Helios #4


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Helios #4


  • Words: Jason Rand
  • Art: Gabe Pena
  • Inks: Transparency Digital Productions
  • Colors: Transparency Digital Productions
  • Story Title: N/A
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Jun 15, 2005

It’s terrific to see a small press book starting to find its audience and come into its own. It’s even more gratifying to see that happen when the small press book is competing for an audience with the monster publishers of the industry in a genre that’s already packed to the gills with superheroes.

If you’ve missed Mike Penny and Jason Rand’s Helios so far, the story falls somewhere between a conventional superhero tale and a West Wing/Alias hybrid political thriller. In the world of the story, the U.S. military has a team of supers, called Neos, who police their own and do the general protecting gigs. As the story opens, however, the realities of government funding have set in, leaving an active team of only three to tackle everything in the world that might need a superhero to make right. As political forces with their own hidden agendas work to re-purpose the group for aggressive peacekeeping pre-emptive strike stuff, a traitor works behind the scenes while another shadow player has been secretly augmenting the abilities of the pyrokinetic in the group, codenamed Sunstrike.

Rand has done a good job of building his characters and keeping the story moving while at the same time providing plenty of that necessary staple of the genre– lots of superpowered folks beating the pulp out of each other. What’s especially terrific about the success here is that it’s coming from a small press book. The misconception’s existed for too long that the big boys are the only ones allowed to play in the capes and tights sandbox. If anything, you ought to be taking a look at Helios for proof that small press comics needn’t carry the stigma of being "indie." This is a mainstream grown-up superhero story, and it’s being told with care, nay skill.

The only disappointment with this issue lies in its decision to temporarily abandon some of its stronger story and character elements in favor of the more pedestrian action sequences. Don’t get me wrong, superhero action is terrific fun when enjoyed responsibly, but all the strong points to recommend Helios on are tied to the character drama unfolding and the plot twists involving the traitor and the mysterious character who’s been powering Sunstrike up.

Earlier on, unaware that he’d been enhanced, Sunstrike actually killed a fleeing fugitive with his powers. The girl Blur and the military commander of the compound have feelings for each other that they can’t act on because of military restrictions. And there’s this whole mystery through-line of "what’s going on with that guy and the evil senator?" It’s unfortunate that a lot of these compelling storylines from the first three issues sort of have to take a backseat to some fighting in this issue. The problem is even more acute because this is a bimonthly title. Each issue introduces a new mystery, but here at the conclusion of the first arc, there are no answers, just new mysteries. It’s a long time to wait for #5.

Gabe Pena’s pencil work has been clean and professional from the get-go, but #4 shows some real polish. He’s found the groove for this story. The characters are cleaner and more precise, and the action and storytelling are significantly more coherent than they were in the series debut. This is an artist who’s gotten comfortable with his craft in a big hurry. If Helios gets a little more attention, expect to see Pena’s name on plenty of books in the future.

If you’re a fan of superhero books and you’ve been looking for that great new superhero story that Marvel Next has promised time and again without ever really delivering and you’ve been burned by too many tepid #1s from Image lately, I strongly urge you to look in the corner of the comic shop they hide the books from Dakuwaka Productions. And if you’re an aspiring creator/superhero nut convinced that being indie means you’ll only find success doing noir or romance books on the fringe, then you ought to give Helios a look. You might be inspired.

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