Literary Evolution: An In-Depth Review of the Graphic Novel Titanium Rain By Josh Finney and Kat Rocha

I’ve had a lot of physically painful experiences in my life: broken bones, stitches, concussions, migraines, and my very first kidney stone a few months ago. I did permanent damage to my right ankle because I went to Comic-Con San Diego and walked around on a nasty sprain. I’ve had a Bone-Marrow Extraction, Lumbar Puncture, more I.V’s, blood tests, and shots than I can count- and I’m only twenty-six years old. My medical history file looks like a freaking phone book! But with all the painful shit I have been through, one thing I can’t say I know a damn thing about is the pain and terror of being shot. It’s not like I haven’t wondered about it. I mean, who hasn’t? I have a loved one in Law Enforcement who’s actually packing & works in a city with some heavy gang activity so I have some very real worry about people I know getting shot. Even so, I didn’t actually know anyone personally who had until I started talking to Josh Finney; the author and co-illustrator of the graphic novel Titanium Rain. After his High School graduation in a seemingly random act of violence the car he was riding in was chased and shot at by a lunatic in another vehicle, resulting in Mr. Finney taking a bullet to the gut. Obviously he lived since I’m writing about the graphic novel that he wrote after all of this took place, but you don’t come face to face with Death & give Him a big kiss on the mouth without it having some effect on your life from then on. For Josh Finney it was surgery, PTSD…and the inspiration to create a brilliant comic book series. Thus with the help of his extremely talented co-artist/wife Kat Rocha Titanium Rain was born and published by Archaia comics. Having read the issues collected in Book One quite thoroughly I must say that if it were guaranteed that I would produce something similar to it as a result, I’d have someone bust a cap in my ass right freakin’ now! To be honest I don’t know whether to talk about the writing or the art first, which should tell you something right there since I nearly always notice the writing first. It took me twice as long to get through Titanium Rain as it normally would a book of its size and density simply because I spent so much time staring at each page. The whole thing is done digitally and looks like a combination of oil painting and photography, giving it this wonderful dreamy quality at times. Yet it still manages to keep this deeply realistic feel to it that lends intensity to the action sequences and gives the entire story credibility. Light, shading, movement in things like hair and clothing, minute changes of facial expression or focus in a person’s eyes are all so intriguing that you find yourself staring at a single panel and realize a solid minute has passed. Then there are the flames and explosions, gunfire blasts from brightly burning muzzles… Oh…um, you probably want to know what the story is about, huh? Right. Well if I wanted to go the literal route I’d say that Titanium Rain is about war and the experience and reality of being a soldier. We have the character Alec “Space Case” Killian, a pilot in the US military in the year 2031. China is in the midst of a power struggle/civil war and the rest of the world has been drawn in to their internal conflict. Now considering the projected population of China for the year 2031 is 1.45 billion people, while the United States is estimated to have less than 440 million, perhaps you can see the problem in going to war against them. Of course it isn’t just the US vs. everyone else- though apparently even in 2031 we like to think it is- we are part of the Allied Nations. Oh, except for Texas which appears to be off on its own now…Alright, my explanation may leave something to be desired but I assure you that the opening of Titanium Rain explains everything very clearly (and in an ingeniously unique way I might add) so that you know

