How ‘Bout a Little Retro With That Virus, Ask Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti…

Written/Created By:  Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti

Artwork By:  Norberto Fernandez

Cover By:  Amanda Conner

Lettered & Designed By:  Bill Tortolini

Publisher:  Image

Available:  comiXology; Amazon (via secondary market) OR you could get it straight from Jimmy Palmiotti himself, for next to nothing, at:

Given we won’t be seeing too many new comics in the indeterminate future (thanks, Diamond!), we at the Pullbox are going to be plumbing the depths of our bookshelves and finding some gems you may have missed and might enjoy…or moreover, that we just feel like writing about. Up today is Retrovirus, a self-published graphic novel written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by Norberto Fernandez, with lettering by Bill Tortolini (and a nice cover by Amanda Conner) which first made the rounds on Kickstarter back in October of 2012 and which is currently being offered by Palmiotti and crew via their on-line company,

Fair warning, though: Retrovirus’ subject matter, given current conditions around the world, may either be of great interest to you…or utterly freak you out.  And quite possibly both.

That said, onward.

Retrovirus follows the work of virologist Zoe Wallace, who is really having a crappy day.   Her plane to NYC, for a career-making conference, arrived late, and deposited her in the middle of a downpour. Her less-than-stable fiancé has decided to move on with his life…without her. After a less-than-satisfying presentation before a room of male chauvinists more interested in her sodden blouse than her science, our heroine is approached by representatives of BioPharm, a massive pharmaceutical conglomerate with a heretofore unknown and potentially species-killing virus…and a career-altering offer—but with all the slithery smarm of a huge pharmaceutical company. When Zoe arrives home to discover that, in addition to dumping her, aforementioned fiancé wrecked her place in doing so, that corporate consultation work is of a sudden sounding very appealing… 

And off to Antarctica, to a top-secret and heavily-guarded research facility she goes…

…where she meets her team of oddball science geeks, a frozen Neanderthal and a fascinating puzzle, one that soon evolves into a terrifying threat.  Having played with science and history, has BioPharm helped to save the world…or end it?

Retrovirus is equal parts Jurassic Park and Outbreak, presenting us with a barrage of ethical and moral quandaries for our time—which are only all the more pressing now than when the book was originally published in 2012. Among other things, Gray and Palmiotti ask: is it ethical or valuable to re-introduce an extinct virus—or, for that matter, species—in order to conquer new ones?  Does curiosity about our heritage justify the exploration of DNA and the creation/re-creation of a species long-lost to history? Is it ever justifiable to employ human or human-based subjects to develop cures to diseases? Bottom line: what is the point at which curiosity crosses the line, and scientific inquiry becomes an ill-advised attempt to play god? Given the story’s evolution it’s fairly clear Gray and Palmiotti’s take on these queries, but they’re never so heavy-handed as to beat you over the head and tell you what you should think.

Oh, and they write a whoppin’ good science-heavy action tale, too. Character development is light, but not terribly necessary; this one’s all about the plot. Action is swift and plot development well-paced. The characters, despite their minimal backgrounds (and, to a degree, a bit cookie cutter in their roles), are individually voiced and engaging.

Fernandez’s art in the book is interesting: not quite realistic, but not cartoony either.  At the risk of giving a portion of the story away, he’s at his best in rendering the heavy action, especially that involving the Neanderthals who make their appearance early (and become a tiny bit of a plot point later) in the book. The labs, the technology, and some of the fun he’s able to have with perspective and panel structure are also top-notch work, and the colors are perfectly rendered.  Fernandez’s style results in a few slightly off-putting facial angles to me, particularly when characters are presented in profile, but this is a splitting hairs kind of point. All in all, a well-drawn and entertaining view.

Tortolini doesn’t get to play a whole lot with the lettering in Retrovirus; the story is dialogue, action and setting-heavy, which means most of the lettering is straight-forward and clear by necessity (check back later this week for a review of a book wherein the letterer gets to go completely bonkers), and at times dense—but he achieves his task well.  And he definitely earns A grades for the design work.

In the end, Retrovirus is a solid and entertaining read, one that’s in my mind a perfect fit for the world we find ourselves in this spring. Just, you know, don’t expect to sleep all that well afterward…

Score:  11/13

Review by Andy Patch,

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