The Compleat Terminal City

by Dean Motter and Michael Lark Published by Dark Horse - $24.99

There are some things that age well: wine, cheese, Sean Connery.  There are other things that do not age well: milk, bread, Tina Yothers.  Terminal City, like fine wine, has aged well and is just as relevant and entertaining today as it was upon its initial release a decade and a half ago.

“Visionary designer and comics creator Dean Motter (Mister X, Elecropolis, Batman: Nine Lives) returns with the purest expression to date of his patented retro futurism! Terminal City is a place where transistor-tube robots rub elbows with old-time gangsters, where bright, shiny technologies cast deep noir shadows. The city has been in decline since a group of celebrated adventurers – Kid Gloves, the boxer; Monty Vickers, the explorer; Eno Orez, the Man of 1,000 Faces, and Cosmo Quinn, the Human Fly – were each disgraced or disappeared into obscurity. Now a series of strange mysteries involving an unopenable briefcase, a missing link in evolution, a daring lady in red, and an obscene skywriter brings the four men together once again, some on the side of the law, some involved in shady business, with explosive results!”

Toss out what you know about “retro-futurism”.  While there are plenty of “retro” elements to these stories, including monorails, pneumatic tubes, and skyscrapers straight out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, this story lives and breathes instead of coughing up mothballs and leaking sparks.  The real joy of the story is the characters.  They are bright, colorful, and are all trying to move on from past mistakes while the city around them is a constant reminder of what could have been.

Terminal City could be the slightly seedier and more run-down cousin of Kurt Busiek’s AstroCity.  In Terminal City, the future was once bright, but now there are just reminders of broken dreams.  Instead of everyone looking up at the hulking towers, everyone stares out from them, looking at the rusting ruins of the Brave New World Fair, and the shifting base of Slant Town.  Crime and corruption are so rampant, that no one really bats an eye when a man falls through a glass ceiling, clutching a briefcase.

That is the true beauty of Terminal City.  Writer Dean Motter and artist Michael Lark could have easily gone the “grim and Gritty” route that was so prevalent in the 90′s. Instead they chose to keep the colors bright and the buildings glowing.  Because, even though the present is dirty and corrupt, the past is a glowing monument to a dream of a bright future.   Driving the point home, the main character, Monty Vickers, is a window washer.  It is his job to both literally keep that vision clean and clear, while it is his figurative job to clean everything up by solving the mystery and helping to return Terminal City to its glory days.

My only complaint about Terminal City is the pun sand cheap jokes.  It is one thing to make characters larger than life and to have some fun with them.  However Motter goes overboard with it and has almost every page contain at least one pun or joke.  From Senors Micasa and Sucasa doing a never ending bit from Abbot and Costello, to character and location names being bad puns, I found myself cringing at times for how bad some of them were (the bit with Micasa and Sucasa was REALLY bad).

However, with over 360 pages of story, I can forgive some puns and wisecracks.  The story itself was entertaining and engaging.  It would survive several readings just to pick up all the clues that Motter and Lark drop about different characters and their relationships.  Considering how well the story has stood up so far, I look forward to revisiting it time and time again.

The Compleat Terminal City is released by Dark Horse on March 21st.  It contains both the original Terminal City 9-issue story, as well as the second, 5-issue story, Terminal City: Aerial Graffiti.

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