January 25, 2014

Sectaurs: Warriors of Symbion, issue 7 "The Hyve"

We at the Showcase would like to extend our condolences to the family, friends, and followers of video host Justin "Jew Wario" Carmical, who we sadly lost earlier this week.

Our heroes approach the Hyve, even as they continue their debate about whether or not the power within is evil. They come under attack by the Hyve's guardians, a massive tarantula named Naurr, and a serpent/centipede named Vipex. During the battle, everyone rolls their eyes as Pinsor's pledges of love for Stellara, and Zak is chastised for being flippant and reckless. They eventually defeat the guardians when they realize Vipex has feelings for Naurr, so he'll stay by the tarantula's side when it's bound and stunned.

Back as Prosperon, Belana is caught spying on the underground rebellion and flees for Galken's palace, but is cornered in an alley.

Spidrax tries to force his captured Hadji to lead him to the Hyve, but they instead lead him into an ambush, which delays him long enough that by the time his forces reach the Hyve, our heroes have armed themselves with the fortress's defenses.

Inside, Mantor activates the central device of the Hyve, a chamber which will allow Dargon to synchronize with the planet itself and gain full control over its natural energies. He now has the power of a god, able to see all and affect any change on the world he desires, but Dargon realizes this is the same tempting trap that led to the Great Cataclysm of the Ancients. He rejects the power and forces himself out of the chamber.

Zak has no such reservations, though, and dives in. He first focuses on disabling Spidrax's forces, but drunk with power, Zak then turns on his friends, then the entire race of Sectaurs themselves, whose society he sees as a blight on the world and its natural resources. He floods a river, spilling water into Prosperon, Belana being caught in its waves.

Dargon severs a cable, causing the energy field to go nuts, and Mantor uses his powers to fling all the energy into the sky, where it'll harmlessly disperse back into the planet. Zak is injured, but still alive, and his weak laugh fills the rest with heart as they now know they can cleanse each Hyve of it's energies, robbing the temptation of such overwhelming power from both sides of the fight.


About damn time!

With the story having finally steered back on track and built some momentum in the last issue, I was a little worried we'd have another fumble this week, with the story dropping off or wandering its focus to the wrong threads. I should have had more faith, as it charges past all opposition this issue and lands a touchdown.

In the cartoon, it was the villains who captured the power of the Hyve and the heroes who had to rid them of it. Here, it's the heroes who have that power, and the heroes who have to rid themselves of it. It was a surprisingly powerful "shit got real" moment when Dargon bonded with the machine and looked down on his homeworld like a cosmic god straight out of Marvel's classic star-bound books, suddenly aware of the near infinite power he's capable of wielding. And in a twist, he rejects it, realizes it's too much and that he has no right to carry it lest he inadvertently unleash the same destruction the Ancients wrought. It's such a powerful human moment, and one that finally one me over to Dargon as a character and as a leader.

And then the shit became so real that it constructed a fan of itself for its fellow shit to hit, as Zak stepped into the beam and became the very impulsive cosmic god Dargon feared becoming. There's some great art and powerful writing as Zak starts by taking out his enemies, then starts lashing at his friends, then becomes so obsessed with the minutia of managing the world that he begins cleansing it of his very race of life-forms, his own fiance being swept up in the waters he surges against their city.

The way out of this is almost too easy, with Dargon plunging a sword into a cable instead of his friend, and Zak getting off as his laugh brings humor back to the group, but the sequence leading up to this end was so powerful that they've earned a bit of respite from the tension here.

I'm not saying this issue is without problems. The dialogue is still as heavy-handed as an eight-year-old trying to drag a 100 pound club, with recaps thrown in at seemingly random moments (the Pinsor/Stellara relationship is again recouted for us in the thought bubbles of other people in the middle of a fight scene). Spidrax and his forces play almost no part in the second half of the story. The fight with the guardians of the Hyve, while fun and thrilling, goes an odd direction as they're also sidelined for the climax. The plot thread of Belana wanting to warn Glaken about the uprising seems to be going somewhere... until it goes nowhere.

So yeah, it's not a perfect issue, and still suffers from many of the same problems that have plagued this run for the last six installments, but it's still one hell of an improvement. This issue alone is the single best Sectaurs story we've had up to this point, working as the close of one chapter and the strengthening of threads moving on. The only major problem is that it didn't happen sooner, that we didn't have this issue around issue four. And that this isn't the story that we close the book on, as we still have one more intalment to go, and I'm worried that'll largely be setup for a new arc instead of winding things down and tying them up with a bow.

