Damnation Station (vol. 1 – 2, pkgd. w/ JD Megs #414 – 415) – Al Ewing

2 out of 5

An utterly gripping concept with a perfect array of misfit characters, unique art style from Simon Davis, and a surprisingly affecting commentary on the politics of war… gets lost behind favoring shallow character changeups and plot twists.

In Damnation Station, a movie star decides to sign up with the army as a bid to rescue his controversy-laden career, believing that the ‘com’ spot he’s registered for will allow him to be safe and sound at a desk.  Unfortunately, it actually means he’s part of the commando unit, sent out on killing missions to roust undesirables from other planets.

While the newbie sent into war isn’t a new setup, writer Al Ewing drops the bomb quickly in terms of how serious things get, and adds a fascinating wrinkle on top of it: Earth is subject to the whims of its alien masters, who actually own the planet; it is as recompense for our living here that we agree to go out on these missions, and while this all takes place under a banner of maintaining peace and balance, it’s implicitly understood that not following orders is akin to death.  The extent of this command is quickly underlined when the first mission we see is clearly a hunt for people who aren’t doing anything except for living on land that our alien masters want… and the effect upon our POV character is equally immediate.

Simon Davis’ slightly surreal artwork tips this over from humorous battle romp to nightmarish atrocities, and Ewing pumps that up by not trying to be overly stoic and snide about it, but just writing to the events naturally.

And then… well, I can only suppose that Damnation Station wasn’t popular enough to merit a long term story, or Ewing got distracted by other projects.  Because a long time passes with some minor one-shots that attempt to ante up by dumping characters before we can learn enough about them to care, and by including faux threats that just feel like clutter beyond the core conceit of the series, and then we switch out artists for Mark Harrison and our lead character is completely left out of things in favor of a lame “reveal” of some ultimate foe.  Not only is none of the story’s promise or character opportunities followed up on, but the new direction feels so fleeting as to make what we have experienced seem shallow.  Harrison’s style is also admittedly an acquired taste, but his blending of rendered art and drawn art seems especially at odds with the type of action and creatures Ewing was scripting, lessening engagement in the strip that much more.