Comics: Martian Confederacy
The two volumes of Paige Braddock’s and Jason McNamara’s The Martian Confederacy present a sci-fi comedy set on a trailer park Mars, 1500 years in the future. A hot, tough robot, a human lunkhead and an anthropomorphic bear are the confederates, of sorts–three solo survivors in a tough world that could just about be a suburb of Mos Eisley.
Our main POV character, especially in the first volume, is Boone, lunkhead womanizer who barely (and criminally) makes ends meet, living in an artificially intelligent trailer that looks like it was built in the 1950s. The deliberate retro-redneck visual designs works well with the comic adventure flavor. You’re not supposed to sit around debating the science in the fiction. There is exactly enough world-building in these breezy stories to give the characters room to be entertaining.
The in-story explanation for this low-rent future is that some vague dark age has occurred in the millennium since our time, which helps account for the low-fi, trailer-trash aesthetic of such a far-flung era. Technologically, this Mars seems more on par with a Flash Gordon serial than a Star Trek episode. Which is not to say that Star Trek isn’t relevant here. A running gag is that after the dark period, media from our time was discovered and misinterpreted, sometimes to funny effect. The best gag is that money is referred to as Shatners. Also, the unethical mayor (of the planet? I missed something …) sometimes dresses like Han Solo.
In Volume 1 (subtitled “Rednecks on the Red Planet” online, though not on my actual copy), Boone’s father figure, “the professor,” is killed by the villainous mayor over a potentially revolutionary invention, which goes missing. Boone, the robotic Lou and ursine Spinner get caught up in avoiding the mayor and trying to right the wrong of the professor’s murder. In the process, Lou gets romantic with a spaceship, Boone gets it on with the apparently easy women of Mars, and there’s a pretty wacky case of Siamese twins.
McNamara’s script sometimes feels like he’s dressing up a really stock plot and characters with inventive details. You don’t see talking bears in your average lightweight crime-novel pastiche, do you?
Braddock’s art shows a love of newspaper-strip style art, with some of the rough lines of Peanuts (she worked for Charles Schulz for years) and, I dunno, For Better or For Worse, maybe? Looking at Boone ont he cover of Volume One and I’m kinda seeing male characters from Luann. I think it’s the eyebrows. Regardless, the art hits exactly the right sweet spot between cartooning for comedy and a more serious adventure-story style. It’s a little stiff in places, but disarming and engaging overall. Braddock tints the whole thing in shades of red, appropriate to the setting and a nice way to give the art depth without the cost of full color.
Volume 2, “From Mars With Love,” is better than the first, across the board. McNamara’s story is more convoluted, more surprising, and there are some really stellar lines of dialogue–a joke here and there that really sing on the page. The plot involves child labor, an interspecies slave trade, and a few overly familiar cliches, including the way Lou and Boone edge into romance but don’t quite change the status quo. That whole bit had the flavor of sitcom, really, as do a number of other twists. This may not be a bad thing, especially because the story is definitely moving forward in terms of the character work, which is vital–this kind of thing really hangs on whether you care about spending time with the cast.
Braddock has shifted to a blue palate, and applied it more sparingly, more deftly, than the red of volume one. Her line art is of a piece with the first volume, but it seems more confident. It’s not entirely consistent–it seems like she tries different techniques throughout the book, but all to good effect.
I liked these. They’re a nice balance of fun, weird, sexy, dramatic and touching. They’re pop candy that doesn’t make you feel guilty when you’re done. I picked them up from Braddock at the Alternative Press Expo last fall, and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the third volume.
For your reading edification, click on some early pages of Vol. 2: