Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Aliens: Defiance Volume 1 by Brian Wood with art by Tristan Jones, Riccardo Burchielli, and Tony Brescini. Dark Horse, 2017. 9781506701264. Contains Aliens: Defiance #1 – #6 plus a short from 2016’s Free Comic Book Day.

PFC Zula Hendricks of the Colonial Marines boards a derelict ship in lunar space with a squad of heavily armed, humanoid security drones. (She’s been going through a course of reconstructive surgeries and physical therapy on the moon, and the rough ride is anything but soothing.) The ship’s crew is missing and, well, you know — the drones are soon fighting the long-headed, double-jawed aliens you’ve seen in the movies or just the trailers. After her suit’s helmet is cracked, one of the drones throws her into a stasis pod. She wakes up 27 days later: her legs barely work, the ship has been sterilized, and it’s left our solar system. One of the drones has gone rogue, is actively disobeying orders from its corporate masters, and has set them on a course to find more aliens. It also seems to be in charge, but since it’s not doing what it’s supposed to, that won’t last.

I know it sounds a lot like the original Alien movie, and that’s on purpose. Wood did the same thing with his run of Star Wars back when Dark Horse still had the license — he’s great at writing stories in existing universes that are well plotted, pleasing to longterm fans, and that stand alone. (His creator-owned comics series are great, too.) Hendricks is struggling to appear stronger than she is while fighting the xenomorphs, and she’s not the only strong woman in the story. The rebellious synthetic soldier’s idea of doing what’s right clearly doesn’t jibe with Hendricks’ (though she doesn’t quite know that). The book ends with a great setup for the second volume, which is also a great read.

The Neverending Substitution

The Infinite Vacation by Nick Spencer and Christian Ward. Image / Shadowline, 2013. 9781607067214. Contains Infinite Vacation #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

The multiverse if full of yous living lives of endless possibility. Infinite Vacation makes it possible to trade places with other (better?) version of yourself in the multiverse (for a price). Mark averages 9.7 life-changes per day, but he never ends up in a life where he wants to stay. There is a small group of folks who don’t jump to new realities (Deadenders). Shortly after Mark tries to hit on one, three versions of himself break into his house: a redneck, a nudist, and a hacker. Someone is killing Marks across the multiverse, and these three survived the attempts on their lives. So they hide this Mark the only place no one will ever look, with the Deadenders. (This does not work out.)

It’s all a little crazy, and Ward’s art makes the weirdness sing. My favorite bits are the adverts, which feature photo comics of smarmy marketing people explaining infinite vacations. The worst parts feature psycho cannibal Mark, who is on the trail of our hero (main Mark?), who likes to not only kill and eat different versions of himself but do much worse. (You may want to skip a few pages in the middle of the book. There’s some gruesome, sick stuff that didn’t seem entirely necessary, but it’s pretty contained, and the rest of the book made it worth it. I think. But then I may just be scarred for life.)

Coping Through Fiction

A Field Guide to the Aliens of Star Trek, the Next Generation by Joshua Chapman, age 11, edited by Zachary Auburn. The Devastator, 2017. 9781942099284.

Chapman gives a short explanation and critical review of the coolness of each of the aliens appearing on Star Trek: The Next Generation. His reviews are initially a part of a school writing assignment, then become a zine. As the reviews progress, you get glimpses of his very difficult home life: his mom is inactive and ineffectual except when she is screaming at Joshua or threatening to kill herself in order to control him.

Joshua’s story is really sad, and it’s hard to watch him struggling with how to escape it. It’s not the most amazing story-behind-a-story book I’ve read, but I did really connect with how Joshua found characters in Star Trek that helped him explain how he felt. (He’s not the only one who liked Data the best).

Ring My Bell

Injection Volume One by Warren Ellis, drawn by Declan Shalvey. Image, 2015. 9781632154798. Contains Injection #1 – #5. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Sarah: The pitch for Injection. (Although you sorta don’t find out ’till halfway through the book what the premise is…)
Gene: I know! But you have to have the pitch.
S: I would make someone promise: you have to read the book if I tell them why, but then they have to forget before they read the book. So: wait six months after reading this…
G: Or, like me, put it on hold at the library and then fail to remember why.
S: So a small group of people from different backgrounds in government and computing and folklore and magic get together and ask, what is the path of the future? What’s going to happen next? And what they see is a flatline. After all of this huge technological and cultural change, we’re going to go into this big lull. They try to find out how to change the world so that that doesn’t happen. And they come up with this awesome horrible idea, to combine artificial intelligence with magic with computer learning…
G: They animate an AI but they use magic, and then they release it into the internet.
S: And all of a sudden, things are happening!
G: And it turns out it can warp reality.
S: Oops. They call it the Injection. And not many people outside these folks know what’s going on.
G: Whatever it does looks like magic. Continue reading “Ring My Bell”

Who’s Your Daddy?

Star Wars Darth Vader Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Edgar Delgado. Marvel, 2016. 9781302901950. Originally published as Darth Vader #1 – #12. Publisher’s Rating: T

Gillen is an amazing storyteller, Larocca a great artist, and Delgado’s colors make every page sing. I have to confess that I’m not a huge Darth Vader fan, but the story caught my attention with its conflicts and quality, and with the fact that it’s expanding the space between stories from the movies that I already know without endlessly repeating the tropes established by the films.

The story opens after the destruction of the first Death Star (and after events in the first new Star Wars graphic novel put out by Marvel, which is also great), with Vader on Tatooine visiting Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Vader has failed his Emperor, the Empire is besieged, and a deal must be struck with the Hutt and other crime lords. Vader chafes under the command of Grand General Tagge, who assigns men to watch over him, which is a problem because Vader has his own agenda: finding the X-wing pilot who destroyed the Death Star, and finding out about a man who is engaged in secret work for the Emperor. Gillen makes a few noteworthy additions to the Star Wars universe: Doctor Aphra, a young rogue archaeologist who reactivates decommissioned weapons for profit, homicidal versions of C3PO and R2D2, and a cadre of lightsaber-wielding warriors vying for Vader’s spot at the Emperor’s side. When will Vader do away with Aphra? Will the Emperor or his agents discover Vader’s personal agenda, or can he manage to hide it from Imperial investigators?

In its best moments, this graphic novel feels like a great heist movie. I’m hoping Tarantino will one day direct a film about the killer droids.

Uncertain Certainty

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Machines of Death, 2010. 9780982167120.

This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 9781455529391.

Sarah: You may have already heard of this: Machine of Death!
Gene: Oh, I have heard of that.
S: I really liked it. It’s the first of two volumes, I realized I don’t have the second volume because I gave it to my brother for Christmas. But I have read both books. So! This is a premise that originated in a Dinosaur Comics strip, and it’s in the book. The idea is that there is a machine that is able to tell you, with a simple blood test, how you’re going to die. It will sometimes be obscure and sometimes it won’t be totally clear how that would cause your death, and no matter what you do you can’t change the fact that that is your destiny. Sometimes it’ll happen despite your efforts in a weird Twilight Zone twist. The book is an anthology by a bunch of different people all using that premise. It’s like the most wonderful anthology show, like if you got a Twilight Zone series where every episode was on one premise but interpreted radically differently by different artists. I would LOVE to see that.
G: It has a sci-fi feel?
Continue reading “Uncertain Certainty”

Not all that many

The Few written by Sean Lewis, art by Hayden Sherman. Image, 2017. 9781534302358. Contains The Few #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating: M / Mature.

Any dystopian graphic novel that opens by quoting Ursula K. Le Guin, as this one does, has my attention. There’s a lot to love in this book, including the smart bombs.

It opens with a young woman, Hale, running through a forest in what used to be Montana, chased by armed men, carrying a baby in her arms. That baby is wearing a gas mask. The pacing is perfect. The drawings’ eerie mix of sketchiness, textures, and screen tones say “ecological disaster.” It’s beautiful. The art reminded me of the sketchiness in FLCL and Ashley Wood’s robot/zombie books, and the use of color in Victor Santos’ Polar, but it has an energy all its own. Somehow, despite how stark it is, the drawings manage to give the characters a sense of grace. I haven’t loved a picture of a forest this much since being transfixed by a painting in a Baltimore art museum. (It was one of the pine forest paintings by Klimt. Photographs and prints don’t do it justice.)