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All posts for the month April, 2013

The Colony was one of those movies that crept up on me, hard. The first I heard of it was only about a month before release, which is kind of embarrassing for a guy who tries to stay somewhat informed when it comes to sci-fi. Furthermore, as I mentioned in my Oblivion review, hard sci-fi is a movie genre that’s actually fairly undersaturated, at least compared to other mediums, so my ignorance was inexcusable. Anyways, The Colony‘s trailer had me fairly optimistic. It had a desolate setting and a small crew, which is always a good recipe for sci-fi horror, and it stars Bill Paxton and Laurence Fishburne, each of which are legendary for sci-fi. The last time I remember seeing Fishburne in a sci-fi was Predators, a cameo that was the biggest highlight in what I thought was an excellent movie. Judging from the trailer, I knew The Colony was obviously made on a tight budget, which is fine for this sort of movie. Another movie that was made on a tight budget, and took place in a similar environment, was John Carpenter’s The Thing, my second favorite sci-fi horror anything of all time. Going into The Colony, all I could think was: “please, please let this be like The Thing“. My head was swimming in fantasies of deep cold body horror.

The Colony Poster

So far so good.

The Colony
Director: Jeff Renroe
Writers: Jeff Renroe (main), Svet Rouskov
Producers: Paul Barkin, Matthew Cervi, Pierre Even, Marie-Claude Poulin
Stars: Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Zegers, Bill Paxton
Studios: Alcina Pictures, Item 7, Mad Samurai Productions
Distributor: eOne
Country: Canada
Release Date: April 19, 2013

The Colony -- Laurence Fishburne Bill Paxton 4

The lighting in the move is excellent, as evidenced by these photos.

The year is 2045, and humans have been living in bunkers underground due to environmental catastrophe. To combat climate change, humans built giant weather manipulating machines, but the machines backfired, sending the planet into a man-made ice age. As Sam (Kevin Zegers), the lead character, describes, “one day it just started snowing, and it never stopped”. Sam’s colony is led by Briggs (Laurence Fishburne), and Briggs’ fellow veteran and friend, Mason (Bill Paxton). Conditions in the bunker have gotten so bad, that anyone who catches a cold or flu is quarantined, lest they infect (and subsequently kill) others. If they don’t recover after a certain period of time, they have a choice between death, or a trek through the snow. Mason has become trigger happy, killing the sick rather than letting them take the trek; his increasing militarism serves as a point of tension throughout the movie. Partway through the film, Sam’s colony gets a distress signal from a neighboring colony. Briggs leads Sam and another young adult to investigate the situation at the second colony. The second colony has been eradicated; blood coats the walls. Eventually, Sam and crew encounter the menace, and the remainder of the movie is spent in heavy-duty survival mode.

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One of the only “future-tech” designs in the movie, the weather machines are really neat looking.

The Colony has a light pro-ecological message, which I’m always happy to see, but it’s really nothing to write home about. As any sci-fi fans know, ecological destruction is an incredibly common theme in science fiction. So common in fact, that I’m 90% sure that every Japanese RPG and anime of the 90’s took place in a setting where humanity had screwed up the environment. Maybe I’m just too engrossed in the genre, but is human-induced environmental catastrophe actually a unique concept for the average moviegoer? To be honest, I’m not especially surprised or impressed that the movie tackles this real-life issue. Perhaps if the movie had gotten into the real science involved, and been slightly more educational, I’d have been impressed, but as it stands, The Colony‘s take on climate change is too brief to qualify as a cautionary tale. It’s like when people say, “dude, this band is deep, they write about politics and real-world stuff”. Sorry buddy, but even the most uninformed people can tackle real-world issues; I won’t be impressed unless it’s done well.

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Sam’s girlfriend Kai, as played by Charlotte Sullivan, is an interesting character who I wish had gotten more screen time.

