I am a big fan of science fiction, but for the purposes of this review let me emphasize the word "fiction". I don't believe in UFOs and I find ludicrous the thought that we are constantly being secretly visited by extraterrestrials who completely avoid detection, if for no other reason than the governments of the world don't have the competence to pull off such a vast cover-up. I expect with a universe as vast as ours, there is certainly other life out there, but I tend to think of it more as single-celled organisms or a nice grey-green moss, perhaps. But an advanced civilization with interstellar capabilities and an interest in crop circles and anal probing? Not so much. But it's fun to imagine.

The new Devil's Due graphic novel Serpo purports to be a comics dramatization of real-life events as documented on the website Serpo.org. According to the conspiracy theorists there, Roswell New Mexico was indeed the crash site of a UFO in 1947, and one surviving alien was recovered from the wreckage. In this iteration of that old chestnut, the Greys are referred to as "Ebens" (short for extraterrestrial biological entity) and hail from Serpo, which is said to be a habitable planet in the Zeta Reticuli system. Messages sent back to Serpo from the crash survivor pave the way for a cultural exchange during which 12 American soldiers traveled to the alien world for over 10 years to learn about their people.

Like I said, I don't buy any of this for a second, but it's a perfectly fine premise for a work of fiction. Unfortunately creators Jason M. Burns and Joe Eisma come far short of hitting a home run on this one, it's more like an infield single. There's no one thing that ruins my enjoyment, but rather an accumulation of a lot of little nitpicks that add up.

The framing sequence of this story involves the very tired device of the intrepid reporter being run around in circles by a mystery informant. He gains access to the hush-hush journal of the supposed leader of the expedition (referred to as 102, since nobody involved can reveal their true identities), and almost immediately shadowy Men in Black are out to get him. Isn't this the easiest route to go and very stale by this point? We all know that the reporter will keep hitting brick walls, never find a credible witness, and won't be able to break this story so the whole world comes to know and believe. Sorry, did I just ruin the ending for ya?

The diary isn't even written that convincingly, it almost sounds like an invention rather than a credible artifact. For instance, one entry starts off like this: "July 21, 1965: Almost two years had passed between the initial introduction of the team to Project Crystal Knight and the day of the actual exchange." Wait, what does he mean "had passed"? If he's writing in a journal, wouldn't the entry be in the present tense, "have passed"? It sounds more like someone writing his memoirs from a much later date, as if Burns forgot what form his narrative was supposed to be taking. And why are the first few entries colored a uniform beige, and then for no reason the flashbacks are in color for the rest of the way?

By the way, the two year gap mentioned above points out another problem I had with the graphic novel: time just shoots by too fast. In less than 75 pages we must zip through nearly two decades of the narrator's experiences, making this at times seem more like a Cliffs Notes of a much more involved (and possibly rewarding) story. Very little of the characters beyond the two leads are fleshed out at all. The fact that there are just two women on the trip with many males is never even mentioned. No one hooks up or even gets knocked up during a 10 year mission? At one point Serpo is attacked by another race, but we never see them again or learn more about them. At the end of the first chapter, one angry member of the mission gets himself in hot water with the Eben lawmakers, but this is completely glossed over at the beginning of the next.

This character, called 203, is particularly egregious because he is so ridiculously insubordinate and untrustworthy. If I were a solider, I would be insulted that this character is even implied to have made it through training without washing out, let alone being picked for an elite team representing our entire race.

And ultimately, the Ebens really aren't all that interesting. They dress in boring robes and live in boring huts. Like humans, they have families, bury their dead underground, and play soccer. In short, I wish the aliens were more alien. I suppose the creators could try to argue that their hands were tied because that's what “really happened“, and that's what Grey culture is “really like“. If so, they would have been better off adapting some other first contact story; science fiction is just loaded with ‘em, most more deserving of a comic adaptation than this.

The art by Eisma is pretty good but rarely thrills. He seems at his strongest when he gets to draw weird creatures, like visiting aliens and escaped lab experiments. Other times, his storytelling is way too obvious, such as when 102 tells the others, "let's just hope none of us has to take the cyanide way out" and Eisma actually draws the leader taking out his cyanide capsule and holding it up for them to see, as if they otherwise won't understand what he's talking about. Overall, the art loses a lot of the detail and becomes more basic looking towards the end, as if he was taking his time early on but then later rushed for whatever reason.

Serpo is by no means bad, in fact I would say it's very-- competent. I suppose that's damning with faint praise, but really it's not like I threw the book down in disgust. Maybe I expect too much sometimes, but I was hoping for something a bit more original, imaginative and absorbing. I would give this book a 6.5.



