No Man Is An Island
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer TIM HAYES takes a look at Rebellion’s Grey Area: This Island Earth collection, out from this month…
Grey Area: This Island Earth
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artists: Karl Richardson, Lee Carter, Patrick Goddard
Grey Area has been running in 2000AD for six years, and the first two or so are now collected here in This Island Earth, all written by Dan Abnett in the high-density style he’s used in the series to match the hectic cross-cultural frictions of the story. Set in 2045, it finds Earth dealing with an influx of multiple alien races arriving for many different reasons, from benign tourism to major criminality, each placing more strain on the teams of Exo Transfer Control officers trying to keep track of who’s who and what’s going on while acting as something between customs officers and a SWAT team.
The topicality of these themes in a time of mass-migration and xenophobia are evident enough, and Abnett’s introduction to the book states outright that they played a major part in the creation of the strip and have hardly become less relevant in the period since. Some of the stories are stand-alone and comedic, but several are more serious, particularly the ones around ETC Captain Adam Bulliet, whose long-term arc starts to take shape within these pages when circumstances remove his superior officer from the scene. He and newly-arrived rookie Jana Birdy are the pair through which most of the stories here are seen by the reader, and if their developing romance under fire is a not-unfamiliar kind of soap opera, it’s also the kind that Abnett habitually writes with a deft touch. Karl Richardson co-created the series and his art sets the visual tone, with lots of bulky body armour and panel-filling aggression, before Lee Carter’s smoother digital shadings and then Patrick Godard’s action choreography take over later on.
In his introduction Abnett also points out that the real-world issues he and Richardson started tackling in Grey Area are becoming increasing resistant to satire, and he’s right. That might partly be since many other honourably humanist future-set fantasy brands have walked similar paths, and a few of them lurk in the background here. The teeming shanty town of aliens, legal and illegal alike, is not far from a more high-tech District 9, the gate-keeping and diplomatic functions of the semi-military ETC are a bit like Babylon 5, and the prejudice and discrimination could be from Alien Nation and on back through multiple classic Twilight Zone episodes. Grey Area is as much an affectionate embrace of all of these and of sci-fi’s inbuilt attraction to serious social tensions as it is a statement about those tensions, and the level of satire is deliberately mild rather than shocking or transgressive. But the statements themselves always bear repeating.