A heroic young pilot desperately tries to rocket home in time for dinner. Unfortunately, he’ll have to contend with evil from the depths of space before he can make it there!
The first thing that will probably strike most readers about this book is just how great it looks. Writer/illustrator Mike Barry’s page layouts are a thing of beauty. Sometimes we are treated to expansive splash pages that show off alien worlds or impressive starships. Other times, the pages are broken into a large number of individual panels that give us every little beat during an action or dialogue sequence. Within just a few pages, we have a strong feel for the minute details of each character’s personality.
Even better, during some of the wilder action set pieces, Barry takes to using multiple panels that twist and fall wildly through the page, granting a kinetic energy to each moment within the battle. One particular highlight involves a character falling from a great height, which is shown to us in a series of panels that fall down at an angle, making the fall all the more dramatic and disorienting.
Even if you haven’t read the first book of the series, this chapter is very easy to pick up and follow. I’d still recommend reading the first book to get the full effect of some of the important character beats, but Book 2 does a lovely job of catching readers up on the story so far.
This is accomplished through bits of narration and exposition that never once feels awkward or over-explanatory. It gives you everything you need to proceed with the mission at hand. It never feels like the story is taking a backseat so that Barry can provide a lengthy recap.
There are also some wonderful visuals that help to explain the world of the book and even provide fun storytelling shortcuts. One memorable sequence shows us a flow chart of possible uses for a certain sentient tool. It perfectly explains how this tool works, gives it a bit of character, helpfully distills what could have been a longer and dryer scene into a charming visual gag. It also manages to move the plot along wonderfully, making it both entertaining and economical in terms of storytelling.
On the other hand, there are a few moments within the narrative that feel like they need a bit of room to breathe. Some of the weirder and funnier set pieces almost come and go too quickly. Without spoiling anything, there’s a sequence involving a cranky piece of machinery that needs to be activated in a certain way. It’s such a fun concept, but it seems to be introduced and handled too quickly to let the concept fully land. The book is bursting with wonderful ideas, so it’s kind of a bummer when one or two feel like they get lightly short-changed.
Still, this is the kind of story that feels like it could only be told by the medium of comics and Barry takes full advantage of that. The narration is cheeky and charming, yet it never takes away from the excitement and danger of the action. There are also some wonderfully “comic-booky” moments, such as when a piece of machinery is introduced in a scene where a quarter of the page is taken up by a rumbling sound effect.
With the second volume of Action Tank, Mike Barry has crafted a beautifully odd and heartwarming story. I can’t wait to see where the pilot’s adventures take us next.
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