Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Gene-E #1

The Fairer Sex
Gene-E #1

Wishing won’t help this small press title

Created and Illustrated – Patrick John Rodriguez
Story Consultant – Peter Corless
Color Assist – Navdeep Jhimb
Marketing – Kimberly Rodriguez

You have to love small press publishers and their pluckiness. No matter the odds stacked against them or the lack of discernable talent, nothing prevents these books from being made, ignored, and then pulled into the heavy gravity of the Crapbox. I plucked this guy out of a Half Price 50 cent bin and even at that price I feel rooked. Some of that may be because the book itself lacks a price tag of any kind and this seems like a story you'd have to give away to get people interested in.

It only takes one look at the back cover to see what I mean by this. There is a certain crudity to the art that makes you feel it is too clean or symmetrical. This image is rendered in a joyless manner, even though it depicts a desperate escape from powerful red armored cybernetic humanoids (who look a bit goofy). The picture invokes those teenage drawings on notebook covers that convey an image, but in a passionless, static way. No chance this is going to rise up to even my low Crapbox expectations is my guess going in.

Our host on this outing serves as writer and artist, so we will be heaping all the blame for this one to Patrick John Rodgiguez’s way. He gets assists on story, coloring, and marketing this title, but all of it does little good. What is presented between the two covers is a bit bland on the art side and features a story with a morally questionable protagonist that really doesn’t get going until the very last page. That’s a frustrating development, or non-development or however you want to quantify it.

The big problem I have with Gene-E is that Rodriguez has chosen to tell his story in chronological order, with the entirety of this issue being a historical prologue. All except the last page, which looks like it will be introducing new characters. Those new characters don’t even get a chance to speak before we realize the book is over.

And the comic tale is so historical that our story takes place over a century ago and then jumps forward to the present day. I expect that none of the characters we encounter in the front piece of the book will play a significant role in events over 100 years later. It is fifteen pages of story that would have been better told in a flashback AFTER the author establishes some characters we like that will be around long-term. While the actions here may impact what comes later, because they are disposed of on the last page I see little reason to care about where this story will go next. For that I would need a likable protagonist who will be in the next book.

Instead, we start here: a tiny village outside of Barcelona, Spain, in spring of 1895 and we look in on this couple and their newborn.

I’ll admit that the angle of that bottom panel gave me a fair amount of hope that I’d misjudge the art skills that would be on display. The image isn’t astounding or anything, but it shows a fresh approach to framing and a more competent skill level than that back panel.

Story-wise, we have a couple in love, a newborn baby girl, an injured husband, and a wife who is going to market for her man-on-the-mend. I’m not dissing anything yet, and the book is doing a bit to win me back over.

Then page 2 happens and many things go wrong at once. First the art takes on a that same weird manikin-like look to posing the characters. The faces come off looking like badly rendered video game cutscenes, where a smile can have no warmth, no emotion behind it. 

Combine this with the HUGELY HUGE exposition dump that our main character Cassandra decides to lay on us. She is an interdimensional runaway from the world of Thanos (Marvel lawyers take note) which is many leagues ahead of humanity when it comes to technology. Her husband Eduardo appears to be an Earther who knows of her origins and loves her anyway. I suppose I should count myself lucky that the author didn’t choose to go back to show Cassandra’s escape from Thanos (tm Marvel, 1960-something) and instead started us here. But here isn’t the story he is telling, I believe. 

I believe that because…well, you’ll see.

As Cassandra enters the village general store, three red armor wearing aliens (who are definitely not stormtroopers) surround our interdimensional grocery shopper and demand she surrender herself. Appears Thanos (the planet, not the dude) doesn’t allow people to break its prime directive against helping low technology cultures that might be too warlike or primitive to use the power responsibly. All well and good. 

Cassandra seems to think that there is an ulterior motive at play here by some high ranking official she made mad. Even if there was, that doesn’t mean she isn’t breaking a Star Trek episode’s worth of rules (Next Gen, not TOS. TOS didn’t have rules. Just “things we like to state until it is convenient to ignore them”). So the guards prepare to take her by force.

Okay, so the art take s this sliding scale all the way back down. Thick inked lines, no shading at all, rooms that look draftsman straight. This is barely art. It is more like an architech’s mock-up with some colorforms stuck to it. I find it goofy and ugly.

Even when something like the spring Cassandra does in these two panels makes me lighten my stance a bit…

…as does the bursting through the roof effect. Still, shouldn’t the red guard dudes be prepared for such a maneuver? I mean, they are of the same race, so they knew she could do that, right?

And the guards prove that they knew her powers included something like this because they easily follow her. As she wings through the air on weird electric Christmas tinsel, the guard dudes are hot on her trail using mumbo jumbo science terms and military tactics but at no point do they act surprised by Cassandra’s method of flight. 

Who is surprised by all this? Cassandra’s fellow villagers, who are presented by the author/artist with his first attempts at shading. It becomes evident why none of the preceding pages show the least bit of crosshatching because Rodriguez clearly doesn’t know how to create shadow or texture using this technique. What he does know how to do is make a picture look…odd.

It’s like someone hit this guy in the face with an oily rag and then smeared it all over one side of his neck. And that over the shoulder shot makes his head look like he has one unhealed, stitched up gash across his skull. I get now why we have such sterile panels before this. Rodriguez was clearly playing to his strengths of not creating shadows in prior panels and keeping the art childishly simple. It doesn’t excuse it, but it does make it more understandable.