For horror fans, The Colony is shamelessly unoriginal. I say shameless, because this movie had so much potential. The acting is good, the screenplay is bland but solid, the special effects are decent, and the mood, atmosphere, and directing are all pretty good for a low-budget movie. So what ruins The Colony, at least for me? I’ll call it the Pandorum-effect. 2009’s Pandorum was one of those movies that had everything going for it. Like The Colony, I had high hopes for it, and everything was going great, that is, until the villains were introduced. Pandorum‘s villains were the worst kind of dull; they were essentially undead humans, although technically they weren’t undead. They jumped around and hissed like any good Gollum-reject should. I can understand the incentive to use cannibals; they’re cheaper to pull-off than more elaborate monsters or aliens, they’re guaranteed to be creepy, and they appeal to the never-ending hordes of zombie fans. However, for me, they’re about as dull as movie menaces can get. My two favorite sci-fi horror villains are xenomorphs, and the thing. Both are extremely original and well-designed. Cannibals in a sci-fi movie, on the other hand, are a sure sign of moviemakers that are afraid to take a risk, or are devoid of originality. If you haven’t yet surmised from my rant, The Colony‘s antagonists are of the cannibalistic variety. Remember the possessed forces from Ghosts of Mars? Well, The Colony features a nearly identical, but considerably more boring group of foes.

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The ferals. Although they’re mindless, they use weapons, which is kind of cool, I guess.

I’m giving The Colony a hard time, because like I said earlier, it had a lot going for it, but the cannibals were a huge let-down. If you’re the sort of person who really digs zombie movies, you might not be so put-off by this factor, but even then, many zombie movies have done this scenario much better. The problem with The Colony, is that for a movie that is primarily horror, the action and scares are way too short-lived. The movie could’ve used an extra 10 minutes of action and violence. Unfortunately, the brief thrills never manage to create much tension. There are two memorable scenes that sent a light chill down my spine (you’ll know what I’m talking about), but they were only just enough to wet my appetite.

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Bill Paxton’s acting has definitely improved since his Aliens days.

I’ve spent an awful lot of this review highlighting what I thought were The Colony‘s shortcomings. The thing is, it’s not a bad movie; far from it. It’s exceedingly average, which is too bad, because it could have been much more. No one element of the movie is handled poorly, but on the flip side, there are few standout moments. For all I know, the movie might be more enjoyable to viewers who haven’t seen much sci-fi or horror, but I really doubt my audience fits that description. This is a worth a rental if you liked movies like Pandorum, Ghosts of Mars, 30 Days of Night, or The Descent, and you’re okay with a duller example of the same concept. The sci-fi in this sci-fi movie is basically non-existent, so if you’re looking for a pure sci-fi experience, you’ll be disappointed. The Colony‘s problem is that it’s a decent film experience, but every concept has been borrowed from better movies.

 

When it comes to film, science fiction is somewhat of a confused genre. For the most part, this confusion can be attributed to the genre’s origins in cinema history. Early sci-fi movies were primarily of the pulp variety, meaning that audiences could expect an entertaining popcorn flick that was fun, but largely devoid of intellectual merit. Around the same time, authors in the world of sci-fi fiction were using the genre as a platform to explore complex philosophical concepts. With 2001: A Space Odyssey, this brand of cerebral sci-fi was brought to the cinema masses. Since then, certain filmmakers have used science fiction as an intellectual avenue, whereas others have continued the tradition of providing candy coated action flicks that are easy on the eyes and the brain. I don’t mean to imply that one avenue is better than the other; each has their place, and each can be equally enjoyable given the right circumstances. Director Joseph Kosinki’s movie Oblivion falls somewhere between the two camps. For those who remember, this was the guy who brought us Tron: Legacy, a movie that was drowning in eye candy, but relatively light on introspection and substance. Regardless, hard sci-fi movies (especially good ones) aren’t as common as the average person seems to believe, so I went into Oblivion with nervous enthusiasm.

Oblivion - Tom Cruise Cover

Tom Cruise looking pensive near his amazing aircraft.

Oblivion
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writers: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek
Producers: Joseph Kosinski, Peter Chernin,Ryan Kavanaugh, Dylan Clark, Barry Levine
Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko
Studios: Radical Studios, Chernin Entertainment, Relativity Media, Ironhead Studios, Truenorth Productions
Distributors: Universal Pictures
Country: USA
Release Date: April 19, 2013

Oblivion -- Tom Cruise 4

More of that amazing aircraft.

