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Review: Starfleet Academy – Adorable Tellarite Edition

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

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Ratio on cover is exact opposite of how much the story revolves around these groups of characters (thankfully so).

Writers – Mike Johnson & Ryan Parrot, Artist – Derek Charm

Starfleet Academy is a pitch-perfect addition to the Abrams (Kelvin *ugh*) -verse, much in the same way an earlier Marvel series (of the same name) added to the DS9-verse. The five issue story takes place in 2258 and 2261, following the adventures of the main Trek crew just prior to the events of the 2009 movie, and a group of new recruits competing in the Academy’s centennial celebration contest. The two stories are told roughly concurrently, though more weight is given to the 2261 era crew, and the comic is better for it.

The 2258 arc centers mainly on Uhura, with cameos by Spock, Kirk, Chekov and Robocop from Into Darkness (Admiral Marcus I want to say…?). Uhura and Spock’s relationship is a bit bumpy (all Spock’s fault BTW) and Uhura decides to turn her feelings toward investigating a faint signal she picked up from a lost ship, which turns out to have been lost more than 100 years ago. After she discovers that information about the ship and transmission is classified she enlists the help of first Chekov and then Pine-Kirk to break into the Starfleet Archives for more information. She’s caught, chewed out, and Spock saves the day (and their relationship), but we don’t really know what happened to the lost ship.

The problem with comics about the main crew (especially prequels) is we know where they will end up. The stakes are lower. This was one of the reasons the original Marvel Starfleet Academy was so groundbreaking. Aside from Nog, all of these characters were original to the comic and anything could happen to them (including being killed off in the 5th issue)…

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And this is before the Knightfall-esque cover where a cadet’s back is broken by a Jem Hadar.

The 2261 story centers around T’Laan, a Vulcan cadet struggling with whether to remain in the Academy, or rejoin the rest of her people in establishing a new Vulcan colony. She’s convinced to stay through the Academy’s 100 year celebration competition by the most adorable Tellarite instructor in the history of the series in return for him expediting her withdrawal from the Academy should she still decide to leave after the contest.

Isn't he the cutest thing?

Isn’t he the cutest thing?

Lets take a minute to admire Derek Charm’s artwork which is dare I say … Charm-ing.

For those of you still left after the horrendous pun, Derek Charm does manage to inject a lighter tone to this story without taking away from some of the real conflict going on with T’Laan. This a brighter and more cartoonish interpretation of these characters, but never in a way that feels like a cartoon. It’ll probably be more engaging to a younger audience, but still with a lot to offer older readers like me. The ship design work melds well with some of Beyond’s new effects we see from the trailer.

T’Laan’s teammates are the usual mix, a haughty Andorian, a girl who built her own exo-rig, a brainy human, and a Monchezkin who is only just now learning to use spoken communication.

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This character is played largely for humor, sometimes more effectively than others. We’ve seen literal characters like this before (one of the reasons I love Anya from Buffy), but this plays a little differently. Overall, he’s a nice one to throw into the mix of all these misfit cadets.

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The comic has a good mix of ups and downs for our little crew, playing a lot better than some of the challenges Wesley faced in his Academy testing episodes in Season 1 of TNG. It ties the two storylines together in the final issue quite well and leaves things open for us to spend more time with these characters again.

My only quibble is I don’t think we really needed the main crew storyline. All of the discovery and risk parts of the storyline could have been taken on by T’Laan and her group, who could have been plausibly kicked out of the Academy unlike Uhura. The Spock/Uhura relationship stuff doesn’t add much to their story that we didn’t already get from the 2009 movie. And Uhura doesn’t get to solve the mystery and has to wait till this new group comes along, so it’s not particularly satisfying for her either.

But overall this is a fun tale, which is one of the best characteristics of the new movies. It integrates more serious events like the destruction of Vulcan without being morbid. Definitely a good comic to read in advance of seeing the movie. Hope there are more tales to be told with T’Laan (and the lovable Tellarite).

(5 stars | Some of IDW’s best Trek work with the new universe)

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Your Essential Star Trek Beyond Comics Checklist

Star Trek Beyond comes out later this week, and all this week on the blog I will be celebrating my life-long love of Star Trek (as if I really needed the excuse).

