Image Comics – Top Cow
(W) Matt Hawkins & Bryan Hill, (A) Yuki Saeki, (C) Bryan Valenza
Quietly, Matt Hawkins has developed into one of Image Comics’ most consistent, reliably high-quality writers. And as is the case with the Kickstarter-funded Golgotha, Hawkins once again displays his ability craft cold, hard science fiction. Joining Hawkins is collaborating writer Bryan Hill (Postal), artist Yuki Saeki, and colorist Bryan Valenza. Together, this creative quartet deliver an engrossing experience.
The premise that kicks off Golgotha should be familiar to fans of sci-fi media. Genre staples such as space exploration, cryogenic freezing, and planet colonization can all be found here. There’s also a reluctant hero, a disgraced military man looking for redemption after being dealt a bad hand. Taken at face value, Golgotha appears to be a hodge-podge of cliches bound together into a single graphic novel. However, the creative team uses these elements to construct a new world that provides commentary on today’s society, which is exactly what science fiction stories should strive to do. To that end, the execution of Golgotha is masterful.
As it wades through its introductory sequences, readers might have a difficult time making out what type of story Golgotha is. History tells us the title is a reference to the place where Jesus was supposedly crucified. Because of this, the term Golgotha (or Calvary or Gagulta) is often used in reference to a place of mourning or death. Because of this, it is a fitting name for the mission which our protagonist, Mike Lawton, is forced to sign up for. Though it’s referred to as a “galactic mining expedition,” readers are quickly informed that this is a one-way trip, and that on Earth they may as well be dead.
From here, the reader is given a snappy introduction to the Golgotha crew. However most of the crew members are only given a panel’s worth of attention, which clues the reader in that they likely aren’t important. The only one besides Lawton that is given any development is Jennifer Carpenter, a biologist. When introduced, she appears to be written like a man’s perception of what a strong, empowered woman would be. She’s very much into her work and does not like Lawton at all. This was initially off putting, not only because Carpenter seemed to be inspired by a “bad girl” from 1990s comics, but also because both Hawkins and Hill have proven in other titles to be quite progressive in their handling of female characters. As the story progresses, these first impressions begin to peel away to unveil Carpenter as a complex and captivating character.
The reason we only spend time with Lawton and Carpenter early on is because they’re the only crew members to survive. During their cryogenically induced sleep, the ship crash lands, killing the rest of the crew. It is here where the story truly flips on what most expect from a science-fiction story, and rather than becoming a typical survival story, Golgotha introduces readers to a whole new world.
This world is one that has seen time pass the Golgotha crew by. From here, Hawkins and Hill turns this story from space exploration to the exploration of one’s own self. Carpenter finds herself in a world where she is no longer on the forefront of science, but instead lagging behind. The resulting identity crisis is a fascinating part of the story, and there’s a lot of potential to unpack there, but Hawkins and Hill don’t take full advantage of this ripened fruit which they’ve cultivated.
Instead, the story shifts to focus on Lawton and his conflict with one of his descendants, who is now running the colony. While it is compelling, the conflict does not develop organically. Readers are introduced to an old man who is clearly set up to be the antagonist. Even though he is presented as the benevolent leader of the colony, Saeki’s art tips readers off that he’s going to be at odds with the protagonists – even if he isn’t a mustache-twirling baddie. Villains are often the heroes of their own stories, and that is certainly the case here. Every action he takes is for what he sees as the good of the colony, so that even though the audience ultimately roots against him, his actions are understandable.
As the book marches towards its conclusion, it becomes evident that the story will not be contained to one volume, which is arguably this comic’s biggest flaw. Yes, it is full of genre tropes and does very little to push them in new directions, but the execution makes it easy to overlook them. However, the final text stating “To be continued in Golgotha V2, coming in 2018” is a bit of a gut punch. There’s no Volume One or “1” on the spine or inside cover. Just Golgotha. If the book is the first in a series, it shouldn’t be marketed as a standalone graphic novel. It’s a shame too, because it truly soured an otherwise enjoyable reading experience. However, if future installments maintain the quality of this first volume, then the overall Golgotha saga has the makings of something special.