Critics were not kind to Doomsday when it came out in March and it didn't spend much time in theaters. The main rap against the flick was that it was too derivative, blatantly lifting elements from previous successful genre films. This accusation, by the way, is entirely true. But while originality of concept is always appreciated and to be commended, the lack therefore does not automatically guarantee that the work in question is valueless. I don't care if you string together elements from a thousand previous sources if the result is at least entertaining, and I'm here to say I was entertained as hell by Doomsday.

Count the precedents as I discuss the plot. A horrific virus breaks out in the UK, threatening to destroy humanity's very way of life (28 Days Later). The location of the Hot Zone-- Scotland-- is quarantined behind massive walls and becomes a lawless place where the imprisoned fend for themselves any way they can (Escape from New York). 30 years later, there's another outbreak in London and now the government has reason to believe the key to its cure is among the survivors up north. So a rescue team has to go behind the walls on an extraction mission (that would be Escape from New York again). An overconfident team of soldiers in armored transports are overmatched and trapped in enemy territory (Aliens). The sexy female lead (in this case, Rhona Mitra) must kick major ass and fight against all odds to complete her mission (Ultraviolet, Aeon Flux). The main obstacle is a legion of leather-and-chained punks who ride around on tricked out vehicles (the Road Warrior). At a critical juncture, she is forced to step into a deathmatch arena, and battle to the death with a larger and better armed and armored foe before a stadium of foaming-mouthed spectators (pretty much every movie ever, seems like).

The script is so stupid, it's brilliant. After martial law is declared, a clearly diseased man is discovered among the panicked throngs who are attempting to evacuate. How does the soldier who makes discovery act to maintain law and order? He whips out his machine gun and blasts the poor bastard to mush, spraying everyone in a 20 yard radius with infected blood and guts! When the powers that be decide that the whole crisis is FUBAR, they order the gates on the quarantine zone permanently sealed. One hapless sucker on the wrong side apparently thinks the gates will just spring back open like elevator doors if he just sticks his hand between them before they close, and he promptly loses his arm in gory fashion. One distraught mother convinces some soldiers to take her little daughter away with them in their helicopter-- um, how do they know the little girl isn't a carrier? Especially since she is bleeding from her eye when they take her away with them?

I’m not sure what the theatrical version was like, but the unrated DVD is as violent and gory as it is dopey, with a gleeful level of flowing blood, hacked limbs and decapitations usually reserved for hardcore horror flicks. Not only does a little girl lose her eye, people get cooked and eaten, bunnies explode. Yes, that’s right-- bunnies explode!

Director Neil Marshall keeps the action moving along at all times, which is a big key to its success. If the story makes little to no sense, don’t give the audience time to think about it, just throw another obstacle in our heroes’ path. In lesser hands, this could have been no better than a low-budget straight-to-cable schlockfest. Instead, it’s a slick, fast-moving, great looking, decently acted schlockfest. Mitra makes a great heroine, and Marshall even got Malcolm McDowell and Bob Hoskins to appear in this thing. Also, it’s nice to see the Gimp from Pulp Fiction get some work.

It’s funny, usually the story is the main thing that will make or break a movie for me. I can put up with a lot if there’s a good script at the heart of it and usually the most beautiful film in the world can end up being a dud in my eyes if the story stinks. But in the case of Doomsday, it’s all so over-the-top crazy fun, I just checked my brain at the door and enjoyed the ride. Today, I might just be a little bit dumber person than I was yesterday, but I give Doomsday a 7.


Titanium Rain #1

It took me a moment to remember why I preordered Titanium Rain in the first place. At first glance, it appears to be a straight up war comic with no particular science fictional angle. Not that I don’t enjoy a good war comic, but I recalled ordering it with a view towards reviewing it for this site. Then, upon further examination, I noticed a 4-panel appearance by a mecha in the opening fight scene, and also that the supplementary maps are dated 2031. Those are your only indications that the story doesn’t take place today.

The aforementioned battle, by the way, comprises the first five pages of the issue, and is the only actual combat that takes place in this ostensible war comic. U.S. soldiers are in enemy territory and under fire, in the midst of a massive Chinese civil war. The scene is compelling and well-rendered, but it’s over in a blink. Frustratingly, once we turn away from this locale we never return to it and none of the characters appear again or are even mentioned for the remainder of the issue.

Instead, the scene switches to an air base off of mainland China, where a squad of pilots spend the bulk of the issue playing poker. My mind boggled at how long this scene drags on, as the squad captain attempts some convoluted metaphor as to how poker is a reflection of the ongoing conflict. I suppose writer Josh Finney is trying to figure out a way to squeeze in an explanation of who is fighting who and why, but this scene of talking heads sitting around a table goes on for what seems like an eternity (it’s actually 9 pages of a 23 page story) and by the end I was still at a loss as to the point Captain Schilling was trying to make.