Did you know that Star Trek comics are canon? To be specific, we’re talking about the Star Trek Ongoing and Countdown related series which are supervised by Roberto Orci. Gone are the days of having to ret-con a recovered Spock off his own ship back to mind-melded confusion (re: the effect of Star Trek III and IV on DC’s Star Trek Volume 1). We even occasionally get a mention in the new movies of events in the comics. Did you hear that throwaway line about “The Mudd Incident” in Into Darkness? That was for the comics nerds. All one of us.

Who knows if any of this stuff is going to affect Beyond. Probably not, but here are some comics that should at least get you in the mood for the new movie.

The Legacy of Spock (Star Trek Ongoing Issues 55-58): This is a fitting elegy to Leonard Nimoy, bridging the gap between the end of the 2009 Star Trek movie and the establishment of the new Vulcan colony. Turns out the Vulcans want to colonize Seti Alpha V, which prime Spock knows is a bad idea because it’s going to become a hellish wasteland when Seti Alpha VI explodes (see TWOK). But the Vulcans aren’t too eager to listen to Spock as there are more than a few who blame him for failing to stop Nero and the destruction of their home. Spock becomes an exile and is forced to rely on unlikely allies to save the last of his people from themselves, and from two remaining members of Nero’s crew who get their hands on the last few drops of red matter. There are some great cameos from characters from both TOS and TNG and the last few pages of 58 might even bring a tear to your eye. (The latest issue, 59, has new Quinto Spock waking up in Nichelle Nichols Uhura’s bed. Scandal.)

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Star Trek Manifest Destiny: A limited series similar to the two countdown series that preceded the prior two movies. The events of this will probably have little affect on the plot, but the tone appears similar with a vicious enemy taking over the ship. You can read my review from a few weeks ago here. Read 53-54 on Ongoing as well to get a lead-up story to the Kai character.

Star Trek Starfleet Academy: I’ll probably review this later this week, but this series bridges two timelines, the early academy days of Uhura, Spock, and Kirk and a crew of new recruits competing in the academy’s 100 year celebration a few years later. In the past Uhura stumbles across a transmission from a lost NX class ship and risks her academy career to find out the truth about a possible mutiny. In the present a Vulcan student is torn between her desire to join the rest of her people to preserve her race, and her wish to continue a career in Starfleet. She’s teamed up with a diverse set of students, including a race that is just learning verbal communication which leads to some great comedy. The new team stumbles upon Uhura’s research and possibly even the lost ship. The series explores the early ups and downs of the Spock/Uhura relationship, and does a nice job of integrating NX ships and Star Trek: Enterprise into the Ongoing series (both these elements look to be explored in Beyond as well).

Star Trek/Green Lantern – The Spectrum War: Hear me out on this one. Even though the reviews of Beyond are turning out to be favorable, it’s probably wise to not let your expectations get too high. If the movie is only so-so, at least you’ll be able to say it was better than this sin against nature. Sadly at some point I still need to review this for NetGalley.

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Star Trek Vol 9: The Q Gambit: Another run I’ve previously reviewed. The high-water mark of the whole Ongoing series. Much better than their frankly disappointing attempts at Mirror-Mirror. Check out my review here.

If you have time for only one, read Starfleet Academy. It’s tonally the most fun, and serves as a nice bridge between all parts of the current new Trek Trilogy.

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Review: Star Trek – Manifest Destiny

Star Trek: Manifest Destiny

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Writers – Mike Johnson & Ryan Parrot, Artist – Angel Hernandez

Prior to the release of each of the new Trek films IDW has released a four-issue “Countdown” series. The first Star Trek: Countdown fleshed out the character of Nero and tied the universes of old Star Trek canon with the Abrams-verse*. Countdown to Darkness, perhaps in part because it couldn’t reveal anything about Khan, is a weaker tale of Robert April still implausibly being able to use his old command codes to take over the Enterprise. Its only tie to the movie is Mudd’s ship from “The Mudd Incident” i.e. Countdown to Darkness. While Manifest Destiny isn’t explicitly a countdown series, it’s doing some of the same work of setting the tone for the new movie.

