Personal Issues 5 – Eww
For the last four installments in this series of articles that I am quickly coming to regret starting, I’ve been looking at no less than six issues every week. For Zero Month I did six issues from six different series (kind of) and for the last two I’ve done miniseries that were six issues or more. So this week I am going to take a look at a one-shot. Just one issue. Hopefully this will keep things under 2500 words because I am getting really tired of writing that much. But enough complaining, let’s start this shit.
Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have worked on a lot of series together. I am most familiar with the work they’ve done for DC Comics, like the pre-52 Power Girl series, Phantom Lady and Doll Man, and G.I. Combat. Both of them pretty good writers, coming up with some pretty good stories that I’ve liked. This is not really one of those stories. It has its moments and the thing it all revolves around is interesting, it just doesn’t really have enough to make me say it’s pretty good. This is Retrovirus.
After opening 30,000 years in the past so we can watch a Neanderthal family be brutally slaughtered by what I can only assume is a small tribe of Cro-Magnons, we cut to modern day New York and our protagonist, Professor Zoe Wallace. She is approached by a couple of suits from a pharmaceutical company called Bio-Pharm who offer her a job working with a new virus. They fly her out to Antarctica where she meets the rest of the team she will be working with. I’m not going to name them because honestly none of them matter. They’re their to be dicks and paint the walls with their innards. She is taken to the lab they are all working in she sees the Neanderthal from the beginning frozen in a block of ice with science shit plugged into it. They call him Ringo.
We cut to later that night, as all the guy scientists decide to go to bed early (okay, it’s 1 A.M., but that’s early for science) because Bio-Pharm’s chief research operator, Tate Ottati, is going to be paying them a video conference the next day. Zoe decides to stay up and keep working on the virus. Her analysis reveals that the virus attacks gametes, the cells used for reproduction, and causes infertility in the infected subject or their babies are so deformed they can’t survive long after birth. She also finds out that the virus is airborne and that she is infected. She confronts the other scientists and it turns out they knew about this and never bothered to tell her because why would you tell someone they’re infected with a virus that has the potential to wipeout all of humanity.
Zoe is understandably pissed off about this and beats the shit out of the two scientists who’ve had the most lines and reveals that she’s pregnant. All of them are then escorted to the vid-com room where we finally see Ottati, who could only look more evil if he had a mustache and a cat. He reveals that he had the Neanderthal cloned, using chimpanzee DNA to fill in gaps because you need some filler DNA in most cloning processes I’ve heard about. This allowed the virus to make the jump from Neanderthals to humans. Ottati’s plan was for the team to create an anti-virus which would allow him to sell the virus, which he has dubbed the Phoenix Virus, to the U.S. military as a weapon. He’s kind of stupid. Zoe points this out to him, and he says she just doesn’t get it.
Three weeks pass and a pack of the cloned Neanderthals, which Ottati kept alive and on site which doesn’t a whole lot of sense, break out and start fucking shit up. It’s around this point where things get even more stupid. As the herd of, like, a dozen Neanderthals rip their way through the facility that has multiple teams of Special Forces trained soldiers with a fuck ton of guns, the head of security Conri Davis, who has been having conversations with Zoe in the creepiest way possible, decides to take some scientist guy who seems to come the fuck out of nowhere and go save Zoe. Ottati gets to them first, though, because he was staying at the facility with the insanely infectious airborne virus and killer cavemen, too, and takes Zoe hostage. He drags her into the lab, locks the door behind them and demands the she give him the cure. As it turns out she and the team had developed the cure weeks ago and just never told anyone. How did Ottati know about it, then? He installed cameras in her bathroom… Eww.
But, before Ottati can beat the cure out of her the Neanderthals burst through the door and rip Ottati’s shit apart. Zoe thinks they’re going to kill her, too, but instead they start putting the caveman moves on her. Since none of them had seen a female before and her hormones were going crazy what with being pregnant and all, it drives the Neanderthals horny kill crazy. They start killing each other until only one is left. While he’s feeling her up and sniffing her downstairs… Eww – Davis and random guy show up and Davis kills the Neanderthal with two bullets. Again, a few dozen guys with the same training as Davis couldn’t kill these things because…?
Anyway, as they get ready leave and torch the place, they are stopped by the Health Protection Agency, a British organization that does dick all to stop this kind of shit from happening then comes in after everything is over and done with and takes over. They reveal that Bio-Pharm is actually owned by the British government and that they were aware of most of what was going on at the facility. As the head officer lady explains, the research being done at the facility was never about the Phoenix Virus. That was just a by-product of the cloning. Their real interest was the Neanderthals all along. They were going to use them to do… something. We never get an actual explanation for their plan. But whatever. Zoe and Conri leave, and the book flashes forward to a year later where the two are married or dating or something and raising Zoe’s daughter together and she flies off to see another dead thing that’s probably infected with something else.
