The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 82 | “The Compleat Terminal City” reviewed

Leaving Proof 82 | “The Compleat Terminal City” reviewed
Published on Thursday, March 8, 2012 by
From the book’s back cover

Visionary designer and comics creator Dean Motter (Mister X, Electropolis, Batman: Nine Lives) returns with the purest expression to date of his patented retro futurism! Terminal City is a place where transistor-tube robots rub elbows with old-time gangsters, where bright, shiny technologies cast deep noir shadows. The city has been in decline since a group of celebrated adventurers disappeared into obscurity. Now a series of strange mysteries involving an unopenable briefcase, a missing link in evolution, a daring lady in red, and an obscene skywriter brings the four men together once again, with explosive results!

Publisher, Creative Team, Format, and Pricing Details

  • Publisher: Dark Horse Books (a division of Dark Horse Comics)
  • Year Published: 2012
  • Created and Written by: Dean Motter
  • Illustrated by: Michael Lark
  • Colored by: Rick Taylor
  • Lettered by: Willie Schubert
  • Cover by: Mark Chiarello
  • Format: 368 page full-colour trade paperback (collects Terminal City #1–5 and Terminal City: Aerial Graffiti #1–9; originally published in single magazine form by DC Comics under the Vertigo imprint)
  • List Price: US $24.99/CDN $27.50 (digital review copy provided free of charge by the publisher)
What I Liked

The stories comprised by The Compleat Terminal City trade paperback are fundamentally noir/crime fiction viewed through a retro-future filter. Like all retro-future stories, Terminal City (first published as a mini-series in 1997) and Terminal City: Aerial Graffiti (originally released in 1999) implicitly ask the reader to consider the discontinuity between mid-20th century society’s vision of a technologically-advanced Utopian future and the reality of the present: Terminal City’s impressive Googie architecture buildings disguise growing urban blight, its disillusioned and desperate denizens seek temporary solace in their “electrocaine” habits, and despite advances in robotics, migrants and the urban poor still serve as the cheap and disposable labour resource of choice for dangerous menial jobs.

In a way, tales featuring the likes of Golden Age superheroes such as Superman and Batman are informed by the same combination of late 1930s nervous optimism and pulp fiction tropes that feed into many retro-futurist works. But where many of today’s superhero stories frequently come off as anachronistic, bland, irrelevant, and unintentionally absurd when considered with a contemporary disposition, Terminal City and Terminal City: Aerial Graffiti maintain their credibility because of writer Dean Motter and artist Michael Lark’s overwhelming commitment to the literary and aesthetic characteristics of retro-futurism: the plot, language, characters, humour, and visual design elements of their imagined late 20th century are tied together by pertinent subtext and a consistent internal sensibility that is instrumental to the reader’s immersion in the narrative.

Lark’s artwork on the title is impressive. The city, which is as much a character in the stories as the individuals who make up the book’s human cast, exudes a very strong sense of Streamline Moderne and Raygun Gothic style. Repeating panel arrangements tie together the page designs and lend a steady rhythm to the clear and unambiguous storytelling. The clear-line illustration style is quite different from (and to me at least, preferable to) the more heavily-rendered style he would later employ on DC’s Gotham Central and Marvel’s Daredevil.

What I Didn’t Like

Motter loves his puns, particularly in naming his characters (an example: the Monkey Brothers, a trio of simian thespians, answer to the silly monikers Hirno, Sino, and Speeckno), and I can imagine the wordplay wearing on those who view the art of paronomasia with a degree of contempt. I happen to enjoy the occasional calembour though, so this section isn’t so much an explication of a feature I didn’t like as it is a warning for the humour-challenged.

The Verdict

It’s rare to see such an eminently integrated work of retro-futuristic comics and sequential art in this scale and executed with such elevated technical proficiency, and at a very reasonable cost-to-page count ratio at that. Readers who missed out on these comics the first time around would do well to pick up this volume. Highly recommended.

“The Compleat Terminal City” goes on sale on 21 March 2012


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