Mr. Vertigo Reviews 46: Descender Volume One–Tin Stars; Injection–Vol. 1; Bitch Planet, Vol. 1–Extraordinary Machine

Descender 1Descender Volume One: Tin Stars
Written by Jeff Lemire; Illustrated by Dustin Nguyen
Image Comics, 2015

A young android named Tim-21 is the unlikely hero of this science fiction tale. He returns to consciousness ten years after a catastrophic attack by giant robots called Harvesters has nearly obliterated the human race. Before he can begin to process what has happened he finds himself on the run from a disreputable looking group of Scrappers, who have picked up his signal when he reactivated and connected to the Net. At the same time a group from what is left of the United Galactic Council is coming to collect him, because his android matrix has been identified as the same one the Harvesters operate under.

Things are looking up until the UGC group–headed back to the home world with Tim and two other androids–gets intercepted by a warship from the planet Gnish, leaders of the anti-robot, anti-technology movement that sprang up after the Harvester attack. It’s just one problem after another. In the course of telling the main story Lemire and Nguyen fill in both history and background on current politics, so after a bit of initial confusion I was able to easily follow the narrative thread.

Nguyen’s painted art is beautiful, and provides a real old-school Vertigo vibe to the project. For me it strongly recalls Jon J Muth’s work on Moonshadow and other 1990s comics. There’s an “Atlas of the Core Planets of the United Galactic Council” included in the back of the collection. Several of the nine planets have not even been mentioned yet, let alone visited: several interesting locations for future action.

******************************

Injection 1Injection, Vol. 1
Warren Ellis, writer;  Declan Shalvey, artist; Jordie Bellaire, color; Fonografiks, lettering & design
Image Comics, 2015

In this series writer Warren Ellis really brings together all of his interests (obsessions?) in one title. It features a group of five people–all of them uniquely talented specialists–who were brought together by a secret British government organization to predict the future. But when they look ahead, they see a society where innovation has stagnated, so they decide to do something about it. The technological/magical virus (the Injection, a non-biological artificial consciousness emulator) they inject into reality produces change, all right, but with massive unintended consequences. So we have technology, tradition/magic and its ongoing effect on the present, and governmental conspiracy.

The secret history of the world and the small group behind it are reminiscent of Planetary. The Injection team do not possess superpowers, but they all have skills far beyond the usual norm, so they almost might be superheroes in their role of dealing with the bizarre changes they have inadvertently created. The work they did together is in the past, and is told in frequent flashbacks (with a light color scheme that gives a clear visual cue). Now they have separated, but they all feel a responsibility for what they’ve done, which they react to in different ways.

The effects of the injection are bizarre, and the implication is that they may become even stranger. Bridgid the IT specialist is called to the scene of a computer tech who has wired himself directly into a computer system so the Injection can talk to her through him. Maria Kilbride, the genius who led the team, is summoned to a laboratory which has been transformed by a spriggens, a kind of pixie (not the cute kind) that was released by sonic exploration of a ringing rock. Transformed as in, looks like a portal into an ancient forest.

Lots of almost metaphysical dialog–which Shalvey always makes visually interesting–and really horrific visuals, which the art team totally nails. The Injection is conscious, and it’s got plans. The team members are in for it now, and the world has no idea what’s coming.

******************************

Bitch Planet 1Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine
Kelly Sue DeConnick, script/co-creator; Valentine De Landro, art & covers/co-creator
Image Comics, 2015

I know author Margaret Atwood (writer of The Handmaid’s Tale) is writing comics now, but I’m still going to call this the comic she would write if she wrote comics. It depicts a future society which is ruled by a patriarchy (the head is called Father) so strict that women who are judged “noncompliant” are sent to a prison planet, colloquially referred to as Bitch Planet. What “dishonors” can result in judgement? Murder, of course–but also disrespect, being a bad mother, seduction and disappointment, emotional manipulation–just about anything a man doesn’t like.

The casual disregard for women’s lives is clear from the start, but it’s brought brutally into focus when Marian, a woman wrongly sentenced, is killed in prison so her ex-husband can keep his younger, more compliant mistress. De Landro’s art has just enough detail to delineate the characters and keep the action moving: backgrounds are frequently minimal. He does a lot with panel design and placement, using a recurring 12-panel grid for things like media reports, reminiscent of The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen. The pulp comics tone is extended to a final page in each issue offering tacky merchandise for sale, like the legendary X-Ray Specs and Non-Compliant temporary tattoos…a few directly related to the book actually are for sale.  Guest artist Robert Wilson IV turns in a wonderful emulation of old romance comics on the third issue, a character study.

The stories offer a brilliant mix of B-movie “women in prison” parody mixed with trenchant social commentary. It’s consistently fun to read, while being serious at the same time. Very impressive, and I look forward to more.

Posted in Image Comics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment