on 10 March 2012
In 1997, Michael Turner, a comic book artist that had worked up to that point on a number of cult comic series with Top Cow comics and a co-creator of the Top Cow comic Witchblade in 1995, started work on his first sole creation: "Fathom". Living in Hawaii, Turner was very drawn to the oceans, and worked on creating what would be his most personal comic series. Not only would Fathom prove to realize his dream, but it would also go on to be a huge success and lead Turner to use its success to create his own entertainment company, Aspen MLT (named after the heroine from the series: Aspen Matthews).
"Fathom: The Definitive Edition - Vol. 1" is the entire works of the first volume of Fathom. Started in August 1998 and finished in May 2002, Fathom is an epic and grandiose adventure that introduces us to Aspen Matthews, a strikingly beautiful, former disgraced Olympic swimmer and current marine biologist with no memory of her life before the age of 11 who has an obsessive fascination with water. Asked to work on a joint-national military discovery in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, Aspen is thrust into a triangle-military conflict between the US, Japan and a mysterious underwater race called "The Blue". Introduced to characters on multiple sides of the conflict including cocky fighter pilot Chance Colloway, the mysterious Cannon Hawke and the devious Killian, Aspen learns of her true heritage to the ancient race "The Blue" and must decide who she should align with when tensions escalate to all-out warfare after careful orchestration by a single individual.
As with most Michael Turner works, the real strength of Fathom lies in its artwork. Utilizing the many different colors both on land and underwater, Fathom is a very beautiful comic. Characters are drawn almost completely anatomically correct, and with the epic nature of the story taking place across exotic locations, in military meetings and even in space, Fathom looks and feels like a feature film playing out across the pages. Another strength is in the very differing characters, and while at times the characters can feel somewhat one dimensional, the majority of characters are engaging and help set up the different sides being impacted by the story that unfolds.
Sadly, the biggest flaw with the comic is in the story, not that it is a poor story, but that from the epic nature of the comic, the story at times feels flat and doesn't quite live up to the spectacular vision that has been drawn for it. However, this Definitive Edition attempts to make up for this problem with the fact that all the work from Vol. 1 is contained in this big book. At certain times in the story, viewpoints on certain situations are told across three perspectives: Aspen's, Killian's and a mysterious water nymph who will later on be identified as "Finn". This is because at times some issues of Fathom were released through three editions where only one of the perspectives were included in each. While these perspectives do not add much to the story, it helps reveal more of the characters and adds more depth.
On top of the main story of Fathom are an additional three single issues that were released in the build-up to Fathom's initial launch with the objective of introducing readers to the character of Aspen and how the comic would look and read, as well as three single issues released during the gap between the end of Vol. 1 in 2002 and the start of Vol. 2 in 2005. These one-off issues released between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 ("Arc Two", "Arc Three" and "Fathom 1/2") are more lighthearted, less story driven and are more about character developments for Aspen and Cannon. A final additional issue is "Aspen The Extended Edition" which acts as an introduction for Vol. 2, introducing another underwater race and ending on a cliffhanger as more of Aspen's past is revealed. On top of the issues are three introductions by friends of Michael Turner and, in some cases, collaborators on Vol. 1: Geoff Johns, Peter Stiegerwald and Frank Mastromauro, all written for this release and, more importantly, after Michael Turner's unsuccessful battle with cancer. On top of these introductions, all of the works of Fathom are started off with paragraph introductions as well as pieces of artwork based on the work being introduced. Finally there is a large section at the end of the works solely for additional artwork, concept drawings, and the cover artworks for the issues of the comic.
Overall, if you're a fan of Fathom and its broad story, this is a must-have. If you are trying to get into Fathom, this is an expensive first venture into the world, and if you are able to find reasonably priced copies of the parts one and two of Vol. 1 that are just the standard story then you might do better with them. But if the prospect of a epic story, fascinating characters, beautiful designs and a general appreciation for a piece of work entices you, this is a great opportunity to test the waters and dive headfirst into the world of "Fathom".