The photo-realistic artwork in this comic is far more interesting than the writing. The faces of the characters are so unique and distinct that Kat Rocha clearly used real-life models for everyone, of which I approve. Many comic artists seem unable to draw different character faces, to the point where the only way to tell them apart in some books is by their hair styles and clothing. In this comic, it’s very easy to differentiate all of the characters-- even thought all they do is sit around B.S.ing for most of the comic.

Finally towards the end of this issue the pilots are called to arms and hop in their planes. Clearly something exciting may occur-- next issue!

I was both surprised and a little frustrated when I learned that the descriptive blurb on the back cover of this issue reveals more about what’s going on in this comic than the actual comic. According to the synopsis “civil war in China spirals into world conflict. Nations are destroyed. Millions are killed.” It does? They are? Although it’s obvious there’s fighting going on in China, nothing in the actual issue indicates that there is this level of carnage and devastation going on worldwide. “And for many, like US Air Force pilot Alec Killian…” What? Killian is meant to be this story’s protagonist? Who knew? The pontificating captain gets most of the speaking time in this issue. “…survival will mean shedding some of his humanity in exchange for biotech and machine.” It will? That sounds pretty cool, what issue will that be in?

Based on the premise and the artwork, Titanium Rain would seem to have potential, but the pacing is bad and the captions and dialogue vacillate between pretentious and corny. I’d rate Titanium Rain #1 a 6, at best. It’s possible that the whole poker thing would read better and not seem so interminable in a collected trade paperback, but to make it the focal point of a single comic, and your premiere issue no less, was a horrible decision and a big let down. Tighten up those scripts, Mr. Finney!


Frank Frazetta's Creatures

I might as well confess right up front that I have a soft spot for anything that has to do with Teddy Roosevelt, who is a local hero in my hometown of Oyster Bay, New York. Roosevelt resided there during his presidency, raised his family there, and is buried there as well. Growing up there, you can’t escape his influence: I attended Theodore Roosevelt Elementary school, the local park and bird sanctuary are named after him as well, one of our fire departments adopted the name Rough Riders, and a handsome bust of TR adorns the front of our Town Hall. While there are other famous citizens with ties to the area, not even Billy Joel, Jackie “the Jokeman” Martling, or even Weiner Dog inspire a greater sense of local pride.

Yet even if I can put aside my obvious bias in the matter, I would still say that Frank Frazetta’s Creatures is an entertaining and amusing little one-shot. Rick Remender and Peter Bergting have concocted a wonderfully gonzo alternate universe where Roosevelt was not only a big game hunter, cavalry soldier, and respected statesman, but also an accomplished ghostbuster, valiantly engaging supernatural menaces with his secret team of “Dark Riders” (which includes among its membership SF author Edgar Rice Burroughs). Through 25 pages of nearly non-stop action, Teddy keeps a stiff upper lip as he plows through disgruntled demigods, giant snakes, savage apes, and even a legion of ornery pint-sized Martian invaders.

If this brew of action, humor and the supernatural puts you in mind of the Hellboy universe as concocted by Mike Mignola, I’m not sure that’s a comparison that Remender and Bergting would shy away from. Bergting’s shadowy and simplified pencils even remind me of the style employed by Mignola and other artists who draw in his books. In addition to Roosevelt’s natural talents, Remender has also armed the Prez with a mystic gem that grants him superpowers, as well as a funky powerpack and monster blasters. As is often the case with Hellboy, TR meets each outrageous challenge with fisticuffs and gunplay. Unfortunately, because the tone of the story is so light, there’s a distinct lack of jeopardy to the combat; there’s no creature our hero encounters that he can’t blast apart.

By the way, exactly what Frank Frazetta has to do with any of this is not at all clear to me. My guess is that he simply okayed the use of his name and the reprinting of his painting for the cover and otherwise his involvement extends to cashing the check. I assume that Remender’s assignment was to extrapolate a story out of what was depicted in the painting, but if so he has a hell of an imagination. Studying that painting, I never would’ve guessed that the hunter with his back to the viewer was Theodore Roosevelt! Actually, Bergting’s great variant cover has a more accurate depiction of the prez-on-martian wackiness to be found within.

Frank Frazetta’s Creatures is light and fun and earns a 7/10 from this appreciative reader. A one-shot is the perfect format for this concept, as I suspect turning this premise into a series would kill the joke pretty quick. However, if Remender and Mignola were ever to join forces to have Teddy Roosevelt fight alongside the Amazing Screw-On Head, count me in!


More Heavy Metal Movie Details

New details emerge about the proposed next Heavy Metal movie. Not sure how set in stone the $50 million budget is, or how likely it is that all great directors he mentions will actually end up working on it, but boy he makes it sound goooood. He also seems to be well aware that the last movie was a stinker, but deflects all blame for that.


