I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the Previews a few months ago to see a solicitation for the second volume of Gear School (Dark Horse, $7.99). I had all but given up hope that there would be any follow-up to the 2007 release. But, lo and behold, there it was!!!
Gear School was originally pitched as Degrassi meets Gundam. With the second volume, I believe that promise has been fulfilled. Whereas the first volume was very Gundam, this second volume is very Degrassi. Read together, it is a perfectly satisfying experience.
Gear School tells the story of thirteen-year-old Teresa Gotleib who is recently enrolled in a military academy where she will learn to pilot “Gear”; Gear being three story tall mecha that are used to repel an alien invasion force. Teresa, it turns out, is marginally good at piloting Gear, and pretty lousy at everything else (Math, Science, History, Boys).
Volume one does a solid job of introducing the main characters, the situation, and the world in which they inhabit. It is a quick read, chock full of action and drama. Adam Gallardo writes a tight script that allows for a balance between dialogue and action. The characters are fleshed out enough that they are believable, and move beyond stereotype without getting bogged down in too much exposition.
The art team of Núria Peris and Sergio Sandoval have struck a balance between Japanese manga and American comics that is satisfying and fresh. There is plenty of wild hair and eye-patches for the manga crowd, while jettisoning some of the other manga tropes in favor of a more main-stream American feel. The mecha in volume one are show stoppers. From the vaguely Robotech-esque gear that Teresa pilots, to the insectoid alien ship that appears from a rift in space, the ships and battles in Gear School leave the reader breathless.
My only complaint with volume one was that it was over too quickly! It seemed that just as the book was hitting its stride, it was over. While the first volume was a satisfying read, it left me wanting more. Wile the particular threat/problem in the first volume had been resolved, there was so much more to be explored.
But there was silence.
The only sign of life from Gear School was an 8-page story that was part of the Myspace Dark Horse Presents. (Available here complete with Gear not seen anywhere else!). While it was exciting, it was not enough!
I figured the sales on it must not have warranted another volume. Sigh.
But then, surprise surprise, a second volume was released!
Where volume 1 was all about the action, volume 2 is almost completely dialogue. There is limited action, and, when it is there, it is more metaphorical of the turmoil of relationships than real action. But that does not mean that the book was a letdown. Not at all!
The interaction between the characters is what fleshes out the story and makes it more than just a shoot-em up. As a kid, that was why I preferred the cartoon Robotech to Transformers. Sure they were both about big machines that transform in to robots. But Robotech took it a step further and made it more about the relationships of the pilots than it was about the action scenes. While the action scenes in Gear School are exciting, the character interaction is just as good!
I have two minor complaints about Gear School, however. The first is that, like so many other comics, there is no understanding of age. These characters are supposed to be 13 or 14 years old. However, not only is there no acne to be seen, but the shapes of the student *ahem* body is decidedly adult. Why go through the trouble of making the characters a particular age if you are just going to show them (and have them act, for that matter) a much older age? Why not just make them 18, have Gear School be a college, and be done with it?
Second, there is just not enough of it!!!! These two volumes, together, make for a fantastic read. Alone, they are merely enjoyable. I would gladly pay a little more, forgo color, and get a manga-sized product that was a completely satisfying and well-rounded read. As it stands, however, I will merely be happy with the fact that there was even a second volume at all. Here’s to hoping there is not another three year wait until the third volume rolls around.
Still not convinced? There is a massive preview of volume 2 available here.
Do yourself a favor and pick these books up now!