The GeeksverseREVIEW | Retrovirus HC (Image Comics)

REVIEW | Retrovirus HC (Image Comics)
Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 by
An intriguing premise and attractive price point aren’t enough to overcome what ails Retrovirus, a fairly entertaining but ultimately forgettable techno-thriller from Jimmy Palmiotti (Queen Crab, Power Girl) and Justin Gray (Jonah Hex: No Way BackMonolith). 

Key Review Points


  • Interesting techno-thriller premise.
  • Good value.


  • Rushed first act makes it difficult to care for the characters and undercuts the narrative tension.
  • Some baffling art choices.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • Publication Date: November 2012
  • Written by: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
  • Art by: Norberto Fernandez
  • Lettering by: Bill Tortolini
  • Cover by: Amanda Conner
  • Format: 64 pages, full color, hardcover.
  • List Price: $12.99 (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Availability: On sale on November 21, 2012

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For more preview images, check out the Retrovirus HC preview

Full Review

Editor’s Note: The following section contains spoilers for Retrovirus.

Palmiotti and Gray’s Retrovirus is a  biotechnology-run-amok themed techno-thriller made in the Douglas Preston-Lincoln Child/Michael Crichton mold—think the former’s Mount Dragon or the latter’s Jurassic Park—but the book’s somewhat rote narrative, a lack of character development, and adequate-but-unremarkable art mean that it never really rises above the level of the comic book equivalent of an airport novel: A relatively inexpensive and decent enough distraction, but ultimately a forgettable one.

Young virologist Zoe Wallace is approached by representatives of the multinational Bio-Pharm at a conference, with an offer to study a one-of-a-kind retrovirus at an isolated, state-of-the-art, live-in laboratory at a tremendous pay rate. Despite Zoe’s misgivings about working for Big Pharma, her intellectual curiosity, along with a need to distract herself from a disastrous personal relationship, gets the better of her idealism and she signs up for the project. The retrovirus in question turns out to be prehistoric in origin, recovered from frozen but still biologically viable Neanderthal remains. Before long, a cluster foul-up of Jurassic Park proportions ensues, with Zoe and her fellow laboratory employees under threat from the released retrovirus, a deranged Bio-Pharm executive, and a rampaging gang of cloned Neanderthals.

Retrovirus has many elements that would normally help make for a compelling techno-thriller: A plucky and sexy protagonist, snappy dialogue, fairly interesting creature designs, and an intriguing premise based on armchair science that passes the “squint test” among them. Unfortunately, the resulting story never really adds up to anything more than a potboiler that is the simple sum of its parts. The story beats (and plot holes) should be familiar to readers experienced in the techno-thriller genre, although it has to be said that the narrative’s first act proceeds at a ridiculously accelerated pace: The story jumps forward in time on three occasions in timeline increments of one week, two weeks, and three weeks within a span of 15 pages. I appreciate conciseness in storytelling, but the rushed approach to the set-up makes it difficult for the reader to become invested in the characters, their relationships, or the overarching plot.

Norberto Fernandez’ workmanlike efforts on art are adequate in providing the visual component to the story, although his predilection for overlapping panels borders on the gratuitous at times and some choices for facial expressions seem baffling when viewed with the script, although this might actually be a problem with poorly planned word balloon placement and not with the illustration per se.

Retrovirus‘ origins as a Kickstarter project means the cost of its publication has been partially subsidized by the crowd-funding initiative, thus the book is an unusually good value as a $12.99 full color hardcover. Overall though, the pricing and the interesting premise aren’t enough to elevate the title above the level of merely competent, transient entertainment.

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