By now you know that we like to do our reviews and recommendations in threes around here – besides being a nice, neat number, it gives you a few choices – you might not love one comic, but another might be right up your alley. Today I’m reviewing three totally different media with sci-fi themes, so if you’d rather listen to or watch your stories than read ’em, I’ve got you covered! If you don’t like science fiction, I don’t think I can help you.
The Podcast – Hadron Gospel Hour
First up we have a podcast I’ve been enjoying the heck out of – Hadron Gospel Hour. HGH is the story of Mike Wilkinson, a pretty ordinary guy, and Dr. Francis “Oppenheimer” Valdini, a scientist who’s anything but ordinary. Dr. Oppenheimer, while conducting experiments to weaponize the “hadron effect” of the Large Hadron Collider, has managed instead to tear a rift in space and time, and, inadvertently, in his beloved wife, Esmeralda, sending particles of her all over the multiverse. The rift threatens the stability of all of the parallel worlds and timelines of the multiverse – including Mike’s. A chance meeting between the two men results in them teaming up to try to seal the rift, save the remaining universes, and with luck, piece Esmeralda back together again. They’re joined by A.S.H.L.E., a sardonic AI, Cyrus, a goofy janitor who became stuck in the wall of Dr. Oppenheimer’s lab thanks to the rift, and Higgs-B, a cheery sentient Higgs boson particle. Together this motley crew roams the multiverse, sharing misadventures and becoming a family.
The show is an homage to science fiction B movies, 60’s cartoons, and comic books – a recent episode attempted to settle the great DC vs. Marvel debate. It’s also really, sincerely funny, especially after the first few episodes, when the cast solidifies and it finds its stride. It also abandons an early conceit – Tales from the Hadron Rift – in which the main story would be interrupted by humorous looks at life in the multiverse. I prefer the current format because I think it’s stronger focused on the main plotlines – and I find myself laughing out loud like a goon as I listen on the way to work.
Additionally, the voice acting is seriously amazing – co-creator (with Michael McQuilkin, who plays Mike) Rich Wentworth, who voices Dr. Oppenheimer and an assortment of other characters, is an absolute marvel. Each of his characters is distinct not only in voice, but in mannerisms and personality – it took me a few listens to realize that they had the same actor. The rest of cast, while voicing fewer characters, are also incredibly talented and each is given the right amount of time to shine. If you’re looking for something fun to listen to while you’re waiting for Serial to come back, give this a try!
The Comic – Kaijumax
My next recommendation is a comic by, in my opinion, one of the most underrated talents in comics today, writer-artist Zander Cannon. His work on Alan Moore’s Top 10 cements his place in my heart forever, and last year’s one-shot Heck is a sad, thoughtful take on Dante’s Inferno. So I was predisposed to be interested in his new title, Kaijumax, even before I knew it was a prison drama about giant monsters.
Set on an island near Japan, Kaijumax is exactly what is sounds like – a maximum security prison for monsters, mostly of the Toho variety, although some reader-suggested monsters are worked into the backgrounds, and some, like The Creature from Devil’s Creek, are fashioned in style of American urban legends. The story follows Electrogor, a giant insect who lives by the sea and eat electricity in order create food for his two children. It’s while out gathering food that he runs afoul of a human ship and gets booked and sentenced to Kaijumax for the resulting destruction – where his real troubles start.
The art is bright and colorful, full of visual jokes like a monster who appears to be attacking a city – until the point of view pulls back and you see that he’s just working out with building-shaped weights. But despite the fun, this is still a story about prison, complete with corrupt guards, illicit drug use, violence between gangs, and the despair of the inmates. This is NOT an-all ages title, as they remind you in letters page. But it’s a great balance between whimsical fun and a story with a real heart. Don’t sleep on this – grab a copy and let’s keep it going!
The TV Show – Orphan Black
*MILD SPOILER WARNING. IF YOU WANT TO WATCH WITH A TOTALLY BLANK SLATE, READ NO FURTHER. If a few small reveals don’t bug you, go for it.*
Originally, I was going to make this a “Two Things” post and not include this, because it’s a popular and critically acclaimed show and I figured everybody already knows about it. But my husband has been talking to people and it seems like no one we know actually watches it, so I’m gonna try to convince you.
If you aren’t already aware, Orphan Black is a story about clones. It opens with a small-time con woman, Sarah Manning, witnessing a suicide in a subway station. Just before the woman, Beth Childs, jumps, Sarah sees that she has Sarah’s face. She decides to assume Beth’s identity, and learns that it isn’t just a weird coincidence – she, Beth, and several other women are clones created as part of “Project Leda,” an attempt by a sinister tech company called the Dyad Institute to create human clones for reasons that are still unfolding in the show.
It’s worth watching just for the technical brilliance and acting feats – the scenes with multiple clones are flawless in their execution, and Tatiana Maslany, who plays all of the Leda clones, is a total chameleon. Each character is so completely distinct and unique that I sometimes forget that they’re actually all the same person. But beyond the technical and theatrical magic, this story feels important – and incredibly feminist. At the opening of the series three episodes, a message flashes across the screen: I am not your property. The Leda clones have a literal struggle with this – their genes are patented. They’re fighting to assert control over their own bodies – but so are many women all over the world. Whether they’re being leered at, critiqued in the media, or having acid thrown at them for rejecting a man’s advances, there’s still a very real struggle for ownership.
Another theme is motherhood and its connection to womanhood – the clones are largely adopted, and most of them are sterile by design. How each of them cope with that is as varied as they are – and each reaction feels valid and real. It also relates to a theme that resonates across all three of the works I’ve written about – the concept of families. What makes a family – biology, or connection, or both? Hadron Gospel Hour is a light take on the “chosen family.” Electrogor is fighting for his kids in Kaijumax. And Orphan Black is full of familial connections both chosen and not, and explores the importance and weight of both. Go watch, for heaven’s sake!
As always, if you have listened to, read, or watched any of these three things, I’d love to hear what you think of them in the comments! If you haven’t – let me know if I’ve inspired you to try.