A review a day: Neozoic
Oh, the high concept! Who doesn’t love high concepts?!?!?!?
As far as it goes, Neozoic has a pretty good one. In Earth’s distant past, a spaceship crashes into an asteroid and alters its course, which means it smashes into Earth’s moon instead of landing on the planet. This means there’s no environmental catastrophe and no mass extinction of the dinosaurs. 65 million years later, dinosaurs and humans exist side-by-side. Deal with it!
This trade, which collects eight issues, is written by Paul Ens, drawn by Jay Korim, colored by Jessie Lam, and lettered by (sigh) Troy Peteri (if you look at the scans, this is what I’m talking about when I say I don’t like Peteri’s work). It’s published by Red 5 Comics and comes with a price tag of $24.95, but you do get a big chunk of comics for that price. I don’t think it’s totally worth it, but it’s not a bad comic.
Ens’s story is certainly ambitious. The nominal lead is a woman named Lilli Murko, who’s there on the cover. She’s a member of the Predator Defense League, soldiers who keep the perimeter of the human settlements clear of dinosaurs. Monanti City, where the action takes place, is often besieged by the dinosaurs, so the PDL is an important and highly honored part of society. Early on the story, Lilli rescues a “Talpid,” a gray-colored girl who happens to be hanging out in the middle of a group of dinosaurs. She takes the girl back to the city, which apparently isn’t a great idea. Talpids are some kind of different race, obviously, and they’re forbidden in the city. So the girl’s people launch an attack against the Monanti (as Lilli’s people are called) and war breaks out (although, as we find out, their motivations are more sinister than rescuing the girl). That’s the main plot, as the Monanti fight against the Talpids and the dinosaurs that are under their thrall. Ens follows several characters throughout the book, as different people fight their individual battles in different ways until Lilli, who fled into the forest with the girl, returns to help with the insurrection. Because she brought the Talpid girl into the city, she’s considered a traitor, so that adds an interesting layer of tension to the proceedings – we know she’s fighting to save the city from the Talpids, but her own people don’t.
Ens also makes sure religion is an important part of the story. The Monanti worship what they call the “Triety,” and the king, Ulas, is “divinely appointed.” Ens does a good job showing that the religion is simply part of the characters’ lives while also letting us know that, like any other form of government, more secular concerns often trump spiritual concerns. Ens doesn’t explain the religion too much, but he does point out that the Monanti believe that they ought to be separate from everyone else, which is partly why Lilli bringing a Talpid girl into the city is such an affront. It’s a nice look at religious discrimination, because Ens portrays it as both a positive and negative force in the community. Which religion often is, after all.
The story isn’t too deep, of course. It’s an action/fantasy story, so Ens gives us plenty of action, from sword fights to dinosaur-killing to property damage. It’s a fun read, although Ens doesn’t really explain some crucial things. We don’t ever learn too much about the Talpids and why they look like they do. I understand that Ens probably has more stories planned (this is listed as “volume 1″ and there was a new story for FCBD this year), but even if he does give us more Neozoic, that seems kind of important. They’re apparently telepathic and have some control over the dinosaurs, but we don’t know much else. It feels like a big hole in the middle of the story. Ens also doesn’t really think too much about this society and its technological capabilities. At a few points it appears they have video cameras, but otherwise, there’s no evidence of any electronic technology, which seems really odd. Everyone fights with non-mechanical weapons (swords, bows) and they ride horses, elephants, or tame herbivorous dinosaurs. Maybe the camera isn’t actually a camera. If it is, it’s weird. And if this is supposed to be taking place in the “present” but in an alternate universe, why haven’t humans made more technological advances? Simply because of the presence of dinosaurs? It’s possible, I suppose. The cameras still bug me.
Korim is a decent but not great artist. He does a nice job with the world, which looks like a place where dinosaurs would live alongside humans. Monanti City is a riot of Asian/Middle Eastern/Meso-American architecture, and Korim has a lot of energy in his action scenes, which is good in a comic like this. The biggest problem with the art is that all the characters who are about the same age look the same. The king is bald, bearded, and old, so we can tell who he is, and Clawson is also an older man, so he’s distinguishable, but Korim draws all the young people very similar, and occasionally, with such a big cast, it’s tough to tell who’s who. Even the hair styles are similar with both the men and the women – they’re of the length that would be called “short” on women but a bit long on men, even though they’re the same length, and all the hair is a bit shaggy. The women have smaller eyes and noses than the men, but otherwise, everyone looks vaguely the same (a few men have facial hair, too, so there’s that). It’s a bit frustrating. Ens usually keeps good track of the characters, so it’s not confusing for too long, but Lilli, for instance, looks very much like Petra, so when they’re both running around kicking ass, it’s occasionally disorienting.
Neozoic is an enjoyable comic, to be sure. Ens doesn’t dig too deeply into the society of the Monanti (or the Talpid), but he does a good job showing how dinosaurs, which (from what we know about them) were pretty terrifying, would have an impact on humanity. I didn’t love this comic, but I liked reading it. Perhaps you will too!
Tomorrow: An unbeatable bargain!