This has been a struggle of a franchise in both mediums, and while I was getting eager to see it finished, I'm now a bit sad that we'll be putting it to rest just as it's really found some solid footing and taken a major step in giving itself some genuine weight.

Additional thoughts:
  • The Geiger/Williams art continues to excel, with powerful characters, dynamic action, and all that juicy cosmic stuff. My only issue is the giant tarantula guardian, who's so thoroughly fuzzy as to be adorable instead of frightening.
  • There's a great moment where Zak makes another of his jerky wisecracks, and we take half a page for Stellara to yank him aside and call him out for being the impulsive asshole he is. Which has even more weight when you factor in where the story takes him next.
  • The two giant monsters being a couple is incredibly sweet.
  • When Zak was all cosmic uber powerful and talking about how he could see into the minutest corners and thoughts of every living thing on Symbion, and the next panel shows Belana, Tony, was I alone in thinking he'd see into her head and realize her feelings for Dargon? That would have been yet another powerful human moment in the midst of godly forces, and would give even more weight to him sweeping a surge of water into the city that she falls victim to. I almost wonder if that's how it was originally written, with the final two pages having almost been entirely redrawn so that Dargon's sword hits the cable instead of Zak, with all of this being swept away by editors who thought it went too far. I can totally sympathize with that, but man, it would have gone from a solid story to an unforgettable one had they gone this route.


I just fed you a turd (please, just indulge me here). Now I'm feeding you another. Chew it. Savor it. Now I'm going to feed you a hotdog. Tastes pretty good after eating those two turds, right? "The Hyve!" is basically like that hotdog. A few weeks ago, I would've been grousing about it's awful dialog and other perceived shortcomings. Now, after a couple of turd-like issues, I'm licking my fingers and hoping for seconds.

Truth be told, if not for the terrible dialog - and it is terrible, worse than before, if that's even possible - and the fact that they've seemingly run out of interesting things for our villains to do except for "Attack!", this might actually be the best issue yet. Zak, who to this point has been a complete douche, comes front and center here, revealing a slightly less douchey side of him self. From his quiet regret about his snide remarks to Pinsor, to his self doubt in the face of Spidrax, and ultimately to his harrowing flirtation with ultimate power, we probably see the deepest exploration of any character thus far. I can't help but wish they would turn this lens around on our "hero", but it's nice to see them finally dig below the surface of one of these characters, and I found that my opinion of Zak softened a bit by issue's end.

The other interesting aspect of this issue is the revelation that what triggered the so-called Great Cataclysm was, in fact, an act of short-sighted compassion. In feeling empathy for the suffering of the planet, the Ancients inadvertently wiped out most life upon it. Was this a commentary on well intentioned, but hardline, environmentalism by Mantlo? Perhaps, but it could just be a plot device. Regardless, it makes for a rather unique, fresh, and intriguing part of the back story.

The incredible power of the Hyve also ups the stakes substantially. Before, it was just a Castle Grayskull knock-off with mysterious powers. Now, the thought of it falling into the clawed hands of Spidrax is a rather unpleasant one, as it should be. There's a weight here now that was missing before.

I do have a few small complaints about "The Hyve!". This is the third issue in a row where Belana skulks around in the dark (well, the comic describes it as dark, but it's drawn broad daylight to my eyes) having the same debate with herself over the real intentions of Galken and Dargon. We get it, Belana. We get it. And Pinsor has become flat-out pathetic. I'll admit I do find myself sympathizing with him at times, because I've been in love with a female friend before, and similarly found my attempts to slay dragons for her unable to win her favor. But with Pinsor, I still come back to the fact that this dude is Stellara's Adopted Father, and I get angry again.

Overall, "The Hyve!" was a solid step forward. Interesting character development, some fascinating revelations. Was Sectaurs finally finding its stride or was this a fluke? I guess we'll find out tomorrow.

We'll be back next tomorrow with our final Sectaurs adventure: "Battle and Betrayal".

In the early 90s, writer Bill Mantlo was tragically struck by a hit-and-run driver and left with a debilitating brain injury and insurance woes, all of which are chronicled in this moving article. If you've enjoyed Mantlo's work and would like to contribute to his ongoing care, please consider a donation.

1 comment:

Tony Williams said...

When Zak was all cosmic uber powerful and talking about how he could see into the minutest corners and thoughts of every living thing on Symbion, and the next panel shows Belana, Tony, was I alone in thinking he'd see into her head and realize her feelings for Dargon?

You were not. I was like "Ohhh, this'll be good. This'll be... This'll...They didn't do it."