Story and layouts by Richard Marazano
Art by Jean-Michel Ponzio
104 pages, color
Published by Archaia
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a graphic novel written by Richard Marazano—I think the only other one of his comics to be translated into English was Dusk back in 2000—and I’d not heard of Jean-Michel Ponzio at all. Genetiks™ Vol. 1 was an impulse read, the sort of book that literally caught my eye thanks to its dynamic cover layout. What I found was a graphic novel with some slight rough edges, but overall something that was worth my time.
Genetiks™ is one of those books that starts off relatively simple and then slowly expands its reach. We open by meeting Thomas Hale, a genetic scientist working on man/bee hybrids called chimeras, and looking after his wheelchair-bound father. Thomas is in many ways the stereotypical privileged protagonist; successful and arrogant, and clearly heading for a massive fall. That fall happens rather quickly, with Genetiks proving to be a big, evil corporation with such speed you’ll get whiplash, and Thomas ending up in a rather bad situation where he’s asked to sign over his life to the company. And all the while, if that’s not bad enough, he’s having strange visions interspersed with reality.
In many ways it’s that basic set-up that defines the entire first volume of Genetiks™. It’s a mixture of stereotypes so broad that it’ll make you groan, and genuinely interesting material that at times seems to get the short shrift. (Interestingly enough, digging up an old review I wrote about Dusk Vol. 1, the same problems existed with Marazano’s script for that book too.) I wanted to see a lot more about the chimeras and the strange visions, but the book keeps sidelining into extended scenes with Thomas being locked out of the company network, arguing with his father, and inadvertently offending the beautiful art student that also happens to be his best help in rebelling against Genetiks. So much of Genetiks™ is villains-by-the-numbers (and Thomas has only just begun his climb towards redemption), and occasionally there are bits that don’t seem to quite make sense (like how Genetiks claims ownership of Thomas). Every time we angle towards the larger plot, though, Genetiks™ would pull me back into the flow and make me want to learn more about the central mystery and Project Anqã.
In some ways, the problems with the writing of Genetiks™ mirror those with Ponzio’s art. There are moments that Genetiks™ looks beautiful and energetic, with carefully drawn characters with just the right touch on the inks to look realistic without fake. Then you’ll turn the page and the characters are stiff and obviously posed. Thomas’s face is expressive one moment, and looks dead the next. It’s frustrating, because like Marazano’s story, I ultimately liked Ponzio’s art but I wanted to love it. I’m not sure if the problem has to do with Marazano providing the layouts for Ponzio or if that was ultimately an assist, but either way Genetiks™ looks like a book on the verge of being even better than it actually manages.
Genetiks™ Vol. 1 is a book where it’s strong enough that I’ll read the second volume, but hasn’t quite lived up to its promise. I’m glad I read Genetiks™ Vol. 1, and I want to see where the story is going, but Marazano and Ponzio are at times teasing but not delivering the level of quality they seem capable of. Still, the book does get better as it progresses, and if that rate of improvement continues into Vol. 2, it’s going to knock everyone’s socks off. Definitely worth a look.