‘Several prisoners work together to escape a high-security, outer space debtors’ prison when the A.I perversely instantiates a new routine that turns robot guards against the prisoners.’ from Comixology.com
Written by: Jami Todd
Art by: Rol Enriquez (pencils), Ernest Jocson (inks), Eugene Perez Jnr. (colours)
Publisher: Black Lion
Released: 29 March 2017
Black Lion comics
I like the stark graphic cover of this (plus a skull on the cover. Always with the skulls, I am), and my ears always perk up at sci-fi. Fighting killer robots in a space future prison? I’ll bite.
It’s a far future setting on an orbiting lunar prison station, but don’t expect any big splash page panoramas – Enriquez mostly keeps the focus on the characters to keep the story flowing. The backgrounds and close settings aren’t ignored though, and the space station and flashback backdrops are done well, though I’d be hard pressed to point out more than a panel or two where the setting was memorable. While I would have loved some more visual portrayal of the isolation of being in space, I know it’s not necessary for the story. As a handful of survivors seeking escape and safety, navigating the blood-soaked prison, our main characters are dealing with isolation inside the station itself. It’s not gore filled (though corpses and blood abound), and the diverse group of main characters are given a grim determination to suit the situation. But I’ll stop teasing now – when dealing with futuristic killer robots, your main question is going to be what about the robots?! The designs for the androids were pretty cool, a mix of industrial and almost militaristic kill-bot styles appearing. You can definitely see the relevant ideas with functional behind-the-scenes factory-style worker bots, heavy duty worker bots, slick armoured guard bots, and so on.
Black Lion comics
The premise of ‘AI caretakers for an isolated group of people going rogue and killing them’ is one that’s been done before, but can be approached and executed (pun intended heh) in a lot of different ways. It’s always going to have to involve dealing with something much stronger than the characters, that was intended to be a protector or server of some kind but has become a direct and deliberate threat instead, and how to escape from the confined or disconnected area. Considering the prison setting, Todd has chosen to make the escape the main point of the story, as well as the threat of inherent distrust between prisoners. The cause of the robots turning is covered briefly, but treated as a minor detail.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, this is a character-based tale. You’re exploring the survivors more than the danger or the setting, which is tricky to do with a short form comic. I don’t know a lot about Todd’s writing background (a couple of other comics that I can’t find out much about), but Alkatraz is written well. It starts from near the end and gives you the background in bits and pieces and flashbacks, which is a narrative style that’s harder to get right than you’d think, but for such a short story it’s commendably done by keeping the exposition bits brief. It keeps the tension going while giving you background and relating to the characters. The nature and temperament of the survivors is important in creating tension for this tale; the wider world they come from, as shown in flashbacks, is portrayed as not too different from our own in social context, but with many current social problems ramped up. It’s a neat method of creating sympathy for the prisoners, since people incarcerated for protesting or debt or other issues of injustice aren’t generally seen as deserving of a violent fate. The prison setting also creates the obvious opportunity for a range of skill sets in the survivors to help the story along, although it’s the decisions they make that keeps you reading, right down to an ambiguous ending.
It’s a great comic, though the same kind of plot and concepts have been done many times before in many different ways (I watched Robotropolis just the other week). Well written, but more impressive artwork would have lifted this to the next level and made it a must-have; I feel guilty saying that though because the artwork is solid, professional comic fare. Grab it if you love your character-focused sci-fi. As far as I can tell it’s only available digitally, on Comixology.com
Thanks to Comixology for supplying ‘Alkatraz‘ for review.