Ah, the future. Will we finally have flying cars, or will replicants walk among us and dream of their electric sheep? If film, television and comics have taught us anything, it’s that the future is shiny at first then revealed to be a horrible nightmare where almost everyone wants you dead. Or, it’s immediately terrible, such as the case in Ben Jelter‘s Heliosphere. A wasteland’s wasteland, the unusual creatures littering the world vie for knowledge and survival. It’s the survival of the fittest, and Heliosphere has no shortage of action and punk-attitude to thrive in its post-apocalyptic world.
Heliosphere jumps right in with Synth, the definition of someone not giving a damn. At the start of her productive day of vandalism and theft, she collides into time traveler Maya circa Brooklyn 1998. Or rather, Maya crashes into her, breaking off half of Synth’s face and revealing her to be an android. The two flee from a ‘skinbot’ hating mob, and Maya passes out from the sheer exhaustion of 5000 years worth of traveling. She wakes up inside the base of Uplift, a secret organization hell-bent on retrieving artificial intelligence from the Clankers. Head honcho Dr. Molai and a reluctant Synth want Maya to join their cause, but all Maya wants is to go home. They agree to help her, but only after they’ve won their war. Maya has no choice but to agree, and must survive her new environment if she ever hopes to make it home.
At least, that’s what I think it’s about. It’s a lot of science to swallow. Heliosphere starts off strong, diving head-first into the adventure, and slowly knitting exposition in later; a shoot first, ask questions later approach. It’s just that when readers do encounter exposition blocks or scientifically driven scenes, it can feel bogged down. But even in these dense, slow scenes the comic never takes itself too seriously, which is one of its greatest strengths. In the midst of science, there are some genuinely funny moments: Maya gets caught in her time machine because someone unplugs it; milk is considered hard liquor; Uplift’s base is located inside a blimp-sized fat deposit named Meatsack who’s a literal arms dealer. Even the villains are more on par with a mustache-twirling scoundrel from a silent film than actually menacing.
The most astonishing aspect of Heliosphere comes from its artwork. No two characters are physically identical, and they are a lot of creatures running around. The amount of detail put into each character is impressive. It may be hard to keep track of names, but I certainly recall the two female torsos attached to a wheel barrel/motorcycle sidecar. That’s a sight that doesn’t easily erase from memory. The comic is a vibrant world with such colourful characters, it’s a shame it’s in black and white. It could have benefited greatly from adding colour, to make its characters pop even more and to highlight its bio-punk theme.
On the whole, Jelter definitely creates a vivid world of his own in Heliosphere. The characters are distinctively drawn, and drops of humor are speckled throughout the comic. Sometimes the pacing slows, but once guns are drawn and mechanical body parts start flying, things tend to speed up.