In The Activity Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads tell the story of America’s most advanced and most classified special operations group, the Intelligence Support Activity, or ISA for short. Team Omaha, members of ISA, are brought in to sort out or assist in missions that have been botched or have little chance of success, and they wield “bleeding-edge tech” and a host of specialized skill sets to ensure that everything goes off without a hitch. The book is a feast for the eyes, showcasing a gritty, dark world and the writing is well executed and has a rare air of authenticity but Edmondson and Gerads fail to adequately personalize the characters within the book, making it difficult to feel for them in any meaningful way.
If I were to choose one word to describe Edmondson’s writing, it would be authentic. The missions that Team Omaha work on are presented with acute detail and, with so much happening, follow a fast pace. Each issue entails a single mission, and the action of each mission comes off feeling somewhat like the heist sequence in a heist movie, fast paced and with the entertainment coming largely from seeing how the different parts come together and how any setbacks are overcome. Edmondson’s dialogue is probably his strongest asset, he seamlessly includes an accurate set of jargon and his characters never miss a beat. Often this means that you will have to rely on the context of a few terms to keep up, but you can always turn to the handy glossary at the back of the book if needed. Adding to the realism is the non-english dialogue, which remains within the book un-translated. This adds to the authenticity of the writing and is handled well, never being allowed to confuse or impair the reader.
Gerads uses a wide array of textured cells to present a gritty and, on the whole, realistic world. The style allows for a surprising amount of detail to be inferred and works well with the subject matter, which takes place in a wide variety of environments and often in the dark. This last point is worth more discussion as the shading is superb, adding a level of depth to the images while evoking a sense of grit and grimness. This style occasionally fails to create a sense of depth however, flattening the characters. Colours in The Activity are vibrant and jump out at you, providing the feel of a high-tech spy movie. Additionally, it is clear that intelligent choices were made from page-to-page concerning how the colours of each frame would play off of each other; the palette is rarely the source of any discord. Panel layout is more or less conventional, but on a few occasions there is a playful use of floating frames that allow a closer following of the action. In general Gerads’ art is impressive and urges you onward, complementing Edmondson’s pace.
While Edmondson and Gerads both do an excellent job the writing and the artwork fail to really provide any interesting, well developed characters; and in some cases the script and the art actually work against each other. The volume of action within each issue provides little room for Edmondson to develop each member of the team. When combined with Gerads art style, each member becomes more like a cut-out of a soldier than a fully realized character. Attempts are clearly made to allow these characters to flourish, brief encounters with family, and minor emotional experiences are seen, but they always seem a little ham-fisted and are not substantial enough to add any real depth. It is worth noting that this trade represents only the first five issues of an ongoing series, and that as that series continues Edmonson and Gerads will doubtlessly ease into the format and begin to make more noteworthy attempts at characterization, but until then Team Omaha consists largely of toy soldiers.
If you’re looking for an exciting action-oriented title, then The Activity may very well be for you, each issue has a fast pace, exciting moments, and is more or less self-contained. But if you’re looking for a character-driven story with deep, personal moments, I would look elsewhere.