Shockrockets: We Have Ignition HC
Writer - Kurt Busiek
Artist - Stuart Immonen
Publisher - IDW Publishing. $24.99 USD
Seeing this hardcover makes me feel, well, nostalgic. And it wasn’t so long ago. I started writing about comics about 2000, which is when this first came out. Kurt Busiek was riding high as a comics writer, going from strength to strength, from Marvels to his creator-owned Astro City, and I think this series was preceded by a fine one-shot called Superstar, also drawn by Immonen. This was part of a company called Gorilla, which was Busiek and Mark Waid and some other guys, trying to break away from Marvel and DC and the work-for-hire system and doing their own thing, sort of like the Image boys did, only with guys who could write well instead of draw really awesome tits and asses and thugs and chains and such. I rooted for them, but it ended quickly, as they just didn’t have the dough to make a go of it, popular though they were.
It’s not that Shockrockets or the other Gorilla work was better or, let’s say, nobler, than superheroes. Look, this is about some futuristic flyboys. It’s genre entertainment like superheroes are. The charm is just that superheroes so overpower the comics landscape that any divergence is novel and worth nurturing. Busiek borrows from Star Wars and other stories to tell of Alejandro Cruz, a blue collar gearhead who wants not only a better life but a heroic, adventurous one, and the fates conspire to give him his chance when one of the Shockrockets, the hotshot elite squad of heroes piloting alien ships, dies. Cruz bonds with the ship, not unlike Abin Sur passing on the power of the Green Lantern to Hal Jordan, and he becomes a new, if insecure and mistrusted, rookie on the team, trying to prove his worth.
The series is a trial by multiple fires for Cruz, as he not only must overcome emotional barriers in place for his teammates but he has to take on the big baddie, General Korda, a former hero who helped defend Earth from alien invaders but then went on to become a despot with his own country and advanced technology.
Artist Immonen creates some state-of-the-art work for the time, incorporating manga spaceship design and lots of speedlines, while keeping it relatable to the fairly standard human characters who would not be out of place in any superhero book. It’s a fairly delicate balance and he does it well, although in retrospect the orange/blue color contrast becomes redundant early, and his choice of using black without white or color to depict eyeballs gets a little tiresome as well. He does excel at body language, though, and the facial expressions are rarely overplayed, so he should be commended for these.
Busiek does an able job of carrying off the main story and making Alejandro accessible. There is a sort of hernia in the middle of the book, where he breaks off to focus on another member of the Shockrockets. It’s a kind of bulge of the main story membrane, as if Busiek predicted an ongoing series that could support focuses on all the team, rather than the five issue, discrete miniseries. It’s a fine issue but in comparison to what looks to be all the Shockrockets we’re likely to see, it’s a digression that sort of tilts the book off its rather narrow axis for a time. But good is good, and if given the choice of four tightly plotted issues and four tightly plotted issues and one nice change of pace, I’ll take it.
IDW’s production is stellar, and the pages look as good as they’ve ever looked. The bonus material isn’t lavish, just some preliminary sketchbook stuff from Immonen, but it’s nice, and makes one wish these two big talents can eventually make room in their schedules to work together again.