Inquisitor Ascendant by Dan Abnett and Simon Coleby – Comic Review [Bellarius]
Digging up another forgotten remnant of Black Library’s past, Bellarius gives his thoughts on Inquisitor Ascendant.
“A classic example of how even the perfect writer for a comic can still produce dreck beyond comprehension.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
Of all the writers working at Black Library, few have been so long established and acclaimed as Dan Abnett. While by no means the sole talented writer producing work for the grim darkness of the far future, between Eisenhorn, Gaunt’s Ghosts, Titanicus, Bothers of the Snake and others, his impact is undeniable. If there was any person who has proven themselves many times over when it comes to handling the Inquisition and stories of downfalls, it’s Abnett, which makes the failings of Inquisitor Ascendant all the more baffling.
The comic follows the events on Nicodemus as Inquisitor Defay and his Interrogator Gravier are dispatched to investigate potential Chaos infestations. Soon after his arrival, Defay discovers that the Chaotic infestations run far deeper than anyone would have ever realised.
Much of the story is told from the perspective of Gravier, with notes, records and report elements used to assist in the narration and give a greater sense of atmosphere. This is quoted as being a part of ‘The Life of Defay’, a work produced years following this operation and is one of several elements which were likely intended to give the story certain noir trappings. Between the central figures involved, the shadow-flickering raining scenes and certain structural plot-points which would be crucial to the works of the genre, the story could almost be called gothic noir. Unfortunately, this only serves to hurt the story rather than truly help it. Why? Because without the same atmosphere Abnett could create with text, there is nothing to save the story from its staggering predictability. You could read Inquisitor Ascendant drunk and half concussed, and the chances are you would be able to predict the story point for point. The only exceptions to this are elements which come so far out of the left field they’re outright deus ex machinas.
The story itself is ultimately what effectively buries the entire comic, but special mention needs to be given to the artwork and designs. Like Abnett, Simon Coleby is by no means a poor example of his profession, anyone who has read his work on 2000 AD or Wildstorm can attest for that. Unfortunately he was also completely the wrong man for the job here. The exaggerated designs of the characters, monsters and certain scenes don’t fit at all with the story’s tone, and would far better fit a more traditional tale from the Second or early Third Edition. As such, even while the story is trying to play itself completely straight faced, Defay and co have such a ghoulishly exaggerated look that it becomes impossible to take anything seriously. It would be like seeing Ed McGuinness try to take on Silent Hill or the Walking Dead. You’d be watching an artist who clearly knows what they are doing trying to present the best work possible, but with a style which plays heavily against its subject matter.
Things aren’t helped by the fact that the designs of Defay and co. are woefully generic for the 41st millennium. Beyond the bizarre looking gimp mask he is often seen entering combat in, the overall look retains nothing unique, no singular point which gives him a truly identifiable design no other figure retains, and this goes for everyone. Daemons look too much like generic monsters to be remembered, Gravier’s look blends him in with the thousands of other Inquisitorial operatives seen in artwork, and the Ecclesiarchy look as if they could be part of any fictional religion with vague Catholic influences. Of course, even if they had been gifted the most stellar designs ever to be witnessed in Warhammer Monthly, it wouldn’t have helped. No character here stands out beyond their two dimensional designs. There’s no moment which helps to signify them and give them some degree of depth akin to Ervin Hekate’s inner thoughts or Captain Angelos’ more introspective moments, and without that the story doesn’t hold up in the slightest.
So we have a noir style Inquisitorial investigation which is predictable and has no characters to really push the story forwards. So, what about that age old reliable trait of Warhammer, where bolters are drawn and blades clash? It’s unremarkable at best. The action here is extremely fleeting and lacks any real punch, often being far too compressed down to a few panels or ending in very sudden twists to actually give them any real satisfaction. This is likely due to the comic having been written as an issue by issue tale rather than a continuous tale, but without a clear focus to help prevent the story from becoming repetitive. Every section of the tale is the same, Defay and Gravier go somewhere, investigate something, get into a fight with Chaos worshippers, the fight ends and they miss the fact Archbishop Not-The-Main-Villain is acting strangely. With nothing to really break up this monotony or help to push for an interesting angle with this tale, there really is nothing here to help make the story stand up on its own two legs.
Abnett has produced better comics both on his own and working with Andy Lanning, and you should definitely take those over Inquisitor Ascendant. While there are good comics set in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, this is most certainly not one of them, and unless the following volume saw a staggering improvement in quality, it’s not a series worth getting into. Don’t waste your time or money on this one, look instead at Titan or one of the more acclaimed series from this publisher.
Verdict – 2.5/10