By Robert Larson
It’s funny to be writing a review of Venus, given that Comic Bastards gives its endorsement on the back page of this book. But our reviews only went through the first half of the series, and now I’ve got a chance to say something about the series as a whole. Do I like it? Yes, I do think this is a worthwhile series. While I’m generally a sucker for anything science-fiction, what I liked about this book is that the real focus was on exploration: even as it looks at humanity’s place in the cosmos, it’s also looking at the challenges we faced in the past and what we’re looking at today.
In the twenty-second century, the U.S. is facing a new Cold War in Asia, and an overpopulated planet is pushing people toward the stars. Mars has already been claimed, and so NASA is forced to consider the distinctly less-attractive Venus. None of that matters to the men and women of the Mayflower, though: a crash-landing after an explosion is a much more immediate problem, on top of trying to survive on an unimaginably hostile world.
If you’re looking for a long story of colonization and the challenges of settling Venus, you don’t exactly get that here. As the book’s back matter notes, settling Venus would be unimaginably difficult because of its surface conditions: air pressure 100 times greater than Earth’s at sea level, temperatures over 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and acidic rain. While Venus is shown as appropriately dangerous here, we don’t really grapple with the nuts and bolts of that difficulty or how they overcome issues like atmospheric pressure. And the business of settling, such as throwing up buildings, making it habitable, and the interpersonal relationships of the settlers, are all moved through quickly. That speed is in some ways a hallmark of Boom!’s books these days, seeing as how so many of them are mini-series. With only four issues, Venus has to move quickly, and it never lets up the pace as we watch the crew of the Mayflower try and survive.
The pace of the book is a drawing point, even if we don’t have time to dive into the business of colonization that I would like to see (perhaps in another story or another series). More than the breakneck action though, I enjoyed the ideas about exploration in the face of adversity. Looking back in our own history, Spain’s conquest of Mexico and the Caribbean looked easy in comparison what the settlers of North America endured, ranging from a shockingly cold climate to starvation. The book’s action is a reminder that human beings need to be adaptable if they are to survive, a lesson which is appropriate today as we face massive climate change.
Message of the book aside, I enjoyed the dialogue and interpersonal relationships we get to see. Trust is a hard commodity to come by when everybody’s life is on the line, and none of the characters are particularly chummy: the military distrusts the civilians, the civilians distrust the military, and everybody is looking for a potential saboteur. I like a healthy dose of barb-laden repartee, but this books also knows when to dial it back so that people aren’t only speaking in quips to each other.
Overall, our earlier reviewer made a good call in promoting Venus. I actually caught myself hoping this might be continued, if only because the comic leaves a number of opportunities for the story to be continued. The business of survival is never ended, after all.
Writer: Rick Loverd
Artist: Huang Danlan
Publisher: BOOM! Studios