Comic Picks By The Glick

The Activity vol. 2

September 8, 2013

This was another Image title that had popped up on my radar a while back.  I got the first volume at WonderCon and I didn’t dislike it.  The series is a fact-based take on American covert intelligence and espionage activities that follows the exploits of a small group of highly trained operatives, known as Team Omaha as they are sent out on missions across the globe.  On one hand, writer Nathan Edmonson’s no-nonsense approach to the team’s exploits is refreshing.  We don’t get bogged down in their personal dramas and no time is wasted in the narrative or the action.  On the other, we’re left with very little personal investment or reason to care about these people while the stories themselves often lack proper resolution or even a defined narrative arc.  I get that Edmonson is trying to show us what it’s really like for these people in the field, but if I wanted that kind of realism I’d just turn on the news or read one of the books he recommends at the end of this volume.

That’s the way things carry on for most, but not all, of vol. 2.  The opening chapter details a flashback to an operation in the Congo that Fiddler took part in prior to her involvement with Team Omaha.  It’s pretty straightforward as the team finds out that not all is what it seems and tries to make as smooth a getaway as possible.  That doesn’t happen and it’s only down to some quick thinking on Fiddler’s part that the worst is averted.  It’s an engaging story due to the tactics involved and the action, but it ends on an anticlimax that makes you wonder what the point was.  Realistic?  Probably.  Dramatically satisfying?  Certainly not.

Things do pick up as the volume goes on as a two-part story picks up on a thread involving a rogue operative from a previous episode and has Team Omaha utilizing some psy-op tactics in order to get him to come over to their side.  We get a team up with Britain’s Special Air Services in Somalia, while separate ops in Belarus and the Phillipines try to put a human face on the locals who get caught up in these operations, willingly or not.  While these stories aren’t dramatically different than the opening one, they do become more interesting as Edmonson starts teasing out an overarching story between them.  That two-parter, it ends with the realization that other forces -- possibly the CIA -- are pursuing their own agenda without any consideration of what the team is trying to accomplish.  As for the SAS team up?  They have to deal with false deployment info that was planted because of a suspected leak in the organization.

It’s that last bit which leads to the most compelling story in the collection, “The Butterfly Effect.”  From the very start, where a lieutenant in the Pentagon gets a message that he immediately orders to be burned, you know that the stakes are higher here.  More personal, too, as the story involves a potential terrorist attack in Minnesota that Team Omaha has a limited window to work with local law in order to defuse.  This is carried out against a parallel plot as the Pentagon finds out where the intelligence leak has been coming from.

“The Butterfly Effect” feels like the least realistic story in the volume, as it seeks to explode the low-key, “no one will ever know what we’ve done here” approach the series has trafficked in until now.  Parts of it do require some suspension of disbelief, as while the theory behind the use of the butterflies was cool, Team Omaha just happened to have access to them at the right time, and were able to stage a split-second intervention before the start of the game.  You also have to wonder what the people in the stands sitting next to the terrorists thought about this when it all went down.

However, in spite of all this the story is the most dramatically satisfying one in the volume.  There’s a clear effort to get the reader involved from the very start as Team Omaha displays the ruthless efficiency and cunning we’ve seen from them in a very cinematic manner.   It’s like a mini-movie version of what has come before and it manages to accomplish its aims without compromising its spirit.  Not too much anyway.  The parallel story about the investigation of the  leaks is also compelling as well.  How do people wind up acting as leaks and not even know it?  I don’t know and I’m dying to find out in vol. 3.

Art is handled by Mitch Gerads, with Marc Laming illustrating the opening story.  They get the job done with a minimum of fuss and flash with similar styles that ground you in a convincing depiction of our world, but don’t get bogged down in any kind of photorealistic detail.  While it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a lot of the art here was the result of photo-referencing, it would appear that the artists were referencing from the right models and/or materials.

If “The Activity” proves anything, it’s that a devotion to realism above all else can ultimately be more of a distraction when creating narrative fiction.  This is a series that really only comes alive when the overarching narrative comes into play, or when it deals in big events like in “The Butterfly Effect.”  A good portion of this volume may have left me cold, but the heat it generates at the very end is enough to get me to come back for the finale in vol. 3.

Jason Glick

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