Tenth Muse: a Perfect 10?

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Flash back to early 2001. Tenth Muse is a smash hit for Image Comics and the title’s creator, Darren Davis. The book earns a spot in the coveted top ten on Diamond’s Top 300 List and thanks in part to cover model Rena Mero, the comic is featured on entertainment shows such as Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition and Extra. Now flash forward to the present. Davis, Blue Water Productions and Alias Enterprises are teaming up to bring back the character with a new ongoing series. Their first order of business? They collect the first four issues of the original series with a new cover sporting an image of new cover girl, Cindy Margolis.

But is the original series worth bringing back? I didn’t follow the title when it first launched in late 2000, so I went to the archives to see what I could uncover. I found the first four issues of the series — the same being reprinted in trade paperback form in April — and sat down to see if I could come up with an answer.

The series starts off with lots of action, several flashbacks and plenty of questions. Our hero, the 10th Muse, is being attacked by a battalion of men with machine guns. Lucky for her, she has super reflexes and amazing agility and she’s able to get away with her life (the action). Meanwhile, Dawn Levitz is writing in her journal, detailing some of her history with friends, Emma and Brett (the flashbacks). While in Greece, something terrible occurs to the trio and Emma — who happens to have a striking resemblance to our hero — turns up missing, only to return eight years later with no real understanding of what happened to her (the questions).

So far; so good. Writer Marv Wolfman manages to compact all three key plot elements into just a few pages, making the comic a real page turner. The combination of flashbacks and action, both of which fit in together like the pieces of a puzzle, creates a lot of mystery and works well…for the first chapter. Unfortunately, the constant jumping around in time becomes confusing after awhile. It’s not necessarily hard to keep track of all of the characters but when the action in each panel takes place certainly is. This confusion, no matter how slight, creates an uneven narrative flow.

Particularly troublesome is the use of Emma’s friends in the telling of the story. Having Dawn reveal the characters’ pasts may help create tension due to the mysterious nature of Emma’s disappearance however it does make it difficult to focus on one character, which in turn makes it difficult to relate to any of them. Don’t get me wrong, all the pieces of a great story are here but the execution is flawed.

Where the story really shines is when it delves into Greek mythology. The key mystery to the story revolved around how our hero fits in with the Nine Muses, a powerful group of women associated with Zeus and other Gods. Emma’s emotional journey as she slowly discovers her inheritance (if you can call her new found powers an inheritance) is the most powerful aspect of the series. There’s just not quite enough of it here in the first four chapters. Knowing that these questions might be answered and that the Greek elements begin to come to the forefront in later issues definitely piques my interest for the remaining issues and the new series from Alias.

Yet the introduction story isn’t the only element in the first four issues that becomes a mixed bag here. The art, too, is both great yet distracting. Ken Lashley’s pencils really bring the characters to life, particularly in the action scenes and those containing mythological elements, especially in the first chapter. Even if some of the characters are a bit too thin for my tastes, it’s obvious the artist took great care in making the key scenes dynamic enough to really propel the story forward.

While the pencils help carry the load, Marvin Mariano’s colors become a burden in the later chapters. They’re simply too bright and too vivid too often. Sure, the explosions and key battle scenes need these bright colors but the constant barrage of screaming reds and greens and purples becomes overpowering. The story is easy enough to follow, but nothing really stands out on any page, hiding certain visual cues. There are still some gorgeous panels but the negatives seem to outweigh the positives.

With an ending that leaves just as many questions unanswered as answered and leads into the rest of the original series, it’s hard to tell if the original Alias series is worth picking up in trade paperback form. The mystery revolving around the 10th Muses’ powers is certainly intriguing but the road gets a bit bumpy with some confusing flashbacks and some overindulgent colors.

With that said, I’m excited about the new ongoing series, which will be penned by Davis. The opening section of the new series takes place on Mount Olympus, which tells me the mythological elements become more important, which is a definite thumbs up for me. From what I’ve seen, I recommend that fans give the first issue a try. If it’s something you’re interested in, give the trade paperback a look, it should fill in some of the blanks and get you caught up on the story.

Note: This review is based on the individual issues that make up the new Tenth Muse Volume 1 collection. It should be noted that the printing process for the trade paperback may alleviate some of the issues I had with the art, and there might be extras thrown in to help make the book more appealing to fans considering spending the $10 cover price.

- James W. Powell

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