"Retrovirus" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Image Comics
Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti
Illustrated by Norberto Fernandez
2012, 72 Pages
Graphic Novel Released on November 21st, 2012
Despite the fact that Jurassic Park came out over ten years ago, humankind has yet to learn the valuable lessons that were put forth in the film. The most basic of which is that you don't mess with evolution. Dinosaurs are dead for a reason. Let them stay that way. Megacorporations don't see it like that, as is the case in Retrovirus, the latest graphic novella from Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. The book focuses on Professor Zoe Wallace, an expert in the field of retroviruses. She's called in by Bio-Pharm to work on a top secret project in Antarctica. They've found a Neanderthal and they want examine the virus that the creature had when it was frozen in the ice.
Of course, since Bio-Pharm is a big evil corporation, they have something more in mind than just research. This virus could be the next step in biological warfare, so why not exploit it and make a ton of cash? Things quickly go wrong down at the Antarctic base as the secrets of what Bio-Pharm is up to come out. Why do they need so much security? Why are there armored guards? And what's with that sealed area that no one is allowed access to?
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Retrovirus is a sci-fi thriller, but it's also terrifying. It's the kind of story that is grounded in just enough fact to make it seem real, just like Jurassic Park. You can see it happening. It's a distinct possibility.
The comic also made Neanderthals pretty scary creatures. To date I haven't seen much about them in media outside of the Flintstones and Encino Man. They've always been portrayed as big dumb guys in loincloths. They club a woman over the head and drag her away. Retrovirus shows how intense they can be and it's insane, especially when coupled with modern day human DNA. They're incredible hunters with a superior sense of smell. Normal tactics won't work on them as they're just animal enough to be unlike anything we've ever come in contact with.
Artist Norberto Fernandez brings this story to life (pardon the pun) and does a fantastic job. His work is very clean, which lends itself well to the laboratory setting. Zoe is presented as a drop dead gorgeous blonde, which makes the reader and everyone in the story underestimate her. She's very intelligent and capable of going toe-to-toe with anyone she comes into contact with. She's the stand-out character here and for good reason. Obviously the story centers around her, but she is the lynchpin for everything. She figures out what is really going on and she's ultimately the one who finds the solution.
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The Neanderthals are where Fernandez ups the scare factor. They look basically human, but they have a very primal feel to them. Their teeth and fingernails are sharp. Their bodies are large and covered in muscle. You can tell right away that they would tear your throat out in a heartbeat. They do all that and more in Retrovirus. The scenes where the cavemen go on their rampage are some of the bloodiest you'll read all year. These guys are crazy. They literally rip through people. These were the panels that I had to go back and re-read because there's just so much going on in each one.
My only real complaint about Retrovirus is that it's so short. Gray and Palmiotti have managed to cram a satisfying story into just 72 pages, but I want more. They introduced an entire world here and while the story has a conclusion, I would love to see it continued in some way.
Retrovirus makes science scary again. It reminds us of how weak we've become as a species. People were once a lot tougher than we are now and if we ever came into contact with something from that age it would end badly for everyone involved. As I said before, some things are better left in the ground or in this case, the ice.