Three for Thursday: Independent Comics Review: Image Wins Again!


Every week, our Roland Petalver shines the spotlight on three comics not published by Marvel or DC. Check out what he read this week …

Astronauts In Trouble #2
Writer: Young, Larry
Artist: Adlard, Charlie
Cover Artist: Adlard, Charlie
Published by Image

Reviewing my comic-reading history, I find that I have generally avoided stories rendered in black and white. The most popular one going today, one would think, The Walking Dead, certainly has its appeal, but I got caught up in the AMC series and, while I may revisit the issue in the future, I am not such a huge fan of the story to warrant a bigger commitment to it. I read more black and white comics as a child. The Savage Sword of Conan was a big one for me (when I could sneak it past the adults!). Comic anthologies by the Big Two publishers were often in black and white, and I ate them up. I also followed the daily/weekly comic strips in the newspapers (so excited about the added colors and extended format on Sundays). But as an adult, not so much. As I mentioned in my review of the first issue of Astronauts in Trouble – a comic rendered in black and white – the absence of color almost scares me off of a comic. Partly, I feel (illogically) that I am getting a bad deal. The comic is obviously lacking something. Were the creators unable to afford a colorist or is the art so poor, giving it color would make it look even worse? These thoughts (again, illogically) come to mind when I think about black and white comics.

Astronauts in Trouble #2 interior page

I will probably continue to have issues with the format, but as Astronauts in Trouble has shown me, it is possible for me to latch onto a comic done in black and white. For one, the language of the story does a good job of making the reader comfortable. Smart and quick dialog representative of the people and times of 1950’s America moves the story along. It also gives texture to the odd mix of characters. You have the no-nonsense Colonel with his countrified words, the television news crew exuding an urban sophistication in the way they speak and a Russian spy who speaks perfect English. These little details add up, inviting the reader in and making the comic accessible.

Astronauts in Trouble #2 picks up where the first issue left off. An obvious act of sabotage causes a test rocket to explode at the secret base in Peru. Come to find out, the test rocket was only a decoy to mask a lunar mission. The rocket for the lunar mission is unharmed. But while everyone is trying to figure out next steps, a Russian spy is revealed as a crew member of the base. He surprises everyone by escaping to the ready-to-launch moon rocket. He launches just as the Colonel leaps onto the ship, determined to foil the Russian’s plans.

The plot is pretty linear, simple even, but that simplicity masks some clever world-building and characterizations. None of it is Shakespeare, obviously, but there is some gratification to be had from a nice, straightforward story. I, for one, have become a fan, sheepishly able to say that, yes indeed, I do read comics done in black and white.

From Image:

"Col. Lloyd Macadam’s top-secret moon-shot program: exposed! Secret moon rocket: stolen by Russians! Life or death: IN SPACE!"

Astronauts in Trouble #2 cover

Empty Zone #2
Writer: Alexander, Jason Shawn
Artist: Alexander, Jason Shawn
Cover Artist: Alexander, Jason Shawn
Published by Image

Every once in a while a comic comes by that vexes me in my attempts to categorize it. Hellblazer, from DC, was one of the first comics to challenge me in such a way. Aside from the whole ‘anti-hero’ conceit, the plots were sometimes difficult to wrap your head around. Was it an adventure, a mystery or something else? Did the good guys win? I found that the ambiguity that goes with these kinds of stories, whether morally or narratively, lit a fire to my imagination and challenged me to interact with the story more intensely than maybe I did with more traditional ones. I became a fan of the difficult-to-categorize comic book.

Empty Zone #2 page

Empty Zone, a wonderfully drawn and plotted book by Jason Shawn Alexander and Image, has all the earmarks of one of these rare comics. Corrine, the main character, is a complicated cyborg of a woman whose motivations strike the reader as either mercenary or soulful in nature, depending on the moment. On one hand she is beautiful to look at, urban-tribal stylings matched with a formidable physical presence and beautiful face. On the other hand, she is scarred and loaded with cybernetic technology, the kind of person you would fear running into in a dark alley.

Additionally, the world Mr. Alexander has built for us is at the same time fascinating and anxiety-inducing. Solar flares crippled the world’s infrastructure decades ago. The world built atop the ruins that the catastrophe wrought is familiar: corporately run, the rich get richer and the poor … suffer. Alexander does not go out of his way to editorialize. But it’s this world, mostly functional, in which he places his story and Corrine’s challenges.

