Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs | Sam Hiti’s Death-Day

Death-Day, Part OneWritten and Illustrated by Samuel HitiEdited by Joseph MidthunLa Luz Comics; $19.95

One of the coolest things about Sam Hiti’s work is his ability to tell insane adventure stories in a truly artistic way. His distinct, Latin-influenced style combines with his fantastically wild imagination to create unique worlds full of monsters and demons and fascinating tough guys willing to kill them. His previous graphic novel, Tiempos Finales was the story of a man named Mario for whom monster-hunting was a holy calling. Mario looked like he started in a Sergio Leone Western, but spent time with Hellboy before readers got to meet him. The seaside community he protected had Spanish architecture combined with ancient South American iconography. The monsters and other creatures in the book came straight from Hell. It was an amazing, imaginative book. And now he’s topped it.

Death-Day has a very different tone from Tiempos Finales (it's much more sci-fi than spiritual fantasy), but there are similarities in the storytelling style that reminded me of what it was like reading Tiempos Finales for the first time. Both books take their time unfolding the story. The art is densely packed, especially in the beginning, demanding that readers spend time taking in the panels and exploring their details. Because of that, the world gets into your head and you enter it. By the time the prologue is done, it’s a real place.

It’s a horrifying place too: a completely alien world filled with six-limbed monsters and floating, invulnerable orbs. Both of which are hostile to the human soldiers who’ve been stranded there. Though the first book (there will be four total when Hiti’s done) is divided into a prologue and four “episodes,” there are three basic stories going on it. The first is about a massive offensive the humans are mounting against the orbs. Told mainly from the perspective of the officers coordinating the strategy in their war room, the scene reveals that the humans are assisted – or is that controlled? – by a computer called Mother-0. The story cuts away before the final results of the initiative are revealed, but success isn’t the only thing called into question in the scene. One of the officers accuses Mother-0 of being in league with the Black Orb, the entity that seems to control the other orblings. How much should the humans be trusting their computer?

The second story takes place years after the first one and is the focus of most of the book. It’s about a six-man unit that’s just lost its commander in a freak accident. As they wait for a new captain, we get to know the men. Number Two wears a strange breathing apparatus and is something of an outsider. Number Three is a scientist who’s more interested in finding a way to sustain life on the alien planet than he is in fighting orbs. Numbers Four and Five are chatty buddies who provide comic relief. Number Six is the no-nonsense second-in-command who tries to keep the others in line. None of them could have predicted what their new Number One would be like.

The new commander is a scar-faced, one-armed cyborg who introduces himself by stripping the team of its name and the men of their badges. Renaming them X-Unit, he announces that they’ve been assigned a secret mission straight from Mother-0 that even the top human leaders know nothing about. They’re hunting the Black Orb itself. Apparently the attack from the prologue wasn’t completely successful.

As X-1 tries to get his men ready for their commando mission, he learns the hard way that he’s got his work cut out for him. X-6 and X-2 seem willing and able, but X-4 and X-5 aren’t that swift and X-3 has his own, deadly agenda.

While that story is still being worked out, the third story begins. It’s the events of the prologue again, but told this time from the perspective of the soldiers; particularly X-1 and the vital role he played in the attack. By the end of it, you understand how all three stories are connected and are excited to see what’s coming next. Of course, that’s where Hiti introduces one more cool twist before ending the volume with a To Be Continued.

But though the story’s incomplete, I couldn’t help feeling satisfied. The world is so whole, the concept is so thorough, the characters are so well-rounded, and the whole thing just looks so cool that reading it was a fulfilling experience. Knowing that there are three more volumes to come just makes it better.

And while I'm highly recommending Death-Day, I do have a question for you guys too. What other books can you recommend to me and each other that successfully tell fun, adventure stories in a unique, artistic way? I need something to keep me going while I'm waiting for Death-Day, Part Two.

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