Ret Romanne #1

I find myself simultaneously irritated and a little relieved that Blue Water Comics has posted Ret Romanne #1 to read for free at WOWIO. I'm irritated because I spent four bucks on this thing just a few weeks ago. But I'm also relieved of the onerous task of trying to explain what the book is about, since in several ways it defies explanation. Anyone interested in a visually interesting but otherwise meandering comic about a scarred outcast bumming around the back streets of a floating city, click over and take a look for yourself.

I think we can all agree that the book looks pretty cool. Alan Brooks has some ginchy digital rendering software and he knows how to use it. Most of the pleasure I derived from this comic came from taking in the dazzling blend of CGI artwork and photography (at least, I think that's what we're looking at). Brooks' views of the city and its streets, as well as the interior of the aircar are especially fine; the argument could be made that the more surreal pages of Ret's visions are too busy and a little over the top. But there isn't a single panel in this comic you could call boring.

The actual story, meanwhile, has such a poor structure and lousy pacing that it sinks the entire enterprise. Brooks spends so much time setting the scene, delving into backstory, and going off on waking dream tangents that nothing much actually happens in the here and now. The entire issue can be summed up in one sentence: "Ret gets a distressing phone call." Hey, maybe next issue he'll actually do something about it!

The issue starts, puzzlingly, with an introduction by three robot narrators, who seem to be breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the reader. They also seem to be disembodied heads, and I'm not sure what purpose they serve other than for Brooks to say, "Look what cool robot heads I can design!" The whole narration angle seems to be dropped a few pages in, anyway.

Rather than jump right into the story, we are led by the hand through the whole setup: "Here's the city where this takes place." "Here's what happened to Ret to make him like this." In my mind, he should have just started with the story. Details about the city can be dropped in during the action. A flashback relating Ret's accident can be shown later during a quiet moment. Possibly Brooks should stick to the art side of things and a writer could be brought in to write a more readable story.

Who is Ret Romanne and what does he do? Is he a detective/enforcer type, or just a whackjob who wanders the streets of U.N.Topia? Does he wear some kind of armor or have cybernetic parts? Is his chest cavity on fire or is that just an artistic flourish? Why does he wear American and UK flags on his head? And what's with the visions- does he have psychic powers? Is he have a connection to the realm of dreams? Is he half-remembering stuff he has already experienced but has forgotten? I realize at least some of this is supposed to be a mystery that will unfold over time, but come on. Tell us something about this guy whose travails we are supposed to be invested in. He is the title character, yet all we know about him so far is he crashed and burned and now he likes to dress up like Darkman and build robots.

Based solely on the rad visuals, I would give Ret Romanne #1 a 6/10. But if Alan Brooks wants solely to show off his mad graphics skills maybe he would be better served coming out with a nice big coffee table art book. As the premiere issue of a comic series, this doesn't get the job done. I wasn't convinced at all to shell out for another issue. On the other hand, if Blue Water keeps posting future issues online, I may check in simply to find out if Brooks ever gets on with it already.


Contract #1

This is exactly the kind of book I want to like and get behind: a futuristic action-adventure series published in full color by an independent company. When the vast majority of comics on the shelves are superheroes (and don't get me wrong, I love my Men in Tights), who wouldn't want to see an upstart SF title come out of the woodwork and catch on with readers eager for something different? Unfortunately, I don't think that Contract has enough originality or pizzazz to survive in a pretty cutthroat marketplace.

Contract takes place in a fictional star system that boasts no fewer than five inhabited worlds. Life is cheap and mega-corporations have free reign to commit any despicable act in order to turn a profit. In this hostile environment, there is an entire mercenary industry making a living doing dirty work and troubleshooting for clients with deep pockets. The word "mercenary" usually has a negative connotation, but protagonists of his title, the trio of mercs working as the Stellar Rangers, are well-meaning mercenaries, you see, with hearts of gold. When a low-ranking corporate exec's daughter is kidnapped and not returned even after the ransom is paid, they agree to take the case despite the fact that the father has almost no money to pay them.

The field leader of the trio (and CEO of the Rangers) is Jessie Garrett, a leather-clad cowgirl. Muscle-bound Panzer is a one-man wrecking crew with a love of women, violence and hamburgers. Tsumi is a quiet and sardonic modern-day samurai. Of the three, the ribald and roughhouse Panzer, with his hedonistic lifestyle and heavy German accent, is the one who really stands out and captures the reader's attention. The other two engage in some banter, but otherwise aren't given much time to shine. Presumably they will be fleshed out more in future issues- assuming that anyone is still buying the title by that point.

