The first page of Ken Garing’s Planetoid depicts hero Silas crash landing on an unidentified world covered in ruined factories deep in hostile alien territory. Within the first 16 pages a giant mechanical worm emerges from a lake of toxic sewage and begins trying to bite Silas’ head off. Sometimes you just know you’re onto a winner right from the start.
Right from the get-go Planetoid impressed me with its no-nonsense storytelling and dark, rusted-looking visuals. What really sold me was that every time I thought I had the story and outcome figured out, it shifted into something else. The first chapter and a half follow Silas as he treks across the ruined planetoid looking for a way out with only his AI analysis program Ricter for company. Later he meets the remains of a human population living on a giant artificial plateau hundreds of metres above the ruins and assumes leadership of their tribes after earning their trust blowing up a couple of mechanical invaders with his fancy alien handgun. The planetoid originally belonged to humanity but is now in the galactic territory of the Ono Mao- ugly, cruel aliens who use a terrifying robot army to enslave and lobotomise any remaining humans. I really liked the design of the machines, which are huge and hulking with giant leering faces and horrible looking weapons like oversized scalpels and a heavy, blunt piston used to cave people’s faces in. There’s even a dinobot- seriously, a giant robot T-rex. There’s a pretty high level of gore and horror as well, with the lobotomy victims being especially unsettling as they wander around with glazed eyes and syringes still protruding from their skulls. The overall effect is to create a dark, desperate world into which the traditionally heroic Silas is thrown, and there’s a real sense of powerlessness in the face of a terrifying enemy in the lives of the human survivors who can only wait to be found and exterminated. This contrasts nicely with the characters and dialogue- with a few exceptions the humans are all pretty nice people and while they’re tough as balls they manage to avoid a lot of the angst and broodiness that can make characters in this kind of setting boring.
Planetoid rumbles along at a good pace, with minimal wasted time and lots of great action, and while I guess it’s not the most visionary or ground-breaking title around there’s really very little to complain about. The story hits most of the beats you’d expect of a post-apocalyptic action adventure by about issue 4 so I began to wonder how a second volume could ever feel necessary (I think that’s gotta be the first time I spelled that word right first time. GO ME!). Planetoid cleverly dodges this problem by bringing this arc of the story definitively to a close, meaning that volume 2 will be a completely different story, probably with mostly different people. I’d quite like to see volume 2 stretching out a bit, maybe including some more outer space sequences and digging a bit further into the history of the Ono Mao Empire and the titular planetoid. That said if volume 2 is just five more issues of cool guys fighting giant robots then that’d be fine, too. Planetoid didn’t set my world on fire like the best of Image Comics but it’s another worthy title in their ever expanding roster of clever, adventurous sci-fi and well worth a look.