, a spy agency that is in charge of monitoring all sorts of communication and correspondence from a flying heli-carrier right out of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic. And not only that, he, like many of his friends and co-workers, were born and raised to become operatives of ATOM. Like so many callow youths, Mark feels like there has to be more to his life than opening Joe Blow from Podunk's mail and making sure that there's no threat to our country detailed therein...and he plans to escape to the big, bad world below. Which he does, thanks to a surreptitiously hidden parachute. The bulk of the novel takes place in the year following his escape; each chapter is helpfully titled "Spring", "Winter", and so on. Of course, the ATOM folks don't particularly care to encourage Mark's independence, and spend a great deal of the book tracking him down as he goes from place to place, making friends and working at odd jobs before something happens to cause him to have to run away again. Eventually they do locate their prodigal spy, and what happens then I'll leave for you to find out.

All in all, Subatomic is an imaginative premise, not exactly brand spanking new and fresh but writer Patrick Neighly is skilled enough to conceal his sources well enough to make this an engrossing, if episodic, read. The biggest liability I had while reading this was that Mark just doesn't give me much of a reason to root for him- while I can certainly understand his need to break out of his weird existence, we just don't get to know him all that well...his character, personality-wise, is a blank slate. He exhibits admirable traits: loyalty, willingness to work hard, self-sacrifice, honesty...he seems to be a nice kid. But none of this ever gave me an opportunity to sympathize or empathize with him. Plus, the ending which I am loathe to give away didn't work for me at all, since it requires a major character to completely change his convictions and previously established motivation, and for the life of me I don't understand why. Perhaps there was an art cue I didn't pick up on, who knows. Speaking of art, it's not bad- the late Jorge Heufemann didn't have a particularly compelling, novel or flashy style, sorta reminiscent of Dave Gibbons, Sean Phillips or even Charlie Adlard inked by Pablo Marcos- but he did a solid, competent job and paced the events nicely.

Subatomic was an involving read, and as usual with what I've seen from the Yak, the design and packaging are top quality. But I just didn't get hooked by the characters, wasn't blown away by the art (although I thought it was good enough) and the ending was a bit of a letdown. It's possible you might not agree, so I suggest you check it out for yourself. It's certainly of interest if you like espionage thrillers, especially those with Sci-fi leanings. Fans of Sleeper or Joe Casey's W.I.L.D.Cats might also want to give this a shot. I understand that this has been optioned and is in development as a TV series; this has the potential to be another Alias, 24, or even something like The Prisoner (dare I say John Doe, even?) in the right hands. B-

Two down, one to go- stay tuned for The Supernaturalists.

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