COMIC REVIEW: Antares Vol. 2 (Cinebook Reviews #16)

Here we are again, returning to the realms (and reams) of Franco-Belgian comics, translated and published by Cinebook for the English-speaking market.  This time round we’re taking a peek at Antares, the third mini-series by Leo charting mankind’s attempts to colonise ‘The Worlds Of Aldebaran.’  From what I have seen here the books are part adventure story, an aspiration for the future and a meditation on humanity’s right to survive and spread.  The covers of these ‘episodes’ are full of wonders and beauty, reminiscent to me of the works of Rodney Matthews (though less pointy.)  They recapture that sense of optimism, curiosity and innocent delight we used to take in tales of alien worlds.  Let’s take a look inside and see how the body of work matches up.

We pick up the story aboard a colonial ship on its way to Antares.  Kim Keeler, a companion character from earlier series who has been brought to centre stage, has tentatively reunited with her old flame and now shares a cabin with her half alien child.  Also aboard are her friends Pad, Mai Lan and Alexa, a bunch of religious hard-liners and (as it turns out) a group of stowaways.  The story presented here is not very weighty, but it is full of incident.  There’s a nasty sense of pressures building in the first half of the book which serves to hook you into Kim’s character and invest you in what happens to her.  The second half then takes us planet-side for all kinds of animalien encounters, and the development of political tensions.

I confess, I was a little intimidated at first, jumping into a series so far along.  Clearly I will have missed some major elements, character growth and sub-plots galore, but in some ways it lets me take a step back and discuss things with fresh eyes.  I found myself eased in quite comfortably by the naturalistic narrative.  Information was not crammed down my throat, people managed to act like people and the dialogue flowed pretty well throughout.  Thankfully there is no sense of laboured recap when earlier plot points and relationships are referred to.  Leo clearly knows that a pointed look or a carefully crafted comment is all that is needed to sketch such things out.  Plus, who would be crazy enough to randomly pick up book 8 in a series anyway?

Oh, right.  Anyway…

Kim is not what I’d call a charismatic lead but she does sort of fit into the Ellen Ripley mould.  She’s  determined, fiercely protective of her loved ones and outspoken against corrupt authorities.  She’s also pretty handy with a rifle when more direct action is called for.  You definitely get the impression that she’s been shaped by her past adventures, and she has certainly earned a reputation which leads many of her fellow passengers to admire her, whilst some hold a certain animosity towards her.  Other characters receive far less fleshing out in this volume.  Old Pad has some personality, though it largely consists of chuckling and making cynical comments, but to be perfectly honest most of the other people felt like they were just there to provide antagonism or a friendly shoulder for Kim to lean on.  It’s a real pity because with such a broad canvas to paint on there is a myriad of opportunities to weave in more personal stories.

All in all it’s a decent enough read, but the critical failure for me is in the art-work.  Whilst the proportions are fine, the poses and facial expressions look awkward and stiff to my eyes.  The colour work on the story is painfully washed out and dessicated compared to the vividness of the covers and, unfortunately, where he tries to bring a little depth to his talking heads, the shades used seem off kilter and too dark.  Whilst the primary characters are drawn consistently throughout, Leo only seems to have three or four facial types to spread between the rest of his cast.  It leaves them looking like a bunch of cardboard cutouts in different wigs.  Perhaps I’ve been spoiled, but I’ve seen such variety displayed by other artists in other Cinebooks that I just cannot forgive this kind of shorthand characterisation.

In broad strokes ‘The Worlds Of Aldebaran’ ticks many of my sci-fi boxes.  If I spotted them at the local library I would be interested in going back to earlier episodes to catch up on the story.  I just won’t be looking too hard…

Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

You can hear me blathering about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
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