Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 360 (1/29) -- Dominion by Michael Alan Nelson and Tim Hamilton

First of all, I don't want anyone thinking that I'm slamming the work of Tim Hamilton; Hamilton's pages for The Trouble With Girls are sparkling and glorious and he's had a long, successful career since then -- the man knows how to draw, and how to put a comics page together. But I have to say that reading Dominion is sometimes like peering down a coal scuttle to watch a fight going on in the basement. I mean, it's kinda dark.

(The story's kinda dark, too, but I'll get to that.)

Maybe I should back up a bit: Dominion is a high-concept comic -- so high a concept, and executed in so cinematic a way, that I'd be deeply surprised if several people involved with it didn't harbor the secret belief that it would inevitably become a movie and make them very rich. (And, who knows? It still may happen.) The concept is, as the back cover puts it, "An alien virus is spreading uncontrollable superpowers through the city of Chicago." That concept -- possibly expressed in more words and more details, but possibly not -- is credited to Ross Richie and Keith Giffen. (It took two people to think that up! One for "alien" and one for "Chicago," I guess.)

The resulting actual comic was written professionally -- though with one eye always on the big movie it might make, one day -- by Michael Alan Nelson, and drawn by the aforementioned Tim Hamilton. It was then colored by two people -- Fran Gamboa and Pablo Quiligotti -- which perhaps was the source of my problem; could it be, maybe, that they each colored Dominion, and the resulting files were put on top of each other? (Well, I seriously doubt it. But there must be some reason why a summer day in Chicago mostly looks like midnight at the coal-face.)

There is indeed an alien virus, and it indeed has hit Chicago, suddenly, turning a small but dangerous number of the random inhabitants of Chicagoland into death-dealing superpowered monsters (a woman burning at lava heat, a man eating everything as he grows to the size of a small office building, a kid whose voice is a sonic boom, a quick ripoff of The Absorbing Man, and so forth). Since this is a movie-style story, those folks neither dress up in brightly colored themed costumes to rob banks nor dress up in dark uniforms with lots of belts and pouches to brood about the nastiness of life and battle that crime. Instead, they all pretty much just go crazy and destroy as much of everything as they can.

Luckily, Chicagoland has two improbably talented professionals to save them: beat cop Dick Urbanski, who interrupts his day off to engineer a string of cunning and unlikely deaths for the monsters that he chases after, and Dr. Ai Tanaka, who sequences DNA practically by looking at it really hard and finds the inevitable off-switch in this engineered alien virus right in the nick of time. It's all so far over the top that I found myself gasping for breath in the exosphere.

As I said, the art is solid, but the pages are often very dark. And the title doesn't make much sense, except in a really ham-handed neo-Campbellian (John W.) way. And the story has a sequel-sized hole in its ending, presumably relying on Dominion becoming a super-successful medium-budget movie, and then making room for the Big Guns for Dominion II: Alien Boogaloo. (Though there's one element of the ending that J. Random Bigstar's people will definitely get changed before the script is greenlit.) It's entertaining, in that turn-your-brain-off, summer-movie style that people who are adept at turning their brains off always prefer. But I doubt any of us will respect ourselves in the morning after reading it.


Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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