Plot: Dynamic opposites
Comments: The heart of Titanium Rain is contrasts and dynamic opposites, deep philosophy and gripping action side by side. Life is a struggle, even in the serene moments. ďTo be alive is to be at odds with the world.Ē This thematic tension drives every page from a simple game of poker becoming a vehicle for exposition and a metaphor for global geopolitics circa 2031, to the harrowing dogfight at the end of the book, fading into a white panel.
The opening panel of Titanium Rain features a quote and a statue of the Buddha, a serene figure synonymous with peace and tranquility. Then it gets blown to hell. Dropped into the middle of a firefight, the page explodes into a frenzy of gunfire and violence. An American unit is pinned down in a tiny green park, dead in the middle of a sprawling Chinese city. They have wounded and enemy units, including some bad-ass looking mechs, are closing in. This exciting opening is contrasted by the next few pages--a calm blue sky filled with clouds, not smoke and fire. The scene is no less grim, though, with crows feasting on the corpse of a bird and our main character, Spacecase, saying he's, ďobserving Darwinism.Ē
More about that poker game--taking up several pages of the book's first section, this scene spins many plates and succeeds at all of them. Aside from the above mentioned roles, the poker game also serves as an introduction to the main characters, gives each of them solid development, presents multiple viewpoints about the themes at work in the book, kicks the crap out of the tired ďchess as lifeĒ metaphor and has as much tension as the World Series of Poker. The scene is delivered with smart, sharp dialogue that also feels conversational and real. Itís a hell of a feat, packing excitement and smarts into a functional scene, and these fighter pilots havenít even left the ground yet.
When the flag goes up things only get better. The squad gets the call to bail out the soldiers stuck on the ground at the beginning of the book. Spacecaseís internal monologue about firing up his jet has a poetic, Zen-like quality to it, but the images are all of computerized gauges and sleek hardware prepping for flight. The jets snap into the air and the chapter ends with an ominous telling line.
Chapter 2 pulls the contrast into focus by jumping from flashbacks of the squad being formed to the fighter assault on the Jade Emperorís army. Both parts are engrossing but for vastly different reasons. In the flashback scenes itís revealed that the fighter pilots are known as 'Hacks'--humans with bio-modifications. To fight a war where your side is outnumbered 3 to 1, you just canít find enough fighter pilots, so you make Ďem. The Prometheus Initiative is introduced. Not settling for a multi-layered action opus, the second section ups the stakes with an engaging cyberpunk/post-human angle, with a dash of scholarly mythology for good measure. The move launches a story into hard science fiction territory...a territory seldom trodden by the comic book medium.
Titanium Rain never loses its human element though. When the attack on the Jade Army turns into a dogfight with enemy jets youíve already become seriously invested in these characters. The action sequence clearly illustrates how Phoenix squadís augmentations work in the most exciting way possible. Fraught with peril the scene grinds mechs and homing missiles against the internal stress of engaging in high-tech combat. It ends with that white panel and Spacecaseís plane and body slipping out of control against the forces of being shot down.
As for the art of the book, there is nothing out there that looks like this book. The near photorealism can be a little disorienting at times, especially when you see people you know as characters in the book, but it really works. There is so much expression in the characters faces. The trick gives an added layer of emotional involvement, pulling you in further. The battle scenes are expertly staged and heart pounding--you feel every bullet tearing through flesh or metal. You canít take your eyes off of the page. If, for some reason, you have no desire to read a brilliantly written comic filled with tension and smarts then, at the very least, the art should pull you in.
Final Word: Titanium Rain is an amazing book, hands down. The contradictions make the work all the more exciting--itís a future alternate-history story. A dense, literate work layered with metaphor and symbolism that is instantly accessible. Itís a thrilling war comic with an artistic soul. Itís cyberpunk action with a humanistic streak. Itís a Bruckheimer-esque thrill ride with an IQ above 130. Itís a high-octane pulse-pounding meditation on the nature of the universe. And finally itís the best comic you havenít read...yet!
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