The Webcomic Overlook #117: Moon Town
When not blogging about webcomics, I am often found hanging around comments sections discussing the finer points of Star Trek: The Next Generation*. That’s right people: I am a super cool and suave dude. In between tried and true discussions — such as whether Wesley Crusher or Deanna Troi were lamer, or if that Reading Rainbow behind-the-scenes look at TNG was the best episode or the best episode EVER — someone brought up a highly relevant question: how come on a starship of over 400 people, we never see the enlisted men?
Star Trek likes to pretend that their squeaky clean utopia of the future has no blue collar joes. But who cleans the Jeffries tubes? Who mops the floors? Don’t say robots, because in the future of TNG it turns out Data is an unreplicatable piece of work.
While the sci-fi working class more or less gets ignored in the Star Trek universe, they do tend to get their due in webcomics. I reviewed Jump Leads a year-and-a-half-ago, about two somewhat low level grunts on an inter-dimensional immigration office.
Today, we visit another set of blue collar working stiffs in Steve Ogden’s Moon Town, a comic that follows the adventures of an unfortunate security officer and a team of world-weary miners.
First, let’s clear up a lingering question. The Moon Town in the title? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a town full of cult members founded by the Reverend Moon. Nor is it a town where citizens drop trou and bend over while greeting each other.
No, Moon Town is a town … on the moon!
Specifically, it’s a town named Luna Seven. In pretty much the only reason that sci-fi has ever come up with for anyone wanting to establish a colony on what’s basically an oxygen-deprived desert, it seems like we on Earth have finally exhausted the nonrenewable resources. Mining operations have shifted off-world.
We’re first introduced to Captain Quinn. She is a sexy security person representing the humble offices of Terraluna Security. Quinn is stylin’ and profilin’ a skin-tight space outfit that makes you wish that perhaps my second definition of “Moon Town” were somehow true. Also, she doesn’t like being called “Luv,” since she’s tough as nails supposedly. She’s here to look into a pirate problem. I’m going to assume that they’re not of the brooding, wine-sipping variety that you find in classic anime.
Now, a huge part of Moon Town‘s appeal rests directly with Ogden’s art — namely, the colorful and unconventional designs of the vehicles. Quinn drives a colorful ship in blue, gold, and gray. It also looks like an unholy combination of a World War II experimental airplane and three Neti pots strung together. Yet, despite that, it looks fantastic when placed against the dark blue star-filled background of outer space.
As our sexy captain begins her descent onto the moon base, her ship’s sensors begin to pick up some suspicious anomalies. Her contact on the moon — a portly and balding man named Flagg — tells her that there’s no blips on his his screen, and that Quinn is just some damn hotshot trying to show him up. There’s a chance that he’s the villain in this piece, but I get more the impression that he’s a lazy slob and he wants to get off the vidscreen as quick as possible because his Hot Pockets are done.
Quinn, of course, turns out to be right. A short time later, Quinn’s ship is shot by a ship modeled after a handheld fan. (Hmmm… were all these ship designs inspired by stuff Steve Ogden found in his junk drawer?) The ship grazes a moon mountain and crashes.
And thus we are plunged into one of the many mysteries of Moon Town. First and foremost: why are all video screens equipped with wire cages? Somehow, this is even true of flat screen televisions mounted in the comfort of your own bedroom. Like, have screens become so prohibitively so expensive that starships and ground-based vehicles need to have them protected from impact? And impact from what? Are head-impact collisions really a big problem in the future? And wouldn’t a far easier solution be for some sort of mandatory safety belt law? It’s a mystery.
Our far more important mystery, the one that’s actually central to the plot of Moon Town, surfaces when the plot shifts to focus on the moon miners. We follow the routine of an unshaved miner named Sinclair. On his way to work, he begins to suspect that something is out there. Namely, something that suspiciously looks like aboriginal tribal art. That’s ridiculous, for living beings cannot survive with neither oxygen nor water, amirite?
But, as with our missing sexy captain Quinn, Sinclair’s instincts turn out to be true. In this case, his chance encounter with the unknown gives him the urge to go off-roading.