As we get more townspeople’s reaction shots, we also get this guard flying over the rooftops doing that dance move where you hold your leg bent at the knee and pump it back and forth…

…at least that’s what I think Rodriguez was going for.

Within a few moments the guards have her pinned down behind a two-dimensional representation of a chimney…while panic ensues below, as exemplified by this woman and her two kids.

…and whatever is going on with this old dude who was riding through town in his carriage.

Maybe he had a stroke prior to appearing in this comic? Who can say.

What we can say is that chimney or no, Cassandra is now surrounded by guards…again and they are going shoot beams at her that force her back to the villain from Infinity War. Or something.

The NOT Imperial Guards issue the ultimatum once more…which is redundant, since she isn’t coming along peacefully, and they have every right to just force beam her back for her interference. Instead they threaten her husband’s right to have limbs. Cassandra notices they don’t mention her daughter, hoping that they know nothing about the newborn.

She then incites the town to attack the red fellows whom she terms to be demons. Seems like the townsfolk should also stone her as a supernatural creature for flying over their rooftops recently. No such luck though.

Nope, they start lobbing rocks at the armored interdimensional police. One gets a lucky strike in, and then they all turn on their Christmas tinsel force fields. 

Once rocks prove ineffective, they start shooting at them, which causes the troops to “dissipate into gelatinous electrically charged currents” which reform after a few moments. And once they reform, they are finally done playing around, as evidenced by the weapon they now level at Cassandra. A weapon they could have fired pages and pages ago. 

As for the villagers, they give up on acting against the armored demons and start to pray. I pray too. Pray that the book will be over soon. It will, but first we have to show that Cassandra really ISN’T in the right here.

I have to agree with the faceless Thanosian guard: Cassandra has used these villagers to her own ends heedless to the pain the poor primatives might have inflicted on them by vastly superior technology wielded by people who were not their enemies…all just so that she could escape. She isn’t the hero of this story, she’s the villain.

A villain who clearly doesn’t know she is using people for her own gain. Check out that weird “one eye bigger than the other” stare she gives the guard...

And then they send her back to Thanos (for a quick finger snap, I imagine). The guards then vanish and the town is left to wonder what happened. We don’t see the husband again, nor Cassandra’s little girl. 

No entiendo, indeed.

Last page…skip forward to the present day as three people ride an airplane into Barcelona. They are a mother and father with their teenage daughter (apparently teenage. Might be younger. Hard to tell from one shot). The mother has a journal containing clippings of old newspaper articles showing the events that occurred back in 1895. 

The End.

Could this be Cassandra’s…great granddaughter? I mean, it is over a hundred years later, and it is likely Cassandra’s kid is long dead.

Well, you ain’t going to find out bucko! This is the last page of the book, in its entirety. These characters don’t even get to SPEAK before the issue ends. Big problem with this.

What an awful waste of time on characters we won’t see again. Perhaps Cassandra comes back in the next issue. Seems unlikely since she would be over 100 years old, but who am I to know the aging patterns of interdimensional beings. And perhaps the woman is Cassandra’s child, who also has longevity as one of her attributes. Or the guy is Cassandra’s grandson or great grandson.

And that’s the problem here: the story ends in such a way that you have no idea where it is trying to go and no reason to come back to it. You have ZERO investment in these three. What little investment you had in the prior “protagonist” appears wasted, as she has been written out of the story.

And let’s discuss that for a moment. Cassandra was the villain of this piece. She broke several of her own culture’s laws in coming to our dimension. And while laws may not be just in all cases, she was demonstrably unconcerned about using her superior technological knowledge to make life on Earth easier for herself and her husband, just waiting for the chance to do so in a way that wouldn’t attract attention. That’s kind of selfish.

But the straw breaking this camel’s back has to be using the villagers as pawns in the battle against the soldiers who have come to take her back. She had to know how ineffective their weapons would be against them. In fact, there was really no reason to bring the villagers into the fight at all as they didn’t provide enough of a distraction for her to escape.

I get that she found “true love” on Earth or whatever, but that was AFTER she left her home dimension, not before. It wasn’t her reason for escaping, which makes it unconvincing as an argument as to why she had to break her people’s laws about not affecting other cultures with their dimension-hopping. She did that because she was bored.

Not having a good protagonist to root for is another of the book’s weaknesses. To compound that with removing all of the characters right before the last page kind of kills it though. Why pick up the next issue?

I can’t find info about the book anywhere. I did find the publisher’s site www.legendlab.com, which serves as author/illustrator Patrick Rodriguez’s business development site. Appears he went into computer graphic design and has been getting steady work doing Visualization and Previsualization animations for the Marvel movies. With those mile-long lists of credits after each one, I can’t say that I’ve seen his name there, but it is probably true.

He doesn’t mention Gene-E anywhere on his site, but does show sample pages of two comic stories called Gravitons, which involves five space-football cheerleaders whose spaceship crashlands on a planet filled with robo-zombies and giant monsters. I’m making that sound more appealing than it is. From the pages that are displayed, Rodriguez doesn’t appear to have grown much as an artist, although I do detect him using the color pallet for shading his very bland, almost photo-traced character faces. Judge for yourself though by checking out his link.

As for Gene-E? It's a book that appeared out of a rub of the Crapbox that I wish wouldn't have.

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