Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Review: Critical Millennium: The Dark Fronteir #1

In a thousand years, there will be so few Caucasians left on the planet earth that white people will be a tiny, oppressed minority—the futuristic equivalent of India’s pariah caste, referred to derogatively by their dark-skinned social betters as “ghosts” and given the few remaining shit jobs to work.

Such a scenario might make a certain amount of scientific sense if you extrapolate from some current population trends—and if you factor in the destruction of the North American continent, it seems even more realistic. But the way that element of Andrew E. Gaska and Daniel Dussault’s Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier (Archaia) echoes some of the paranoid, confused, racists and hate-fueled ideas and emotions pinging around the baser parts of the modern America collective psyche—anti-Muslim hysteria, suspicion of our first black president as an alien other, rising anxiety over Mexican immigrants—made me deeply uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing at all in this comic book to suggest that Gaska himself believes white folks are in danger of becoming an oppressed minority, but the fact that he’s imagined a future in which they have is kind of unfortunate.

I suppose it’s simply a matter of timing—this comic just happened to be released at a time when a sizable and loud number of my fellow Americans are seemingly turning into paranoid, nationalist a-holes.

The presence of the “ghosts” is hardly the only barrier I experienced in getting into this comic.

Dussault’s art is of the sort I loathe, the seemingly all-done-on-a-computer, digitally painted-looking, color effects-filled photorealistic-in-some-ways-but-not-in-every-way art that used to characterize Virgin Comics’ publications, and is now quite common among the comics of Radical Publishing and, increasingly, Marvel Comics.

Here are the first two pages, to give you an idea of what much of the book looks like:

And then there are the little things, like the fact that the first panel opens with the stage-setting narration box of “The Future: Mission’s Start,” which is then immediately followed by selections of a space ship captain’s log that skips through the future, which is then followed by a weird attempt to replicate a TV show or film’s credit sequence, and then we find ourselves in “The Past: T-Minus 33 Months and Counting…”

This is a rather hard comic to read, just on a technical level, and it’s not drawn in a style I particularly like. I mention these strikes against it because once I got through the first fifteen pages or so and started to get used to the book, I warmed to it rather quickly.

So it must be pretty good if I can hate so many of the individual elements of it, and still find myself able to continue reading and getting interested in the story.

That story?

Well, it starts out with a space ship captain keeping a captains log while exploring space, terrible things happening between his entries and between the panels, while he seems to gradually succumb to some sort of space madness. Then a gigantic Evangelion head appears, which he calls “God,” and it eats him and he has a montage and goes AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! And that 12-page in medias res opening over, the comic book starts for real.

It’s a thousand years in the future, I think, and planet Earth is sort of fucked up, with most of the non-bird wildlife extinct, the US of A a lifeless archipelago half-forgotten by history (our protagonists refer to the “United Amerikans” who used to live there), resources running out, Japanese folks still killing dolphins (even though there are only a couple of pods’ worth left) and white people terrorist groups doing terrorist stuff.

There are still mechanical bulls though: A group of scientists think they have a pretty good answer to the world’s problems—space travel, which might be possible thanks to the scientific breakthroughs of a couple of dead scientists. They’ll need funding though, so they go to our heroes, two super-young, ridiculously wealthy would-be adventurers, one of whom is apparently the crazy guy the Evangelion eats in the opening sequence.

I have no idea where it’s all going, but this is a really rather well thought-out future, one which seems realistically constructed by looking at something present in the modern world and simply speculating where it will go several centuries down the line, and yet one that feels unique and original. Despite some familiar elements here and there, I don’t think I’ve read a comic book or seen a movie with a future that was quite like this before. Given the depressing sameness of so much pop sci-fi, that alone is cause for some celebration.

On balance, I think Critical Millennium boasts more positives than it has negatives, and I’d give it a cautious recommendation.

Oh, and while it does have a $3.95 cover price, you get 36 ad-free pages worth of comics for that price.

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