After Sinclair disappears into parts unknown, his co-worker named Tripline gets worried and decides to look for him. It’s early yet, but I have the feeling that Tripline is supposed to be the hero of this here story. First, he’s got that gruff “screw The Man” attitude that everyone can cheer for. Plus, he’s such a hard-ass that when he encounters the only sexy lady in the webcomic, he doesn’t stutter like a fanboy but rather jettisons her out the hatch at the first opportunity.
Yep, after trying to find that dork Sinclair, Tripline instead finds our sexy captain. This is what I like to call a “trade up.” Captain Quinn is, understandably, quite miffed that she’s been shot down… and worse, that her ship has gone missing. She immediately suspects Tripline, of course, after which they play a little game of airlock surprise. You’re not so tough as nails, are you now, eh, Captain Quinn? Now, throwing a lady out of your car may not sound classy, but that’s what you call playing hard-to-get, baby.
And yet, could it be that the biggest enemies on the Moon are not pirates, but each other?
Well, no, because you see there are aliens, too. Tripline and Quinn are soon attacked by mega-octupus and the space aborigines, which, in the words of Dave Barry, is a great name for a band.
The pacing, which slow and deliberate, may be a turn off for potential readers. Pages sometimes only advance one panel. Even multi-panel sequences sometimes dwell on the same event and advance minimally. The entire sequence of Quinn getting shot down takes a whole seven pages, while the sequence where Sinclair veers off the grid takes around eight pages. Personally, I appreciated the pace. The approach is similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the results are similar: the moments of stillness and serenity make action-packed events more memorable. And seriously, if you can’t slow down in a webcomic set in outer space, where can you do it?
Now, back to the main attraction: the art. I appreciate the focus Ogden spends on illustrating the futuristic machinery. Space vehicles are one of the main aspects that drew me to sci-fi in the first place. I was one of the guys disappointed in The Phantom Menace mainly because the space battle was condensed into a five minute joke at the end.
So you can imagine that I was rather happy when whole panels in Moon Town were filled with machines and zero characters. There’s a lot of detail on these vehicles. The mining vehicles, in particular, are very eye-catching. They’re imposing monoliths filled with heavy-duty tire treads and oversized drilling equipment. They’re like the souped-up dumptrucks you always wanted as a kid!
The illustrations well-inked and well-colored, and they attractively depict the stark contrast between shadows and light. Readers immediately repulsed by the lens flares employed in the recent Star Trek movie may not like some of Ogden’s more colorful compositions. I, on the other hand, do enjoy how the small spots of ethereal color dance across the screen, and they tend to add an air of mystery and awe.
Interestingly, one of the subplots seem to be about one gigantic lens flare. Is light on a heavenly body that’s famous for having a Dark Side a major component of the plot? Or was Ogden making a point that lens flares can be awesome? Stay tuned.
My one major complaint about the art are some of the character designs. If there’s something I don’t like, it’s faces that look like they were drawn by a mall caricaturist. You know the kind: wide mouths, high cheek bones, frigid faces. On character in Moon Town looks like caricatures stuck on the default setting. That threw me for a loop. Fortunately, the main characters don’t suffer as much since they’re hidden behind their space helmets. And yet, even then they tend to look generic. I know Sinclair and Tripline aren’t the same character, but they tend to look like it in some panels.
Still, Moon Town is a breezy read, and I spent a rather pleasant weekend zipping right through it. While the plot so far doesn’t seem all that original, the presentation is top notch. Plus, the characters are interesting thus far. It’s a terrible temptation to either have characters line up in neat battle lines of good vs. evil, and it’s a worse temptation to just have everyone get along because conflict is hard to write. So far, Ogden is doing a fine job of writing a story where everyone’s paranoid, and where no one is purely sympathetic nor purely repugnant. It’s still a toss-up who the hero of Moon Town is supposed to be, and the ambiguity is part of what makes the story compelling.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
* – Unrelated to this review but highly related to Star Trek: The Next Generation: if you’re a huge TNG fan, you should check out a series of TNG edits on YouTube. They were developed, in part, by Andrew Hussie, the guy behind MS Paint Adventures webcomic. My personal favorite: Apologies, Mr. Worf, which envisions a scenario where Wesley is executed.