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Fanboy of Fear Chris Gage Review by
Chris Gage
Cryptopia
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CRYPTOPIA (Image Introduces) - 2002
Writer: Ben Raab
Artist: Pat Quinn
Image Comics
One-shot - $2.95

IMAGE INTRODUCES! is an anthology that premieres a new comic book concept every so often, like the old SHOWCASE or MARVEL PREMIERE titles. This particular issue introduces CRYPTOPIA, an upcoming series masterminded by former Marvel and DC writer Ben Raab (UNION JACK). While there isn't room in this prologue issue to do more than set up the story, and I'd normally wait until a few installments were out so I could do a more comprehensive review, I wanted to bring this book to the attention of Feo Amante readers because
1) I think the concept is something you might really like, and
2) new, independent books like this often end up underordered, overlooked, and hard to find. And if you're into cryptozoology, you definitely don't want to miss this one.

For those who don't know, the real-life field of Cryptozoology concerns the study of life forms that have been reported but not confirmed to exist, like Bigfoot and the Mothman (the gorilla once fell into that category as well). The protagonist of CRYPTOPIA is Dr. Shannon Elizabeth Palmer, a cryptozoologist and adventurer who will draw inevitable comparisons to Lara Croft. And yeah, there are similarities (hot ass-kicking scientist babe trots around the world uncovering hidden mysteries), but Dr. Palmer is less well-funded, more American and curses like a sailor.

In this prologue, we meet Dr. Elizabeth in the Himalayas, playing Dr. Jane Goodall to a colony of Yetis. When an alpha male attacks, killing one of her guides, Shannon proves she's no ivory-tower egghead when she pulls a knife and whacks off its head.

Back in her office at UCLA, Shannon gets the news that her grant has been terminated due to "insufficient data and inconclusive evidence" (though if a pickled Yeti cranium in a jar didn't satisfy them, one wonders what would: perhaps there's a more sinister reason behind it). Just when she's hit rock bottom, rich Frenchman Rene Dumont shows up and offers Shannon a fat check to assemble a team of scientists to explore an island he's discovered: an island that he believes is a veritable gold mine of previously undiscovered life forms (aka "cryptids"). It's the proverbial offer she can't refuse.

Shannon gathers three colleagues: reclusive entomologist Chrysalis Lee, herpetologist David Silverman, and ornithologist Faith Esposito. Dumont gives them an unbelievable array of equipment and introduces them to their pilot and field guide, the Han Solo-esque Sam Stone, who Shannon seems to have a past with. As we end, the team sets out for the island, a journey that the opening of the book implies will end in disaster.

The premise is a good one; good enough to get CRYPTOPIA optioned by a movie production company before it was even published. The art is solid; sometimes it verges on being a bit too funny, but Quinn shows quite clearly in the Yeti attack scenes that he is fully capable of drawing horrifying creatures when the need arises. The comic's web site, madsciencemedia, (the inside cover of the comic directs you to cryptopiacomic.com, but that site doesn't exist) has previews of some of the creatures we'll encounter in future issues, and they look pretty cool, so I don't have any major concerns about that department.

What impressed me most about this book was Raab's serious, well-researched treatment of cryptozoology as a legitimate scientific field. It would have been easy to just label his character a "cryptozoologist" and use that as an excuse to launch into some standard monster-filled adventures, and that might well have led to a highly entertaining book (we've never seen Indiana Jones doing much archaeological work, and it hasn't hurt the movies). But for me, it's the references to the real-life book (and seminal cryptozoology text) "On The Track of Unknown Animals" by Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans, and Shannon's explanation that Yetis aren't snow-dwelling creatures at all, but just use the mountain passes to travel between the warmer Himalayan valleys that they actually live in, that give CRYPTOPIA an air of reality that sets this comic apart from others like it.

So far, the main weakness seems to be the characters. I say "seems" because, after perusing the comic's web site, I get the feeling that Raab's archetypes - the nerdy bug doctor, the roguishly handsome pilot with a past, the "hip-hop slang" spouting Latina - hide more intriguing qualities under their surface facades. But that remains to be seen. What I do know for sure is that CRYPTOPIA is off to a promising start, one worthy of three rabid fanboys, with the potential for bigger and better things.


FanboyFanboyFanboy
This review copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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