Julian Darius' Martian Comics is one of the most interesting super-indie titles I've read in some time. The majority of the book's page count is devoted to telling the story of Izzy Montoya, a young woman whose dreams about Mars are soon revealed to be the result of her body being possessed by an alien. In an interesting twist, the Martian character who takes control of Izzy's body is no evil emperor plotting to kill or conquer, rather she is just a woman who has grown disillusioned with Martian society and makes the decision to leave her body out of a desperate desire for a break from it all.
In this sense she's a character we can all relate to at least to some extent. Most of us have dreamed of a break from the stresses and strains of daily living, and Izzy's possessor faces those same struggles only on the face of a different planet. With her narration guiding almost the entire issue, by the final page writer Julian Darius has built a likeable protagonist with the potential to tell great stories with. One scene in particular sticks out in my mind in which Izzy tries to understand Earth humour and impress people at a party with hilarious results. Unfortunately, in this issue a well-developed lead comes at the expense of any well-developed supporting characters. Indeed, Izzy is very much front and centre this entire issue, which doesn't give the book's other characters much chance to grow.
The most prominent supporting character would be Izzy's sister Rita, who in the second half of the book is introduced as a loyal and loving sibling to the lead character. Still, her time in the limelight is limited and dominated by Izzy who spends most of these scenes trying to convince Rita of her extraordinary predicament, while also shedding some light on the history of Martian's interactions with Earth. Ultimately, it would be nice to see Rita given something pivotal to do herself throughout the duration of this story, something which could better define her personality and extend her beyond the bewildered but supportive sister archetype.
The only other memorable character introduced in this issue is the villain, known only as the Devil at this point. His appearance is brief and clearly just a hint towards things to come, so it would be unfair to complain that he isn't better developed. Judging from the cover, the next issue will give us a greater insight into this sinister figure, something I await with anticipation as his entrance here made quite the impression.
Although I had some gripes with the absence of a supporting cast, I did very much enjoy Martian Comics #1 thanks in large part to the creative mythology Darius has built around the series even at this early stage. Glimpses into Martian culture and even the method in which these creatures take control of a human host, as well as the effects a possessed person can have on those around them are all ideas I haven't seen before. There were a few things about life on Mars that I feel weren't explained terrifically well and bordered on confusing, but the ambitious world-building on display here is still impressive to watch unfold.
Where this issue falters is in its back-up story which explores the idea of Jesus as a human who was possessed by one of the book's Martian characters. This was an idea referenced mid-way through the book, and worked in passing as a fun line emphasising the expansive secret history Mars has with our planet. However, when elaborated on in the form of this short story it doesn't work quite as well. The whole five-page story feels disjointed and fails to capture your attention in the same way as the main plot, which ultimately I would have preferred to see more of in this slot. I understand that Darius is trying to expand his universe in these back-ups, but I feel like more interesting things could have been presented than a rushed recap of Jesus' life from the Martian perspective.
The artwork is carried out by Sergio Tarquini with colours from R. L. Campos; together this team provide the book with an appealing style in which each character has their own very distinctive look. Tarquini's designs of Mars and the aliens which inhabit it are memorable, and he shows a good understanding of portraying character's emotions on the page, an important factor in selling any scene. There are a few backgrounds that feel a little bland, but mostly the artwork is strong and nicely finished by Campos whose colours breathe life into the high-concept and futuristic Martian society, just as they also bring a realism and familiarity to our less impressive planet.
While not without its flaws, this is a strong debut for Martian Comics that science-fiction fans should really enjoy. This story shows great potential, and if it can correct its flaws in subsequent issues could prove to be a real hidden gem.