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VENUS RISES: PARALLELS (review)—“Corporate rule in space sucks”

Creator: J.G. Birdsall

Art: Bora Orcal et al.

Independent, 2019: collected edition 2024

THE MODERN PREMISE of segregation, where the rich escape the wretched crust of humanity into gated communities, resort hotels, tropical islands, jet streams above the clouds, and whole planets in the nearby galaxy, plays out in VENUS RISES: PARELLELS by creator J.G. Birdsall, in a rendition of modern life lived in space, the final frontier, with the rich congregating on Mars, while the rest, the poor, from which the labor force is drawn, is sequestered on Venus: all embedded in high-tech machinery necessary to live in a place where otherwise no life exists. Not so far distant from modern cities.

The story is “a tale of revolution in the skies,” involving upfront a young girl joining a rebel group to fight the Mars corporate tyranny, combined with an alcoholic trucker, prone to piracy and in a desperate jam, due no doubt to being usually drunk while in charge of a massive spaceship. Guns and piracy are the emblems of this revolution, looking more like rage and despair rather than dedicated people with a cause in mind for good governance and a better way of life for all. It’s never clear why they fight; similar to soldiers in the first world war in the 1910s, when on many fronts no one knew or could remember why those on the other side were the enemy.

This ambiguity surfaces in the end when new contracts come into place, discontents get a position, a mission, a little funding: send them off. This is indeed how most small revolutions end. Capital buys off the perpetrators. Especially those who were not really sure what they were doing in the first place. In all, this looks like a star-wars version of revolution by someone who knows very little what revolution is for in the first place.

The duo-tone artwork by Bora Orcal in outer space condones any story, with brief primary pastel colors in places sweeping the edges, igniting the engines, glowing. It all looks like a half-inked-in pencil sketch with indistinct details, just firm enough to follow the action, kind of like the feeling of being in a spaceship with the atmosphere and squishy gravity just firm enough to get around. Floating bodies navigating no gravity is a common theme.

The art is engaging, but not clear enough to carry the story, which it is expected to do through many pages. The one hundred forty page graphic novel could better be half as long. Characters get muddled. Storylines get muddled. By the end I felt adrift in space, with only that sure contract (and maybe that next drink) the only thing on my mind. Revolution who?

[Editor’s note – the Kickstarter campaign for this comic can be found here: Venus Rises: Parallels Sci-fi Graphic Novel by Jason G. Birdsall — Kickstarter