Subatomic

Written by Patrick Neighly
Art by Jorge Heufemann
136 pages, color
Published by Mad Yak Press

A couple of years ago, the contents of Subatomic might have seemed a bit more far-fetched. But in the year 2003, where we have a part of the government officially named the Department of Homeland Security, anything seems possible. And that’s exactly the wave that writer Patrick Neighly has decided to ride.

Officially, there is no secret government organization known as ATOM. Officially, they don’t spy on the population of the United States, read their mail, and monitor their every move. Unofficially? Well, just ask Mark. He’s been part of ATOM almost his entire life; they even adopted him so he had nowhere else to go. The problem is, Mark’s just decided that it is time to go. But no one leaves ATOM. Officially or unofficially.

At the basic core of Subatomic is a pretty basic spy story, where someone within an organization tries to escape. What’s nice about Subatomic is not so much the core story, but what Neighly does with it. Neighly really does a nice job of presenting Mark as a real three-dimensional being; while he never outright states why Mark suddenly decided to quit ATOM, he doesn’t need to. Subatomic is as much a character study as it is a chase narrative, as we watch Mark try to integrate into the outside world. With each chapter taking place in a different season, we see Mark in a different location, having to react differently and trying new methods of survival. Subatomic could have easily rested on its laurels by leaving Mark in rural Kansas, or trying to get his word out in Washington DC, but Neighly keeps the book forever moving, and it’s a nice touch. The different sections of the book never wear out their welcome, and Neighly makes sure that the ending both wraps everything but still leaves it open for both the reader’s imagination as well as any future writing he wishes to do with Subatomic. It’s nice to see a book that knows exactly where to end.

I don’t recall encountering Jorge Heufemann’s art before, but it works well with Neighly’s story. His real strength is in faces, and thankfully that’s just what he focuses on. So much of the action is told in people’s expressions, as their emotions and reactions say what Neighly’s script is hinting towards. Subatomic lets the story be told as much by the art as the dialogue, and Heufemann is up to the task. Some of the smaller parts of the book do fall by the wayside, though. Heufemann falls into the “talking heads” trap a little too often, with people’s faces just floating in a background of nothingness. Colorist Anne Marie Horne hides some of this by coloring in walls or sky, but after a while one starts wishing to see anything but Mark’s head. Likewise, the rare action scenes seem a little too staged and stiff, almost like it’s been carefully posed out on the page. Thankfully, Neighly has written Subatomic to Heufemann’s strengths instead of weaknesses and it’s much more a hit than a miss in the art.

Overall, Subatomic is a real success. There’s the occasional wincing moment (and I really could have done without the self-aware comment about how “life’s not like the comics”) but for two relatively new creators, they’ve done a really nice job. Mad Yak Press’s production values are also to be applauded, with a really striking cover with a neat embossed pattern, and an attractive book that you want to show off to your friends. I’d definitely keep an eye on Mad Yak Press and Neighly, because if they keep this up they’re going far.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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