It's the comic that Diamond didn't want you to see ... revealed!!!!!
Okay, so Warlord of Io wasn't exactly the comic Diamond didn't want you to see. It was more the cause célèbre back when Diamond introduced their new benchmarks, because the individual issues didn't get listed, as Diamond claimed the pre-orders were just too pathetic to warrant a place in their oh-so-precious catalogue. So James Turner, in the grand tradition of nonconforming Canadians everywhere (who can forget the Canadians' valiant war of independence from their English overlords ... oh, wait a minute), decided to offer the single issues as downloadable files and keep making his comic.
As a proud, iPad-less Luddite, I decided to wait until a collection was offered in olde-tyme printed format. And lo, SLG has printed up a collection, placed a $14.95 price tag on it, and offered it to the world. Take that, Diamond!
I've been a fan of James Turner since Nil: A Land Beyond Belief, so I was certainly vexed that his single issues wouldn't get printed. But Turner's sprawling opera always work better in collected format, anyway (Rex Libris, which came out in single issue format, certainly does), so I didn't mind waiting. The question is, of course, was this worth the wait? Well, I can certainly recommend it, even though plot-wise, it's fairly standard. I know there aren't that many plots and writers have to make what they can with the plots they have, which is why this is better than some of the other books I've read recently with standard plots, because the fun of Turner's comics is in the details, both the art and the random dialogue. The plot of this book is simple: Zing, the dissolute heir to the throne of the Ion empire (yes, the moon of Jupiter), is pressed into service when his long-reigning father, Zoz, retires to the Pleasure Domes of Zur (where he's surrounded by "enormous breasted space Amazons in zero gravity"). Zing simply wants to play video games and rock 'n' roll all day, so he's a bit put out by this promotion.
Almost immediately, his friend/love interest Moxy convinces him to make Io a better place to live, but to do that he needs money, so he slashes the military budget. The head of the military, General Grymak, leads a coup against Zing, and the rest of the book deals with Zing and Moxy trying to get away from the might of Io's military while Zing is forced to grow up a bit. In case you can't tell from the cover, Tiki Space Pirates are involved. I didn't plan for a comic with Tiki Space Pirates to be featured on Talk Like a Pirate Day, but that's just how powerful pirates really are!
While the plot hews very closely to epics the world over, Turner tells the story with a lot of verve and humor. The best thing about Turner's writing is that he's wryly humorous, throwing some jokes at us but more just revealing humor through the characters and their strange worlds. In this book, it's Jupiter's satellite system, as Grymak allies himself and betrays the armies of other Jovian moons. Grymak and his advisors are imbeciles, but Turner is more interested in satirizing the bureaucracy of government, so their behavior is deliberately heightened to buffoon levels. There are running jokes about Grymak's anger at being contradicted (to the point where no one tells him bad news because they fear for their lives), the mindlessness of the crews chasing Zing and Moxy, the faux-courage of the commanders who order their underlings to sacrifice themselves but don't make the same sacrifices - epitomized by this sequence ...
... and the cutthroat business of politics, as Grymak actually promotes a female of a species that eats their mates and sucks out their brains (those who protest this are "just jealous," according to Grymak). The bad guys in the book are supposed to be ridiculous, because Turner wants to show the insanity of following some traditions, even into an abyss. Meanwhile, Zing is a kooky stereotype, but that's also deliberate on Turner's part - Zing doesn't want the job, obviously, but when he and Moxy go on the run, Turner surprises us by making Moxy a bit more bloodthirsty than we might expect and Zing more thoughtful - if thoughtful is the word for a 26-year-old slacker - than he at first seems. Zing comes to understand the decisions inherent in ruling, with Moxy helping him understand that ruling means making the tough decisions, whether they're right or not. Warlord of Io isn't terribly deep, but it is deeper than you might expect when you begin reading. Turner has a lot of fun with it (off the top of my head, the American Idol-type audition that Zing goes to is a highlight, because the Simon Cowell stand-in is even crueller than Cowell himself), but he also makes sure that, even if the plot is conventional, the details matter. And Turner is good at details.
This is most evident in the art, which is typically magnificent. I have no idea how Turner creates his art - the space battles in this book are obviously 3-D computer images, and I'm sure he does everything on a computer, but I don't know precisely how he does it. Turner's art is always where his imagination goes nuts, and while his writing is often witty, funny, and precise, his art is packed with wild details that make his worlds come alive. This might be his best job yet, as he fills the spaces with all sorts of odd creatures from the Jovian system, things with fronds and suckers and bulbous heads and reptilians heads and insectoid arms and all sorts of wild appendages. Turner makes sure the art is fluid, too - working on a computer often means artists take shortcuts, but Turner isn't as lazy as that. He fills the panels with things and makes sure each panel shows either different weird things or the previous weird things in different positions, indicating movement as the principals move throughout the scene. Here's an amazing sequence as Zing tries to get his bodyguard unstuck from the hull of his space ship:
The background is always changing as the debris spins lazily through the void. The Tiki markers drift in almost by accident, belying the danger their presence signifies. It's a wonderful little scene, and Turner does a wonderful job with the backgrounds. He also gives us this nice scene when the ambassadors of the Jovian system assemble in Grymak's throne room:
Finally, we get a few full page spreads of the rebellion across Io when Grymak goes too far. Look at the wondrous creatures and details Turner packs into these scenes:
This comic is truly a visual feast. Turner's attention to detail, both in the art and the language, makes this a much longer read than if he stuck to the basic plot (that's not a criticism). Because of this, the book is far more interesting than just a tale about an heir trying to regain a throne he never wanted in the first place. This is what I mean when I say that while the plots may stay the same, it's what a creator does with it that's important.
I suppose I'm a bit pre-disposed to like Turner's work because he's never disappointed me yet. Warlord of Io isn't quite a deep as Nil was and it's not as out-and-out crazy fun as Rex Libris, but it's as funny as those other works and it shows Turner's artistic improvements very nicely. Plus, Tiki Space Pirates!!!!!!
Tomorrow: I start to review my convention comics. That should be fun!