Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


Sigil: The Marked Man

2002 - available in soft cover

Writers Mark Waid, Barbara Kesel. Scot Eaton, Kevin Sharpe, George Perez. Inkers various.
Colours: Wil Quintana, Laura DePuy. Letters: Dave Lanphear, Troy Peteri.

Reprinting: Sigil #8-14, CrossGen Chronicles #4 (with covers)

208 pages

Published by CrossGen Comics

Cover price: $19.95 USA

Here at P&D we try to keep our reviews (relatively) contemporary -- but sometimes deadlines creep up on you and you can't always grab a new release. But this two-year-old release is still probably readily available at comic shops and on-line bookstores.

Sigil is a science fiction series set amidst a conflict between earth -- and related planets -- and a race of lizards, who not only are attacking humans, but who can literally evolve by eating higher lifeforms (meaning humans). The story concerns Samandahl Rey, a decommissioned earth soldier who finds himself inexplicably imbued with super powers thanks to a sigil branded into his chest, which makes him regarded as a bit of a random element by humans and saurians alike.

This second TPB collection follows on the heels of the first and has Rey and his misfit crew of three (including a hologram/ghost of his dead best friend) arriving on the home planet of the woman Zanniati -- whom they just rescued from her evil husband, the sultan of a neutral world.

CrossGen is a relatively new comics company that has clearly staked out alternative territory to the superhero-heavy DC and Marvel. Most of CrossGen's line involves fantasy or SF themes, and it's all attractively produced. A couple of other CrossGen TPBs I've read left me with the feeling that, though I moderately enjoyed them, the plotting seemed a bit thin. And The Marked Man is no exception. I hesitate to describe the plot in a synopsis, because I'm afraid I'd give too much away.

The book opens with a flashback story from CrossGen Chronicles (a comic I'm guessing is used to tell out-of-continuity tales about CrossGen's on-going titles). It chronicles an early adventure of Rey and best buddy, Roiya Sintor (before she became a hologram), back when they were still in the army. It's basically aimed at the military SF/"Starship Troopers" crowd, as it covers the usual cliches (opening with a bar fight, then seguing into a tactical mission on the saurian world that turns into a running firefight). Despite my ambivalence toward that genre, it was briskly paced and O.K. (though Sam's personality doesn't gel with his personality in the body of the book).

Despite that beginning, the regular series seems not as much about "grunts-in-space", which should be good...but it's not really swashbuckling adventure either. The first few issues more concern the characters just standing around, chatting. When the action does kick in, it tends more to just be the big fight scenes that are too common these days (though a climactic scene where Sam must rescue a ship from destruction is moderately suspenseful). Yet despite the emphasis on talky bits, the story doesn't quite move up to being the complex saga of machinations and subterfuge it thinks it is. Zannitai has proof that the sultan is planning an alliance with the saurians, proof the sultan will do anything to get back. But, as mentioned earlier, though that's a plot...it's not quite a complex plot.

Much time is taken up with other stuff, such as character scenes, portraying the budding romances between Sam and Zanniati, and between the holographic Roiya and the enigmatic JeMerik Meer. Meer also possesses superpower and clearly knows more about Sam's power than Sam does and has set himself up as a kind of guardian angel. But all the stuff relating to the Sigil is meant to raise more questions than are answered here, as clearly Sam and his crew are caught up in the machinations of higher beings (and the comic, in ways that aren't addressed here, is presumably meant to have some connection to another CrossGen title, Mystic, a fantasy series about a woman with a similar sigil mark).

By focusing on the romantic aspect, one can admire the writers' intentions, attempting to create more than just a hit-'em'-til-they-drop action saga. But though it's not ineffective, neither is it quite gripping stuff either. The relationships are less developed than they are simply stated. And the characters are, frankly, a little bland and unmemorable.

I also have a minor qualm with Sam's powers -- namely, they seem a touch too...powerful. He's so turbo-charged, there isn't a lot of suspense in the action scenes. And while addressing side points, the lack of ethnic diversity in Sigil seems a bit odd, particularly as sci-fi often promotes itself as racially progressive. It's not just that there are no non-white principals -- it's that, other than in the George Perez-drawn issue, there aren't even non-white people in the backgrounds!

The art engenders as much ambivalence as the writing. The flashback story is drawn by veteran George Perez in his usual meticulous, extremely detailed style and is pretty effective. But Perez can be almost too detailed, filling his panels with so many lines and objects the key element can be lost in the clutter.

The other artists are even more problematic. Both Kevin Sharpe and Scot Eaton are good artists with similar styles (Eaton is slightly more realistic, at least when drawing men's faces, though both tend to draw their women with a slightly gamine/Japanese manga flavour). But as with Perez, their art can be overwhelming with the detail, to the point where the images are just too busy. This is particularly significant in a series where, as noted, time is made for the human interaction of characters just talking. Even those scenes seem cluttered, losing the intimacy.

This problem of clutter is compounded by the fact that everything has the same plastic-y sheen: people, backgrounds, ships. And one planet looks much the same as another, one ship the same as another ship. Nor does the colouring help, which can often tend toward shades of single colours for the background -- and darker colours, to boot. Or, conversely, bright colours that can actually be hard on the eyes. It means you have already busy panels, where it's all made even harder to focus on what you're seeing.

I know more and more readers who are starting to complain that when it comes to comic book art and detail...more isn't necessarily always better. There's a feeling that a lot of modern artists are better artists than they are storytellers.

Ultimately, I can't be too hard on Sigil: The Marked Man. Despite my criticisms, it was briskly-paced and there's nothing horribly wrong with it in writing or art. But it never really interested me. As an action-adventure, as a political thriller, or as a character story, it all was a bit bland.

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

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