I originally knew Fathom as those swimsuit-cover comics from the local comic shops I go to (Heroes in Newnan and Dr. No’s in Marietta, plugged!). They weren’t for me. I don’t go for cheesecake; it’s one of the many things that turns me off to the Harley Quinn comic.
Reading All-New Fathom #7, I was pretty surprised by how dialed-back the T&A was. However, I found it replaced by a lot of political allegory. A lot of it.
Many times have I defended Green Arrow, Black Panther and the Crew, and Sam Wilson: Captain America for their use of real world issues in their comic stories. It’s been done in the industry for a long time, and I think it’s a good thing.
However, it’s worth mentioning that the allegory is pretty focused in those three examples. The comic knows what it’s target is, it knows what it wants to say, and it doesn’t feel weirdly like a template for “insert your political complaint here,” leaving it open for whatever social or geopolitical issue that you want to read about and making it applicable to that issue.
When I first read All-New Fathom #7, I thought it was coming off xenophobic as hell. My original title for this review was “Aquaman, But For The Alex Jones Crowd.” I was ready to bring the fire and thunder to this thing. I read its villainizing of accepting the Blue (merfolk or Atlanteans), its narrative of “free speech” under attack, and its lack of “Blue” characters, a tactic allowing them to be these scary, nameless, and amorphous enemies, as a fearmongering stand-in for Muslim immigration to the United States. A terror attack was the primary catalyst for all of this, a thinly-veiled Laci Green replacement called “Lacy Red(-Pilled)” was blocked on “YooToob” for speaking out about the Blue, and the leader of the Blue began relying on old religious texts for his governing.
But, I stepped back, cooled my jets, and got some other Bleeding Cool folk to take a look at it.
Funnily enough, someone else got a Russia-reading from this.
With the current geopolitical climate, that is practically the opposite reading. However, I could see it. A Donald Trump stand-in who oddly looks like Bill Clinton was cozying up to the Blue. They have a monarchial totalitarian regime taking over who prefers posturing and unilateral control to diplomacy.
Then it hit me: this thing is really ham-fisted and unfocused in what it wants to say. If these two vastly different readings can be taken from surface-level allegory, that allegory probably isn’t that great.
And it isn’t. Fathom wants to be topical and controversial, but it doesn’t really care to take a side. You can call that “balanced” and “bi-partisan,” but it’s not. It’s weak and ineffectual. It’s standing in the street and screaming “listen to me,” but performing cheap tricks with party logo-branded cards when people come out to listen.
Would I have been kinder had it taken a side and been just out-and-out xenophobic? Hell no. But it would have had a point.
Of course, all of this not even mentioning how abysmal Fathom is as a comic to begin with.
The plot is intricate but ultimately without impact. The characters it focuses upon are vehicles with which to deliver exposition.
The art is clear but without expression or fine detail. One character continues to comment on how another is an “old man” when both look exactly alike. This wasn’t intentional. It was just ill-conceived.
Steer clear of this one. It’s not smart, witty, or insightful. It’s not entertaining. It’s just there. It comes. It goes. Read Aquaman instead.
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