Review: ‘BIO-WARS’ #1 & 2: Because There’s a War Going On Inside Your Body…!

Posted: July 18, 2015 in COMICS
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No, really – there is a war going on inside your body. ‘As a pre-med student at NYU, I took an endocrinology course and became fascinated by how cells within our bodies communicate with each other,’ says ‘Bio-Wars creator, Gabriel Shaoolian. ‘I started to see the body as a bio-cosmos all unto itself. A micro-universe, in which incredible battles for existence and the struggle to survive constantly take place…’
‘Rather than going to medical school,’ he explains, ‘I decided to pursue Biowars ‘.

And create BioWars he did. An ambitious, high-concept, digital comic-book series exploring the fascinating, complex ‘inner world’ of our biological landscape via the medium of a sci-fi adventure serial. Imagine there was a war going on inside your body; and then imagine that its outcome could determine not only your fate, but the fate of the entire world. That’s the basic start-point/premise of BioWars. I’m simplifying, of course; there’s more to it than that.

The great twist in the premise of BioWars is that the story we’re introduced to is taking place on two different levels of reality, one of these being the inner-realm of Alex Hawking’s body – a universe unto itself, as vast and complex as our own outer world. This is an alien setting (but ultimately a human one) where various creatures and colorful characters inhabit the diverse, living terrain that is, to them, the ‘Bio-Cosmos’. What to us, however, seems like some exotic, alien world is, in fact, the inner biological world of one Alex Hawking – the unremarkable, every day teenager that is this story’s human protagonist; and who has no idea about the complex ‘Bio-War’ going on in his body or the tireless work of the microscopic ‘Bio-Warriors’ within him, who are struggling to defend him from an invading microbe that not only threatens to destroy his own immune system but to ultimately annihilate the entire human immune system.

Written by Marvel ComicsMark Powers (also of Devil’s Due Publishing and writer of the sci-fi book Drafted) and conceived and produced by Shaoolian, BioWars #1 (titled ‘Infection’) effectively introduces us to a fascinating new world, an intriguing new take on reality at the microcosmic level. It’s a wonderful premise that this comic is based around. As in a human society, each of these micro-beings within this Bio-Cosmos has a role to play that supports the greater whole. The Bio-Cosmos has its own Supreme Council, its defenders, messengers, intelligence operatives, and healers; all of which are  characters anthropomorphised as fully-realised individuals in this inner-world, all of them working together in uneasy alliances to defend that precious eco-system that is the human body.

The Bio-Warriors defend ‘their world’ against invading microbes and other alien threats; of which we must assume there are many – the human body, and immune system, as we know only too well, is a delicate thing, constantly under attack. These microscopic ‘alien’ invaders are numerous: viruses, bacteria, fungi, and manifold other organisms. And just as BioWars anthropomorphises and gives face to the defenders of Alex Hawking’s own internal Bio-Cosmos, it also does so for the attackers, such as microbes and viruses depicted as invading armies and violent hordes. The Bio-Warriors are of course well accustomed to these cycles of relentless conflict; as we can ascertain from the characters early on, they are battle- hardened veterans of these ‘Biowars’ – a permanent state of warfare existing between the Bio-Warriors and the invasive, malignant life forms.

As we are pertinently told, it is ‘a war that rages within us all’ and has been raging since the dawn of mankind, between us and the ever-evolving microbes and viruses whose own evolutionary prerogative has them permanently trying to infect and destroy us.

All the ‘Bio-Warriors’ are cleverly organised into different units and spheres of operation that, when their work is combined, like a conventional military, constitutes a formidable defensive operation against foreign invasion or attack. The ‘B-Cells’, with their gleaming bio-organic armor, are essentially the Immune System’s high-tech Marine Corps, while the ruthless Macrophages serve as the equivalent of its infantry. They follow the orders conveyed to them by ‘Messenger Cells’, who travel the complex networks of the inner world at the speed of thought, with Alex’s Nervous System itself being their information super-highway. The ‘Fibroblasts’ meanwhile are the healers who tend to any Bio-Warriors who suffer injury or damage. Above all of these divisions of defenders are the ‘Council of the Mind’, a mysterious, esoteric-seeming council of wisdom who are the interpreters Alex Hawking’s subconscious will.

