Sunday, August 14, 2005

FERRO CITY #1

Between Ferro City and finally picking up The Nevermen: Streets of Blood, the Shrew does seem to have cornered the market on robot noir this week.

I've been trying to write this review since Wednesday night, but each version ended up sounding like the book was closer to, say, JSA #76 than, well, something I didn't hate but wasn't blown over by.

Ferro City isn't bad, but it could have been a lot better. Jason Armstrong seems to have thought that dragging sentient robots who aspire to humanity into a classic noir story would be a fresh enough concept to anchor the appeal of the story. However, Bladerunner covered this area far more effectively and colorfully and, really, anyone who sat through parts of The Animatrix will feel a little bit of deja vu here.

In this first issue, we've pretty much got the entire basic noir story accessory kit here, minus the dame. Private Detective Cyrus Smithe has a recently deceased partner who left him with a shady case and an assortment of cops and robbers who want to get him. The case involved a trinket called the Medusa Key that, the back cover helpfully informs us, could be the key to liberating the millions-strong robot population of Ferro City.

Considering the role of the Medusa Key itself, the true nature of the robot underclass is a little underdeveloped and falls somewhere between apartheid and appliance. The robots come across as lesser versions of Rosie, the Jetsons' maid. They have the capability of independent thought, but whether they are capable of actually opposing a human being is not clear. Nobody seems to think much of them or their abilities and, combined with the lack of assertiveness or any real personality, their whole 'yearning to be free' movement seems a little ex nihilo. It'd be like manumitting a high-end microwave just because it knows how long to run to defrost your chicken parts.

The humans don't always fare much better. Cops and criminals both are on the wrong side of caricaturish in word and deed and I spent much of the issue wondering if I had totally missed the fact that the story was supposed to be farcical. Then I decided that it read better as a straight story because it wasn't very funny. The backup story, however, was definitely funny. The one-page in-joke house ad for Home Run Pies featuring Savage Dragon was cute.

To sum up: I really wanted to like this, but every read-through of the story had me finding something else I didn't care for. Takeoff of Bladerunner or not, I'd have gone along with the concept -- which certainly has legs when well-presented -- if the dialogue hadn't been so hackneyed or the set pieces quite so worn. I may try the second issue in case this story is just slow getting started, but this wasn't the sort of debut issue that sucks a reader in and doesn't let them go until after the first trade paperback is issued.

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