It seems a little odd that this was split off as its own tale, as what we’re really getting is another continuing adventure of the Pine-Kirk crew following Issue #54 of the Ongoing series. While Manifest Destiny was running, Issues #55-58 of Ongoing had its own mini-series, Legacy of Spock, following the events of Prime Spock between 2009 Trek and Into Darkness (incidentally this is the tale the earlier Spock: Reflections wishes it could have been). It would have made more sense to me to have Manifest Destiny as part of Ongoing, and to split off the Spock tale separately, but such are the vagaries of the comics industry.

As for the plot of Manifest Destiny it follows a light-skinned Klingon commander named Sho’Tokh (not the albino from “Blood Oath“, I checked) who is determined to seek glory at any cost, especially the cost of his own men. After luring the Enterprise in with a fake distress call, he begins an all out assault on the ship including a battle directly on the hull to gain entry (always cool in my book). The majority of the tale is spent with Kirk and crew fighting the Klingons from within the Enterprise, while McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu are captured by the Klingon crew. Turns out the Klingons aren’t too happy with their commander’s tactics, with letting them be killed and all, and want the Enterprise crew to help them defeat Sho’Tokh before he gets them all killed.

IDW’s Trek tales have never had problems with the visuals. We get good likenesses of the whole crew, great Klingon ship designs that are a blend of new movie sensibilities and classic design, and the Enterprise looks as good or better than it does on screen. The fight scene on the hull of the ship is too closely drawn to feel like we’re out in space, and I don’t think the Bat’leth needed a redesign, but that’s a taste thing. I’ve never been a fan of the Klingons from Into Darkness, but I do get that they’re trying to blend what we saw in Next Gen with TOS sensibilities.

The story is serviceable, and sets up a tale of Kirk’s ship being overwhelmed by a superior and determined force which we’ll probably be seeing in Beyond as well. There’s a through-line of McCoy being disgusted with some old attitudes, then discovering that some Klingons aren’t just interested in killing, but this isn’t consistently handled. We do see McCoy and Uhura being capable in a fight which is always good.

The attack itself is brutal, tearing apart the ship and crew. We lose a character whose tale we were just served in #53-54 of Ongoing and Klingons are at their most animistic and brutal. We forget sometimes with the TNG and DS9 Klingons that they are a warrior race who have a killer nature. Not so here. In some ways this tale makes me wish that Klingons would have been a bigger threat in the movies than they actually are. Sho’Tokh is a little one-note, a little expository at weird moments, and undone largely by cowardice, but other Klingons are drawn with a sense of honor. Kudos to the person who included all the Klingon swearing (there were a few really deep cuts). Also we do see enough of Klingon medicine to know we would rather be treated at a bus-station.

This story is action-packed if not very heady. It’s better than Countdown to Darkness, but I doubt it will have much tie with the movie. There are a few character moments that won’t make sense to you if you haven’t been keeping up with Ongoing, but the tale is largely stand-alone. My favorite part of the whole series are the subscriber covers which I think is a neat idea even if some of you might consider them sacrilege:

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There’s also a Klingon variant which is basically just another way to get you to spend money unless you’re really a geek. Overall the series is worth a look as part of getting yourself in the mood for the new movie.

(3.5 Stars | 4 for the NetGalley rating. Better than some of the Countdown series and a higher mark than a lot of Ongoing, but still not IDW’s best)

*I am aware of the term Kelvin-verse and refuse to use it.

** Note: I received issue 1 from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Since I’m a collector, I now have all 4 and this review covers the whole series.

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Ten Forward: TNG – Perchance To Dream (Comic Book)

Perchance To Dream (Collected in Star Trek Classics Vol. 2: Enemy Unseen)

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Writer – Keith R. A. DeCandido, Artists – Peter Pachoumis, Scott Benefiel, Lucian Rizzo and Jason Martin

This 4-issue mini-series was part of the short but largely successful run of comics from Wildstorm DC. DC comics had long held the Star Trek license (from 1984-1996), but briefly lost it to Marvel from 1996-1998. When they reacquired the license in 1999 instead of picking up a new ongoing series, they ran a number of mini-series and longer graphic novel stories, create some of the most interesting, moving, and beautiful Star Trek comics to date.

