Review: Terminator 2029 #1

Cover for Terminator 2029 #1, by Massimo Carnevale.

Cover artist Massimo Carnevale knows his heavy metal.

Writer: Zack Whedon
Artist: Andy MacDonald
Colorist: Dan Jackson
Letterer: Nate Piekos

Dark Horse has finally launched its long-awaited Terminator comic, featuring the work of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog screenwriter Zack Whedon and artist Andy MacDonald. Dark Horse has a long history with Jim Cameron movie franchises, and this book continues that tradition pretty solidly. The setting is Southern California in 2029, 32 years after Skynet triggered Judgment Day, and the plot follows Kyle Reese and his lieutenants as they struggle to preserve their human colony from the Machines.

All things considered, this is a good setup; after Terminator Salvation, I know I’m pretty sick of John “I’M JOHN CONNOR!” Connor and his apparent lack of anything resembling a redeeming quality. (Yes, I’m back on Christian Bale Ruins Everything again.) On the other hand, Kyle’s a strong character, in both the original film and in Salvation; he’s heroic without being an iron-jawed caricature, and his arc across both films is genuinely tragic. Focusing the story on Kyle avoids having to reconcile the fundamental “is he a tactical genius, or a raving egomaniac” problem with the various cinematic depictions of John over the years, and lets us explore what’s left of the world without having to deal with the legend.

There’s not much left of Pasadena in 2029, either. Andy MacDonald gives us an appropriately desolate landscape, from the page-one callback to Terminator 2 to the final scene of Reese’s warrior band marching off into the nuclear-winter-blasted wilderness. Traumatized survivors pack up their lives and flee in Road Warrior-esque convoys. The Machines are omnipresent, menacing in both presence and absence throughout the book. The only brightness in the book comes from the snow-blasted hills in the final pages; colorist Dan Jackson sticks closely to the films’ blaze orange and rusted brown palette, conveying his strong grasp of the Terminator universe’s noirish feel with deft use of highlight and shadow.

Amidst the desolation and pervasive terror, Whedon provides readers with two native guides to the universe– Kyle’s closest comrades and sort-of-a-couple-maybe Ben and Paige. Paige hasn’t had too much to do so far other than demonstrate that she’s a Strong Female Character, whooping ass in greater measure than any of the men and proving her combat superiority over her teammates. Ben, on the other hand, is Kyle’s main strategist and confidant… and that’s where things get a little in-jokey. Ben makes some comments about Kyle’s as-yet-unrealized romantic connection with Sarah Connor that are pretty solidly in the realm of authorial commentary, and it’s obvious that Whedon’s putting words in his mouth. Jokes about Cameron’s occasional forays into creepy subtext are funny, yes– I laughed myself sick over the “if I were a horse or a bird, I would be pretty afraid around Jim Cameron” Na’vi-USB-port joke on The Big Bang Theory recently– but, if you’re writing in-universe, you need to exercise some discretion about tone to avoid editorializing.

That caveat being noted, Terminator 2029 is fairly enjoyable; there’s obvious routes for character development, although I understand this is a three-issue arc that will then lead into a new arc set in 1984. That doesn’t seem to bode well for Ben and Paige… and that’s always been the great limitation of Terminator canon. “The future is not set,” Sarah Connor says, but when you’re dealing with story bibles that have been established over nearly three decades, you’ve only got so much continuity wiggle room. Matt Wagner’s excellent Batman: Dark Moon Rising minis from a few years back encountered the same problem; Wagner could only set his stories in the years leading up to the introduction of the Joker, after which Batman’s history is pretty well set in stone. However, Whedon’s a smart writer; hopefully he’ll be able to find some clever routes around the universe’s determinism and give us some untold stories that occur in the tiny cracks between the films.

I expect to have more to say about Whedon’s Terminator run early next week, by the way; keep an eye out.

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