Saturday, June 16, 2012

Planetoid #1 Review

Originally available as a digital comic, Ken Garing's science fiction epic, Planetoid, managed to find itself another home in print publishing when Image Comics decided to pick it up.  So while Planetoid #1 has been available on Graphicly since January, this week marks its release in the physical world.  Image certainly saw something in the series, so the question becomes whether that appeal remains apparent in the opening issue.  Check behind the jump to find out!

Okay, now that you've made it to the other side of the jump, I'll be pretty upfront with you: Planetoid #1 is good.  Really good.  As I said on Tuesday, this book only came onto my radar in the last week or so, but I'm really glad it did.

Exploration is the name of the game.
While I don't always read as much of it as I have in the past, I am definitely a science fiction kind of guy.  I literally grew up reading any and every science fiction book that I could find, so the genre has a special place in my reading heart.  However, I've found that science fiction pick up in comics is somewhat rare, which I've always been a little surprised about.  It just seems to me like the two would go pretty well together, but relatively few creators (or publishers?) seem to be of the same mindset.  Fortunately, Ken Garing appears to be with me one hundred percent.

In Planetoid #1, Garing introduces us to Silas, the character who looks to be our lead for the duration of the series.  Within the first 4 pages of the comic, we see him lose control of his ship, crash-land on an alien planet, and immediately start working to survive.  Beyond a single expletive, there's no time bemoaning his fate.  We don't learn all that much about Silas' history in this issue, beyond the fact that he's ex-military and currently works as a mercenary, but that's just fine.  Silas is not a man of words; he is a man of action.

In consequence, this issue is awful full of action and movement, while keeping relatively light on the dialogue. We silently follow Silas as he slowly explores the world he's found himself on - along with the many dangers it holds for him and anyone else unfortunate enough to be there.  While Silas speaks a bit with Richter, his interactive analytical assistant computer program, their interactions are brief, providing the bare minimum of information to keep everyone abreast of what's going on.

Just gorgeous.
The issue's main emphasis is on Silas' discovery of the planet that he's found himself stranded on, meaning that the issue places the focus squarely on the disturbingly imaginative world that Garing has created for Silas - and the reader - to inhabit.  And I must say that it is an inspired choice.  The unknown planetoid, which "within Ono Mao territorial space", is a planet-wide abandoned industrial wasteland.  It is a world filled with old junk, debris, and derelict buildings that speak to a civilization that once lived and breathed there.  It could easily be read as a commentary on present-day society, but I'm happy to take it at face value for the stunning setting that it is.

It's amazing how strong of an impression of the world and it's many hazards Garing manages to give the reader over the course of this first issue.  The oppressive nature of the world is clear at every turn, with Silas finding himself fighting against the world itself at nearly every turn, whether it's being forced to wear a breathing apparatus to avoid the large amount of metallic dust in the atmosphere or contending with far bigger threats.  Fortunately, we find that he is a pretty resourceful and capable man, doing pretty well for himself in a terribly alien environment.  His education in the planet's many dangers sometimes come at a pretty hefty price, but it all makes for some brilliant visuals.

Some big challenges ahead.
I've never encountered Garing before picking up this book, but I've pretty much fallen in love with his work.  I think I've made it clear that I found his writing decisions to be sound ones throughout the issue, but his art is something else.  He has a terrific style that looks both rough and incredibly finished that is the perfect fit for the rundown, decrepit world he offers us.  He also has a great knack for knowing which moments to choose and how to frame them to elicit the most out of each and every scene.  While there are some big (really big) action scenes throughout the comic, my favourite moments really are the ones where Silas is simply exploring the planet.  For all the many things this comic does right, it's the silent panels that see our protagonist walking, climbing, or looking over the world that he's now forced to call his own that make me want to read more.  This comic is gorgeous, but Garing's lush imagination and ability to translate that to the page is what really puts it over the top.

Towards the end of the issue, I will admit that things get a little too exposition-heavy, with the characters basically just talking about the universe they live in for the benefit of the reader to understand more.  For my part, I would have been happy as a clam to continue following Silas' adventures through this mysterious world without any additional information, but what we do learn certainly doesn't take anything away from the story.  I'm just saying that it could have been introduced a little more naturally and perhaps over the course of another issue or two.  However, it is by no means a dealbreaker.

Verdict - Must Read.  Planetoid is an incredibly well put together comic that looks and feels like nothing else on stands right now.  I'm thrilled to have a little more science fiction in my comic books, but what I love most about this book is the element of the unknown.  Silas' earlier explorations make for a surprisingly engaging story, and I hope that we don't totally abandon that element as we move forward.  If you can get your hands on a copy of Planetoid #1, I would heartily recommend it.

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Bill said...

I actually had no idea this was a digital thing first, that may explain some stuff. Like if it was coming out in shorter bits on a more regular basis?

I felt like the writing was clunky in parts, like "here is some narration to move us to the next bit of plot," or "hello, I'm old, please tell me your backstory," or just a random list of his inventory like this is a video game.

I'm a sucker for sci fi and the art is good, so I'm willing to deal with some growing pains as he finds his footing as a writer, but I'm probably going to keep this one on a short leash.

brandon said...

I had no idea this was a digital book either. This was by far the best thing I picked up this week even over Uncanny X-Force, Before Watchmen and American Vampire.

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