Pipeline #1076: Crux is Just as Good as I Remembered

Last week, I had no luck with re-opening an "old" comic to see if I still liked it.

I popped the lid off a different longbox this week and went spelunking for another book to look back on. It's a little younger than last week's vintage 1997 book.

Crus #1 cover by Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, and Frank D'Armata
(Photo: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, Frank D'Armata)

I landed on "Crux" #1, from CrossGen, c. 2001. This is the team book written by Mark Waid, with art by Steve Epting and Rick Magyar, colored by Frank D'Armata. Troy Peteri letters the whole thing up.

First Issue Set-Ups

Crux logo by Troy Peteri
(Photo: Troy Peteri)

This first issue reminds me a lot of a first issue that Brian K. Vaughan would write today. It has a couple of twists in it, notably a final page that jolts the reader out of any of the assumptions they might have had leading up to it. No matter what you thought the extreme case might be that Waid's script was leading up to, the final page takes it a bit further. You immediately want to read issue #2.

But before that final page --

This issue is all set-up. It's about bringing the team together. Establish their normal life, uproot them to another time and place with force, and then shock them with their new reality. Along the way, establish their names, powers, and looks.

Check, check, check!

Mark Waid has studied enough super hero comics to know how to put together a team book. He uses that knowledge well here.

This is a cast of Atlanteans. Sorry, I just spoiled the reveal at the double page spread on pages 6 and 7. But it's such a beautiful spread that it's worth it. Here, take a look at a part of it:

Crux #1 double page spread of Atlantis
(Photo: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, Frank D'Armata)


Honestly, there's a bit of high-minded gobble-dee-gook conversation in the first half of this issue that nearly lost me. Danik and Capricia are discussing their roles in guiding the human race forward on its 'natural' course.

Something like that. It drones on for a few pages, and nearly loses me. It even starts with cavemen discovering fire, so I was a bit worried this was going to be a "2001: A Space Odyssey" riff. Thankfully, there are no monoliths...

It ends with the two splitting up. Danik joins a lot of his fellow Atlanteans in forming a power ring in the sky for the "Transition", while Capricia stays behind with several hundred Atlanteans inside stasis units. What does this all mean? I have no idea. I'm not even sure it matters. Maybe it does further down the line in the series. I don't remember. Right now, it's just a plot device to move the characters to a new place.

After the Transition's failure (of course), Capricia is woken up by a mysterious stranger and has to immediately defend herself against some bad underwater aliens called The Negation. She has the help of five Atlanteans of her choosing. She, as a newly minted team leader, thinks quickly and pulls together a team representing all aspects of Atlantean society, then beats back the bad guys.

Turn to the last page, and Atlantis is destroyed. "Crux" is set in a post-apocalyptic future earth. The issue ends in the rubble of Times Square.

The end.

On its own, it's not much. There's some philosophy to start and then a nice use of powers in the second half, and a large cast of characters we know nothing about yet.

But there's a lot there. You can tell. Waid doesn't try to jam it all down your throat in the first issue. He establishes some names and powers, shows them in use, and gives us a complete battle.

Given each Atlanteans' powers, this really is a superhero book in the guise of a sci-fi/fantasy thing. I'm tempted the read the rest of the first year of the title, so I guess the first issue did its job.


The Look of the Book

Steve Epting's art paired with Magyar's inks and D'Armata's coloring is amazing. It's a beautiful book. We've always known Epting can draw people well, with his runs on books like "Captain America" and "Velvet" standing out, in particular.

His background and architecture work in this book, though, is super impressive. He's not just lifting photo reference from known ancient locations and tracing it here. He's using some inspirations, no doubt, but then creating his own thing to show the old Atlantis. The overview of the city, as a whole, is like something out of a "Heavy Metal" issue in the 1970s. Epic fantasy stuff there.

One other little thing that nobody else will care about: The orange flame thingy enveloping the earth on the front page is well designed. It reminds me of the work of Michel Gagne, himself a comic book artist, but whose best work is in designing special effects in animation for explosions and things just like this. It just has the right amount of life to it. Check out Gagne's website for some great samples, even if you just look at the My Little Pony sample. It's awesome.


Dark Colors and Bright Paper

The Crux team colored by Frank D'Armata is dark but it works
(Photo: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar, Frank D'Armata)

D'Armata's coloring style has always been dark. It's the kind of work that can die on the page completely if the physical paper it's printed on isn't right. It needs a glossy stock to keep it bright enough to be legible.

CrossGen always delivered on that. This is a solid comic book, printed at a time when publishers still used a different stock for their covers than their interiors.

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: CrossGen books were heavy. I have most all of them in one longbox, and that thing is the heaviest box of comics I own by far. The quality of paper in them is insane. That helped make them look as good as they do, and it's what makes D'Armata's coloring sing here, where in other places it might just drown out the art.


Final Ruling

CrossGen made a lot of great books, including stuff like "Sojourn", "Scion," and "Ruse." This one could rival all of those for visual splendor.

Yeah, I think I will continue reading more of these issues. This was a good one.

One last thought: This comic is 17 years old. I'm so old now. I hadn't even been reading comics for 17 years yet when I read this book. Pipeline was four years old.

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Yikes.

Bonus: Technically, CrossGen was founded in 1998. The first comic didn't hit shelves until the beginning of 2000. But the corporate entity began in 1998, so the great failed CrossGen experiment can celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, if anyone wants to do that.