Nexus Archives vol. 9
Written by Mike Baron
Illustrated by Steve Rude, Paul Smith, Neil “Spyder” Hansen and Adam Hughes
Published by Dark Horse
The greatest superhero comic of all time hits one of its most controversial eras in this volume, which collects issues 53-57 and issues 2-4 of the concurrently published Next Nexus miniseries. Among Nexus fandom, the first fifty issues are nearly universally beloved, and rightly so. Baron and Rude create a universe far more complex and nuanced than that of any other superhero comic, stuffed to the gills with immigration concerns, energy shortfalls, religious zealotry (and they were writing these stories twenty-five years ago!), massively complex moral quandaries, enticingly realized alien culture, political parody as good as any you’ll find in the papers, and yes, awesome and bombastic action sequences.
Nexus Archives vol. 9 deals with war and assassination. It shows presidential politics and the struggles of humanitarian missions. Angry little girls are confronted by dedicated younger ladies, and sci-fi military antics abound during the chaotic assassination attempt on Sundra Peale. Capitalism runs out of control. It’s a superhero comic, with plenty of balls and a brain, and it’s a rare breed that manages to have both.
Despite alternating issues of the standard Nexus comic and the Next Nexus spin-off (ironically, classic Nexus artist Steve Rude is the illustrator on the secondary title, not the main series), the story flows quite smoothly in this Archive. Credit to Mike Baron, who deftly juggles the war on Ylum, as well as Ylum’s presidential election, the blindly vengeance-driven quest of the replacement Nexuses, and ex-Nexus Horatio Hellpop’s establishing of a medical clinic for the impoverished of Flatlandia.
Operating as an ensemble piece more than ever before, Nexus moves quickly between scenes, giving readers snippets of conversations and high points of action. Baron’s clearly a believer in starting the scene as late as possible and ending it as early as possible, because there’s not a wasted panel here. While Next Nexus focuses on Horatio’s clinic and the immature, desperate rage of the Loomis sisters, Baron still offers peeks into the political climate of Ylum. When Nexus deals with Zeiffer Meird’s assault on Ylum and Sundra Peale, mentions of Horatio’s quest are frequent. Baron juggles all the balls extremely effectively. Nexus is a title whose consequences are always on the minds of its characters.
His writing of Lonnie Loomis, the objector to the Loomis sisters’ vendetta, is some of his most convincing. The conflict and denouement between Sundra Peale and the Merk (a fitting irony to the assassination attempt on Sundra herself) is both surprising and effective, and the pages devoted to Tyrone and Dave continue to round out the picture of Ylum society. Horatio’s story is quieter, slower, and more difficult, but such is the condition of missionary medical work, and Baron deserves credit for giving time to the emotional cost of the work on our hero.
Steve Rude and Paul Smith handle three issues of material each, so you know the comics look great. Rude’s the visual architect of the Nexus universe, and Next Nexus gives him plenty of chances to shine. Multiple missions for Stacy and Michana Loomis as they establish their tenure as the new Nexus, each building their legitimacy as a threat to Horatio – the man who killed their father. Rude’s work is a little too slick to handle the sickly masses of Flatlandia, but he exhibits his usual élan when drawing the lush palace of Ursula X.X. Imada on Procyon or the brutal executions perpetrated by the Loomis sisters.
Paul Smith’s work doesn’t match Rude’s design work, but Smith, even then, was a precise cartoonist, setting scenes with clarity and keeping the drama high on each page. Spyder’s clumsy pages show some talent, but it’s very raw here, offering a passable if uninspiring penultimate chapter to the book. Adam Hughes, like Smith, an artist who went on to much higher profile work but showed talent from the very beginning, handles the finale, and his illustrative prowess is obvious from the get-go. He doesn’t provide the backgrounds and trappings of Smith or Rude, not yet, but the character work is very strong and clearly a sign of better work to come from Hughes.
This volume also introduces one of my favorite Nexus characters: Stanislaus Korivisky, the man who replaces Horatio as Nexus (after the Loomises prove untenable). Stanislaus is only glimpsed here, but his respect for Horatio and the responsibility of his position is well handled, setting up some of Baron’s most compelling character work ever over the next two or three volumes of the Nexus Archives.
Nine volumes into the series, the quality remains very high. Steve Rude’s art is going to be sorely missed in the coming volumes, but Baron’s scripts remain politically and socially relevant, dynamically paced, gilded with exciting action but woven with dozen of threads of human existence. No exception to the rule established by previous editions, Nexus Archives vol. 9 is a true must-have comic for fans of intelligent sci-fi and/or superhero adventure.