It is a fascinating concept right from the get-go and one with rich potential. To my knowledge, the inner world of the biological landscape isn’t something that has been explored much in comic books (if at all). So right away, I felt like I was experiencing something fresh and new and I got that little child-like kick you’d get out of stumbling upon something like the Thundercats for the first time as a five-year-old. That reference is actually significant now that I think about it, because what reading BioWars #1 really made me feel like was that nostalgic Saturday morning cartoon vibe from my early childhood, even though the scientific dimension to these comics takes them into a much more grown-up arena.

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The art is pretty spectacular, full of vivid colour and texture that captures the imagination. Shaoolin’s underlying concept of exploring our ‘inner world’ or ‘Bio-Cosmos’ naturally lends itself to this kind of engaging imagery, and the artists, Lucius Cross, Joana LaFuente and Gonçalo Lopes, between them manage to create a compelling visual experience with the ‘Bio-Cosmic’ sequences. This is the case right from the outset, the opening image of the ‘Thalamic Chamber’ in the brain of a single human being (the story’s outer-world hero, Alex Hawking) is fascinating; an expansive, eye-pleasing visual representation of what has until now been a purely scientific/biological concept. It looks like cosmic space, but is actually part of the interior mindscape; the same dynamic characterises much of the comic, with settings and scenarios that look, on the surface, to be exotic alien worlds or space-ways, but are in fact complex inner-worlds of the ‘Bio-Cosmos’.

The personification (or anthropomorphising) of biological functions and agents into quasi-humanoid characters lends itself to some great ideas.

For example, the mystic beings called ‘The Council of the Mind’ who appear very early on immediately intrigue and draw you in to the story. They, like some of the other residents of this Bio-Cosmos, are somewhat reminiscent of some of the better ‘Cosmic’ characters in the Marvel Universe; except we’re not witnessing the macro-cosmic here but the micro-cosmic. The character Sensurian (a ‘Messenger Cell’) is visually stunning to look at, beautifully designed; and actually ‘Nero‘ is too. The Macrophages Scathe, Phagien and Tyro are also pretty great-looking bad-asses. The ‘Healers’, Sutura and her FibroBlasts, are particularly cool too, in both design and concept. The Macro-Phages are far more mean-looking, aggressive; more like villains of the piece, but in actual fact they are simply the most aggressive, relentless element of the Bio-Cosmos’s complex systems of defense.

There’s a battle sequence where the Macro-Phages dive in to fight off the invading/virus creatures and it looks great; half sci-fi, half epic Roman battlefield. There is perhaps a lack of character or idiosyncrasy beyond visual and functional properties at this stage, but that is bound to develop in subsequent storytelling. Blastor and his ‘cadre of B-cells’ are terrific too; going into ‘battle’, they are able to clone/reproduce themselves instantaneously to form an army; it’s the kind of trick that makes you wish you were watching it as an animated show on TV. The fact that in issue #2, the same B-cell clones simply dissolve and are re-absorbed into a Bio-Cosmos ‘in which nothing goes to waste’ is another nice touch that works effectively as both science and sci-fi.

What’s also a touch genius about BioWars #1 is that it isn’t until very late in the book that we even get any coverage of ‘our’ world; when we are introduced to our key human protagonist, Alexander Hawking. This is a particularly brave writing choice, to spend so much of the book introducing and exploring the Bio-Cosmos/inner-world before even getting to the human element. Had it mis-fired, it might serve to alienate readers early on by not giving them a human face to latch onto from the start; but in actual fact it probably works better this way, as it draws you along into this strange, mysterious world for some time and then suddenly rips you back to our familiar level of reality and makes you properly realise this is a multi-dimensional situation you’re now exploring. In this first issue, I also really like the fascination with ‘the Beyond’; there is a hushed, guarded awe with which the lifeforms of this inner Bio-Cosmos regard the ‘outer world’. This of course makes perfect sense and it echoes our awe/fascination in regard to our own ‘outer world’ – specifically, Outer Space. It’s the kind of psychological or cultural detail that rings very true.

