Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Alasdair Stuart, Austin Harrison, Bobby Curnow, Cola, Critter, Mike Raicht, Nelson Daniel, Scram, The Dawn, The Judge, Thompson Knox, Tug, Zach Howard
Story and Script by Mike Raicht
Story and art by Zach Howard
Story by Austin Harrison
Colours by Nelson Daniel
Letters by Thompson Knox
Edits by Bobby Curnow
Published by IDW
The surface of the Earth is too hostile to support humanity. The rich board immense aircraft and take to the skies. The poor labour in factories and mines to supply energy to the ships, each day seeing them, to misquote the song, another older day older and deeper in death. The system can’t hold forever and so attention turns to The Dawn, a huge solar-powered ship that never needs to refuel. The Judge, the head of the largest pirate fleet on the planet, wants it. The crew of The Dawn have other ideas…
Up front, you need to know something about this book. One of the characters in this book is a dog in goggles. His name is Critter. He’s amazing. I may want a Critter Heroclix figure and/or plushy at some point. That point may be now.
The book follows Cola, one of the pilots protecting The Dawn as she lands on ‘The Peal’, a mountainous bar to pick up a new Gun Type. Cola’s last one died, the Judge has already attacked them once and she needs to find a warm body. Tug, an unemployed miner, is the guy. He doesn’t know he’s the guy, but the choice between sweeping the bar’s landing strip forever or taking a risk is no choice at all. He signs on and, through him, we meet the Judge’s forces, see The Dawn, and most terrifying of all, meet Captain Olivia of The Dawn, who also happens to be Cola’s mom.
Tug becomes our eyes and ears on this brave new aerial world and he’s a likeable guy to spend time with. Old school Harrison Ford charm mixed with the rabbit in headlights look of a hero who has no idea he is one yet, his banter with Cola is fun and unforced. His questions are genuine, he adapts well and by the time the big action sequence hits, we’re getting information three different ways. The first is the frankly stunning art by Zach Howard, the second is Tug’s reactions and the third is Cola, calling the plays and flying rings round everyone else in the sky. It’s a fantastic scene, sweeping and kinetic and bloody as all hell. This is not a cuddly future, it’s one where The Dawn fights for every day it’s in the air through its pilots and it’s jetpack riders. One, Scram, literally falls out of the sky onto Cola’s plane and the laidback dialogue they share is a fun contrast to the Mad Max on Wings horror they’re trapped in.
The book’s real strength lies in this ability to combine character with plot and by the end of the first issue Cola, Critter, Tug and Scram are well on their way to cohering as a cast. Some of the character beats are familiar; especially Cola’s instinctive disregard for authority, but that doesn’t damage the book in the slightest. Things move so fast that, like Tug, you’re swept along and gratefully cling to anything that looks familiar.
Raicht, Howard and Harrison have clearly put a lot of work, and thought, into this world and it pays off again and again. Everything from the terminology to the strategic value of The Dawn makes perfect sense, and there’s some smart stuff hidden from immediate view as well. It’s especially smart that the system as it stands isn’t sustainable, the miners and factory workers eventually dying off, which means no fuel, which means the planes can’t fly and the world ends. Looked at that way, The Dawn is the most important object on the planet which explains The Judge’s relentless search for it. That’s rock solid motivation and the trio of writers trusting their audience to figure that out without having to say it out loud.
Howard’s art is note-perfect for the story. He’s just as comfortable dealing with characters as he is with action and Cola’s visit to the Peak is littered with lovely little character touches. Everyone down to Critter feels like a human being rather than static art, full of personal quirks and mannerisms. Also Critter sticking his head out of the cockpit whilst in flight may be the greatest thing I’ve seen this week.
The design work Howard does is just as impressive, the Judge’s jet fighters clearly faster and meaner than the slightly rickety old planes the Dawn has but still dangerous. Cola’s plane is equal parts World War 2 chic and near future engines whilst The Dawn looks like a cross between a cruise liner, a greenhouse and an aircraft carrier. The designs are all fantastic and all, ironically, grounded. These are beautifully insane pieces of technology and yet they all feel real. It’s amazing work and it gives the central action scene real bite and energy, as does the contrast between Cola’s daredevil flying and Scram’s bloody-knuckled, up close and personal aerial brawling. Knox’s lettering is great here, and throughout too, the sound effects only making the fight more visceral and intense.
The one weak link is the Judge. A monolithic figure, he’s the only cast member who feels one note. I’m sure over time that’ll change, especially as there’s a very nasty look at how pragmatic he is as the book closes, but if the creative team need to do any extra work, for me, it’s with the Judge.
Wild Blue Yonderis huge fun, filled with sprawling ideas, beautiful design and a great central premise. If you love steampunk, really good post-apocalyptic SF with a side order of swashbuckling or dogs wearing goggles then this book’s for you. And who doesn’t love dogs wearing goggles?
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