This extra-long premiere boasts an impressive 40 pages of material- three stories plus a short preview of the next issue. It's a great idea to try to pack so much action in to give an introduction to the title, but there are a few missteps which kind of shoot the creators in the foot. For one, it seems counter-intuitive to put the kidnapping story in the leadoff spot, since that continues on to next issue. The other two stories are self-contained, which makes it slightly confusing to have them follow a story that ends on a cliffhanger. Also, the art in the stories varies from "decent" to "mediocre" and, as we learn from reading the letters page, none of these three are the regular series artist, who won't be starting until next issue!

The biggest disappointment for me with the issue is that creator/co-writer Garan Madeiros doesn't really immerse me in some crazy, mind-bending future society; the worlds of Helios are rather generic recycled SF imagery. The cars fly, Panzer has a mechanical arm, and a bunch of futuristic-sounding prefixes like "neuro" and "cyber' are dropped into the dialogue (Panzer doesn't just take steroids-- he takes nano-steroids!), but it just seems like window dressing. The armored nut that Panzer takes down in the third story could just as easily be a drug addicted weight-lifter on PCP. With only the slightest rewrite on the script the lead story could be about contemporary soldiers of fortune traveling to South America to save a child being held by gangbangers.

The lead characters are likable and it is clear that Madeiros is having a ball, but I just wish Contact showed more creativity and originality in the setting. I also wonder if it wouldn't have been more prudent to tell the entire kidnapping plot in the first issue, and leave the two standalones for sometime when the creators were facing a deadline crunch and needed page filler. I would give this a 6/10, although I feel that the book has the ingredients to work. The blah art and the generic setting leave me on the fence on this one, but with so much product to choose from, I kind of doubt First Salvo will be getting any more of my dough.


Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Season One

Redundant. That’s the word I keep coming back to when I consider the Terminator franchise. To be sure, each of the three films in the series are very good when considered individually, but watching them back to back it becomes pretty noticeable how rigidly they stick to the same formula over and over. The details are shuffled but at the heart of it is the same plot: Skynet sends a terminator from the future to stop John Connor from ever becoming the leader of the human resistance by killing him/his mother. Sarah and/or John flee for their lives aided by some good guy representative also sent back in time by future-John. Much chasing, fighting and carnage ensue. The terminator is eventually destroyed, but the good guy traveler is killed/destroyed as well. Rinse and repeat.

Despite the absence of James Cameron, Terminator 3 didn’t turn out to be a horrible movie; in fact it’s perfectly good if taken on its own terms and you ignore the fact that it’s the same damn story regurgitated for yet another go-around. What really redeemed the film for me, what made me sit up and take notice and feel that it really did have a reason to exist, is that it finally shut the door on the prospect of any future films returning to the formula yet again. Everything changes by the end of movie 3.

So naturally the first thing the creators of the TV series Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles decided to do it throw the third film right out the window. Sarah is still alive, and the apocalypse is still on the horizon. The pieces have been reset to start the chasing all over again. Only this time around, the R-rated violence and language are toned down, the chases are more modest to accommodate a TV-sized budget, and everything is slowed way down to stretch two hours worth of story into-- well, an unlimited amount of episodes. Yes, kids, it’s everything you loved about the films, only slower, safer and less intense. Oh, and no Arnold.

Summer Glau substitutes for Arnold on the show, and it’s actually an inspired idea. If you just stuck some other Austrian roid-head in the part, he would‘ve compared unfavorably to Schwarzenegger. Instead, they went the completely opposite way and cast a willowy young woman as Cameron, the new protector Terminator. Good move. Of course, on the show’s limited budget, most of the terminator-on-terminator fighting in this series boils down to the combatants grabbing each other's shoulders and hurling each other back and forth into drywall. Glau is mostly called on to stare unblinkingly and look puzzled, but isn’t that pretty much what she did on Firefly as well?

Early in the series, Sarah, John and Cameron flash forward in time several years, in order to explain how it could be that it’s 2008 and John is still a whiny teenager. More than one terminator is running around, and one wonders why Skynet didn’t just send 1,000 terminators back at once to really overwhelm the Connors and take them out once and for all. One misstep the show takes is focusing on some of John’s classmates’ dilemmas at his new school. Here’s a tip for you, executive producer Josh Friedman: we don’t watch Terminator for high school dramatics. Give us a break!

The Connors in the show pale in comparison to the actors who originated the roles. Lena Headley tries her best to look tough, but she lacks the manic intensity, paranoia and berserker strength of Linda Hamilton. She’s too pretty and too soft. Edward Furlong’s John Connor might have been an annoying punk, but at least he had a personality and was interesting to watch. Thomas Dekker’s version is very dull and ineffective, spending most of his time petulant and melancholy, and often with his eyes brimming with tears. This is the savior of humanity?

