4001 A.D. – Review

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Editor

Written by Matt Kindt with Art by Clayton Crain and David Mack

Published October 25, 2016

4001adSynopsis – in AD4001 New Japan is a floating city-state around Earth; its creator and controller ‘Father’ has banished his son Rai for rising against him. The young girl Lula infected the city with a virus meant for ‘Father’ but in order to counter it he has been jettisoning parts of the floating city to crash to earth. Can this son or Lula prevent the total destruction of the city, or will ‘Father’ rid his domain of the virus created to stop him?

Sometimes I am not sure what is worse; terrible plot dumps in-character, or a 3 page plot dump out of character. In some ways I completely understand why they need to do this, this comic is set almost 2000 years into the future so it is hard to give the reader a frame of context for what the book is about, but it almost tells me before I start reading that ‘this book is over complicated.’

Actually, I know exactly what is worse than 3 pages of out of character plot dump – 3 pages of out of character plot dump, followed by 8 pages of in character plot dump explaining exactly the same thing again. How stupid do the writers think we are exactly? The irony is that this book really is not that complicated at all and not in need of this much narration. Irrelevant of how good the book is, if you have completely annoyed your readers by the end of page 11, you have a massive hill to climb just to get level again.

And does it climb that hill! This book is stunning to look at; every page is a cinematic experience, from the futuristic cities, to the starscapes, the ruined temples to the glorious battle scenes. This is a fabulous Sci-Fi film waiting to be made and actually, that annoys me slightly as well.

As it escapes from its frankly pedestrian start, into an exciting middle, the feeling I start to get is that this is trying too hard to be a storyboard for a film, rather than a comic in its own right. I quite understand why creators would want to do that, clearly the money is all to be had in the films, with their tie in merchandising and potential sequels. But when you layout a comic in that fashion events move too fast. It only takes 2 pages to jump from the heroes leaving their abandonment on earth, to fighting their way back into the city in space, including a full on dialogue with the bad guy. To say that this comic ‘moves quickly’ is an understatement akin to saying that The Flash is faster than a snail.

Despite all of this, what I come back to is the fact that this book is gorgeous. The backgrounds are incredible, so much time has been put into every panel and there are no single-colour-background ‘cheating’ panels. Even when it pulls in for a close up, you still get everything behind the person fully drawn, rendered and slightly out of focus, just like if it were real. It adds a huge amount of depth to an otherwise shallow book. I say shallow in the kindest sense; there is clearly an attempt to create a great amount of background for the story, but if you scratch away at it, then it falls apart. There are too many clichés here – the big dumb loyal brute called Lemur who talks like he’s been hit on the head a few too many times and ultimately is there purely as a sacrificial plot device; the evil mad villain, drunk on power and willing to sacrifice millions to suit his end goal; the noble hero made to choose between his family and what is right. I feel I have seen all of this before, but perhaps that is because I am getting old and cynical.

Bizarrely the books stunning visuals are let down by the final chapter. There are still glimpses of the previous immaculate style, but entire pages are far rougher, as if someone else was drawing them; or the artist simply ran out of time. At the same time as being worse in places, it is also the most spectacular issue, with the dramatic climax and an extended epilogue showing the fall out of the events of the comic. The detail in those cityscapes are simply breath taking, but the characters become mere shells of how well drawn they were before. For a book that, for me, has won me over by its visuals, to have them decline so dramatically at the end is more than a letdown, it pretty much killed the comic for me.

Over all this is a decent, if stilted read. The art, for the most part, is about as stunning as you will find in a comic printed anywhere this decade; the plot is fair to good, but clichéd; and the characters well defined, but shallow. If you like Mecha, sci-fi or gloriously rendered comics, this is a book for you. If you want deep and meaningful stories with character arcs and witty dialogue, you would be better off with a Garfield strip.