Lifetime reader of comics and fan of Planet of the Apes. When the two combine I can barely contain myself. Image, Boom and Titan comics fight for shelf space with Doctor Who DVDs.
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IDW Publishing‘s Mars Attacks Occupation continues its evil rule over the Earth and ComiConverse contributor, Darryll Robson, takes a peek into this dystopian world.
At the end of the last issue Ruby Johnson had just survived her fist gladiator fight but was sentenced to death by the evil, Martian overseer Zar. As such you’d be expecting Ruby to be in a fight for her life this issue but the creators are going to make you wait for that. First they have some social commentary to crowbar in.
Issue 3 of Mars Attacks Occupation starts with Ruby at a swanky party, dressed in figure hugging blue dress; not a sight that the reader is used to in Mars Attacks, especially not for Ruby. But this isn’t some Prom night flashback, it’s a celebration for the Champion of the Coliseum, a.k.a Ruby.
It is explained that, despite Zar’s fame for no mercy, the Supreme Sector Overseer was forced by public demand to save Ruby and allow her to fight another day. Championing at Human makes everyone feel uncomfortable, especially Ruby who feels like a cow at a Barbeque.
The party is an ideal opportunity for the creators to highlight the difference between the lower class humans and the ruling class Martians. It’s not just the expanse of food that the Martians have on offer but also the way they treat the human servants; they treat them with disrespect, contempt and their threats of violence are real. Ruby has found herself in the centre of a ‘them and us’ situation similar to Katniss in The Hunger Games. No matter how much she despised her old life it is preferable to the corrupt and vile lives lived by the ruling class.
Of course the high life doesn’t last for long and the surprising return of Grady Rizzo reminds Ruby what she’s been through and what lies ahead. Rizzo managed to survive his recent disembowelling thanks to Martian tech and bio enhancements. He informs Ruby that she has the fight of her life ahead of her and he has been chosen to train her. The training is to take place in the Martian capital itself, which seems like a handy way to introduce, in passing, the Terraforming Station that is changing the Earth’s atmosphere.
Training goes well and Saturday night in the Arena comes. With it comes the toughest Martian Gladiators and Killbot-6, an utterly lethal bio enhanced killing machine. But Killbot-6 has some very familiar moves and Ruby is in for a shock.
‘The Martian Hero’ suffers from one major problem; it’s all too obvious. And the unfortunate outcome of this is that the characters suffer and become two dimensional, even unlikable. The narrative relies on shocking twists that are steeped in sci-fi clichés; only newbies to the comic book world wouldn’t see them coming.
Lets start with Zar’s change of heart. This is of course the only cause of action possible to keep the central character alive and in the story but John Layman spends 7 odd pages building up to the actual moment as if something spectacular is going to happen. The entire opening of this issue is a way for Layman to emphasis the difference between the Humans and the Martians but it is at a cost to the pacing of the overall story line. Although this is a noble enterprise by the writer, especially as it strikes a bone with modern class structures and recalls the social standings in many European cities during the Second World War it is unfortunately it’s too unoriginal and over long. Nearly half of the comic is set during the celebration with the occasional flashback but it doesn’t enhance or develop the story except to explain Zar’s change of heart and the reunion between Ruby and Rizzo. Both of these things could have been achieved elsewhere and much more efficiently.
Speaking of that reunion; this character moment in the comic is cringe worthy. Not because the characters were reunited, or even that Rizzo hadn’t died, but because the four panel page made Ruby look clueless. She is shocked by Rizzo’s attendance at the party especially as she saw him get ripped in half in the arena last issue. But the reveal of his enhancements is a surprise only to the readers as Rizzo is stood before Ruby throughout their entire conversation so why is she so shocked when she can see all the bio enhancements? Surely this is the obvious explanation for his survival?
Ruby has been a super smart, clued in character from the beginning and yet this scene makes her look like she has no idea what’s happening around her.
The reunion scene is clunky exposition. And so is the journey towards the training camp. Luckily for the heroes (and the readers) this coach trip goes directly passed the Terraforming Station giving Rizzo the chance to explain its purpose. The entire sequence feels forced onto the reader and may as well be ringed in thick black marker with the words ‘Important Plot Point’ scrawled on it.
The art work by Andy Kuhn is sharp and his layouts are dynamic. Kuhn fills each panel with the same energy whether it is an action sequence from the Arena or a meeting of characters at a party. Add to this the exciting colors by Jason Lewis and you have a great looking comic.
Visually the best part of the comic are the two ‘Johnson combat move’ pages which compare the fighting styles of Ruby and Killbot-6 and lead to the end of issue cliff-hanger. The simple flat colored background emphasises the foreground action. This, along with the identical character positions of Ruby and Killbot-6 in the panels, makes Ruby’s realisation natural and the shock is plastered clearly on her face.
It’s just a shame that this revelation isn’t a surprise for the reader and, I believe, I called this outcome last month.
Unfortunately the art in Mars Attacks Occupation #3 can’t make up for the unsatisfying and predictable script. This issue has too much prolonged and unnecessary exposition. If there was a complex back story to explain I could understand this drawn out approach but it’s all very simple and as a result the characters are diminished.
Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Occasionally he might use his Twitter account: @DarryllRobson
A good looking comic that is let down by an unsatisfactory narrative and pointless over scripting.