By Justin McCarty
New from Image imprint Top Cow is Port of Earth, a comic with a really interesting twist on an old premise: Aliens finally make the first contact with Earth, but instead of coming with the intent to improve how humans treat each other, or with intent to exterminate the human race, they come with a business deal. The aliens in Port of Earth want to onboard Earth to a galaxy-wide network of planets working together for trade. Earth would be a stopping point for ships on their way to other planets. This, of course, complicates things for humans, but the trade seems fair -- Earth gets advanced technologies to improve human lives.
The book opens using captions and panels featuring news clips reporting on the event. It’s done well, mostly because of the muted yet textured artwork. The relationship between Earth and the extraterrestrials strains, politics enter when the new technology puts people out of work, and when the aliens break Earth laws. Add Port of Earth to the recent sci-fi books that a have strong political commentary vein running through them. We are then introduced to Rice and McIntyre, two officers on the new police force the Earth commissions to handle criminal activity arising from this strange relationship. They are thrown together on a murder assignment kicking off the story and setting up the second issue.
This book looks really good. It uses its art to set the tone if it had been brightly colored this would be a totally different book. I liked the premise, but I couldn’t help but feel it didn’t go far enough. At its core, it seems like it will be both a commentary on current politics and a bit of a detective story, two things I will usually sign on board for. So, we have some classic elements that fit together well, sci-fi, moralistic theme, and mystery. Those things, along with the art and design, make it enjoyable.
Port of Earth is quite expositional, and while it makes good use of news-style storytelling and pundits arguing, that is a well-worn trope for explaining the world of the story. Thankfully, the art puts us in the right frame of mind for that story. The artwork has tons of style with thin line work rendering intricate details that inform us and add depth to this Earth-forced-into-the-future. Our main characters don’t get to show us who they are in just the nine pages they are given. Right now they only come off as the one-dimensional archetypes they are based on.
We have what looks to be a story of what happens when innovation creates job loss and economic disparity; the story also looks to comment on immigration and nationalism (Earthism?). Usually, the social message in sci-fi is broad, but since this comic is a little more focused it wins points. There is a lot of information that has to be given to us up front. I would have preferred it to be more spread out, peppered in as Rice and McIntyre investigate the crime. It takes a full sixteen pages to lay out the rules of the world. It culminates in an interview scene that really works and lays out the ethos of Port of Earth, even if we’ve seen it before. Rice and McIntyre are flat characters at this point, their introduction cut short. It does give the next issue a natural starting point, however. Hopefully, they’ll get fleshed out beyond the by-the-book guy and maverick guy.
With the world-building out of the way, the comic could really take off and pull us in. Even with the unique twist on this particular premise, it still is pretty familiar. We have seen class warfare in sci-fi juxtaposed to media, large government stakes, and the good cop - bad cop tropes. This book has a lot of work to do to rise above those issues and get across its message. I can’t say no to an action comic, so I’m on board, for the next couple issue anyway.
Port of Earth #1
Top Cow/Image Comics