Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Roge Antonio and Veronica Gandini
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The debut issue of Marvel’s Contagion promises to blend a street-level scope of potentially apocalyptic horror premise, and for the most part this opening delivers. Readers are given a central mystery that's teased throughout the book — on which reveals enough to readers to fully divulge the premise and the stakes, but which maintains a mystique for future issues of five-issue limited series. Writer Ed Brisson has crafted an interesting set-up, while artist Roge Antonio and colorist Veronica Gandini give readers a visual treat throughout.
The comic opens with Yu-Ti the Thunderer being shown the glowing lump-ridden bodies of two men from a three-man expedition to the previous unknown catacombs below K’un Lun. Yu-Ti astutely ponders the location of the third man from the expedition before the title page. When the comic picks back up, we’re following the Thing on Yancy Street as he goes to a pet store to pick up kitty litter. Series writer Ed Brisson brings a sense of urgency in other moments, but here he's content to slow down to really humanize Ben Grimm.
While Brisson is far from the first to take the angle on the character, the fact that this is going to be a story in which characters are going to be afflicted with lumpy growths all over them, taking this time with the Thing plants the thematic seeds that the infected in this series are not beyond saving, and that there will be something human underneath the fungus among us. That said, the shifting in gears isn't always the smoothest, as the Thing is forced to throw down with this virulent foe. Seeing the way the rest of the Fantastic Four succumb is well-paced, but it feels too action-packed to be particularly creepy.
Based on the cover, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this series is going sacrifice being aesthetically pleasing in pursuit of grittiness, but thankfully artist Roge Antonio and colorist Veronica Gandini instead strike a balance between sleek polish and harsh angles with heavy shadows. For a series that seems to want to meld a sense of excitement with horror in its DNA, this is the perfect visual choice as the art is a delight at all points. The standout is the opening of Yu-Ti coming upon the corpses of the two infected men. Strip the scene of all dialogue and through the angles and staging everything you need in terms of plot and tone of mystery are all expertly conveyed. The entire creative team has a collective misstep in the fight scene with the Fantastic Four and the Moloids. It changes tonally into something much more action-oriented than the dread that it seems to want to convey earlier in the book.
The horror component of Contagion, at least at this point, is a little oversold. It has this blend of camp and grit that feels like the kind of obscure VHS rentals that no doubt inspired the creative team. The opening has a sense of dread to it, but a scene that should play off as horror — three of the Fantastic Four getting infected in one fell swoop, is way too action-tinged to feel scary. Still, there is enough to love here visually, character-wise, and, for the most part, tonally for readers to find this series growing on them.