One of Oblivion’s strengths is a narrative that constantly keeps you on your toes. For the benefit of my readers, I’ll keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. As can be surmised from the trailer, Jack Harper, played by Tom Cruise, is one of the few remaining humans on Earth. His task, along with his lover and communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), is to protect several giant devices that are mining the Earth of its remaining natural resources. These natural resources are being sent to Saturn’s moon Titan, where the remaining human population resides. It’s the year 2077, 60 years after an alien invasion by the scavs (scavengers). The scavs destroyed the moon, which then altered the Earth’s gravitational pull, causing massive natural disasters and the loss of half the Earth’s population. Following the disasters, the scavs invaded, but were narrowly defeated by humanity. Pockets of scavs still roam the Earth, which is why Jack and Victoria remain behind to keep watch. Flying attack drones patrol the planet, thwarting any would-be threats to the resource extraction. Floating above the Earth’s atmosphere is a massive structure called the Tet, which acts as a mission control; feeding daily instructions to Jack and Victoria. As we see in the trailer, Jack discovers that a mysterious group of humans still reside on Earth, and things are not what they seem. “Things are not what they seem” is an effective descriptor of Oblivion’s screenplay. Although I’ve refrained from giving away any details, the later revelations are one the movies biggest selling points.

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One of the mystery humans. Gotta love that mask.

As with TRON: Legacy, Oblivion is a beautiful movie to look at. Expect never-ending panoramas of pristine vistas, à la Lord of The Rings. I’d love to see which of the two spent more money on helicopter rentals. Most of the movie was shot in Iceland; the environments are impressive enough that I can’t imagine a better travel brochure. Apparently, Kochinski intentionally filmed most of the movie in bright daylight to the oppose the dark mood that is typical in sci-fi. I can safely say that this plan was a success, and that Kochinski manages to create an oppressive atmosphere even in plain daylight. In fact, the two main living spaces in Oblivion are almost obnoxiously open to sunlight.

Complimenting the cinematography, the costume, environment, and mechanical designs are excellent. Thanks in part to modern video game concept design (Mass Effect, please stand up), sci-fi concepts in film have gotten considerably better in the last five or so years. In particular, the Tet and resource harvesters look like they’re pulled from the pages of Mass: The Art of John Harris. They’d fit right in on the cover of even the hardest of hard sci-fi novels. Jack and Victoria’s clothing, equipment and living spaces have a light, clean design (think 2001: A Space Odyssey), whereas the mystery humans wear dark, rugged clothing and harsh respirator masks (think Mad Max). Finally, my favorite piece of design is the small, personal aircraft that Jack pilots. For me, the most memorable scene in the trailer was the one in which we saw the aircraft in free-fall. As a space shooter fan, my immediate reaction was: “damn, that would make a great ship for the next Cave shmup!”

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The massive resource gatherers in the distance. This is a great shot.

Complimenting the sexy visuals is the equally sexy soundtrack. Throughout the entire movie, I couldn’t stop asking myself: “was this also done by Daft Punk“? For anyone who liked Daft Punk’s soundtrack for TRON: Legacy, Oblivion’s is so similar that I had difficulty distinguishing the difference. Expect plenty of synth melodies interspersed with “epic” orchestral sections. After some quick research, I discovered that French group M83 was responsible for Oblivion‘s soundtrack. This name should instantly ring bells for any electronic music fans, and to be honest, I think their ambient sound is probably better suited to film than a group who are known for catchy dance tracks. My biggest complaint with the soundtrack is that it often overwhelms each scene. For example, a simple scene involving Jack and Victoria swimming in a pool has to be accompanied by sweeping camera angles and music so epic it would put Braveheart to shame. Kosinski is so good at drenching viewers in style that he seems unable to tone it down, even when it’s completely unnecessary. The first 30 minutes of the movie involve Jack performing fairly mundane tasks to a never-ending background of larger than life music.

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The monolithic Tet.

The performances in Oblivion are all top-notch. Regardless of your feelings on Tom Cruise’s personal life, he’s a really solid actor, and his portrayal of Jack is suitably empathy-invoking. Actress Andrea Riseborough, who I must admit I’d never heard of, provided my favorite performance of the movie in her role as Jack’s partner Victoria. Her character nature is such that you’re never quite certain of her motives, but she seems so likable that you feel guilty for doubting her. Without delving into spoiler territory, a second female character is introduced (Olga Kurylenko), and creates something of a love triangle. The two are so likable and respectable that I kept thinking: “Jack for chrissakes, please keep both of them with you, I don’t want either of them to get less screen time”. Both are great examples of strong female characters, which I’m always really happy to see in any movie. Finally, Morgan Freeman makes a minor appearance as, well, himself. Morgan Freeman is great, and we all love him, but I always suspect that one day we’ll find out that every movie he’s ever appeared in is canonically related, given that he plays the same character in each one.

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Unintentional base-jumping.

My biggest criticism with Oblivion is that the storyline wraps up way too cleanly. Nothing is left unexplained, which is a shame because, as viewers, we’re not encouraged to formulate any of our own conclusions. In my opinion, the best cerebral sci-fi movies leave enough clues that the storyline may be surmised, without explaining every last detail. In Oblivion, you’re explicitly told what’s going on long after you’ve already figure it out on your own. Furthermore, as a result of creating a clean and tidy ending, the last third of Oblivion feels way too rushed, and relies on an implausible plot device to reach a conclusion. I wish I could explain exactly why the ending wasn’t plausible, but sadly I’d be forced to wade into spoiler waters.

Overall, Oblivion is a really decent movie, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to literally anyone. The nice thing about sci-fi movies, as opposed to books, comics, and video games, is that everyone goes to see them, even your mom. Although Oblivion has its flaws, I doubt they’d prevent anyone from having a fun movie experience. As for us sci-fi fans, this is definitely a must-see, but unfortunately it comes oh-so-close, but just slightly out of reach of true classic status. You will have seen every story concept elsewhere, but to its credit, Oblivion repackages them in a nice chocolate coating.

 

 

Britain’s classic comic anthology 2000AD has treated comic fans to a consistent flow of science fiction-themed series since its inception in 1977. Thanks to the popularity of Judge Dredd, 2000AD is relatively known here in North America, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. Sure, everyone’s heard of the classic comic icons who got their start thanks to 2000AD, like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison, but they’re remembered more for their contributions to American comics than for their original works. Unfortunately, I fall into the camp of people who are aware of the magazine’s existence, but have little to no experience with it other than through Judge Dredd. Luckily, the rise in popularity of trade paperbacks has made many of these series available to us ignorant Canadians and Americans. Being the fan of military sci-fi that I am, I immediately bought the first compilation of 2000AD‘s Rogue Trooper series when I saw it on store shelves. Admittedly, my first introduction to Rogue Trooper was when the 2006 spinoff video game was released. I distinctly remember my reaction being: “what’s with this blue guy – he looks pretty lame”. Now that I’m older and wiser, I still think Rogue looks pretty lame, but luckily his character design doesn’t reflect the quality of the comic. I’ll be approaching this review from the perspective of a Rogue Trooper newbie, so you’ll probably get more value from this post if you’re also new to the series.

Rogue Trooper Tales of Nu-Earth 01 -- Cover

You might recognize this layout from the Judge Dredd Case Files trades.

Rogue Trooper Tales of Nu-Earth 01
Publisher: Rebellion
Volume: 1
Originally Serialized: 2000AD Issues 228-317 (1981-1983)
Main Writer: Gerry Finley-Day
Guest Writer: Alan Moore
Illustrators: Dave Gibbons, Colin Wilson, Cam Kennedy, Brett Ewins, Eric Bradbury, Mike Dorey
Release Date: May 2012

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Rogue Trooper Tales of Nu-Earth 01 — Colin Wilson

Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth 01 collects the first 89 issues of Rogue Trooper, as originally released in volumes 228-317 of 2000AD. Each issue is about 5 pages long, meaning the compilation has roughly 400 pages of content. 400 pages is pretty massive for a comic, so at the retail price, this compilation packs quite a bit of value. The quality and presentation are very similar to Marvel’s Essential or DC’s Showcase Presents trade paperbacks. The edition that I own is the May 2012 North American release, but there was also a UK release of the same trade back in 2010. 2000AD used to release their trade paperback in North America courtesy of DC, however, the recent North American 2000AD trades have been published by Rebellion, who are also known for developing the AVP FPS games (weird huh?). I find the quality significantly better than the DC editions. The covers are better, the paper quality is better, and there’s less of a guessing game as to what each compilation contains. As far as packaging and presentation are concerned, Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth 01 is excellent, and a step above similar types of compilations (Essential and Showcase Presents).

