Indie Comics Spotlight-The Machine Stops #1, Star Slammers Remastered #1, and Blackout #1
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
The Machine Stops #1
“The pod is lit neither by window nor by lamp, yet filled with a soft radiance…”
Life is full of philosophical arguments that challenge those conversing. It’s these thoughts that keep conversations moving along and engaging and they also make for pretty fantastic sci-fi stories. Alterna Comics has one such story in The Machine Stops #1, written by Michael Lent and illustrated by Marc Rene.
There’s a world where humans have lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. As such, they live in vast colonies of individual pods underground, where all life functions and interactions with others are handled by the Machine. One character named Kuno seems to think there’s more to life than pod living and sets out to sate his curiosity. What he doesn’t know is that there may be grander forces at play that may destroy the entirety of humanity and there’s nothing the Machine can do to prevent it.
The work is based on E.M. Forster’s short story of the same name and it manages to tackle some pretty heady material. The core of the story is free will vs. determinism, as the humans remaining in the pods are living a life that is force fed to them. That life is done so under the guise of information, as the pod dwellers are given access to any information they desire, as long as it’s through the machine and not in person. Lent does a great job conveying this with some fairly concise dialogue that has a very rigid staccato to it. It helps in making the book feel somewhat robotic and artificial, which fits in line with what the story is going for.
Rene’s art is equally as haunting as the story itself. There’s an abundance of black shading throughout the book, primarily because the entire issue is black and white, but also because it contributes to the tone of depression. An atmosphere of intellect and thought are presented thanks to his impressive illustrations, as characters exhibit intense emotional facial expressions. Some of the panels where the characters emerge into the light are depicted very powerfully, fully bathing the reader in the same realizations that the characters are coming to themselves. There are some interesting panel layouts as well, with a couple of pages that emphasize a spiral layout fanning outward and carrying conversations effectively.
Good, old-fashioned sci-fi is somewhat a thing of the past, but The Machine Stops #1 waxes nostalgic for those stories. Sure, it’s an adaptation of another story, but the adaptation is handled very well and really provokes thought in the reader. Lent’s handling of the story is done very deftly, offering a steady pace and dialogue that really provokes thought in the characters. Rene’s illustrations are equally up to the task of matching the story, as he relies on an almost excess of shadow to depict the darkness that comes with lack of insight. The Machine Stops #1 is an interesting book that promises to offer the reader something that challenges their traditional way of thinking.
The Machine Stops #1 is available now.
Star Slammers Remastered #1
“I also saw that I was right about the Slammers. There were less than fifty of ’em. A lot less.”
Walt Simonson is a legend in the comic book industry, providing a very heady mix of writing and art in all of the comics he worked on. The height of his talent was on display decades ago, so it’s nice when publishers such as IDW come along and remaster old classics such as Star Slammers Remastered #1. The issue is written and illustrated by Simonson, colored by Len O’Grady and lettered by John Workman.
Star Slammers was Simonson’s last project at the Rhode Island School of Design and revolves around a planet full of the galaxy’s toughest mercenaries. He took the characters to Marvel Comics where they hit print as a graphic novel in 1983, until Star Slammers Remastered #1 when IDW dusted everything off and remastered it. Once upon a time, there was a race of men who could out-shoot, out-fight and out-kill anybody. They were paid fabulous sums to act as mercenaries. The practice became so lucrative, they decided to go into business. They became the most successful businessmen in history, and they called themselves…The Star Slammers.
It’s not exactly right to say whether or not Simonson is at the top of his game or anything like that; in fact, he’s a legend and pretty much always does a phenomenal job. Star Slammers Remastered #1 has the 80s sensibility about it that evokes a different time in comics, when a good chunk of the stories were very cosmic. The Star Slammers themselves are brash and effective, using their hubris for both strength and intimidation. Simonson’s dialogue is fairly shallow on the surface, but there’s very intricate politics woven in the characters’ lines. There’s a war brewing and Simonson uses that as the undercurrent for the Star Slammers to make their own moves, most of which involve claiming the spoils of war.
Simonson also handles the art duties and the characters look larger than life in a way. Sure, they’re human in appearance, but there’s something to them that makes them feel distinctly galactic. The characters are set against stark white backgrounds, which is something that Simonson uses to great effect in emphasizing the action illustrated on the pages. The panels are traditionally shaped, but there are some pages where Simonson really crams in the tall, slender rectangles with great impact on the reader. Everything is illustrated very cleanly and evokes a different era of comics, one that seems almost forgotten at this point.
Star Slammers Remastered #1 is a reminder that comics were different once. They didn’t rely on an avalanche of variant covers to sell; rather, they relied on a compelling story and equally competent art. IDW does a great job restoring the classic, as the art looks extremely vibrant and it’s apparent a lot of care went into remastering it, providing a fresh look at the work. Simonson’s ability to capture a story effectively is still on display in top-form and presents a classic tale with some new twists. Star Slammers Remastered #1 is definitely a throwback book, but it’s still one that’s a joy to read and wax nostalgic about.
Star Slammers Remastered #1 is in stores now.
“There he is!”
Fancy yourself a superhero and you get some great powers. You also get the proverbial responsibility as well, requiring that you do certain things befitting of your newfound abilities. Being able to move through a shadowy, parallel dimension makes for an even more intriguing reason to handle the abilities in Blackout #1 from Dark Horse Comics. The issue is written and lettered by Frank Barbiere and illustrated by Colin Lorimer.
Scott Travers’s special suit lets him move through our world unseen and untouchable within a shadowy parallel dimension—but he doesn’t know how the suit works or where it came from. With his benefactor missing and unfriendlies after his Blackout gear, Scott must find answers before the answers find him. There’s also some corporate espionage going on behind the scene, as well as reluctant partners in crime working alongside Scott.
Blackout #1 really throws readers into the thick of things. Scott doesn’t really know where the suit came from and neither does the reader, something that Barbiere uses to pretty great effect. There’s an implied ability in the suit that the story relies upon in the reader, in that they don’t necessarily need to know the origin of the suit to predict its powers. There’s a grander plot at play beyond just dimensional hopping for the fun of it and it’s something that will likely get further fleshed out down the road. The dialogue moves back and forth between readers and within Scott’s head, making the book feel something like an issue of Spider-man at some points. There are definitely some similarities between the two, but Barbiere makes Scott feel sufficiently unique in his own right.
Lorimer’s illustrations exhibit some photorealistic qualities. Characters’ facial expressions get a lot of attention, making sure the reader fully embraces what’s happening; and there’s quite a bit happening. He also has a pretty good handle on human kinetics, as the characters feel as if they’re moving through the pages like you’re watching a video. The color palette moves back and forth between dark and light, which works very well at differentiating the two worlds for the reader. One thing that does stand out somewhat negatively is the amount of panels and dialogue bubbles. There are some pages that are extraordinarily crowded and makes the reading a little difficult, but it’s not enough to distract the reader from the story.
Blackout #1 is off to a promising start. Scott seems naive enough in some regards, as he’s clearly aware of the powers of the suit, but doesn’t fully comprehend the responsibility that comes with it. Barbiere’s script moves at a fairly brisk pace, presenting a lot of storylines in the first issue that draws the reader into what seems will be a pretty deep universe. The art by Lorimer is really done with great emphasis on the characters, which helps propel the story along in a proper fashion. Blackout #1 is poised to get even more interesting with subsequent issues and hopefully the creative team keeps things going.
Blackout #1 is available now.