Mr. Vertigo Reviews 93: Canopus; Destroy All Monsters – A Reckless Book; Underground

Canopus
Dave Chisholm, story & art
Scout Comics, 2021

Helen is an astronaut who comes to marooned on a planet orbiting the star Canopus, 309.8 light years from Earth. She has to get that information from her in-suit navigation system, because she does not remember where she is, how she got there–or even who she is. Suffering from nearly total amnesia, she is the very definition of an “unreliable narrator,” but things just get worse from there.

One of the only things she remembers is that she was on an important mission and must return home. There’s no signal from Mission Control on Earth, and she needs to obtain materials from the planet to print the necessary parts to repair the ship for launch. A strange little robot named Arthur appears: he knows her name, and says she’s his mom.

As the pair trek towards the needed materials a series of bizarre events occur, all seemingly drawn from Helen’s memories (while the ever-helpful AI keeps reminding her “Proceed to the route,” and Arthur keeps reminding her “please just breathe”). However positive they seem at first, they soon morph into something nightmarish and threatening. Helen’s memory seems to be coming back, but her confusion is still intense. She doesn’t know what’s going on, and neither does the reader. After a long, complicated path Arthur finally reveals all he knows, and Helen realizes the power to shape reality that she has had all along.

Dave Chisholm (Instrumental, Chasin’ The Bird) is a jazz trumpet player and cartoonist. His biggest projects have combined jazz and illustration, but here the story is firmly in the science fiction genre, while also exploring themes of memory, identity and forgiveness. Canopus collects a five-issue miniseries, a surreal, dreamlike voyage through a thoroughly alien world that ultimately feels like home.

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Destroy All Monsters: A Reckless Book
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; colors by Jacob Phillips
Image Comics, 2021

It’s 1988, and Ethan Reckless says it’s the year he started to feel old, that he’d lost a step. Fortunately he has Anna’s help: “You remember her, right…my projectionist-slash-assistant? The girl with blue hair?” As a bonus, we finally get the history of how they met.

But the main story here is a case involving a Los Angeles real estate mogul. Ethan’s client is a city councilman whose Black father  partnered with the white mogul, who found a way to cut his partner out. Turns out that he had a pattern of doing that, and the councilman wants Ethan to help him ruin him. Ethan declares that the job is right up his alley.

The scheme that follows is complicated, but in the end the councilman ignores Ethan’s plan and exposes the mogul early. But Anna’s research had revealed surprising things about him, which turned out to be true. Nevertheless it was too late to prevent the dramatic and violent conclusion of the story. Ethan signs the movie theater over to Anna. The final page hints at a possible end to Anna’s story in the next installment. Something to look forward to, but as usual this was a satisfying installment on its own.

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Underground
Jeff Parker, writer; Steve Lieber, illustrator; Ron Chan, colorist
Oni Press, 2021

I overlooked this when it was first published in 2010 by Image Comics, so I am glad that Oni Press reprinted it so I could catch up with it. The story stars Wesley Fischer, a Park Ranger and avid caver who is on a one-woman crusade to to stop Stillwater Cave from being turned into a tourist attraction. Others share her respect for the cave’s natural beauty, but the local area is so desperate for economic development that everything else takes a back seat.

The biggest local businessman is spearheading the effort to increase the tourist trade, and when he hires some local crooks to set off charges in the cave to prepare the way for future cave tours things quickly spiral out of control. Wes and a fellow ranger go the cave to investigate and find themselves running for their lives through the cave, pursued by desperate crooks willing to do anything to cover up what they have done and who they work for.

It is a real thrill ride, illustrated with Lieber’s usual panache. Chan’s colors are especially striking, varying between bright technicolor in the outside scenes and dramatic monochrome in the cave (with artificial lights like flashlights and headlamps the only light sources). The collection also includes Lieber’s black and white short story “Fell” which introduced the character of Wesley Fisher, a cover gallery of the original single issues, Parker’s essay about the genesis of the series, and a brief process piece showing how a page came together.

 

About marksullivan5

Freelance Journalist & Musician; Senior Contributor, All About Jazz.com; writing on comics at mrvertigocomics.com & No Flying, No Tights.com
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