The cover of the new graphic novel Axiom would seem to peg it as a Superman-gonna-mad story—the sort of thing we’ve seen more than once in recent memory. While it may have those elements, and does head in that direction for the bulk of the book, Axiom changes course and becomes something more. It doesn’t quite succeed on every level, but it certainly shoots for the stars and lands on the moon, so to speak. You can’t say that writer Mark Waid and artist Ed Benes didn’t go big, because they push these 144 pages for all they are worth.
Axiom is the story of the world’s first superhero duo, Axiom and Thena, a set of aliens with seemingly limitless powers. Superman and Superwoman, essentially. Gods amongst us. Their intentions seem pure and they help us out over and over again. Problems arise when humans get so dependent on Axiom’s help that they start to push the boundaries of science and exploration, which goes bad quickly. There’s an accident and Thena is essentially killed. As you can guess from the cover, this slightly unhinges Axiom. But that’s not what this story is about. Not really.
Mark Waid knows Superman better than anybody; this is a well documented fact. He’s even done a “Superman goes bad” story, and he did it really well (see Irredeemable). But he is not repeating himself with Axiom. This entry is more complicated than that, and the last third of the book asks some interesting questions about humanity and reason. It’s a human story, really, about our faults and how we fix them. Axiom, we learn, isn’t all that different from us. He’s broken, and comes from a place where he’s average. Waid does some neat tricks in the last third of this comic, and while there’s plenty of stuff we’ve seen before, there are a few twists and turns that we didn’t see coming.
The artwork in Axiom is mostly good, thanks to superstar penciler Ed Benes. It appears that this book was sans inking, meaning the color art provided by Dinei Ribeiro is right over Benes’ pencils, which works sometimes and other times does not. When there’s frantic battles or lots of action, the loose style of Benes’ pencils looks great and kinetic. It fills the panels with energy and movement. When it’s a smaller moment—there are lots of smaller moments in this book—it looks unfinished. There are times where it’s hard to tell the characters apart, and subpar lettering doesn’t help.
None of this is to say that Axiom is not a great-looking comic book, because it is. The good outweighs the bad, and even the bad is more muddled than anything. You can’t read this and not wonder what a solid inker would have brought to the project. Still, when things get big and the energy is high, Axiom delivers.
Axiom is definitely worth a read, especially if you’re a Mark Waid and/or Ed Benes fan. There’s a lot crammed into this 144 pages, and the book might have benefited from some more room to grow, but as a quick read it’s fun, fast, and interesting. The ending is really something cool, too—something unexpected and interesting. Something that will make you hope there’s a volume two.
Rating: 3 out of 5 burritos.
(Editor’s note: Nerdist Industries is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.)
Benjamin Bailey writes for the Nerdist and can be found on Twitter talking about Godzilla, comic books, and hardcore music.