what’s going on. The basic point I was trying to make with the two countries population discrepancies is that the good guys don’t have nearly as many soldiers as the bad guys. This brings me to my less-literal route explaining what Titanium Rain is really about: evolution. It’s one of the themes of the book and it’s quite perspicaciously expounded upon. Within the first ten pages there is a direct quote regarding Darwinism, following an internal dialog about the fight for survival. This is how the reader is both introduced to the main character and the tone for the rest of the book. Alec is observing a cluster of crows picking at the corpse of a seagull and ruminating about life when he is interrupted by his friend and fellow pilot Wayne “Piso” Schilling. Both of them are members of Phoenix Squadron: a group of special pilots who are all part of an experimental US military program called Prometheus. Remember how China had way more soldiers than the US? Well that includes Air Force fighter pilots too. There just weren’t enough people who had the skills and genetic traits required to fit the bill. So rather than lower the standards and accept pilots who were slightly sub-par, the military decided to literally alter the pilots in order to bring them up to par. Prosthetics, bio-modifications, a system of nano-bots injected into the bloodstream; all part of altering or replacing the natural human body’s healthy functioning parts for the purpose of improving that body beyond its natural capabilities so that it may successfully serve as a military pilot. Then they went a step or two beyond that and included a special wetware system, mentally linking pilot and plane. This allows for two-way communication and rapid information assimilation and response the likes of which an “ordinary” pilot doesn’t even have! So is this man’s natural progression- like vaccines, organ transplants, and prosthetic limbs? Or is this going too far? Going against nature- or even going against God? Is it a blaspheme to trade your healthy, God-given flesh for machines and devices created by man? The project is named “Prometheus” after the mythological Titan who stole fire from the Gods and gave it to mankind. He was also supposedly responsible for teaching humanity mathematics, writing, science, and agriculture, making him a pivotal figure in our development as a civilization and a champion on behalf of man. But we all know how well the story ends for poor Prometheus. I wonder what that says about the future of these pilots once this war is over. The story continues to follow Alec as he enters a combat situation, showing the reader explicitly how the Prometheus enhancements work. It’s also a very detailed and visceral description of the entire experience of flight. I know virtually nothing about the internal workings of a jet or the stress of aerial battle, but the way the descriptions were paired with the imagery was so vivid it was like I was really experiencing it! I could literally feel the vibrations of the engine warming up and the constricting tightness of the harness across my torso, smell the stale plastic smell of an oxygen mask…basically it was uber-cool. It was also rather terrifying if you ask me. But then I know I don’t have what it takes to be a soldier no matter how many Prometheus parts the government puts in me. I’m not big on being told what to do, either; I’ve never really been one to “toe the line.” Moving on… While in the middle of said skirmish, Alec ends up catching a bullet through the shoulder/upper chest. That’s when you see what he’s really made of and what his fancy Prometheus enhancements can do. The art in these sections simply blew me away (no pun intended.) The sky and city far below, those explosions and gunfire blasts I mentioned earlier, and these amazing panels where you’re seeing through the pilot’s manufactured eyes while he’s getting the info on his helmet visor thingy as well as the info from the jet sent directly to his brain. There’s also a cool close-up of one of his machine eyes with a little barcode on it and tiny wire-like things swirling into the irises- it is superbly detailed, more than a little disturbing, and very impressive. Frankly I was extraordinarily impressed with the way eyes in general were done in Titanium Rain.

