"Tomb Raider" Finds Its Lara Croft in "Ex Machina's" Alicia Vikander
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John Jakes’ Mullkon Empire #2 by Kate Worley (script), John Watkiss (penciler/inker), John Higgins (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). Published by Tekno Comix, an imprint of BIG Entertainment, Inc., October 1995.
I like John Watkiss, for the most part. He’s not my favorite artist, but he has an interesting style, and he generally makes the issue he’s working on at least interesting. Unfortunately, he’s saddled with a rather dull story in this, the second issue of what I’m sure was a long-running and impressive epic “from the best-selling author of North and South and The Kent Family Chronicles,” as the cover helpfully lets us know. It also doesn’t help that Watkiss makes sure that every person in this book is wearing convoluted clothing (yes, clothing), so it’s not as good as most of his work. This was fairly early in his career (right?), so I guess I can forgive it.
Worley helpfully provides us with a setting for this space opera, which is always good. The issue begins on Rugash, “a planet converted by Mullkon Enterprises into a galactic dump … where the debris of a dozen worlds is sorted and assembled into monstrous packages, then slated for black hole ‘disposal.’ ” There are a few things wrong with that introduction, even if it does tell us where we are and what’s going on. First, “monstrous”? We never actually learn in this issue what the debris is and what happens to it, so the loaded word “monstrous” is troublesome. Does it just mean the packages are really flippin’ big? If so, why use a word like “monstrous”? “Really flippin’ big” would work just as well. “Monstrous” implies horrific packages that rise up and kill people in the night. I would have liked to see that in this issue. Second, why put quotes around “disposal”? We don’t find out too much about the fact that the packages get thrown into black holes, so we have no reason to think they’re not being disposed of. It’s just weird. And doesn’t bode well for the issue.
A couple of men are “disposing” of the packages when some kind of accident occurs. According to their supervisor, this accident means the “section will be hot for a month!” We see a double-paged spread of a bunch of debris on what looks like a lunar surface. It’s never explained what the two workers were doing (where’s the black hole?) or why the “section” will be “hot.” In space, apparently, no one can hear you scream about details. The two workers speak cryptically about how this process “isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” but before we can find out what, the supervisor walks by, the two men clam up, and we never see them again in this issue. Confound it!
Our scene shifts to “Mullkon Keep,” which is on another planet, presumably, as the accident on Rugash has sent “reverberations through space,” but we never actually find out which planet it is. Too bad! We meet some of the Mullkons (I guess) – Rafaello and his father, who talk business. The father says they need to get the black hole business resolved quickly, to which Rafaello (Raf to his friends) responds they should stop “dumping into the anomaly.” Dad doesn’t think that’s a good idea, even though Raf reminds him about “what happened at Vega Prime.” What the heck happened at Vega Prime, Raf???? Don’t be coy! Dad says they have to stay competitive, but Raf gets him to suspend activities until “Chang” puts his data together. We learn that Raf is the principal heir of the family and that he takes too many risks (according to Dad). Dad wants him to go to Rugash and deal with some “labor troubles,” but Raf asks why he can’t do it. Dad says he has to meet with the Vegan Federation’s representative. They’re tired of being forced to eat meat, man! Raf tells him to send Azore, who’s the “only diplomat” the family has ever produced, but Azore is writing a history of the company. Okay, I get that it’s “delicate work, not to be trusted to strangers,” but can’t he take a break? I mean, the guy could use a break for some carousing on Rugash, right? Poor Azore. He never gets to have any fun.
Dad continues to rant, telling Raf he ought to find a “fit woman” to produce a legitimate heir. Raf tells him “Joss and Karma” are quite enough for him. So he has kids already, but Dad doesn’t think they’re worthy? Jeez – sucks to be them. Always craving Granddad’s approval, and never getting it! Raf suggests that Dad beget another heir, but Dad says he has enough offspring. Raf gets angry, because only one of them managed to breed. Apparently Raf’s brothers – plural – are dead, having “played it safe” and “worked in the business end,” only to die horribly in some kind of factory fire. Raf kind of accuses his father of killing them, but before it goes any further, a blonde girl enters as Dad storms out. The blonde girl – Karma? – asks Raf if “he and grandfather” were fighting again. Raf implies the fight was intentional, because now Dad will leave him alone for a week or so. The implication is that the girl is Raf’s daughter, but it’s not stated outright. Hmmm.
“Elsewhere in the keep,” Dad finds a woman who is packing her, well, sex dolls. They’re full-sized man-shaped things, and Dad isn’t happy she takes the “disgusting things” wherever she goes. She assures that they’re perfect attendants for a single woman. Charming. She calls Dad “Kai,” so I will too. She also tells him she’s going to “Zanadu” for “Karma’s sake,” because “someone must look after the social education of the younger members of the family.” Kai wants her to be around for when Bambina returns, and he again mentions his business, which is why he can’t do it. The woman tells him that she won’t leave for a few days, so she won’t miss Bambina. Kai also gives the woman a name – Lucretzia – so that’s nice.