I tried watching this week’s premiere of the second season, in hopes that a better direction has been found now that the writer’s strike is behind us. Also, I am a huge Shirely Manson devotee and was interested in seeing how she worked out on the show. Unfortuntely, “Samson & Delilah” is one of the worst episodes yet, a complete time waster in which Cameron reverts to her original programming and starts trying to kill John again. Since it’s obvious she will be back on the side of the angels by the end of the episode, the whole thing is simply an excuse for John to shave his head and possibly finally grow a set. As for Shirley, I still love her to death, but she’s completely over her head as a T-1000 corporate CEO. I’ve stood ten feet from the woman when she was onstage totally captivating an audience, and I know she can take me out with just the flick of her wrist, but she looks out of her comfort zone here. Hopefully she’ll adjust, since her character seems likes she’s going to be pretty important.

Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles is not a horrible show, it’s just a completely pointless one, in my eyes. By far my favorite episode of the first season was “Dungeons and Dragons”, but that’s because it partially takes place in the future timeline of Skynet. I’ve always been more intrigued by that post-apocalyptic setting and wanted to see it explored more. Which is why I’ve pretty much written off this show as “been there, done that” and am psyched as hell to see Terminator: Salvation, which unfortunately is not due to his theaters for another nine months! As for the series, I already watch too much TV to keep up with a show I’m not even enjoying, and I would only rate it about a 6.5. But be sure to let me know if anything interesting happens…


Pilot Season: The Core

Top Cow has come up with an ingenious way to test the waters on new book ideas to see if they will fly. Much as the TV networks each year sanction the creation of pilot episodes of prospective new shows to gauge how they might look and whether they will succeed, Top Cow has created a "Pilot Season" of their own, in which they release 6 one-shots that could potentially become an ongoing series if the demand is high enough. In this contest, fans vote in a poll posted on a special MySpace page, and the top two vote getters will be rewarded with a shot at a monthly series. Neat idea, isn't it?

Last year's two winners were both superhero books, but this year there is one straight-up sci-fi nominee, and that's Jonathan Hickman and Kenneth Rocafort's The Core. Packed jammed-tight into 24 slick pages is a little bit of everything I like to see in my space operas: politics, intrigue, combat, and groovy alien races. A lot happens in this issue, but let's face it: it's the creators' big shot at trying to land an ongoing gig, and they lay out their scenario at a breakneck pace. Too bad that, as I post this, voting is 24 hours away from closing, and this book is only in fourth place!

The Core of the title refers, quite literally, to the center of the universe, where populated worlds are more closely packed together and the home of several ancient coalitions which over the millennia have steadily expanded outward. After so much passage of time, the inner worlds of the Core are low on resources, making them more desperate for new member worlds as they branch out. As the story opens, Earth has only recently been accepted into the Dahiba Federation, but the alliance is an uneasy one because humanity is making many demands which the Dahiba resent but grudgingly put up with for access to the Sol system’s resources.

Enter our POV character Asimov Dedeken (great name, huh?), the first human to be accepted into Red Sector, which is the Federation's religion-tinged special ops forces. We are along for the ride for Asimov's baptism of fire, joining four other ops for a rescue mission to recover a captive ambassador taken hostage by separatists, most likely on the orders of the Federation's foes, the Saano Solidarity. Amidst the action, Asimov absorbs more and more about the political makeup of the Core, and what exactly he has gotten himself into. He learns about the world that Hickman and Rocafort have devised even as we do. The book ends with a bit of a twist that ensures our hero is in for a big-time moral dilemma in the days ahead.

Hickman and Rocafort have crafted a universe that seems like a cool place to spend some time. Rocafort is a good imaginative penciller, and the pages are colored to give them a painted look. In terms of design, the alien creatures, ships and interiors are all eye-catching, and it's fun to pore over the pages and really take a look around. Hickman's writing is mostly solid; sure there's a lot of infodump but, again, they have just the one issue to lay out the book's premise. I could gripe about a few punctuation errors and odd sentence structures, but shouldn't an eagle-eyed editor have caught those?

I liked The Core quite a bit, I would rate it a 8/10. I would love to see more of it. Unfortunately, as I said, the book is not a frontrunner, and voting closes at the end of the day. Not sure why the deadline had to be quite this soon, I only got my copy from Westfield about a week ago. If the book sounds at all good to you, you don't need to take my word for it, as the entire issue is posted for free up at Newsarama. If you agree that we need to go back to the Core, head on over to the Pilot Season page and vote. Probably a last minute hail mary is too little too late to disrupt a poll that has been going on for a month, but it's worth a shot!


Stick to Your Guns, David Fincher!

Reviewing an issue of Heavy Metal the other day put me in mind of this article which appeared in Entertainment Weekly awhile back. Reading it left me super-excited at what a cool sequel this could be, and at the same time thoroughly disgusted with the wimps at Paramount who can't deal with the thought of a kickass project that can't be marketed to the Happy Meal set. In fact, this country has become so conservative I have serious doubts that the original Heavy Metal could be made today, what with its gratuitous nudity, rampant violence, girl-on-robot sex and unbridled coke snorting.

I never did get around to seeing FAKK 2 back in 2000- was it even released in theaters or did it go straight to video? Just the film's very concept was so totally different from the structure of the first film that it didn't seem right for it to bear the Heavy Metal title. Instead of a collection of vignettes by a variety of imaginative creators, it was a single story co-written by Eastman and starring an animated version of his wife. I read a couple of issues of Melting Pot when it was first released, and they didn't exactly blow my mind. Nothing about them made me think "these puppies need to be made into a feature film, pronto!" Most of the reviews of the film at the time reaffirmed my assumption that FAKK 2 was eminently missable.

On the other hand, what I've seen so far about this proposed new HM sequel has me thinking that a lesson's been learned and an effort is being made to replicate what made the original so great. Just the fact that a director of David Fincher's caliber is on board should be a clear signal to Hollywood that this project should be taken seriously. The return of the anthology format and the list of great creators involved (I only know Steve Niles by reputation but can verify that Joe Haldeman and Neal Asher do, indeed, kick ass) have me crazy to see this movie right friggin' now immediately! Hell, the fact that soulless studio execs consider the script "too risque for mainstream audiences" is a badge of honor in my eyes!

Stick to your guns, David Fincher and Kevin Eastman! It sounds like you are really trying to produce the kind of Heavy Metal movie old-school fans want to see. In a world where Lionsgate can make big bucks with envelope-pushing fare like the Hostel and Saw movies, there has to be someone left in the movie industry who still has the cohones to make the kind of wonderfully outrageous epic we all want to see.

And can you bring back Taarna? Pretty please?


Heavy Metal Overload Special Summer 2008

To this day, the name Heavy Metal puts a little song in my geeky heart. This despite the fact that, in actuality, I’ve read proportionately very little of its impressive 30-year run. I suppose a lot of the warm fuzzy glow I get from the brand comes from the daring 1981 animated extravaganza, which hit HBO around the time I was 12 and pretty much blew my hormonally-ravaged young mind. I was just the perfect age for its bizarre blend of juvenile and adult, fantastic and uncouth.

Flash forward ten years. I have disposable income and no longer fear parental units stumbling across my weird nudie space comics and demanding an explantation. So I signed up for a 3-year subscription to Heavy Metal and gleefully rubbed my hands together in anticipation of the delights to follow.

The verdict: a mixed bag. Somehow, the magazine didn’t entirely live up to my idea of what it would be. Maybe it was because the days of Moebius and Bode were well in the rearview mirror. The original owner had sold the magazine to Peter Eastman- co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- who seemed to see it primarily as a vehicle to promote the career of Julie Strain, a D-list actress with ginormous fake boobs who happens to be Eastman’s wife. Maybe I was misled by the quality of the film into thinking Heavy Metal was something it wasn’t. All I know is the ratio of stories I enjoyed to those I didn’t was about 1:5.

There were things that irritated me. For example, there were some ongoing series that others readers (or at least the editors) enjoyed way more than I did. It seemed like every 4 or 5 months there was a new installment of certain stories that I didn’t want to read in the first place. Other times, they would print the first part of a story and never print the rest. They also started reprinting a lot of old Atomika and Tundra material, which pissed me off because I had already bought it the first time! I was also aggravated with the magazine’s policy of publishing seasonal special editions which weren’t considered part of the subscription. Even though I had signed up to have the magazine delivered to my doorstep, there were issues on the stands that I wasn’t getting. Like I said, irritating.

Once my subscription ran out, I cut ties with Heavy Metal and haven’t bought a copy in the intervening 12 or so years. I would flip through it from time to time on the stands, but the Summer 2008 special caught my eye in a way that no other issue had for quite some time: some fantastic artwork…a sexy lady…WWI soldiers in combat…a half-man half-robot and a mad scientist type in his spooky lab. They got me. I plunked down my seven bucks figuring, “even if it ends up sucking I can rip it apart on my blog.”

The issue’s first story is a quick 7-pager called “The Door” by JM Darlot and IG Holgado. It concerns an ordinary-seeming desk jockey whose day at the office is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a new door which he did not order. No sooner have the delivery men propped up the mysterious door and departed then a knocking begins to sound from the other side- even though there is no other side! I’ve never been a big fan of the short form and nothing here changes that opinion. “The Door” is more about setting a mood than telling a story, and it’s only partially successful at doing that. Holgado’s clean artwork is almost Disneyesque, which is a look I enjoy sometimes but isn’t quite dark enough for the creepy tone Darlot’s going for here. An intriguing premise to a better story than anything satisfying unto itself.

