Aztek: Sweet superhero headgear, strange guy, hard-knock life
Written: May 15, 2012 (Updated May 15, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:imaginative, action-packed, kewl protagonist, horror and adventure and conspiracies
Cons:pretty terrible art, plotlines that go nowhere, self-conscious storytelling
The Bottom Line:
Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird. It's a plane. It's...some weirdo with a crazy helmet utilizing a four-dimensional battlesuit to fight evil. Ah, comics.
Vanity City is a strange place. Founder Clarence Vale was heavily into “occult geometry”, and the weird architecture that resulted from that tends to mess with the head a little: the sky is a bit murkier than it should be, even locals tend to lose their way regularly, and it's got the highest suicide rate in the United States. It's a strange and scary place, filled with even stranger (and often scarier) people. And its latest son might just be the strangest of them all.
Uno is a man with a mission: he's humanity's champion, trained since birth to be the perfect warrior, the man who will face the Shadow God, the ultimate evil, and determine the fate of all that is. Nineteen years old, he shows up in Vanity with little more than his wits, his skills, his good looks...and a four-dimensional telepathically-controlled suit of armour created by the mysterious Q Foundation. Uno has to learn to deal with the rest of humanity, get a job, find a place to live, and wait for the Big Day. Until then he'll fight crime as Aztek, the Ultimate Man!
Aztek: The Ultimate Man collects the tale of the young hero, originally appearing in the 1996-1997 ten issue series (not a mini-series, it just got cancelled early on) of that name, published by DC Comics, written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, and with art by Steven Harris.
Any good then?
Aztek was one of the most interesting heroes of the nineties – an era dominated by unimaginative “edgy” Image comics antiheroes and their clones* with huge guns and terrible fashion sense (remember the thigh pouches?) and bad attitudes. Uno has a clear purpose (beat the Big Bad), an unusual past (completely isolated from ordinary human society), incredible competence (trained to the peak of human perfection – the Q Foundation isn't about to entrust the survival of humanity to just anybody, you know) and amazing naivete (you need to hang out with other humans to develop a healthy sense of cynicism, I guess). This is a guy who has no experience with girls, social security, fast food, etc. But he's utterly brilliant at battle tactics, observation, puzzle-solving. And this genius/innocent combination makes for some truly great character moments, especially when the two aspects (Azpecs? Okay, I won't do that again) intersect – for instance, on dates that get interrupted by supervillain attacks, a constant issue in the DCU.
And Vanity City is a nice addition to the geography of the DCU, an interesting take onthe superhero-sheriff type deal, where one hero (or at least one main hero) polices one city (Batman for Gotham, Superman for Metropolis, Green Lantern for Coast City, Flash for Central City, and so on) and the character of the city is tied in some way to the character of the hero.
Grant Morrison (JLA, Final Crisis, The Invisibles) and Mark Millar (Marvel Civil War, Wolverine: Enemy of the State, Kick-A$$) are two of the biggest superstars in comicdom. When this comic was being published, they were still rising stars, with Morrison chiefly known for his work on Doom Patrol and Animal Man, and the Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum, and Millar acting as his protege, writing Swamp Thing and other titles. They're two very talented guys, with unique takes on comics and superheroes, and rather different styless – GM being more quirky/off-beat/insane, MM being more hardcore/awesome/badass.
So how does this collaboration work out? For the most part, quite well, actually. We get some awesome action, lots of big ideas (and fun little ones, just seen in passing), plenty of weirdness and a fair amount of badassery. There's an interesting supporting cast (mainly doctors and nurses, so the y tend to be smart, witty and a little odder than the average hero's cast). And Millar/Morrison aren't afraid to play with the conventions of the superhero genre: so we learn what happens at superhero funerals, how ordinary mobsters view supercriminals who go around dressed in odd outfits and commit crimes to a theme, and what humanity's champion does when dealing with the standard new-hero-mistaken-for-villain-by-established-hero plot that permits a fight to provide some relative DCU combat ranking.
The series makes good use of established DC heroes and villains, with guest appearances by Green Lantern, Superman and Batman, and villainous schemes courtesy of Amazo, Professor Ivo, and the Joker, and uber-genius criminal mastermind/filthy stinking rich guy Lex Luthor. There are also some pretty interesting new bad guys, like cyclical supergenius (he's brilliant for 24 hours, and dumb as they come every other day) Synth, or retired crook roped back in Piper, or former governent superagent Death Doll. Millar and Morrison never go into their origins fully, but still manage to provide a lot more of an idea of what it's like to be a supervillain than most other comics do.
So what went wrong?
Unfortunately, it never really goes anywhere. Many of the stories just seem to wander around from plot point to plot point, with no rhyme or reason. There's lots of ciolence and cast changes and all of that, but none of it seems to matter all that muich. And then the series gets cancelled just as it's gathering steam, and while Aztek did go on to feature in JLA, and finally face the Shadow God in final combat, plenty of plotlines raised in this series just got dropped, never to be resolved: Uno's long-lost twin brother; superhero stalker Patti Celeste's quest to catch 'em all; the mysteries of Vanity itself (how is it associated with the shadow god? What makes it so darn weird?); the Q Foundation's dark conspiracies (okay, this one is partly addressed, but there seems to be a lot more to explore). So much potential wasted.
Also disappointing: the art. N. Steven Harris (pencils) and Keith Champagne (inks) provide some truly odd pictures here – lots of awkward poses and odd blocky anatomy, with some weird layouts and pacing. It doesn't look like a traditional super-book, sure, and that's good for such an off-beat title...but it's just not very good, and sometimes even grotesque. And the colours provided by Mike Danza are shadowy, murky and unclear...but that actually seems to fit the tone of the book and varies as needed from story to story. It still gets a bit much every now and then, though.
All in All
Aztek really coulda been a contender. He has a great backstory, kewl powers, a sweet helmet, a winning (or at least entertaining and strong) personality. Sadly, poor storytelling and bad art (and low sales, of course) led to his early demise. RIP, man.
This is an entry into Elvisdo's awesome 2012 Funny Pages Writeoff. Don't be shy - give it a try!
*Image has since reinvented themselves pretty drastically, hosting tons of creator-owned series of all stripes, and providing much more interesting and varied fare than the Big Two companies. DC, meanwhile, has launched a new universe that is a lot like nineties Image, only bigger and even more violent.
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