Reading comic books is one of my my favourite pastimes since the my childhood, and when I was little I learned how to read by paging through the classic Polish comics of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, for example “Kajko and Kokosz”, “Funky Koval”, and others (including “Thorgal”, which one was drawn by Pole living abroad). After that the socio-political transition period had began (that was the year 1989), and domestic marked was literally flooded with American superhero comics and franco-belgian comic books (like, “Forever War” by Marvano and Haldeman, and “L’Épée de Cristal” by Didier Crisse), giving the domestic writers and artists a very hard time.
With the exception of underground publications the Polish comic industry had suffered a serious stagnation, but it crawled back on its feet in the years 1999-2005, when it had experienced a boom, and once again Polish comics entered mainstream, unfortunately not for long, and in the beginning of the current decade we entered again a period of stagnation:
Mimo wszystko wychodzi na to, że krajowy komiks w PRL miał się lepiej niż teraz: http://t.co/d6S2KUP3
— DoktorNo (@doktorno) October 7, 2012
In Autumn 2014 the news had hit Twitter, that the cyberpunk comics series called “Staus7” made by duo of Mr. Adler and Mr. Piątkowski in the years 2003-2005 is now available for free on dedicated blog:
— Tomek Drabik (@quaz9) March 11, 2014
Some time had elapsed, before I could read them all, so it just now I could write a review of it.
I am very forgiving for every possible technical and editorial limitations that creators had faced during the serialization of “Status7”, in now defunct video game magazine “Reset” (and the fact that it was aimed to specific subculture of gamers), and the fact that it was created in the years 1999-2003, when the Polish comic book industry was still experiencing difficulties. Really! But, as a honest man, I cannot agree with enthusiastic reviews of these series on various comic book review sites and blogs.
The first problem is, that the production values of “Status7” series are uneven. Panels, that are looking like a colorized sketches happens quite often, but the good excuse could be the editorial cycle of “Reset” and the gaining of the experience by the creators, because the quality (of both pictures and scenario) had definitely improved in “Overload”, the second installment of the series, over the first one.
I won’t do a synopsis of the plot, because both comics are freely available on the net (as the time of this writing I have no knowledge about any English translation), but it is worth noting that “Breakout” is basically a heist story with high-tech McGuffin and mandatory massive shootout in the end, that is presenting the world from the perspective of futuristic crooks, and “Overload” is an exercise in copying the typical American action movie scenario about tickling bomb and terrorists plot, involving “rules-are-not-in-my-book” cop, and “federal police” taking over the cases (and mandatory massive shootout in the finale, like before).
And here comes the second, more serious, flaw: both the “Breakout” and “Overload” are full of mindless copying and borrowings served to the reader with industrial efficiency ( that is bringing average “Family Guy” episode to mind). Apparently Adler and Piątkowski are best suited to do comics with random humor based on random pop culture references, like in their first seminal work “48 Stron”, that was a parody of “buddy cop” action movies filled random humour, and short “Gołota vs. Predator” which in turn was a parody of “Batman vs. Predator”. Personally, I am easily bored and annoyed by this kind of gimmicks; why do I need to read postmodern quotes from well known movies and other comics in a comic? Or maybe I want to see something more original, and less obvious?
By the way, the art style resembles manga (especially the way how faces are drawn, BTW, Robert Adler also did unfinished manga called “Brygada P.E.W”), and American comics (some panels resemble Frank Miller’s “Sin City”).
The third problem is related to second one: the place where action takes place, the city of Warsaw of the year 2030 looks like futuristic Tokyo, and that makes no sense at all, because of completely different geography and population density between Japan and Central-Eastern Europe… It is just feel odd, and destroys my suspension of disbelieve.
OK, let’s forget the geography and demography for a while, the next problem is, that the setting of the “Status7” comics have so generic and interchangeable feeling, that it would take just changing the names of the protagonist, and the name of the city to, let’s say, American ones, and the story would not be affected in any way. In my opinion this is bad sign, because the whole point for making this comic was to set the action in Poland, isn’t it?
Ironically, the one of the (obvious) sources of inspirations for Adler and Piątkowski (“Akira”, “Ghost in the Shell”) were adopting the dystopian, cyberpunk genre into Japanese realities so deeply, that the action was directly referring to Japanese history, society and politics. For some strange reasons they completely missed the point of doing it exactly the same way, but in Polish setting…
The character of detective Górski is all by itself a perfect example why world building is broken by mindless copying. Mr. Górski, a main protagonist of the “Overload”, is clearly a guy with African descent with Polish surname, but we don’t know a damn about his history and background, despite the fact that this character by itself is a example of radical changes in futuristic society (contemporary Poland is monoethnic, homogeneous country). In the end his descent is like an element of scenography, and had been clearly put into the story to give it an “American” feeling, especially by making him looking like a Shaft.
Unfortunately, the Poland is a peripheral country, and obviously it is not a technological and economical center of the world, and because of that reasons direct copying of the genre’s tropes and settings from USA and/or Japan makes no sense at all… The science fiction author and political journalist Rafał. A. Ziemkiewicz (known for his far right-wing, nationalistic and conservative political convictions, that he frequently showed into his own works) in my opinion had got it right, in his classic, award-winning cyberpunk novel “Pieprzony los Kataryniarza”, where he satirized the politics and society of 1990’s Poland from his political standpoint, using cyberpunk genre as a background for a story where Poland is a weak, corrupted, divided country, and protagonist is a professional patriotic hacker who is undercovering a dangerous political conspiracy in cyberspace (of course there are huge problems with his novel: it was basically a long editorial, full of hate and rant directed at various political strawmen: trade unions, liberals, feminists and so, and after next elections everyone had forget what exactly Mr. Ziemkiewicz was satirizing).
Ok, enough of diversion, lest go back to the main track: despite those all mentioned flaws, those comics are one of few of its kind made in Poland, that are not a adaptations, where the creators had put considerable amount of work in world building, that stick to its own rules and logic, and providing entertaining story in popular genre.
The “Status7” comics are a byproduct of certain era in my country, full of superficial, naive and mindless imitation of Western (and Far-Eastern) popular culture by Polish creators. In 1990’s we had actors posing as domestic Bruce Willis, domestic film directors imitating Quentin Tarantino, domestic versions of foreign sitcoms, game shows and reality shows – and last but not least – the whole genre of popular Disco-Polo music, that is a cheap imitation of Western pop music.
That trend was satirized in classic comedy movie “Kiler” directed by Machulski, where the cab driver is mistaken, both by the police and mobsters, for a hitman, and tries to resolve the situation by posing as such, using American action movies on VHS cassettes as instruction videos…
“Status7” is fitting perfectly into this, with its own naive vision of futuristic Warsaw as a “First World”-class metropolis, multi-ethnic token cast, erotica clearly inspired by Japanese Ecchi and Hentai manga, loads of references from Western popculture and so on. It is all an embodiment of Polish “American Dream from Hollywood”, this is present for the last quarter of century in my country’s culture, and in my opinion it badly needs a critical evaluation, after our involvement in catastrophic war in Iraq, mass migration of Poles to another EU countries and current global economical malaise.
So far, I have no further knowledge about new projects by the Piątkowski&Adler duo, and there were no further parts of the “Status7” series.
Dossiers of authors on “Gildia Komiksu”: