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Black Eyed Susan #1
Writer: Patrick Neighly
Artist: Donny Hadiwidjaja

You know, despite all our efforts to make the world see comics as a sophisticated, mature medium, there are still times when we just want to pick up 20-some pages of ridiculously huge guns and the colossal explosions that result from them.

However, Black Eyed Susan is more than that. It’s a whole 46 pages of guns, explosions, spacecraft, heavy ordnance, and drooling, snarly Martians!

Set on a human colony world in the distant future, the comic begins when Mel, a mechanic aboard the spaceship Tigerlily, is rudely awakened by her alarm clock. Actually, she just thinks it’s her alarm clock. It’s really the ship’s siren going off because they’re under attack by overwhelming Martian forces. Of course, Mel doesn’t figure this out until a hull breech has sucked her and the jet she works on into the upper atmosphere.

She manages to steer the plummeting craft into a soft crash-landing and, following standard procedure, calls for help and sits tight. A day later, Mel gives up and repairs her jet, then speeds off in a random direction and chances upon a city. A completely abandoned city filled with smoking craters. Oh, and Martians, too. Luckily for Mel, a stoic little boy with a big freakin’ bazooka saves her bacon and proceeds to ignore her questioning until she proves useful by repairing his land speeder. She is a mechanic, after all.

Mel follows the Kid home in her jet and tries convincing her silent young charge to come along with her to the capital rather than stay in the boondocks when a Martian Tripod appears and remodels the Kid’s bedroom into a breezeway. Following some running and panic fire, Mel notices a pyramid of fuel canisters and looses them in the Tripod’s direction, carefully aiming once they’ve come to rest underneath the enemy and equally carefully missing every damn one of them. Thankfully, the Kid’s a better shot, but the canisters still aren’t enough to fell the mighty beast. Then the cavalry arrives.

Writer Patrick Neighly again proves himself a wise author, keeping his characters silent except when absolutely necessary and, even then, parceling out such small pieces of information that we can’t help but keep reading to solve the mysteries of where the hell we are, why the Martians are attacking, and why Mel is completely clueless about practically everything.

However, most of the credit, good or bad, goes to Donny Hadiwidjaja (Damn. You can’t buy a name like that!). Hadiwidjaja’s layouts are clean and interesting, owing a little to the “widescreen” style, but never enough to come off like a Bryan Hitch-wannabe.

His mechanical designs are so old school it’s almost painful, borrowing in equal parts from BattleTech mecha designs and Jane’s Recognition Guides (Mel’s jet, for example, is a variation on the Korean War-era F-86 Sabre). The result makes for a deliciously gritty, heavy industry look that lends an air of credibility to the book, despite the fact that the technology is seriously outdated for the era.

I only wish I could figure out how the Kid’s speeder can fly a banner that billows forward when it’s mounted in front of the main turbine. I mean, it looks sweet and all, but obvious little things like that make you wonder how the machine works in the first place and bring the suspension of disbelief crashing down.

His character designs, on the other hand, aren’t very consistent and some of the anatomy is just appalling. Mel’s waist alternates from normal human proportion to a wasp shape far too often, even shrinking down thinner than her neck a few times (though her neck extends and retracts so much, it’s hard to keep track of exactly what’s out of proportion). It’s a real shame to see this when he does such a good job of making the Martians so completely alien, but I’ve gotta call it like it is.

I’d like to believe the rough work on some pages are due to a rush job to make a print available at the APE con (where I found it), but the inside cover is marked as a retail edition, and, from all indications, this is the book that hit the stands. After taking a look at the production sketches, I really wish they’d spent more time on the art and done a better job of inking. The talent’s there, but the result is muddled.

As is, Black Eyed Susan #1 makes for a fun book full of explosions and big action. It’s a pretty impressive production for such a small press, but the $3.50 price tag may be a bit more than readers want to spend on a black and white comic with inconsistent art. Personally, I think you’re getting your money’s worth with the amount of story included in the first issue.

Let’s just hope the bi-monthly schedule will give Hadiwidjaja enough time to avoid the mistakes he made this time around.


Jason Schachat

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