Axiom Is the Worst Version of a Story Its Creators Have Already Told

Art by Ed Benes & Dinei Ribeiro

Comics Reviews Mark Waid
Axiom Is the Worst Version of a Story Its Creators Have Already Told

Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Ed Benes
Publisher: Legendary Comics
Release Date: August 23, 2016

oss33f40lfx1x0rjrnpb.jpgIndustry veteran Mark Waid currently helms the primary Avengers title and is the venerated writer behind all-time classic runs on everything from The Flash to Fantastic Four. He has deconstructed the Superman concept repeatedly, in DC’s own Kingdom Come and Superman: Birthright, as well as in creator-owned titles Irredeemable and Incorruptible. Between his off-the-cuff Twitter presence and questionable projects like Strange Fruit, he’s no stranger to controversy. So why is it that no one seems to be talking about The Rise and Fall of Axiom, his latest ersatz Man of Steel take, drawn by one-time Justice League of America penciller Ed Benes?

Because it’s really, really bad.

Paste prides itself on committing more space to lifting up good work than we do to tearing down bad, so it’s with no joy that we label Axiom, well, irredeemable. The Legendary Comics graphic novel, quietly released at the end of August, is as phoned-in of a work as any major-league talent has ever crafted. Working against a tired core concept—“Superman, but evil!”—Waid is unable to mine fresh material from a story seed better realized by Miracleman, A god Somewhere, JLA: Earth 2, Squadron Supreme, Invincible and too many other books to list.

The Rise and Fall of Axiom Interior Art by Ed Benes & Dinei Ribeiro

The titular Axiom, seemingly an Aryan dream in spandex and a cape, arrives on Earth with his beautiful partner, Thena, and sets about curing cancer (although it’s weirdly specified that they can’t fix heart disease or HIV) and shielding humanity from itself. A Lex Luthor/Tony Stark hybrid fusses over Earth’s reliance on saviors from the sky, but provides little menace to the extraterrestrial heroes. When a physics experiment goes wrong and Thena sacrifices herself for the sake of the planet, Axiom quickly appoints himself Super-Dictator and attempts to rule the planet with an iron fist and heat vision before a secret coalition of government-sponsored human resistors convince him to rethink his choices and high-tail it off-planet.

The Rise and Fall of Axiom Interior Art by Ed Benes & Dinei Ribeiro

The crux of Axiom’s failings is that the book itself is more expositional than the summary above. If you’ve ever felt that “show, don’t tell” was hollow advice, Axiom proves the truth in that oft-repeated line. As if Waid didn’t know anyone would actually draw the story, a forgettable human narrator details much of what happens on the page, and info-dumps generously throughout. This leaves Benes with little to add. Known for a slightly bustier take on the Jim Lee/Michael Turner school of ‘90s flashiness, Benes stocks the book with lookalike white people with little emotional range. Every crop-topped woman looks like she’d be more at home in a vintage Marvel swimsuit special than in a book ostensibly about the corruption of ultimate power. Dinei Ribeiro’s uninspired colors are serviceable but do little to offset the rough look of Benes un-inked pencils.

The Rise and Fall of Axiom Interior Art by Ed Benes & Dinei Ribeiro

Axiom nearly gets interesting when it’s antihero is revealed to be more Martian Manhunter than Clark Kent, but the generic supporting cast doesn’t much seem to care. Each new story beat is granted as much weight as children switching sides in a playground superhero dust-up: Axiom is sad, Axiom is happy, Axiom is obliterating news anchors on live television and then Axiom throws in the towel when presented with not-Iron Man’s Psychology 101. There is a brief moment near the end when it seems that Waid is flirting at something subversive, of tipping the score in Axiom’s favor when the apparent human protagonist is at his most vulnerable, but it passes and the book concludes with an embarrassed whimper instead of a satisfying bang.

The Rise and Fall of Axiom Interior Art by Ed Benes & Dinei Ribeiro

The most charitable interpretation of The Rise and Fall of Axiom’s gross failings is that it was simply a paycheck for Waid and Benes. The credit page lists Legendary Pictures CEO Thomas Tull as the book’s creator, suggesting that Axiom is either a disastrous attempt at storyboarding a future film or a vanity project from a derivative idea. The alternative—that Waid, the acclaimed writer of Daredevil with Chris Samnee, or Benes put in any real effort at all—is too depressing to consider.

The Rise and Fall of Axiom Interior Art by Ed Benes & Dinei Ribeiro

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