Traveling to Mars: A Subversive Existential Satire about Space
Mark Russell is the consistent satirist in mainstream comics right now, and Traveling to Mars turns his jaundiced eye on space travel in a bleakly funny subversion of the genre. Space travel is founded on optimism, the model established by editor John W. Campbell where capable white men go to space for the betterment of Mankind. Russell turns that completely on its head.
It's the not-too-far future. Roy Livingston is a nobody with nothing of note to his life, and he's traveling to Mars. He doesn't even know much about Sciencing anything. Two robots handle all the important operations on the rocket. This is a one-way trip. Roy is not coming back. Why is he going to Mars? To claim it for America, of course. Well, not exactly America, but the corporation that's taken over the space travel business and wants to claim the rare minerals on Mars before any other country does. Roy was selected because he's dying of cancer with just four months to live, and space travel might enable him to live a little longer, just long enough to land on Mars, step out in a space suit and plant a flag to claim the place. After that? Well, he figures he'll just wait patiently to kick the bucket on the red planet. His mother will be paid enough to live on for the rest of her life. It's not like he has much to live for anyway. The question is, what will he do when he gets to Mars? The first issue is a deft bit of world-building and character set-up. Let's see if something causes Roy to do something unexpected when he finds there's no one or nothing to stop him when he's left completely to his own devices on Mars.
As with many of Russell's works, the villain in Traveling to Mars is Late Capitalism. Capitalism keeps finding new ways to make everyone's lives miserable. Roy is another nameless guy living under the shadow of late Capitalism, which has mined Earth to the point of dying, hence the need to grab the rare minerals found on Mars. Roy is another one of Russell's protagonists whose fatalistic view of life under the yoke of Capitalism is wry, ironic, knowing, and melancholy. Once again, there's ironic, satirical humour in depicting a future that isn't what anyone hoped for but everyone is stuck with. Roberto Meli's art is just the right balance of matter-of-factness with an undertone of sly humour in the characters' facial expressions in Russell's most existential story to date.