Kevin J Anderson – Steven L Sears – Mike Ratera
Tim Daniel – Vault Comics – Nathan Gooden
With a pedigree that includes the Dune and Star Wars universes, one would expect that this graphic novel would have a very good story at its heart. Mr Anderson and Mr Sears deliver just that. Sure, you’ll recognize bits and pieces while you flip page after page, but what is taken from elsewhere is in a tip of the cap notion. There’s plenty to love with this book. The evil Krael (that made me think of the original XO VINE aliens, and that’s a good thing) are nasty dudes. Literally, take no prisoners. Except now they do. That’s the angle that leads us to Stalag-X. It’s a hell hole turned prison and rudimentary research lab. Overtures of hubris, pride, love, and power ride through both the humans and aliens as things unfold.
The situation at the prison is a microcosm for the larger story playing out in the decade long war. Humanity clings to itself, but not much more. The Krael are pushing and humans are walking an ever thinner line in the war. The evil/mad scientist (not so subtly) labeled “Mengele” conducts horrendous experiments on living humans, with no anesthetic in hopes of finding out “WHAT IS HUMAN?” That’s the point of both their hunt and the journey of our human cast. Even within the walls of the prison the shards of a being’s character are on display. “Mengele” is vile in his ways but is truly seeking knowledge to help his race. The Camp Commandant has is own struggle with “Mengele” just as Mallory (The Human Commanding Officer of the prison) has his own struggles with being the liaison between the two races as well has with his fellow humans.
Throughout the entirety of the book humanity is played two ways. Initially, and continually throughout, it is stripped down and completely done away with. The book opens up with a human fleet being destroyed in space. The prisoners that are taken are immediately “tested” by being forced to march four days to the camp on minimal rations. Weakness won’t serve the Krael after all. Mid journey someone speaks up and and entire squad is slaughtered and left for the native animals(?) to consume. The pace of dehumanizing doesn’t slow down. The prisoners have their heads shaved and are literally sand blasted upon arrival at Stalag-X. There is the other side of the humanity story at play too though. A glimpse of it is shown in the struggle between “Mengele” and his fellow Krael leaders. The Commanding Officer of the humans plays a large game of tug-of-war with his humanity as he serves the Krael but does what he can to ensure the lives of as many humans. He stands his ground when he can and tries to relay ways for the new prisoners to make the best of a horrendous death sentence. There’s also Deacon, a female that’s managed to find an accord with the Krael by a show of force of her own (the absolutely brilliant Novella included tells this tale – illustrations by Gooden). She does what she has to do to survive but ultimately has to find her own answer to “What is Human?”
The main character, Joe Human, displays the answer to the question all along. Being human is living, adapting, overcoming, learning, and most importantly surviving. At every stage of Stalag-X he faces a decision that could end his story. Sometimes they are point blank while other times they are filled with that existential process and how the defining human property of having a soul answers the question begged by the story.
The art is raw and perfectly suited for the over arching tone of the story told in Stalag-X. The ominous mode of the Krael is evident while the frailty in which humanity finds itself is also displayed very well. Unexpectedly but appropriately gory and only as is needed uncensored, Ratera pushes the narratives and emphasizes the larger agenda. It is a very complimentive style that bolsters the harshness that the world created, and story, bring.
STALAG-X … ROAR OF THE MONTH … MAY 2018