In the world of Hadrian’s Wall, a new limited series from Image, things took a rather different turn during the cold war. Nuclear detonations in New York and Moscow in 1985 ended the conflict with a horrific bang, and in its wake came a new alliance between the US and Russia that seems unimaginable in our current political context. Together the two superpowers ventured into space with a renewed vigour and, one century on, humanity is hard at work colonising planets in nearby star systems and plundering them for resources.
The creative team of writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel, plus artist Rod Reis, are no strangers to alternate history, having previously created C.O.W.L. for Image, which transposed superhero tropes to 1960’s Chicago. This time, however, the period trappings are cribbed from the 80’s (there’s a splash of cyberpunk about the whole thing, with earth seemingly stuffed with skyscrapers, flying cars and neon lights) and serving as the backdrop to a neo-noir whodunit set aboard Hadrian’s Wall, a spaceship owned by the fictional Antares corporation and tasked with scouting for new planets to claim.
When one of the astronauts aboard Hadrian’s Wall suffers a breach in their suit during an EVA (extravehicular activity), the results, as shown in Reis’ stark opening panels, are grimly predictable. Enter Simon Moore, a cynical, pill-popping investigator who is hired by Marshall, a representative of Antares, to conduct what is expected to be a fairly routine investigation. But a routine investigation wouldn’t make for a satisfying story, now would it?
It quickly transpires that Simon has a close connection to both a member of the crew (Annabelle, his ex-wife) and the victim (Edward, the man who married her). Marshall is aware of that close personal connection from the outset, but it’s unclear whether he believes that Simon’s personal baggage will encourage him to gloss over the details just to get it over with quickly (probably the best outcome for Antares) or to dig deep and treat the case with severity. Whatever Marshall’s true intentions, it appears Simon fully intends to do the latter.
Thus, the scene is set for an unusual spin on the classic locked room mystery. Hadrian’s Wall carefully mixes the usual murder mystery tropes (diverse cast of suspects, troubled-but-brilliant detective – or troubled, at any rate… I guess time will tell on the “brilliant” front) with intriguing sci-fi flourishes, and a fascinating imagined political context that promises to become more central as the series progresses.
Higgins and Siegel’s writing is crisp and economical throughout this issue, neither bombarding the reader with reams of heavy exposition nor leaving them confused as to what exactly is going on. I’m particularly impressed with the dialogue, which feels very natural and gives the characters a “lived in” feel. The history between Simon and Annabelle in particular rings true throughout, with Reis’ artwork perfectly capturing the fractious tension on their faces during their moments together.
Reis also deserves praise for his well thought out scenery, which is peppered with 80’s-inspired tech without ever becoming an exercise in cheap nostalgia. His colours are superb as well, laden with shadows to bolster the noirish aspects of the story. All in all, despite not yet having had the pleasure of reading C.O.W.L., this first issue was more than enough to convince me that this story is in very safe hands.
With lots of characters and ideas to introduce and not much in the way of action, this probably isn’t the most satisfying read in isolation, but there are enough seeds of tension and intrigue sown throughout Hadrian’s Wall #1 to leave me eagerly anticipating the next one.
- Fun sci-fi spin on a classic genre
- Tense, well-paced storytelling
- Atmospheric artwork
- Lots of set-up but not much action