DCC Showcase – Zach Howard & Wild Blue Yonder
While I’d consider myself more of a noob than an expert in the comics and graphic novels world, I always get excited when I find a familiar face/name in a new series. What makes it even more exciting is when you get the chance to see them in person! And it looks like I might get that chance this year at Denver Comic Con. I was familiar with Zach Howard’s work in one of my favorite creepy/horrifying stories (that I mentioned awhile back), The Cape. When I heard that he was going to be at DCC this year and had recently been part of a new dystopian series, I had to check it out! So this week, I’m taking a look at Wild Blue Yonder, a post-apocalyptic adventure set in the skies after humanity has polluted themselves out of a home on the ground. The series is written by Mike Raicht, Zach Howard and Austin Harrison, illustrated by Zach Howard and colored by Nelson Daniel. It was a project worked on by the team in between other projects until it was successfully Kickstarted at the beginning of 2015 and then published in book form by IDW in mid-2015. It’s a mini-series of just six issues so a remarkably self-contained story that can easily be read in one sitting if you so choose.
Wild Blue Yonder is the story of Cola, a teenage fighter pilot who helps her family to protect a legendary ship known as The Dawn from those who seek to control it. The Dawn is a solar powered flying fortress that is home to an assortment of characters, both normal and strange. Pollution on the ground has made the skies the last remaining viable place for humanity to survive. Most of the common, poor and unlucky live on the ground, toiling in the mines and scraping by while slowly dying of the sickness that is an inescapable part of life on the ground. For those that make it into the air, life is a constant struggle over resources and particularly fuel. What makes The Dawn unique is that it’s not only a flying fortress but thanks to being solar powered, never needs to be refueled. This uniqueness also makes The Dawn a hell of a target for those that would like to use her for their own purposes. The Dawn and her crew have come to the attention of an armada of warships led by a man known as the Judge, who will stop at nothing to possess her and who views her crew as entirely expendable. Cola and her family must somehow fight off the Judge and his army if they hope to survive and see a better future.
I have to admit that I’m a bit burned out on the dystopian genre and I wasn’t completely sold on Wild Blue Yonder before picking it up. I have read so many pollution oriented science fiction/dystopian stories in the last few years that I hesitate to pick them up now. While I’m not sure that I would call Wild Blue Yonder a fresh take on the dystopian genre, I think it succeeds better than most at the inherent human element in the genre. While the villain the Judge initially feels like your standard, over-the-top, take no prisoners egomaniac, the creators do an excellent job of making you at least understand his motivations. He’s not just doing terrible things because he wants power, he’s doing them because he has firm, very militaristic views of how society will survive in the new age and he will do anything to ensure that only the best survive. In contrast, Cola and her family focus on the family that they’ve built on the the Dawn. Few of the crew are actually related by blood but living together and trusting each other has built links between them, links strengthened by the constant threat of the Judge and his army. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Cola and her mother, who commands the ships on the Dawn. It was nice to see a familial relationship that could be both contentious and loving. Cola and her mother rarely see eye to eye but it’s clear that they care for each other and are just doing their best to survive. While the storyline might not be a totally new take on the genre, the relationships and humanity of the characters help to sell the story and tug on your heartstrings even if you’re as jaded as I am on dystopians.
Both Zach Howard and Nelson Daniel do Cola and the rest of the characters in the series justice with pretty amazing artwork. While it’s often more brutal than beautiful, it feels appropriately epic for a struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. The art and colors vary from dark scenes in the ship (and particularly with the Judge, who is often in shadow), to brilliant radiation storm sunsets and brutally violent warfare between planes, jetpackers known as guns and the ships’ crews themselves. I was really impressed with the design of the characters and the vehicles, a lot of thought and effort has gone into the artistic world building as much as the linguistic side. If I have one complaint about the series, it’s that some of the fight scenes, particularly in the lead-up to the final battle, are very busy and can be a little difficult to distinguish what’s going on. I would guess that this is largely due to the project being largely a side project for the creators until it was Kickstarted and that the ending may have been a bit rushed. Despite that busyness, I think the art is a great match for the storytelling and you can tell how integrated both writers and artists were into the entire story so that neither side really outshines the other.
Both the story and the art of Wild Blue Yonder make it an excellent dystopian story that is well worth picking up. The epic violence of it isn’t going to be for everyone and I’d probably recommend it more for those that can handle a little blood and gore and want a bit more humanity in their dystopian stories. I really enjoyed the story of Cola and her family fighting against all odds for the future that they want and will definitely be keeping an eye out for the creators of the series in the future. It also has me even more excited to see Zach Howard at DCC and I would highly recommend attending any of the three panels he’ll be on: Star Trek Comics, G.I. Joe in the Comics and Art of the Cover!