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In a summer dominated by superhero series entries, it is refreshing to have a non-sequel, non-adaptation blockbuster to look forward to. Even better if that movie features gigantic monsters being battled with giant mech suits. Like Newton, I am a big fan of Godzilla and Japan’s other great beasts, so the premise of the upcoming Pacific Rim pretty much has me hooked. But despite the divine eye candy highlighted in the trailers, not much is known about the world and characters, outside of the official plot description:

“When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, started rising from the sea, a war began that would take millions of lives and consume humanity’s resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes-a washed up former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi)-who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind’s last hope against the mounting apocalypse.”

When I saw that a prequel graphic novel was coming out, I knew I would need it to satisfy my curiosity. When I saw it had a sweet cover by Alex Ross, one of my favorite comic artists, I knew I really needed it.

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Tales From Year Zero follows a reporter, Naomi, interviewing key people from the Jaeger (the term used for the mech suits) program about their experiences after the first kaiju attack. The monster who destroys the Golden Gate Bridge in the trailer is the first to appear, and the event is devastating. The story is broken into three main chunks, and each account brings the titanic events down to a human level. The personal tragedies might be lost in the action mayhem of the final movie, so it is a good choice to focus on them using a journalist writing a “Why We Fight” piece.

The first part, K-Day, focuses on one man trying to save a family member during the chaos of that initial surprise attack. The second portion, Turn the Tide, follows the story of the scientist who thought up the machines, and why the two-pilot neural link is necessary. The pilots are not randomly paired up, they need to be very close to be able to link minds and drive a Jaeger, usually as siblings, close friends, or lovers. Finally, The Bond delves more into the relationship between Jaeger co-pilots, and the backstory of Striker Pentecost, Idris Elba’s character. This final tale is the one which seems to have the closest ties to the film.

We meet the “untested trainee” character, and the “washed up former pilot” as the seeds of his downfall are planted. The Gipsy Danger Jaeger is clearly the main robotic suit featured in the movie, based on the marketing. And it therefore stands to reason that it would be the “legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past” from the plot description. We see it battle damaged and in need of serious repairs, though the actual circumstances of its destruction are left for the movie to reveal. The comic makes it clear that the Jaeger program is on its last legs, and that something known as “The Wall” is set to replace it. Whether this is a physical wall to keep the kaiju contained, a force field, or some sort of defense platform, is left ambiguous.

Tie-in stories like this are often doomed from the start, as they are narrative parasites, leaching of the success of something bigger. They cash in on a name brand, but can’t give too much away or try to outdo the film itself. They have that crutch, and are therefore not very useful or interesting on their own. I know this because I am a sucker for multimedia experiences when it comes to properties I like, and have consequently read a lot of crappy books and comics. At worst, tie-ins are so limited by the scope of the story they are allowed to tell that the end product is uninteresting and inconsequential. Marvel’s Iron Man 3 prelude comic comes to mind. At best, they utilize the universe well while telling stories that skirt around main characters and events.

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Tales From Year Zero is able to remain relevant by focusing on a time period that will be skipped over in the movie, the early days of the kaiju menace, between the initial attack and the creation of the Jaegers. We see more backstory than will likely be explained in the film, and as someone who is excited for the movie, I find these details interesting. It also helps that the book is written by Travis Beacham, who also wrote the film. He clearly has fun playing in the world that he has created, because it comes through on the page.

The interior art is a collaboration of several artists, and it does seem piecemeal at times. It is adequate overall, and the many Jaeger-kaiju splash pages are satisfying. The kaiju depicted here are based on unused concepts from the film, but they definitely have the same feel as the creatures in the trailers. Overall the art is much brighter than the other marketing material for Pacific Rim, but the characters and designs are recognizable.

The book retails for $24.99, which is a bit steep. It is a hardcover, but it is also only about 100 pages. That would be about four comics if this had been serialized. About $15 would have been much more reasonable, and it is about that price on Amazon. Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero is not essential reading, but if you are as excited for the movie as I am, you will enjoy this comic. It teases without ruining the story of the movie, and it expands on the general ideas just enough to whet fanboy appetites.

That’s Tales From Year Zero in a nutshell. If you are as excited as I am for the movie, I invite you to delve deeper into Pacific Rim with this graphic novel. It seems like it will be a fun companion piece to fill in some of the gaps in the movie, and I expect to reread it once I leave the theater. But you are not missing out on anything too important, and do not expect too much. It’s just a bit of fun.

    One Response to Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero Review

    • Newton says:

      Finally got around to reading this (the book, not the review. I already read that!) and I pretty much agree with you. The art is a little all over the place for me and none of the battles with the kaiju are particularly interesting. I realize that it’s not a central part of the stories, but it would have been nice for at least one big battle during the comic that lasted more than a couple of panels.

      Some of the stuff was a bit too vague to understand without the context of the movie. So while it does flesh other things that we can assume the movie left out, this is definitely something where you’ll need to see the movie to fill in other gaps. The preface kind of alarmed me though, because it pretty much said that Beacham was being intentionally vague in his story. That works in a movie, not so in a comic.

      I’m excited to see the movie and this comic is a fine little teaser, but certainly not something to go out of the way to get, IMO.

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