After several months hiatus, Warren Ellis and Gerardo Zaffino’s (with inking help from Antonio Fuso) meditation in minimalism returns with Karnak #2. Its plot is simple. Karnak, an Inhuman martial artist and philosopher, is tasked by S.H.I.E.L.D. to rescue an Inhuman boy from a dark, cult-like organization called the I.D.I.C., who sees him as an archetypical Chosen One. The comic is part martial arts extravaganza, part philosophical debate, and it definitely draws inspiration from the tightly edited, no room for fatty subplots action films of the 2010s, like The Raid, Dredd, Hawywire, and John Wick, with a dash of superheroes and pop philosophy. Plus he one punches a church building.
Most of Karnak #2 is silent sequences involving punching, martial arts moves, and Karnak using literal fragments from his environment to dispatch his opponents. Zaffino and Fuso’s inking style is rougher and scratchier than the previous issue as the cool fighting moves getting covered in speed line and pitch black colors from Dan Brown. The art style is reminiscent of some of Bill Sienkiewicz’s looser work, like Elektra Assassin , but with less of a painting influence even if some panels are hit and miss. But when Zaffino, Fuso, and Brown hit, the result can be pretty breathtaking like Karnak taking out a line of goons with splinters, or the revelation that the creepy, priestlike man keeping the Inhuman boy has his own special ability known as Zen Gunnery. He channels his faith into a weapon in a way similar to Morpheus in The Matrix, but instead of standard issue martial arts and marksmanship, he gets a cool Inhuman power with a burst of red. But he’s no match for Karnak, the philosopher/warrior, who dismantles his flimsy Messianic philosophy
Karnak is definitely the most unlikely protagonist to have a book in All-New, All-Different Marvel. He’s cold, humorless, and tells his opponents how he is going to defeat them, like Midnighter, but with none of his wit. (Ellis was actually the co-creator back in Stormwatch so it’s interesting to pit the characters’ abilities and temperaments against each other.) There is really no suspense when he takes out the Inhuman boys’ guards in the first half of the issue, but Ellis hooks readers for upcoming issues (Other than the promise of more skillful pugilism.) by giving Karnak himself a relatable character flaw: loneliness.
From the opening of the issue where he builds blocks and takes them down while his parents argue about exposing him to the Terrigen mists or not to its conclusion where he drinks water alone while people are kissing and dancing, Karnak is truly isolated. He has no personal connections, and his current mission, argument, or fight is his life. But perhaps he wants to be part of something bigger just like the Zen gunning priest, and it will be interesting to see if Ellis develops Karnak’s character or just uses him as a cipher for fight scenes or philosophical debates.
In its second issue, Karnak continues to develop its identity as a minimalist kung fu philosophy comic with a side of science fiction and an incredibly cranky protagonist. The comic sort of just trails off at the end, but Karnak’s interest in finding the Inhuman “savior” out of true faith or to prove people wrong sets up the rest of the series. Gerardo Zaffino and Antonio Fuso’s art is roughly inked (Almost too rough in some spots.) and hard hitting, but lacks the ballet-like choreography of Ellis’ previous action minimalist Marvel story, Moon Knight #5 that he did with Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire.
Story: Warren Ellis Art: Gerardo Zaffino with Antonio Fuso Colors: Dan Brown
Story: 7.5 Art: 7 Overall: 7.3 Recommendation: Read