Life on Another Planet by Will Eisner

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Life on Another Planet by Will Eisner

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A shocking disappointment for this Eisner fan, as the fallout from a discovery of alien intelligence leads to all sorts of odd shenanigans on Earth.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 144 Date: September 2009
Publisher: W W Norton & Co
ISBN: 978-0393328127

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There are some people who don't even need their name on their books, for the contents are so obviously and uniquely theirs. Will Eisner is one such person, for the esteem and renown his artwork and pioneering work in the graphic novel form is held under is rightfully his and his alone. I'm quite sure I could recognise a page of his black and white inkwork, and his easily drawn but realistic characters, more easily than any other sequential artist. That trademark signature on the cover, surely the most well-known in 'comic strips' outside Mr Disney's empire, is hardly necessary.

This book offers the usual responses as regards the artistry – there is again a layout to the panels that is both a rigid grid format, but is also bending the rules as well as the grid – take the simultaneous commentary and action of the start of chapter two. The line is singularly Eisner's, the shading as considered as ever. The protagonists are full of character, whether chisel-jawed blond men, or the ladies – and as usual there was one of those for me to fall in love with (predictably the waitress met on page 19, before she turns out to be a complete rum 'un).

It's just a major pity – and a complete surprise, in fact – that I had a very unusual response to the rest of the contents. Here's Eisner's biggest failure I've come across, since his days drawing The Spirit action strip which so many laud over, and I and I alone snore over. The action starts with the receipt in America of a signal from an alien planet, near Barnard's Star. The simple message is just a list of prime numbers, but it kick-starts an awful lot of goings on. Spies from the Soviets get word of the signal, and immediately start a race to take control of Earth's response.

Then the cults join in (including my waitress), looking forward to interaction – and some sort of spiritual evolution – courtesy of the aliens. Add in renegade African states declaring themselves an untouchable outpost of the alien planet, Mafiosi turned into pot plants (I kid you not) and you have the dodgiest porridge of hokum imaginable.

The plot is almost unfollowable, as people crop up on different sides when we least expect them, and double and triple agents bandy allegiance around until we don't know how we're to respond. There are scientists, spy masters, corporate bigwigs and more all thrust into the melange.

The science is also gloopy (Soviet signals sent by neutrino – a subatomic particle we can only measure, and certainly not hope to control?!), and has no place in something first published in serial form at the end of the 1970s. Also full of cracks, for some reason, is the presentation. There are typos even in character names, and the signal allegedly declares 33 a prime number.

Perhaps that's a clue those aliens are not ones we should trust. But the core of the book, besides any roustabout espionage and portrayal of countless nefarious human interests in response to the signal, is the simple message that we should just pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space, 'Cause there's b***er all down here on Earth!. And there's my problem – Eric Idle said it with far more succinctness.

I looked forward to this so much, when the book reviewing gods donated it in an unforeseen manner. (They were only passing it on from Norton, whose kind people of course deserve thanks.) And it's still interesting to see how Eisner can fail, but galling that he can fail so alarmingly, with a plot to bewilder, sci-fi contents so left-field they're hidden behind the bleachers, and characters we can't engage in, considering the brow-furrowing involved in following their actions.

It is evidence that perhaps Eisner was best when conveying the domestic and down-to-earth much more than the fantastical, as he did with much to admire in Minor Miracles.

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