Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The 2nd species of man

You won't often hear me talking about artists on this blog.  It's just not the way that I look at comics, although I do often admire specific artwork above and beyond that of other artists.  The truth is that I'm almost always much more influenced by the quality of the writing and that drives my position on most comic reviews that I give. I am not immune to the effects of a talented artist on a series, and their ability to do more in the panels than their peers, in that way advancing the story effectively and making it better.  It just isn't what I tend to critique and reflect on. Like every rule though, there are exceptions.

Gary Frank

The exception of the day is Gary Frank, who I met while he was working with Peter David on The Incredible Hulk and whose work has shown up in some of my favorite stories.  He is widely recognized for his work on Action Comics, The Avengers and Gen13, but I think my favorite is Midnight Nation.  It helps that it is going to be a strong contender for the Top 10 list that I'm slowly sorting through material to put together. Today though I don't want to talk about the brilliance of Midnight Nation, or his work with Geoff Johns on Superman, or even his forthcoming work on Batman Earth One.  I want to talk about a little six issue series he did on his own and had published by Top Cow back in 2000.

I doubt you've heard of it.
In Kin, Frank shows us six issues that leave me intrigued for more.  In a very short span of time he posits an exceptional idea for a story and draws me into a world that I want to spend more time in. Unfortunately we only ever get six issues and in my opinion we're left wanting more.  I get the whole 'leave them wanting more' mantra, but this time it seems like we're left hanging because the first arc is done and sales didn't justify him doing another one.  If that's the case, it's a terrible shame.  If he actually always planned to leave us hanging like this, then he's a jerk!

So what's the hook? That's the question right?  Why do you like the premise Jeff?  What is it about the man's six issues that made you sit up and take notice? Well, to start with he begins the idea rooted in scientific research, before deviating just enough to create a sensational idea that while fiction, is just close enough to possible that we remain engaged by it.

Raise your hand if you knew that a long, LONG time ago there were two species of man? Well maybe not man, exactly.  It all depends on which scientist you believe.  Some classify the second as a subspecies of our own (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) while others classify it as a separate species (Homo neanderthalensis).

Neanderthal Man.

In the end though, the point remains that at some point in history, two species competed for the same resources.  Obviously we know which one dominated and ultimately won that competition, because.....well.....here we are. Some people believe that they crossbred with us until our genes dominated and they faded out, while others believe that they simply became extinct.

Gary asks a very simple question; what if our scientists are wrong?

In Kin he takes us into a world where a secret agency has discovered that Neanderthals did not interbreed with homo sapiens, and they did not go extinct.  They developed and grew along a very different social and technological basis, vanishing into the very corners of the world where we found it too inhospitable to follow and there they survived, building a society vastly different from our own.  He then reminds us that Neanderthals had larger brain cavities than homo sapiens did, and we start to see how they vanished and were never uncovered.

Kin only introduces us to one of their kind, and we watch as he struggles with two humans who empathize with his plight, as this secret agency attempts to force their way into his world.  In the end we are left feeling very much like our own warlike nature will ultimately wipe this culture from the earth, but I don't feel like we get any real closure on his story.

Despite that, I do really enjoy this book.  It's fresh and different, and presents an intriguing plot.

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