This is easily the most challenging comic I’ve attempted to review in the short existence of this blog, and I don’t just mean because my copy was a misprint missing the first 8 pages (although that certainly didn’t help). Great characters rub shoulder with outlandish unrelatable ones. Exciting, engaging passages are undermined by tangents into eccentric shtick. A steady increase in suspense is deflated by anticlimax. All this depicted with disappointingly simplistic artwork that looks for all the world like a minicomic sketched out with a sharpie in the back of biology class instead of paying attention to the teacher.
In the far future, humanity has joined the greater interstellar community, and a habitable Mars is a local tourist attraction for the galaxy. Writer Jason McNamara concocts a mostly believable future history in which Mars’ core is restarted, the polar ice caps are harvested for drinking water, and immigrants relocated in droves from the filthy Earth, but lest we mistakenly take the premise (or this graphic novel) too seriously, he also throws in the fact that the people of this future society consider 20th century entertainment to be historical artifacts, hence “apes replaced dogs as human pets in the 1980’s and William Shatner bravely conquered space travel.” It’s this kind of serial dopiness that crops up again and again throughout the book.
The plot is set in motion when a local professor develops a moss which will enrich the Martian atmosphere. This would eliminate the need for the breathers humans have been relying on to survive in the thin air. The local Alacalde, who is a total crooked bastard, finds this completely unacceptable, since he is heavily invested in the Breather market, so he murders the prof and burns down his lab. When he suspects that samples of the moss may have already been taken elsewhere, he’s petrified that the Breather industry is about to become obsolete. The bulk of the comic is a long chase as the Alacalde and his goons try to kill off anyone who might have learned about the professor’s experiment before it is revealed to the world.
At the center of this situation are three characters that I took a great liking to. Elijah Boone is a thief, outlaw and all around scoundrel who considered the professor like a father to him growing up. Aside from the questionable way he makes a living, Boone’s defining characteristic is he’s a total babehound who has seemingly scored with every woman on the planet. In fact, the only female he’s not interested in is his roommate Lou, but that’s only because she’s an android, and he doesn’t go that way. It’s his loss, because Lou is easily the most delightful and charming character in the whole book, a funny and fearless rogue who laughs in the face of danger and coolly navigates through every sticky situation with style. Spinner is your standard-issue uplifted bear, who runs a local dive in order to provide for his wife and cubs. Spinner isn’t actually involved in Boone and Lou’s shady lifestyle, but when he is thrown through no fault of his own into this mess, it’s great to watch the veil of domesticity drop away. He becomes reacquainted with his inner grizzly when would-be assassins threaten him, his family and his way of life.
Other characters, however, are so outlandish they truly challenge the readers’ suspension of disbelief. Like this cute babe named Sureena whom Boone meets early on that is willing to become all involved in his troubles after only a few minutes of conversation. When the Alacalde nearly catches up with them, Sureena is willing to doff her clothes, pretend to be a stripper, and distract the lawman with her boobs in order to let Boone sneak off and abandon her. Later when Boone breaks into her house covered head to tow in excrement (yes, really) she not only invites him to use her shower, she hops in with him! Boone is supposedly good with the ladies, but this is ridiculous!
The goofiest character of all is the Alacalde’s genetically anomalous girlfriend Sally, who is basically like a siamese twin, only with two top halves that meet in the middle. When the side that loves him is up top, her other half is upside down, walking on her hands underneath their skirt. Halfway through the story she/they do a somersault, the skirt flips over, and the side who is not so keen on the Alacalde is up top! Sally defies all logic: how does she go to the bathroom without a bottom half? Doesn’t all the blood rush to her upside down head? Maybe I’m taking this all too literally, and the reader is supposed to accept the character metaphorically. But what’s the metaphor? Women’s conflict over falling for men that are no good for them? Probably I’m just too literal-minded a reader to get behind the meaning of all the story’s really out-there elements.
When I cracked open this book I took an immediate dislike to Paige Braddock’s minimalist art style, though I must admit it grew on me after awhile and by the end I decided it was not totally horrible. Every once in awhile she nails a certain facial expression just perfectly, but overall I was pretty underwhelmed. Maybe my tastes are too mainstream but I could’ve enjoyed this book a lot more with a more accomplished penciller, especially for a book with a $15 cover price. Also all the black and white art is shaded in swaths of red, which gets old really fast. Red, cause it’s Mars, get it?
It’s very strange, I really wanted to like the Martian Confederacy a lot more than I actually did. Unfortunately, the final product is not as wonderful as some of its better elements, and it almost pains me to say I would only rate it about a 5.5. Despite my decidedly mixed reaction to this book, I actually would be interested in seeing another adventure of these characters, under the right circumstances. If McNamara were to bring back Boone, Lou, and Spinner, retain the humor while toning down the over-the-top surreal parts, and drawn by a more professional artist, I really think he could end up with a great product. In the meantime, I’m stuck with this odd duck of a book that I can’t even resell because it’s missing pages. Rats.