Comic Review: REPLICA
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Andy Clarke
Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo
Publisher: Aftershock Comics
There’s no shortage of sci fi comics out there right now, all jostling for attention with their own unique take on classic concepts; parallel universes, time travel, clones, space travel, etc. There’s new debuts every month and it’s nearly impossible to keep up. A brand new publisher, Afteshock, looks to make their mark with the help of Paul Jenkins, who won an Eisner for his breakthrough 1999 Inhumans mini-series that brought that particularly niche class of superheroes into the spotlight. The artist, Andy Clarke, cut his teeth in the pages of 2000 AD, which means you know he’s a badass. But greater stars have tried to make their home in the sci-fi comic world but found themselves overlooked. With a title as embarrassingly bland as Replica, can the series hope to do otherwise?
The premise of the series, like the title, is remarkably unremarkable; hundreds of alien races all populate the same mysterious, ancient space colony and a police force is established to manage the chaos. Perhaps more grievously, the story’s main protagonist is a human being. I’m really not sure why writers still think readers relate better to human characters; a well written character is relatable, whether they have four arms or two. I’d suggest that, in a story like this where humans aren’t the most common species of sentient organisms, relying on that to anchor your protagonist emotionally is a crutch.
But Jenkins does something remarkable; he makes Det. Churchhill a more alien entity than the non-human ones he works with. He is incapable of sympathizing even a little with his alien co-workers and appears to lack the common sense god gave a duck. The first issue revolves around his inexplicably foolish decision to clone himself in order to better manage the aforementioned chaos, resulting in a couple dozen amusingly bizarre variants of Churchill: sniper, computer jockey, bureaucrat, etc. The way the whole cloning subplot out has a deliciously satirical angle but really is subordinate to a political assassination that will likely be tied somehow to the “accidental” murder of a diplomat that kicked off the issue. The “diplomatic immunity” trope that plays into the first storyline immediately brings to mind B-movie cop thrillers but the gonzo sci-fi setting is so colorful that there’s a wonderful cognitive dissonance. The dialogue balances expositive and procedural sharpness with sharp, acidic snark, keeping the action movie while adding vibrant color to the characters. By playing in extremes, Jenkins keeps Replica from being part of the stagnant sci-fi herd though perhaps this is just coming from someone enamored of the 2000 AD style of satirical sci-fi.
Tony Bedard, veteran DC artist, said of Replica artist Andy Clarke: “A lot of people are going to be floored when they see his stuff.” I am in 100% agreement. No hyperbole. I’ve read some of the recent Mass Effect comics and they’re not bad but if they’d had Andy Clarke on pencils, they’d at least have nailed the visuals. But I’m glad Clarke has been handed something as unanchored as Replica; the massive diversity of aliens he throws on to these pages is mind-blowing; some panels need to be really lingered on in order for their maximum impact to be felt. The POVs have the energy of action movie cinematography but also fully utilize the flexibility of the comic book medium; a great example is two back-to-back panels depicting a generous splattering of an alien, using horizontal visual momentum to create whiplash as the top half of the creature disappears in a really elaborate fountain of gore.
But enough about Andy Clarke, let’s talk about colorist Marcelo Maiolo. A Brazilian colorist who’s primarily worked with DC but done more than a couple cinematic comics as well, Maiolo brings both those worlds together with his work on Replica. For example, it’s not surprising that he was the colorist for the Pacific Rim comic; his aliens come in bold hues that don’t distract but highlight. What’s really amazing is how the colors fit comfortably into the diverse, challenging range of settings and action, never flagging in energy and often bringing emotional moments to the fore. Several panels go big with crimson hued backgrounds and white foregrounds but Maiolo keeps those clear of Miller-esque silhouettes and manages to imbue even those panels with subtle details.
And letterer Clayton Cowles delivers on 90% of the pages, above average, and he delivers above average work too, offering small notes that amplify the action, like a digital blue-hued “deep deep” adding suspense to the assassination scene or the massive, panel-tall “BANG” that, placed in the right margin of the exploding torso, really nails home the visceral magnitude of the action.
Right now, Image Comics puts out a great pocket of comics of various genres and it’s an unspoken truth that any time I review a comic here, that’s the bar that’s been set; high quality comics running $2.50 on average. That’s a dollar and a half cheaper than Replica. Does Replica justify that extra cost? It does, thanks to the combined efforts of Marcelo Maiolo and Andy Clark and Clayton Cowles, who take Jenkins ambitious script and make it pop with the kind of mad energy that you usually only see when Darick Robertson or Geof Darrow is involved. In fact, Replica feels a lot like what would happen if the creative team of Transmetropolitan had to make a Mass Effect comic. That’s probably the highest compliment I’ve ever paid a comic, really.