In my constant search to find new and cool things for this column, I came across a cover that made me pause and stare for a bit. I know, I know—you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover. But still, we do it all the time. In this case, the cover has this vibe about it, harkening back to the pulp-ish covers without the usual exploitation—there is no scantily clad vixen clinging to the over-muscled hero type. As much as the cover invokes the pulps of the past, there is also this starkness to it. All of these things resonated with me. I couldn't help but pick it up. And now, having read the book cover to cover in one sitting, I have to say—I'm certainly glad that I did.
Planetoid: Volume 1 is written and illustrated by Ken Garing (@Ken_Garing). If the name is unfamiliar to you, you aren't alone. I hadn't heard of him before either. Given the depth of the story and the gorgeous art, I think his is a name we'll be seeing more and more.
I've been trying to think how I can summarize Planetoid without giving too much away. Set on a distant planet whose resources have been mined away, it isn't really about the planet. There's a war going on between the Colonials, who are Human, and the Ono Mao, who are not. But the story isn't really about them, either. Silas, who is our main character throughout, is a deserter. He is shipwrecked on a desolate world abandoned by the Colonials and controlled by the Ono Mao. The planet's strong electromagnetic field and radiation, keep bringing ships down. Humans, both the descendants of the slave labor who used to mine the planet, and those who have crashed just like Silas, are hunted and harvested as the only “resources” left on the planet. Silas reminds them who they are, and gives them something they've lost—hope.
This story is brutal in many ways. The Humans do whatever it takes to survive. The Ono Mao are alien enough not to share anything resembling a moral compass with the Humans, so their actions and decisions are even further out on the edge. Silas' arrival sparks a revolution. He is dealing with his own inner turmoil when he arrives, and the conditions on the planet trigger something inside of him. He is definitely the reluctant hero and leader, but without him, nothing on the planet would change.
The art is wonderful. Rich, dark, and detailed. The story goes that Garing spent years perfecting it before Image bought the series in 2012, and you can see that in the art. The characters are distinct, the aliens different and interesting. If I have any complaint, it's that maybe an alien wouldn't think to construct a giant T-Rex robot, but I'll give Garing a pass on that one and chalk it up to creative license.
From a pure desire to read something different that isn't tied to any of the major comic book universes, Planetoid is perfect. Volume 1 collects the five-issue miniseries in 164 pages, which represents an entire story, start to finish. You also get the covers from the individual comics, and a couple pages from Garing's sketchbook, all for around $16. (I got mine on sale for $12)
Garing is said to be working on other stories set in the same universe. I honestly hope he does. Although a complete and satisfying story, Planetoid has the feel of a start, not an end.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal). He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012 and a 2013 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.