Comics Review: "PAX ARENA" (Geoffo & Mast)
- by Señor Editor, 1 March 2013
Up until recently I was never too impressed by digital comics. I don't mean just regular comics that you read on the computer/tablet/phone or whatever else, I mean digital comics with things popping up at the press of a button, swipe on the screen etc. The ones I read, usually seemed more gimmicky than anything, not really adding much to the experience of reading comics. That opinion changed a lot late last year, when I first started checking out Mark Waid's THRILLBENT website, dedicated to brand new digital comics by artists and writers both well and lesser known. Among these comics was "PAX ARENA".
"PAX ARENA" is a sci-fi crime noir story, taking place on planet... Pax Arena, where criminals get a chance to shorten their sentence by participating in arena deathmatches. Due to unexplained circumstances, an innocent accountant somehow gets jailed and sent to the arena, where he gets instantly killed. Agent Zoë investigates the murder and the involvement of Pax Arena's administrator, Kelvin Palance.
Zoë is a badass cop, with an attitude that could rival Dirty Harry's. She's reckless, tough and always getting in trouble with her two bosses, who look like slugs in business suits. She pulls no punches in trying to take down Palance and the various alien creeps working for him. All the noir/cop movie cliches are put to good use and feel fresh again, thanks to Mast and Geoffo's masterful storytelling.
Mast (writer) and Geoffo (artist) waste no time in pulling us into the PAX ARENA's world. The fast-paced writing sucks the reader right in, and it helps that Zoë is a very likable character, with plenty of entertaining dialogues. The high-contrast black & white art is really crisp and easy on the eyes, with each character being easily recognizable and stylishly rendered. The only non-black & white element in "PAX ARENA" is the writing on Zoë's "script jacket" - a novelty "retro" piece of clothing that displays any text (that Zoë puts in on an arm panel thingie) on the back of the jacket. It's a neat visual, treated in-story kind of as a sci-fi equivalent of hypercolor t-shirts (you remember those, right?). Only much cooler.
"PAX ARENA" utilizes all the best, medium-specific things about comics, while simultaneously ignoring the restrictions of print publications. The digital nature of the comic doesn't just equate to "ooh, another panel appears on this splash page when I click this". The medium is used very creatively, allowing a fast pace and some really good surprises that would be next to impossible to pull off in print (the only way a panel in a printed comic could surprise you, is if it would happen right after the turn of the page, which definitely puts some limitations on pacing and the way you can tell your story). That scene in chapter one ("J’Accuse") where the two slug cops interrogate Palance in a dark room and Zoë suddenly appears when she lights up a cigarette? That's fantastic, and it couldn't be pulled off to the same effect in any other medium. The pacing of this book is so good, that you could almost hear a soundtrack playing in the background as you read it.
I kinda feel bad talking about all this stuff and running the risk of spoiling anything. So here's another good thing about PAX ARENA: it's totally free, and you can either read it on Thrillbent.com or download it in your favorite format and read it on your phone, tablet, computer or just print it and wallpaper your house with it. Here, here's the link to the first installment (also available in French). Check it out, it will only take you a couple minutes and you will really like it. If you don't, you can come back here and I will tell you, that you're wrong and you need to read it again.
Much like the other ongoing Thrillbent comics (most notably the equally great "Insufferable" by Waid), "Pax Arena" comes out in neat weekly installments. The first "season" of the comic concluded in December, and consists of 8 parts. Hopefully the book will continue, as there's some unresolved business left, and the characters and the world the authors set up here are too good to leave behind.
So here's hoping Mast and Geoffo will return to PAX ARENA real soon. I want Agent Zoë back and I want to see this story developed further. I haven't really seen that much coverage for this book online, so I'm really hoping people aren't sleeping on this. Go to the link, check it out, maybe check out some of the other (mostly shorter) Thrillbent stories and the stuff they do with their digital comics (the recently added Flash animation in some strips is particularly interesting) and come back and leave me some feedback!
Read PAX ARENA yet? Did you like it? Do you like what it brings to digital comics? Leave a comment below!