Considering the sheer domination that the superhero genre has within the business of comic books, any new franchise which involves capes and masks needs to quickly break out from the pack. This is true not only for “big two” franchises, but especially so for newer superhero series crafted by independent creators. For every “Invincible” (Image Comics) or “The Standard” (ComixTribe), there are others which seem to blur together in the back sections of comic book shops. Those creators who seek to create such things usually need to know enough about the genre to follow enough of the rules to entice an audience while also knowing the right place to put in a unique spin or twist on it.
Veteran writer Christos Gage (sometimes credited as “Christos N. Gage”) was in a unique position in this regard when he brought his own original superhero property, “Absolution”, to Avatar Press six years ago. His career going back to 2001 has included writing for film, television, and comic books for both Marvel and DC Comics. He’s written for both “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Numb3rs” but also on critically acclaimed comic series such as “Avengers: The Initiative”, “Avengers Academy”, and various “Wildstorm” projects. Fans of Netflix may know him currently as one of the staff writers on the highly popular “Daredevil” series. Given an opportunity to create his own superhero universe, he naturally sought to play to his strengths in regards to super powered action within the realm of a police procedural. The end result is a work which quickly establishes itself and its players very quickly and never seems to slow down from there.
“Absolution” is a world where people born with super powers (called “Enhanciles”) have one of two choices; become an agent of local law enforcement and/or the federal government, or become a fugitive. John Dusk is one such “enhancile”, an eight year veteran of the NYPD and one of their most valued superhuman cops. He may not have a fancy code-name like his allies Alpha and the Servant, but he wears a mask just the same, facing threats both similar two and well beyond what normal cops face. His girlfriend Karen is a detective within the force, the department liaison Gordon Bradley has his back even during questionable take downs, and he attends barbecues with the families of his fellow “enhancile” officers. Yet beneath the surface, John is a deeply conflicted man, plagued with having the power to stop evil within a system which too often allows it to flourish. Haunted by visions of virtually every horrific case he was ever on, John ultimately decides that he needs to fill the gap between where the law ends and justice begins. Showing little mercy to both human and super powered criminals alike, John’s life quickly spirals out of control as his zeal to end his own torment as well as those of crime victims brings him into conflict with all he holds dear.
Likely aided by his work on weekly TV, Gage wastes no time with origins or spoon feeding the reader facts about his world. Readers learn all of the details about this world as they go and especially as they follow the exploits of John and the other cast members. The series has “mature” levels of cursing and violence, which help to remind the readers that despite the costumes and powers, this is a world just as gritty and ugly as the real one at times. Opposing “super villains” are established as well, such as White Power, Flashburn, Happy Kitty, and the Technocrat, with the latter serving as something of a godfather to superhuman crime. Some of these characters do border on being stereotypical, but they also reflect a world where people are more likely to name themselves after a slur, a video game, or their religion more than an exotic animal. Much like his other comic book work, Gage not only excels at delving into the mind of his troubled lead, but also of the supporting cast around him. Karen is a cynical cop with a healthy sense of humor and priorities, but who also won’t cross the line and can often be the smartest woman in the room. Gordon has to do endless balancing acts between the world of normal people and that of “enhanciles”, which sometimes causes compromise and conflicts around him. Alpha and Servant balance out John well, and almost seem to reflect his own id and super-ego to varying degrees. Drama, action, and some dark humor are laid out in healthy doses throughout the story. Being a creator owned work, there is no fixed “status quo” behind the scenes, which allows for John’s actions to lead to natural (and tragic) consequences. None of the cast are the same at the end of the tale as they are at the start.
Art for the series is provided by Roberto Viacava with colors by Digikore Studios, and it matches Gage’s narrative vision perfectly. It is illustrative enough that costumes and bizarre characters don’t feel completely out of place, but is also grounded in enough of a sense of reality that they seem apart from the world as well. The action is usually fast paced and often messy, as most of the cast are about getting down to business rather than being “showy”. The heroes are athletic without looking impossibly so, and the scenery always looks like it could be the neighborhood outside.
This first volume contains the initial six issue mini series from 2009-2010 as well as includes special “crime files” in the back which offer more details about the various “enhanciles” by other artists (including Juan Jose Ryp). Mixing “Law & Order” and “WildC.A.T.S.” with a healthy dose of “the Punisher” for good measure, it is a tale which quickly feels both familiar yet brand new all at once. Those not easily offended by some gore or swearing will find themselves with a superhero yarn unlike any other out there, offering far more potential than many stifling “big two” comics out there. At only twenty five dollars (and sold for less at the New York Comic Con), there’s hardly any excuse not to give it a try. The superhero genre is hardly as predictable and static as it seems once you leave the “big two” bubble, with works like “Absolution” being the absolute proof.