Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

My Favorite Martians

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 13th, 2008

The Martian Confederacy original graphic novel
Writer: Jason McNamara
Artist/Cover artist: Paige Braddock
Colors: Brian Miller & Paige Braddock
Publisher: Girl Twirl Comics
Price: $15 US

The Martian Confederacy isn’t your typical science-fiction story. It’s hard to nail down. It’s humorous. It’s political. It’s action-packed. It’s touching. It’s off the wall. This quirky, small-press effort has a lot to offer its readership, but it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be all things to all people. McNamara’s characters and dialogue are a lot of fun. Even the villains have a certain charm. The book as a whole is definitely light-hearted, but it boasts a couple of nastier, gory moments that make for not-unpleasant jolts in the flow of the narrative. The Martian Confederacy and its creators face some challenges. Some fans of small-press or indy comics might think a sci-fi graphic novel isn’t something that would appeal to them, just as fans devoted to more mainstream action-comics fare mightn’t be drawn to it either. Ultimately, both factions would be well advised to give it a chance. It’s undeniably fun, and it just gets more entertaining and enjoyable the further one gets into the book.

Thousands of years in the future, Mars is a bustling planet, but though it was colonized by human beings, genetically advanced animals are the dominant species. Boone is a womanizing thief whose heart is in the right place, and when a friend of his is killed by a corrupt lawman, he finds himself caught up in a conspiracy to hide a scientific advance that could change all of Martian society. He, his android partner LOU469 and ursine friend Spinner find themselves targeted for termination. Forget about exposing government corruption — they’ve got to find ways to survive their own personal deathtraps.

This is a real divergence for Jane’s World creator Paige Braddock. This is more of a big-budget sci-fi/action movie by what of an indy-comics influence rather than the slice-of-life fare for which Braddock is better known. Her figures and designs are simple in tone, even somewhat crude at times. But there’s a playfulness in her depiction of the characters and the action. Her portrayal of Martian bear and underworld middleman Spinner is as a gruff yet friendly sort. One can’t help but enjoy him, not only for what we learn of him from McNamara’s script but from his movements, his posture and his demeanor, as rendered by Braddock. Braddock’s work here seems like the kind of thing that might come out of a merging of the styles of Bryan Lee (Scott Pilgrim) O’Malley and K. Thor (Red Eye, Black Eye) Jensen. It’s solid, entertaining cartooning.

I reviewed this book from a digital file featuring black-and-white artwork, but I noted that the credits indicated there was interior color. A quick check of the book’s official website led me to a workblog, where I found some samples of the color art. Miller and Braddock seem to focus on one color: red. Makes sense, doesn’t it, given that the story is set on Mars in a distant future? I think the storytelling worked just as well without color, but the red tones don’t really hinder Braddock’s linework either.

I was surprised but pleased to discover that Spinner plays much more than a supporting role in the story. At first, he seems simply a plot device to get Boone in the right (or wrong) place at the right time. Later, he becomes more directly embroiled in the action. The creators instill a lot of qualities in Spinner that result in him stealing just about every scene he’s in. He’s gruff but kind, gentle but fierce. He’s loyal but frustrated. Spinner certainly isn’t a one-note character, though he easily could have been without requiring any excuses on the storytellers’ part.

In a brief forward, Braddock writes that this project had its origins in her wish to tell a story combining two elements: Mars and The Dukes of Hazzard. I don’t think the latter pop-culture reference is really all that prevalent here. Instead, I see more of a Star Wars influence at play. Boone fulfills the role of the rogue perfectly. He’s Han Solo, only sluttier and wittier. There’s a free-spirited sexuality that plays underneath the main story from start to finish, and not solely with Boone’s character. It doesn’t feel gratuitous at all. Instead, there’s a carefree, joyous quality to the sexier side of the characters. That’s in keeping with the irreverent tone throughout the book and the ultimately optimistic ending. McNamara and Braddock offer up feel-good sci-fi, and that’s unique enough to warrant a look. 8/10

2 Responses to “My Favorite Martians”

  1. Justin Hall Says:

    I’ve been a big fan of both Braddock and MacNamara for years (I actually introduced the two of them at an APE years ago), and the “Mars” galleys still blew me away. Its some of the best work either of them has produced.

    There’s a real lack of quality sci-fi in American comics, and I think the main reason is that creators get distracted by the bells and whistles without focusing on the storytelling. “Mars” is so notable because the narrative is so good… solid characters, engaging plot, great pacing… I hope this book gets the attention it deserves.

  2. Martian Confederacy Out This Week » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] See preview pages at the book’s blog or on NewsaramaBlog, including examples of the coloring. Don MacPherson liked the book. Similar Posts: Children of the Atom § *American Flagg! — Recommended [...]