Contagion #1 Review

by Charles Martin on October 02, 2019

Contagion #1 Review
Writer: Ed Brisson
Artist: Rogê Antônio
Colourist: Veronica Gandini
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics

October is peak scary comics season, so Ed Brisson gets the opportunity to tell a classic horror story in a weekly format this month.

As is clear from the cover, Ben Grimm is our entry point into this tale of infectious terror, but he's not actually the start of the story.

That honour goes to Yu-Ti, and our first glimpse of the creeping poison threatening the Marvel universe comes in the basements of K'un-Lun. 

This is an interesting move. Besides setting up a logical pitch to Iron Fist as the protagonist of the next issue, it does a formidable job establishing the contagion as a global problem. Combine that worldwide scope with a clear intention to focus on street-level heroes, and you've got some intriguing tension building up.

Crossing cosmic with street brings us back to the Thing. Who better to stand at that crossroads? He's dragged down into an abandoned subway station by a Yancy Street kid whose friend went missing. 

And that, of course, is where things start going capital-W-Wrong with a quickness. This issue smashes head-on into the fact that subterranean Earth-616 is a pretty crowded place; Mole Man and his Moloids are the first major victims of the contagion.

The horrible fungal yick is admirably scary so far. It corrupts and kills and converts. Though its grab-bag of tricks is pretty familiar horror-movie fare, those tricks are deployed with fearsome speed and modulation. They're like the notes in an aggressive jazz solo.

The yick also looks appropriately nasty thanks to artist Rogê Antônio and colourist Veronica Gandini. While the dialogue notes that the yick is rainbow-coloured, Ms. Gandini chooses to go very heavy on the green. It's a smart choice, and the result is virulent and off-putting in the good way.

Mr. Antônio does sterling work on the characters and the action in this issue. What really caught my eye, though, were his exceptionally detailed settings. His K'un-Lun is magnificent, but it's the fictional "Five Points Station" that burrowed into my head.

A baroque splash panel establishes it as an ominous underground space brooding beneath heavy stone arches. He carries those arches as visual keynotes through the whole ensuing action scene, making his setting feel real and oppressively creepy from start to finish. It's a rare performance.

The visuals in Contagion #1 are so impressive that the realization that this series is riding the artist carousel makes me sad. Each issue will pass to a new visual team, and subsequent creators will have to work very hard to rise to this bar.

Scripting remains in the capable hands of Ed Brisson throughout. He's a dab hand at fast-paced thrillers, so this series will likely have an engaging base of horror-mystery all the way through. 

Welcoming other heroes into the spotlight will be a roll of the dice, though. Mr. Brisson did a strong solo run with Iron Fist a few years ago, and that's reason enough to be optimistic about #2. But I'm also looking at his performance with Ben Grimm in this issue, and that's not so encouraging.
Ben Grimm is one of the easiest heroes in the Marvel universe to make lovable, so a comic that misses that trick attracts immediate and unfortunate attention. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this rendition of the Thing; it's just a lot flatter than I expected.

It's a problem that's poised to snowball. For all its compelling creepiness, this fungal yick story isn't novel enough to sink its hooks in me by itself. I need an engaging character to care about before I can start caring about the yick.

As I said, Ed Brisson's Danny Rand is a known quantity and a strong one, so hopefully, #2 will work stronger engagement magic for me.

And, devil's advocate: The fungal yick might be engaging enough on its own for other readers. Mr. Brisson's howdy letter at the back of this issue makes it clear this story arises from a passionate love for horror movies. That's not a love I share, personally, so I might just be too far removed from the intended audience.

But a great comic can generally draw me into its audience regardless of its subject matter, and this series hasn't managed that.

Yet. It ain't over. And #1 is well-crafted enough to keep me reading even if it didn't trip my "ride or die love this comic" switch.

Contagion #1 unleashes a nasty, scary, but slightly generic horror infection on the Marvel universe. Powerful art and a fast, breezy pace fall into the plus column; on the minus side are shortages of compelling characterization and material to make the premise distinctive. Greatness remains a possibility, but this series will have to grow a lot to get there.

Our Score:


A Look Inside


Charles Martin's picture
Art & architecture nerd alert: I'm pretty sure Mr. Antônio studied up on Piranesi prints before drawing that subway station.