There was a dull static that rang through my head each time I turned the page. So many word balloons and text captions, people shouting at each other about choice and humanity repetitively, and everyone was dressed in that gritty, leather/armor look that tries to emulate Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates but trips and lands in the overdrawn clutter of a 90’s Image trashbin. Close enough, right? The Ravagers is one of those titles that sounds like a name a rock band gives itself to try and sound hardcore, dude, and you’ll know they are because they’ll scream about how disturbed they are and the pain they feel prevents them from having a steady relationship, so now they go from city to city to belt out their vaguely-defined issues to stadium crowds that had to pay hundreds of dollars per ticket because that’s the price for supporting someone so edgy. And you know they are edgy and disturbed and in pain because those album covers are always so dark, and the band’s just sitting there, brooding. Maybe there’s a tree atop a hill, leaf-less and mournfully silhouetted against a brown sky because that’s deep. That’s the kind of comic we’re getting, too: it tries to show off how intense it is just by having a body count and angst before we even get context. Even when Beast Boy makes a joke on page three, it doesn’t seem so much like he’s teasing so much as actually arguing because it’s done in that same, dour tone as most of the New 52 titles.
The events of this spin out of something called The Culling, a Superboy/Teen Titans crossover (two titles that are also full of young characters that are horribly designed) which I didn’t read, but I get the basic gist that this is about some super-teens that were kept in a facility and trained to be killers escaping and trying to go home. It’s like We3, but with 1000% more whining, 0% robot animals blowing stuff up, and horribly drawn. Seriously, Ian Churchill draws at least three characters looking nearly identical to each other. They’re vaguely dark-skinned, too, which makes me feel like a jerk for saying they all look the same, so thanks for that, Mr. Churchill. Also, for some reason, Caitlin Fairchild (the leader of this ragtag group) is depicted on the cover wearing a bikini in the Arctic, while the interior art has her in a more practical battlesuit, though you do get some cheesecake shots of the New 52’s Terra and a girl named Brighteyes, who shows some skin to get a guy to play favorites with her, only for him to throw her to the merciless killers that pursue the group, so yay comics industry!
What really gets me is that we’re obviously supposed to be invested in whether these kids can pull together, escape their pursuers, and regain their humanity, but Howard Mackie‘s way of getting that across is to tell us point blank that’s the conflict on the first page, and then have Fairchild continually state it. In We3, Morrison and Quitely depicted 1, 2, and 3 as having conflicting personalities and odd tics, often with the bare minimum of dialogue, which made the ways they worked (or didn’t work) together that much more involving. Then again, they were firing on all sorts of different cylinders for that, experimenting with page layouts, animal psychology and physiology, and combining animal rights with criticisms of the military-industrial complex, mixing plots and themes from The Incredible Journey, Richard Adams’ novel Watership Down, and even a little of Kurosawa’s samurai films in a pop-punk mix. Mackie and Churchill aren’t up to that level, but the material’s right there: broken people on the edge of the world, hunted by an unstoppable enemy. It’s a chance to insert some Jack London into cape comics narrative–Fairchild muses “Will freedom be enough to liberate them? Or is too late to save them from themselves?” and later that they must “Take the plunge”–but free will and survival of the fittest appear to be cogs in the plot machine, rather than ideas to explore and develop. Churchill certainly doesn’t get any mileage out of the cold landscape outside of the first page (where he does an admittedly cool image of the shoreline), opting for tighter shots and barely drawn backgrounds, and Mackie shows there’s a reason his writing at Marvel never amounted to anything above passable escapism. Any creative team with more ambition could have made this premise sing, rather than drone.
(Written by Howard Mackie, Drawn by Ian Churchill, Published by DC)