Avatar continues its trend of beginning mini-series with short zero issues that both begin the story and provide readers with a cheaper entry point with “Absolution” #0, and this method seems very effective. For all of the concerns over first issues being too expensive and not providing anything more than the set-up, a smaller, cheaper zero issue is a great solution since all of the set-up is accomplished for half the price.
“Absolution” #0 does this quite well by introducing John Dusk, an urban vigilante in a world where superheroes exist, but are more ground-level and are legally authorized crime fighters. Most of this 11-page story takes place during the trial of a killer Dusk apprehended; the case was very disturbing and the trial brings nightmares with it. Dusk’s wife/girlfriend (it’s not clear) is a police detective and tells him about a string of murders where no bullet is found and they suspect that it’s a cop since all of the victims are former criminals.
It’s not too difficult to see where the story goes and it’s an interesting idea, particularly the way that Gage sets it up and discusses it in a text piece in the back of the issue. However, there are a few problems. When Dusk confronts one man he’s afraid will eventually begin committing serious crimes, the man is so confident and aware, laying out what will probably happen: moving from adult magazines and hurting small animals to actually assaulting people. His self-awareness is a little too convenient in showing the reader what a horrible person he is (or will be) that it lets Dusk off the hook for his actions too easily. Now, hopefully, Gage will create more morally complex situations in future issues but, here, it’s a little too cut and dry.
Beyond that, since all that’s accomplished here is a brief introduction to the concept and world, there are a lot of details left out, including who exactly John Dusk is. This is just a cursory view with not much to draw the reader in yet. The concept is strong enough to do that, though.
Joining Gage is Roberto Viacava, who has a very grounded, simple style that matches the tone of the writing. His storytelling and body language are strong as he makes Dusk testifying on the stand visually interesting. He really shines in the splash page that shows the killer of Dusk’s nightmare and what he was trying to accomplish.
Some might see the advertising that says this is “the king of masked hero mayhem that only Avatar can deliver” and assume it’s all swearing, nudity, and graphic violence, but this issue stays away from being too explicit. Of course, the sort of events that it would take to drive Dusk into this sort of dark territory would be horrifying and not for squeamish readers, but Gage and Viacava do well to keep most of it off-panel. A great introduction to what, hopefully, turns out to be a great series.