With “VS” #1, can Esad Ribic bring his style of epic artwork into the space of creator owned comics successfully? Not to spoil it, but the answer is a resounding yes. Read on for the rest of my thoughts about “VS” #1, though some actual spoilers follow.
Written by Ivan Brandon
Illustrated by Esad Ribic
Colored by Nic Klein
Lettered by Aditya Bidikar
War has become a spectator sport. Privately funded armies of superstar soldiers march into battle for fame, profit, and the glory of their sponsor nations. When a new generation of soldiers arrive, top gladiator Satta Flynn is about to discover how fleeting the limelight can be. From writer IVAN BRANDON (BLACK CLOUD, DRIFTER) and superstar artist ESAD RIBIĆ (Secret Wars, Uncanny X-Force) in his creator-owned Image debut, with painted color by NIC KLEIN (DRIFTER, VIKING) and graphic design by TOM MULLER, VS delivers spectacular action, darkly humorous satire, and explores our hunger for fame and our penchant for self-destruction.
“VS” #1 begins in space, looking out at Earth floating, surrounded by stars. There is a meteor on the bottom of the page and as we slowly zoom into the Earth, we see the meteor move closer and closer, obstructing the view of a satellite hanging in the atmosphere. The sense of scale in this opening sequence, the sense how everything on the world below is just so small compared to the size of these planetary bodies and their movements, sets the tone for the story to follow. Both in the scale of the artwork and the tone of the story.
Esad Ribic is one of the best artist in the business at creating a sense of scale. Unlike almost any other, his work is able to bring a kind of scope and gravitas to a story that most are missing. There is a reason why Marvel had Ribic illustrate “Secret Wars,” one of the few event comics from the publisher in recent history that actually felt like it was an event. Epic is a word that has almost lost all meaning, but Ribic’s art work has almost always been exactly that.
In “VS,” Ribic’s first creator-owned work, that sense of scale is still present. Along with the painted colors from Nic Klein, the entire issue looks beautiful. From the opening sequence set in space, to the parts of the issue that take place on the battlefield, and all the parts in between, there is always a level of detail to Ribic’s artwork, and the painted qualities of the covers, make you want to just stare at every individual panel. Though even that sentiment isn’t quite right, as the action sequences have such a sense of kinetic energy that you can’t take the time to just sit on one panel. In the war sequences, the use of laser blasts and thrusters draws the readers eye across the page, pulling you from each panel to the next.
And it isn’t just the art in the book that is well done. The story by Ivan Brandon also pulls the reader in. In the world of the story, war has been made into a spectator sport, with different teams all fighting just to fight. The main character, Lieutenant Flynn, is a player who seems to have his best days in the sport behind him. The set up for the story seems like one that the reader has heard before. A washed-up athlete, faced with an injury, who is going to try and work his way back into the lime light. Except the story has more on its mind than that.
In this first issue, “VS” is comments on a number of different problems facing the world of professional sports and our society in general. It calls into question the purpose of sports, how small these conflicts are in the grand scheme of the world, and the importance placed on sports in general. While the issue does fall into a few of the tropes that many sci-fi sport stories face, its also seems like it is willing to dig a bit deeper. Sure, it makes the easy point of saying that viewers in the future will want their games to be more violent, more of a blood sport, but it also takes the time to look at the players of the game, in a way that falls into the zeitgeist of the current conversation about football in America. The way in which a sport like football treats its players, the brain damage being faced by players in the NFL. “VS” #1 seems like it has deeper aspiration in its story telling than simply saying consumers want to watch athletes hurt each other.Continued below
Of course, when I describe “VS” #1 like that, it makes it seem like it might be a bit of a slog, which it most certainly is not. It is a tricky line to walk, making a commentary on violence in something like sports or media, while at the same time writing a story that does get a lot of its enjoyment out of the action and violence it portrays. In this first issue, “VS” does a good job of walking that line. On top of that, there are a number of moments of levity throughout the issue that make reading it a decent amount of fun. The way that commercials are put into the every day life of the participants, and the way they’re expected to do endorsements during a literal battle for their lives make what could be a very dark story feel a little bit less so.
Overall, “VS” #1 is an exciting comic. The art work is beautiful, with the entire team firing on all cylinders. The story itself seems like it is both fun and has something to say. This is a great debut issue, and if the series is able to keep this level of quality going forward, it’s going to be something to look out for.
Final Verdict: 9.5 – A very exciting first issue from some truly talented creators.