Best Shots Review: CONTAGION #1 has 'a Pulpy, Street Level Energy'

Contagion #1
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Contagion #1
Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Roge Antonio and Veronica Gandini
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

Credit: Marvel Comics

A mysterious plague comes to Yancy Street in the debut of Contagion, a new five-issue limited series focused on street-level heroes. Headlined by new Ghost Rider scribe Ed Brisson, Contagion looks to bring a DCeased-like energy to the Marvel Universe - which feels ironic given DCeased’s clear debt to Marvel Zombies. While I’m not sure he completely succeeds here, he does set up the rest of the event well, providing a pulpy, focused introduction to the “problem” and a few of the heroes we will be seeing tackling the epidemic.

On the art side, however, penciler Roge Antonio and colorist Veronica Gandini lean heavily into Brisson’s 1980s horror-inspired debut. From their gorgeous Shaw Brothers-inspired take on K’un-Lun to the dingy, grimy sewers of Yancy Street, Antonio and Gandini turn in consistently wonderful pages, even when the things they are rendering feel more than a little lightweight.

Discovering an unknown series of caves underneath K’un-Lun, Yu-Ti the Thunderer is faced with a new, deadly sickness - one that spread gnarly bulbs of mold onto the body and twists the mind into a mania. But she was too late to contain it, and now it is a Yancy Street problem. Unfortunately, this small window is really the only glimpse we get of just how big of a problem this will become.

While writer Ed Brisson does a great job selling the terror and looming threat of this new disease, focusing on a very bad day for Ben Grimm and his family as they’re infected by a horde of mold covered Moloids and the Mole Man. The choreography is suitably creepy, but the level of decompression hurts this book’s momentum entirely - watching the fall of the Fantastic Four doesn’t have quite the impact you’d expect when you have to then cut back to Iron Fist cleaning up another of K’un L’un’s messes.

Credit: Marvel Comics

But while the introduction’s script is a touch too thin, the artwork is anything but. Graced with the muscular, expressive pencils of Roge Antonio, each page displays a sumptuously grounded look. Even in the Capital City of Heaven, Antonio’s sets and character models are unpretentious and gracefully designed, making K’un-Lun look more homey than ever. But when we are whisked into Yancy Street, things start to look even better. Trading the autumnal lighting of K’un-Lun for the sunlit urban streets of New York, Antonio and colorist Veronica Gandini then kick the debut into visual overdrive.

Drawing Ben deep into the sewers below New York City, Antonio’s tight scene construction takes on a more intimate look, turning the sewers into a sort of haunted lair with creeping shadows darting around the scene before the big “scare” of the sequence. Strengthened by the rich colors of Gandini, especially in the “infected,” the pair unleash hell on the Fantastic Four, pitting them against a horde of Moloids, the Mole Man, and the “Patient Zero” of the infection, who has somehow made their way to New York.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Much like it’s DC counterpart DCeased, this sequence delivers a truly harrowing take on a normal superhero scrap. Though supported by his family, one by one the First Family falls to infection as “Patient Zero” displays a ropy, nebulous body make up, pockmarked with grotesque, neonbubbles, and absorbing their powers one by one. It is truly hard to read, but the beauty of the terror is undeniable and a wonderful setting of the bar from this art team.

While Contagion #1 neatly melds superheroics and horror, one can’t help what a punch it could have brought with a bit more narrative tightening. Bringing a pulpy, street level energy to this limited series, Brisson, Antonio, and Gandini present a big, gross problem and then set to unleashing it on our favorite heroes. This debut isn’t perfect by any means, but if Brisson can make the most out of his page count moving forward, he and his stellar art team could make some real magic happen in future issues.

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