Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Planetoid #5 Review

After a longer than would be ideal delay, Ken Garing's Planetoid #5 has finally arrived!  Hitting stands today, the issue concludes the epic science fiction tale that Garing has been weaving throughout his excellent series.  It's been a while since we've talked Planetoid here, but you may remember that I've been quite taken with the series.  As before, I'll tell you up front that this issue is pretty dandy, but if you're hoping for some elaboration, I'll happily indulge you on the other side of the cut.  Join me there, won't you?

Written by Ken Garing
Art by Ken Garing

I really dig Planetoid.  The storytelling has been smart, the art has been awesome, and at $2.99 for 32 pages of coloured comics, the price cannot be beaten.  To be perfectly honest, I've been eagerly anticipating this issue since the moment I finished Planetoid #4, and I'm happy to say that, with the world that he has created and the conflicts he has built, Ken Garing sticks the landing pretty well here.

This book has introduced plenty of colourful characters, but from the beginning, it has really been all about Silas.  An orphan who joined the military to escape his bleak existence, he eventually left a life of soldiering to become a mercenary and smuggler along with a few other disillusioned colleagues.  He was damaged long before crash landing on the planetoid back in issue #1, but our journey has been seeing him become something more than a lost soul.

Silas has gone from being a lone wolf to a reluctant leader over the course of this series, and this issue sees him fully embrace that responsibility, doing his best to save the small civilization that he and those he has met on the planetoid have carved out on the hellish frontier that is the Slab.  Because while Silas' personal development has been central to this book, so too has the parallel expansion of the settlement that he unintentionally founded in issue #2.  The group has overcome various threats over the course of the series, but Planetoid #5 opens on the eve of the Ono Mao, the malevolent alien corporation that has been hounding our group, arriving for a full-on assault on the settlement.

This big battle is a main focus for the issue, and it is suitably brutal.  Garing has shown himself throughout this book to be a highly skilled sequential storyteller, and this issue lets him demonstrate his talent for action and violence in ways that we haven't seen before.  Garing manages to create the sense of scale required for a scene of this nature, while also managing to fit in the chaos of battle by jumping from moment to moment within the fight at a quick pace - often showing different points in the battle within the same page.

But while Garing does a fine job of showing the savagery of this battle between man and machine, he also remembers to use it to keep the narrative moving.  As the Ono Mao bring in reinforcements, Silas and Onica exchange words on their odds of survival, and things look grim for everything they've built together.  This is where the comic truly starts to shine, both from a written and artistic perspective.

Garing's storytelling style has been a lot of showing and not telling.  There have been exceptions to this, certainly, but most of the narrative and the vast majority of character development has come from what we've seen characters do.  Nowhere is this more true than this issue, where Silas does pretty much the only thing that could be expected of him at this point in the story.  However, due to the way things have developed, it is both expected and unbelievable.  It's also a stunningly gorgeous sequence.

We have seen some brilliant moments over the course of this series, but none of them hold a candle to what happens in this issue.  There have been a number of instances of quiet beauty mixed into the visceral violence of the planetoid, but this is not one of them.  This moment is loud, maybe as loud as things can get, and it looks phenomenal.  The destruction and the scale of it needs to be seen to be believed, and Garing absolutely nails it.  I apologize for my willful vagueness  but the buildup, the moment itself, and the aftermath are what makes this issue special.

It also illustrates Garing's excellent sense of pacing, as he switches back and forth between this event and what's going on on the ground as life on the planetoid is drastically changed forever.  Garing has a gift for focusing in on moments and emphasizing or extending them just a little to elevate the mundane to something far more meaningful and significant than you would expect.  And in consequence, those moments stick with you.  For example, there's some nice parallelism showing the Ono Mao and the settlers' reaction to this event and how they resemble and differ from each other, including some drastic closeups that really make the scene better.

This is also evocative of Garing's layouts, which I'd like to touch on for just a moment here.  His layouts are rarely super fancy or complex, but there is an obvious care spent on each and every panel that shows in the reading of the story.  Whether it's small things like a glass cockpit acting as a gutter or a razor thing panel showing the flight of a projectile, there are plenty of instances that show the attention to detail that went into the making of this comic.

The issue ends with a five page epilogue that is quite interesting.  It's nice to have that lens into how things shake out, with plenty of hints of how the world has changed (or not) after the huge battle that opens the issue.  On the other hand, the final page ends on a rather symbolic note to it that feels a little off.  It definitely says a lot about the world our characters have inherited, but it doesn't quite feel right.  The imagery stands out from most of what's come before, and while I think I see what Garing is implying, I don't know if it's direct enough.  Perhaps with a bit more seeding it would have been a more effective moment, but that being said, it by no means mars the story.  If anything, it keeps you thinking on it, working to fit all the pieces together.

Verdict - Buy It.  Planetoid has been a great pleasure to follow.  Ken Garing has slowly built this wonderful story up over the course of these five issues, and while I'm sad to see it end, Planetoid #5 was a great note to go out on.  There were a lot of great moments in this issue, and they will not be soon forgotten.  It was brutal, it was harsh, and it was beautiful.

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