The Warning, a new military science-fiction epic by cartoonist Edward Laroche, creates a slow-burn aura of anxiety and menace. The comic follows genetically augmented soldier Joshua as he navigates a mysterious tower that assembles itself in Southern California, while contemplating his own morality in the conflict.
On the first page of the alien-invasion benchmark The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells offers a warning about the tripod-riding Martian intruders:
“And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races,” Wells wrote. “The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?”
Now, more than 120 years later, that same idea resonates in cartoonist Edward Laroche’s new intergalactic military epic, The Warning, colored with moody grit by Brad Simpson and lettered by Jaymes Reed. The aliens do indeed invade, but Laroche roots this story of unending violence in humanity.
The new ongoing comic revolves around super soldier Joshua and his team of technologically (and genetically) enhanced warriors who investigate a bizarre alien incursion after an inexplicable bastion materializes in Burbank, California. While action abounds—including a gorgeous aerial dogfight in the second issue—The Warning takes its time, burning slow; Laroche is more interested in using the alien invasion as a backdrop for a series of character studies rather than pure visceral thrills.
“My original intent was to craft a story about war that wasn't complicated or bogged down in questionable politics or shady motivations: a threat not of our own making,” Laroche explains. “The core of the story is this exploration into conflict, and how it might be the natural state of all living things, and how our main character, Joshua, who is a super soldier, lives with that possibility.”
Joshua faces an existential crisis. He’s been reading about reincarnation, obsessed with the idea of a karmic balance. Even as his unit readies itself for an assault on these invaders, Joshua wonders where his role as an agent of perpetual violence leaves his karma.
“The idea of coming back as someone else or something else, depending on one’s karma, is tripping him up,” Laroche says. “He is disturbed by the idea that he could come back as a simple creature, incapable of love, or without the capacity to enjoy music, art, and the finer things about being human.”
Joshua’s uncertainty about his own role in an ongoing conflict—that also leaves his own physiology altered, as the military embraces transhumanism—deepens with the air of mystery surrounding their invaders. Even the idea of an invasion only unfolds as a potential answer to the looming weirdness at the end of the first issue. The impact of the invasion is seen throughout the series, but the aliens themselves are largely an unseen menace.
“The unseen threat is always scarier, so it helps to add tension,” Laroche says. “Plus, getting to the aliens is its own experience, and when they show up, you may wish they hadn’t.”
The Warning is a story where every nuance of the writing and art puts together a holistic portrait of Joshua and his traumatized world. Like the poetic, Terrence Malick-like narration in the comic, Laroche’s answers can be cryptic and high-concept while simultaneously true. Being both the writer and artist isn’t a matter of freedom or a point of pride for Laroche, but an approach that would only work to solidify the uncompromising tone and direction of The Warning.
“Being the writer and artist is the only way I can do this type of work,” said Laroche. “I take the medium of comics very seriously and give everything I have to it. The idea of trying to facilitate someone else’s vision at the same level of devotion that I reserve for my work is impossible. It just doesn’t interest me. So it’s not about freedom. It’s more about being the only way I can do this type of work.”
Laroche isolates panels in a sea of darkness, letting each visual absorb the energy from the austere layout. It’s a direct and powerful effect that makes each panel feel significant and adds a sense of weight and isolation.
“The dark spaces are there for timing and to give the reader an opportunity to let the image or the moment breathe,” Laroche says. “I’m working with how people read the page and how they interact with it, so I have certain rules about when scenes end or how many panels get put on a page, but what works best for the story dictates how it looks.”
The Warning was initially black and white, but Laroche says he was convinced to bring on a colorist. Brad Simpson’s restrained hues fill the book with an earthen, industrial palette and subtle touches that add to the cinematic tension.
“I had finished 350 pages of the first volume in black and white before the book was pitched to [Image Publisher Eric Stephenson],” Laroche says. “He said it should be colorized, and he was right. I got lucky being paired up with Brad Simpson through a mutual friend, Joe Casey, and Brad has done an amazing job. I know when people see it, they’ll be very impressed.”
The Warning #1 releases in comic book stores on November 28, 2018.
The unseen threat is always scarier, so it helps to add tension. Plus, getting to the aliens is its own experience, and when they show up, you may wish they hadn’t.