Story by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas
Art by Ulises Farinas
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse
Originally serialized in Dark Horse Presents #18-20, the Gamma One-Shot is a strange beast. It serves as both a complete story in its own right, as well as what feels like a pilot for future comics down the line. It feels like a mixture of Pokemon and Godzilla, but while Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas wear their influences on their sleeves, it goes into places and directions that the originals would never touch. But best of all? There’s no doubt in my mind that the Gamma works better as a collected comic than it did as a serial.
Right from the start, Gamma heads into some dark territory as we meet Dusty, the "coward" who hangs out at the local bar and lets people punch him for $50 a pop. Once the greatest monster trailer ever—capturing and harnessing a series of strange creatures with different abilities to fight other such monsters—he was accused by the media of being a coward who failed the human race when in the great monster wars, he finally abandoned his base as it was being overrun. And then, with no warning, Dusty’s given a shot at redemption on a local scale. But of course, nothing’s quite that easy in Gamma.
If you squint, it’s easy to see where Farinas and Freitas’s story is coming from; in many ways this is a grown-up Ash from Pokemon whose prowess with Pikachu and company has ultimately failed him against creatures the size of buildings. I don’t think the license holders would ever go for a story where Ash lets himself get beaten up for money and then spends it all each evening on whores, though. Farinas and Freitas pull a nice fake-out in Gamma; at first we see Dusty as a guy who’s just down on his luck and not that bad. By the time he’s sobbing uncontrollably and declaring himself a coward, though, there’s no denying that Dusty is at best damaged goods, and at worse someone who’s let himself become what everyone declares him to be. Farinas and Freitas don’t lose sight of giving us a small version of a hero’s journey, though. There’s not a massive redemption at the end—with just 24 pages of story and eight of them being a flashback, that would be impressive—but there doesn’t need to be. Instead the duo merely send Dusty onto a new path than the one he started on. It’s smart, because at this point they can tell us more Gamma stories down the line, or just as easily leave things there with the idea that he’s starting to get his life back together. Either way, it’s just about perfectly paced.
Farinas’s art in Gamma is amazing; all you need to do is look at the cover with the masses of strange and bizarre monsters coming over the hill to understand that. Farinas draws with a thin line, one that reminds me of artists like Brandon Graham. I love that this is a world where Farinas can just go berserk with lots of crazy detail; the signs of Dusty over the bar that he works out of ("Spit on Him," "Beat on a Coward! Stay 4 A Drink!"), the "Whores Whores Whores" painting over the brothel, even the run down porch and battered roof of the house that Dusty and his wife live in. It would be easy to focus exclusively on just the monsters—and they are wonderfully inventive and crazy and fun to look at—but Farinas doesn’t lose sight of the rest of the comic in the process. I also like the small touches that don’t draw attention to themselves; giving all of the flashback panels rounded edges instead of hard 90 degree angles is a good visual shorthand to let the reader know what’s going on, but it’s something that just happens rather than being pushed into the reader’s face.
Gamma is strange and fun, and while I know that Farinas is busy on Catalyst Comix (also for Dark Horse, written by Joe Casey) at the moment, I hope we get a sequel before too long. There’s a lot of potential just begging to be explored; so much of it is just dropped in little hints and sidenotes, and with any luck they’ll get followed by down the line. Even if it’s just Dusty getting beaten up again, though, there’s so much energy and excitement in the art that I’d read a comic with just that, too. I’m glad that Dark Horse Presents offers creators a chance to dream up stories like this, but considering how well it flows when combined into a single comic, I’m even more happy about Dark Horse stopping to collect these DHP stories from time to time. It’s not too late to jump on board and tell everyone in five years time, "Yeah, I was reading Farinas’s comics years ago." Check it out.