The Chimpanzee Complex 1: Paradox
Richard Marazano & Jean-Michel Ponzio
In 2035, the US Navy discovers a strange space capsule that has crashed in the Indian Ocean. Helen Friedman is in charge of interrogating the two survivors, who are none other than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin! Who, then, are the men who came back from the 1969 Apollo XI mission?
A lunar expedition is set up to elucidate this mystery. Friedman is involved in a case that will lead her much further than she ever expected as history is rewritten.
I wasn't sure what to make of this as I began to read it. The cover promised some pretty great looking science fiction and the image of the woman crying with the pseudo-shuttle blasting off behind her was intriguing. So, once I got stuck into it and the first reveal was not only intriguing as promised but incredibly confusing and unexpected... Neil and Buzz from the Apollo 11 mission? What the... ? Well that's how I like my science fiction. The problem is that discussing the reveal and the following incidents will take away the power of that plot, so I'll not discuss it any more here.
Jean-Michel Ponzio's art is perfect for a piece like this and I'm already a fan of his work that he did for 2000AD. The story follows the struggles of Helen Freeman and her professional and personal problems. The art is almost photographic and the technical side of it, not only of the 1960s space technology but of the near-future tech, is both accurate and wonderful to look at. The shadowed faces of the returning astronauts adds a dramatic punch as you can't see them directly but you can feel their shock and frustration. It's great art and the feelings and attitudes of each character are clear in their expressions. As this is more of a drama/mystery than it is a space adventure, this kind of art suits it just right. You want to feel what the characters are feeling and see by the looks on their faces how certain things are affecting them. This gives you that in spades and the emotions of the moments stand out. Of course, this is all helped along by Richard Marazano's great script. There's no narrative, just dialogue, and that's because everything you need to know is happening on the page and you don't need to be told what's going on. The dialogue is sharp, especially in the 'interrogation' scenes, and even though the story does require some exposition it doesn't seem forced and it certainly isn't boring.
My issue with this first volume is that there's a deep, intriguing mystery here but some of the space to tell that story has been used to tell the story about the rocky relationship between Helen and her daughter Sofia. It's an interesting relationship, and it certainly gives Helen's fateful decisions some emotional depth, but as a science fiction fan first I wanted to hear more about the mystery. Still, this is the first volume and it really gets going about two-thirds of the way through so I have the feeling that my wishes might come true.
This is an excellent first part to what appears to be a wonderful series. Let's hope that they can keep up this quality in the next episodes.