01/08/2012. Contributed by Andy Whitaker
pub:Arcana Comics. 109 page graphic novel/pdf file. Price: $14.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-92691-453-4).
check out website: www.arcanacomics.com
'Deadly Harvest' was created and written by Erik Hendrix and Michael David Nelson and the same pair share the credits for the letters. For those who don't know lettering is the art of putting the text on the page either as sound effects or as speech balloons. There is an awful lot of skill involved to get it right and sadly it often goes unnoticed as the graphical images tend to steal the limelight. Artwork was by Yannis Roumboulias, with inks by Jeff Graham assisted by Kellie Brearley. The colouring was by Doug Spencer and Michael David Nelson.
This is the tale of the spaceship Harvest Moon and her crew of asteroid miners as they go about their work chasing asteroids to mine the valuable resources they contain. In this case, they are looking for an ore called Kliptinium which is used to fuel spaceships and, while being very valuable, is also very dangerous as it has a tendency to explode at any opportunity. The very first page after the credits is a full page image of Captain Cyrus Layne of the Harvest Moon complaining about being in deep space and the lack of light as you are so far from the nearest stars. To emphasis this, the image is very dark and there is the suggestion of another crew member behind the Captain but it is hard to tell for certain. It is quite hard to figure out what is going on and this is a recurring theme that I will get back to.
Chapter one opens with a full page picture of the Harvest Moon approaching the target asteroid. Quite why there is an astronaut on the asteroid in a Tai-Chi pose is something of a mystery but I suppose being a bit loony is a pre-requisite for an asteroid miner. Anyway, the story continues with Layne on the asteroid and reporting back to the ship that he has found the Kliptinium equivalent to a gold mine. The viewpoint then switches to the ship's bridge and two crew members. Unfortunately, we don't know their names and they don't use them so we have no idea who they are. In the next few pages, more crew members appear but they are on the asteroid wearing spacesuits so we don't know who they are neither. They are wearing different coloured spacesuits with different styles of helmets which does not really help and later on adds to the confusion.
If you were to skip to the back of the novel or more specifically page 101, there is a section providing biographies for each of the crew members including names and pictures. As there are thirteen crew members, this is essential reading before you start the novel. To prove my point 'Stitch' is referred to in dialog bubbles but only makes one appearance late on. He is there as a small unnamed figure in the background in one panel on page 43 but you have to know what to look for. Without reading the crew manifest section, you would have no idea that Stitch is Dhan Shemer, the ship's doctor. Anyway, back to the story, there is an explosion which kills one crew member and I'm not sure, but it seems to have obliterated all the remaining Kliptinium. It is another example of where I'm not quite sure of what is going on and we are only on page 15.
The Harvest Moon sets course for the space station Cosmopolitan, where on arrival, Layne manages to get himself arrested and thrown in the local jail. When an Omega class asteroid is detected by an outpost (I'm assuming that Omega class is huge), Layne manages to bribe his way out of jail and get the opportunity to mine the asteroid providing they give the local authorities a fifteen per cent cut. At this point the story switches to Outpost 814 which made the discovery. It is only because I have read the novel several times now, do the bottom three panels on this page make sense. Without this knowledge, they are at best irrelevant and at worst confusing.
Moving on, Harvest Moon arrives at the asteroid to find another ship has beaten them to it. As Layne has the official sanction to mine the asteroid, they decide force is the appropriate action and set about confronting the unknown carpet baggers. In the ensuing action, it is very hard to make sense of what is going on. There are no distinguishing features or marks to help you identify the Harvest Moon's crew from the other crew and as they are all wearing spacesuits you can't see their faces neither. As the fight nears the climax, the aliens appear. I was beginning to wonder about them as it is quite late in the story and a proper SF story set in space needs an alien or two. The only problem here is their arrival is confused as the battle. No one, not any of the Harvest Moon crew or any of the unknown crew mentions the aliens. They do, of course, start shooting at them.
I can't comment to much more on the story without giving away the ending. What I can say is that according to the History appendix at the back of the novel, the idea came about from a TV series that follows trawlers in the Bearing Sea. These crews work in very harsh environments with the potential to make a lot of money if they get a good catch or none at all if they don't catch anything. Erik Hendrix and Michael David Nelson took this idea and moved it into outer space and asteroid mining. It is a good idea and could have worked but you need to read the novel at least twice before you can understand what is going on. Mind you, even reading the appendixes will not help you with the battle scenes as the reader needs a visual clue as to which side is which and who is shooting or hitting who.
Having read the story three times now, I'm still left a little disappointed. I can't decide if the original asteroid did annihilate due to the explosion or did the Harvest Moon fire something at it? Did any of the Harvest Moon's crew get hurt or killed in the action? No one says anything afterwards so we don't know. It might have been Stitch's one big moment to make more than a fleeting appearance. On a very last note, additional text or dialog to explain the aliens and their action would have helped bring the story to a proper closure.
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