Review: Critical Millennium—The Dark Frontier, Issues #1-2
The new comic-book miniseries from Andrew E.C. Gaska and Archaia Entertainment is well worth the cover price.
Title: Critical Millennium—The Dark Frontier, Issues #1-2
Writer/Creative Director: Andrew E. C. Gaska
Artist: Daniel Dussault
Published by: Archaia Entertainment
Reviewed by Rich Handley on July 19, 2010
Picking up a new comic book series can be a real crap-shoot. If it's the first issues of a brand-new title, if you're unfamiliar with the writer or if you've never read anything produced by that particular publisher, then no matter how shiny and new the cover may be, there's simply no way to be sure you're not wasting your money by taking a chance on what's inside. And given the hefty price tag on many current comic titles, finding out you made the wrong choice with your purchase can be a costly mistake indeed.
Happily, Archaia Entertainment's Critical Millennium, by Andrew E. C. Gaska and Daniel Dussault, is not the wrong choice. Not by a longshot.
This full-color, saddle-bound, four-issue miniseries from Archaia, the first issue of which hit stands on July 8, is nothing short of a thing of wonder. At a hefty 40 pages apiece, each densely story-packed issue is breathtakingly illustrated, with sharp, witty dialog, characters worth giving a damn about, and a poignant message about corporate greed, racial bigotry and environmental irresponsibility.
Critical Millennium, set a thousand years in our future, tells the story of Thomm Coney, the 17-year-old sole heir to a powerful trillionaire's fortune. Thanks to his wealth and family name, the half-Caucasian Coney has been removed from the widespread anti-white bias pervading this future Earth—a world dominated by China and India, in which whites now occupy society's lowest stratum, filling menial jobs, earning nervous glances on the street from darker-skinned strangers, being perceived as untrustworthy and lazy, and enduring such racial slurs as "ghost" and "albino." By reversing the current racial roles, Gaska shines an ironic spotlight on the ugliness of bigotry.
In this bleak future, mankind has utterly destroyed his own environment. Many of Earth's species, such as sharks, whales, dolphins and big-game animals, have been hunted to extinction. North America is now a polluted wasteland largely deserted by the Asian and Indian mega-corporations running the world's politics and economy. Tsunamis and other natural disasters are a constant looming threat, thanks to the ecological damage wrought by man's greed and power lust, particularly on the part of the former United States. And scientists predict a bleak fate for our planet and its inhabitants if other habitable worlds are not discovered—and fast.
Enter Coney and his best friend and business associate, Eryc Kartoneas III, who both agree to devote their combined family fortunes to funding the development of an experimental spaceship drive utilizing miniature black holes to enable faster-than-light travel, thereby enabling mankind to visit other solar systems and ensure the survival of the human race. For Kartoneas, a thrill-seeking hunter from a long line of thrill-seeking hunters, it means the possibility of discovering new species to prey upon and kill. For Coney, who has wasted his life flaunting his inheritance and enjoying empty sex, flashy rock concerts and other shallow pursuits, it means a chance to become something more. And for the "ghosts" of society, it means the opportunity to build a new home free of racial oppression, free of the mistakes of the past, and free of the hate groups and ambitious politicians working against Coney's efforts.
But what they find in space could potentially be far more dangerous than what they leave behind.
The first two issues of Critical Millennium are riveting reading. Every member of the cast has a distinct characterization, and each individual's dialog rings absolutely authentic. These aren't typical comic-book denizens, clearly delineated as being good or evil by selflessly saving the day or leeringly twirling a mustache. In the world of Critical Millennium, as in the real one, the line between the two is not always so clear-cut:
• Madame Blacklytter, the power-hungry and perpetually youthful-looking Indian prime minister, backs recycling programs intended to save the environment—then slaughters dolphins, now a severely endangered species, with a sword, just to make a point to a rival for her job.
• Nataji, a "ghost" tired of racial oppression and ethnic slurs, joins a neo-Nazi-like hate group—but is also capable of great empathy and compassion for those in pain.
• Dr. Pandita, the project's chief engineer, is devoted to saving humanity as a species—but seems unable to relate to humans on an individual basis.
• Eryc Kartoneas helps to spearhead a noble program to save the human race—but spends much of his time killing the few remaining animals on Earth, and is only taking part in the project for that very reason, and because he finds Pandita attractive.
• And the story's main protagonist, Thomm Coney, wants to prove his own worth by improving the world—yet dates Angel Rei, a vapid, sex-symbol pop-Country music idol who represents much of what is wrong with that world, and whose idea of showing remorse for the victims of a terrible tsunami is to postpone her next concert for one day.
The first issue opens with a powerful 12-page sequence featuring Coney slowly going mad stranded alone in space, and encountering something both terrifying and beautiful. I won't spoil it, but Archaia has posted a preview of those pages here. From there, the narrative jumps back to before that point, revealing what led to his predicament. At the end of each issue, the reader is left hungry to know more about each character, and about every plot thread—the mark of a solid character, whether villainous or heroic, and the mark of solid story writing.
As for the book's visual appeal, Critical Millennium is nothing short of brilliant. There is so much to feast on here, so much for the eyes to drink in. A comic book is only as good as the melding between its writer and illustrator. A great script with inadequate visuals—or, conversely, amazing artwork punctuating weak writing—is a recipe for disappointment. If the artist and writer do not gel, if the illustrator fails to comprehend the author's vision and properly translate it into images, then the end product inevitably suffers.
In this case, the melding is seemless. It's obvious that Dussault not only understands the story and characters Gaska has deftly woven, and that he's not only more than capable of bringing them to life, but that he very clearly revels in doing so. His canvas is an ecstasy of color and emotion, his character likenesses varied and distinct, his settings lifesize, and his depictions of technology and scientific marvels mesmerizing. As such, the narrative expertly pulls the reader along from panel to panel like a novel you can't put down even though you have to get up for work in six hours and should really get some sleep, or a film that keeps you rooted in your seat even though you just drank a 32-ounce Cherry Coke and are squirming painfully to keep from releasing it right there in the theater.
There is so much that is right about Critical Millennium, and pretty much nothing that is wrong. It has the epic storytelling of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but without the dragging pace; the roller-coaster-ride fun of The Fifth Element, but without the cheese; the strong "save-our-environment" message of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but without the comedy motif; the dystopian future view of A.I., but without the Steven Spielberg cutesiness; the "loss of animals" aspect of Blade Runner, but without the somber color scheme; and the epic feel of a James Cameron blockbuster, but without the stilted dialog.
If you haven't yet picked up issue #1, or pre-ordered issue #2, I highly recommend doing so. The Dark Frontier is just the first chapter in the story, as Gaska and company have more arcs planned for the future. Critical Millennium is a motion picture on the printed page, and I would not at all be surprised if, in the not-so-distant future, I find myself sitting in a theater, wide-eyed and enjoying this miniseries' translation to film. If so, I'll make sure to skip the Cherry Coke, as I wouldn't want to miss a minute of it.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Rich Handley is the author of Timeline of the Planet of the Apes: Definitive Chronology and Lexicon of the Planet of the Apes: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia. Visit www.hassleinbooks.com for more information. Rich edited an upcoming novel for Drew Gaska entitled Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, but would still enjoy and heartily recommend Critical Millennium: Dark Frontier just as much, even if that were not the case.