Monday, July 14, 2008

UW1: Universal War One #1

In the distant future, the human population has spilled over to coat our entire solar system. Civilization has split between the warm core planets and the more remote, desolate outlying planets and, surprise surprise, the human race still hasn't figured out how to peacefully coexist. But in the midst of a bitter civil war between entire planets, something unexpected happened… a thick black wall suddenly materialized, dividing the warring factions and their shared solar system in two. Absorbing all light and matter, humanity's only chance to learn more about this invading, unfamiliar object lies in the hands of the Purgatory Squadron. The nearest ship to the wall at the time of its appearance, the Purgatory just so happens to be a collection of lowlifes and criminals, granted a second chance at life by serving onboard. Not exactly the kind of people you'd want entrust with the future of mankind.

Denis Bajram plays all roles in Universal War One: writer, penciler, inker, colorist… I'd imagine he'd be handling the lettering too, if he'd originally written the series in English. As a writer, he's deeply concerned with the details and intricacies of his story, and as an artist he's pretty much the same.

His storytelling is extremely wordy, but I can't say I didn't expect that coming in. Truly, that seems to be one of the staples of celestial Sci-Fi: overload them with details, so they'll believe you know what you're talking about. In this case, the trick works. The crew of one of his ships could be debating the rate of temperature increase in one of their onboard breakfast pastries for all I know, but because they speak about it with such conviction and eventually translate it to plain English, it lends them a certain degree of authority. I'm not a big fan of the sheer volume of text in this book, especially since each and every panel is treated to a minimum of twenty words, but that's clearly one of the writer's passions and it's not all stale and boring, so I can live with it.

The scope of Bajram's story is probably Universal War One's greatest strength. For the magnitude of an all-out military action between planets to be truly comprehended, it needs to be treated as a relatively big deal. This author covers almost every aspect of such a battle, from the lowly field sergeant who disregards an order to slaughter civilians to the highest-ranked colonel, strategizing from the war room. It didn't take long for me to buy into the authenticity of this story, and once you've taken that plunge you're basically hooked for the duration. It's slow moving, but the author knows how to use that pace to his advantage when the time is right.

Bajram's artwork is intricate and detailed, heavily researched and meticulously planned. He's clearly taken his time developing this series, and the depth of his investigation shows in the consistency of his illustrations. He's envisioned a fleet of spaceships, detailed so rigorously that it's almost as though he's drawn them from life. His vision of civilization on the crust of an inhospitable land is believably desolate.

This isn't a romantic prophecy, and that means it's something I can actually wrap my mind around. If humanity were indeed hurriedly populating the surface of Neptune, I'd imagine the first priority would be on sustainability and not aesthetics. Which doesn't speak well for the dynamism or excitement of Bajram's artwork, I know. To be frank, his work isn't particularly explosive, but it's not a problem because the story doesn't call for that. What he brings is an almost military precision: scenery that looks as though it were actually seen through the windshield of a space-faring craft, equipment that was built to serve a purpose, not to look pretty, and a cast that looks like normal, everyday people. While it's not a take that readers of Marvel's mainstream superheroics will probably enjoy, fans of good Sci-Fi cinematics will welcome it with open arms.

That last line pretty much sums this book up. If you're out for a wild, guns-blazing romp through the cosmos, keep looking. This book isn't for you. However, if you're in the market for a smart, detailed science fiction epic, this might be right up your alley. Fans of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke or Philip K. Dick will find plenty to keep them entertained, and while it does have touches of Hollywood and the slow pace ultimately hurts, it's far from crippling. Borrow this and see if it's your cup of tea. It's going to be a long one, but something tells me it'll be worth the trip.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.5

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