Human beings convey so much with just their eyes, which is obvious given how many colloquialisms about them we use: “If looks could kill, undressing me with her eyes, fire in her eyes” and so on. I would think that putting emotion into a subject’s eyes would be one of if not the biggest challenge for an artist. Then to have to do it over and over again to cover a spectrum of feelings, plus the transitions from one emotion to another…I honestly don’t know how they manage it at all. Between you and me, I can’t think of many comic book artists who are very successful at it. I still consider them to be artistic geniuses; it’s only in this one area that they fall short of my expectations. The artwork that Kat Rocha and Josh Finney present in this book is without a doubt the most successful in capturing emotion in facial expressions, particularly in the eyes, that I have ever come across. Again, it feels strange to be spending so much time discussing the art and not the story when writing is usually the area I feel most comfortable critiquing. It made me very happy to discover that the writing was just as good as the art, if not better. I said earlier that I would claim evolution to be what Titanium Rain is really about, and clearly with the Prometheus project that could very well be literal. If it proves successful in a few pilots how long will it be before all soldiers are “upgraded” in order to perform better? And if that’s the case then the benefits of these enhancements won’t go unnoticed by the general public for long. Who wouldn’t want stronger veins, arteries, and heart muscle? Or sharper reflexes, better circulation, and stronger lungs? Think what that could do for people with heart conditions or asthma. With the circulatory system benefits it would also mean a permanent cure for Erectile Dysfunction; say goodbye to Viagra & Cialis and hello to Prometheus! Plus with stronger hearts and lungs men would be healthy enough for sex and other vigorous activities much later into their lives. Even with something like it’s condemnation by major religious groups people will still want these physical alterations and the health benefits they can bring. It could end up being the next step in our evolution. Just arriving at a place where scientifically we are capable of pushing forward our own evolution instead of waiting for naturewhether we choose to do it or not- is a form of evolution in and of itself! It says that as a species, we’ve come to a place intellectually where we understand our own bodies -as well as science, medicine, and engineering- to change our entire physical makeup “for the better.” Or at least we think we do. The ethics of a choice like that are debated several times throughout the book, as are the usual moral conflictions that a soldier faces within him or herself while in the midst of war. Remember what it was like when you read “Too Kill a Mockingbird” or “Brave New World” for the first time? Books that were full of meaning and purpose and had something to say and utilized literary tools like allegories and metaphors, juxtaposition, themes, and imagery to get their point across and communicate with the reader on a deeper level than just the words on the page? Titanium Rain does that with images and panels and conversations and inner monologues. Being the huge nerd that I am, I had SO MUCH FUN going through it and trying to decipher the meaning behind everything! Some were fairly obvious- there is a clearly defined avian theme that’s carried through the whole story with seagulls and crows each symbolizing opposing things/ideas. (Not to mention there’s a big ole’ yin-yang made of a black bird and white bird in the front of the book before the title page. Come on, people! They’re practically spelling it out for you!) Exactly what the birds symbolize is up to you to read and decide for yourself. While that theme is overt and easy to see there are a ton of other devices and ingenious little references that you’ll find during your second or third time through. One that I thought was particularly canny was in a depiction of several Chinese tanks in a line. Written on the side of one of these tanks were the words “Tin Omen.” …Get it?

How awesome is that?? Another thing that I thought was super-awesome was the additional “Intel Files” in the back of the book after the first part of the story had ended. These contained extras like propaganda posters, maps, as well as design specs for a ton of planes and jets and weapons and other cool stuff. There are Top Secret files, newspaper articles, some gorgeous additional artwork, two additional stories that I wish could have their own spin-off comic, and a full description of the Prometheus Project enhancements and what each of them do. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of work that went into these- and they aren’t even technically part of the main story. Oh, and just in case you boys were worried that the book is a total sausage-fest, rest assured that there are a reasonable number of hot chicks in it considering it’s a story told from a male point of view. And may I just say that the women in this book actually look like *gasp* REAL WOMEN! Shocking isn’t it? What’s even more shocking is that these “real women” are still hot! Yes, despite what you may have heard drawings of women with realistic bodies are still beautiful and appealing and both Josh and Kat know it- take a look at what they have on their DeviantArt pages if you want some confirmation. (http://kat-a-pult.deviantart.com/ and http://joshfinney.deviantart.com/) Among these hot women, not the least of which is the character “Happy”: fellow Prometheus pilot and quick-witted, sharp-tongued redhead with curves that make the strain of nine gees particularly uncomfortable, if you know what I mean. Her dialog and interactions with Alec added some levity and new dimensions to the main character and story. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Two sorts of writers posses genius: those who think and those who cause others to think.” Ben Templesmith once said “If dinosaurs existed today bestiality would be much more interesting.” The first quote I believe accurately describes both Josh Finney and Titanium Rain. Mr. Finney is clearly an artist and an author who really thinks about his work and puts effort into creating something not just worth reading, but worth owning and discussing. The book Titanium Rain is definitely something that tries to get you to think: the inspiration is there if the motivation is too. And the second quote has absolutely nothing to do with anything; I just thought it was funny. For the Honor of Grayskull, -Dianthrax

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