01 March 2015

FWS Comic Review: Universal War One (Soleil Productions/Marvel 2009)

I've been a comic book reader since 1982, and military comics like Sgt. Rock and The 'Nam were always part of my comic book experience. After starting FWS in 2010, I wanted to have military science fiction comics be part of the experience here on FWS. Last Christmas, I was given an Amazon.com gift card, and I decided to "invest" in some new military sci-fi comics for the old blog. One of those was the highly rated Universal War One. Original published in France by Soleil in six parts with the story and art being done by the talented Denis Bajram. Marvel Comics formed a relationship with Soleil to publish their comics in English for the American market, Universal War One is the fruit of that relationship. Both a sequel and a live-action movie have been announced.

What is UW1?
The story is set more than a century into the future with the solar system being settled and its resources utilized by the Colonization Industrial Companies on the behalf of the Earth. The United Earth Force is the in-space military force of the newly united planet. This relationship between the UEF and the CIC was falling apart with miners' riots and military interventions, then the "Wall" showed up blocking access to everything past Uranus, and then the CIC and UEF enter into a state of war. This wall was a three billion kilometer sphere, and what lays inside the Wall is a complete mystery. The UEF uses their Purgatory Squadron, a misfit space fighter unit of soldiers awaiting trial and needing a second chance, to probe the Wall. This is where the graphic novel opens. The seven soldiers of Purgatory Squadron are the core characters of UW1 and throughout the events of this First Universal War, they will solve the mystery of the black starless wall in deep space and the involvement of the CIC.

More than half of this graphic novel is solid with a story that has a nice fusion of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar, and the Forever War. There is the mystery of the unknown object in space, the crisis that it creates, the behavior that it produces in the characters. Also, hard science plays a important role in the dialog and actions of the characters, which is always nice in a comic book.Throughout this graphic novel, the art shines; creator and artist Denis Bajram talents are masterfully displayed. This is truly a gorgeous graphic novel that has the characters living in a outer space world similar to Outland and ALIENS, with Bajram's own unique touches in starship, space fighter, and interior design. The core characters from Purgatory Squad that are the vehicle for the story, are themselves well done with nice realistic fleshed out backgrounds. Unlike some graphic novels and comics I've read over the years, each character in UW1 are unique in their design and language, allowing the reader to easily pick out the characters among the large art pieces or when wearing helmets. When it comes to the plot of the graphic novel, UW1 is not what I was expecting. I did not spoil the plot by reading too much on the central story on the internet, and instead just bought the thing from Amazon. What I was expecting was not in the beautiful pages of Universal War One, and that was a good thing...sort of. I congratulate Bajram for not doing a typical story of the Wall being a gateway for alien invasion as seen in DOOM, Half-Life, and Babylon 5: Thirdspace; however, the story was not as good as it should have been. I will say that the friendship between Purgatory Squad members Mario and Balti is rather touching and the emotion core of the story, and also not expected.

As I said above, UW1 is a mixture of elements of  2001, the Forever War, and Interstellar. Much like 2001 and Interstellar, the story loses power and drifts into a strangle waters towards the end of the comic, ruining the promising beginning. The story that was good  in the first part of the graphic novel is twisted along with the originals of the Wall, and all of it ends up not what I expected, nor is it that a good thing. The end of the graphic novel is flat disappointing and lets down the rest of the story and my enjoyment of it. Oh, and the title is a lie. There is no real "war" to speak of in the comic. Yes, the slaughter of the 3rd Fleet of the UEF inside the Wall  is the only real battle, but to me, that doesn't count after you finish the book and figure the mystery of the Wall. Then there is the countless dialog balloons about time paradoxes, time travel, and the physics of wormholes. While interesting, and does punch up the normal military sci-fi comic to a higher level, it becomes tiresome and self-important, dominating the rest of the graphic novel's other plot points.

After reading Universal War One, I was left with an overall feeling of "meh". Yep, I paid my money, got my hopes up, sat down and...meh was what I was left with. While the art, characters, and the first part of the graphic novel's story are very good, the end result once the mystery is solved is boredom and indifference. While UW1 was not what I was expected, it could have just been better. The graphic novel also killed my interest in the sequels...so there will be no more reviews of anymore Universal War comics. You're welcome.

Should You Read UW1?

