February 20, 2012

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Shockrockets

Written by Kurt Busiek
Illustrated by Stuart Immonen
IDW (originally Image, then Dark Horse)

Alejandro Cruz is one of the many humans dealing with life in a post-interstellar war world.  He scrounges for parts and hopes for something better, with the fate of his parents showing his life path--to work hard every day for a small ration.  When Cruz ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, fate thrusts him into a starring role in the protection of humanity.  But can Cruz stick in a world where he wasn't meant to be?  And can even the world's saviors stop the many threats that face them, from within and without?

Normally I wouldn't have reviewed this comic, but I think it's a hidden gem that ended before it got the chance to get off the ground.  (I wonder if, like one of its fellow comics, a digital life would help it?)  Busiek and Immonen created a world that is familiar to science fiction fans but filled it with a cool idea (the same aliens who invade end up losing the tech that defeats them) and then take it to places that other writers and artists might not.

Notable among the ideas are that the humans can't replicate what they've taken, that there would still be remnants of the alien forces, and that, unlike in so many apocalyptic stories, not everyone wanted the world to have peace when the fighting was over.  Best yet, Busiek and Immonen even look at the role corporations might play in such a scenario.  These are neat touches that stand Shockrockets above similar stories and make it something I'd like to read more of, if the creators ever found a way to make them.

Once we have the parameters of the world, Busiek sets to work scripting a story that shows some unusual darkness for him.  This world that picks up from a few years after where most stories on a similar topic might end has some very unpleasant realities, which touch most of the main characters directly.  Several times I was shocked by the un-Busiek like ways in which the characters react.  It was a nice change of pace.

What did not change, however, is the deep world-building and layering of the storyline.  As with any Busiek story, there are enough ideas to fill volumes of books, with ideas only getting hinted at instead of fully explored due to the aborted nature of the series.  There is a weight to every page, which might bother some readers who are used to a breezier style, but Busiek writes in a way that takes time to read.  I like that all of his characters feel different from one another, and that he took time in this more closely-knit world to create characters of all races and classes, particular in the case of Cruz.  It would have been very easy for Cruz to be a white boy, but Busiek does not, opting instead to create a hispanic character who shows his heritage naturally, without it feeling forced.

Immonen's art is strong here, and it looks similar to the work he was doing for other publishers around the same time.  There are the same soft faces and strong panel layouts that can be innovative without being obscuring.  You can easily follow the action, and every piece of machinery Immonen draws here looks realistic for the time period--near future--that this series is set in.  Busiek notes that Immonen created 3D models, and it shows.  My only complaint is that for a story like this, the clean look of Immonen's characters clashes a bit with the material.  It's so well-drawn, however, that it's not a major issue.  As with most things Immonen, he draws the heck out of the thing.

Shockrockets rises above its station by having solid writing and great art, making it more than just another short-lived sci-fi comic that didn't find the audience its creators hoped for.  With Immonen's status as a hot artist for Marvel, maybe there's a chance for this to get enough eyeballs for Busiek and Immonen to be able to return to the book, either in digital or print form.  I'd love to read more of this world, and you will, too, after you finish it.  Shockrockets is a must-read for any Busiek or Immonen fan.