Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Orbital: Volume 1- Scars by Serge Pelle and Sylvain Runberg

On Earth, life has been devastated by the Sandjarr Wars. The Sandjarrs were an alien race who had always stayed out of galactic politics, until they went to war with the human race. But humans, because of the war, were considered arrogsnt, backwards and belligerent.

The galactic council stepped in and invited both races to join the galactic community, with the proviso that the war must end and peace be declared. Caleb Swany's parents were to be part of the peace process, something Caleb was excited about. A family friend let Caleb and his sister, Kristina, oversee the building in which the meeting was taking place. Caleb is in favor of joining, and his sister is decidedly not.

However, there were humans who didn't want to join the Federation, and they orchestrated a tragedy to kill those who didn't agree with them. Killed in the explosion were Caleb and Kristina's parents, and everyone else in the building.

Fifteen years later, Caleb joins the Diplomatic service, the first and perhaps only human to do so. Dedicated to maintaining peace among the many members of the Federation, Teams of diplomatic investigators investigate incidents and attempt to smooth over and solve problems.

Not everyone agrees that Caleb deserves to be in the diplomatic corps, as he is a backward, belligerent human. But while some of his superiors support him, others would like nothing better to see him fail, and confirm their prejudices about humans. As his partner, Caleb is paired with Mezoke Izzua, a Sandjarr, who looks female, with apparent breasts and bright red lips, but as Caleb points out, Sandjarr sex is not predicated on externals. Mezoke might be female, but also might be male. And since they consider it a breach of privacy to be asked, Caleb isn't likely to find out any time soon.

At first Mezoke won't talk to Caleb, even when Caleb good naturedly says they are going to have to talk to each other sometime. But Caleb is willing to wait until Mezoke is comfortable talking to him. When another recruit attacks Caleb during the training, Mezoke calls out to warn him, and Caleb is able to defend himself. When the training instructor is ready to take it out on Caleb, once more Mezoke speaks up to tell the training master that the other recruit attacked first.

But right afterwards, Caleb and Mezoke are sent on their first mission, to two planets, the planet Upsall and its moon, Senestam. Humans have settled on Senestam without permission of the Javlod people, taking over mines long abandoned by them. The humans say there is still ore in the mines, and since the Javlod have abandoned them, they are within their rights to take over something abandoned.

However, some Javlod pilots on a mission to Senestam have disappeared, and the Javlod claim that the humans are responsible. The humans, however, say that the pilots were killed in a mining explosion that the humans weren't responsible for. Caleb and Mezoke must determine what really killed the Javlod, and what, if anything, the humans are hiding. But can a Sandjarr and a human really work together well? And will the humans on Senestam accept Mezoke to their home?

I enjoyed this book. It's not your usual sort of graphic novel, not being in either the American style of art nor the Japanese manga style, but in the European style, exemplified by artists like Moebius. It's less ripped-muscular, a bit more angular, with more hatching lines. Instead of characters looking like superheroes or children/teens, they look like the average schlub on the street.

I found the story to be more interesting. Despite his parents being killed, he doesn't appear to hold any grudges towards the Sandjarrs or any of the other aliens, or even for his fellow humans. Most of the aliens are satisfyingly alien, with the exception, of course, that all are bipedal and have two arms and two legs. None of the really intelligent ones are anything but vaguely human-like. We do see some non-intelligent alien animals, and most of them are more alien than the aliens.

And then there are the Sandjarrs, who look like humans with dead-black skin, no hair, elf-pointed ears, full red lips and red eyes. Whether it is plausible for a race to so completely resemble humans, right down to the looks of mammary glands/breasts on the chest is questionable, at best. But it does make Mezzoke more palatable as a character.

I found the ideas of the book to be interesting, the art clean and neat-looking, and nicely different. It's a tall, thin book, larger than American graphic novels, and much, much thinner, more like an ordinary comic book thickness. But it's a nice change from other comics and graphic novels. Recommended.

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