It’s easy to criticize the portrayal of scientific concepts in popular media. I’ve done it plenty, while trying to not get uppity about it, because the so-so science in entertainment can be a ready-made introduction to a real topic – one that’s often more interesting than the fictionalization.
Since 2008, Rick Loverd has been trying to make my job even easier by tightening up the facts in films and other stories, as Program Director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange. The group, part of the same National Academy of Sciences that advises the U.S. government on all things science and technology, connects entertainment professionals with experts who can appropriately advise on and tweak any glaring inaccuracies in a particular project, with the hope that both sides will be better for it.
Loverd’s played for both sides himself, with writing credits for NBC’s Friday Night Lights and a Top Cow series called Berserker under his belt. Now he’s returning to comics with a four-issue mine-series for BOOM! Studios called Venus, with the first slice of life on the solar system’s hottest rock dropping this week. Can Loverd practice what he preaches on scientific accuracy in media, and is it good?
Venus #1 (of 4) (BOOM! Studios)
Venus #1 takes place in the year 2150, a familiarly unfriendly time in which the Earth has been stripped of most of its resources and the world’s superpowers are forced to forage off-planet to make economic ends meet. The powerful Pan Pacific Alliance has strong-armed its way onto Mars, where they’ll be able to snag mineral-rich asteroids. Don’t tell Mark Watney, but that place is a paradise compared to the fantastic hellscape the Americans are left to conquer, when they send their Mayflower spacecraft to Earth’s “twin.”
Unsurprisingly, the mission falls apart almost immediately as there’s a shake-up in the ranks and a rip in the ship. As many comics do these days, the story opens in the thick of the action, leaving us to wonder how things got so bad and where the characters can go from here. The joint military/civilian venture crash lands just short of their target and they have to hoof it across the inferno to reach safety at the base. Or so they think.
Is It Good?
It’s mentioned early on that some preliminary terraforming has already occurred before our heroes arrive, so it’s not quite as bad as it could be. Still, the crew’s trek to their new home is rained on by sulfuric acid hail, and they’re acutely aware of how the incredibly thick atmosphere will crush them like bugs if the pressurized space suits fail. That’s some good science that literally illustrates what walking on the surface of Venus might be like.
There’s some iffier stuff preceding that, though. En route, the Mayflower’s engineers try to repair the ship’s stellarator reactor, a shout out to a weird idea that’s trying to make nuclear fusion a viable energy source. Fair enough, this is science fiction, and some folks in the real world think the damn thing might even work, but the fact that the ship’s captain thinks a botanist can assist on it is strange. As is one character threatening to rip out another’s “thorax” – which is basically a fancy word for upper torso. Neither of those makes a lot of sense, but maybe that’s the joke. Either way, they feel like the kind of clichés a book like this could stand to avoid.
The story itself suffers from the same syndrome at times, making Venus #1 not always easy to distinguish from Indie Sci-Fi Disaster Book #37. Some parts are unique for the wrong reasons, as when one character breaks her ankle clumsily after the danger has passed, almost as if she meant to do it during the storm but forgot until it was too late. The ending is abrupt and kind of anticlimactic, with a not-unexpected reveal that seems like more set-up until you turn the page and realize that’s it.
The art by penciller Huang Danlan and colorist Marcio Menyz is about par for the course, too. Lots of pained expressions on gaunt faces and an unfortunate lack of backgrounds in some panels. Where there are backgrounds, the outlines of the characters can be a little too sharp, making them look almost like stickers pasted onto a storyboard. And since it’s the future, of course you need to have a 3-D computer display that you manipulate with your hands.
Venus #1 admirably tries to accomplish a lot in a first issue, but it almost feels like the book concentrates on the wrong things. The title character, the planet itself, gets short shrift in favor of the rest of the cast and apparently extraneous details on the ship that’s gone for good two thirds of the way in. Of course the people of the story need to be developed, but a book called Venus, written by a science guy, almost implicitly promises that will come after we first get a good look at the awesome and terrible place that real humans may never be able to visit. It’s a little disappointing the creative team chose to do something more “standard” instead, but there are still three issues to go, so there’s still a chance for Venus to meet its unique opportunity and not become Indie Sci-Fi Disaster Book #38.