A review of Image's latest TPB.
Credits & Solicit Info:
Story by: Johnny Zito, Tony Trov, Christian Weiser
Art By: Paul Maybury
Isolated on the farthest frontier of civilization, Nocturnal monsters stalk Captain Zoe and the crew of Mars Base Bowie. Lines are drawn and loyalties are tested as dissent grows within the ranks. Faced with mutiny, death and dishonor; Zoe must sacrifice her humanity if she hopes to survive.
Let's begin with an honest truth: John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is better. For reasons I can't really remember (or won't admit), I found myself re-watching that 2001 Ice Cube/Natasha Henstridge movie recently, and it has a lot in common with Dogs of Mars: Terraforming the red planet, awakening a vengeful native race, soldiers transforming and dying- it's all standard sci-fi, a plot with which every fan of the genre is at least a little familiar. (There's also a fair bit of Alien knock-off Saturn 3 thrown in. Yes, I won't even cop to them directly ripping off Alien.)
But Dogs of Mars is a mess. Objects and places are not defined, things just happen out of nowhere, and the only reason it works at all is a reliance on science fiction tropes and the shorthand that all fans know (the reader winds up filling in the missing parts in their own head.) Over and over again, I found myself thinking, 'Now, what?' 'Why is this happening?' 'How did we get here in the story?' That's when my mind wasn't wandering and I wasn't resisting the urge to start flipping pages. People even DIE for no apparent reason. (And no, I don't mean in that the-horror-movie-director-wants-another-death-here kind of way. I mean that they suddenly just die.) The reader shouldn't have to work this hard to figure out what's going on.
The characters are also a big part of the problem- except for the three apparent leads, I had little idea who anyone was or what their relationships and conflicts were supposed to be. I say "apparent" leads because one dies pretty early in the story. Then again, so does the one and only side character whose role I think I had figured out. Halfway into the book I shouldn't be thinking, 'What? Where did this guy come from? He's a what?' Especially since we seem to be talking about a character that has been drawn into many scenes already; I still had no idea who he was or what he did.
The art ultimately doesn't work either. Using a loose and curving line style, it is initially visually appealing (sort of like an off-brand Paul Pope), but it is just too loose, to the point that it's difficult to tell what things are supposed to be (and I mean "things" literally- like a table- and not just characters.) The storytelling is pretty poor as well, with key action sequences almost indecipherable and totally unclear- although whether the fault is in the art or in the fact that the key elements were not in the script is unknown (to me at least.)
The coloring doesn't help any- using a three color palette (black, white and a pale 'Martian' red) is an interesting style choice, but is also means that there is no depth of color or shading to help the reader make out what's on the page. The lack of color helps make the art even more muddy and indistinct.
Worse, it just keeps going ON and ON, with the narrative falling further apart along the way. Any early promise of conflict and resolution continues to slip away as scenes keep randomly happening, moving deeper into an abyss where there's no resolution to be found. The dialogue descends past cliché into some dark place where all the bad advertising slogans and cheesy affirmations in the world hail from. By the end I honestly had no idea what was going on (other than the stock parts ripped off from sci-fi movies) and more to the point, I really didn't care either. I just wanted it to end.
Bottom Line: No, no, no, no, no: just don't do it. Really, how the heck did this get published? I wouldn't even call this a good abandoned movie pitch (even if the pitch was for one of those movies SyFy puts on Saturday nights.)
Review by: BD Montgomery