Creator/Writer: Ken Pisani
Artist: Arturo Lauria
Editors: Jim Gibbons, Dave Marshall
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Quoting Gene Roddenberry about his Utopian science fiction vision for Star Trek “The human race is a remarkable creature, one with great potential and I hope to show us what we can be if we believe in ourselves and our abilities”. Colonus from creator/writer Ken Pisani and artist Arturo Lauria on the other hand gives us the more likely vision of what happens when humanity having never learned to conquer the collective inner demon expands into the universe. The result? Murder, violence, betrayal and exploitation.
In the future, humanity has plundered and exploited Earth leaving it uninhabitable. The surviving remnants of our species flees the polluted nest to colonize the solar system. The rich and powerful elite move to Mars while the criminals and fringe elements are forced to make a life for themselves on the inhospitable world of Venus. Years later, Mars turns its greedy eye towards the ingenuity and resources of Venus and its populace. Caught in the middle is one family whose struggle for power and survival becomes the microcosmic manifestation of this interplanetary conflict. Two planets but one family and one people at war with itself.
Pisani has set up a universe of symbolism here that on the surface would seem to be obvious. The unregulated Capitalism of Mars and the vaguely Marxist society of Venus. While this analogue of economic struggle is inherent in the story we also see a layer of rugged individualism versus conformity at play with Venus/Mars respectively. In the hands of a lesser writer these dualities would overpower the story. Pisani, seemingly aware of how character can be eclipsed by political manifestos in fiction, just as the residents of Venus are aware that Mars industry would put the boot to their necks, so he puts his characters and the human element first. Whether it’s a historic flashback, a scene of dialog or an action sequence, Pisani never loses the personal thread of the story. As we follow this thread deeper our expectations about the moral landscape of this story, as exemplified either in character or plot, is subverted. The dualities that Pasani sets up are seldom the whole story and nobody is entirely villain or hero. Corruption, violence and the pursuit of power is seen as systemic of the whole even as the poles of Mars and Venus claim philosophical superiority.
Matching Pisani’s brutally uncompromising story is the bold art style of Arturo Lauria. Lauria presents a dark and claustrophobic expressionism that while it is reminiscent of Futurist propaganda art and the work of Aiden Hughes aka “Brute!” it is a singularly unique style to Lauria. At times, Lauria’s use of color seems to obscure detail but then it becomes apparent that he is using color as the primary story telling device. This, combined with Pisani’s storytelling, gives the book an overall feeling of unrelenting aggression that wants to smack you in the face but still demands you stop and take your time and examine the panel contents. Included in this edition is a collection of Lauria’s sketches and some behind the scenes commentary from Pisani. These sketches further show Lauria’s skill as a visual designer and Pisani’s insights into his creative process and the collaboration between the two is a welcome addition.
Colonus is an engaging and challenging work that presents a dark view of the future and humanity in general. But when we look at the economic and environmental crisis’s in our own time Colonus becomes a poignant reflection of the here and now. Like all great science fiction, Colonus highlights something about humanity that is urgently relevant beyond silly genre trappings (which Colonus admittedly has none). Pisani and Lauria challenge us and refuse to tie things up with a nice bow of “right and wrong”. But still manage to give us an exciting story filled with action and intrigue.
My one complaint is that this work sets up so much; a rich history filled with nuanced politics and social phenomena, strong characters and a complex symbolism. Too much to fully elaborate in one volume. There is so much more to explore in this universe. So many more stories to tell. I hope this creative team returns as soon as possible to do that.