Corrine, like some character out of a William Gibson novel, is a data thief and saboteur, often stealing information straight out of other peoples’ heads. The easiest software to hack in the future, it seems, are the programs running in tandem with the “operating systems” most have plugged into their skulls. The one job we get to see her pull off is a messy thing that almost goes off the rails. It’s a testament to her skills and determination that she completes it. But really, Corrine and her world and her job all seem to serve the larger story that involves GHOST ZOMBIE CYBORGS.

I don’t know what else to call them.

Corrine has begun to have hallucinations of dead lovers and getting torn apart by zombie-like creatures. Now in Empty Zone #2, those hallucinations lead her to a laboratory where someone is experimenting on half-a-dozen cadavers, apparently trying to create cyborgs from them. She unwittingly triggers the security in the lab and she is attacked by a fearsome zombie-cyborg (beautifully rendered!).Their fight is intense, brutal and fun as heck. Eventually dispatching it, she momentarily sees an apparition (ghost) rise from the ruined husk of the zombie-cyborg. It is some weird stuff.

Here’s my thinking: Corrine is wired to a global information network. Somehow, someway, the dead are now able to manifest themselves in this network and thus into Corrine’s head, causing the ‘hallucinations.’ The lab she discovers is somehow connected to this phenomenon, and for this or other reasons, she finds herself at the center of the action. Of course, it would be nice if the storyteller filled in some of these details a little better. There is a noticeable lack of words for long stretches in the comic, and I wonder if it would be better served with an additional narrative layer. I won’t complain too loudly, however. Mr. Alexander is doing a competent enough job of setting up the dots for the reader, challenging him or her to connect them for himself. We, as consumers of comics, are overly used to being spoon-fed our stories, so in many respects it is a welcome approach Mr. Alexander gives us.

I just wish we had more story at this point. It feels like we are only scratching the surface of Corrine’s world and the mystery she finds herself in the middle of. I like this world, scary as it is, and want more access to it. Now.

From Image:

"After the ghosts of Corinne’s fallen teammates impart a mysterious gift to her, she’s attacked by a new breed of cybernetic zombie that will change her forever."

Empty Zone #2 cover

Roche Limit: Clandestiny #3
Writer: Moreci, Michael
Artist: Charles, Kyle
Cover Artist: Charles, Kyle
Published by Image

Speaking of worlds that draw us in with their mystery and violence, the one Michael Moreci and his artist, Kyle Charles, have created for us in Roche Limit: Clandestiny is both familiar in its genetic ties, narratively speaking, to the films Aliens, Pitch Black and Blade Runner, and oddly foreign in the way the films Solaris or Event Horizon twisted science fiction themes with horror stylings.

Roche Limit: Clandestiny #3 page

The military search and rescue team that was dispatched to the supposedly deserted planet have discovered weird techno-organic creatures inhabiting the forests and the industrial complex they find hidden away there. The creatures attack, killing and wounding some of the crew. What do these creatures want? Why do they attack? The mystery is compounded by the appearance of the android Danny. Somewhat famous in this fictional future for having supposedly killed a child under his care, most assumed that he had been destroyed or otherwise decommissioned. As those readers who have been with this series to date know, however, Danny and his ‘father,’ Langford Skaarsgred, have been holed up on the ‘deserted’ planet for some time.

As a reader, alarm bells go off for our heroes the closer they get to Danny and Langford. Similarities to the evil corporatism in Aliens and Blade Runner immediately come to mind. The setup is actually a total rip-off of Alien: crew told to touchdown on supposedly deserted planet to investigate a possible crash site. Instead of discovering a bunch of alien eggs though … Well, like I said, they do run into something. And while there is a fair amount of blood and violence in Roche Limit, the true horror takes place in our characters’ heads. One member of the crew begins to see her dead husband; another has visions of her boy, thousands of light years away; Captain Elbus believes a lost soldier from years ago has joined him in the fight. What the crew would seem to have discovered is a planet that gets into their minds, creating hallucinations, and in some cases, twisted physical manifestations of our heroes’ memories of people they have left behind. Danny, for one, seems convinced that the crew is creating their own problems.

"Now, if you can keep your heads clear and not create any more monsters, you might actually make it through."

It is somewhat jarring seeing ideas put forward by so many movies make their way into Roche Limit: Clandestiny. It’s like the creative team workshopped the premise, looking to make a Frankenstein creature from the narrative pieces of all those movies I have listed. It’s not a totally hideous creature, as some might think. It moves well and has an allure all its own. And I, for one, look forward to how, if at all, it will evolve over what remains of the series.

Roche Limit: Clandestiny #3 cover

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