Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Mercury's sun-facing side is hot enough to melt lead. The other is cold enough to liquify oxygen.
"At the border between the two, there is a zone with a survivable temperature.
"It rotates so slowly that its solar day is twice as long as its year.
"On Mercury, you can outrun dawn."
Gillen's a dab hand at the 60-second pitch as anyone who's read the back cover to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE graphic novels knows full well. He's also quite neat at leaving a beat.
"Just as long as you can keep moving."
There are ever so many approaches to science fiction, even when set in space. That SAGA is set in space at all is almost is almost tangential to its central core comedy, family, war and romance - except, of course for the diversity of species. Much of THE FUSE, on the other hand, is very much informed by the fact that its police procedural takes place on a gigantic solar panel orbiting Earth, yet one of its delights is its familiarity: space-shuttle interiors resembling aircrafts' for they serve much the same function; town shop fronts and pavements in what is effectively an indoor city centre.
MERCURY RISING, however, is not only about what might happen specifically on a colonised Mercury and why we'd be there, but the technology we'd develop for - and as a consequence of - a post-skill-set economy. It relishes its cyberpunk elements.
We'd be there for the solar energy: it's the planet closest to our sun. Far from post-apocalyptic, an enlightened humanity here has achieved much, proudly reversing our environmental apathy / devastation upon Earth and taking it to another planet instead. Hurrah! You might detect a conflict there. You would be right.
As to the skills which we currently learn in order to earn - during years of soul-destroying, entertainment-free education often followed by a three-year, booze-addled chaser - these can now be plugged in using memory crystals, along with any further top-ups required for specific purposes or locations like learning a language. Kieron has extrapolated further from this. Instead of being recorded in your cranium, one could choose to store specific memories on these crystals, acting effectively as external hard-drives and so jettisoned if proving troublesome. I can think of many social blunders I'd delight in deleting along with a few exes, but there are repercussions. There would also be downsides to deploying emotional dampeners. There are some fairly sound reasons for these emotions, you know.
Gillen's inventiveness doesn't stop there: colour-coding memories - for example false ones, downloaded, so you know they're not yours - and inserting tabs, little footnotes for future reference or in lieu of what you've dispensed with. You'll see.
Why yes, there would be a black market for memory crystals too; a big one for more sensitive stuff.
So if you can acquire any skill set, what might determine your suitability for a job? Personality types. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that a tendency towards murderous rage might make one a poor match for babysitting, or an overabundance of empathy less than ideal for a seat on the Tory side of our Commons.
At which point I give you what makes much of this even less obvious: our protagonist, Luiza Bora, whose personality was assessed at a tender age and determined to be 57b. Not an 'a' or an 'f', to be fair, but a 57 all the same.
"I don't want to hurt people," she protested when young. She wanted to help people. She wanted to police.
Unfortunately personality class 57 is not conducive to kindness, nor acceptable for police work on Earth. So a life as a soldier, it was! Until Luiza realised this: 57b ruled out policing on Earth... but not on Mercury.
I'll leave you to discover the specifics of the career aspects here - no one works under contract any longer; you have to sell yourself on a daily basis via the Grapevine and the tendering process is ingenious - but this is Luiza's first day on Mercury, she doesn't have form, so she has to take what she can get. All she can get, for a minimal fee, is a seemingly simple case most would sign off on: the death of one Waldo Burgess separated on the artificial solar belt and burnt up when dawn came upon him. Ouch. I guess he ran out of breath and stopped running. But there's an anonymous message attached to the case and all of a sudden Luiza's intrigued.
"While advancing the case to primary will increase your fee," warns the Grapevine, "initiating unnecessary investigation will negatively affect your Grapevine status."
I think you can imagine, given that we're only on page 10, that the investigation will prove just a tad necessary and will encompass almost every aspect of the world I have typed up to date. That impressed me no end.
It wouldn't be Gillen if there wasn't some 'sploding and there's plenty of that - this is an action comic - but refreshingly Luiza never did want to hurt anybody, and if the lethal force required impresses individuals then she's less than impressed with them. These more "tactile" sequences are enhanced with the help of combat upgrades reminiscent of video game-play (Kieron cut his writing skills in games journalism) whose not inexhaustible capacity is monitored by tabs which keep the tension taught while letting the fists and ammo fly.
Nor would it be Kieron without comedy, much of which comes in the less than classy class of technician whom Luiza is lumped with given her limited funds. Oh, and this is emphatically not an all-ages comic.
Omar Francia has dealt with the design work with relish and handles high-octane with aplomb. But when she's not thrusting her fist in a face, Luiza stands tall, never once thrusting her derrière in your face as is the wont of some artists when given action-orientated lady-leads.
Better still, there's a great deal of subtle reaction going on between Luiza and Lucas, and I don't mean merely reacting to what's threatening to do them some damage, but to each others' reactions to what's threatening to do them some damage. Study those two early pages which involve the first act of sabotage, knuckle-crushing metal-wrenching and a beam of extreme heat: over and again, Lucas is reacting to Luiza for she is essential to his survival. It's a lot less common in illustrated action sequences than you might expect.
There's also a delightful and marked softening of lines when it comes to memories of the past - artificial or otherwise.
Don't think I'm no fan of Lopez - I barely noticed the transition halfway through at the time - but when Francia returns for the 'Interlude' (which was original the FCBD edition distributed in advance of the series itself) those forms do surely soften again.
Given how this uses the future to comment on the present and the often robust exchange of ideas (which we call insults), I'd recommend this heartily to fans of Ellis and Robertson's TRANSMETROPOLITAN - except that this comes with a genuinely Filthy Assistant.