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.

No comments: