Space Cases: Critical Millennium Vol. 1 / by Erik Sugay

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Despite the many characters introduced in the first volume of Critical Millennium, there isn’t really anyone for the reader to root for. A great debate takes center stage as the superficial motivation for most characters’ actions. However, the author makes no attempt to side with any of them just yet, depicting each in a less than flattering manner, so the reader is essentially just along for the ride. But what a fascinating ride it is.

The main character, Thomm Ander Coney, plays the role of impossibly-rich-playboy-with-a-tragic-past. Any Bruce Wayne comparisons end there, however. His greatest ambition is to use his considerable wealth to leave Earth, pioneer an expedition throughout the universe, and found new civilizations on distant hospitable planets so that humanity can live on. Despite his outwardly philanthropic goal, his character is murky at best (survival and self-preservation seem to be the real underlying motives). A bulk of the story is seen through his viewpoint and his spiteful inner monologues paint how much of an unpleasant and manipulative person he is.

It’s quite clear in the short prologue that Coney and his crew make it into space. With multiple video logs depicted over the course of a single page, however, you witness the degradation of joyful exuberance at the noble idea behind their mission turning into hopelessness. (You are left to your own assumptions with the grim prologue. Getting to know the story’s few likeable characters before their mission begins makes that presumed hindsight agonizing.) Something went terribly wrong and something seemingly worse is about to happen.

The introductory events are so enigmatic that you can’t help but wonder how Coney got to where he is, and what it is exactly that he’s about to deal with. As the entire narrative is a flashback to the prologue, certain expectations are set up. Curiously, the first volume creates more plot threads than it ties up. None of the major questions are answered. Instead, as the story jumps back and forth through the months prior to the mission, you learn how his crew is assembled, why he is so single-minded in his objective, and of the multiple factions that impede his progress.

Since Coney believes that humanity’s tenure on Earth has long passed, it was wise of author Andrew E. C. Gaska to use the majority of the first volume to offer a detailed look at the ruined home planet and how its inhabitants live. In spite of, or perhaps due to, the difficult living situations, the most popular television shows are extravagant and crass spectacles that don’t shy away from sex and violence. (Incidentally, it’s a tad disorienting seeing today’s internet slang still so prevalent two thousands years from now.) The societal structure may be different in this dystopian future as national powers have shifted and North America is all but gone, however, several untoward issues – blatant racism, oppression and violent, cult-like terrorism – remain unscathed. Many species have gone extinct and much of the terrain is torn asunder, constantly bombarded with unpredictable elements like harsh wind, blazing heat, and torrential rain – the planet remains beautiful, but its damage is clearly illustrated.

The artwork, by Daniel Dussault, is absolutely gorgeous. Every color is used deliberately to set the tone for the scene (eg. how various green hues display the perverse, almost seedy nature of Coney’s locations of vice or how the lower class districts are depicted as both muddy and dusty). Fantastical senses of scale and perspective are employed proficiently; structures like the space elevator feel almost frighteningly large.

In spite of the beautifully complex illustrations and substantial cast, scenes are easy to follow and characters are given enough time to grow (rarely did I have to flip around just to remember who certain characters were). In some instances, the text boxes are even color-coded so that you know who is talking even when that character isn’t in the present panel. The story is able to stay exposition-heavy while keeping the action moving at a balanced pace.

While the first volume may not divulge how Coney and his crew got to where they are in the prologue, it expertly expanded the grand scope of the story. Thanks to the multiple factions with dizzying agendas, no one acts without ulterior motives. Without more context, not one of the many sides of the Earth debate is explicitly good or even close to being redeeming. A testament to how strong the writing is that, for now, even with the intrigue of discovery that space exploration inherently offers, Critical Millennium’s most engaging issue is finding out who, if anyone, was right.

TL;DR A wonderfully realized universe wherein humanity’s detrimental ways have laid waste to Earth. The main options expounded are to seek refuge in space, effectively abandoning Earth, or to help fix it. Ambiguous motives and the liberal use of human pawns mean it’s not clear if any of the major characters really care about either alternative.

Published by Archaia Entertainment, Critical Millennium is written by Andrew E. C. Gaska and illustrated by Daniel Dussault. You can ask it at your local comic book shop or support Spandexless by buying it from our web store.

A review PDF of Critical Millenium  was graciously provided to Spandexless by the author.