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Hectic Planet

Every now and again, I pick up a graphic novel or trade that I know absolutely nothing about: no buzz had been read, no pages previewed.

I am basically basing my decision to part with my meager amount of funds on the cover and whatever little description is printed on the comic.

As you can imagine, this strategy does not always work out to my advantage, but every now and then I'll end up with something of value. That something this time was Hectic Planet: Dim Future from Slave Labor Graphics, written and drawn by Evan Dorkin. (There are three volumes in the series. -- editor)

I'll be honest: I've never read anything else by Dorkin (#4 on the Comic Book Ten Commandments is "Thou must readeth Milk & Cheese before thy death.") but I've heard he's a good comic satirist and comedian. So, when I saw Hectic Planet sitting on my favorite store's shelf, with its cartoonish cover chalk full of quirky looking aliens, I was expecting space comedy. Instead, I got a book that was very funny at times, thrilling at others, with a cast of characters that are fully realized and at times interestingly emotional.

Set in the future, the story is about a group of space pirates, The Jersey Devil Crew, getting saddled with an unpleasant job by a government official after botching a break-in. Their captain, Ronald Chitin (green, four-armed alien who looks just as dashing in a trench coat as battle armor), is obviously unhappy as he and the crew fly off in search of something called the "source of life," the consequences of not finding it being a few quaint little prison sentences.

What really makes the book shine is Dorkin's touch with the characters. He never falls into the trap that a lot of sci-fi television shows (and comics) fall into: having a cookie cutter crew that includes characters like "Captain Stalwart N. Moral" or "Science Officer Straight Man." Dorkin makes his characters interesting and realistic (as realistic as bug-guys and chicken men can be), not to mention likeable. The Jersey Devils are "a rarity as far as most Pirate Corps go" (quoted from Datsun, the medic/chicken man himself).

In the business of crime only because the technology is at the level where they don't have to kill people to get the job done, they're moral (in a criminal way). Dorkin uses this as a great storytelling device throughout the book, managing to reach some emotional depth I really didn't think was possible in a book like this. That guy just keeps surprising me.

Don't misunderstand; the book still has plenty of wacky hijinks and reveling to be read (Dorkin balances out the depth with set ups like Worldwide Planet Extermination Parties and other, more psychotic pirates who are just plain wacky).

I also happen to like Dorkin's art style. Sure it's a black and white book, but Dorkin's line work is detailed and the inks do a great definition job (it's not incredibly clean line work, but it fits a book with "Hectic" in the title). Dorkin does great plash pages too; full of sight gags and usually brimming with action.

This was my first book from Slave Labor Graphics but not my last; 120 pages for $12.95 is helping me avoid abject poverty. Hectic Planet was Dorkin's first solo work in comics but it certainly doesn't read like amateur stuff. So if you're looking for a good read, head to the store or click the link. You won't be as pleasantly surprised as I was you'll get all the fun of alien mercenaries, killer robots, angry ex-girlfriends, and a whole planet of drunks (and who can resist a whole planet of drunks what with their drinking and vomiting and accidental revealing of your most personal and embarrassing secrets? Oh those drunks).

Robert Sparling

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