Rating: 4/5 – Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers merged with Christopher Lambert in Fortress – minus the cheese and open satire.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer R.C. Killian
It seems like every time I set foot in a comic shop these days, new creator-owned titles with ties only through their creators’ names have sprung up unexpectedly. Sometimes, if I read the right books, I get a warning from an advertisement—or maybe see the name on a list of upcoming titles. But it’s not quite the same as having a nice cover right there in front of me in the shop.
Cluster brings writer—and, as an unusual additional function, letterer—Ed Brisson together with artist Damian Couceiro and colorist Michael Garland for an unusual tale of prison, aliens, the military, and questionable choices. Arrested for a crime she almost certainly did commit, Samara Simmons opts to carry out her sentence in corporatized military service (“Military Inmate Deployment”) to Global Outreach Enterprises, rather than as the normal period of imprisonment. Upon arriving on the planet Midlothian, she and the others are informed that their deployment is to be against the Pagurani, an alien species that is bound and determined to stop G.O.E.’s attempts to colonize and terraform planets like Midlothian, and that attempts to escape this service are foolish at best, fatal at worst, and futile in all cases: a device known as a “punch” will be activated if they are gone from their expected locations too long, melting their innards in horrifying and painful fashion.
As is usually the case with a modern first issue, Cluster #1 is mostly preoccupied with setting the scene: hints and introductions are made, the premise and core concepts are established, and bait is set out to bring readers in to return. Samara’s most familiar associates by issues end—the mouthy Grace, the brutish alien Slarreg, “model inmate and prisoner”-set-as-commander Halleran, and the aged-Eastwood-esque Warden Greenwood—are clearly drawn as characters, but not yet rounded. Still, Brisson doesn’t fumble any of this with excessive or misplaced exposition, nor clumsy characterization. There are hints of depth and complexity, even unexpected maneuvers in each character that hint at future interesting developments—some to satisfyingly fulfill trope-like expectations, others to violate them.
Luckily, Couceiro (who has worked with Brisson before) is up to the task, and we have sharply defined faces and looks for all the members of this cast to prevent confusion, as well as give a little bit of short-hand to who they are and where they come from. Slarreg’s look is somewhat different from how she’s depicted on the cover by James Stokoe (less Audrey II, a little more sentient—if eyeless, pale and veiny—humanoid), and is very expressive as a result. Garland leans heavily on an earthen palette, which suits a story set on a largely barren and lifeless rock that houses little more than a prison/military camp, and gives a bit of contrast and pop to Slarreg’s pale-with-dark-blue look, without making it garish.
Cluster shows a lot of promise: it’s an unapologetically, but casually female-led (even dominated) book that marries familiar premises of lethal prisoner restraint and conflict-riddled aggressive personalities to the notion of military service that teeters between forced and chosen. It promises exploration of Samara’s character openly, and hints gently at seeing more of the people around her and why they made the choice to serve their sentence in combat rather than simple time. The art avoids stylistic excess or sheer banality to keep the words from utter domination without overpowering them, as befits the story-oriented nature of its central conceits. This looks like one to hop on now, if not at least keep an eye on.
Reviewed by: R.C. Killian
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