Perchance to Dream takes place between All Good Things (the TNG finale) and Star Trek Generations (which shows the destruction of the Enterprise D). Worf and Deanna Troi and in a relationship, and many of the crew have transitioned to wearing the DS9 style uniforms. Data is exploring his dream program, and contemplating the ramifications of installing the emotion chip (which he later does in Generations).

Data’s anxiety about the emotion chip is expressed in a dream about the destruction of the Enterprise, specifically the Enterprise crashing into the surface of a planet (something we’d see in Generations). Data experiences fear, anxiety and helplessness for the first time, and is unsure where these emotions are coming from.

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Meanwhile the Enterprise is dispatched to Damiano to beef up security for the inauguration of their new leader. The Damiano are a three-gendered species with no direct equivalents to male or female (leading to some interesting drawing choices by the comic’s artists). Their new leader Ra’ch is in a relationship with only one other person, a taboo among religious extremists but largely accepted by the planet’s majority. The moralists have threatened to assassinate the Governor if she does not step down.

After several attempts to assassinate the Governor are thwarted by the Enterprise crew, the leader of the moralists, Je’tran, unleashes an ancient weapon called the Chova upon the Enterprise which attacks people in their sleep and with waking nightmares of their greatest fears and failures.

Star Trek doesn’t have much of a reputation for dealing with LGBT issues and when it does they kind of run both ends of the gambit. Episodes like The Outcast do an okay job of setting up the allegory for intolerant society, but episodes like The Host still demonstrate fairly conventional ideas about gender (though to be fair to Dr. Beverly, two body switches would be a bit much to take in).

Perchance to Dream does a little better in some regards, while still falling prey to Star Trek’s weaknesses at other moments. Ra’ch is self-assured in her identity and is defiant and powerful in her defense of her choices (as a leader should be). So too the Starfleet crew is largely supportive and does not even treat her choices as an issue except in dealing with the threat of the moralists. I even think the comic gets points for breaking gender binaries, showing men with breasts and mustaches, women who are stronger or equivalent to males, and its that never seem to have much of a clear definition. Thankfully the comic doesn’t get too indulgent on this front, and handles the issue tastefully if a bit comically at points.

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BTW, the horns are not part of the headgear, but are actually coming out the Damiano’s heads. Makes you kinda wonder how they get the headgear on.

The moralist dialog is pretty bad, and makes me kind of wish the comic had left these scenes out. These are clearly the bad guys to the point that they actually have lines like “we have an assassination to plan.” Oof, a little on the nose. I’m not saying these characters should be sympathetic, but making them so comically evil removes the discussion of changing attitudes or why people think the way they do. Another Star Trek comic (which I’ll cover later), does a better job of delving into why people might have intolerant (if incorrect) attitudes. Tolerating or changing peoples minds on an issue involves understanding how they think. Instead of making Je’tran comically evil, I think it’d be better if it was a faceless plot, or one that came from a more nuanced place (from a storytelling perspective at least).

One of the highlights of the issues is how the Enterprise crew ultimately defeats the Chova. Apparently the device can’t function in people with multiple personalities. And who on the Enterprise crew has more than one person swimming in their head? You guessed it, Picard.

TNG never really explored the psychological impact of Picard living an entire adult life in the space of 30 minutes, being assimilated, and mind-melding with elderly and emotional Vulcan. To defeat the Chova, Picard must undergo a mind-meld to bring these parts of himself to the fore, and then battle to keep other parts of him from becoming too dominant. If the whole comic was just this, it would be worth the price of admission. The way in which Picard keeps himself centered on reality (“There Are Four Lights”) also speaks to some of the trauma he’s been through. This is a rare peak inside a staid exterior to see the turmoil within.

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There are other gems too. Explorations of Worf’s motivations for self-control. A lot of callbacks to previous TNG episodes from every season. There’s a sense of continuity of experience here that is usually lacking in the show. Points deducted for another alien race with apostrophes for names (you could have just called them Rach and Jetran). Bonus points for making Je’tran a television host of his own show a la The O’Reilly Factor. The thought balloon stuff was a little much, and Worf would definitely have check security outside the arena but these are nitpicks.