Rogue Trooper Tales of Nu-Earth 01 -- Dave Gibbons

Rogue Trooper Tales of Nu-Earth 01 — Dave Gibbons

Rogue Trooper was originally serialized starting in 1981, and tells the story of a genetically altered super soldier called Rogue Trooper who is entangled in a perpetual war on the far future planet of Nu-Earth. Nu-Earth is so devastated by war that toxic chemicals clouds permeate its atmosphere. Thus, the average human must always don respiration masks, except when in sealed domes. Rogue Trooper’s enhanced abilities make him impervious to the lethal air, as well as to other means of chemical warfare. Two factions fight for supremacy of Nu-Earth: the Southers, and the Norts. Technically, Rogue Trooper fights for the Southers, but as a result of an ambush that killed all his fellow super soldiers (called genetic infantrymen), he has gone rogue in an effort to track down and kill the traitor who was responsible for leaking information that lead to the ambush. Thus, the entire story arc in Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth 01 follows Rogue’s exploits as he tracks down the traitor, and finds himself continuously aiding Souther troops along the way. Rogue’s only companions are the “personalities” of three of his dead squadmates. When a genetic infantryman dies, his consciousness may be placed in a “biochip”, which can then be installed into an infrantyman’s gear. The Southers have technology that can take the consciousness from these biochips, and implant them back into a physical body. Thus, Rogue’s three squadmate’s are technically still alive, however, the only abilities they have are that they can speak, and they can manipulate the article of equipment that they inhabit. These three squadmates are Helm, who inhabits Rogue’s helmet, Gunnar, who inhabits his rifle, and Bagman, who inhabits his backpack. Although Rogue could potentially have his companions resuscitated at any time, he’s dead set on tracking down the traitor first, which seems pretty selfish if you ask me. Rogue Trooper is a comic, and thus you have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to some of the more nonsensical plot points. Why doesn’t Rogue Trooper make it a point to resuscitate his comrades? Put simply, it’s because the main premise of the comic is that you have a soldier with talking gear.

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Rogue Trooper Tales of Nu-Earth 01 — Colin Wilson

Rogue Trooper is the brainchild of writer Gerry Finley-Day, who is an excellent “ideas man”. Other than the awesome artwork, Rogue Trooper‘s biggest strength is that each issue contains some of the most original concepts you’ve ever seen in military sci-fi. For the first 30 or so issues, each story is relatively self-contained, and features the introduction of a new type of threat that Rogue must thwart. Among the concepts are gigantic blackmare tanks, flying decapitators, kashar drill probes, nort cavalry raiders, hard arrow rain, sealbursters, snow troopers, hallucinogen-spraying dream weaver commandos (my personal favorites), militant computers, bio-engineered ape warriors, the paragliding sun legions, and many more. Don’t worry if you don’t know what any of that means, what matters is that each enemy sounds cool. The creativity is really fun, and manages to feel somewhat gritty, but in a lighthearted way. To be honest, the tone reminds me quite a bit of the original G.I. Joe comics, albeit with much more death. For whatever reason, I was expecting the same level of graphic content from 2000AD as you would expect from Heavy Metal, but I was mistaken, because Rogue Trooper skews quite a bit younger. The violence is a step above your average American comic from the early 80’s, but there’s almost no blood, and there’s definitely no nudity. I would imagine the target audience was teenagers.

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Rogue Trooper Tales of Nu-Earth 01 — Colin Wilson

Although Gerry Finley-Day’s ideas are great, the narration is about as old-school as they come. Every single action has to be explained either through dialogue or monologue, and to be honest this style was a big deterrent for me. Expect a lot of: “to thwart this bad guy I’ll need to reach into my tool belt and fetch my mines”. The degree to which you enjoy Rogue Trooper will really depend on how well you can stomach this style of writing. Personally, I can (sort of) handle it because I’ve read many comics from the 60’s and 70’s, but if you’re fairly new to comics, you’ll likely find the writing pretty impenetrable. Furthermore, the self-contained stories make it really difficult to get invested in the overall plot. We know the traitor is the main bad guy, but it’s hard to feel all that much animosity towards him, because we don’t know who he is or if he even exists. If anything, Rogue seems like the real monster for not reviving his squadmates! Not that you’ll care for them too much, because every character is extremely one-dimensional. Gunnar is reckless and violent, but Bagman and Helm have virtually no personality, and are completely interchangeable. As the series progresses, the story arcs start to become longer and more interesting, but don’t expect to feel involved until at least two-thirds of the way into the book. To re-iterate, the concepts in Rogue Trooper are really fun, but the storyline is very straightforward, even compared to other comics of the early 80’s.

