“Port of Earth” offers up an intriguing take on the classic “alien invasion” tale, but with lackluster characters and too much exposition, the debut issue proves to be an entirely forgettable start. (Warning: contains minor spoilers.)
Written by Zack Kaplan
Illustrated by Andrea Mutti
Colored by Vladimir Popov
Lettered by Troy Peteri
Imagine if aliens came to Earth not in war or peace, but with a business deal: open up a spaceport here on Earth in exchange for advanced technology. But when our alien visitors break Port restrictions and wreak havoc in our cities, it falls to the newly formed Earth Security Agents to hunt down and safely deport the dangerous rogue aliens back to the Port of Earth. A gritty sci-fi action thriller from new comic book writer ZACK KAPLAN (ECLIPSE) and ANDREA MUTTI (Rebels, Star Wars, Batman Eternal, Prometheus).
First time comic book writer Zack Kaplan dazzled fans and critics with his debut series “Eclipse.” Set in a uniquely dystopian near-future earth where direct exposure to sunlight means instant death for anyone not protected by special gear, issues 1-8 of this character-driven murder mystery managed to strike an artful balance between high concept sci-fi and old fashioned psychological realism. The backdrop may be flamboyant, but the characters are relatable, with rich inner lives. Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Giovanni Timpano’s inks and Flavio Despinza’s colors are amazing, perfectly capturing the daily struggle of a population forced to live in the shadows lest they be incinerated by the sun’s deadly rays.
Obviously, I’m a huge fan of Kaplan’s earlier work. Needless to say, I was excited about “Port of Earth” purely on the strength of what he’d already done before. With Kaplan left to his own devices while artist Giovanni Timpano was away inking “Batman vs The Shadow” for Dynamite, however, the obvious questions arises: what next for the breakout writer and can he deliver a second consecutive hit?
After the debut issue of his sophomore series, the answer is a resounding maybe?
To begin with, “Port of Earth” is another high concept sci-fi series, similarly set on near-future earth. This time around, however, the central conceit is an alien invasion with a twist: these particular aliens came neither as peaceful emissaries nor bloodthirsty conquerors, but as entrepreneurs instead. It’s an interesting take, to be sure. One that gets even more interesting when a small group of alien visitors decide to set forth on an unauthorized shore leave to downtown San Francisco.
Almost immediately after they show up, all hell breaks loose, resulting in the senseless loss of life (both alien and earthling) and a billion dollars in property damage. Importantly, this rather unfortunate incident also prompts the creation of the generically named Earth Security Agency, catapulting the plot into what begins to read like a lackluster buddy cop movie starring two diametrically opposed ESA agents named George Rice and Eric “Mac” McIntyre. Regrettably, from that point on, Zack Kaplan’s script is pretty underwhelming. After setting up an interesting premise, the final two-thirds of the book feature utterly forgettable, exposition laden dialogue spoken by two central characters who fail to really distinguish themselves.
Without a doubt, there’s a lot to set up, but the book would have been better served sprinkling secondary details across the first few issues while concentrating instead on character development and meaningful action. For the most part, Rice and Mac don’t seem to do much of anything that feels truly motivated by their goals and desires. It’s just a semi-random collection of rising action overtly designed to kick the plot into gear.
Interestingly, in many ways the artwork is remarkably similar to that of Kaplan’s previous colleagues. In fact, without a careful reading of the book’s credits, I’m not sure I would know that Kaplan is teamed on this project with an entirely different illustrator and colorist. That said, the difference is in the details. Andrea Mutti’s line work feels meticulous at first, but often comes across as more evocative than it does finely rendered. At first glance, for example, the spaceport projects a wow factor that suggests a marvel of ultra-high tech engineering. Upon closer inspection, though, it seems repetitive and rather bland. Similarly, when we first get a good look at the various alien species, they grab our attention. Unfortunately, they don’t maintain it. What you see is what you get. There isn’t a deeper level of detail. Maybe that’s intentional, for now, but for a series that centers on multiple species of alien visitors, it doesn’t seem to bode well.Continued below
Vladimir Popov’s constrained, almost monochromatic color palette features myriad washed-out steel grays and frigid blues, with rare browns and rusty reds. On the one hand it definitely evokes a decidedly high tech, antiseptic world all but devoid of natural greenery, on the other hand it feels a bit too arbitrarily detached and the lack of a diverse color palette seems to drain the piece of its energy.
Final Verdict 5.3 We’re only one issue into this series, but so far, this is an underwhelming start.