Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Reviewing 1First Comics' ALIEN BONES (2019) by Doc Wyatt and Chris Grine



Alien Bones answers the question, "What's more awesome than dinosaurs?" with the perfect response. "ALIEN DINOSAURS!" Doc Wyatt and Chris Grines' Alien Bones is a kid friendly and action packed "dim dark" science fiction adventure that is fun for the whole family.

I interviewed Doc Wyatt about Alien Bones, and other projects, in Episode 165 of Geekerati.


What is Alien Bones?


Alien Bones is a middle-grade comic book of pulp and pop culture inspired science fiction adventure. The story centers on a ten year-old fossil hunter named Liam Mycroft, who is the son of a well-respected Xenopaleontologist. You read that right, he collects fossils of the "Alien Dinosaurs" that his father discovers various locations throughout the known galaxy. Liam's father mysteriously disappears on one of these digs, and it up to Liam, his friends Dianna and Rosa, and his trusty robot bodyguard Standard-5 ("Stan") to solve the mystery and save the day. Along the way, they bond closer as friends, encounter sinister traitors, battle space pirates, witness a major starship battle between massive armadas, and find the answer to one of the most dangerous mysteries in the universe, "What is The End?" In doing so, they discover a terrible foe that is an existential threat to the entire universe.

What Works? 


In addition to being the producer of films like Napoleon Dynamite, Doc Wyatt is a skilled television and film writer who has over a decade of experience writing on many of your favorite major action oriented cartoons. He's worked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Avengers: The Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Avengers Assemble, Batman Unlimited, Stretch Armstrong, My Little Pony, and that's only scratching the surface. 

Doc Wyatt demonstrates his expertise with writing kid-friendly action oriented tales, as well as a wide array of genre influences, in Alien Bones. He gets readers into the action quickly and keeps his characters in a near constant state of danger for all 176 pages. There is little room for the reader, let alone for the characters, to breathe as they are thrown from one peril to another. Wyatt follows the well established formula of many great pulp writers like Lester Dent:
  1. Introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.
  2. Shovel more grief onto the hero.
  3. Shovel more of the grief onto the hero.
  4. The mysteries remaining--one big one held over to this point will help grip interest--are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand. Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the "Treasure" be a dud, etc.) The snapper, the punch line to end it. 
And when in doubt always make sure to have Raymond Chandler's rule in reserve. I doubt Wyatt was using Dent's formula, but his action adheres to Dent's advice almost perfectly and it provides for a wonderfully quick reading pulp inspired adventure that left my daughters and me hoping that there would be a sequel.

Chris Grine illustrates the breakneck action with a cartoony style that conveys the sense of adventure, hints at the horror of "The End," while remaining very kid-friendly. Grine's cartoony style maximizes the psychological effects of using minimal facial details on protagonists and more detail on antagonists and threats that Scott McCloud details in Understanding Comics. By having the young and diverse cast of protagonists have minimal specific features, Grine's art makes it easy for young readers to see themselves as the protagonists. His illustrations of antagonists, like Captain Scarbones, have more specific details which separates them in the readers' minds and signals their status as threat or other. 

In his attempts to demonstrate how dangerous various antagonist and beasts are, Chris Grine never illustrates details that would be frightening to younger readers. He instead relies on a more subtle technique to convey discomfort and a sense of danger, the color scheme. The colors that tend to dominate the book are pastel versions of brown, red, purple, and green. This is Stan Lee's classic quartet of villain colors. Grine's use of green in Alien Bones is similar to the use in The Wachowski's Matrix films, green lighting is used to signify danger and threat. From the mysterious unexplored city, illuminated in green, to the light illuminating a traitor's face, green is used to signify danger. Similarly pink is used to signify a sense of safety, no matter how temporary. Grine's keeps these colors in pastel, rather than saturated, form which signals the threat, but doesn't make it overly ominous. It's very effective.

Similarly, Grine's dinosaur illustrations keep the careful balance between monstrous and cuddly. One particular dinosaur initially looks very threatening, but through visual cues Grine transforms a potential carnivorous beast into a solar powered dinosaur version of a pug. It's one of my favorite sequences in the book. Grine easily stays on the side of dim dark and avoids wandering into grim dark, making it perfect for middle grade readers, but his ability to convey action and whimsy make his illustrations appeal to even more jaded comic fans like me. 




I have one minor critique of Alien Bones. I wish Wyatt had made a different choice than to have the adventure begin with the disappearance of a parent. It's a very common narrative device in middle grade and young adult fiction that simultaneously enables and requires agency on the part of the protagonist, but it's also one that echoed a little to closely to the opening of another dim dark tale of youthful adventure I read recently. That dim dark tale is Cavan Scott's Warped Galaxies: Attack of the Necrons story (and sequels) for the new line of Warhammer 40k books for young readers. I don't know what other narrative device could have been used as the inciting incident, but after reading both the Age of Sigmar and Warped Galaxies series, I would like to see some other trope used. The fact that my own, still being written story, also uses it only adds to the critique as I am now grilling myself seeking an alternative.

Final Thoughts

Doc Wyatt and Chris Grine have packed a lot of world building content into the 176 pages of Alien Bones, that reflects a deep catalog of inspirations. There are references to Star Blazers, Warhammer 40k, Doctor Who, Indiana Jones, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, Lost in Space, Scooby Doo, Treasure Island, Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, Alien, Jurassic Park, and a host of other inspirations. I honestly don't know how Doc Wyatt managed to smash all of these things together while creating a coherent and engaging narrative that takes place in a beautiful and imaginative narrative universe, but he did just that.

I really hope we get to see more adventures in the universe of Alien Bones, whether or not those adventures include young Liam and his friends. There is a lot of space to explore and a lot of interesting characters are introduced. I'd like to get to know them all a little better, and even get the chance to pretend I'm one of them from time to time.

If you are a gamer and interested in "playing" in the Alien Bones universe, I've come up with some role playing statistics for some of the characters using the following systems.

No comments: