Monday, May 28, 2018

Miss Lasko-Gross and Kevin Colden's The Sweetness

I've been reviewing comics by Miss Lasko-Gross and Kevin Colden from the earliest days of High-Low. However, the Z2 comics series The Sweetness represents the first time that this married couple has collaborated on a major project. Their pairing on this gonzo sci-fi heist comic is as smooth as any I've seen in comics. Lasko-Gross's demented sense of humor is a perfect match for Colden's smooth line that still delights in gore and splatter. I have only read the first four issues (there is a fifth as well), but the series is filled with wit, interesting characters, plot twists and even surprising amounts of warmth.

The story is about two pilots hired to take a spaceship to a colony world. Also aboard is Nelly, an ex-con who is the liaison between the prisoners on board the ship in cryogenic sleep and those who are going to take them at their destination. That simple enough set-up is instantly complicated by one of the pilots nervously smuggling contraband as part of an apparently high-level deal. From there, the book becomes a kind of shell game as Nelly and Scout, a hilarious, bawdy pilot, try to outwit the other, smuggling pilot, a brutal customs process, an ambush on the colony planet they land on, aliens invading their ship and radical nudists.

The complicating subplot is the nature of the contraband: it's sugar. The aliens who tried to hijack them were after it, because for them it's an intoxicant of the highest order. That accounts for the outrageous covers, featuring an attractive, cute or harmless person with their eyes censored by a line and a close-up of their horrible, decaying teeth. It doesn't have anything to do with the plot other than as a visual metaphor for the rotten character of that particular future. Of course, the reality is that sugar truly is an addictive substance that's difficult to kick; it's just that supply and demand is very different than in this book. The aliens are so desperate to either consume sugar and/or obtain large quantities to get wealthy that they would attack any vessel that so much as had a packet of sugar. The series begins with aliens so desperate to score that they break a treaty between Earth and the aliens to do so. The punchline is they didn't want to harm anyone to get the sugar, but the authorities not only killed them but also the people around them, as a sort of sterilization measure.

This ultimately is a comic about negotiating hypocrisy as a means of survival. All Nelly wants is a cut of the action, because she knows it's going to happen no matter what. It's implied that as a black ex-con, she doesn't have many other options. The Earth officials are hypocrites and corrupt, the dealers she's working with are two-faced, and only Scout proves to be a real friend and ally. Nelly is tough, competent and no-nonsense, while Scout is wild, risk-taking and a free spirit. There's a scene where she is given a substance that's an extract of an alien's saliva, and it turns her into a monstrous, naked powerhouse that joyfully and viscerally tears apart a large group of people trying to kill her and Nelly. Lasko-Gross's sense of comic timing is superb here, as Nelly is trying to make a phone call to a drug dealer while Scout is killing enemies in the most disgusting ways possible. Colden picks up on that comic timing with a fine but detailed line that captures minute details for greatest shock and comedic value. I believe this series will be collected soon, and anyone interested in off-beat science-fiction that pulls no punches will find this to be a delightful read.

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