Jun 05 2013

Review: Stalag-X #1

Stalag-X - Mike Ratera

Gestalt breaks out the cosmic goulash with their new series from  Kevin J. Anderson and Steven L. Sears.

Stalag-X #1 (2013)

Stalag-X #1 cover - Dave Dorman

Writer: Kevin J. Anderson, Steven L. Sears

ArtistMike Ratera

Publisher: Gestalt Comics

Rating: ★★★½

More info

Gestalt have been steadily expanding their empire of writers over the last few years, and with Stalag-X they bring Kevin J. Anderson into the fold. Best known for his Dune spin-off series with Brian Herbert and Jedi Academy/Young Jedi Knights series, Anderson has been firmly rooted in the worlds of science fiction for decades. This new six-part series is an interesting direction for the company, coupling Anderson with TV writer/producer Steven L. Sears (Xena: Warrior Princess).

We join the action in medias res, as the alien Krael attack a fleet of human ships. Not known for taking prisoners, the group is surprised when they are carted off to a prison planet for reasons unknown. Among the POWs is a man who only identifies himself as “Joe Human”, and he’s an outsider to everyone. Shunned by the other human soldiers for a crime committed before the story began, and treated as something of a mystery by the alien prison guards, especially a sinister Krael scientist has taken the nickname “Mengele”.

Equal parts Starship Troopers, Battlestar Galactica, Planet of the Apes and The Great Escape, the story behind Stalag-X has cherry-picked various bits of science fiction in creating this alien world. This is not necessarily a cross in the negative column, but it simply wears some of these influences on its sleeve. For this initial issue, the action is fairly straightforward, as prisoners are taken on a long journey across the planet before arriving at a surprisingly human encampment. Anderson and Sears quickly establish it as a place of cruelty, dispatching of several characters with brutal violence for standing out. Indeed, if he reminds us once, he reminds us at least three times through various characters that prisoners should not make themselves stand out. It’s this minor repetition that slows down this debut issue, but the premise is nevertheless intriguing.

Mike Ratera’s art is quite distinctive. His oeuvre has previously been in the sci-fi/fantasy blend, and Sears and Anderson’s tale suits his style. The ships are meticulous in their detail, especially several shots the the exterior in orbit, but it’s his alien creatures that really shine. Predator inspired reptilian heads emerge from multi-plated pieces of armour, contrasting with the relatively simple and often haggard humans. Unexpectedly bloody and violent, Ratera treads the right side of the nudity line when exposing men and women alike to a humiliating prison processing at the hands of the Krael.

Stalag-X #1 begins as a solid concept for the series, and it will be interesting to see what direction Anderson and Sears take it after spending much of this issue setting up the world.

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Stalag-X #1 is available as a digital exclusive from Gestalt Comics.