Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing Hadrian’s Wall 1, originally released September 14th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: When you look at the landscape of genre fiction, you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s an unforgivably small number of genres that modern storytellers deal in. Fantasy, mystery, science fiction, horror, superhero, spy, crime, romance, adventure – it sounds like an exhausting list, but it’s frustrating to consider just how many stories end up regurgitating the tropes and story beats of a dozen proto-stories. Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis’ Hardian’s Wall 1 struggles with its own genres — a murder mystery set on a space ship in the future — before revealing that their protagonist has a much more nuanced, much less plug-and-play story to tell. There is no genre called “living in the world with your ex fiction” (as far as I can tell), so the fallout of Simon and Annabelle’s relationship plays out among the stars.
The issue starts very comfortably and assertively in the realm of science fiction. Borrowing imagery from all the best lonely-in-space movies, like 2001 or Gravity (or, y’know, Space Oddity), the first three pages are a study in slow, measured panic. Artist Rod Reis is at his most detail-oriented when chronicling the second-by-second expansion of the cracks in Edward Madigan’s visor.
Check out the reflection of the planet in the glass, perfectly staged opposite that growing web of cracked glass. This is immediately satisfying – a set of images we understand from years of seeing isolated spacemen facing their mortality in the infinite blackness of space. While Higgins, Siegel and Reis will pick up thematic elements from this scene later in the issue, they’re going to start slowly drifting away from all these obvious sci fi trappings.
And maybe “drift” is too passive a term for how they push away the futuristic setting. When we finally meet Simon, he’s picking up a prescription for painkillers in downtown Seattle – the year is 2085. Reis affects a Blade Runner-esque skyline, and we get some flying cars and all of that, but it’s clear that ol’ Simon doesn’t totally belong in this not-too-far-flung future. For one thing, we’re introduced to him paying in cash and insisting that the register is wrong. We actually spend an inordinate amount of time with Simon as he argues with the pharmacist – a whole page of bickering about a dollar. Here’s there so long, other characters start to complain about how long it’s taking.
It’s kind of an amazing scene. I found myself sympathizing with the costumers and the pharmacist: who cares about the dollar, man? Get back out into that cool sci fi city and do some cool sci fi shit! But Simon cannot – he’s hung up on his ex, and has developed an addiction to painkillers. He’s got a block to moving on with his life, just as this story has a block on engaging with all of it’s most fun genre tropes. Remember when I mentioned we’d return to the theme of the emptiness of space? We do, just a few pages later, but it’s in Simon’s apartment. Marshall even makes a point about surprised he is that Simon’s apartment is as clean as it is. “Clean” is Marshall’s word, but a more accurate description might be “sterile.” Reis takes the featureless room and runs with it, frequently obliterating the background in these panels altogether.
Simon has his created his own version of being lost in space. And it’s a stark contrast to the brief, fluffy, lush flashback we get a younger, happier Simon and Annabelle driving down the PHC at sunset, blasting Tom Petty.
Reis pulls out every trick in the book to set these scenes at contrast to each other. Most obviously, there are the wildly contrasting color palettes. Reis usually colors his characters’ skin with various grays (this was true in C.O.W.L. too), and that glowing mix of orange and pink immediately marks this as different. But also check out the paneling – the whole scene in Simon’s apartment is told in tall, narrow panels, six of them to a page (as shown above). The second we’re in the past, the orientation of the panels changes, and any tidy standardization of size and shape goes out the window. Reis also rips off the dark panel dividers he’s been using everywhere else. He’s showing us a happier time, but more importantly, it is a profoundly different time.
That’s what the the issue is about – exploring the difference between the good times and the bad. Murder on the
Orient Express Hadrian’s Wall is little more than an excuse to get Simon and Annabelle in the same space to work their shit out. I love seeing various science fiction questions pop up, only to be waved away or ignored. A cold war between Earth and Theta? An alternate history of American and Russian mutual nuking? A shady space corporation that exploits natural resources? That’s all dressing. The real drama is between Simon, Annabelle, and a past they can’t reconcile.
Michael: Damn you Patrick I was trying to think of what sci-fi future Rod Reis’ Seattle evokes but you beat me to the punch! But yes, the full page intro to future Seattle has Blade Runner written all over it: flying cars, Tokyo aesthetic and plenty of rain. I like the balloon umbrella’s that many of the people on the street seem to have as well. Naturally that leads me to imagine a bunch of balloon umbrella folks bouncing off each other and the walls as they try to pass by in tight corners.
I haven’t seen Rod Reis’ work outside of his collaborations with Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, so it was a treat to see what he could do on his own. The sterile decor of Simon’s apartment and the gray skin tones that make it look like the sun hasn’t shown in years remind me a lot of Frazer Irving’s style. Nothing super ominous has happened yet – besides the initial death of course – but Reis’ style gives a forboding tone to the whole thing, as if something bad is lurking around the corner. There’s a technique that Reis uses in one of the panels that is so simple and obvious (in the best ways) that it should be an industry standard. Once Simon identifies who the captain of Hadrian’s Wall is, he starts barking orders – which Captain Drekker is not so happy about. As Simon tries to semi-apologize for his presumption, Drekker defends himself. All the while Marshall remains silent in the background and Reis transforms him into a simple opaque outline. In fact Marshal and the negative space he resides in look like a white table cloth stained with red wine. I looked for some rorschach imagery throughout Hadrian’s Wall 1 but there is none, so I’m sticking with my wine stain theory. I’m guessing that since Simon was drinking red wine earlier as he shrugged away Edward’s death – a symbol of Simon’s apathy and indifference.
At the end of Hadrian’s Wall 1, we see Simon attempting to turn off that apathy and indifference. After he has a long back and forth with Annabelle, he returns to his room and dumps all of his pills down the drain. It seems that Annabelle was right about her theory of Simon going for broke and trying to get back together, but what triggered it? She seemed pretty clear about wanting Simon off of the ship ASAP, so is he just ignoring her? Or is it simply that he’s tired of being sedated all of the time? Rod Reis didn’t specifically show us that it was Simon who dumped his pills down the drain but I doubt it was anyone else. It’s not like Simon needs the painkillers and without them he’ll become unstable, right?
Simon and Annabelle’s relationship – or lack thereof – is the main focus of this issue but I do still loves me a good mystery, so I want to know how Edward really died. Simon seems to suggest that there was foul play involved and Annabelle assumes the company wants him to “phone it in.” Are we clear on what Simon does as an investigator, exactly? Is he like an insurance appraiser for Antares? He seems to be ridiculously good at his job like any TV detective working a crime scene – is he a criminal detective savant? And the ship’s named Hadrian’s Wall, implying its defending Earth from something – are they military? So many questions Mrs. Higgins and Siegel! I guess I’ll have to check beck next issue.
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