Despite the beautiful art, good character and environment design, overall UW1 is simply not worth the price. If you could read this graphic novel for a few bucks or even free and the basic story interests you, than it is worth the read...but it is not worth much more than that. While is not the comic you expect, it is not the comic that you deserve. After reading UW1 a few times for this review, I am left being meh about the whole experience. I was just grateful I did not buy much more than a few bucks for the experience, and so should you. I will not be buying the sequel. I will be placing UW1 into my pile that if and when my comic collection grows beyond my space and I need to sell some comics. I simply do not see myself reading UW1 anytime soon or ever again, I just did not enjoy it as much as I had hoped. However, the art is simply stellar and I will be interested in seeing more from Denis Bajram that does not involve the Universal War One universe.

Next Time on FWS...
Personal portable firepower is the goal of these types of military firearms: the grenade launcher and the RPG. These weapons are tools of the modern battlefield and symbols of badass firepower in popular media. Join FWS next time when the next installment of the FWS Armory blog article serial continues with grenade launchers, RPGs, rocket launchers, and rifle grenades!


  1. Huh, I've been reading comic books, AHEM, I mean, graphic novels for some time now and just recently got into manga through Katsuhiro Otomo's masterful AKIRA Haven't heard of this one before- but I haven't been reading many SF comic books.

    The art looks pretty beautiful in UW1. I'll have to check out Denis Bajram. It's too bad the story didn't satisfy you in the end. The problem with story-lines that depend on some mystery is that things can work for a while because that mystery is there, but if the solution to that mystery is unsatisfying the whole thing comes apart at its conclusion. It sounds like that is one happened with UW1, though I won't know what I'll think of it until I read it myself, of course.

    Do you have a library card, William? I get all of the books I read nowadays from my library. Even if your local library doesn't have what you want (and mine is NEVER has the comic book I want), the librarians can request materials from another library and have it sent to you as an ILL(inter-library loan). They have a really cool catalog called WorldCat- libraries all over the globe are one there, and you can check to find the nearest that has your item and request an ILL.

    Usually they do charge you a shipping fee for items that come from out of your state, but most of the time a library in your state has what you want and you can specify that you don't want your ILLs to go out of state. I get most of my graphic novels this way- and since comics can be pricy I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have wanted to buy all of them. Especially if one turns out disappointing in the end. Then, at least, I won't have to regret twenty bucks. :D

    Granted, I have been reading only the really famous graphic novels like V for Vendetta and AKIRA- if you are looking for less well-known works or something really new, the library system doesn't always have it. I've been there. On the other hand, sometimes you can hunt up the most esoteric books. The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is on my local network and I have raided their spaceflight books often. XD

    Looking forward to the grenade launcher post- don't forget those cute shotgun grenades!

  2. Hello, Mr. Phoenix! Yes, I included the Frag-12 shotgun grenades...nearly forgot them. My local Dallas library is a place that my wife, daughters, and I go to on a regular basis. I recently read a few excellent sci-fi and special forces books from there just recently. I need to check into getting some graphic novels from the library. When I was at university, I used the library to get my hands on Maus for my World War II class. The professor liked the graphic novel so much, that she ordered a dozen copies for the university library and including it onto her lessons.
    By the end of the review i was sad....sad that I had spent money on the comic and that it wasn't what I thought it was going to be.
    Back to the grenade launchers.

  3. The XM-25 Airburst weapons system is a really cool concept but somewhat impractical because of the weight. Coming from my experience with the USMC infantry as a combat corpsmen all we wanted was to find that balance between weight and effectiveness. So the M-203 was the best bang for the buck just an observation. Really enjoy your website.

  4. I remember seeing the M41A pulse guns in Aliens and realizing that the underslung "grenade launchers" were really pump action shotguns (shooting blanks, of course). But now shotguns really can shoot grenades, so I guess Hollywood didn't lie to us after all. :D

    I, too, cannot live without the library. Haven't heard about Maus before. I'll have to check that out... thanks for the heads up! Graphic novels are an undervalued art form, in my opinion. Just because it is a "comic book" doesn't mean it can't be good or explore very adult topics. But some of my family still poke fun at me for reading them. :D It sounds like you had a pretty cool WWII professor!

    1. The primary gun of the M41A1 also fires grenades, "10mm EXPLOSIVE TIP caseless, standard light-armor piercing round" to be precise. So the M41A1 is actually automatic micro-grenades launcher coupled with pump action mini-grenades launcher!
      MSF sure like their bullets explosive…