Saturday, December 22, 2012

If It's Brown, Drink It Down

Or in the case of Ken Garing's Image title Planetoid, devour it with your eyes. A bi-monthly that's just four issues in, this series captivates like a flaming streak across some dark expanse. It tells the tale of space pirate Silas, whose ship dies while passing a world that strongly bleeds electromagnetic radiation. Crashing, he finds the place a forbidding wasteland of technological ruin.

Garing, who writes, draws, colors and letters Planetoid, ensnares with an ambiance wholly unique to today's comic racks. Everywhere Silas travels, aided by computer program Ricter, he sees coal-black piles of jagged refuse. The sky is a mottled and muted canvas of swill-tones, while the air itself is tainted with heavy metals. Thankfully, Silas ejects from his ship with a trunk of survival gear, including a poncho, flares, medical kit, protein gel, filtration mask and a tent.

The first issue buries us deep in Planetoid's haunting desolation. After tiny but terrifying lizards assault Silas (the lone red SPLAT is remarkable), he heads off into skeletal drifts of metallic crap. Eventually he comes to a lake of rusty sludge. The next few pages see him facing a gigantic cybernetic leviathan, and it's for this masterful sequence that I took a chance on the comic.

After halting the slithering junk-heap with a slim hand cannon (stowed, unidentified, in his cache), Silas meets an old man named Mendel. He's a loner with a makeshift apartment among the shit-stained rubble. His history of the planetoid reveals that, "The colonial government ran a massive mining operation here," and, "Slave labor was used and supervised by an army of robotic constructs running a tyrannical A.I. program."

With these details, Garing beats his chest as a loud and proud survivor of the Golden Age of Man Cinema. I'm right there with him (obsessed with films like Aliens, T2 and Predator), envisioning Bruce Willis as Silas and Stan Winston on special effects.

During the next few issues, we meet other (mostly) human survivors living on the Slab. There, clean air and relative safety have allowed them to band together. We also get the murderous robot army in action, crushing turbaned heads and delivering warnings of trespass on behalf of the Ono Mao Republic. Garing by this point still coughs up the electrically filthy art that's three-quarters of his comic's appeal. But when Silas reaches the Slab, which mimics dusty canyon country, some pages feel all too flat. In itself, that can be a narrative strength. Aesthetically, however, his coarse people and simplistic exteriors don't anchor scenes for long. I find myself speeding through the story to reach the next sweeping pile of lovingly-rendered rubbish.

But this is a truly minor complaint. Silas' story, which soon becomes that of tough-girl Onica and the survivors, maintains the gruff appeal of an action blockbuster. After battling robots, preventing the wholesale slaughter of some tribesman, Silas is hailed as their leader (at which Conan gives a rare smile). He then goes about making the Slab more hospitable: he teaches the survivors how to use torches and weld modular housing units together (Ricter helps), and he establishes that everyone has useful knowledge, even the non-hunters who recommend algae tanks and mushroom farming.

Once people are enjoying a greater measure of safety and self-worth (and eating lizard-egg omelets), Silas notices kids lingering around a small trash-heap. In a few deft panels, he builds them a kite and we see Garing's sense of clean simplicity at its best.

A little research told me Planetoid will wrap this opening story with issue 5, then vanish for breather. I didn't want to wait to review it, and I won't spoil the penultimate chapter's thrilling developments. Naturally, Silas' hope of escaping the rock rises, only for chilly karma to sweep in. The fates of Mendel and Onica twist more firmly around his. And, unlike a title that's been rebooted four times in three years, Planetoid has a roaring pulse that's hard to resist. If the cape-and-mask set have you snoozing, by all means float by.

No comments:

Post a Comment