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Rogue Trooper Tales of Nu-Earth 01 — Dave Gibbons

Fortunately, the artwork is fantastic. The first few issues were illustrated by Dave Gibbons, who you might remember for a little-known comic called Watchmen. I’ve always loved his line art. Everything looks so tight and crisp. The proportions, perspective, shading, and actions are all excellent. In addition to his technical prowess, I really dig his character designs. Expect plenty of gas masks and interesting military outfits. That being said, I really don’t like Rogue’s design. The shirtless look is unoriginal, his helmet looks way too big and dorky, and he has a lame mohawk, which I guess was slightly more novel in 1981. This might be the only comic where every character looks better than the protagonist. In addition to Dave Gibbons, artists Colin Wilson and Cam Kennedy are also featured prominently. Somehow, they manage to match, and maybe even exceed Gibbon’s illustrations. Their style is so similar to his that it’s almost difficult to tell them all apart. I still can’t believe how much talent they managed to cram into these issues, and I’d rather not have to choose a favorite artist out of the three. Lets just say that if you’re visually oriented, and you like military sci-fi, Rogue Trooper is a treat for the eyes. Featured to a lesser extent are Brett Ewins, Eric Bradbury and Mike Dorey, all of whose art is also good, but less memorable due to their more limited contributions.

Overall, Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth 01 is a series that you will either really love, or find really boring. The degree to which you enjoy it will depend on how much you like the pacing of silver age comics, and how much you love lighthearted military sci-fi. By today’s standards, this is a fairly shallow comic, but the art is amazing, and the creativity is overflowing. If you were a fan of the series back when it was originally serialized, this a great edition, and a no-brainer if you’re looking for a nostalgia trip. The storyline was starting to get much more interesting by the end of the series, so I’ll personally be keeping a look-out for Tales of Nu-Earth 02 when it eventually hits store shelves. Despite my criticisms, this is probably the best bang for your buck if you’re looking for a military sci-fi comic.

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Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of images from Rogue Trooper: Tales of Nu-Earth 01

 

 

 

Ever wondered what would happen if Blade Runner went on a drug-fueled nightmare rampage? Look no further than Frank Miller’s miniseries Hard Boiled, an early 90’s twist on Philip K. Dick’s classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep. If there’s one term I wouldn’t associate with 90’s comics, its subtlety. For the most part, everything was big, in your face, and edgy; Hard Boiled is certainly no exception. That being said, HB is clever with its edginess. If anything, it reads like a satire of violence and sexual imagery in modern pop-culture. Either that, or Frank Miller just really gets off on good old ultraviolence. Complimenting Frank Miller’s writing is the amazing artwork of Geof Darrow. Darrow’s artwork is easily some of the most detailed line-work I’ve ever seen; it’s pretty incredible. Combined with colorist Claude Legerist, the art looks like a fusion of Moebius, with the most detailed manga technology concepts you’ve ever seen (think Battle Angel Alita).

Hard Boiled -- Cover

Hard Boiled — Cover

Hard Boiled
Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Geof Darrow
Colorist: Claude Legris
Letterer: John Workman
Editor: Randy Stradley
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Country: USA
Featured Edition: Dark Horse TPB 1993
Original Release Dates: September 1990 – March 1992 (3 issues)

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There’s an unwritten rule in Hard Boiled that every panel must include at least one item of real-world (or semi-real-world) merchandise.

