Review time! with <i>Genetiks</i> volume 1

Sigh. Yes, volume 1. I'll get to that!

The second comic that the fine folk at Archaia sent me recently is Genetiks, which is both a pretty good and very frustrating comic.

It's written by Richard Marazano (who also laid the book out) and the art is by Jean-Michel Ponzio, and it costs $19.95. It's good because of reasons I'll get into below, and it's frustrating because it's only volume 1, and I'm always wary of books like this that promise a long-running story in several volumes but which never even make it to a volume 2. We shall see what happens with this one, shan't we?

Marazano begins the book with two guys wearing hazard suits in a giant lab somewhere. We return to these guys a few times in the book, including the final page, and it's frustrating because it's obvious that they're important, but because of the nature of this serial, we still have no idea who they are. It's a minor point because the main story doesn't seem to have to anything to do with them (yet), so we can forget about them for long stretches of time, but it gets frustrating whenever Marazano returns to them. The main story focuses on Thomas Hale, who works for a company called Genetiks. Thomas is working with bees and creating medicines based on their genetic coding, but the company does a lot more than that. One day the vice president calls Thomas into her office and tells him that they've been able to decode the human genome ... and that genome happens to be his. Everyone in the company has to donate a genetic sample when they start working there, and the company can use that however they wish. Because Genetiks has decoded his genetic code, they own the code, and because everything in his body is based on that stem cell, they now own Thomas. He's a bit freaked out by this, of course, but the VP insists that it's only symbolic. Well, I've seen enough thrillers based around conspiracies to know that's not true, but Thomas doesn't realize it right away. When he does, of course, he becomes a threat to Genetiks, even though he's not sure what's going on with the company. This book begins to give us answers about what they're up to, but it ends before we delve too much into the bigger plot.

Despite the rather pedestrian nature of the story, Marazano makes it work as well as he can. Thomas is already somewhat ill when the story begins, so the fact that he later starts seeing strange things means he could be sick and hallucinating or actually seeing something, which Marazano plays with a bit.

We also get the inevitable protesters against Genetiks, of which a former student of Thomas's father is one, and with whom he has a hesitant relationship. Of course, the book being what it is, we really can't trust her any more than we can trust the executives at Genetiks, but Marazano does a decent job building their relationship slowly. The book does get weirder and weirder as it goes along, which is a nice touch - how much is Thomas really experiencing and how much is in his head? Marazano chooses not to answer that yet, which makes the paranoia of the book feel a bit more real, especially when things start happening to other people, not just Thomas. As I mentioned, it's a fairly typical conspiracy thriller, but when those are done well, they have a verve to them that Marazano gets. His grand idea is pretty neat, too, which helps make the standard nature of Thomas's predicament work a bit more. As frustrated as I am by the fact that this is "volume 1," the final page does offer some tantalizing possibilities about what's really going on, so Marazano at least has done his job with regard to that - if this kind of story is your thing, the last page is a good inducement to pick up the next volume.

Ponzio's artwork is heavily photo-referenced, but he's good enough to make it work, even though he has some problems when it comes to action - the figures aren't fluid enough to really make the action work, but luckily, there's not a lot of it. Even though it appears at times that he's assembling figures and placing them into the panels instead of drawing them in organically, he usually makes it work, and he does a good job making sure that the figures are well integrated into the backgrounds.

For the most part, he does a nice job with facial features, although occasionally the characters' expressions seem too extreme for what's happening on the page. A lot of the book is people talking, and that's something Ponzio does well, plus he does a nice job with backgrounds, so that we always have a good sense of where everything is occurring. In a book like this, the use of shadows and light to highlight the weirdness is critical, and Ponzio does a nice job with that, so that the book looks like a conspiracy thriller. He also needs to do a little bit of weird stuff, and the use of photos actually helps him with that, because some of the weirdness looks more out of place in this kind of artwork than it would in other kinds, and it makes the strange touches more effective. I don't love this style of art, but Ponzio does it well, and that's all I can hope for.

As frustrating as Genetiks is, it's a solid and occasionally creepy thriller that has some fine ideas at its center - the idea of a man being owned by a corporation is a great one, actually, and Marazano has some interesting thoughts backing that one up. I'd certainly Recommend it if you like conspiracy thrillers, because it's a pretty good example of that kind of book. I just wish we could be sure that Marazano and Ponzio would finish it!

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