Back when I was a kid, $5 would get me 20 comics. At those prices, it was easy to experiment with a new title. With comics going for $2.99 to $3.99 and in some cases $4.99 a pop, reviews and recommendations are increasingly important. Unfortunately, sometimes the reviews are off.
Take Satellite Falling, written by Steve Horton, drawn by Stephen Thompson and published by IDW for example. The reviews are filled with superlatives. Peer recommendations from people like Roger Stern and Jimmy Palmiotti are absolutely glowing. The problem is that the book is not particularly good.
When writing a review it is important to know which standard is being used. The most exacting standard is reserved for books. Here, plot holes and poorly drawn characters are absolutely not tolerated. The next level down is the movie standard. With this standard, we will accept some plot holes and one dimensional characters if the story moves along briskly. The television standard is even less exacting, but if we like the characters we will accept major plot flaws. NCIS is a perfect example. It is one of the longest running and most popular shows in the world. Yet, you could drive a Mack truck through the holes in most episodes. General non-superhero comics fall below television and in the superhero comic anything goes. The Justice League travels back in time to start the big bang? No problem.
Satellite Falling fails on many levels. Only by using the generous Super Hero standard can anything positive be said about it.
Let’s start with the premise. An emotionally fragile woman leaves a xenophobic Earth to live on an polyglot alien space station as the lone human where she works as a freelance bounty hunter for the police. Using a chameleon technology she can appear as any species, work her way to the target and take them. Ok, not too original, but not too bad either.
The first major problem is that the aliens aren’t alien. They are Star Trek aliens, basically looking like humans wearing prosthetics. Worse, they don’t act like aliens. They act like humans. If they act like humans, then what is the point of them being “aliens?” Alien denotes being different not just in looks but in thought and culture.
The Satellite is just a stand-in for any city. There is crime and there are drug dealing lowlifes. The Satellite does not convey as sense of alienness, but a rather familiar comic book city of the future. The point of science fiction is that the story can’t be told in another environment. Consider Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 where the premise of the story is that aliens redesigned our ancestors to become human. This is not a rewritten western or mystery. Or Asimov’s “Night Fall” where a planet has so many suns that the people only see the stars every thousand years.
Here, the tough but fragile heroine tracks down human seeming criminals in a human seeming city. In the second issue she breaks up a drug ring which uses slave labor to create its product. And most of that issue seems to involve an ill-explained escape from the bad guys in an air car, while trying to save a young slave girl, who coincidentally turns out to be the niece of some of the heroine’s friends.
The girl’s supposed to be an alien yet has a human family structure. Not like Zaphod and Ford Prefect who are “semi-cousins” sharing three of the same mothers, as in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The character of Lilly reads like a check list of the modern hero. Female? Check. Tough but fragile? Check. Lesbian? Check. Cynical? Check. Cliché? Check.
While I approve of the trend of including more LGBT characters into literature, as this group represents a good percentage of the population, I am getting the feeling that of late it’s getting to be trendy. It seems like if an author wants to be seen as cool and hip, he’ll make his character gay or more frequently lesbian. It’s starting to feel patronizing. Lilly’s lesbianism feels more forced in an effort to make the comic feel socially relevant.
In sum, we have a Satellite which is a stand-in for any American city, a cliché burnout private bounty hunter, and an oft-told story of drug lords who are bad people.
At $3.99 an issue, the great artwork of Stephen Thompson complemented by Lisa Jackson’s colors can’t keep this comic afloat.