In BioWars #2, we also are properly introduced to the hostile invaders’ ‘Master-Mold’, an insectoid/demonic-like entity called ‘Raze’; and there’s a great sequence where we see this ‘Raze’ engaged in a process of ‘bacterial conjugation’, as he begins to assimilate native bio-entities in Alex’s inner-world and become more powerful. It’s genuinely sinister.

This second installment, ‘Revelations’, focuses more time than #1 in the ‘outer world’ and Alex Hawking’s situation; it also allow us, via Hawking’s own explanations, to see how this situation came into being. I’m being careful not to flood this post with spoilers for those of you yet to read these opening BioWars issues; but suffice it to say, this new biological threat endangering Alex’s life is no mere fluke of nature or evolution, but has a more sinister origin. Here, we learn more about the ‘villains’ in the outer-world part of the story, specifically ‘The Combine’ (whose agents, pursuing Alex, look pretty damn cool – and remind me a tad of those twins from the Matrix: Reloaded). It’s pretty cool also that we are essentially introduced to two ‘main’ villains, and that one of them a mad scientist type in ‘our’ world (the Outer World) and the other being the inner-world micro-beast identified as ‘Raze’; this being a truly multi-dimensional struggle.

There are also indications, even this early, that the human ‘bad guys’ here aren’t simple cut-and-paste villains or amoral peddlers of biological warfare, but may have more of an ideological motive for their actions. Clearly there are complex, interesting developments to come.

If there’s a significant weak-point, at least in #1, it’s that the characters sometimes feel a little thin and there’s a lack of wit. However, even this is something likely to be remedied in subsequent issues as the story develops and the characters are more fleshed out. For those who might find themselves a little thrown-in at the deep end (particularly in #1, which dives straight into the exotic complexities of the Bio-Cosmic world), the series also features one or two more classic comic-book elements; such as Alex’s quest to honour the dying request of his unjustly murdered father and such as the reporter, Janice Lee, being drawn in to the drama.

I also tend to think that younger readers will get a (fun) education in elements of human biology, while older readers might get little kicks out of the various scientific re-imaginings and references to things like ‘anti-body darts’. It’s mostly high-concept sci-fi comic-booking, to be sure, but it also feels at times like a science lesson too – which is no bad thing. I can read it as an adult and kind of enjoy following the technical side of things via the lens of what basic biology/science knowledge I have, but I also can’t help but wish I could also be reading it as a ten-year old; and I wonder if younger readers especially could really get something even greater out of this, not just as entertainment but as biology.

I can just imagine a younger comic-book fan who starts reading BioWars and then becomes fascinated by the biological concepts and develops a keen interest in biology or science at an early age.

Also if I was a kid reading this, I would be obsessed for weeks about the possibility of epic, Lord of the Rings style warfare going on in my own body; hell, I’d probably make myself get a cold just to know that it would require more epic battles in my own little ‘Bio-Cosmos’!

I highly recommend you get over to BioWars and see what’s going on if you haven’t already. You can begin reading right away online and it’s free. There are also one-shot comics available too.

A BioWars ‘app’ game is in development too, and there’s clearly a vision for creating a highly interactive experience between BioWars and its readers or fans. Personally, I’m also waiting for an animated series. Gabriel Shaoolian’s own knowledge of (and fascination with) human biology and the ‘micro-universe’ is of course the basis for what we have in BioWars; that fascination and enthusiasm is evident all throughout these first two issues. ‘I wanted to share my vision with everyone and open their imagination to understand how amazing our inner worlds are’, he himself says. Once you’ve entered into this world of his vision, you’ll find it hard to disagree with him.

 

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