Perils on Planet X art by Gene Gonzales

Art by Gene Gonzales

If you’ve been a reader for long, you might know that I have a 17-month-old son named Henry. You might also be aware, if you’re a parent yourself, that having a child of Henry’s age means few opportunities to go to the movie theater. I love movies. And so I cherish every opportunity I have to sneak away to the cinema, hoarding the hours for which I’d pay a babysitter for only the films I’m really excited to see on a big screen.

One of the handful of films I saw in theaters last year was A Princess of Mars John Carter of Mars John Carter, the unfairly maligned planetary romance from Andrew Stanton. I, like Greg and Rick, am a big fan of fun, and on this front, John Carter undoubtedly delivered. It’s been years since I read, in the midst of a thunderstorm and wide-eyed at the descriptions of Dejah Thoris, the Edgar Rice Burroughs work that sourced it, but the film seemed to capture much of the spirit of what I loved about the book — a sense of adventure, exoticism, wonder, and imagination that I frankly see a dearth of in most modern entertainment.

I had high hopes for John Carter, not just as a film, but as a touchstone that might help ignite a new renaissance of adventure films and space operas (following the disappointment of the Star Wars prequels — that franchise stole pilfered homaged many of its successes from Burroughs, after all, and got worse as they got further from that material). Where are the high adventures of today? Where are the sci-fi films that involve, not faceless hordes of space marines slaughtering aliens with giant lasers, but swashbuckling and royalty and noble heroism?

Comics hold the answer. Specifically, a (sort-of) new comic from Christopher Mills and Gene Gonzales, Perils on Planet X. I know Mills from a history of seeing his name on genre projects I’ve enjoyed, whether they be hard-boiled detective comics with art by Joe Staton, or blogs about 60s spy shows and movies. In whatever he works on, Mills seems to tick one of the obscure boxes of my own interests (for Pete’s sake, he even wrote a Kolchak: The Night Stalker comic!), and he does it well. His name alone is an assurance of quality for me.

Sweetening the deal is some amazing artwork by Gene Gonzales, whose work I hadn’t previously encountered. Gonzales has a clean art style and a bold use of colors that serve well the fantastic worlds and characters he’s introducing. He’s also a solid craftsman storyteller — the action on each page is clear and compelling, the characters are fascinating in their appearance, and the world of Planet X strikes the perfect balance between familiar, exotic, and futuristic.

Our narrator is Colonel Donovan Hawke, a 21st-Century astronaut whose craft is lost after passing through a space anomaly and crashing on a foreign planet. He quickly finds himself fighting strange creatures, being held captive by a human-like people whose language he doesn’t understand, and, of course, falling in love. The set-up is very much in keeping with the classics of the genre, and, as Mills writes, this is purposeful:

Perils on Planet X is unapologetically a planetary romance. It is not a reinvention, reimagining or deconstruction of the genre. Nor is it strictly pastiche, although there’s definitely aspects of that in there. It follows firmly in the literary footsteps of authors I greatly admire and enjoy: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline, Leigh Brackett, Lin Carter, Michael Moorcock, Gardner Fox, and the stargods know how many others. If Perils differs significantly in any respect, it’s only because it has been written and drawn in the 21st Century instead of the 20th, and it cannot help but reflect that.

I’m trying desperately not to give too much away here, but Mills’ love of the genre shows through as regularly as his mastery of it. The clarity and form of Gonzales’ artwork falls somewhere between the adventure comics artists of the 30s whose works like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon are undeniably an influence on this effort, and Scott McCloud’s Zot, one of the great unsung sci-fi comics of the last century. Action sweeps across every page, and each has a fantastic balance of questions answered and questions asked. Plus there’s a red-headed pirate queen, and you know we have a special place in our heart for ladies of that ilk.

The first installment of Perils on Planet X went up this past Friday, and a new one will appear weekly. I’ve had the pleasure of reading months into the future of this strip, and will testify that the quality holds fast. I’m jealous that you still have all of this reading in front of you.

This is the second time Perils on Planet X has debuted as a webcomic, following an earlier effort with artist Jon Plante. One hopes that for Mills and Gonzales the second time is the charm, because Perils on Planet X is a handsome, well-scripted addition to the world of adventure webcomics, and it definitely fulfills my desire for space-bound swashbuckling Give it a read!

This Thursday, I’ll be covering another effort by Mills and an artist with whom you’re already quite familiar. In the meantime, that mystery comic debuted today, so go read that one too!