This comic would have made a great episode, even while it demonstrates the things that are better conveyed in comics. One of the better entries from Wildstorm’s brief run, and definitely worth your time. This story and two other TNG tales are collected in digital form in Star Trek: Enemy Unseen, available as part of the Classics series from IDW.

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Review: Rat Queens Vol. 1 – Sass & Sorcery

Hey Ben, did you read anything over vacation you actually liked? As a matter of fact, yes…

Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery

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Writer – Kurtis J. Weibe, Artist – Roc Upchurch

One might be tempted to classify Rat Queens as a parody of fantasy adventuring stories, but in reality it’s a character-driven exciting world with some familiar tropes. It isn’t a series that takes itself too seriously, but that serves to elevate the more emotional moments when they happen (more in the second volume than this first outing).

As with most Volume 1’s, Sass & Sorcery introduces us to the eponymous Rat Queens: Hannah (a mage), Dee (a healer), Violet (a female dwarf with a shaved beard, their fighter), and Betty (an over-sexed, violent, tiny elf-like thing called a Smidgen). The Queens are a rabble-rousing bunch who’ve gotten in one bar-fight too many, and have been tasked by the town sheriff to take on a quest, or to get their butts out of town. As it turns out this whole thing is just a setup to get the Queens, and a number of other rowdy adventuring troops, all killed. The Queens and remaining survivors of the other groups must track down who’s trying to kill them, while also fighting off a Goblin horde that threatens to destroy the city.

Honorable mention goes to the Vulcan-like Obsidian Darkness whose quest is to clean the toilets in the Winding Pass barracks. Something about this group’s deadpan delivery and complete acceptance of the dirty task made seeing them all killed kind of sad, but in a funny way.

The comic relies a bit heavily on ultra-violence in this early outing, something that tempers as the series goes along, though this is mostly played to comedic effect. Betty skewers a pair of goblin eyes and offers them to Hannah as fresh ingredients. Hannah gets her arm quite realistically crushed by the aforementioned goblin. An assassin is smashed to giblets by a goblin’s hammer. You get the idea.

The final architect of the Rat Queen’s demise is both someone you’d never expect, and yet that makes a certain kind of sense. The comic does a good job of setting up the next arc, providing closure to the events of this volume, while hinting at bigger and multi-legged threats to come.

The character designs are unique and all say something about the individual women that isn’t revealed up front. The dots under Dees eyes may look cool but they mean something too. And what’s with Hannah’s weird hairdo? What does Violet look like with a beard? For answers to these questions you’ll need to read further. Honorable mention also goes to Orc Dave who has blue birds of healing that live in his beard. It looks adorable.

The jokes are funny, there’s effective use of coarse language and in-universe expressions of surprise. The plot is intriguing while still allowing for many character moments and asides. As a first outing this volume is great fun. And it only gets better from here.

(4 Stars | Only because I want you to think the 5 Stars I’m giving Volume 2 actually mean something)

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Review: Galaxy Quest – The Journey Continues

I’m back from vacation and that means I read a lot of comic books. Here’s a review of one of them.

Galaxy Quest: The Journey Continues

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Writer – Erik Burnham, Artists – Nacho Arranz, Roger Robinson

I was pretty excited when I heard this series was coming out, and doubly so when it was available on NetGalley. Galaxy Quest is one my favorite camp movies and we just recently watched it after the passing of Alan Rickman (probably not the most fitting tribute but to each his own). So perhaps my disappointment with this comic series is due to high expectations, but I’ll leave that for you to judge.

The comic series picks up several years after the events of the movie. The cast is still together and are doing the Con circuit in anticipation of the third season of the new show. The security guy is contemplating a spin off series, a move that is annoying some of the main cast, blah blah TV machinations.

The main story involves the consequences of using the Omega 13 in the movie. An alien race that managed to lead a successful revolt against a technocratic oppressive government, fails when the timeline is reset and the government is able to repel the rebellion. Members of the rebellion enlist the Galaxy Quest crew (plus the Apple commercial kid) to take down a super-weapon and correct the mistake they caused. I think this was an interesting set up premise, that then failed in execution.

