Sunday, April 24, 2016

Grand Theft Starship

It's rare any more that I read or collect comics. A book has to be something that stands out to me from amidst the sea of endless licensed series and nigh-continual DC/Marvel reboots and retcons. It's gotten to the point that the last Star Wars comic I read was Dark Horse's final series, which was cut short by Marvel getting the license back. (Cranky Old Writer's Note #1: What's that you say? You don't remember Marvel ever having the Star Wars license? Yep, they  ran with it for better, and well, not so great, from 1977 to 1986.)

In addition, not only do the art and story have to impress me, they have to be worthy of the current price of comic books. (Cranky Old Writer's Note #2: When I started collecting Star Wars comics at the age of 7 - with issue #49 - the comics had already gone up from their cover price of 35 CENTS in 1977 to 50 cents in 1981. By the time I started collecting comics in general - in 1991 - starting with Dark Empire, the price was $2.95 a pop.)

So enough with me waxing nostalgic for the days of lower prices - let's get to the review!

(L-R) Retailer cover by Marcus To, variant retailer covers by Tula Lotay and Nimit Malavia, respectively, ECCC variant cover by Jorge Corona.

Product: Joyride #1 of 4 
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Writer(s): Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly
Artist(s): Marcus To, Tula Lotay and Nimit Malavia (retailer variant covers), Jorge Corona (Emerald City Comic Con variant cover)
Colorist: Irma Kniivila, Jeremy Lawson (Emerald City Comic Con variant cover)
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Price: $3.99 (US)
Page Count: 26, including ads and front and back inside covers

I discovered Joyride in a blurb from io9 in my Facebook newsfeed. Intrigued, I read more and made a point to see if one of my local comic shops would have it since payday was coming up. Having become accustomed to a lot of sci-fi being a rehash of dystopian worlds with evil corporations and the like, I was a bit unsure about this book on all levels. However, after reading it, I found it to be a breath of fresh air that took me back to my youth, reading DC's Atari Force and Spanner's Galaxy.

Anybody remember these two series? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

The story starts in a non-specific future era. Humankind has become xenophobic and isolationist to the point of being governed by an Orwellian fascist-nanny state - the World Government Alliance. Earth is protected from the evil influences and predations of aliens by way of the "Safesky", a massive force-screen shell constructed to keep "them" out and "us" in. In addition, the fascists have a huge mass driver aimed at the Earth. Whenever "aberrants" or "aberrations" (those not practicing the proscribed social values and mores) are found, the mass driver shells their location, presumably causing damage on a massive scale.

In this husk of a society we find our young protagonists, Dewydd Abderezai and Uma Akkolyte. Uma is a free spirited, budding smuggler who works hard to bring herself and her friend Dewydd contraband goods - like sunglasses and unapproved footwear; Dewydd is a hotshot technician who works somewhere on the moon. The two meet atop one of their home city's skyscrapers to discuss their plans to infiltrate the lunar base where Dewydd works and rendezvous with someone Uma has secretly contacted to get them away from Earth and its oppressive (and depressing) situation.

Dewydd manages to sneak a disguised Uma into the mass driver base and the two make for the rendezvous point in a moon buggy that looks more like a souped-up hot rod than anything Buzz Aldrin drove. But just before they get away, a third player enters the story. Private First Class Catrin Cosanova, the child of a high-ranking couple in the government, has been assigned to work as security, "...guarding a door that never opens, in a part of the base that is used for exactly nothing."

Cosanova's prospects brighten, however, when she notices two spacesuits are missing. Spying the errant couple making a run for the Tsiolkovsky Crater, she disobeys the command center's orders and gives chase in her own flight-enabled suit. An accident occurs when she tries to make the collar. After exchanging pleasantries - of a sort - Uma's contact shows up in a massive starship. The trio are quickly brought aboard and meet their benefactor. To avoid giving any spoilers, let's just say at that point things don't just go sideways for our heroes - they go in several directions at once.

Earlier I said I was initially unsure of this book on all levels - that's no lie. Despite possessing a small shred of idealism, I've become very cynical over the years, especially when it comes to science fiction comics. I've seen a number of independent books that ranged from so-so to awful in either art or story/dialogue, or both. As a result of that cynicism, I've been longing for something in science fiction comics with a bright spot bigger than a faint pinprick.

Joyride's first issue is a pleasant surprise. The world portrayed in the book is almost like a dystopian alternate version of the Atari Force universe. Instead of having a government out to expand humanity's frontiers, we have a government hellbent on protecting humankind from itself and everything else - at any cost. Contrasted against this we have Uma and Dewydd's youthful energy and spirit as well as Catrin's fledgling wonder at the universe that's been revealed to her.

The artwork, layout - even the lettering for the alien's language - hit me right in the nostalgia center of my heart as they have the same style as that of the old Atari Force comics. (Cranky Old Writer's Note #3: Seriously, compare the design of the alien space ship to Scanner One.) The character dialogue, while not the frontier wit of Firefly/Serenity's Mal Reynolds ("...if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.") or the star-noir thoughts of Cowboy Bebop's Spike Spiegel ("I'm not going there to die. I'm going there to find out if I'm really alive."), has its own charm. Uma's barbs provide some sting opposite Catrin's own state-programmed double-speak and propaganda. The monologue given by Uma's alien contact hearkens back to some of the alien dialogue in Spanner's Galaxy.

If you're a child of the 80s and remember stuff like Atari Force and Spanner's Galaxy, or, if you're looking for something just a bit different and more hopeful than the standard dystopian fare in sci-fi, you would definitely do well to pick this book up. I'm glad I did.

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