Alterna Comics has been around for a few years, but during the recent resurgence of the independent comics movement they have garnered praise for their character-based storytelling, commitment to their fans, and their economic model which manages to present hard copy comics for about the price of a candy bar. While slaves of the tech gods and dedicated collectors might sneer at the notion of buying a comic book printed on newsprint, those of us who buy comics for their entertainment value appreciate the easy entry and economic pricing structure. Their latest slate of Alterna’s releases included a mil-SF title, Exilium, that helps to alleviate the hankering for military fiction while waiting for the successful completion and delivery of Arkhaven’s own Ember War graphic novel IndieGoGo campaign. (Which has already raised over $13,000 dollars and could use your support if you haven’t already.)
The action starts fast and furious with only a brief setup:
“One the run from a superior force, an advanced alien race unknowingly leads their oppressors straight to Earth. Humanity’s only hope lies with a mysterious group known as the Exilium.”
It turns out that welcoming a large number of refugees, even extra-terrestrial refugees with advanced technology, brings with it a lot of challenges that may not be immediately apparent. In addition to internal conflicts generated by the rapid cultural changes that occur when Earth provides succor to the refugee fleet, it also puts Earth squarely on the side of the greater galactic conflict, and it’s only a matter of time before the oppressors find their earthly bolt hole and come calling. The story picks up long into a war of attrition when Earth’s guerilla war has nearly run out of steam. The main thread of this first issue follows one small fireteam of Ken the pilot, Tr’u the older alien mentor, and Nia the reluctant soldier, and sets up the overall goal for the forces of earth to contact the Exilium for…assistance?
It’s hard to tell. Exilium presents a solid foundation for the five issues to come, but the decision to cut away or drop to illegible whispers just when the rock-solid exposition is about to drop leaves some holes in the plot that make Exilium feel a little disjointed. Given how much the author, Ben Slabak, and artists Salomon Farias on pencils and inks, manage to pack into this 32-page issue it’s hard to fault them for not including more details on the overall direction of the story. For example, the two pages shown below show the radical changes to Earth since the arrival of the refugees.
We know the Exilium itself is important, we know they need to contact it, and we get to watch as our heroes engage in ground combat, space combat, even a full-blown infiltration mission, but without the solid foundation of a clear goal, all of the suspense of the spectacle arises only from our innate tendency to root for the side that’s most like us.
The art is solid, with real weight to the action, and the characters are well rounded and likable. Particularly the relationship between Ken and Tr’u, who banter and joke like old war buddies, and even mock the serious heavy of Nia’s character. The sepia tinged flashback shown here also shows the fear and anger that arises with the sudden influx of refugees fleeing a fight not of Earth’s concern, and shows us it’s been more than a couple of decades since their arrival, and conveys Nia’s emotional vulnerability all in a tight sequence of efficient storytelling.
Don’t let the newsprint or pricetag scare you off. The art is excellent and conveys a sense of weight and the doom hanging over humanity. The colors, dominated by greens and purples, jump off the page with a subdued vibrancy that reinforces the misery of fighting over ruins and the majesty of blasting aliens in high-earth orbit. Despite a few minor hiccups of missing information, Exilium represents a solid work of storytelling well worth the time for fans of mil-SF and comic books. It won’t take more than a few more successful titles like this and Ember War, before we can safely conclude that the era of superhero comic books is over, supplanted by a much more rich and varied culture with options for fans of every genre.