Review: Titanium Rain, Book One

Review: Titanium Rain, Book One

In 1985, First Comics created “Shatter.” The company advertised “Shatter” as “the world’s first comic series entirely drawn on a computer.” As a Jon Sable: Freelance collector, I watched the series start in the back of my then-favorite book. Later, “Shatter” got a solo book. I bought a copy. It looked something printed on a dot-matrix printer and dressed up for Sunday school. “Shatter” was groundbreaking, though met with something of a “meh” by collectors and critics.

Some 25 years later comes the graphic novel “Titanium Rain” Book One,” (152 pages, from Archaia Studios) and there’s been evolution to say the least (though the book’s tagline ironically states that “after half a million years, evolution hasn’t gotten any easier”). The comic, by Josh Finney and Kat Rocha (featured on this very website often) brings back memories of “Shatter” and its groundbreaking efforts. However, where “Shatter” served as something of a circus side act – the added sound to black and white reels when movie producers felt “talkies” would go nowhere, Titanium Rain succeeds boldly in moving the medium of digital comic creation to a new level.

Titanium RainMostly a military techno-thriller in the style of Tom Clancy, Titanium Rain takes place two decades from now in China as the first pock marks of war begin to show. Alex Killian and his fighter pilot comrades are scrambled to duty after a group of soldiers are pinned down in a fierce firefight. Killian and his wingman Piso encounter some trouble. In between, you learn about the Prometheus program and how it affects the lives of Killian, Piso and the other members of his Air Force unit.

Mr. Finney and Ms. Rocha do an absolutely stunning job with the visuals. Mr. Finney has said the technique combines a number of things including 3-D computer graphics and hand-drawn work. There’s also use of photography here, as both authors are portrayed in the book as key characters (more on this in a moment). Where “Shattered” had at its disposal the aforementioned dot-matrix printer, the authors have a wide range of tools to build this. In doing so, nearly every page feels like a lithograph. Only a few of the pages felt overdesigned, particularly in the made-famous-by-Frank-Miller media recap sequences, but I gave the authors a mulligan on those pages because the work is ambitious and rich.

It’s the images with more scope that you’ll enjoy the most. The renditions of future China, its cities and the detail taken here is fantastic. It reminded me, on a digital level, of the kind of detail Moebius or Barry Windsor-Smith might put into a page. Finite things don’t crowd the activity. In short, Mr. Finney and Ms. Rocha don’t let things clutter the lens like George Lucas did in the most recent three Star Wars films. This is apparent especially during the dogfighting sequences as well as the opening battle scenes. I’d attribute this to Mr. Finney’s previous work designing album covers for musicians and his ability to meld graphic design with this illustration.

Now, to be clear, there are literally hundreds of failed examples exist using similar illustration techniques with software like Poser (for human figures) and other 3-D programs, the second-generation versions of “Shatter.” They are static, lifeless, unimaginative and lazy works that can be found with just a quick search. Fortunately, Mr. Finney and Ms. Rocha have taken the time to realize the tools are the means to an end, not the end. To be sure, Titanium Rain is not one of those.

What may catch the average reader’s eye is that the authors have drawn themselves into the book. In some ways, seeing Mr. Finney and Ms. Rocha throughout the passages is disconcerting, but including themselves isn’t unprecedented. Alfred Hitchcock stuck himself in his own films. Writers often dump friends or enemies in a protagonist or antagonist characters, big and small. In short, it didn’t stop me from completing or enjoying the book.

The dialogue works well in some spots but in others clunks along. There’s a great poker game sequence that opens up the entire Titanium Rain landscape to readers. In spots like this and elsewhere, there are some real moments where the story and the visual marry well. In those spots, the story is as sophisticated as the art on the page. The sequence between Killian and Happy near the washer and dryer also feels good, though, since they’re both military fighter pilots, from experience, this give-and-take would have been much more … colorful. Admittedly, this is also the only spot where I thought, “Am I reading Josh and Kat, or Killian and Happy?” The flashback sequence between Killian and the doctor is also well done. In tone, there are times when this felt very “American Flagg” in pace and cadence.

Titanium RainHowever, in some spots, dialogue feels forced, especially during the ground and air fighting sequences. Some of it is just cliché. Some of it is stereotype (the old fighter pilot giving the young fighter pilot a lesson).  There are also times when you feel like you’re being banged in the head with a few choice passages from a college philosophy class. However, these are speed bumps in comparison to the landscape of the full story.

Also in “Titanium Rain, Book One” is a helping of extra content. I particularly enjoyed “The Aircraft of the Sino Conflict” and the contributed artwork. Damian Smith, who is Lord Shaper here, also contributed story pieces here that accent the whole work. I’m always a fan of good “DVD Extras,” and the extras here fit that bill.

“Titanium Rain, Book One,” had me going back again and again to catch the little details, and I like that. It reminded me of reading P. Craig Russell’s iteration of “Elric of Melniboné” or looking at almost anything Arthur Adams ever drew. The canvas is replete with things to see and there are moments when you just can’t take your eyes off the page.

This is a broad adventure we’re being taken on, forward-swept wings cutting through the sky faster than the speed of sound. Solid characters, glorious landscapes and the sort of detail that one would expect from a spanning story like this make this one to have for your collection. I’d bet the creators of “Shatter” and the digital works that followed wished they could have achieved the sort of splendor that is captured on each of Mr. Finney and Ms. Rocha’s pages. Not “meh,” but magnificent.

Get it on Amazon by following the link below:

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