Set in a near-future, albeit clearly dystopic, Los Angeles, Hard Boiled tells the story of an “insurance investigator” called Carl Seltz who seeks out various target individuals. Within the first few pages of the comic, we realize that Carl Seltz must be a cyborg, or perhaps an android, and that he actually works for a major corporation. Carl Seltz lives in an ideal suburban home with a wife, two kids, and a dog. To add to the general vibe that there’s something “off” about Seltz, we see him sleeping with his wife while his kids stand nearby, and then the kids proceed to dope him with some random narcotics… Typical suburban stuff, right?

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I could go for a mermaid massage about now.

As I mentioned in the intro, HB makes no pretenses at subtlety. The future vision of Los Angeles is clearly cyberpunk-inspired, and therefore rampant commercialism and evil corporations ooze out of every frame. Every panel is literally packed to the brim with variations of real-world products and brands, albeit with a satirical twist. For example, in one scene, a medical apparatus appears to be powered by baby fetus’, M&Ms, Snickers, and Baby Ruths. Perhaps I’ve been jaded by the dozens of cyberpunk movies, books, comics, and games that have been released since 1990, but the overabundance of brand parodies in Hard Boiled was almost too gratuitous for my tastes. We get it, the future will be overwrought with rampant, hopeless advertising and disposable pop culture, but do you really need to include a Coca-Cola can in every second panel? Then again, Hard Boiled seems to intentionally revel in exaggeration and tackiness.

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If you look really closely, Waldo is snuggled halfway between a prostitute and drug addict.

Carl Seltz/Nixon might not be a superhero, but he sure takes a beating like one! Hard Boiled is about 10% dialogue, and 90% action. Of the action scenes, nearly all of them feature Nixon either being thrown through a building, bus, or subway, or throwing another character through one of the aforementioned inanimate objects. I thoroughly enjoyed the action in HB, but we warned, it’s pretty damn violent. I’m fairly desensitized to fictional violence (but not to real-world violence, those are two very different things), and even I found the comic hard to stomach at times. Hard Boiled manages to fit more dismemberment and gore into its panels than almost any other comic. Frank Miller and Geof Darrow clearly set out to raise the bar for comic violence as high as they possibly could.

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In the time it must’ve taken to draw this splash page, other artists probably could’ve illustrated an entire issue of a comic.

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It wouldn’t be cyberpunk without plenty of riot police.

As if the violence wasn’t enough, nearly every second panel is chalk full of random sex and nudity. Within the first few pages, Nixon is smashed through a building in the “Pleasure Sector” of town. Nearby is a cage full of debauchery; as spectators watch, couples have sex, all while dominatrix-like women walk around with chainsaws and dismember the couples. What I love about HB is that every splash page is so full of detail that numerous stories are implied through events in the background of each scene. I’ve seen Geof Darrow’s artwork aptly described as being like a Where’s Waldo book; the only difference is that most of HB’s denizens are either naked or taking drugs. Although Hard Boiled is short, you can easily spend ten minutes per page absorbed in details.

Hard Boiled -- Frank Miller Geof Darrow 1

This is a good look for Harrison Ford.

My favorite comics are able to tell a story visually without having to rely heavily on monologues or dialogue. Hard Boiled does an excellent job in this regard. There’s actually very little text, but the narrative is able to flow nicely thanks to clever angles and visual cues. Frank Miller is an excellent visual storyteller, and he only includes as much text as is absolutely needed. This was nice and refreshing, especially after the last comic I read, which felt the need to explain every little detail.

Hard Boiled -- Frank Miller Geof Darrow 14

Nixon’s probably in need of an oil change about now.

Overall, I would highly recommend Hard Boiled to anyone who’s interested in cyberpunk (duh), or anyone who appreciates experimental storytelling in comics.The average sci-fi fan will definitely appreciate the artwork, but the extremely graphic content might turn-off even fairly hardcore genre fans. HB is unforgiving with its gratuitous display of sex, drugs, and violence, but these acts are never glamorized. Instead, the story serves almost as a cautionary tale against overindulgence in these vices. There’s nothing particularly sexy about an enormously fat man being massaged by naked android mermaids (yes, that actually happens). I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Hard Boiled’s political message is especially clever; every cyberpunk tale cautions against the overabundance of various vices. Also, it could be argued that Hard Boiled revels a little too deeply in the content that it parodies. Regardless, the readers of this blog can probably handle HB’s hardcore content, so I recommend reading it if you haven’t done so already.

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Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of images from Hard Boiled