I’ve read a lot of Gerard Way’s comics in the past. The Umbrella Academy ranks among my favorite comic series. I’ve also read some of Shaun Simon’s work with Gerard, namely The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. However, I’ve never encountered much of Mikey Way’s stuff outside of his work in My Chemical Romance. It’s not surprising to see him venture into comics – it’s always seemed to be something he and his brother shared in common. But when I heard about his comic, Collapser, I was really interested. The premise was intriguing and I like weird science fiction ideas. However, after reading it, I have to say that I didn’t really like this comic. And it’s a big shame because the premise sounded so interesting. A guy, Liam, ends up with a black hole inside his chest that gives him the power to alter reality as he sees fit. What’s not to like about that? The answer: the execution. (2.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: Mild spoilers follow!)
Collapser by Shaun Simon and Mikey Way, illustrated by Ilias Kyriazis
There’s a voice in the head of Liam James questioning everything he does—from his job at the nursing home to keeping his relationship with his girlfriend afloat. Liam suffers from anxiety, and the only thing that quiets it is music, which makes a weekly DJ gig his one saving grace. But Liam’s life changes forever when he receives a black hole in the mail (yes, you read that right), one that takes up residence in his chest, grants him insane superpowers, turns him into a celebrity and draws him into a cosmic conflict beyond his wildest imagination. Where did this black hole come from? Why Liam? Is power the cure? Or will superstardom turn Liam into a black hole himself?
So, why didn’t I love this? Like I said, the problem is the execution. Comics tend to be an inherently fast-paced medium. Action is prioritized over slow storytelling. And that’s fine. There are exceptions, of course. For every superhero comic, there’s something like The Sandman or Watchmen or even The Walking Dead to balance things out with some slower storytelling. Collapser is not such a title. In fact, it’s so fast-paced that it’s actually difficult to follow what’s happened, making it frequently unpleasant to read.
From the get-go, Way and Simon spend next-to-no time properly establishing the characters or the world of the comic. We’re just kind of dropped in as everything moves full speed ahead. Liam’s only defining characteristic is that he has pretty severe anxiety and that anxiety makes him a bit of an asshole. And that’s pretty much all we’re given. And the way that Way and Simon tell us this is through a bunch of really confusing narration bubbles. It’s a really unpleasant way of exploring this anxiety as it just kind of interrupts the flow of everything and you’re never sure what the narration bubbles are referring to, if they’re one voice or multiple voices, or what. It’s just… not fun and doesn’t really make you want to relate to Liam. It just makes you wish he’d shut up. And that feeling never really goes away.
Ostensibly, the comic is about how Liam grows from this unstable and nervous person who ruins his personal relationships into someone who really tries to be better. But the problem is that we don’t really track that at all throughout the six issues. Too much time is spent on all of the cosmic elements and what should be the actual story gets lost in the process. We see him be completely dismissive to his girlfriend and his best friend and they just kind of take it. There’s some handwaving in the general direction of them being fed up with his actions, but Simon and Way never quite commit to the idea. There’s also some vague hand waving in the general direction of Liam having unresolved daddy issues, but it’s something that comes up very infrequently until it’s of vital importance to the climax, and is then dealt with so quickly that you wonder why it was worth caring about at all. Liam is an asshole throughout the comic and then he’s just suddenly… better and we’re supposed to be happy about it and it just didn’t work for me at all. In the end, it’s just some very uneven, uninteresting character development and it’s not particularly fun or compelling to read.
The same is true for the comic’s plotting. Like I said, the premise is good, but the execution is flawed. It’s all just too confusing, even with the exposition dumps that happen throughout the comic. Things just kind of happen and there’s no logical progression of events. You get a lot of information about the black hole and what it is and who wants it, but you’re never given any time to reflect on that. The comic never slows down long enough for you to really understand what’s going on and why it’s happening or why you should care. Sure, it explains the plot at various points, but that doesn’t mean the plot actually makes any sense or that it’s worth caring about at all. The world-building is neat, but I just didn’t care about the story I was being told. I felt a sort of numbness wash over me as I read the comic. It was just so much stuff happening and none of it was connecting with me at all. Between the incoherent character arcs and the confusing plot, it just wasn’t anywhere near as fun an experience as it should’ve been.
A good comic should have artwork that both elevates the material and helps clarify it. Collapser’s artwork has only one of those elements. To be fair to Kyriazis, his art is very beautiful. It’s extremely stylized and often a bit abstract, which sort of feels appropriate for a story involving so many cosmic elements. The problem is that with a script that’s as hard to follow as Way and Simon’s is, the artwork really has to pick up the slack in terms of understandability. And Kyriazis’s doesn’t really do that. It’s pretty to look at but it’s hard to follow. It doesn’t help clarify the story; if anything, it makes it even harder to follow. I may be in the minority here as I’m really picky about the artwork in comics, but I will always prefer practicality and coherence over beauty and I just feel like the artwork in this comic didn’t do enough to help tell the story – even if it was some gorgeous art.
At the end of the day, Collapser is one of those comics that has a marvelous premise but subpar execution. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t love it either. Everything about this comic should’ve spelled instant love for me, but it just didn’t click. Everything was way too fast-paced and too expositional. There was no time to get to know any of the characters or empathize with them at all, so you end up feeling like a passive passenger on this breakneck ride and it’s not particularly enjoyable. There are no clear motivations to follow or character arcs to track. Everything just… happens. And it’s not very fun. On a macro level, the story is interesting enough. Like I said, it’s a good premise. I just wish the comic had slowed down enough to properly explore it. The middle chapters show some of the promises the comic had, but it’s all squandered by a beginning and an ending that’s just too hectic to follow. Unfortunately, the artwork doesn’t help much either. While it’s certainly a pretty book, I often found the art too abstract to follow. I feel the art in a comic needs to help tell the story and I just didn’t feel like the artwork here did that. It’s a shame because I was really looking forward to giving this a read. I’m sure some will like it, but it just wasn’t for me.
2.5 out of 5 wands.