The title character of Massimo Visavi and Adriano de Vincentiis’ “Sophia” provides the issue’s requisite T&A. De Vincentiis’ art is very good, he is as adept at drawing beautiful villas or the canals of Venice as he is the curves of a nude woman. So at least there is something nice to look at while you are plowing through an otherwise underwhelming supernaturally-tinged quest around the globe. Along the way we are subjected to some pretty awkward dialogue, although whether that can be chalked up to bad writing on Visavi’s part or a poor translation I couldn’t say.

Sophia Delamore is the scion of the very powerful but extremely dysfunctional dynasty. Her father went insane, and tried to murder her as a baby. Her mother had no choice but to kill him to save Sophia, but she in turn was killed by the vengeful grandfather. The evil grandfather is dead now as well, but his estate is in limbo because no one can locate his will, which has been locked away in a small carved chest behind a mysterious symbol. Sophia’s people track down the box, but before she can even figure out how to open it it’s stolen again. So she criss-crosses the world to once again gain possession of the heirloom. Imagine a watered-down cross between the Da Vinci Code and Raiders of the Lost Ark, only with Paris Hilton as the heroine.

And that was the biggest of the story’s several problems. Sophia is a rich, haughty celebrity who is too dumb to know that baby tank tops and high-heeled boots are impractical attire for slogging though a South American jungle (this can’t be chalked up to artistic license, by the way, even other characters point out how ludicrously she dresses). Visavi tries with mixed results to make her more sympathetic through flashbacks of her as a young girl being haunted by her mother’s ghost and being abused by an evil nun. It all leads up to a whopper of a revelation at the end, and the realization that, regardless of the “The End” on the last page, this is really only the first chapter of an ongoing saga. I can only wonder when another chapter might appear, and whether anyone will care when it does.

If I thought the translation in “Sophia” was sloppy, it’s ten times worse in the next story, a noir-looking boxing story called “Man at the Carpet.” Actually, the translation is so egregious the only way I can tell what the story is supposed to be is by looking at the sketchy Ted McKeever-esque artwork. The captions are really that indecipherable!

Example the first, our narrator Joe describing how an opponent’s punch feels like being hit by a train: “…it seemed to me the most logical explanation, to strike me had to have been for strength a commodities train and not the red boxing glove of Tyler Holland, my challenger.” Flows nicely, doesn’t it?

Someone urges Joe to get an honest job and avoid criminal types: “Think to stay up, pal… you are young. One like you finds a good job to the docks. Don’t fall out with that people!” Wha…huh?

An aforementioned criminal type tries to convince him of…something… “It’s not good enough to be good to arrive at the top… It always needs the help of someone, There is who looks for it, and who, like you, receives that help without know it.” Words to live by, my friend, words to live by.

The whole story is this puzzling. I’m not sure what’s more appalling, that someone did such a horrific job of English translation, or that said translation crossed some editor’s desk who responded, “Looks great-- print it!” Everyone involved with the magazine should be embarrassed that this thing ever saw print like this.

The story that redeems the whole issue is Xavier Dorison and Enrique Breccia’s fantastic “The Sentries”, a bleak cyber-monster story set in the opening of World War I (would that make it--- “Greatwarpunk”?) Based on the eye-popping artwork alone I was convinced to buy this special, and there are visual treats to pour over on every page. Breccia’s actually a world famous artist, but I’ve been ignorant of his work up until now. This page is from the original French version, but check the pencils:

The script is equally compelling, telling the tale of a tortured soul whose good intentions lead to nothing but misery. Gabriel Feraud is a scientist who has invented a radium-powered battery, but despite his family’s near-destitution refuses to sell the design to the military for use in the impending war. Colonel Alphonse Mirreau is in charge of Project Sentries, a research experiment to create cyborg soldiers for the French army. Previous attempts have failed because the cyborgs didn’t have sufficient power and ran down on the battlefield. Now Mirreau will utilize all the pressure his rank provides to strongarm Feraud into handing over his battery design. What follows is a test of wills as Feraud tries to uphold his principles. But as often happens when a lone citizen tries to stand up to will of the institution, his struggles may ultimately prove the downfall of his entire family.

Breaking down the issue by rating:
"The Door" (7 pages): 7
"Sophia" (54 pages): 5.5
"Man at the Carpet" (10 pages): Incomplete!?
"The Sentries" (62 pages): 9

At first blush, it might not seem worth picking up the Overload special just for one story, but because "The Sentires" is so good, and because it is so long, it just about justifies the $6.95 price tag on its own. Monthly comics are about three bucks for 22 pages, so the price actually compares favorably. I say grab a copy, and if you happen to like some of the other stories too, even better!