Flying Cars and First Contacts

ballistic3The nominating process for the 2014 Hugo awards started last week and are scheduled to continue until March 31. This gives me an excuse to talk about two comics that I think will be nominated for the Hugo in graphic storytelling.

Ballistic is the heartwarming story of a boy and his sentient, foulmouthed weapon. It combines some elements from Transmetropolitan—a comic we talked about fairly recently in this space—with some of elements of the French comics that have appeared in this country in Heavy Metal.

Published by Black Mask Comics, a relatively young company, Ballistic is set in a future where war and ecological disasters have literally liquefied much of our world. Floating on this new sea is an artificial island called Repo City, which operates on a strange hybrid of biological and cybernetic technology. Rival gang lords run day-to-day operations in Repo City, but, at the top of the food chain is the mysterious Maxwell Vanderbilt.

Somewhere near the bottom of the food chain is Butch, an HVAC technician whose idea of upward mobility is to become a criminal. He thinks he’s found a way to do that, when he teams up with a sentient gun that calls itself Junior, but it isn’t going to be that simple. Junior has been programmed with something that everyone, up to and including Max Vanderbilt, wants.

It’s relatively easy to draw the connections between Transmetropolitan and Ballistic. The latter series was created Adam Egypt Mortimer and Darick Robertson, who was the leading artist on the former. Robertson is drawing Ballistic, while Mortimer scripts. In addition, Junior’s vocabulary and mindset seem highly influenced by some of the characters in “Transmet,” and the newer series features images like this one: “Giant insects sucked Mexican hot chocolate from the metal casings of tankers.”

The Heavy Metal influence can be seen in things like Butch’s car, which flies by means of a pair of dragon wings. The creative team talk about the influences on their world building in a surprisingly detailed set of notes in each issue.

Three issues of Ballistic has been printed so far, out of a scheduled five. The door will supposedly be left open for additional series. The comic is supported by two web sites, here and here.

Unlike Ballistic, Letter 44 , from Oni Press, is set firmly in the present. In fact, it’s only slightly over the top to describe the opening as Ripped From the Headlines.

letter44 001

Stephen Blades, newly-elected president of the United States, has just opened the traditional personal letter from his predecessor, Francis Carroll. This letter reveals more than Blades ever thought possible. Working in total secrecy, the Carroll administration launched a manned expedition to the asteroid belt, to investigate an extraterrestrial construct being assembled there. In addition, Carroll authorized a second program to develop the weapons that may be needed to face the extraterrestrials. Blades has to determine what he wants to do about this news…and what he can do.

Besides the obvious connection to the recent elections, writer Charles Soule makes it clear that Blades is patterned after Obama, and Carroll is patterned after Bush. Blades jokes that Carroll’s letter may have been written in crayon, while, in the letter itself, the former president says, “You think I steered the country wrong, Lied to the American people, didn’t do enough to help at home, while pushing us into wars that didn’t need fighting.” I like this sort of topicality, and I think it’s one of the of things that works best in a comic book; the plot line wouldn’t be as fresh by the time it made it into the theaters as a movie. On the other hand, Blades and Carroll are so closely patterned after the two presidents, I think it’s going to be difficult—for me, anyway—to keep my opinions of the characters separate from my opinions of their real-life counterparts.

The situation in space, on board the American ship, seems less constricted.The nine-member crew has to unravel the secrets of the alien device, while dealing with their own secrets. The commander of the mission, Dr. Charlotte Hayden, is pregnant, and she’s declined to identify the father, because, as she puts it, “It’s everyone’s baby it was everyone’s the second we voted to keep it.” A pregnancy may seem too much like an old-school soap opera, but it’s a fair way to dramatize the tensions that might arise in a crew, during a long space voyage.

Alberto Jimenez Alburqueque is the artist and in general, he does a good job of making the members of the large cast distinctive. Three issues of Letter 44 have been published so far, and it’s described as an ongoing series. I really like the combination of the political and sf storylines.

4thdimension 001MEANWHILE: I’m going to be adding this section to my posts from time to time, in order to shamelessly plug—er, I mean, provide behind-the-scenes glimpses (yeah, that’s it)—of other projects I’m working on.

Back in 1990, artist John Ross and I collaborated on a three-issue adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, for Eternity Comics, one of the independent publishers of the time. One of the current indie publishers, Pulp 2.0, recently announced plans to reprint our adaptation as a paperback collection. I’m going to try to include some interior art with this post.

Not so incidentally, John is involved with another famous time traveler these days.  Over in England, he’s drawing a Doctor Who strip for a DW magazine aimed at younger readers.

The first issue of Robotech/Voltron, a five-issue limited series from Dynamite, is out. This is pretty much what it says on the label: a crossover between two of the first anime series to make an impact here in America. I’m mentioning it here because I’m going to be scripting the series, working from Tommy Yune’s, plot, with issue three. (Tommy scripted the first two issues. Elmer Damaso is contributing the art.

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