Sunday, January 28, 2007

Propeller Man #6

Propeller Man #6, November 1993, Dark Horse Comics
by Matthias Schulthesis, with Stephane Severac
translated by Jennifer Van Winkle
letterer: Ellie de Ville

Before I delve into today’s entry, I’d like to tie up the loose ends I left dangling in my Shatter review. To recap, following my consecutive reviews of Utopiates #1 and Shatter #3, I discovered that the concept behind these two issues, published twenty years apart, were remarkably similar, in that their protagonists were characteristically altered by doctored RNA injections. (That’s the simple version.) So, in good faith that the creators of Utopiates didn’t swipe the idea, I e-mailed Josh Finney, who was kind enough to respond promptly with some insightful answers. I won’t reprint my initial e-mail but I will summarize my questions interview-style, because frankly I’ve secretly hoped to interview one of the folks behind a comic I’ve reviewed. This may be the closest I get:

Is the art of Utopiates created by tracing photographs or photographic references?

One problem we kept running into was the assumption we were simply "tracing" photographs. And yes, while photo reference does play a huge part in what we do, with issue #2 we decided to portray a number of things that simply do not exist in our reality. I think most people would be amazed if they knew just how much of Utopiates is free drawn or digitally painted.

I must ask if Utopiates was in any way inspired by Shatter?

Until recently I'd never heard of the book, although I'm quite interested in picking up a copy. A number of Utopiates fans have told me about Shatter and its similarity to Utopiates, so I'm quite curious. From what I can gather, if anything, Utopiates and Shatter drew their influence from the same place --that being 1980's era cyberpunk. Like the author of Shatter, I'm a huge fan of books like William Gibson's Neuromancer, and films like Blade Runner.

Is the RNA injection/trait transference concept was a staple in sci-fi that I wasn't aware of?

Yes. The idea of using custom-built RNA to transfer everything from genetic programming to brain-information from one person to another is a staple of the cyberpunk genre...although I believe Utopiates is the first to use it as a metaphor for Heroin. The concept has appeared in stories by Mike Swanwick, William Gibson, and John Shirely. Although, believe it or not, the first time I'd ever encountered the concept was in 1991 when I saw the TV movie, "Knight Rider 2000." Jeez...did I just admit that???

Yes, you did. Thank you, Josh. You can also read my review of Utopiates #1 at Geek in the City, complete with a few images from the issue, and find out more about the series at Bloodfire Studios. Call me an enabler.

Now, Propeller Man #6. At first glance, Propeller Man is the Rocketeer on steroids, garbed in thick red leather, a peculiar headpiece, and a huge propeller strapped to his back. However, Propeller Man is by no means as focused; suffering from a gradually depleting amnesia, in this issue our skyward star discovers that he has a daughter who may be in danger. Despite his frequent attempts to contact her, Propeller Man finds his Princess (that’s her name) in the crosshairs of a bow-and-arrow-wielding madman, and although he initially prevents his daughter’s attack, a rampaging robot distracts him enough for Princess to fall into evil hands. Meanwhile, Propeller Man’s buddy Bill tries to transfer his dead brother’s active brain into a durable robot body. His circumstances are obviously macabre, but Propeller Man is one hero that can strike back when it really hits the fan.

Artistically, Propeller Man is generally beautifully illustrated, with deep lavish hues and shading, but some panels take this richness overboard and muddy the intended images. Still, the cityscapes are mythically captured and the blocking of the characters is quite cinematic; Propeller Man wouldn’t make for a very linear movie, but it would make for a visually breathtaking one. Overall, while I enjoyed my read of Propeller Man, I didn’t find the work to be particularly memorable. Then again, this issue was a transition from what the eight-issue miniseries sought to establish to how it was going to end. This issue just kept the blades spinning, so although I don’t know everything about this unfortunate hero, I got the drift.

And I’ll stop now.

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