The Compleat Terminal City: Retrofuturism at its Finest / by Spandexless

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by Don Aliff There's not too much I can say to convince you of the quality of Dean Motter and Michael Lark's Terminal City that hasn't already been said. It's been lauded by critics and fellow comic creators alike since DC Comics debuted it in 1996 under it's Vertigo imprint, garnering a couple of Harvey and Eisner award nominations along the way. It might seem a little strange to review a 16 year old comic, but I'll tell you a horrible secret; I had never read it, or even heard of it, until now. Dark Horse has a new collection called The Compleat Terminal City which reprints the two original miniseries. (Yes, that's the actual spelling. A lesson: Compleat is synonymous with quintessential as opposed to complete meaning "in full.")

The art is what immediately grabs you. Michael Lark's pencils easily define the retrofuturist vibe that writer Motter is going for with this universe. Everything is simultaneously futuristic and quaintly old fashioned. The buildings and vehicles (hovercars, airships, etc.) all have that streamlined Art Deco look to them that was popular early on in the previous century. Transistor powered robots works in hotels that are frequented by gangsters wearing fedoras and three piece suits. Despite these big advances, though, newsreels still exist. Technology seems to have progressed like World's Fair exhibit envisioned it would.

The stories themselves do not disappoint, either. The crime noir genre mixes well with the more fantastic sci-fi elements. The plot follows the entwined lives of a few who live and work in Terminal City, specifically around the Herculean Arms Hotel. When an amnesiac man falls through the skylight of the hotel bar while being chased on a rooftop, Cosmo Quinn, former daredevil and wall-crawling showman turned mundane window washer, notices a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist that seems to be connected with the event that ruined his career. However, Quinn also has to contend with a number of other parties, including known criminals, who have also shown an interest in that briefcase. Gradually many of his friends and acquaintances get wrapped up in it, including his ex-girlfriend and former manager, Charity and some old showbiz friends who were thought to be dead.

The cast is what really shines in this book; a richly thought out motley crew of urban castaways just trying to get by in an unforgiving place. Though to be entirely fair, there could be some question as to the "spandexless-ness" of the book. It's not a superhero book by any means, but there are moments where Cosmo Quinn does appear to be one. He dresses in his old daredevil costume as The Human Fly and uses gadgets as well as his own wits to save the damsel in distress and trounce the big bad mobsters. You tell me.

Most collections like this have some special features and this one does not disappoint. In addition to the usual standard fare of an introduction and a cover gallery, there is also an interesting scholarly analysis from excerpts of a lecture given by Professor Henry Jenkins on Retrofuturism and the work of Dean Motter. You don't often see academic criticism about the comics medium, let alone see it included in a prominent book! It's a very nice touch which leads to an even more enriching reading experience. Frankly it's something I would like to see more of.

TL;DR: The Compleat Terminal City is a great collection of an excellent series that includes some solid special features. A worthy item for any comic fan's collection!

The Compleat Terminal City is a new collection of the comic by Dean Motter and Michael Lark. This new edition is from Dark Horse Comics. You can ask for it at you local comic book shop or bookstore, or, support Spandexless by purchasing it through our Amazon web store.

A review PDF of The Compleat Terminal City was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.


Don Aliff graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 2010. Since then he has dubbed himself a Professional Dreamer. You can usually find him reading, writing, performing music all over Connecticut, or passed out in the corner somewhere. Ask him to tell you a story sometime.