One Punch Reviews #70: Free Mars
Recently, I’ve been reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, a fairly methodical (yet still enjoyable) novel about the colonization of Mars. The main theme that emerged throughout seems to be that Mars sorta transforms its inhabitants into adverserial jerks. It’s not the only book to come to the same conclusion. Edward Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars is populated by a bunch of irascible aliens. The aliens from Mars Attacks! are murderous pranksters. And so on and so forth.
I think much of that characterization is taken from the nature of the planet itself. It’s defined by the color red — which is the color of blood, passion, and madness. It’s dusty and desolate, reminding us of the hardscrabble life of the Wild West. And it’s named after the Roman God of War. Violence seems to be the logical conclusion. So it is in the world of Dave Pauwels and Nicolas R. Giacondino’s Free Mars, where the red planet seems to be in a permanent state of debauchery (NSFW) and revolution.
The comic centers around a band called The Sisters Grimm. (This was also was the title of this webcomic before the name change. I’m fine with the name change, by the way, since The Sisters Grimm sounds like your in for some sort of fractured fairy tales.) They’re a punk outfit fronted by one Victoria “Vikki” Grimm, a fiesty, no-nonsense redhead. They’re not revolutionaries. The Sisters Grimm are more concerned more with rocking your socks off than fighting against the oppressive control of the Combined Systems Corporation (i.e. CSC). The fortunes of the Sisters Grimm turns when Vikki’s boyfriend — a SexBot dealer named “Dub” — sells one of their songs to a handsome revolutionary named Damian Kessler. Their song, “Anthem” becomes the rallying cry of the Martian Liberation Front. Suddenly, the sisters find themselves the unlikely faces of a planetwide revolution. A target is more or less painted on their backs. Before they know it, they’re on the run from mercenaries and murderous Gothic lolitabots.
Free Mars can be a little difficult to get into. The dialogue is heavy with weird futuristic slang, specifically the made up obsenity “naffing.” While it adds character, it also pretty much requires one or two readings to decipher what’s going on. The characters are as scantily dressed as a Frank Frazetta model. With a story centered around three female leads, this means there’s a good chance of thongs and bare boobs (NSFW). It’s actually a little unsexy, which may be the point: shock value over titillation. Finally, there are the space battles, which are unapologetically cluttered. Huge dogfights between spaceships from two opposing sides appear with very little build-up. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? And what exactly is happening? Ultimately, does it matter? The stakes are never fully explained, and I get the feeling that we’re supposed to side with the revolutionaries just because those are the sort of characters we’re supposed to root for in every other space opera. Beyond sending killers after The Sisters Grimm (and who wouldn’t, as they’re actively trying to overthrow the government), they’re not much reason to think the CSC is evil.
At the same time, this is exactly the sort of comic you would find in an average issue of Heavy Metal. Sci-fi themes, naked babes, and stream-of-conscious storytelling. And since the stories were meant for older audiences, I think the creators are trusting the reader to fill in the blanks. It’s also not my favorite comic technique — personally I think the cacophony of pneumatic tubes and visual chaos of the space battles are detrimental to the comic’s overall pacing. But I’d say that Pauwels and Giacondino did succeed in replicating the feel of a European flavored sci-fi story that you’d find in that venerable magazine. I may not be enamored by Free Mars, but I do appreciate the craftsmanship.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).