By Sylvain Runberg and Serge Pellé
I’m rather in a muddle over Orbital; first I sort of liked it, although recognised the flaws of a first volume that spent so long dawdling along on the setup that an eventual Aliens-esque firefight at the end seemed overly rushed.
The second volume was flawed, but almost in reverse, doing the big blockbuster opener and dispatching the big bugs from the end of volume 1 within a few pages, and returning to the sci-fi political thriller it was setup to be all along, and then spoiling it all over again by rather blowing the ending.
Volume 3 fared so much better, concentrating far harder on the complex diplomatic and political manoeuvring behind the story – a real improvement, and thankfully, one that continues into this fourth, concluding volume of the Second Mission storyline.
Orbital follows a standard Euro format of a 2 volume splitting a single storyline – setup and conclusion across two volumes. And despite enjoying it, I can’t help but feel that Runberg hasn’t quite got it just right yet. The potential is there certainly, but right now the Orbital series is satisfying and enjoyable enough, but it’s flaws are just a little too glaring, a little too obvious – a fly in the ointment.
As it’s the concluding part of the storyline, I’ll not concentrate too much on the story. But a quick recap, as included in the review of Volume 3:
It’s the 23rd Century and humanity is now the newest member of an 8000 year old intergalactic multi-species alliance, but only as some perceived overly violent toddler of a species. Into this mess steps Caleb Swany, the first human to join the alliance’s peace-keeping force; the Interworld Diplomatic Office (IDO). And just to add a little tension to it all, his assigned partner, Mezoke Izzua, is one of the Sandjarr race.
Following the events of the first two volumes, Caleb and Mezoke are on Earth for the celebrations to mark the end of the Human-Sandjarr war. But what initially seems like a simple diplomatic mission quickly derails as an incident in the freshly repopulated seas off Malaysia threatens to overshadow the pomp and ceremony of two cultures coming together. The investigation, into the alleged aggression of the nomadic alien race the Rapakhun against the fishermensoon brings up several mysteries, and it’s quickly clear that there’s a lot more to the simple incident that Caleb and Mezoke first think.
Caleb and Mezoke pursue their separate ideas and agendas, eventual managing to identify the cause of the Malaysian deaths thanks to the mysterious pilot Nina and the even more mysterious craft Angus. But the killer is now at large in Kuala Lumpa, and Caleb, Mezoke, Nina and Angus have a potentially disasterous situation to avert and in their race to draw the killer away from the city, away from Malaysia, could they be in terrible danger themselves?
(Death stalks the streets of Kuala Lumpur, from from Orbital Volume 3, written by Runberg, art by Pellé, published by Cinebook)
There’s so much here that Runberg is doing right – the political background is tense and tight, the killer is beautifully, and horrifically portrayed, and the slow reveal of the killer’s identity really well paced – in all those things Runberg produces something of a great sci-fi political thriller.
But again, the ending seems rushed, Nina and Angus come, perhaps not to the rescue, but certainly as something of a convenient Deus Ex Machina resolution, and the whole thing is over too soon.
(Nina and her ship Angus, little used throughout Orbital, until Runberg needs a convenient solution – from from Orbital Volume 3, written by Runberg, art by Pellé, published by Cinebook)
One thing that does shine through my confusion over my feelings for the series is an increasing sense of awe at Pellé’s artwork. I love what he does on a page, his layouts are gorgeous, his various alien cultures believable yet satisfyingly otherworldly, but more than anything else it’s his sheer ability to stop me dead in my tracks with a page of reflection.
I picked up on it last time, and it happened again, several times throughout the course of Ravages, beautiful pages of quiet reflection, or the stunning, rain-soaked pages of Caleb hunting through the Malaysian mangrove swamps – his environments are just gorgeous.
(Quiet, perfectly paced, beautifully drawn work from Orbital Volume 3, written by Runberg, sublime art by Pellé, published by Cinebook)
This fourth volume was published by Dupuis in October 2010. And there have been no more published since then. At this point I have no idea whether we’ll see anymore, and if we don’t it will be a shame, as Runberg really is getting there, getting so close to nailing the perfect Euro Sci-Fi epic you can feel he wants to tell. And without giving anything away, the ending to this fourth volume does rather leave us hanging, and as a finale to the 4 volume series it’s again, an unsatisfying and inauspicious end to something that’s shown some grand potential throughout.
UPDATE – 19th AUG – Sylvain Runberg gets in touch with us through the comments to inform us that Volume 5 (the first part of the third mission) will be published in French sometime in Spring 2012)