What happens when a weapons designer for DARPA decides to pull an Oskar Schindler and stop making things that kill people? The answer gets a little complicated in yet another compelling first issue from Image Comics.
Written by Matt Hawkins
Illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal
FIGHTING THE MAN… WITH SCIENCE!
Dr. David Loren is many things: child prodigy, inventor, genius, slacker… mass murderer. When a military think tank’s smartest scientist decides he can no longer stomach creating weapons of destruction, will he be able to think his way out of his dilemma or find himself subject to the machinations of smaller men?
What sort of future is there for someone who’s brilliant but also a bit of a slacker? Designing weapons for the military, apparently, and as lazy as he is, Dr. David Loren still manages a success rate of 1 for 4. His job is largely to select projects from a military wish list and make them happen, and so long as he keeps doing that he’s got a pretty good life. On the flip side, the military can make things pretty difficult for him if he ever decides that he doesn’t feel like chipping in anymore. And so when David’s conscience begins to nag at him, he does what comes naturally. He slacks off. But how long will it be before somebody notices? And what if he decides to invent just one more thing, just for the lulz… and it changes everything?
It’s a great concept for a comic, no doubt about that — a sort of a present-day, more realistic companion to “Manhattan Projects”. And while there are some technological details worked in, this is looking to be more of a close look at Dr. David Loren himself as a crucible for everything that is, to use his own phrase, “creatively destructive” about the world of engineering today. It’s obvious that David stands front and center in this comic — Hawkins gives him lots of opportunities to crack wise and win us over, and he does — but the downside is that this level of development may come at the expense of the development of secondary characters. David’s colleague and college buddy Manish, for instance, comes across so bland and unambitious that it doesn’t really feel fair. He’s working for DARPA for entirely different reasons than David, and so it’s understandable that he’s motivated differently, but it would have been nice to see him score a point or two against his friend if only for the sake of dynamic banter.
The device that David ultimately creates in this issue, meanwhile, doesn’t exactly feel realistic — although I guess you could imagine that people said the same thing about military drones sixty years ago, if you wanted to. At any rate the way in which it functions is certainly too simple. Not to give too much away, but it comes across with the user-friendliness of an app when it seems to have been engineered about twelve hours previously, and that’s hard for even this Luddite reviewer to stomach. It might have been better to have it malfunction, even just a little, in order to convey the impression that it’s still a work in progress.
The art by Rahsan Ekedal (Dark Horse’s “The Cleaners”) is for the most part effective. His facial expressions are the strongest point, although again I feel like David’s getting the most attention here and is getting much more subtle expressions than anybody else (some minor characters in the first few pages look especially caricaturish). Ekedal’s very good with background detail, though, making each location come across clear as day. David’s messy lab is particularly well done, with believable-looking machinery crowded next to bags of chips and takeout containers. All of this said I’m not sure what motivated the choice to have the comic be in black and white. It looks great, with a wealth of rich greys that keep you from missing colour too much, but it feels a little atypical for a comic that has this much levity buoying it up. A point of practicality, or gesture toward darker material in future issues? It’s hard to say.
As a side note, the cover by Rahsan Ekedal and Brian Reber definitely has some problems. The main visual idea comes across, of course: Dr. Loren’s a weapons designer, so weapons are coming out of his head. But in execution it looks a bit off, from a distance reading like he’s got some kind of a device strapped onto his noggin. And in terms of facial expression and posture it hits the “slacker smartass” note a little too hard, as though it’s anxious for us to hate David before we even get to meet him. A cover is our initial introduction to a character in the same manner as a handshake is, and this introduction isn’t putting Dr. Loren in the best — or even the most badass — of lights. It’s bad manners in real life and bad publicity in comics, and so this cover loses points for that.
All told this isn’t a perfect issue, but for someone who has a particular interest in the topic it may be just the ticket. It’s also the first in a four-issue mini, which makes it a commitment of the minor kind. Pick it up for its attempt to give us a look at the world of military engineering, and for its portrait of a genius dudebro who’s more likable than annoying. Pass if the prospect of an invention functioning perfectly after a few minor tweaks makes you ill, or if you’re a stickler for good-looking covers.
Final Verdict: 7.0 — Browse