Originally, the schedule was going to be a full on back and forth between the esteemed Joe McCulloch and I, but upon my submission of pieces on Horde & Fragile, a fury erupted in the usually-jovial Jog, the likes of which I'd never seen. "This is Humanoids, Tucker! An Italian and some Ukrainian immigrant? That shit doesn't count!" Fearing an exile to the dusty corridors of DeviantArt, I yanked from my shelf my still pristine copies of the first available French collections my trembling fingers could grab and thrusting them forward, I cried "What about these? Will they do?" By then it was too late. Jog had left, off to find more background information and interviews, determined to add legitimacy to a project he had just realized was sure to crash upon the wreckage of an ill-chosen partner. Was Timothy Callahan still available? Could Dick Hyacinth be called in for a pinch on 17 volumes of Jodorowsky? As of now, no one knows how it will play out. But somewhere dark, Jog let out his cry for help. Someone has to respond.
Honestly? I'm pulling for Olav Beemer.
Written by Xavier Dorison
Art by Christophe Bec & Homer Reyes
Translated by Justine Kelly & Sasha Watson
Originally Published....I don't know. Before.
Okay, so here's a little fill-in-the-blank game for you. A ship of some kind, any kind. It picks up a distress call. It goes towards the distress call and finds another ship, and on that ship, everybody is dead under mysterious circumstances. Then mysterious circumstances start happening on the new ship, people start dying...you see where this is going. Hell, you probably figured it out at "picks up a distress call." That's because it's a formula, a formula that happens all the time, and it's probably on that list of the seven available stories that they use to come up with wrestling pictures, Barton Fink style. That's Sanctum for you in a nutshell, and it isn't very good.
End of review!
Sanctum has two openings, the first of which contains information that will be directly referenced in one panel about 145 pages later (and only for that one panel), and then it jumps to another opening, this one having a direct connection to the story that will take over the majority of the book. That second one is set inside a submarine deep underwater in the Mediterranean sea, where a group of Russian soldiers are on a secretive mission determined by secretive reasons under the watchful of eye of secretive secret agent types. Because that isn't enough, the sleazy Russian officers in charge have led them here at the order of Stalin himself, who is interested in finding out whether the Nazi occult research found in the Soviet archives will help create new magic weapons. The tough-minded Russian soldier character can't get the answer he wants out of the Russian guy in charge of their secret mission, so he immediately blows up a hand grenade inside a submarine, killing everyone on board. And when I use the term "immediately", I mean he decides, mid-argument, that he isn't going to get the answer he wants--which is to end their secret mission so that no more of his men die--and so he kills everybody on board. It's not that the guy he's arguing with is saying "no, let's kill everybody on some interval system for the next couple of weeks", it's more that he's playing the whole Paul Reiser in Aliens role of saying "let's let some of the cannon fodder die and then us company men will survive, along with whichever grunts we need to keep the submarine working." Either way, the discussion is cut off, because of the "What the hell" decision to just say "Nah, fuck it, I feel like this conversation isn't going to go the way I want as fast as I want it too, let's all just die RIGHT NOW HA HA." It's always nice when your meaningless prologue characters don't waste any time ending the prologue as quickly as possible. Unlike the reader though, you'll find yourself thinking about those lucky dead Russians for a good long while. They don't have to hang out for another 200 pages. Because they're dead.
Since the comic is designed to closely follow the movie pitch idea that it so obviously is, it's time to meet the actual characters, the people you'll spend the rest of the book with. Word of advice, if you go the whole "I'm going to see if Sanctum is bad as this blog person I don't know says" route: memorize the hell out of these people's faces and take copious notes. You're going to meet roughly every person it takes to staff one of the largest military submarines in the world (according to the comic), and artist Christophe Bec never saw a face he didn't like reusing for a minimum of three characters. Hopefully, if there really is going to be a movie of Sanctum, (it's in the works!) they'll stick to the script, and each actor will play three to four roles, and the only way to tell them apart will be whether their facial hair is pencil-thin or goatee'd.
Of course, you could always just rely on whatever one or two major personality quirks are doled out. For example, the first time we meet the commander, he's on his way to his final mission as submarine commander of the USS Nebraska. On the way to his "last mission", he stops by the hospital to check on his comatose son, who he hates himself for neglecting. Then he hooks up with his crew and meets the new ship doctor, who is struggling with the memory of a young girl he who died after a simple misdiagnosis and continues to haunt both his dreams and waking moments. Of course, it's not all depressing background, because one of the ship's crew, a recently promoted officer, has his first baby on the way! He's even got pictures of his wife showing off her 'bout-to-pop belly and everything, which is really sweet, because he's having some trouble with his old friends on the ship viewing him differently now that he's been promoted, and he wishes they understood he's the same guy he used to be. No time to get distracted though--the XO on the submarine is one of those sort of crazy types who puts the "mission" above all other petty concerns, like the lives of the crew, that sort of nonsense. Better watch out. This XO guy seems like he might all of a sudden do some crazy shit near the climax of the second volume where he tries to escape all on his own in a fit of lunacy, thereby forcing his subordinates to make the oh-so-difficult decision of whether or not they should disobey orders and play a game of "Frag the crazy lieutenant before he dooms us all."
Oh, before I forget, there's a black guy who is really scared of spiders. Phobic-scared. Other than that, he ain't scared of nothing. He's Arnold Schwarzeneggar in Commando, except he's black and scared of spiders. Hopefully he won't end up in a situation where all his bravado and training will fail him due to his worst fear--spiders--showing up in some kind of underwater haunted house. (It happens!)
