Friday March 15, 2013
WORLDS OF WONDER
By MICHAEL CHEANG
Sci-tech takes centre stage in two new graphic novel offerings.
A COMIC book about scientists? All they do is hang around the lab, peering into microscopes, right? Who would want to read about a bunch of boring scientists?
But wait, what about characters like Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Dr Octopus, Lex Luthor and even Bruce Wayne? Besides being superheroes and supervillains, they are also scientists, inventors and technologists in their own right.
So as you can see, a comic about science and technology may not be as boring as you think. And if you have any further doubt about scientists’ ability to entertain you, look no further than these two new graphic novels in which science and technology take centre stage.
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Brian Wood (covers), Garry Leach, Lee Bermejo, David Lloyd, Gene Ha, etc.
WHILE not about science or technology per se, the Warren Ellis-penned Global Frequency is nevertheless rather heavy on technological jargon and scientific threats.
The titular organisation is a sort of global rescue organisation that specialises in potentially world-destroying scientific and technological threats. In other words, they are the ones who help clean up the messes that governments make with their top-secret experiments and weapons.
Led by the enigmatic Miranda Zero (“that’s the only name you’re going to get”), the organisation consists of 1,001 members from all over the world who are specialists in every imaginable field.
Computer wizards, detectives, scientists, parkour runners, martial artists, assassins, inventors ... just name a profession, and the Global Frequency probably has the topmost expert in that profession in its roster.
Nominated for a best limited series Eisner Award back in 2004, Global Frequency was first published in 2002 by the now defunct Wildstorm Publications (which was absorbed by DC Comics).
This new Vertigo Comics graphic novel compiles all 12 issues of the comic book.
Ellis apparently designed it to be similar to a TV series (an actual TV show was actually green-lit, but is now in pre-production limbo), with 12 standalone “episodes” featuring different members of the Global Frequency.
In fact, only two characters are present in all 12 stories – the aforementioned Miranda Zero, and Global Frequency’s central communications expert, Aleph.
The fact that each story features different members (which also means different abilities and skill sets) means that all 12 stories are vastly different from one another, and each brilliant in its own right.
From an Aliens-like all-action assault on a research facility to destroy a rogue human/cyborg hybrid (Big Wheel), to a quieter investigation into a supernatural occurrence at a remote Norwegian village (Big Sky), the missions here are as varied as the characters they feature. There’s even one that consists of one long and ultra-violent fistfight (the aptly named Superviolence); and one that just tracks a single le parkour runner racing through London to get to a bomb (The Run).
The artwork by the various artists also serves to keep each story fresh and original, with the standouts being Gene Ha’s Harpoon and Lee Bermejo’s super gory untitled ninth story.
If there is one complaint I have about this series, it’s that 12 issues just isn’t enough to develop the characters properly. Even Miranda Zero is criminally under-developed; her presence in each book pretty much just consists of her explaining the threat and barking out orders to her members (ironically, she is much more interesting in the story where she is kidnapped and can do nothing but wait for her team to save her).
All the same, the sheer variety of the stories told here, the different styles of artwork, and thrill of seeing what each member of the Global Frequency brings to each mission managed to keep me enthralled throughout the book; and by the end of it, I was wishing that they would hurry up and make that darn TV show already. So what are you waiting for? Get on the Global Frequency already!
The Manhattan Projects, Volume 1: Science Bad
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
WHAT if the most brilliant scientists in the world were all mad scientists? What if the real-life Manhattan Project (the infamous science project that resulted in the creation of the first atomic bomb) was actually a top-secret government agency that gathered all these super geniuses to work together?
From the first man on the moon and the first artificial intelligence to the first atomic bomb, the scientists in the Manhattan Projects – including Einstein, Joseph Oppenheimer (father of the atomic bomb), Wernher von Braun (father of the rocket science), and theoretical physicists Richard Feynman and Enrico Fermi – are responsible for some of the greatest scientific achievements in the history of mankind.
However, when you get these many unhinged super geniuses under one roof, it is only logical that chaos theory would kick in.
For instance, Oppenheimer turns out to have multiple personalities (the brilliant first chapter is all about how this came to be); Einstein is a moody alcoholic who may or may not be from this dimension; Fermi is definitely not from this world; and the obsessive von Braun has a robot arm.
Heck, it would probably be easier to solve the Riemann hypothesis (supposedly one of the greatest unsolved math problems ever) than to figure out a way to get this bunch to work together (though programme coordinator General Leslie Groves seems to do quite well, actually).
Collecting issues #1-#6 of the ongoing series, The Manhattan Projects is an experiment that pays off handsomely, with new discoveries in every issue, and characters that compel you to do more research on their real-life counterparts.
Not only does it seem so much fresher and more original compared to Hickman’s more mainstream offerings (he was a longtime scribe for Marvel’s Fantastic Four, and currently writes the new Marvel Now reboots of Avengers and New Avengers), but Pitarra’s clean, crisp, yet amazingly detailed artwork also helps bring out the emotions, expressions and the mannerisms of the various characters quite beautifully.
Besides the fun of grouping all these famous scientific figures into one book, the thrill of The Manhattan Projects is also in the way Hickman manages to weave his super scientist team into the very fabric of humankind’s history – including not just the major events, but even the smaller but no less famous characteristics and quotes of these famous figures as well.
By the time you’ve finished this first volume, you’ll be tempted to go out and get the rest of the series (Volume 2 should be out soon, by the way).
Besides, it’s got Albert Einstein firing a machine gun. What more do you need?
The books featured here are available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC.