Paknadel & Trakhanov’s Turncoat #1

Paknadel & Trakhanov’s Turncoat #1 (of 4)
Written by Alex Paknadel
Illustrated by Artyom Trakhanov
Colored by Jason Wordie
Lettered by Colin Bell
Published by Boom! Studios

Science Fiction is often effectively used to explore topical issues with just enough distance to make an effective point about politics, war, poverty, sexism, or some other important issue. Some of my favorite current comics (Lazarus, Low, Invisible Republic) and recent television shows (Battlestar Galactica) take this approach, and I'm always happy to see someone use a futuristic or alien setting to take on some issue.  Paknadel & Trakhanov’s Turncoat (Turncoat for short) uses the setting of a futuristic Earth to tell a story about colonization, liberation, and the actions and consequences you can't escape.  It's got unique visuals, big ideas (without attempting to provide easy answers) and an interesting and understandable story to tell.  It's off to a promising start.

Turncoat tells the story of an earth centuries from now reeling from the end of an alien occupation. The aliens, simply known as Management, are barely glimpsed but their presence is felt throughout the story. The story begins with the end of their occupation of Earth, and picks up five years later as humanity is slowly picking up the pieces from a long period of subservience to their alien masters. Some people made an effort to cooperate with management, some did not. Society has attempted to rebuild, but it's tenuous. Even without their presence, the effects of the Management's long occupation are still felt.  Among police and government, there are still a lot of hard feelings. Those who served in the police force sanctioned by Management see themselves as having been the "real" police, and those on the other side (who are now the ones in charge) as former terrorists.  Moreover, there are also still those that are either loyal to or influenced by Management and that has affected society. The story in particular focuses on the character of private investigator (and former Management police officer) Marta Gonzalez, who has ties to both sides and of whom both sides are wary. We don't learn a lot about her, but through her we see the shape of the world now as it is. 

The reality of a colonial power and it's oppressed colony state is a prevalent one throughout history. As is (more specifically) the idea of those who choose to benefit from cooperating with the colonial power, and those who chose to act against that power. The American colonies, North Africa, Vietnam, Israel or India - there are no shortage of examples of these sorts of occupations that eventually end (even something like the end of Apartheid might raise some of these difficult issues). In each of these situations, both sides can lay claim to some sort of moral high ground. Terrorist, or freedom fighter?  Loyalist, or collaborator?  As with so many other things, where you stand depends on where you sit.*
While it's only a first issue, Turncoat is off to a promising start.  To begin with, the artistic team of Artyom Trakhanov and Jason Wordie feel like a perfect choice to bring this story to life.  I first became familiar with Trakhanov's work in the Image Comics miniseries Undertow (written by Steve Orlando, review here).  I felt then, as I do now, that he was the perfect choice for that particular book. Trakhanov has a style unlike most any other artists with which I'm familiar. It's not at all a "clean" style; instead it feels messy and very much alive. His lines are exaggerated and emotional, and the art feels grimy and authentic. This a messy, ravaged world, and Trakhanov feels like just the right artist to convey this.  His expressionist, slightly cartoony style works particularly well in showing the gore and violence that occasionally pops up throughout the issue.

Trakhanov has an able artistic partner in Wordie. There are a number of excellent current science fiction comics with political overtones that take place in dark futuristic settings, such as Lazarus and Invisible Republic. They're among my favorite comics, but what they also have in common is the choice to go with a muted, gray, more limited color palate, I think in part at least to show the grim shape of the future. What I loved about the first issue of Turncoat is that Wordie completely went the other way, and his non-obvious choice works well in this story. As seen in the pages here, the color choices are bright, exaggerated expressionist color choices. The sky is bright, plants are colorful, and people and objects are each distinguished by color. There's a level of dirt and grime and mold and uncleanliness to the color, and those color choices really tell the story of the shape that the world has been left in after the Management have departed.  What the color choices, in conjunction with the general artistic style brought to the story do, fundamentally, is to show that this world is a weird place.  While it's still set in New York City and people generally talk the way we do, things have truly changed. An extended alien occupation has changed the nature of humanity and of our world, and this is effectively conveyed through the art.

Turncoat raises a number of the thorny issues raised by setting a story in a post-colonial environment. Society is just starting to put itself back together, and the societal wounds are long-sustained and still fresh. In this futuristic setting, these characters feel interesting and real and three-dimensional. Of course there are those that would have embraced (or attempted to embrace) the dominant alien culture of the Management, and of course there would have been those who worked (ultimately successfully) to drive the Management out. There would have to be a reckoning, and while the story doesn't go into it in detail, it's easy to imagine that those who are in charge now probably did some pretty ugly things to fight against the Management, including killing people that they saw as treacherous quislings. The main takeaway here is that this is a messy situation, and any post-colonial society (regardless of whether aliens are involved) is likely to run into a very difficult transition.
Turncoat feels like it exists in a morally complex universe, full of lots of people who believe they're making the best decision they can in a given situation. One other element of the relationship between a colonizer and the colonized that it appears that Turncoat is going to touch on is the literal merging of those groups of people; there seems to have been some effort to create human-Management hybrids.  While it appears that most of them are gone (at the hands of the terrorists/freedom fighters), I suspect that the issue of and moral implications regarding their existence is something to which the story will return. If you're looking for a smart science fiction series that's interested in wrestling with big issues in the context of an entertaining futuristic story, Turncoat should be an excellent read.    

* As a kid I remember visiting New Brunswick, Canada, and they had a very different view of Benedict Arnold, a person whose name is (to this day) synonymous with "traitor" in America.