Review by Leann Hamilton (originally posted on The Cool Bean Blog)

When it comes to deciding on what new titles I want to pick up or purchase – the latter being a bigger deciding factor as I have recently started to watch what I spend – I usually gravitate towards science fiction and fantasy stories. As much as I love, say, the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, I want to aim towards getting more science fiction stories in my collection. The Man in the High Castle fascinated me with its alternate history 1960′s America divided by Axis powers after World War 2. And more recently at MCM Belfast, I’d gotten my hands on a copy of Whatever Happened to the World’s Fastest Man? that is published by Accent UK, which is an absolute masterpiece on the duality of superpowers and the sad consequences of having them. Voices from a Distant Star is a sci fi short animation (since turned into a manga) that explores the survival of a relationship during a deep space war – two teen sweethearts keep in touch as one travels further away from Earth to the battlefield, her messages gradually taking months then years to reach her boyfriend back home while he ages and matures without her. As I’m here gushing about science fiction stories with a great human touch, I still have Leap to review, which is a story about working for humanity’s future as opposed to humanity’s facets as a theme.

Leap is a new science fiction title from Derry-based Uproar Comics, who have published other titles such as Zombies Hi and various other one-shot titles. As Zombies Hi is set firmly in the horror genre (of course), Leap is Uproar’s foray into telling a science fiction story. With a nice insight into marketing the comic, Uproar created an animated trailer using the actual in-comic art that you can see here.

The comic begins with a chapter called ‘The Setup’, as a space marine named Prime is awakened from her cryosleep on a satellite ship called The Vanguard. The ship has found a planet that is suitable for humans to live on and begins its mission to explore the surface. The planet is already home to a race of humanoid aliens, and after their introduction are soon being chased by another nasty alien beastie preying on them. They climb up a cliff to escape to be met by Pol, a Vanguard security officer in a protected mech suit, who comes to their rescue and defeats the carnivorous alien. After being radioed in by another Vanguard member named Cole, ordering him to stop interfering with the native fauna and return to the landing area, Pol flies away leaving the bewildered aliens looking on behind him.

Cole has discovered that the planet, while safe for human life, has little in the way of fuel and makes plans to leave. He is soon ambushed by a hostile group of the same alien species, and Pol signals for help when he discovers Cole has been kidnapped. Prime comes to the rescue with armed androids in tow, despite being angry about the lack of contact from Earth (despite that transmissions would be delayed by many years). She chews Pol out for not doing his job, and leads a team of robots to go search for Cole. They soon find the tribal home of the aliens with Lord Cnut as their leader, with the bewildered aliens from earlier gushing about seeing God in the desert.

Prime and Pol stir up some mayhem as they free Cole from his prison, and with the aliens giving chase after them, they finally reach their ship and a spat breaks out when Prime discovers the beacon hasn’t been lit yet. As we find out, Prime is the bearer of a harsh secret which involves the mission status of the Vanguard. Coming back to her senses, she orders Cole to light the beacon anyway while Pol imitates the ‘god’ to distract the aliens. When Prime and Cole are back on board their ship, Prime reveals to Cole that there’s something else packed away on the Vanguard and awakening another team member from cryosleep will help them.

Leap does have some promise as a long running series. The Vanguard and its mission to explore and find new worlds for humanity to live on will have a lot of content and story to explain in the near future. However for a high spirited attempt at a sci-fi story, Leap needs a lot to polish off. Early on, the second page narrates a kind of ‘To Boldly Go preface that seems to be addressed to no one, even though it uses similar pointy speech bubbles of the voice within the Vanguard rather than regular caption boxes, and is set six hours after Prime wakes up. The characters are thankfully clearly defined and have a unique voice, though Prime slips the word ‘whilst’ into her lexicon – it would be amusing to entertain the thought of a space marine using old English colloquialisms in her dialogue.

The art sadly suffers from many sluggish tropes – when 3D models are used in a 2D medium, a lot more work is needed to make them emote and pop off the page. Layouts are otherwise clear but the figures look rather stiff and loosely posed. The designs of the Vanguard unit are identical style wise to the likes of various game series like Mass Effect, while the aliens resemble the Mudokons from the old Playstation series of games Abe’s Oddysee (sic). The alien planet and the interior of the Vanguard are mostly featureless and bland.

Perhaps it’s due to the limitations in the 3D models, but the designs are made even uglier by a strange ink outline filter and a colour palette that makes everything look dull and muddy. Shadows and midtones get too dark to see the details of the characters and machinery, which is creative death for showing off the merits of using 3D models. There are little to no accent colours or rendering that would lift the monotony of the palette. While there’s been some effort to make the cast look distinctive from each other, Prime looks rather ape-like at certain angles, which might raise some questions and bad implications.

If these design and presentation issues were addressed earlier on, I would stick with Leap and see where the story takes itself next. It seems to get a bit more interesting by the end of issue #0, even though this feels like an issue #1 with a semi-cliffhanger ending – a zero issue is usually an appendix that fleshes out the backstory of a series, and without this issue, I doubt new readers would have an idea of what’s going on in the next. (I’ve wrote this without the context of Leap #1, which has since been released but currently unavailable to me.) As an original science fiction comic within the Irish comics market it’s a breath of fresh air, but more work on its presentation is still needed with revision and practise.