This review was first posted on MOMBcomics.com in October 2009.
Writer – Sylvain Runburg
Artist – Serge Pelle
Its all to easy in the UK to gaze West towards the US when wishing to feed our addiction to comic books, forgetting that not only is there a fine tradition in this country, but also just over the channel in mainland Europe. In fact my earliest memory of picking up a contained comic book story was when I was 7, and was from a by two much loved French comic book story makers.
I was at Gatwick airport with my parents about to catch a connection on the first leg of a journey to New Zealand where my Grandparents lived at the time. To stop me getting bored I was given some money to buy a funny book. I went to a large white spinner rack where a number of small colourful books were displayed. They had on their covers pictures of a tough looking little guy with a winged helmet and a dopey looking fat chap, carrying a pointy rock. I picked one up and paid for it. That holiday I must have read that book a dozen times. The Mansions of the Gods was my first Asterix book, and the start of a love and appreciation of a form of storytelling that has never left me.
Over the years I collected all of the Asterix books, as well as Tintin and enjoy them to this day. But unfortunately apart from a foray into some untranslated copies of Lucky Luke I had forgotten (or should be hadn’t realised) what a deep, rich and continuing tradition of comic book story telling Europe has provided. As we may have mentioned at some length on the site, we visited BICS this weekend where publishing house Cinebook had a stand. One book amongst the excellent titles on offer really stood out for me. Sci Fi story Orbital.
The story runs over two A4 sized books, and is set in the 23rd Century. It follows Caleb Swany a young human, who some years after seeing his parents die in a terrorist attack by human isolationists (who oppose Earth joining an 8000 year old multi species collective), becomes a special agent of Ido, a corps of special diplomatic agents, bound to keep peace in theAlliance. They are based within a gigantic City in a rift in space time, called The Orbital. It might have slight over tones of Jedi in the Star Wars saga from that description, but don’t let that deceive you, this is very much its own story.
Caleb finds himself paired with a Sandjarr agent, a species which has been fought almost to extinction by humans, who are seen as the difficult and violent trouble makers of the Galaxy, by most member of the collective. They are sent on their first mission to help negotiate a settlement between human colonists who have found themselves stranded on an alien moon, and the Javods, who claim sovereignty over the satellite, and want it back. However the humans have settled there and have made a living mining the valuable fuel Trelium.
Caleb and partner Mazoke, travel to the disputed moon to start negotiations, but unsurprisingly, are not well received. The humans are suspicious of one of their own working for Ido and worse still, being accompanied by one of their bitter enemies. They soon win over some of the colonists with their bravery, when their settlement is attacked by tentacled insect like monsters called Stivulls and Sandjarr Agent Mazoke takes out the “Queen” stopping the attack dead.
They soon find divisions within the camp, and it becomes clear that the Marines who accompanied the agents on their mission, may have plans of their own, which was not part of the intended mission. Trying to scupper the Agents mission, human separatists within the camp have been working with the corrupt Marines to scupper the mission. However with help from a sentient space craft and through the bravery and invention of the two agents, the day is saved, and the humans escape yet another attack by the Stivulls and agree to leave the settlement permanently.
It is a deep and engaging story, and if anything has been lost in the translation, it really does not show when reading. It moves at such a pace that I devoured both books in no time, I couldn’t wait to turn the page., The twists are pretty good, and for the most part make sense, and feel true to the story. The art too is superb. I love the style employed here and is used to drive narrative with great skill, showing a wordless emerging love story, without ever slowing down the action (of which there is more than enough to keep any Scf Fi action fan happy).
They are part of a fine tradition, and whilst having little to do in terms of tone or story with Asterix or Tintin, the feel of them evoked happy childhood memories of picking up books with words and pictures, and to a time when I realised that there was more than one way to read books. I hope that these two stories are just the start of a long and successful series as I can’t wait to see how these relationships developed in these first two books play out. If you like good stories you could do much worse than going to www.cinebook.co.uk, and seeing what they have to offer, there is bound to be something to suit every taste.
Since writing there have been a further two issues of the series released, available on the Cinebook site. For a chance to win Orbital 1 – Scars, listen to MOMBcast 116.