Here’s a universal tip for writers: reconsider whether you should start your narrative by suggesting that your story is one that “should never be” because invariably there will be people in your audience who, after reading said story, will no doubt agree with you. Wholeheartedly.
In “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Dan Abnett takes our Metal tie-in series into the depths of the ocean with Bryce Wayne, a female iteration of Batman who is out to avenge herself against the ocean kingdoms for a “drowned” world, including the death of her beloved Sylvester Kyle (stay with me now–I know it’s hard). But that’s pretty much the premise and the whole of the plot.
I’m going to start out with the positives in the comic because I feel like otherwise this review will just be a litany of raging criticism. So are you ready? Here it goes:
- Bryce as a character could be interesting; she’s basically Bruce with boobs (which are readily on display in spite of a full-body-covering costume otherwise). Still, she looks interesting, she’s driven in an insane and provocative fashion, and despite the aforementioned peek-a-boo rack, her costume is kind of cool and vaguely reminiscent (very vaguely) of the Batman: Leatherwing Elseworld series (of which I am, without reservation, a huge fan). So even though I had no idea what the heck was going on at the start of this comic, I was, at least, intrigued.
- Bryce is confronted by the One Who Laughs Joker/Batman iteration (a ghoulish thing indeed), and given some apocryphal advice. Why Bryce listens to him is anybody’s guess: she herself has been driven mad by her anger and grief, perhaps? I don’t really “get” the dynamic, but it is interesting and wildly rendered, providing some of the best visuals in the book.
- Aquaman and Mera play a fairly substantial role in this story (and I do love both these characters!). They are cast as the antagonists, unfortunately. Or at least from Bryce’s point of view.
- Thumbs up on much of the art and aesthetic–it’s got some minor kvetchy issues, but overall the book looks great and some of the big splashy action sequences are pretty exciting, even if it’s hard to be engaged by the content–and that’s saying something.
The “Graaaa” makes sense, but what’s that coming out of her…ear?
Outside of these three things, however, the book is kind of a mess. Yet another long slog of narrative exposition setting up a whole world and scenario in which very little actually happens within the frame of the book. Bryce fights Aquaman and Mera out of what feels like a misguided sense of vengeance (spurred on by the One Who Laughs), and all manner of destruction ensues. It follows, I guess, in the formula of this series so far, and as deep as we are into this, I just keeping wondering when it’s actually going to coalesce into something with a little more meat on it.
Philip Tan and Tyler Kirkham do art duties for this issue and I do enjoy the sheer level of detail throughout the book. The opening imagery is a little convoluted–it’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening when Bryce first regurgitates all that power and I do have some quibbles (such as with the silly costume), but visually there is a lot to like here. The density of detail gives this whole universe a hard-scrabble feel: it’s dark and grimy and there’s something of the old world in its meticulous cross-hatching and clutter.
Aquaman and Mera seem to be rendered in contrast to that: simpler lines on the whole, but they also represent something otherworldly to Bryce’s high-tech lair and the frippery of her costume. I enjoyed the contrast of that even though I feel like sometimes the anatomy seemed to get away with things that human beings shouldn’t (or wouldn’t do). Another example would be Bryce after playing “auto-operation” (which, seriously, looked more like some bizarre fetish exercise than a medical procedure), but then the artists further take the liberty of having her crouching around in bandages like a gargoyle. Kind of silly for a character who just had her entire respiratory system refurbished, but it’s comics, right? Silly is the watchword of the day sometimes.
Nice fish head, Bryce
Unfortunately it feels like “silly” isn’t what they are going for here, and really shouldn’t be when a story takes itself this seriously. With the exception of the boob-window, of course, because by all means a mere mortal should shield themselves over every part of their body except where their heart is. I won’t even go into how absurdly sexist that is, but just from a practical standpoint it’s laughable in a book that seems to make us want to take it’s protagonist seriously.
I will say this: there’s so much doom and angst in this book, it definitely qualifies as “Metal” in the 1980s rock music sense of the word, which would translate to unexpurgated “emo” by 2017 parlance.
And “emo” is not really my cup of tea, I guess.
Boob window and all
- You just like pretty gothic artwork.
- The One Who Laughs is delightfully creepy even if his part in this plot is a bit convoluted.
- You’re collecting the whole Metal series out of slavish devotion.
This is another Elseworld-like exploration burrito featuring a Bat-iteration that combines the ethos of Batman with the world of Aquaman and wraps it all up in an overwrought gothic tortilla. It’s satisfying in its artwork, but the narrative just feels like a cheesy greaseball that’s going to sit in the pit of your stomach. Sometimes that’s okay: it’s exactly what you want from a comic. Me personally? I’d like a little less slapdash in my stories and a little more meat than filler if I’m going to be asked to take this as a meal. It doesn’t feel like it contributes anything new or particularly exciting to the Metal mythos, but it looks pretty at least.