VS #2 / Writer: Iván Brandon / Art: Esad Ribić / Color Art: Nic Klein / Lettering: Aditya Bidikar / Release Date: March 14, 2018 / Publisher: Image Comics
VS #2 is an exercise in world-building. World building is an essential component of any science fiction or fantasy story; to fully sympathize with the characters a reader needs to understand the world in which they exist. In a general sense there are two techniques when it comes to world building. One option is for the author to provide all the context of a situation so there’s no possible ambiguity. The other option sees the author fill in details only as necessary, hitting the ground running with the story and expecting the reader to pay attention and infer what’s going on, through dialogue and limited description. VS very much falls into the latter category and VS #2 applies a wide angle lens to that technique, opening up the world created in the first issue.
VS #2 once again follows Satta Flynn. More than a quarter of a year has passed since the end of VS #1, and Flynn is making his return to the front. Joining a new unit in a new war, Flynn acts like nothing has happened—as far as he’s concerned he’s still top dog. Once he gets flown out to the battlefield, Flynn receives a rude awakening as a fighter on his side named Mama outclasses him through much of the battle and takes down the coveted final man. Flynn’s left to nurse his embarrassment and wait to see what happens with his ratings.
There’s a paradox at work in VS #2, because despite offering significantly more detail, it breathes easier than VS #1. It lacks the fish out of water sensation that made the first issue feel dense and impenetrable. Ivan Brandon’s script employs warcasters—characters who analyze the troops and the battle—to provide more of a top down perspective. The reader has already met Flynn and while he remains the point of view character, he isn’t the sole focus of attention as the warcasters’ discussion covers several tangential topics. This is a world where battles and wars take place on stage-managed set pieces, in support of high stakes economies for each side. It remains unclear whether these armies belong to nations or if the armies themselves are a kind of national presence.This in-world commentary offers a great framework for Flynn’s story in the second half. What in the first issue came across as just a chip on Flynn’s shoulder, now plays like the desperation of an athlete on the edge. This brings up really the only flaw with VS #2: that the warcasters’ commentary, while fleshing out the larger world, crowds out Flynn’s own perspective. It’s a relatively minor criticism, but the change between this issue and the first is palpable.
Ironically, as the story and dialogue pulls back to a wider perspective, the art from Esad Ribić and Nic Klein takes on a more personal tack. Ribić gives readers a better look not just at the other members of Flynn’s unit but also their enemies. This fight feels more personal than the battles in the first issue—possibly because Ribić’s already well-drawn characters are inhabited by the richer backstory Brandon has revealed.The battle may be VS #2’s big action sequence but much of the issue takes place on a sort of promenade. Ribić lays down the visual skeleton, but it’s Klein’s colors that once again create an epic, larger than life feel. On the battlefield Klein’s colors are straightforward: good but not especially noteworthy. Outside the battlefield, though, Klein plays with shadow and ambiance. Light plays off people and objects. The world comes alive.
Fiction lives and dies by an audience’s ability to immerse themselves within the fictional world of the story. Ivan Brandon’s choice to drop in details about the world, one nugget at a time, keeps the reader in the know only as much as necessary, while creating a desire to learn more—an additional incentive to read the next issue. Meanwhile the art team of Esad Ribić and Nic Klein (alongside letterer Aditya Bidikar whose work remains distinctive if less front and center this issue) breathes life into the world, making it tangible. This series is world building at its finest, and my sense from this issue is that there remains much more to be teased out.
Verdict: 4 Out Of 5 Prosthetic Legs
Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he’s published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.