Plasm #0 – Reviews Of Old Comics
Let’s set the stage for this week’s Review of Old Comics. In 1992, Jim Shooter had been ousted as Editor-In-Chief of Valiant Comics. A year later, he founded Defiant Comics in the crowded direct market of the 1990s. To stand apart, it was decided that the first issue of their flagship series, Plasm, was to be produced as a trading card set. When the cards were put into binder pages, they would reveal the complete story. Due to varying allotment, gaining the entire story proved difficult. There was a print version made available through Diamond Comic Distributor’s catalog, Previews, but aside from that, readers had to wait until it was collected in Warriors Of Plasm: The Collected Edition.
Story: Jim Shooter
Penciller: Dave Lapham
Inker: Michael Witherby
Colors: Janet Jackson
Outside of our reality, there is a world where everything is alive. Lorca is a Seeker, responsible for finding bio-mass to be recycled for the purposes of the Org, an ever-expanding empire. He witnesses some prisoners of war refusing to go willingly into a large beast that reduces their bodies to a mulch to be used towards creating new, living things. Apparently there is a dissenting school of thought that sentient beings are not part of the larger organism of the empire, but free to their own existence. Lorca stops the revolt, sacrificing a soldier in the process.
When Lorca returns home, he is convinced by his friend Ulnareah to take in a game of Splatterball, a contact sport where injured players are rebuilt on the sidelines with fresh bio-mass. Ulnareah is a tax collector who extorts plasm, a bio-commodity used as currency to bet on the Splatterball games, very badly. Lorca covers for his frien’s loss before he has to lose a leg to cover his debts. To celebrate, Ulnareah invites Lorca to get buzzed, but Lorca doesn’t do much drinking. Afterwards, the tax collector shows Lorca a young extralegal named Laygen that he captured from some citizens. They believed so much in individual rights, that they had a child, even though doing so, put her and them outside the law. Ulnareah intends to torture her for their amusement, but Lorca is repulsed by this notion. The authorities arrive but Ulnareah has drugged Laygen and turned her over, covering up his crime.
Two seasons later, the emperor is elevating Ulnareah to Grand Inquisitor. At the ceremony, he introduces Lorca to Sueraceen, a Gorelord in the Org’s armed service. He sets them up as lovers, and reminds Lorca of Laygen, who graduates from her forced schooling on the next day. On that day, Lorca finds Laygen in the nursery. The free-thinker ideals she was raised with have survived, and she is defiant. Ulnareah is secretly watching Lorca, convinced that he has feelings for Laygen.
Twelve days later, Lorca and Suerceen are conquering new lands, turning its defenders into bio-mass for the org. He has new feelings about the carnage and visits Laygen again, but is convinced that her beliefs are valid, especially given the evidence created by his feelings for Laygen.
Three seasons later, Lorca is searching for new worlds and finds something. He sends for Laygen, and dismisses Suerceen. Ulnareah is tipped off. Lorca tells Laygen of a plan to leave behind dead clones of themselves and flee to the new realm he discovered, Earth, where they can life out their lives away from the horrors of the Org.
The next day Lorca is being elevated by the Emperor to Supreme Acquisitor. At the ceremony, Ulnareah accuses Lorca of treason and brings out Laygen. He kills her to force a treasonous reaction from Lorca. Lorca does not show any emotion at Laygen’s death until later in private when he cries over the lock of hair that he took from Laygen, mourning a woman that lived once and never again.
Jim Shooter manages to create a believable, yet completely alien world in just twenty-eight pages. In such a context, it’s very challenging to make it work without a reader getting bogged down in how the world works. Shooter accomplishes this by focusing the story on Lorca’s transformation. This character grows as a person thanks to Laygen, who unfortunately is very one note, and defined by her belief system, and only her belief system. The other supporting characters, Ulnareah and Suerceen are even more two-dimensional, holding almost no redeemable qualities. This makes Lorca the only character that a reader can latch onto. This is all right, because he is the focus of this story.
The art is great, with Lapham making the world visually bizarre, but believable. At times it is a little pedestrian, but those times are overshadowed by some great characterization and a diversity that adds richness to the story. It’s a great example of rich world-building. The inking helps ground it as well, making this weirdness a believable reality.
The weakest point is the adherence to a nine-panel grid, necessitated by the delivery method of the story, trading cards to be assembled in a nine-pocket binder page. While Lapham makes it work in a similar method to the way Dave Gibbons did in Watchmen, but the real difference here is how much dialogue Shooter included, crowding some panels by far too much, whereas Alan Moore allowed the art to tell the story and do a lot of the heavy lifting. Shooter trusts his artist but still feels the need to convey most of his story in words.
This issue has been collected in Warriors of Plasm Collected Edition, which is understandably out of print, since Defiant folded in less than two years. Finding a copy online is not hard to do, and won’t set you back very much at all. You will have to search at a con for one, though. I haven’t tripped across one in a long time. Occasionally, I’ll find cards though, even maybe a complete set.
Finding a completed set of the cards on eBay is not expensive, but then you have to store that binder someplace, probably a bookshelf. Finding it with the binder adds a little more, but is really something that I recommend only for the collector that focuses on a comprehensive collection. If you’re just out for the story, the Previews stapled comic is more affordable than a complete set of cards and binder.
FINAL RATING: 7.3 (out of 10)
The medium of delivery is the thing that holds this back. As a comic, it actually holds up, and makes me want to read Warriors of Plasm.