May 2006

Bill Baker

gutterslut

Strange New World

There's a number of tropes so familiar to readers of science fiction and comics both that they've become clichés. That doesn't mean that their use automatically dictates that the tale containing them is necessarily flawed or the creator uninspired. Still, when the same formulas are employed by someone who is a master of his craft, those worn trappings can be transformed into something otherworldly and special. One needs to look no further than the recently released Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea, the collection of the first six issues of Frank Espinosa's pulpy sci-fi adventure comic series.

The central premise is a familiar one: In a far future there exists a new human civilization, one built upon the rubble of a former Golden Age that ended abruptly and catastrophically. That disaster, the Great Sundering, was so catastrophic that it left the Earth terribly and irrevocably transformed -- entire continents were destroyed, while new lands, oceans and even natural laws were forged. Mankind, indeed all of the world's flora and fauna, were devastated and left in a desperate race to adapt to the new demands of the ecology and landscape. As a result, new breeds of man arose, specially equipped by man's science and genetic meddling to not only survive in their new environments, but to thrive in them.

It's into this world that a lad named Rocketo Garrison is born. A member of one of the 12 families of "Mappers" -- humans with an inborn talent to find their way in a world without steady bearings or navigation -- Rocketo grows up with great expectations and hopes, all of which are shattered quickly and decisively by a seemingly intelligent, and perhaps malevolent, storm that destroys his home and orphans him about 2000 years after the Great Sundering. The story of how he found his way in this harsh, yet entrancing world to become perhaps its greatest explorer is but a small, yet satisfying, section of this book, one which affords the author a chance to explore both setting and central character in a natural way while setting up his main plot: a mission of some importance into the heart of the mysterious and apparently deadly region know as The Hidden Sea.

Throughout, we are treated to a first class entertainment and talent. Espinosa has a firm but not constricting grip on his characters, tale and craft. The dialogue by Espinosa and co-writer Marie Taylor sounds both natural and appropriate to the speaker, while the narrative threads flow easily and organically. This is a tale that remains human while stirring the blood with thrills. Hell, even the "extras" section at the back of the book, which in many other collections seems more like an afterthought than an integral part of the reading experience, is well wrought and interesting.

All the same holds true for the art and coloring. While some might expect a solid, straightforward realistic approach from an artist who has worked for both Disney Studios and Warner Bros. Consumer Products, instead Espinosa has chosen to illustrate Rocketo in a loose, sketchy, almost expressionistic style.

For instance, notice how Espinosa's figures seem to float upon the page. It's almost as if they're stealthily shifting within those hard lines delineating their shapes, all the while defying gravity and physics and outlines so thick and black that they seem chiseled into the page rather than drawn upon it.

Notice, too, how the artist has used color to achieve sometimes startling effects, both emotional and narrative in nature. There's a delicate balance that's maintained throughout the entire book between evocation and definition, between illumination and invocation, which only fuels and heightens the other aspects of the work. I honestly don't think I've run across a finer example of nonrealistic coloring in years. Actually, this is a book that should be studied by students and professionals alike who are seeking to understand some of the subtler uses of color as a narrative tool.

I honestly could go on for pages about the virtues of this book. It might not be for everyone, but it is that good, folks.

As this volume's title suggests, this installment concerns itself with the journey rather than what happens after they arrive at their destination, events that will surely be the focus of the next collection. Still, that shouldn't deter your signing on for the trip immediately. I was not just blown away by what Espinosa and Taylor have achieved here, I was completely enthralled and won over by their work. Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea has my unequivocal and undying recommendation. This is an epic adventure that works as a fast yet satisfying reading experience, but one which also rewards both close and repeated readings with fresh insights and heightened enjoyment. Even better, it's one which can be shared with the entire family.

All ages comics don't get much better than this, folks. If you're not familiar with the escapades of Rocketo and friends, you're missing a whole 'nother kind of action and adventure altogether. And that's just wrong.

Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea by Frank Espinoa
Image Comics
ISBN: 1582405859
304 Pages