This comic had several execution problems starting with a Deus Ex Machina ending. Apparently humans are immune to the death ray thingy for “reasons” and so are able to destroy it without a hitch (spoiler?). The B-plot of aliens posing as the main crew at the cons is underdeveloped and could have been a real source of humor which the comic largely lacked. Also, the lack of likeness rights made it difficult to tell characters apart (particularly when not in their makeup). And Burnham’s writing of Rickman in particular reduced that character to griping the entire time. Perhaps in the hands of Rickman the lines would have come across better, but he didn’t seem quite as pouty in the movie, at least to me.

The setup at the end for “continuing adventures” borrows the plotline from the beginning of the four issue arc, and seems like a rushed attempt to make this a continuing series, which I doubt it will be. BTW, the transporter body switching gag was not as funny as they’d hoped it was. Futurama’s return did a similar episode to much better effect (particularly Scruffy’s appearance at the end). The comic tried to do some callbacks (fan-service) to the movie, but these came across just as references and not as actual humor.

IDW’s doing a run of “nostalgia comics” from Ghostbusters, to Back to the Future, and Galaxy Quest, to varying effect. Of those three, I’d say this was the worst of the lot.

(2.5 Stars | I’ll give it a three on NetGalley, but you’re better off just re-watching the movie)

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Review: Rot & Ruin – Warrior Smart

Rot & Ruin: Warrior Smart

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Writer – Jonathan Maberry, Artists – Alex Ronald & Tony Vargas

Continuing the adventures of the apparently popular book series, Rot & Ruin: Warrior Smart finds a band of teenagers wandering the zombie infested countryside searching for a jet they may have seen (and that never comes up again) only to soon find themselves trapped on a farm with crazy breeders.

Let me back up a bit.

What looks interesting and cool about this series is the kid with the sword. We get the idea that this is going to be kind of a wandering samurai kind of book set in a zombie apocalypse (zombies here are called “rotters”). The other teenagers have some “backstory” to explain the various types: the city kid, the feral jungle girl, the crazy redhead, and the aforementioned sword wielding kid dealing with the loss of his brother.

This whole volume feels like it could have been an episode of The Walking Dead, and not in a good way. It is humorless, and adds little to the zombie canon (we still have to make ourselves smell bad and move slow to trick the zombies). I did like the idea of labyrinths and written instructions as a way to weed out zombies, and the idea that zombies only really move when there are brains to eat, but I suspect these aren’t really new ideas, just things I hadn’t encountered before.

But my biggest complaint is how much the story telegraphs a “shocking” plot-point, and then spends the rest of the volume dwelling on that point.

Our (heroes?) are saved by a pregnant young girl and are taken to a farm with a lot of strapping young men, no women in sight except for some in their 50’s, and very little visible animal life, including the mysterious “cows.” If you’ve been reading this genre for more than 10 minutes you know that the “cows” (*Spoiler alert I guess*) are going to be the pregnant young women, all locked in a barn, and sure enough we readers find this out maybe 10 pages later. Our main characters don’t realize it until a full chapter later, to the point that I thought the big reveal was going to be some other even more horrible thing these farmers were doing (not to say that the cow thing isn’t horrible, because it is).

What I object to most about the “cows” is that it is only in this story for shock value. There are a lot of interesting motivations to explore here, maybe even some parallels to human trafficking, but the writer treats the women like the cattle the farmers believe them to be. We get no personal narratives, no women making this choice for themselves, they’re just brainwashed and don’t want to leave. This isn’t what we thought this story would be about. Weren’t we going after some jet or something?

There are long drawn out and implausible fights. People fight, get captured, ramble a bit, escape, fight, get captured, and finally escape again. And the conclusion is that kids aren’t monsters I guess because they chose not to kill one guy, even though they killed many other people in trying to escape, and pretty much left the farm at the mercy of the rotters.

*Blecch*

You know what would be cool? Take the classic manga Rurouni Kenshin, steeped in Meiji era politics, and just add zombies. That would be the zombie samurai epic we deserve. That would add a whole new dimension to the whole “I’m not going to kill anybody” arc of Kenshin. Would Kenshin kill Zombies? Nobuhiro Watsuki, I’m looking at you.

Orororo.

(2 Stars | Even for zombie faire this was terrible)

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