Written by guest contributor Brian Roe
This new alternate history take from writer John Reilly, with pencils by Tom Rogers and inks/colors/letters by Dexter Weeks and Michelle Nikolajevic, is ambitious and brave. Unfortunately it is also disjointed and doesn’t tell it’s story in a way that allows new readers to learn anything that they don’t already know about the historical figures that make up the cast. Overuse of exposition can certainly be grating to a reader but sometimes it’s necessary to give more information than “October, 1923” or “Boston”. Maybe if this was a continuation of an ongoing series it would be easier to understand but seeing that this is Issue #1 there really should be more explanation of who people are, what they are doing, and where they are doing it.
The basic story is that Amelia Earhart is attempting to cross The Atlantic and Tesla has some sort of spinny device that disappears with a ZOOMP! which causes him to take a bite of something. Then a man who we should assume is Harry Houdini pops out of a chained milk can. And Lovecraft shows up. And Einstein. And then Tesla learns that he should contact Lovecraft about dimensional stuff pertaining to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance whom Tesla also happens to love. And then a monster.
Overall the art and coloring for this book are consistent although sometimes challenging, such as the oddly drawn airplane in panel 6 of page 5, but they do little to set mood or move the story along. Few of the characters really look like the historical figures that they’re supposed to be and this gives a generic feeling to the story. These famous people had extremely distinct looks that most readers would recognize instantly. Instead of opening the book and seeing Amelia Earhart we are shown a woman in a pilot’s cap and goggles and we have to tease out the information of who she is. Better likenesses would have captured that information immediately.
This sort of alternate history has been done time and again and much more effectively in comics like Atomic Robo and novels like The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. Re-imagining tangential storylines for historical characters is a really enjoyable mind-game but one that has to be followed up by severe and disciplined research as well as a rigorous attempt to connect the new, fictional history with the existing “real world” one if the final story is going to be clear and easily understood. Simply placing the characters in corresponding stage sets, Tesla is in Wardenclyffe, Houdini in a theater, Einstein at a patent office, is not enough to connect the characters with their world, their internal drives, or the other characters.
There are ideas here that might develop into something clever and interesting but this first issue simply feels obvious and shallow. We know these people and what their varied skills, histories, and achievements were. The true challenge is to take these known quantities and expand them, enrich them, and turn them into something more interesting and powerful than the mundane histories we already know.
Writer: John Reilly Artist: Tom Rogers Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment Price: $3.99 Format: Print/Digital