Action Lab Comics has been putting out a lot of great all-ages books – Princeless, Skyward, and the forthcoming Molly Danger, to name just a few – and now they’re branching out into comics for mature readers with their “Danger Zone” imprint. Among May’s first round of creator-owned books from this line was Ehmm Theory #1, which introduced Gabriel Ehmm and Mr. Whispers. This ghostly man-and-talking-kitty duo have been sent back to the land of the living by St. Peter, who’s tasked them with stopping a plague of zombie midget clowns. Just…let all that soak in for a moment.
Ehmm Theory #2, then, finds Gabriel and Mr. Whispers on their way to find Gabriel’s biological father, whom St. Peter told them would guide them and answer their questions. They’ve been joined by a friend of Gabriel’s father, Alyona Tarasov, who fills Gabriel in on his father, Aaron Ehmm, and Aaron’s theories about other dimensions. Then they’re attacked by a giant cyborg crab, and things just get weirder from there.
Writer Brockton McKinney and artists Larkin Ford and Jason Strutz certainly know how to fit a lot of information into a short span. The first few pages of this issue go a long way in establishing the backstory for Alyona, her sister, and Gabriel’s father, and even manage to include a flashback-within-a-flashback. Once the crab attacks the rest of the issue is mostly action, with some new characters arriving to assist Gabriel, Mr. Whispers, and Alyona. McKinney introduces concepts and characters seamlessly, allowing the information about them to come out organically. In essence, the reader meets them the same way Gabriel does.
Larkin Ford’s linework has a slightly cartoony quality that goes well with the bizarre content he’s drawing. His inks are incredibly strong throughout the whole issue, but especially in setting the tone during the opening flashback sequence. Every room those flashback characters inhabit seems to be darkened, which works on a couple of different levels. On a purely technical level it helps differentiate the flashback from the present-day scenes. As a storytelling technique, it also reflects the way Alyona is telling her story. The important pieces are bright and full of color, while the background elements – the parts unimportant to her story – are darkened or blacked out altogether. It could also reflect Alyona’s fading memory, as she is much older than Gabriel. This is all before the much more complicated and action-packed sequence involving the cyborg crab, which Ford does an equally fine job with. Jason Strutz’s colors complement Ford’s work nicely, adding a lot of depth to the flashbacks and energy to the action sequence.
If there’s anything that’s troublesome about this issue, and the series in general up until this point, it’s Gabriel himself. He’s the main character, but he also feels really generic. The reader doesn’t know much about him at all, and his personality is pretty thin. At this point the reader knows more about Alyona and Gabriel’s father than is known about Gabriel himself. This in turn makes it difficult to get too attached to him since there’s not much upon which to attach. Hopefully future issues work on developing Gabriel a bit, giving him more of a personality and making him less of a cipher.
Overall, Ehmm Theory #2 is a solid comic, with some well-done art and a lot of really crazy concepts. Gabriel and Mr. Whispers have a long road ahead of them in quashing the midget zombie uprising, and it looks like all may not be entirely as it seems in regards to their mission. This book is worth your attention for the sheer insanity of the ideas being presented alone. If McKinney and Co. can strengthen their lead character a bit, it could elevate the series to must-read.