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Two Over Ten

In past reviews I've given the pass to graphic novels that lacked somewhat in the Basics of Comic Book Creation, because said book possessed content or several neat ideas that made up for the lack in fundamental understanding of how to put together a good comic book. Two Over Ten, while sporting an interesting concept, fails terribly in its execution.

As it turns out in the book, everyone is born with a name. Not Jack or Jodi or Jozan, but a name that is as much a part of us as our soul, like The Ashen or The Soar. This given name (cleverly referred to in-text as a "given") brings with it a distinct who you are and who you've been. And it just so happens to give one a superpower along with all that funky knowledge.

Thing is, you're never allowed to know what your "given" is, all thanks to a little Irish girl named Casey "The Fade" O'Beirne. The Fade is the one given aware of herself; the one meant to take away the powers of everyone else, to ensure the world stays out of a permanent state of pandemonium. Everything is running smoothly until Fade comes across an infant with the soul name of The Release (guess what he does). The baby inadvertently releases the givens Casey has taken, and now the world has some problems, and they're all the same as Casey's.

The rest of the story follows a similar route that others have taken (most notably J. Michael Stracynski in Rising Stars): ordinary people start to get super powers, some craziness ensues, then someone has to put it right again.

It's not a bad story to tell, and I've always found that I rather like this derivational tale in the hands of a good writer. And writer Myatt Murphy does manage to inject some rather interesting aspects into his script. While the "everyone has a secret superpower" plot device has been used before, it doesn't feel too everyday in the story, and it's a good way to write a superhero genre story without actually mentioning superheroes. He also handles some the powers of the characters very well. The drawback to The Soar's flying ability was gruesomely intriguing and realistically correct, as well as The Numb's ability to take away kinetic energy. And The Donor's power was wonderfully creative and it's one of the few times I've seen a creator come up with a superpower that someone else has yet to make up.

But there are problems galore with Murphy's writing style when it comes to characters and plot. There are times when the story is too bogged down in trying to explain the givens that people have. Murphy has the tendency to explain everything in explicit detail with the use of narrative word boxes running the length of almost every page. The voice of the narrator is written in a flowery prose almost as if one were listening to a 1930's radio broadcast of The Shadow that had "danger lurking around every corner!"

It's a long an arduous process just to get through the first eight pages, which feature maybe three word balloons, and hold more than fifty narrative boxes. It's a terrible way to write a comic because it ignores the fact that a comic is blending of media and not a book. The visual aspect should be doing as much if not more to move the story along, which means I want to see the characters doing something, not being told that they're doing it. Murphy continues this trend throughout the book, and it makes the action drag horribly.

His dialogue is hit-and-miss, and at times walks a fine line between decent writing and Chuck Austen style crap. He manages to write some very good exchanges in the scenes involving South American organized crime, where the characters speak naturally and have a flow that utterly shocked me after slogging through that narrative.

But dialogue between Casey and Steven Wynne (called The Reason on the Second 2 Some website, but not in the comic book) is often bland, fairly ambiguous, and gives the reader no real understanding of the characters other than what they say, which isn't much. In fact, no one gets a decent amount of characterization other than a peripheral character that wasn't overly important to the story. We get names, powers (not always specific explanations though), and that's pretty much it.

I'm not sure what happened at the end of the story. I've read the end of the story twice and I'm still pretty lost as to what exactly Steven's powers are, why one character that possessed a saintly demeanor in one appearance is suddenly evil, and what exactly is going on in the writer's world. Why do people all have "givens?"

It's a simple question that never even gets brought up in the script, and it accompanies other questions like does everyone have a given or just some people? The reader is told that everyone indeed has one, but then when The Release releases everyone, wouldn't everyone have superpowers and not just the seven characters we meet? There are a lot of logic slips and plot holes in the story that make the script more ambiguous than The Matrix Revolutions.

The artwork is better than I expected from a small studio like Second 2 Some, but there's a clear difference between the first three chapters and the last two, as Chris Rhoads and Jason Davis (penciler and inker respectively) do a sub par job on the former. Facial features are too simple placed against the more detailed backgrounds, and the sizes of eyes, noses, and even heads change page to page. They lack emotion and are too similar at times.

The last two chapters are a marked improvement from Rhoads and Davis, showing that penciler/inker Scott Dalrymple is the superior talent. Facial expression is dead on and expressive, backgrounds are just as detailed as the characters, and the characters are more kinetic. The self-inking let Dalrymple have a much better control over his visual, and he lays out some very good panels using different angles and shots, especially during the final confrontation between The Donor and Steven Wynne.

Two Over Ten, while an interesting idea, lacks too much in way of story fundamentals to be worth it, which is annoying because the comic gives you the five-chapter story for only $8.99. That's a ridiculously good price and I wish it were attached to another of Second 2 Some's titles, Fade From Blue. From what the Eisner Awards tell me, it would probably be a great deal.

Robert Sparling

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