Review - Cluster #1

"Welcome to Midlothian, ladies and gentlemen."

Defending one's territory is no easy feat, which is why soldiers are needed. The thing is, not everyone is exactly thrilled about the idea of sacrificing their life for the good of the country or world they inhabit. Still, someone has to fight, so why not conscript prisoners? That's the premise behind Cluster #1 from BOOM! Studios. The issue is written by Ed Brisson, illustrated by Damian Couceiro and colored by Michael Garland.

In the distant future, as mankind discovers life on other planets, it needs soldiers to defend its colonies and outposts across the stars. In order to increase the number of boots on the ground, criminals are offered the opportunity to serve in the place of incarceration known as Tranent. But as wars wage on and more soldiers are needed, small-time crimes are given long-term punishments. When a group of prisoners--led by Samara Simmons--serving their time as soldiers become stranded and abandoned on a war-torn planet, they’ll need to work together to survive and uncover the truth behind Earth’s role in deep space.

What starts off as a fairly formulaic plot ends with the stakes raised immeasurably for the prisoners in Tranent. Brisson relies on the concept of a sort of work release program, only in Cluster #1 the prisoners must serve on military duty while incarcerated in order to get out sooner. It's almost like being sent to Castle Black in Game of Thrones, only without all the political gamesmanship. The big twist is the way the prisoners are kept in line, something which Brisson touches upon briefly in the beginning of the story and then decides to base the remainder of the series on. Much of the issue is point blank informing the reader of the stakes (the prisoner control being one of them) and it's not until the end that the premise really coalesces, but the first part does feel a little dry because of the presentation. A few prisoners in particular emerge as the focus of the work, with Samara herself being the one they all gravitate towards as a focal point.

The opening pages of Cluster #1 are illustrated with tremendous impact, courtesy of Couceiro's depiction of a tragic accident. It's from here the tone of the book is set and Couceiro moves on to depicting an overcrowded prison juxtaposed against the barren landscape of Midlothian. A clever use of hologram illustrations accompanies Brisson narrative in getting the characters (and reader) up to speed on the situation and Coucerio blends them perfectly into the world. The characters feel alive as well, as Couceiro infuses them with an energy that makes their actions feel kinetic. Much of Garland's color palette boasts yellows and oranges, which reinforce the notion that Midlothian is a very distant location in a vast universe.

Cluster #1 is an issue that introduces a new world and "community service" model before ending on a much more dire note for the series protagonists. Samara and her party are tasked with not only surviving Midlothian and Tranent, but doing so when pitted against forces they can't control. Brisson's script holds the reader's hand a bit in the beginning, yet after he establishes the ground rules for Cluster #1 he quickly escalates things. Couceiro's characters feel alive and populate a realized world that's far removed from the more populated civilizations that presumably exist alongside it. Cluster #1 is a fun first issue that starts off a little slow before snowballing from there, growing into a book that ticks a lot of science-fiction check boxes in new ways.

Cluster #1 is in stores now with interiors below.