Buy This Book: Ian Edginton And I.N.J. Culbard’s ‘Brass Sun’ From 2000 A.D.
It's a pretty big flaw to have when your job is knowing things about comic books, but I'll admit that when I hear the words 2000 AD, I tend to just think of Judge Dredd and stop there. In my head, I'm fully aware that the weekly anthology has way more science fiction to offer beyond the walls of Mega City One -- and I've got the paperbacks around here to prove it -- but far too often, I forget about everything that doesn't have gigantic kneepads and a tendency to throw creeps into the Iso-Cubes.
That's why I'm glad that the publisher sent over a copy of their new title, Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard's Brass Sun, because otherwise, it's pretty likely that I would've missed it. That would've been a shame, too, because it's one of the most fascinating and beautiful new comics that I've read in a long while.
To say that Brass Sun is high concept is underselling things quite a bit. Set in a world dominated by a machine-based theocracy that's denying an oncoming ice age to preserve its own shaky power in the face of a rising tide of heresy, the story follows Wren, a young girl whose grandfather entrusts her with the truth about what's happening shortly before he's burned at the stake. Then the people in giant robot suits show up.
If that sounds a little complicated, it's because it is. There's a lot going on here, and because of that, the first issue of Brass Sun isn't something that's particularly easy to sum up quickly, even with just the brisk 30 pages of the first installment. The thing is, Edginton and Culbard manage to present it all in such a way that it's never overwhelming. Everything is mentioned just enough to make it clear that there's a rich, complicated backstory going on here that's going to be explored and teased out over the course of a longer story, striking that delicate and almost impossible balance of giving the reader enough information so that they're not confused, but not so much that people are delivering exposition for pages and pages at a time.
Granted, there is a lot of chatter about history and setup...
...but it's all done in a way that feels natural, smart, and most of all, tense. From page one, there's an unnerving sense of dread (not to be confused with the Judge) moving through this comic on all sides, and it's that palpable fear that really makes it work.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's absolutely beautiful, either.
Culbard's art is phenomenal. I know that if there's one thing artists definitely love, it's being compared to each other, but reading through this issue, I was struck by how much it reminded me of Hawkeye's David Aja. There's an incredible expressiveness to everything he draws that comes through in the faces and body language of everyone in the story, in the lined, aged faces of the leaders trying to keep their population firmly under their heel and in Wren's fresh young optimism. And that's on top of having to draw the complicated cosmology of this world where everything is based on cogs and gears. Just the idea of the planets that turn on massive columns in a solar system arranged like a model is a killer visual, but to see it actually rendered in the pages of a comic? It's impressive to say the least.
Conveying that sense of scale along with the kind of emotion that's sitting at the heart of this book is a mean feat all by itself, but it comes together with the sharp scriptwriting to create a world that seems instantly tangible, and more than that, that it seems easy to care about even as it spirals into these complicated threats of cosmic doom and religious hierarchies. And really, it all comes down to Wren herself.
It feels like it takes a little longer for Wren to be introduced than it actually does -- she shows up on page 6, but given the anthology nature of 2000 AD stories, creators tend to cram as much into each page as they can and those first five pages get a heck of a lot done -- but when she does appear, she's one of those instantly relatable characters. She's a kid trapped in a bad situation on a pretty grand scale, and while that's a pretty familiar trope in the world of sci fi and fantasy, Edginton and Culbard go hard with it in a way that you don't normally see. Her grandfather isn't just cut down by the ominous forces of her enemies, he's dragged off, interrogated and burned at the stake in a scene that has an amazing twist. Wren herself doesn't just escape narrowly, she's shot five times and forces herself to get back up because the alternative is failure.
According to the press release that I got with the comic, Edginton describes his lead character as a "scrapper," and that's probably the best way to put it. Right away, she's established as a character who's not going to back down no matter how overwhelming and painful things get, and who has a family history of taking her enemies down with her. It's brutal stuff, but it makes for the kind of heroine that I can really get behind, something that 2000 AD as a publisher tends to be pretty good at.
And, you know, there's also the part with the dude in the steampunk robot suit there at the end. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what that's about, but I definitely want to find out.
The first chapters of Brass Sun have already run in the weekly 2000 AD anthology, but if you haven't been keeping up with those (which, if you are not currently in Great Britain and/or eager to receive the weekly gift of Thrillpower, is probably the case) but if you missed it, the new series is a fantastic place to jump on. It'll be reprinting everything, along with the third series, and if it can keep up the momentum of this first issue, it's going to be well worth picking up.