Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Electric Warriors #1 Review and Spoilers

Fun and Games

Written by: Steve Orlando

Art by: Travel Foreman
Colours by: Hi-Fi
Letters by: Travis Lanham
Price: $3.99
Release Date: November 14, 2018

Well, I've been wanting something like this for a while. For too long, the Rebirth of DC has seemed to me to have a fairly narrow focus on a relatively small core of characters and the more obscure corners of the DC Universe have remained unexplored. But, no longer! Unlike the Electric Warrior title of the late 80s, Electric Warriors is in continuity and might end up bridging the gap between the DC Universe of the present and its curiously Legion of Superheroes-empty far future. Crikey! Buckle up, pilgrims. It's going to be a bumpy ride…

The first thing to note is that some serious continuity-shuffling is going on here. The series is set in 2735 AD and it is set explicitly after the Great Disaster after which the Kamandi series is set. I had always assumed that Kamandi was set way later than that (and DC had mostly presented it as an alternate future in any case) and I'm extremely uncertain about setting it here before the Legion timeline which, admittedly, isn't exactly being used at the moment. That uncertainty is, however, the least of my problems, because Steve Orlando's tried and trusted method of filling in background by having characters yell it at each other is well and truly in evidence here. Seriously, would it kill him just to provide a good old-fashioned future history perspective? Perhaps one with those curved borders and maybe a groovy retro-futuristic font? Instead we get main character, Ian Navarro, fighting a lion-man who, confusingly, mistakes Ian for his brother Oscar who has been chosen to be one of the electric warriors of the title. I say "confusingly" but really the mistaken identity is almost completely subsumed by a torrent of dialogue whose sole purpose is to inform the reader of things the characters already know. 

To say that this is appalling storytelling is to understate things. If you want an idea of how terrible this opening section is, ask a friend (nicely) to grab you by the shirt front, raise his (or her) fist to you and then wait while you recite the following lines: "I'm fighting. Like the first of us… who fought for the Human Personhood Accords. Fought to tear down the Wild Human Reserve. Now we fight for Earth's Electric Seed, to rejoin the United Planets… alongside the beasts who enslaved us. I'm looking for a fight. But if you ask me? That's just being human." Your friend may have lost the will to live at this point (in which case it would only be right to buy him or her a drink) or may indeed want to actually punch you (in which case you should still probably offer to buy that drink). But what your friend will almost certainly not want to do is to get into a socio-political argument and give you time to knee him (or her) in the crotch. Not so the hapless lion-man who we're clearly meant to see as the antagonist in this little fracas but for whom I cannot help feeling more than a smidgeon of sympathy.

Having established Ian as a young man who blurts out plot and character details if you so much as look at him, Orlando continues to have Ian fill in relevant details of the setting and plot in a range of conversations with other less important characters such as his mother, his brother and the nice lady who serves him "blissfish" to help him numb the pain caused by his many injuries. (Sadly, a free sample of blissfish is not provided with this issue.) Ian has an argument-conversation with his mother and brother and, in a shocking twist, takes his place at the electrifying ceremony later on in the book. This despite the fact that he loses every fight he starts. Goodness, that electric seed stuff had better be good.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Because there are two protagonists in this story and, whereas the first is a hot-headed youngster who can't help talking about history, politics and narcotic fish, the second is a serene and contemplative octopus who… still manages to talk about history and politics. Fancy. That. No narcotic fish, though. So there is that. Because of the octopus' startlingly informative conversation with her mother, we find out a little more about the Gil'Dishpan's (they're a long-established alien race in LSH continuity – look 'em up!) ingenious plan to prevent the galaxy from descending into all-out war, which is to have representatives of each alien race fight one another in some sort of gladiatorial combat. Earth has decided to split its 'electric seed', empowering two warriors to go off to the games instead of just the one.

And we get to see that 'electrogenesis' ceremony. Now's as good a time as any to mention Travel Foreman's art. It's very good on the whole and his layouts are very interesting. There's a contrast, for example, between the more organic, somewhat chaotic, layouts in Ian's pages compared to the much more ordered and, at times, symmetrical layouts of Kana's. There are times when Foreman's art, augmented by some extraordinarily nuanced colouring, is astonishingly good. Kana's emerging from the sea is beautiful and the transformation page is… well, electric.

As I find myself saying almost all the time with an Orlando book, there are some exceptionally bold and ambitious ideas here. A setting in which humans have only just been granted equal rights with highly evolved sentient animal-people is one rich in potential and, in the conversation between the two brothers during the third chapter of the book, some of that potential is mined fairly well. Similarly, Kana's reactions to the surface world and, particularly, its overabundance of light make sense and are well-realized. There are nice little touches here and there, too. The Gil'Dishpan dialogue is rendered in speech bubbles whose borders are very reminiscent of the way they were presented in the original Legion of Superheroes run. The moment with the cape is nice, too, although its symbolism is rather heavy-handed.

And that, I think, is the main problem. Orlando's got great ideas but not a great deal of finesse. Characters are verbose to the point of emotional and informational incontinence and political issues that could be a source of interesting conflict and tension are presented too baldly – as if characters had learned the slogans and information to which they refer without really making them theirs. The opening pages are identical in tone and almost identical in structure to the opening pages of the first issue of The Unexpected, which suffers from very similar problems script-wise.

Then there's the last page reveal which I won't spoil but features a character who should bloody well have his own comic book right now instead of weirdly and confusingly appearing in this one. 

Bits and pieces:

Despite the frequently gorgeous art and some intriguing ideas, this comic is disappointingly clumsy in execution, relying too heavily on characters shouting exposition at each other when a more thoughtful approach would work better. Characters consequently don't have sufficient room to 'breathe'. I want to like this. For someone like me who is a LSH fan and loves his sci-fi more than a little bonkers, this should be a book I can recommend. But I can't. Its story simply isn't told well enough.


No comments:

Post a Comment