“Some of us have died for their freedom, some are quite happy in the cage”
21 Pulp has put out some keen comics, mainly, it seems, with an eye toward turning them into movies. I don’t love when companies do that, because it seems to imply that comics are some kind of ghetto, but I do admit that over the years, we haven’t seen a ton of these kinds of things turned into movies, but we have gotten some interesting comics! Prison Earth is written by James Patrick, and it’s based on an actual script by David Winkler and Jeff Wolverton. It’s drawn by Riccardo Faccini and lettered by Marco Della Verde. So let’s take a look!
This begins with a cool idea. After a brief scene in which strange and horrible things happen, a woman – an actor – visits a therapist and tells him that there’s a monster living inside her. He thinks it’s metaphorical, of course, but we know we’re reading a comic and it’s probably not! Later, his wife dies in a car accident, and after he gets out of the hospital, he starts feeling everyone’s emotions. Meanwhile, there’s a weird coroner who seems to be investigating something beyond her purview. They meet when the therapist comes across a person who also talks about having a monster inside him, one that erupts from his body in spectacular fashion. The coroner rolls up, kills the “monster,” and introduces herself. She has figured out that Earth is a prison (I know, it’s right there in the title!) – more specifically, people are prisons, and the monsters are aliens that, when they “escape,” come right out of the person’s body and cause a real mess. The coroner – Martha Hale – thinks that they know about them because she and the therapist – Cole Ashby – are supposed to be wardens. And so the plot is in motion!
For a book that’s basically a superhero team-up, Prison Earth has some interesting things going on. Hale can figure out who the “wardens” are, so they find one … who turns out to be a criminal. Let’s ignore the fact that the only black person in the book is a criminal and the group’s “strong man” and move on to the fourth member, a boy who, it turns out, is helping one of the aliens. He has a good reason, and this is another reason why the book is interesting – the aliens aren’t necessarily villains, they’re just convicts. So the main alien turns out to have more complex motives for doing what he’s doing than “I’m a convict and I want to escape.” He definitely wants to do that, but when we start getting into why he’s in prison, the book becomes less a “punch-’em-up” and more of an examination of why sentient creatures use prisons and what might be done differently. It’s not the deepest thing in the world, but it is a clever idea that elevates the story a bit. Of course, eventually the “superheroes” are going to have to start punching things, but getting there is a bit more interesting than usual.
Faccini’s art is decent enough – he doesn’t do action as well as I’d like, so some of his choreography is a bit confusing, but he does the body horror part of the book quite well, so when the aliens “escape” the human bodies they’re imprisoned in, it looks gross and cool. His alien designs are pretty neat, too, so that’s all right. He isn’t really called on to do too much that’s crazy, so he just sticks to simple page layouts and clear drawings. It seems he could be a bit more imaginative if he wanted to be, but this does feel like a storyboard for a movie at times (which is probably is), so Faccini isn’t really given much of a chance to show off. The few times he has to show the aliens “haunting” the people in whom they’re embedded, he does a nice job. It would have been nice to see him cut loose a bit more.
This tells a complete story, but of course it’s left open for sequels, so we’ll see about that. It’s a pretty good thriller, despite the familiarity superhero readers might feel about it, and it is a clever idea. it’s a fun little book.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