A new Vertigo mini-series from DC Comics brings together the talents of writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso (of 100 Bullets fame) to tell the story of Orson, a would-be astronaut genetically engineered to travel to Mars. But in this near-future world (disturbingly much like our own) the economy has collapsed and the space program is eliminated. Orson is reduced to scavenging for scrap metal from derelict ships floating in a no-man’s zone rife with pirates and other undesirables. His one-man salvage trawler isn’t in much better shape than the junk he collects, making each day a struggle to survive.
Orson is a tragic figure, with a hulking, gorilla-like body coupled with a mind that doesn’t seem particularly high on the IQ scale. It is evident his physique and abilities were designed for the basic grunt work that a mission to Mars would require from lower-ranking crew members. With no hope in God or man, reality offers a bleak existence made bearable by his drug-enhanced dreams of what life would have been like if he were an astronaut. And there are also the regularly scheduled virtual sex sessions with the sensor-enhanced Lilly.
Artist Risso has done a fantastic job of capturing the gritty, hopeless landscape of urban decay and resignation that serves as a background for this story. Adding to the artwork is the slang dialog Azzarello has created for his characters — especially strong in the lower-class conversations between Orson and the street-wise kids who hang around when Orson docks his boat. This gives a feeling of isolation from those in society with more advantages, while showing a type of camaraderie among those on the lower end of the social ladder. I really liked the slang aspect of the writing, even if it did take a while to get comfortable with it. Of course, the illustrations help fill in the gaps, but I’ll confess that I had to go back and re-read some passages two or three times to get the meaning.
Neither street urchins nor media moguls are immune from society’s decline, yet amid the gloom and doom, there is some humanity left. When a young orphan girl is kidnapped, Orson is so sympathetic to her plight that even the urchins who regularly harass him notice his heartfelt concern. In his spaceman dreams, Orson is always the one who takes a chance and saves the day. If he had that same kind of opportunity in realtee (reality), now wouldn’t that be something?