Written By: Zack Kaplan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Lettering By: Troy Peteri
Cover Artist: Andrea Mutti
Published By: Image Comics/Top Cow Productions
This week the gritty sci-fi action thriller “Port of Earth” (hereafter called PoE) from Top Cow Productions was released. Hot off the success of “Eclipse”, writer Zack Kaplan teams up with artist Andrea Mutti (Rebels, Star Wars, Batman Eternal) and colourist Vladimir Popov to take a fresh look at the question of whether we are alone in the universe. Here’s the official line on what the debut issue has in store:
Imagine if aliens came to Earth not in war or peace, but with a business deal: open up a spaceport here on Earth in exchange for advanced technology. But when our alien visitors break Port restrictions and wreak havoc in our cities, it falls to the newly formed Earth Security Agents to hunt down and safely deport the dangerous rogue aliens back to the Port of Earth.
The basic premise laid out in the opening panels of issue #1 is that a group of aliens calling themselves “The Consortium” contact earth with a proposition: in exchange for access to earth’s water supply, the extra-terrestrials will provide us with the technology needed to end the energy crisis forever. It’s a tempting prospect, and with no obvious drawbacks, those in power quickly agree. But while construction of the alien re-fuelling port off the Californian coast goes smoothly, the same cannot be said for business once the visitors begin to arrive.
Kaplan opts to present the first half of issue #1 as a sort of newsreel, with text paired to a series of images depicting the alien’s growing presence on planet earth. Eventually, this transitions to a studio, where reporter Ms. Campbell interviews the head of the newly formed earth security agency (ESA), Tom Rutgers. The crisis has now reached critical point, with multiple incidents involving multiple human deaths. In order to investigate further, the ESA has allowed news teams camera-access to their operations for the first time. This is where the issue moves to a more intimate, fast-paced narrative, following the story of agents McIntyre and Rice on a supposedly routine mission.
Amongst the finer points of this debut, the art certainly is deserving of praise. Mutti decides to give his world a grainy look, a choice only made gritter by the tired, washed-out colour scheme supplied by Popov. The combined effect is almost noir, and very suitable given the tense political undertones. But while the artwork excels in this debut, the same cannot be said of the PoE storyline and its pacing. The opening newsreel stretches far too long, eclipsing whatever forward momentum the second half of the issue has to offer. Compared to other comic strips which have employed this technique, the content also feels saturated, giving the reader a wealth of information which could have been dealt out more cleverly later on.
Yet, these are only teething problems when stacked next to the more fundamental issue PoE suffers with. Ultimately, it comes down to the viability of the concept. In early interviews, Kaplan pushed the originality of “Aliens doing business”, and certainly as a plot it does seem more intriguing than the watered-down Independence Day reboots we’ve seen in recent decades. Unfortunately, a story is only as good as its weakest links, and while further issues may offer more compelling narratives, so far PoE fails to stand out from amongst the crowd. Even the setting of San Francisco, which should harken us back with some nostalgia to classics such as “It came from beneath the Sea” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, tastes a little stale in our mouths. So too does the focus on a pair of quick-witted, no-nonsense government agents, which is just another hallmark of a story which reads blindly Americanised. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t fell in issue #1 like the world was at stake. Because, well, maybe it isn’t.