If you are still reading this after all that, then I don’t have to tell you that the plot for this book is pretty stupid. The only thing I can say about that wasn’t stupid was the Phoenix Virus. In most stories like this you would expect the virus to turn the infected person into some kind of monster or another Neanderthal or a zombie or just straight up kill them. It’s not very often that we see a virus that doesn’t do anything horrible to the infected person except they can’t have babies anymore. And considering how easily that virus can transmit itself, it’s actually one of the more terrifying viruses in fiction that I’ve heard about. That virus could bring humanity to the brink of extinction in a matter of decades. I know that doesn’t seem that scary but to me it kind of is.
The rest of the story is really stupid, though. Zoe, for one thing, is a weird character. For the first half of the book she is totally against being objectified by anyone. When she is first introduced she actually does a sick science burn on some old fucks who are saying how hot she is and something about a wet t-shirt lecture on retroviruses. That’s not that bad. But then when we see what her boyfriend did to her place and how she just breaks down crying and it’s just weird. Why would someone who intelligent and strong-willed be with someone who, from the one panel we saw him in, looks like a colossal douchebag who probably didn’t respect her in the least and would go the lengths of destroying everything in her house because he thought she was cheating on him while he was sick or something?
In the back end of the book, though, she seems to do a complete 180 and actually falls for someone for spying on her through a security camera while she’s naked. That’s how she and Conri meet. He is watching her walk around her room naked and then they strike up a conversation, during which Zoe goes from being rightfully pissed off about being spied on while naked to being charmed by the guy. When the Neanderthals break out, she wants to get Conri’s attention through the security cameras. Instead of getting a piece of paper and a pen, which are readily available in the lab that she and the other scientists are in, and writing “Conri” on it, she gets her tits out. Finally, when she and Conri are flying back to civilization, he says she’s got nice tits and she finds this charming. What the fuck?
This entire book gives me a weird feeling reading it. I feel like the book might be misogynistic but I’m not entirely sure. The two sole female characters in the book are leading a military team and the key to stopping a virus that could put humanity on the endangered species list, respectively, but a good chunk of the male characters objectify Zoe in one way or another. The aforementioned assholes at her lecture, the Neanderthals, Conri, even one of the scientists on her team who knows her for her work. When she first arrives and meets them one of the guys, who has a Civil War Union hat and some nice facial hair, says that he and the rest are glad to have her there. Now, we can assume that he meant for her experience in the field of retroviruses. But he felt the need to add on that their happy to have her not just because she’s hot. Even she’s a little perplexed as to why he felt the need to add that on. Hell, she stops most of the Neanderthals by getting them to fight over who will have sex with her. It all just gives off a kind of icky vibe.
Neither of the big plans from the bad guy or the good make very much sense. Ottati’s plan of weaponizing the virus, that’s pretty sound. But what was the point of infecting all of the scientists? Why did he keep the clones alive after getting the virus sample from them? You could argue that he did that because they were expensive. Ottati himself says that each clone cost $10 million. If that’s the case then why did he clone 12 of them? He only needed one. Why did he spend $120 million when he could’ve just spent $10 million?
And the HPA. Why did they want Neanderthals? What could something called the Health Protection Agency want with a bunch of cloned Neanderthals? Were they going to try to make the world’s greatest rugby team? What in the name of all things fuck could the practical applications of a dozen savage cavemen rapists be?
The art isn’t much to write home about either. It ranges from tolerable to pretty damn bad. The cavemen are probably the best drawn throughout. They are bulky as fuck with heavy shadows on their faces, probably do to their protruding brow ridge, and they look pretty intimidating. Ottati actually has a couple of pretty good shots, too, especially near the end when he comes out of the elevator to take Zoe hostage. He looks downright menacing. But for the rest of the characters it’s not very good. The artist, Norberto Fernandez, can never seem to remember how long a person’s face is or where their eyes are supposed to be. It’s a real shame they got him because the cover is actually really well drawn. It was done by Palmiotti’s wife, Amanda Conner, who is one of my favorite artists and did the artwork for Palmiotti and Gray’s run on Power Girl. If they had’ve gotten her to do the art I might not have disliked the comic as much as I do.
But she didn’t, and I really don’t like this comic. The motivations of the villain and the kinda maybe good guys at the end make no sense, Zoe flip flops between whether or not she likes people judging her based solely on her appearance and spying on her while she’s naked, none of the other characters seem to have any real personalities about them aside from the one panel we see them in before we see what their insides look like, and the artwork overall is bad. The only thing I can say about it is that the idea behind the virus is a really cool one that could have made for a cool story. If Gray and Palmiotti had thought out the story more or if they had more issues to develop character and such it might have turned out pretty good, but as it stands it is a stupid story with stupid characters and a cool virus.
Thanks to everyone who made it through this. If you’ve read the book, do you agree with me or do you like the book? Please feel free to let me know in the forums or in the comments below. Have a book in mind that you would like me to take a look at? Again, let me know in the forums or comments or Tweet it at me @DeadMan_DDProds. I’m already out of ideas of what to write about and I would love to hear from you guys.