Writer: Trevor Landolt
Artist: Javier Solar
Publisher: Praxis Comics
Usually my reviews focus on what works and what doesn’t in the comic book I’m commenting on, and this review will basically retain that focus. However, I’m going to change up a little for my review of Calanrock #1. Knowing that Trevor Landolt and Jeanine Henning are trying to start up a new company literally from scratch, I thought I would let them know a typical fan’s perspective of this issue and how they can improve the series for the future. This first issue of Calanrock did not meet the expectations of a comic book reader like me, which are to be creatively entertained, thrilled, and willing to come back for more. What Landolt has produced here is a clichéd story, presented with sub-standard art by Javier Solar. But I want Praxis Comics and this title to succeed for two very important reasons. First of all, there is a ton of ambition apparent in Calanrock, both in the comic book itself and the promotions they have put together for the Internet. Secondly, diversity is crucial to sustaining the comic book art-form, since it creates potential accessibility for future readers. The main thing I want to impart, Mr. Landolt, is that this is constructive criticism from a lifelong lover of comic books and a fellow writer. Do not interpret any of my statements as malicious.
The story of Calanrock concerns a continuing war between two factions of a future society: the mechanized City Above ruled by Albertus Iron (nice allegorical name, by the way) and the City Below, populated by the remaining human dregs of this civilization. The first problem I had was determining the extent of this population division. Is this a worldwide segregation or simply limited to this one city of the future? If it is just this city, then why hasn’t the rest of the world fallen victim to the robot "cleaners" that hunt humans down? Or, is this some kind of bubble city, a Kandor of sorts? I would have liked a little more background, but this might come about later in the series. The first three pages of the issue is a scene ripped straight from Action Comics #1, as a tiny rocket is launched by a man who states, “One day, who knows, you might find out the truth,” to whatever being is within. This is Landolt acknowledging comic book history, and I am fine with this.
Then, we are propelled four years later to a scene out of Terminator 2, as humans are on the run from giant robots looking to capture them and transform them into machinations as well. First, the art in this section, as well as the rest of the issue, is extremely crude, and while it may work for static images, it certainly doesn’t work for panels filled with action. In particular, there is a panel at the bottom of page 5 that was truly ineffective, as it shows our heroine, Aurora, clinging to a man captured by a "cleaner." What bothered me was the lack of any background and the human figures that are floating around this negative space. This art is more reminiscent of doodles than actual comic book storytelling, and I found this factor a major distraction in my reading. I understand Mr. Solar has worked with cartoons and children’s books, so it makes sense that much of his art would look like this. But, comic book fans such as me won’t gravitate toward this kind of simplistic art-work very often, so Solar should think about changing his style for the remaining issues of this series. As for Landolt’s contribution, this scene has cheesy old-school declarations (“Albertus Iron! You’ll pay for this death and all the others! I’ll stop you even if it’s the last thing I do!”), unnatural dialogue, and some unnecessary captions that are explained later in the issue.
After the "cleaner" attack, we first meet Calanrock, who is a large, muscled robot wearing pants with suspenders, combat boots, and goggles. I could be imagining this, but his looks and proportions reminded me of Hellboy. Anyway, this big monster pops out of the pile of rubble that Aurora is sleeping on and makes his introduction. Now, if you are living in a society where robots are hunting you day and night, wouldn’t you have a pretty extreme reaction to a strange robot suddenly appearing in your vicinity? Obviously, Aurora doesn’t think so, as she casually strikes up a conversation with the metal man. To me, this is a hole in the story and deserves some sort of explanation for Aurora’s behavior. On the positive side, I like the direction Landolt is heading with Calanrock’s character. He is a child trapped in a huge body, similar to Alphonse Elric in Full Metal Alchemist, making this an ideal character for development throughout this series as he learns the evils and despair inherent in the City Below. At first glance, he thinks the city is beautiful, though we see an area filled with poverty, violence, and scum. Also, at the end of the issue when he and Aurora encounter the cleaner, Calanrock says, “Is that a cleaner? It’s making a huge mess!” I thought this was very clever and a great way to endear fans to the character.
Finally, I wanted to touch on the parts of this issue concerning the City Above. First, the ‘great’ Albertus Iron is a walking cliché on stubby legs. He is your prototypical Boss Hogg running this futuristic city, with B-movie lines such as “What do we do with leftovers, Mr. Jones? We get rid of them,” and “I do not suffer incompetence well.” The whole City Above section is standard ruthless dictator fare except for the section with Andy (the victim from the beginning of the issue). He is being "improved" robotically to become a slave for Iron, which involves a bloody insertion of mechanical parts. This is what this title needs more of: elements to look forward to in coming issues. Anyone who reads this knows that Andy will return to the City Below as this monster created by robots to wreak havoc. But, what will he do once he returns? Is there any humanity left in this metal form? And what does this realization do for our understanding of Calanrock? These are some interesting ideas to explore, and I hope Landolt has a direction like this in mind, though I would love to be surprised by a direction I’m not thinking of!
What’s my final say? Calanrock has some good starting pieces, but the overall issue looks and reads like an amateur work. An overall story that is familiar, dialogue that is unnatural, and art that doesn’t capture action or atmosphere well inevitably leads to a mediocre product. Like I said at the beginning, though: Praxis has my complete support as a comic book fan, and I hope that the remainder of this series and the other titles produced by Praxis concentrate more on the elements that fans like me want to see.
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