The mention of Bambina leads to a different planet, this time Cygnus 5, in the city of Cam, the home of Vale University. Bambina is walking along a street with two men and a woman. They’ve just graduated, apparently, and are partying, but the men have no more money. We also learn that Bambina’s father, Karl, is dead. We’re still not sure who is the child of whom, as this family tree seems kind of vast and tangled. Bambina offers to use her own money, and when she takes her friend to the ATM to get some, we find out she’s been hiding the fact that she’s a Mullkon from her college chums. She says she didn’t want to spend her college days “defending” herself, so she hasn’t even told her boyfriend, Colin, or her mentor, Sirrac. She swears her friend to secrecy.
We fast forward a day, and we’re back at Raf’s family quarters, where he’s eating dinner with two young people. The girl is Karma, and she is the same blonde girl who was speaking to Raf earlier. The boy is Joss, as we soon learn. He thinks Aunt Lucretzia will sell Karma to the highest bidder, which gives us an indication about what kind of person Lucretzia is (as if her name didn’t already). Joss says he’s going to go to Rugash for Kai, but Raf doesn’t think that’s a good idea. He can’t speak to Granddad, because he’s already left. Raf says he’ll stop Joss, but his son vaguely threatens him, so Raf backs down. Joss leaves, and Raf warns Karma to be careful on Zanadu, and be “mindful” of Lucretzia.
Back on Cygnus 5, Bambina is packed up and ready to head home. She says she won’t be gone long, but before she can go, Colin comes in and tells her she’d better hurry if she wants to say goodbye to Sirrac. She wonders why, and he tells her there’s a “state of emergency” on Vega Prime. When they reach Sirrac, she tells them an asteroid storm has destroyed a city on Vega Prime. She says that the storm may not have been a natural phenomenon – it may have been some kind of “space debris.” Oh dear. Bambina says, unironically, that “if someone is responsible for this … I only hope they pay dearly.” You don’t think her own family had something to do with it, do you? That couldn’t be!
Bambina says she’ll come back as soon as possible, and Colin tells her he may have to go to Vega to help Sirrac. She says she might join him there, too. Then we get an odd shift, as we go straight into a flashback. Bambina’s dad, Karl, is captaining a ship, the Napoli, through the void. Karl is told that the drive command is off-line, and before they can switch to back-ups, something terrible happens and the ship starts to “chain.” Karl manages to get the beginning of a message out about a reactor meltdown and sabotage, and then the spaceship explodes. Zounds! Why is this flashback here, you might ask? Well, on the next page we learn that Azore, who is working on his history, has been reading Karl’s transmission. Raf shows up, and Azore acts somewhat guilty. I wonder why? They make small talk about the present and the past, and Azore mentions that the past can be somewhat disturbing. Raf tells him to come out and have a drink with him, and Azore agrees. Raf reminds him that Bambina is coming home, and he tells Azore that seeing her again should make him feel better. Azore stands with his back to Raf with an evil look on his face. What could it mean? We’ll have to wait, because that ends the issue!
There’s a big problem with this issue as a single issue. It’s really boring. There’s almost no action. we get the beginning scene, where the two workers have the accident. That’s one page, and then we see the aftermath. Then we get the flashback, which is two pages. Other than that, it’s 19 pages of people we don’t know talking to each other about things we don’t quite understand yet. Worley does a nice job letting us know who all the people are, but she fails to make the overall plot – black hole dumping causing something bad on Vega Prime, which is only what I infer from the writing – too comprehensible or interesting. It’s just a lot of vague innuendo, and although I don’t mind vague innuendo too much, there’s too much of it. If you were simply picking this up on a lark, you’re plunged deeply into a world that is extremely complex but not that interesting. Family soap operas set against a space epic background can work very well, but the main story ought to be more interesting. We don’t really get enough information about the black hole dumping or what Azore discovered about the family’s history to compel us to come back for more. Why should we wait for something to happen? There are plenty of other comics where things, you know, do happen!
As I wrote at the top, I like Watkiss’s art. It’s not bad here, although it’s more sharp than his later work, which hurts it, I think. I’m fairly sure the first time I saw his art was in the issue of Starman he did, which came out a few months after this. In that one, as far as I can remember (I’m not digging it out of my long boxes), he was using a more shaded, smokey, ethereal style, which has characterized his art in most of the books I’ve seen him on. It seems to work better than the hard-edged sci-fi style he uses here. Heck, the cover (which is painted, so it’s probably unfair to compare) is better than the interior work. Worley doesn’t give him much to work with, as he is forced to draw people sitting around and talking a lot.
I don’t ever recall seeing this on the stands, nor do I know what happened in subsequent issues or to Tekno Comix overall. In the back of the book, they have ads for a Gene Roddenberry-created comic and a bunch of books “created” by Neil Gaiman. And let’s not forget Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals! Fine entertainment from Tekno Comix! I guess this title in particular was supposed to appeal to sci-fi fans who might not read comics. That’s cool and all, but I don’t think this issue would make people care about finding the first issue or continuing the series. But that’s just one man’s opinion!
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