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Home ¦ Reviews ¦ Atavar

2000AD Review Extra 26th September 04

2000 AD - AtavarAtavar
By Dan Abnett & Richard Elson

Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk

What to Expect: Cloned by the Kalen, Atavar is the last human left alive in the universe. And he may also be their only hope in defeating the UOs, a gestalt machine intelligence, created by mankind, which is rapidly devouring the entire galaxy…

Review by Edward Berridge

I have to admit up front that I actually enjoyed reading Atavar the first time around. I first started reading 2000AD again during the last couple of episodes of the first series, and it was a good opportunity to show me exactly how the comic had changed in my absence. Then, I found I was one of the apparently small group of people who found themselves really enjoying the second series, in no small part due to the artwork of Richard Elson. So picking up the collected edition seemed a bit of a no-brainer really…

First off, the production of the package itself is worthy of note, matching as it does the standard of quality we’ve come to expect from the growing library of Rebellion collections. The book is a nice European style hardback edition, with a rather fetching new Richard Elson cover. The book also contains a cover gallery and an page of Elson’s character sketches which are worth the price of admission alone. A look at his intricate pencil work really gives the reader a sense of exactly how much work this man puts into his pages. The book has obviously been put together with a lot of time dedication and love.

The only quibbles I really have with the presentation of the book is that the covers could have been given a page each, rather then crammed into the top half of one page. Likewise, it would have been nice had the sketchbook been spread across two pages rather than one, to give the reader an even more close up view of Elson’s design work. And I’m still not happy that the letterer always gets hidden away on the inside contents page. But I’m just nitpicking with what is an otherwise thoroughly lovely book design.

2000AD - Atavar
Atavar before...

To move onto the actual main body of the story, I have to admit up front that I’ve never been the biggest fan of Dan Abnett. I never hated his work, but it never leapt out of the page for me. ‘Competent’ was the word I would traditionally use to describe him. A journeyman author, who could write well, and more importantly reliably, but without ever really shining. But reading this book has led me to somewhat reappraise my position. True, I’ve never been enormously excited at the prospect of another Sinister/Dexter story, but then I don’t object to seeing one either: it’s become part of the furniture of the comic. Still, whatever your point of view, you have to admire the sheer amount of characters and situations the man has created: from the reinvention of Durham Red, via the aforementioned hitmen of dubious repute, to his revival of the VC’s the man has been nothing short of prolific. And I have to say that, in my humble opinion, Atavar is the best thing that he has done thus far.

The story itself initially seems like something of an extended Future Shock: Man wakes up, finds that he has been cloned by an alien species on an alien world from the DNA of a long dead man, and more than that – he is the last human left alive in the entire universe. Add to this the fact that the aliens have created him for a very specific purpose: to help them destroy an enemy that has already wiped out two out of the five different species that live in the galaxy, an enemy that was built by the long dead hand of humanity. Then mix in the fact that his alien ‘creators’ may not be all that they seem, plus a killer twist ending, and you have the makings of an enjoyable slice of sf opera/hokum.

However, reading it all in one go immediately points to one of the series' great strengths: the writing of Dan Abnett. His style is not as flashy as some writers, he prefers a more subtle approach, but this really pays off dividends in this instance. It was a surprise for me to find out that the entire first series only took up eight original five page instalments in the original progs, and yet the fact that you get the necessary narrative progression and character development in such a short space, without it feeling rushed or overly expositional is testament to Abnett’s skills as a writer. The story flows extremely well, and is an exhilarating burst of rocket fuel, as our central character is shuttled from place to place, racing towards the ultimate confrontation. It is satisfying that amongst all the mad dashing about the place, Abnett still finds time to develop separate, believable personalities for all of his main characters, particularly Ked and Gar, as these characteristics and personalities will later come to play an important part in the ending of the first book, thus bringing it to an even more satisfyingly believable conclusion.

2000AD - Atavar
...and after.
However, it’s in Book 2 that the series really comes into its own. The scope of the series is broadened with the introduction of the two other surviving races in the galaxy: the Binod Union and the Wosk. Elson’s art also comes along apace, with his designs for the Binod Union, like a slug with a couple of arachnids attached to them. Likewise, the designs for the Wosk, Voidshaker and Worldbreaker are also particularly original, and this really allows Elson to shine. This is also matched by his dynamic action work, and there are a surprisingly large number of punch ups and altercations in this series.

Elson is able to combine this with a great feeling for the depth of outer space and the many varied and different planets that exist within it, so that the reader really gets a feeling of scope, with the story occurring on a galactic level. Abnett also steps up his game here, with concepts like Atavar and Worldbreaker following the Wosk to meet ‘God’, or the concept of the galaxy catching ‘cancer’. The characterisation is good too – Atavar has noticeably changed during the ninety-seven year gap between the first and second series, and Atavar and Voidshaker make an entertaining, if surprisingly, good double act. Top character marks must go to the Wosk caretaker left to guard their planet when everyone else goes off to see God (“YOU ARE LOUD AND SCARY AND BIG.”). However, it is Elson who shines the brightest in this case, be it from his character and technical designs, to his colouring and actually narrative craft, this is some of the best work to have appeared from the artist in his career.

All in all, I found that I really enjoyed reading the first two parts of Atavar back to back, and I think it benefits greatly from being read in such a way. The only thing that did surprise me was that the book only collected the first two parts of what I assumed would be a three part story. However, it does say ‘To Be Continued’ at the end, and I believe a new Atavar series is due in the near future, so maybe there’s more planned than I expected. Regardless, this is a very nicely packaged collection, which is well worth buying, and I can highly recommend it to those who like their Futures Shocking.

Read what our reviewers thought of Atavar 2 when it was first published here.

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Original content (c) 2002 Gavin Hanly (contact 2000AD Review).