Oh, yikes--did I mention that the ship's head mechanic "loves his machines more than his kids"? He's a real superstitious kind of guy who spends a lot of time alone in dark wet rooms talking to himself. That might come up later, like when he goes apeshit and kills some people with a wrench. (He does!)
One more, there's a guy who had two choices in life: priest or soldier. His brother handled the priest thing, so he picked up soldier detail, but he still has a gigantic cross that he kisses and fondles whenever people are having a conversation with him. Faith is really important to people in tough situations, like situations where Tim Curry from Legend shows up and kills people who wear gigantic crosses that they also fondle. (Hope you were a good person!)
Okay, let's stop for a second. Is there anything in this comic that is original? It's like watching Family Feud when they flip all those...flipper things, and the category was "military type characters" and somebody turned to Xavier Dorison and said "You got all those, right?"
That's Sanctum, over and over again. The specifics are sort of unique, in that I haven't seen any of those Brenden Frazer Mummy movies, maybe those are all about ancient Sumerian curses. But everything else, absolutely everything else, has been done before, and it's been done so often that it's patently impossible for anything in the comic to come as a surprise, which, correct me if I'm wrong, is kind of part of your fictional goal when you're doing a horror/action story.
I'd like to say: Hey, there's stuff in here that's not bad, and on a singular page basis, there is the occasional striking image of a gigantic gaping tomb with tiny military dudes. The thing is that there's roughly 20-30 of those in the book, and none of them--not a one--ever has anything happen in them except for whichever of the characters that haven't died yet using a different version of phrases like "My...GOD, mother protect us" or "What...in the HELL is this place" or "It's..INCREDIBLE, do you SEE THIS". And yes, those ellipses are in the text. This is the comic. Over and over and over and over again, until it ends in an explosion, and that explosion is set off by a laptop computer in the desert, because apparently, in the near future, gigantic nuclear warhead missiles on submarines will be easily detonable in the time it takes to punch the space bar on a laptop.
In the desert.
Oh, yikes, you are not a good comic book Sanctum. You aren't a good comic book at all.
Written by Anne Ploy
Art by Loic & Color Twins
Translated by Jonathan Tanner
Published by DC/Humanoids, 2005
Jog and I both knew getting into this that there were going to be some real turds in the mix, some comics that were just Bad News everyday. But considering the two of us pretty much had a ton of these books already, and it wasn't going to take that much expense to fill out the reminder, we figured why not, do them all. He'll have to correct me in his own post, but I'm pretty sure that he didn't have any advance knowledge about these Transgenesis books, of which Humanoids/DC published two volumes. I know I didn't, and while it was pleasantly surprising to find out that both volumes were available at prices that started around $1.39, it also didn't engender a huge amount of excitement. Why in the hell where these things so cheap? Why can't you find anybody whose ever heard of them?
Why in the hell do they have that terrible, terrible name?
The answer was pretty simple, actually. Because Transgenesis 2025 #1: Ancestor Program is just a straight up mishmash of ideas for a story smashed up against each other, glossed over with a "this is the future" paintbrush and handed off to an artist who seems to have set his sights on being the best possible version of somebody who really wanted to draw Grendel comics back when the Pander Brothers drew Grendel comics. While Transgenesis isn't as overt in its rip-off of science fiction standards as Sanctum is of its Alien/Abyss/Anything thievery, it's still a comic that can be summed up like this: a computer has decided to take over the world from human beings. This is the story of how that computer plans to do it, which, unluckily for the reader, involves an intensely convoluted plan centered around giving a guy a tumor in his sleep that looks like a flower, so that he will have nightmares about the flower, which is shaped like the flower that was in the flower vase that accidently slit his mother's throat, and eventually those nightmares will deplete his health by percentage numbers like a video game, and then the computer will embalm him and make a video where he admits to some criminal behavior before shooting himself on camera after putting his entire company up for sale on the stock market without telling any shareholders, which hey, that isn't how the stock market works. Then, the computer will crash some space cars into a diner. I didn't know I was going to be praying for the flawless logic of Alphaville at any point in my life, much less years before I start shitting myself without understanding why, so thanks, I guess.
I'm sorry, I realize that I don't have a big relationship with science fiction, because I don't really enjoy science fiction, but this...this is bad, right? This sounds stupid, yes? Like--Star Trek doesn't do this, does it? (I don't want to know.)
There is one thing about this comic that I will say I quite liked, and while that doesn't extend to me being willing to pony up another two dollars to read the second volume of Transgenesis, it did give me something to look forward to as I struggled to read this piece of shit. It was this guy.
Not the kid with the tentacle hair. The Monopoly guy! He was great. Sure, he's another face of the evil super computer, and this little plot he's running is based around teaching all the children to work really hard--at their homework--and acknowledge that the Sun is a star that they should spend recess praying too--but he looks sort of like the Monopoly guy crossed with Yosemite Sam. I'm a sucker for that, and I didn't even know I was a sucker for that.
-Tucker Stone, 2009
T1 Introductions & Miss: Better Living Through Crime by Joe McCulloch
T2 Fragile & The Horde here at TFO
T3 Sanctum & Transgenesis 2025 Vol 1: The Ancestor here at TFO
T4 The Incal (Preparations by Joe McCulloch
T5 Son Of The Gun here at TFO
T6 The Incal (Execution) by Joe McCulloch
T7 White Lama here at TFO
T8 The Technopriest here at TFO
T9 Bouncer, Megalex & Metal Hurlant by Joe McCulloch
T10 The Metabarons by Joe McCulloch
T11 Memories here at TFO
T12 The Chaos Effect here at TFO
T13 The Bilal Trilogy here at TFO