Warren Ellis & Gerardo Zaffino
Karnak sees the flaws in all things. He is an Inhuman, a new species of humanity (similar to, but confusingly distinct from, X-Men). He has never undergone the Terrigen Mists that give Inhumans their powers, yet he is immensely powerful. Karnak shatters people’s fractured limbs, he destroys weakened livers, he quite literally exploits the flaws of mankind. He is a reckoning with ash white skin and green lines across his body. He speaks ill of everything, he holds nothing sacred aside from his belief that all things are flawed.
Warren Ellis has taken up a new Marvel series and this is what we get? What is an average comic book fan supposed to make of Karnak? The first two issues give a glimpse to the title character and develop the world of the book. Bleak and violent, with twisting art and grotesque maimings, the look of Karnak suggests the post-apocalypse. Quickly though, the series establishes its place in the current Marvel Comics Universe, a connection that works surprisingly well. Karnak is helping S.H.I.E.L.D. find a missing Inhuman child, whose encounter with the Terrigen Mists awakened… a resistance to allergies. Karnak agrees to find the child, but only if he is allowed to train the boy in his Tower of Wisdom, among many other disciples. These trade-offs and bargains are the sort of thing that make Karnak an interesting character in the all-too-often squeaky-clean major-crossover-loving world of the Marvel Universe.
Gerardo Zaffino and Antonio Fuso do some fine work that blends well with Ellis’ often sparse writing. Karnak is also reminiscent of the works of Steven King, his Dark Tower series specifically, and Cormac McCarthy, whose use of bleakness and violent nonhuman entities is well known. All of this grit coalesces to make Karnak one of the best series in Marvel’s current relaunch, a shock considering the character was C-list at best before the current Inhuman boom.
Created in 1965 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Karnak has seen little time in the spotlight considering his age. Much of that has to do with his difficult personality, which Ellis has fun with immediately. This Karnak feels like the old one, but also feels like something new for Marvel. A character like this can lead a standalone book these days, and apparently people are reading it (despite a massive delay between the first and second issues). Hopefully Karnak inspires Marvel to hand over the reigns of even more third-tier characters to capable creators. Here’s another in a long line of gritty C-list characters made real by talented writing; Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, and now Karnak.
See, look how gritty he is. So dark.
First collection: Karnak, Vol. 1: The Flaw in All Things (September)