(for the origin of this column see Comics My Girlfriend Made Me Read… Saga )
Planetoid #1 – #5
from Image Comics
Written and Drawn by Ken Garing
What made you get Planetoid?
I get most Image number ones now, since they put out so many sleeper hits, you never know what’s going to be the next big hit. (Pfft!! Speculator!)
What do you like about the book?
The covers really grabbed my attention in previews, especially the Frog one. Plus I really liked the idea after I read the first issue.
Why should I read it?
Because it’s that “hard sci-fi” stuff your always going on about. And because I said so (with a wink!)
Thank You, Sweetheart!…and now on to Planetoid.
I have to say I did enjoy this series. Ken Garing, the writer, artist and colorist of the book, created a well fleshed out hard sci-fi mini epic, that although sprinkled with familiar themes, was original in its conception and bold in its artwork.
Diane had it sold on the concept alone: a pilot crashes down on a small planetoid covered in junk and wreckage. The Planetoid has a weird electromagnetic field that pulls down nearby spacecraft, satellites, cargo ships, etc and the same EM field prevents anyone from leaving it as well.
Silas, the aforementioned pilot, survives the crash and is marooned in a harsh post-industrial wasteland. The air is breathable but filled with metallic particles that force Silas to don a gas-mask from his survival kit, also containing other life saving supplies such as protein gel-packs, a tent, some water, a rain coat, and an unidentified weapon that plays a key role later on. He activates an A.I. named RICTER in his gauntlet, who provides environmental information and helps him navigate his way across the hot metallic desert.
In an interview with Con Barbatsis at eCharta (http://blog.echarta.com/2013/04/19/garing-planetoid/) Ken Garing cites the Dune novels as an inspiration to his story and lists H.R. Giger as one of his artistic influences. Both are apparent as Silas treks through the iron-hued, rusted landscape. Silas, with his cloak and gas mask, looks very much like a Fremen (if you don’t know what a Fremen is you’re not as big a geek as you thought you were) crossing the sands of Arrakis. Instead of sand, it’s long stretches of space debris and rusted hulks of giant fabricators. Massive bridges of sagging tank treads replace dunes, as this lone survivor traverses the detritus of hundreds of fallen and destroyed spacecraft.
While channeling Giger, Garing has completely removed the bio from the bio-mech style Giger was known for and re-imagined it as industrial-mech. The same amount of detail and design are there, but the organic naturalistic look Giger used for the Alien designs are gone, replaced by his own design-savvy mechanized rendering. The culmination of both influences can be seen in the giant mech “sand-worm” Silas battles in a lake of petrol-based sludge in the first issue, leading him to use that hidden weapon and preceding his first meeting with another human, a recluse name Mendel.
The meeting between Mendel and Silas gives us the needed exposition to explain in further detail the history of Silas and Mendel as well as the Planetoid’s back story. Originally a slave-mining plant of the Colonial Government, it used human and alien slaves to mine the richly ored planet. The whole process was abandoned, slaves included, when the Ono Mao, the alien force the CG is at war with, expanded their territory.
The Ono Mao corrupted the already malevolent A.I. running the place and gave it the ability to self-replicate using the abundant wreckage as building materials for its Rovers. Rovers are the name given to the mechanized beings who hunt down any surviving humans or aliens it can find, those left behind or new comers like Silas, to be lobotomized and turned into slaves for the ever fruitful Ono Mao slave market.
Silas tells his tale of woe, from orphan to colonial army to going awol and becoming a smuggler, raider, and sometimes slave trader, before losing his ship and crew raiding an Ono Mao science station, where he was only able to steal the overtly powerful handgun he has in his possession.
Mendel directs Silas to the Slab, a humongous industrial plateau where the surviving people live and, in certain ways, thrive. Without soil, clean water and any sort of social structure the people of Planetoid live a hard scrabble life, mostly banding together in tribes, hunting metal eating lizards, battling each other and scrabbling for food and sundries from downed ships. It is on one of these occasions when Silas first meets Onica and Ebo while trying to raid a freshly downed ship, a ship Silas believes can be repaired enough to escape the Planetoid.
Onica is the daughter of anthropologists who had crashed there years ago and survived her family being turned into slaves for the Ono Mao. Her friend Ebo is a blue skinned tapeworm faced Ebotak, one of the few alien races along with the stony purple skinned Noxalites and the ever silent but adorable Frogmen, that coexist with the humans. They take Silas prisoner and head back to the area of the Slab where the survivors hide from the Rovers. She explains more of Planetoid’s history and points out a giant tower that staggers into the sky. It is a giant freight elevator used to transport slaves to an Ono Mao spaceship waiting in orbit. It also acts as an antenna for the Ono Mao corrupted A.I., transmitting the code and instructions across the planet.
When another tribe is attacked by Rovers at the entrance site, Silas convinces Onica to set him free and, using his Ono Mao Sidearm, dispatches the malevolent Rovers. In the process he is revered by the oppressed tribe and made their leader.
Garing has many social, economical and political themes; the one that stands out the most to me is the idea that one man, in the right place, at the right time, can change the world. Which is exactly what Silas proceeds to do. Silas has a plan. He gathers all the disparate tribes at the foot of the last downed ship. After settling a few squabbles, he sets them to work in any capacity they are capable of. He shows a few settlers how to weld and gets to working on the ship. Others share their survival knowledge and he spreads it amongst the people, assigning tasks such as building modular housing from scrap, gathering rain water and using it to farm algae, raising lizards for eggs, and thanks to the Frogmen, finds a location nearby that has vats overgrown with mushroom ripe for the taking.
When the new settlement gains the attention of the A.I., it sends a lone Rover with a pre-programmed device warning the settlers to disperse and surrender. Silas makes quick work of the Rover, turning him into a scarecrow and paints a borderline around the town. This leads to one of the more poignant scenes in the book, where Silas spies a group of children milling about, bored. He shows them how to build and fly a kite, and in a beautiful piece of artwork, showing humanity’s triumph over evil, Garing draws a full-page spread of just the kite flying high against Planetoid’s barren dull lifeless atmosphere. Simply beautiful:
Soon after, the Ono Mao, in an ambush they knew would draw him out, capture Silas. He his put on trial in a kangaroo court, where he refuses to cooperate, spouting his utter disrespect for not only the Ono Mao, but the Colonial Government as well. The court sentences him to be zombified and the settlement is to be disbanded and its occupants enslaved as well. Silas is soon rescued by the most unlikely of rescuers. His return is long and arduous and once again, brings him near death. Onica finds him and informs him the settlers have decided to stay and fight rather than be enslaved.
What follows is a thoughtfully planned revolution that, when on the cusp of utter failure, is saved by a soul searing act of heroism that saves the settlers and cripples both the A.I. and the Ono Mao in one fell swoop. A very good ending to a very good story.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in good straight up science fiction. Fans of Dune, Alien, Bladerunner and the like will get a thrill out of the subject matter and the art is simply top-notch. It is reminiscent of stuff found in Heavy Metal or 2000 AD. It will be a beautiful read once it’s collected in trade, but in all fairness to the detail and scope of the art, I hope it’s printed in a treasury edition or absolute sized format. Bravo! Ken Garing, Bravo!…looking forward to more of your work.