Moving in a fairly unexpected direction, the second issue of the Hine and Braithwaite miniseries expands on the potential of the first issue, transforming a familiar story into something with surprising nuance and more than its fair share of intrigue.
Written by David Hine
Illustrated by Doug Braithwaite
Jered’s story: The crime team’s forensic pathologist performs an autopsy that reveals a new mystery, a meeting with the native aliens leads to violence and the second day on Amaranth ends in a close encounter with an enigmatic character called…Doll.
Talkier, by a long shot, than the first issue, this chapter centres on Jered as he investigates the recent deaths. A specialist in the long-obsolete art of dissection, he’s essential in this situation, the level of technology needed to figure out this mystery in the usual (and far more complex) way being forbidden on the planet of Amaranth. The first few pages actually read like some kind of interstellar episode of CSI, with Jered looking over the bodies and recording his observations. Turns out some illegal drugs were involved, and the deaths are going to take some more looking into before the mystery comes clear.
Meanwhile, Jered’s inner monologue betrays a lot of sensitivity and depth in his personality, making it clear that however good he is at his work, he is by no means cold or emotionally detached. And so, while the first issue lacked a single focalizing viewpoint, we’ve got a nice angle into this one by means of a sympathetic — and quite interesting — character; and while there’s relatively little action in the ensuing pages, his motivations, worries and desires (particularly insofar as they involve a mysterious and potentially dangerous new character, Doll) lend the issue a lot of momentum.
The best scene in the issue, however, involves all the characters, and takes place in a sleazy bar — a science fiction staple that actually works quite well here in terms of delivering exposition as well as good old fashioned atmosphere (there’s even a brawl!). The personalities of all the characters come through lucidly and distinctly as they discuss — and disagree about — the matters at hand, and through Cassandra, the group’s leader, we finally get some information about the two races of humanoid native to Amaranth, the Joppa and the Elohi.Continued below
This, actually, is likely the most interesting science fictional element of the issue. While we got a glimpse of the Elohi last issue, but didn’t learn much about them; here we witness their interaction with the Joppa, and learn that they actually depend on each other for survival. This is a wonderful spin on what, last issue, appeared to be a humdrum formula (remote and mysterious indigenous culture confronts intrusive outsiders), and it’s made even more interesting by the fact that the Elohi have no spoken language. It’s not clear what exactly we’re supposed to do with this information yet — although it’s a major plot point in the the last few pages of the issue, when a threatening situation comes up — but as an element of story that carries a lot of political/hegemonic implications, this is a great hook, and signals that we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of intrigue and backstory.
Doug Braithwaite’s art, meanwhile, is as lovely and consistent as last issue, with those delicate lines (no bold swaths of ink here) pairing up beautifully with Ulises Arreola’s thin washes of colour, and yielding a appreciable range in terms of technique and overall mood. With all the talking that goes on, though, it’s the faces that come to the forefront, and they are quite accomplished. Jered in particular wears all his troubles on his face, such that even when he’s not directly engaged in the action, you’re still wondering what he’s mulling over. But the best character portrayal may well be Doll; androgynous and quite icy, she’s the centre of Jered’s experiences in this issue, and has got more than enough visual interest to permeate the overall mood of the chapter.
As for the Elohi and the Joppa, they couldn’t look more different from one another, but so far they’re both quite believable, if not exactly expressive (not a lot of opportunity for that in this issue). Aliens are a unique challenge for the artist who takes on science fictional material, but things are proceeding nicely here as we learn, bit by bit, about these cultures.
All told, this is a pleasantly surprising issue in that it expands on many of the elements that appeared simplistic — even cliched — in the first. But, while it’s easy to understand why the exposition was delayed until now (it’s always a safe bet to work as much action as possible into the first issue) the anthropological/sociological sci-fi content and the emphasis on character are proving to be the strongest and most compelling aspects of the series, and could easily have formed the foundation of a great first issue. Pacing aside, though, this series is living up to and exceeding the potential that it first showed, and doing something both thoughtful and appealing with the tools and conventions of the science fiction genre.
Final Verdict: 8.5 — Buy